In October, The New York Times went public with an open recruitment: they were looking for one journalist to travel the world—52 countries in 52 weeks. The job listing went viral (not surprisingly) and The Times received over 5,700 submissions.
I was one of them.
The Times asked applicants to write about the most interesting place they’ve ever visited. You might expect me to mention any number of “exotic” places to which I’ve traveled like Belize, Bali, Virgin Gorda, Mykonos, Costa Rica, or even Budapest. Instead I wrote about New York City.
The New York Times never contacted me. So I’m taking time to mourn a lost opportunity.
***Optimists beware: the City will test you over and over and over again***
“If I sit on the subway, how do I know a homeless person didn’t sit there right before me?” my aunt asks. “You don’t,” I reply, “and a homeless person probably did sit there right before you.”
Of all the places I’ve traveled—domestic and international—New York City has got to be the most interesting. It’s this wildly unpredictable place where your deepest passions, fears, and frustrations are churned up on a daily basis. The subway is a great example of this because you’re pressed up against all of humanity: smelly beggars, selfie models, UPS workers, aging tycoons, and Brooklyn hipsters. It’s a microcosm of the world, if you ask me, and it’s the city I now call home.
I moved to New York because I wanted to get knocked around; I wanted to be rattled out of bucolic Santa Barbara. It goes without saying that this type of agitation is remarkably useful for writers, those observant introverts who are starved for creative fodder (or is that just me?). In any case, I pride myself on my powers of perception and I have to say that New York City surpasses all other places when it comes to intrigue. Let me explain:
There’s a small dog with sparkly ribbons tied around her hair and she’s sleeping in my bathroom; there’s a Kirtan singer slumbering on top of piled blankets in front of my kitchen oven; I attend to my bedroom plants with religious devotion and I put dirty shoes by the front door (Why? Because New York City is filthy).
You have to inhale before you launch out onto the streets of New York. People walk fast, and there’s no guarantee they’ll move for you so you better have the whole bob-and-weave thing sorted. You wonder if the cement beneath your feet is unscathed or does it hold secrets from unsolved murders and illicit love affairs? The pedestrians pass by, a transvestite wearing a sequined skirt and an old man with a cane; a student with a backpack and a girl in yoga pants; two financiers loosening their ties and a woman applying lipstick without a mirror. It’s a mix of grime and humanity’s desire to survive, and yet the city beats on like a powerful metronome. That should be a capital C—City—because that’s what New York City is: a living, breathing entity that delivers tricky plot twists. You can be harassed by a stranger, lose your cash, and then share drinks with Tiger Woods’s coach in one day. You can’t make this stuff up.
Perhaps that’s why New York City is the most interesting place for me: because it’s where humanity is squished together in exquisite disharmony.