Opulence and squalor, isolation and confrontation, the cosmopolitan and the parochial. In the year that Jocelyn and I have been in New York, what has struck me the most is the contradictions. The contradiction I’m confronted by daily is the freedom and restriction of movement. Since we moved here, I’ve never felt physically freer and more restricted.
Movie theaters, libraries, bars, restaurants, groceries, clothing, museums, parks, and more are all easily reached from our apartment in less than 15 minutes on foot. This proximity engenders the feeling that like everything is on the way to everything else.
I love not needing to know where I’m going. And, because everything is nearby, I can step outside, feel the sun warm my skin, enjoy the hot breeze as it carries dirt and soot down the avenues, and indulge a mild wanderlust. An entire weekend afternoon can be filled with the simple goal of returning some library books. Maybe I’ll stop for a drink, grab dinner on the way, or go see a movie. Add half an hour for a MTA (subway) connection, and huge swaths of the city open up.
In it’s own way, the train is another freedom. The simple act of stepping from a concrete slab into a metal tube can transport me between what seem like different worlds. From the Upper West side, to the Lower East North Brooklyn, to North Brooklyn and Corona. With a book and podcasts in tow, I’m set. Admittedly the train can get pretty uncomfortable, especially during rush-hour on a hot day when the AC is busted, but I find driving super stressful and nerve-racking. I proffer the hassle of the train.
This feeling of freedom has it’s limits. And they can roughly be defined by the MTA map. Before moving, we made the decision to shed out cars. This has relieved us of a lot of stress, not to mention expenses. But, it has effectively trapped us. I haven’t left NYC since June, I haven’t left by car since May. And when we go on vacation later this month, it’ll be the first time I’ve driven out of the city since last October.
The variance of our movement may have not changed much since we lived in Nebraska. After all, it was only once a month that we would visit Omaha, Colorado only a couple times a year. But whether I was going on a 15 minute or a 6 hour drive, the feeling I had as I stepped into my car was the same. Once I got on the road, and I would load up my audiobooks and I would get there when I got there.
Our freedom of movement has bifurcated. Within walking distance of our house or an MTA stop, all we have to do is set out and be patient. We can fill our time with conversation if the train is relatively empty, or reading if we don’t want to be rude. Outside of that domain though, it is a white knuckle ride of constant watch checking, and the constant feeling of powerlessness. We have to coordinate planes, trains, and rented automobiles.
I think we came out ahead. We don’t need to know where we are going all the time. If we to go out to dinner, we head out the door and walk toward all the restauraunts. We can browse the posted menus, see if the place is busy, and continue on if we need, all without the hassle of find a place to park. This simple change in how we move around is the most banal, but maybe the most significant change from our lives in Nebraska. After a year I’ve come to appreciate it, and will miss it whenever we leave the city.