Everyday anthropology: In transit

“If you can make it in New York…”

But what if you haven’t made it anywhere yet? What if instead, you are a young, broke woman, a recent college grad who has, according to her mother, spent her entire life “living in a Disney world?” (Mom associates the flora-and-fauna-filled back yard in Mount Tremper with scenes from Snow White).

I’ve spent (almost) my entire life in the same rural area. While my college classmates from the city spent sunny afternoons at the park, I frolicked barefoot in the fields and meadows of Woodstock or climbed Slide and Overlook. While they got their nature from camping trips in Vermont, or summers on the Cape and Nantucket, my family made brief cultural excursions to MOMA or the Met. By the time I got my first cellphone and laptop just in time for college, my future classmates were already discarded theirs for iPads and smartphones.

I used to scoff at and ridicule the “city folk” — the Ray-Ban Gucci-toting Bloomingdale New Yorkers on their way to their country house who talked on their cellphones while waiting in line at the Boiceville Market a few miles from our house.


Now I’m trying to live among them.

What’s all the fuss about New York? Other cities I’ve seen have had their flair — Barcelona, Paris, Florence fascinate me more, their glamour drew me in. South America is high on my bucket list — Buenos Aires, Rio… As a kid, I had daydreamed of exploring the Tuscan countryside, or entering the enormous galleries of the Louvre.

The sheer immensity of the all the sounds, smells, and general cacophony of New York City always overwhelmed me. It still gets to me.

But I’ve always been told that there is no place like New York City, that it is unique in its multiculturalism, its opportunities and its variety. New York City — where American-Dream narratives of rags to riches take shape, where dreams and desires take flight or flounder.

What truths are there to these representations and portraits of the city? And what of the daily lives, habits and stories of New Yorkers? These are the interests of this fledgling urban anthropologist. How do I find my New York, city of familiar people, of random strangers and where are those I may grow to know and love?

Who is that Latina woman who nannies for a family on the Upper West Side, the African-American security guards in my apartment complex, my college classmate, now a paralegal in the financial district who lives with her sister in Brooklyn; the Vassar grad from the Bronx who has so far made it through rehab, my Teach For America roommate? And all those other people who make it their home?

So I’m moving to New York City for a year…at least. Have some adventures, get to know the city, and learn a little bit about the everyday lives of its inhabitants. In the process, I may learn a little about my fellow human beings situated in New York…and more than a little about myself.

What’s a working girl gotta do to eat around here? My rent alone is more than my uber-expensive progressive liberal arts college paid me for an entire semester’s worth of tutoring. Can it be that I already make more money majoring in odd jobs — babysitting, tutoring, editing, catering — than one of my friends gets from her permanent gig that she secured through a temping agency?

Some of my more privileged friends receive generous subsidies from their parents for galivanting around Europe or joining AmeriCorps/NYC civic corps. Another friend waitresses in Boston because it’s the highest money-making scheme she’s been able to land, but she’s backed up by her granddaddy’s credit cards and a more established boyfriend. In terms of income, my Teach for America roomie and my paralegal friend who work on Wall Street by far outpace the rest of us inexperienced young’uns.

There is one comment

Comments are closed.