Dear Annie

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I’ve known Annie since we were sophomores in high school. She’s been a rock, a confidante, a partner in crime. Recently she applied for a job to teach in New York, and to the surprise of no one (besides, possibly, herself) she got it. She leaves tomorrow.

Annie, cheers to you.

So you’re moving to New York. Ho.Ly. Smokes, A. You may not feel brave, but you are.

It probably doesn’t help to hear from others that you’ve got guts. Sometimes it’s the last thing you want to hear. The rest of the feelings on your emotional scale are easy to identify – the anxiety, excitement, sadness, terror, ambivalence, hope, confusion – but bravery’s there, in the background. Those other emotions? To remind us we’re human.

I will say it anyway. It takes courage to uproot your life. Don’t let the voice of uncertainty drown it out. One day, you’re going to wake up in your Harlem apartment, pleasantly surprised to feel at home. You’ll realize you know exactly where to go for the best cup of coffee in your neighborhood. The owners of your corner bodega will know who you are by the brand of your vice. You’ll recognize your neighbors on the street, and you’ll start to see patterns and routines that’ll bring comfort, a cadence of fellowship right there on your own block of New York. This very process shows us that we adapt in ways we don’t even know, and can’t know, and this is probably what saves us: our ability to cope, and thrive, with change.

I’m proud of you for giving the interview your best shot. The anticipation must have been petrifying – the day you auditioned for the job. But if I imagine you in front of those middle school students, you in your hot pink blazer, I see you commanding a presence that no doubt shocked your soon-to-be colleagues and supervisor and gave the kids something to talk about for days. Especially when they (the kids) asked you how you felt about the Knicks, and you told them (and I quote), I ain’t got tiiiime for that. (Unquote).

I haven’t spent much time in Harlem, besides for one show at the Apollo Theater and a single blues harmonica lesson from Arthur on 128th Street. My roommate Megan insisted on coming along, and afterward she and I went for lunch at Sylvia’s. Make Sylvia’s top priority of your restaurants-to-try, and make sure to order the collard greens and baked mac and cheese. If you want Arthur’s number, let me know. He’s also on Facebook (I checked).

When I got off the plane at La Guardia, a guy named Chaplin scooped up me and my oversized luggage and we drove to his apartment on Roosevelt Island where I stayed with my would-be new roommates until we could move into our apartment in Bushwick. To me that first day, Roosevelt Island was the absolute most dismal place in all of New York. There was nothing but a huge rehabilitation hospital, brown brick high rises and a single cafe that was usually empty. So depressing. But last summer, Time Out rated it as one of NY’s best lesser-known attractions. So there you go. Matter of perspective, and what strikes you as strange or dreary at first will hardly affect you once you get the hang of the city. In other words, maybe you’ll love your new neighborhood right away, and maybe you won’t. But chances are, you’ll learn to.

Don’t be afraid to cry in public. Or to shout at someone who deserves it. That’s what’s great about New York. So much bustle and density encourages open expression, and you’ll rarely have to wonder what someone’s actually thinking, unlike in Minnesota. Because in NY…..

You’ll soon find your favorite parks in all boroughs of New York.

Live music gems. Most are in Brooklyn, but you love Brooklyn, so you’ll probably spend a lot of time there anyway?

NYMag is a very good resource, especially for places to eat. You can filter by neighborhood, cuisine or price. A list of Harlem restaurants is hereRed Rooster is supposed to be great.

short list of Vikings Bars, not quite the same as a tailgate, but it’s something. And here’s a collection of Eastern European restaurants for when you’re feeling homesick.

West Village: On many nights, Arthur’s Tavern was a last-minute stopover on the way back to Hoboken. You must visit Corner Bistro for burgers, Tavern on Jane, and Mary’s Fish Camp, all also in the Village. Megan, my old roommate, swears by John’s on Bleecker for the best pizza in the city. But I’d argue for Di Fara in Flatbush (Brooklyn), bar none. Three Lives and Company is such a great, quaint book store.

I told you about Garden of Eden, the gourmet chain of groceries. I’d often go there just to hover and de-stress when I first moved to NY, even if all I could afford was a small tub of mixed olives.

A few other favorite restaurants by neighborhood:

East Village: Grape and Grain // Frank // Prune // Ess-a-bagel

Lower East Side: Katz’s // An Choi // Barrio Chino

Midtown: The Breslin

Brooklyn: El Almacen (Williamsburg) // Roberta’s (Bushwick) // Teresa’s (Brooklyn Heights)

Soho: Cafe Select

Korea Town (near Herald Square): Mandoo Bar

There’s a dive bar in the lower East side with a jukebox and pool tables that sells a can of Tecate and a shot of tequila for $3. I can’t remember the name, but you’ll recognize it by the smell of urine that wafts from the dilapidated exterior, beckoning you to step inside. Just do it.

Whether you stay in New York for six months or six years, who cares. Think of all of the other millions of people who’ve also made the move from places all over the world. Not one of them wasn’t scared and unsure of what would come. The day before I moved back to Minneapolis, I shipped the last of my boxes from a huge post office near Penn Station. The woman who helped me had left India twenty-seven years before. Don’t forget New York, was the last thing she said. I remember her more than any other stranger I met during those four years. Her and the other woman who told me everything would be alright as I sobbed on a park bench in Roosevelt Island on one of those first few days. You’ll pass hundreds of thousands of strangers you’ll never speak to, and that’ll feel lonely, but you’ll also meet people who will help you and restore you with the simplest, most unexpected gestures.

See you in New York, when it will be my turn to visit you. I’ve no doubt you’ll be the one leading the way. I can’t wait.