Wednesday, February 11, 2015

NYC: I Love You From a Distance


Aside from attending the SCBWI conference, I got to spend time in New York City. The city of my mother's birth has become one of my favorite cities to visit. 

As a child I felt differently. We'd visit family during the summer months and I sometimes felt uneasy. Not because of my family, but because I felt claustrophobic with so many people living in such close quarters. Growing up in Chicago, it was also a large city with many people, but we had side yards that separated us, gave us a little breathing room and privacy. When I'd get home, I appreciated the quiet nature of my neighborhood, the familiar faces and the easy access to sun light.

Since I was young when I visited NYC, I went where I was taken, which was mostly to visit family and maybe one tourist attraction per visit. This did not make for a very exciting trip. While I understand that the purpose of our trip was to spend time with family we didn't see often, I felt like there had to be more to the city. 

As an adult, it's a whole different ball game. I've been fortunate to visit New York City at least once a year for the past several years. I have a dear friend who lives there and I LOVE spending time with her, her hubby and their bunnies. They are both outgoing, energetic and know the ins and outs of what's happening in the city. Every time I visit we have a different adventure and I see a new side of this fascinating place. I love exploring cities, walking around and getting the true feel for a place unlike where I live. It gives me a rush and makes me feel alive with purpose. I don't always like what I see, but I always learn something, mostly about myself.

When I first decided to live in Des Moines it was a tough decision. I think I cried for about two hours the day I knew I was there for the long haul. Back then there was nothing special about Des Moines. In fact, I thought it was the ugliest city I'd ever seen, but I had been offered a great career opportunity that would allow me the best chance at becoming financially independent. It was where I had to be so I found a small, but cute apartment near the Des Moines Art Center and hoped my stay would be short. Fourteen years later, I find myself appreciating this little city, especially after sending time in New York.

I love the hustle and bustle of people, but I also like the steady pace of the Midwest, where you can choose to walk or drive and neither one is particularly stressful. While I love the subway system in NYC (amazing place to create character sketches just by observing the people around you, and easy to navigate), I like the convenience of being able to drive (and park) to my destinations.

One of my favorite things about visiting any large metropolis is hearing all the different accents of the people going this way and that. I don't wonder if they're talking about me, or wish I could understand what they're saying. Instead I marvel at how much of the world comes together in large cities. When I first moved to Des Moines I would go days without seeing anyone who looked like me or could speak more than English. Thankfully, Des Moines has become home to a number of international people who speak multiple languages and have wonderful accents. I have friends from dozens of countries and from all continents. I can walk a block to an international market and hear a plethora of languages, and see several beautiful shades of brown. I have learned to appreciate diversity in a way that gets lost in cities like New York.

The food in New York is phenomenal. You can find every culture and culinary fad within walking distance or a short train ride away. Eating through places I visit is my absolute favorite thing to do when I travel. There's nothing like having so many choices at your fingertips, and the fact that most of them deliver is icing on the cake, pun intended. While I can't get as many cultural options on a plate in Des Moines, they have certainly come a long way in that area, too. Restaurants pop up all the time and while the only Latino option used to be Mexican, today Des Moines has a famous Ecuadoran restaurant, several pupuserias, unparalleled taco trucks and a Honduran restaurant. Certainly not the options available in New York, but as long as there are planes to take me to my fave city at least once a year, I can manage with what's available.

When I'm in New York I feel like everything's amplified. Nothing feels simple and steady. I feel like I have to be on the go all the time in order to take it all in. It's a great feeling for about four days. After that, I start to look forward to the slower pace of the Midwest. Despite their reputation, I find that as long as I live and let live, New Yorkers are generally friendly, although unmatched to what I find locally.

When chatting with friends who live in New York, they all seem to have a love/hate relationship with their city. They love all the things I love about it but, their struggles are real. They have to take a few buses or trains to the grocery store and walk several blocks while bogged down with their groceries. When planning their day, they often have to carry a backpack of everything they might possibly need because returning home for something is rarely an easy option. Their days off are spent hustling from spot to spot, taking into account commute times and they often feel like there aren't enough hours in the day to get their errands run, and have time left to relax. They live surrounded by entertainment options, yet have to work like fiends in order to afford to live there, thus forgoing those entertaining options. They miss being able to drop in on friends just because they are "in the neighborhood" because they are often in an area for a very specific purpose, often vying their time based on the bus/subway schedule for the day.

As glamorous as that all sounds, Des Moines has grown on me. Over the years it has transformed. It now has a sculpture park that my daughter adores, where once stood abandoned lots. We have a Latino Festival that rivals any larger city event. Our cost of living remains low enough that young professionals and single moms can live comfortably and enjoy what the city offers. Our schools are constantly in top national rankings and we often appear on various lists as one of the most family-friendly places to live. More recently, Des Moines has begin appearing regularly on Forbes' lists as a good place to start a business and grow a career. In due time, I see myself moving out of Des Moines (not sure how much longer I can stand Iowa winters). I have loved so many things about living here, and appreciate them more when returning from other cities. It is where I began my career, met my husband, started a family, gained remarkable friends, saw my family thrive, and had the opportunity to be on the forefront of many experiences that have added to the vibrancy of the city. But, it is always fun to leave and come back, knowing that I am exactly where I need to be at this moment in my life.

Des Moines, IA - more than expected

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