I spent eighteen years growing up thirty minutes outside of downtown Los Angeles in a beach-city suburb called Manhattan Beach. One year ago, at the midpoint of my college career at Oberlin in Ohio, my family moved to a new Manhattan: Manhattan, New York City.
Even before stepping into the city that never sleeps, there are immediate distinctions that come to mind.
Los Angeles is really more of a county, widely spread out over a multitude of cities and neighborhoods, and lacks functional public transportation around its sprawling, hilly microcosms. LA moves at a slower, more laid-back pace. It’s an outdoors-oriented, casual place, free of any semblance of winter.
New York is claustrophobic in comparison: a condensed, siren-soundtracked grid, with its iconic subway system connecting neighborhoods like ever-flowing veins underneath the bustling sidewalks. And it’s notorious for its competitive hustle and high-speed environment.
Having been freshly transplanted to New York is both intimidating and exhilarating. I lived most of my life on the west coast—excluding brief visits to east coast-dwelling family members—so the dramatic shift is much appreciated, especially as I near the end of my undergraduate education in a sleepy Midwestern town and find myself seeking a more exciting adulthood as I look toward the future. As a creative, the romantic associations of the city have long since magnetized me to the idea of moving there after college.
But for all the serendipitous convenience and electrifying inspiration of moving to New York, I can’t help but feel like a clueless tourist as I try to get a grasp on this new world without getting lost or ending up somewhere totally uncool.
But the more I ride it, the better I get at taking the subway, and the more I fall in love with it. And with the help of the many Oberlin peers of mine who are native New Yorkers, or those who are at least more familiar with the city than myself, I’ve started to get a better feel for this place over the course of spending my spring break here. I’ve realized that New York is all about networks. Connecting with people who have similar interests is key to finding out what’s happening and where to go.
My friend Josh of the band Vansire, for example, is spending this semester interning at Columbia Records. When I met with him for lunch, I asked him which thrift stores were his favorite in the city. He recommended the Buffalo Exchange in Manhattan, where I promptly headed and had a great afternoon finding criminally-good deals on gorgeous clothes. He also mentioned the Beacon’s Closet in Brooklyn, which is my next target.
I also met up with my friend Angus, who took me to Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown, which is famed for its soup dumplings. Well-known as it is, I felt like I was being let in on a secret, since his mother used to take him there all the time.
The Highline Park was actually recommended by a taxi driver that took me to the Cleveland airport. The Park is an elevated walkway punctuated with subtle sculptures, colorful art installations, and stunning architecture. It’s a charming date spot, especially at sunset. There’s a Starbucks Reserve nearby for millennials seeking twelve-dollar slices of chocolate cake in a photogenic tourist trap. The Chelsea Market is a few steps away, as well, and has a variety of restaurants in a food-court style setup.
The next day, I saw now my hand is ready for my heart: intimate stories, a production conceived, written, and performed by Oberlin alumnus Nicky paraiso at the experimental theater La MaMa. It was an authentic performance offering a slice of his New York experience and the city’s rich history of performance art. If you’re a student, don’t underestimate the power of your friends and alumni network!
I also went to the Museum of Natural History to ogle at ancient fossils and bones of our human ancestors, and saw Mean Girls on Broadway, which was hilarious and heartfelt with an impressively talented cast. My friend Paul, who went to school in New York before transferring to Emerson, told me I had to see an exhibit at MoMa called The Value of Good Design. I bought my ticket online, but found myself without the energy to go or the cash to add money to my metrocard (the subway is more expensive than I thought it was).
As I write this in bed with my cat curled up by my feet, it’s my last night in the city, and I should be on the 6 train headed toward Brooklyn to see my friend Max play a show with a power-pop-punk band. (Max reportedly saw Matt Berninger of the National drinking a Red Bull in Tribeca earlier today, by the way.) But my flight leaves early tomorrow morning, and I’m drained from my spring break, which felt like a long week of running around that was also somehow gone in an instant.
I know I’ll be back soon, though, and I’m excited to return to New York for another series of fleeting, eternal instants of inspiration.
Julia DiFiori is a twenty-year-old from Los Angeles. She studies Cinema Studies and Creative Writing at Oberlin College. In five years, expect to find Julia writing for a TV show or fashion magazine while also fronting an innovative indie rock band. Julia steps up for intersectional feminism and the importance of art in the human experience. Her favorite podcast is WTF with Marc Maron.