My back is wet when I get off the subway at Union Square, my bag sticking to my shirt and my shirt to me. The stale, muggy air of the subway stations is always significantly warmer than the air above, laced with old scents and stale stink. No one seems to mind, though. To live in New York is, apparently, to learn to turn off your nose at given times.
Every morning is just a little different, from the subway musicians to which train I’ll get on (usually the N or R locals instead of the more convenient Q express) to which door I’ll exit from (still trying to get the hang of that) to the multitude of languages I’ll hear from my fellow passengers. Now, starting my second week living in Manhattan, I’m starting to get a routine down and the variances seem fewer and fewer until eventually, I’m sure, one morning will blur into the next, leaving no fingerprint on my memory of how that sequence of rote motions was different than the day before, or the week before, or the month before.
My trip from Times Square to Union Square is much shorter than my commute in Los Angeles, even when on the 704 Rapid. Within ten minutes I can arrive at my destination, so half the time I don’t even bother taking a seat and choose to join the “real New Yorkers” holding on to a bar and rocking gently with the sway of the train as we careen from point to point, letting our bodies softly lean into each twist and turn. I’m sure one of these days I’ll get my “subway legs” but for now I have to place my feet separated, one slightly in front of the other, in order to more easily shift my weight in all directions as the car not-so-gently navigates its track, limply riding the waves.
When I exit the subway station, it takes me a moment to reorient myself to where I am, for an underground system doesn’t allow one to update one’s internal compass en route. Even though I’m no stranger to subways, having taken them in multiple cities around the world, I wonder if people who grew up with a subway system have this same hitch?
Union Square is not like a familiar piazza from faraway Rome, which I miss from my time studying there in college. Instead, it’s more of a park, albeit mostly on concrete or brick. At all hours of day are people sitting, meandering, conversing. Chess players wait for passers-by to challenge them. On certain days, a greenmarket springs up on the sidewalk. The morning, in general, tends to be pretty calm. If there’s rain, activity will be muted, the chesshustlers gone, though leaving their boards and pieces in ready stance.
I walk down Broadway towards the office and after just a few minutes I’m there.
The day is… unstructured. As I’ve only started with the company two weeks ago, I’m allowed a great deal of flexibility and autonomy to learn the technologies and fully verse myself in order to do what my position requires. It’s quite a change and shock to the system to undergo such a change of culture: not only am I now on the vendor instead of the client side of the table but I also am in a startup environment where people support each other. Numbers of deals are public knowledge. The company works together, instead of as silos of information. And that doesn’t even take into account the humorous animated GIFs that circulate regularly on company emails.
Each day progresses nicely. Sometimes there is an in-face client meeting. There are always phone calls, most of which I simply audit. Every now and then I’m called upon to relate my experience in implementing our company’s technology while I was at my previous company. I still haven’t gotten my spiel down so I ramble and circuitously extoll the virtues of the technology. Having been the implementer of my new company’s second large deal and the only engineer to transition from client to employee, I’m seen as something of a unicorn. The thought process that I can see in others’ minds is that my standpoint from being on the consuming end of the product will prove valuable in pitching our technology to new clients, and this isn’t without fact: the numbers the company has to demonstrate its value (which I provided them years ago) are valid. The metrics for success are there, and I can speak to them first-hand. The implementation pains I can speak to directly.
Did I make the right choice? Should I be on this side of the table? One may argue I’m just having cold feet at making such a career move and geographical move at the same time, and that’s true: I’m definitely suffering a bit of homesickness and nostalgia for my prior position.
Something else nags at me. I was accustomed to being at least one person who could say “no.” Granted, this didn’t happen often, as usually the dictum for an initiative would come from above, but I never had to subscribe to the belief that “the customer is always right.” Now, lest I misconstrue my company now, I don’t believe my colleagues believe that either. But yet, I’ve never been on the vendor end—it requires quite a mindshift.
So after a day of phonecalls, meetings, and/or playing on my own to learn the SDKs and APIs, I pack up my laptop (at an insanely early hour, compared to my last position: usually between 5 and 7) and head back to Union Square. The trip back is the same, but usually I don’t get quite as sweaty. More than once, I accidentally took the closest vestibule to the NQR, ending up further downtown, instead of uptown. I think I’ve finally gotten that part solidified in my brain and I continue to the NQR platform uptown and wait. Usually it’s the N or R; I have yet to take the Q back home.
Times Square is a clusterfuck, as always. Some of the other stops in the City are a bit more orderly as the people using them are more natives than tourists, but Times Square is always packed with tourists. Once again music from a subway performer guides me out of the station as I weave my way though the various exits of the station, eyes firmly set on the “41st and 7th” exit. I retrace my morning steps through the station and climb the two flights of stairs to street level.
At last, fresh air (well, as fresh as the air in Manhattan can be considered.) For some reason, it’s more noticeably welcome than in the morning. Maybe I’m tired.
I begin the walk from 7th Avenue to 10th Avenue, trying to moderate my pace. Over the past week I’ve nearly given myself shin splints as I’ve tried to walk too fast in my dress shoes, slowing down and resting occasionally because of the pain. So lately, I walk slower, not trying to match the New York pace, and trying to sink in my surroundings.
The walk to my temporary apartment is uneventful, and I take the elevator to my eleventh floor studio.
Then the evening begins, and I find myself at a loss. Here I am in a city of multa et mira, yet without a companion with which to explore it, I default to being a hermit. I refresh my Facebook feed every few minutes, I chat with anyone who’s online, and in general have a pathetic evening.
This will change, I tell myself: meeting people in New York is much different than Los Angeles. You’ll make friends and have a social life.
But for now, the glowing rectangle of the laptop invites me in and, apart from serving as a communications conduit to geographically far-flung friends, it simply is a placebo for life.
I go to bed early, knowing I’ll toss and turn, wake up at regular intervals, and have to pry myself out of bed in the morning when it comes time to go to work.