There is a particular comfort that comes with returning to a familiar place.
When I was a kid we went back to the same hotel on a Spanish Island every year at least once. The staff knew us, they commented on how much my brother and I had grown each time, they let us know when our favorite dishes were on the menu.
It made us feel important, like young VIPs taking this resort by storm. It was like a second home but hotter, nicer and about 400 times more expensive than a normal life.
Coming back to New York is nothing like that. But it does feel strangely like a kind of home.
The past few weeks I’ve spent with family, boyfriend, friends. I’ve been eating, sleeping, chilling – basically a short-term hibernation in preparation for New York insanity.
Any thoughts of what it would be like to BE here again were far off, and I wasn’t ready to admit to or commit to the fact that it was happening.
It was only when my boyfriend dropped me at Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport last weekend and drove away that it really sank in. I stared at the departures board for about 30 seconds blinking back the panic tears and telling myself not to panic or freak out or die.
Then with great ease and this overwhelming sense of familiarity, I checked in. I passed through security. I breezed through customs.
“Is this your first entry on this visa, ma’am?” Why, yes sir, it is. “And what is it that you do?” Why, I’m a journalist, sir.
Stamp stamp stamp, and I’m all set. Easy.
I had booked an exit seat because I’ve done this journey three times so I’m basically a pro and I’ll need that sweet legroom. I have downloaded a ton of movies on my laptop in case I’ve seen all the ones Aer Lingus are showing. I take my shoes off. I’m nailing it.
We land in JFK and I know exactly where I’m going. I make the cab driver use GPS and tell him which route I take ‘cos I’m basically a local, man.
Then the cab pulls up outside my old apartment and my heart cramps. I take out my keys. I enter the building – not before dragging my five ton suitcase up the tower of ice/snow death steps. My old roommate and current replacement human are out in the city so the place is dark. It’s got the same furniture. The same smells. There’s a new blender and a huge TV.
And my old room is full of someone else’s stuff. Of course I know them both well – we’ve all been friends for a billion years so it’s not a stranger situation, but it still feels like a strange dream.
I call them straight away, get the address of the bar where they’re at and run for the subway. And it’s like I never left.
I miss the M Train, grab the L and change to the F. I walk north on Essex, take a left on Houston, cross on Allen and arrive at the Late Late Bar – an Irish bar, no less – and it’s full of Irish people. Like I said, it’s a lot like coming home.
A typically New York night of hilarity and silliness ensues. We go from bar to bar following the nose of one man who happens to know every bartender in the East Village and manages to wrangle free shots out of every last one of them. It’s the only way to drink in New York without spending $200 per night.
We stumble home at 2 a.m. which is NOT CRAZY but is the equivalent of 7 a.m. Irish time so I’m destroyed. I wake up with a pleasantly familiar dull headache and the winter sun is literally blinding me. There’s no hangover like a New York hangover.
And so it has begun. I’ve already made new friends, eaten pizza three times and become extremely dehydrated. I’ve agreed to help someone set up a new food blog. I’ve applied for a bartending job. Perhaps several bartending jobs?
Lord knows I could use the cash, and bartending is arguably just as fun – if not MORE fun – than bar-crawling. And I’ve only been here for 24 hours.
It all comes flooding back so quickly. I’m already reluctant to head into the city in spite of the fact that I really have to get a phone and set up a bank account and become a functioning member of society.
I’m just not bothered because Manhattan is such a trek and I can’t break out of that Brooklynite mind-set of being so “over” Manhattan because Times Square is for tourists and I’m a resident. Hear that?! A RESIDENT. Finally.
But I know as soon as I step off this train into the freezing cold blue sky and white snow and grey dirt of Manhattan that my love for it all will come flooding back too.
The thing about coming back to New York that makes this time so much less scary and stressful than the first time is hard to define. It’s not as simple as returning to any old city where knowing how the trains work and what the language is makes life so much easier. It’s not as personal as being a little older and wiser or the fact that I have a plan and some actual savings this time around.
It’s actually got nothing to do with me.
It’s because New York is so much more than a city. It’s an old, really unhinged friend who gets sick in your handbag and forgets your birthday but makes you feel incredible because you somehow manage to maintain a lasting friendship in spite of their mental and emotional instability. It’s a challenge that you come back to conquer again and again.
In so many ways that are typical of standard domestic chaos, it is very much like coming back to my second home.