New Yorkers Share Their Secrets to Survival in The City
Growing up in New York, I believed that life in the city was for masochists. At age 12, I commuted from Brooklyn to a public school on the Upper West Side. At 15, I spent a small fortune on cab rides home from Bushwick warehouse parties. And at 17, I acquired not one but three fake IDs in an effort explore nightlife beyond what I’d seen in rickety former shoelace factories. I never learned to drive, I sacrificed the childhood joy of impromptu snow days thanks to a rock steady subway system, and at present, my income is split between rent, wine, and an unlimited monthly MetroCard.
Almost everything in New York City is about 30% harder than it should be -- but there are 8.5 million people who have chosen to make a life here. It is, in fact, possible to survive -- and even thrive -- among the slow walkers, the surly cab drivers, and the marauding rodents. Maybe we’re all certifiably insane, but maybe there is also a peculiar wisdom that comes along with enduring a city that is so wildly unreliable -- and so infinitely easy to adore.
For those brave enough to subject themselves to the grand, terrible force that is New York, we have compiled the best, most indulgent, most entirely absurd survival advice from natives and longtime locals. Whether you’re a starry-eyed tourist, an aspiring resident, or a hardened denizen of the five boroughs, our contributors have got you covered.
On harsh winters
When we’re blasted with terrifying storms like the present arctic-polar-vortex-bomb-cyclone-snowpocalypse, keeping calm is key. Call 311 or make a complaint online if your heat is on the fritz. Invest in a space heater if you must and educate yourself on how to use it safely. Roommates are also a great investment, both for paying rent and for making it easier to socialize without venturing into the tundra. Order in judiciously and be prepared to tip delivery people handsomely.
If you must face the elements, cast your vanity aside. Pile on those ugly sweaters, Lenny Kravitz scarves, and sleeping bag coats. Then you can venture out for essentials, like snacks and red wine. By the time you make it back home, shake off the snow, and get defrosted it’ll nearly be spring! -- Sophie Dodd, 24, currently lives in South Williamsburg and has been in New York City for 10 years
On making friends
I love making friends. Since I was old enough to walk, I’d toddle around restaurants, playgrounds, and Upper West Side sidewalks, telling women they were pretty, or asking kids twice my age if they wanted to play with my toys. It was a very egalitarian process, and not much has changed in the decades since.
In NYC, where you have to earn six-figures to afford anyone’s birthday dinner and the prospect of a two-transfer subway ride makes you wonder, whether you really like them enough to go anyway, it’s good to have options. Luckily, we have a bounty of interesting, smart, funny potential friends in every cafe, laundromat, and internet comment section. This is my best-kept non-secret: just ask people to be friends with you. Chill is overrated, everyone loves to be told they’re wearing cool shoes, and at the very least, you may just make someone’s day. -- Emma Holland, 23, raised in Inwood, currently lives in Greenwich Village
Finding love in New York can be uniquely frustrating. Does your hookup like you for you, or for your convenient Manhattan address? Do you have time for a long-distance relationship with someone across town? Were you stood up, or did the subway go express, sending your would-be soulmate hurtling toward the arms of another? On the upside, there are millions of fish in the sea, the East River, and the Gowanus Canal. The key is to keep an open mind. Download every app; try out every bar you’ve starred in Google Maps; meet tons of weird, great, interesting human beings, both online and off. Get to know yourself and the city a bit better. Don’t spend so much time searching for your “other half,” but rather enjoy the prospect of meeting all sorts of people outside of your orbit. There are potential significant others of every variety in the city -- finance bros, art girls, yoga instructors, high-end drug dealers. You might surprise yourself. Even if you don’t meet someone completely perfect for you right away, you’re bound to get some very good stories out of it. -- Anonymous, 26, born and raised in the East Village
We have roaches. They’ve been here since we moved in. They’re not big guys -- but there sure are a lot of them -- a small army, if you will. They tend to crawl out of the drain in droves when we get up for a nice glass of water at 2am, or from beneath the fridge when we prepare to cook (appetizing, I know). We tried roach motels, brute force, and spraying Raid on all of our belongings in spite of the obvious warning labels (my roommate and I have probably eaten our fair share of poison at this point). Nothing has worked. So rather than fight them, we decided to welcome them. My advice to all of you novice New Yorkers who, like me, pay your rent in cash and share a home with a village of roaches: befriend them. Enjoy their company. Remind yourself that perspective-wise, they probably think you’re a god. Enjoy your reign. -- Jake DeNicola, 24, raised in Greenwich Village, currently lives in Greenpoint
On going out
Growing up in the city, my too-hip-for-school friends and I didn’t exactly frequent the Lower East Side bar scene; we were far too busy using our fake IDs to buy Four Lokos. But after returning to the city post-college, those same friends convinced me there was no better way to spend a sweaty August night than waiting in a line full of underage interns to get into a “classic” LES bar. Real IDs in hand, we would often venture out on a DIY bar crawl down Ludlow Street.
After far too many weekends wasted dodging clumsy curbside pukers, nearly tripping over girls stopped mid-sidewalk to take their shoes off or wing their eyeliner, and too many $30 cab rides back to Brooklyn, I have finally concluded that true New Yorkers must stay in on Saturdays.
I also keep an up-to-date list of bars I hate. I’ll revisit the good ones on weeknights. -- Emma Turetsky, 23, raised in Park Slope, currently lives in South Williamsburg
Don’t do it in July. You may end up in the ER with heat exhaustion, and you’ve probably spent all of your copay money on a broker’s fee.
Before you pack, abandon half of the things you plan on bringing. I promise your new apartment is too small for them. If you purge too much, drive around Williamsburg or Park Slope and look for abandoned furniture before you subject yourself to the living nightmare that is Ikea. (But beware: avoid anything upholstered. Bed bugs are the blight on this city you may have heard of and will certainly want to avoid. The creepy crawlies might even be the reason a perfectly good couch is sitting on the sidewalk.) Renting a U-Haul is cheaper than you think. Buy your friends pizza and hire a TaskRabbit -- the whole affair will feel less like punishment with more hands involved. You will be very sweaty. Bring beer. And Gatorade. -- Ben Drennan, 24, currently lives in Bushwick and has been in New York City for 12 years
On feeding yourself
I am truly terrible at feeding myself. I regularly get distracted at work, forget to eat for eight hours at a time, and then inhale a container of pad Thai like Garfield. On whims, I spend absurd quantities of money grocery shopping, prepare myself one mediocre meal, and then let seven items of produce go bad in my fridge. When I go out to eat, I inevitably spend $14 on a glass of wine before either ordering the cheapest thing on the menu, or telling myself, I deserve the $30 couscous.
Eating properly in the city is hard. Meal planning at home is a chore and dining out is expensive. And while I haven’t mastered eating here by any means, I have learned to stop trying to work against my natural routines. I will never make myself lunch -- no amount of New Year’s resolutions will change that. Instead, I’ve found affordable places that I actually like near my office. I don’t waste money on groceries I don’t need. When buying food, I buy enough for the meal I’m about to make. I can trust that the rest will go bad. When I go out to eat, I avoid appetizers or sides. If I’m still hungry after my entree, I’ll get pizza. And lastly, I allow myself indulgences. I may or may not be qualified to say this, as I have overdrawn my bank account more than enough times, but if a glass of wine at dinner is your indulgence, don’t cut it out. Instead, cut out Sweetgreen and eat office Cheetos for lunch. -- Eliza Dumais, 23, raised in Windsor Terrace, currently lives in South Williamsburg
On the MTA
Harp on the ever-deteriorating and dilapidated subway system all you want (yes, we know subway cars occasionally smell like a combination of puke and expired dairy products, and yes, the heat doesn’t work in the winter, and when it rains, it rains inside the car), but let’s be honest: it does get you where you need to go. Do yourself a favor and download a couple of apps: Citymapper helps you navigate the subway and bus system, and it even gives reliable data about departure times. Similarly, Transit provides you with a handy timetable for when trains are arriving -- perfect for stations without countdown clocks.
The best advice I can give you about commuting via the MTA is to simply not be an asshole. It might sound silly, but while you can’t ask for the MTA to send trains systematically every four minutes, there are a few variables you can control. Wiggle your way into the middle of the car instead of standing in front of the doors (this helps trains leave the station faster because you’re not blocking people from getting on and off). Give your seat up for someone who needs it more than you. Don’t eat anything anyone would notice. Don’t take up more space than you need. (Take off your backpack!) And please, PLEASE don’t cut your fingernails. Just don’t. -- Amy Schulman, 23, raised in Greenwich village, currently lives in Fort Greene
Here is a hot take: Commuting is good.
I grew up in Inwood. If you haven’t heard of it (and there is truly no reason you would have), it’s on the northernmost tip of Manhattan and is convenient to nothing. To give you an idea, I lived on 215th Street and Manhattan ends on 218th Street. After spending my formative years having to commute to see anyone or do anything, living downtown was my holy grail. I wanted to walk to work... or anywhere. I wanted a bagel place. I wanted the cool-girl spontaneity of being able to sit in pajamas until 10:30pm and suddenly decide to “grab a drink.” As I learned, all of this is achievable with a good roommate, a small fortune in rent, and a blatant denial of the amount of space you need for all your possessions.
I am not going to tell you living in the dead-center of downtown Manhattan isn’t glorious most of the time. The novelty and proximity to everything I could ever need make the high rent and small space worth it. But once adulthood really gets its talons in you and you find yourself giving more and more of your hours to work, drinks with acquaintances you have lukewarm feelings about, picking up groceries you won’t use, and fitting dinner with your grandparents in there somewhere, moments you have to yourself become precious.
A long subway commute belongs entirely to you. You can read your book, put in your headphones and close your eyes, make up stories about the people across from you, or just sit quietly and enjoy the uninterrupted solitude. You’re passively careening through space and time in a metal tube. You can’t make it go faster, or take a different route, or function any better. The extreme lack of control is -- almost -- freeing. -- Emma Holland
On driving in the city
On finding a job
There is a difference between finding a job and finding a career, and while I definitely cannot help out with the latter (I am still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up...) I think I know the key to landing low-stakes employment: just walk in! You can (and should!) spend countless hours sending online applications into the internet void, but I believe that half the battle is showing up. Your future employers will see how enthusiastic you are about working with them and -- who knows -- you may just pop by at the very moment they need someone just like you.
Recently, while I was walking home from one of my jobs (yes, plural), I stopped by an overpriced pseudo-organic market for some mango. I asked the clerk at the checkout counter whether they were hiring and within minutes I had a job offer. I did not accept, but I did find a job. If you can find one, you can always find more, right? Finding a career in NYC is no small feat, but it is possible to eke out a living. You just have to ask. -- Sarah Goldstone, 30, raised in Fresh Meadows, Queens, currently lives in Bushwick
On taking care of yourself
It is seemingly impossible to drink enough water, drink less-than-too-much wine, eat vegetables, socialize, manage a career, maintain something that hopefully resembles a social life, and read books all at the same time.
Checking all of the necessary boxes to call yourself a functional person without sacrificing the bulk of your sanity is among the most difficult tasks we face -- and attempting to do so in New York is all that much harder. As someone who often fails spectacularly in this regard, I can only explain where I repeatedly fall short.
There is some synapse in the back of my brain that forbids me from saying no to plans, even when they sound utterly miserable. Do I want to take the ferry to Staten Island in the snow to meet your Hinge date’s baby cousin? Why yes. But this eccentric tendency to overcommit often leaves me without sufficient time to spend with the people who actually matter to me, and without the space to commit myself to things I actually enjoy. I used to go for runs of my own volition! To read somewhere that wasn’t the subway! These things are important, and it is an ongoing project in my own psyche to make space for them. I suggest you do the same.
Beyond that, New York City is shrouded in cynicism. In the summer, we complain about the heat. In the winter, the cold. All the rest of the time, rent prices, the MTA, our favorite bodega that’s recently been replaced by a Whole Foods with a vermouth speakeasy stationed underneath.
In the interest of your equanimity, find some things that offer some respite from the cynicism. Sunrise at the Smith-Ninth Streets subway station on the F line. Chess in Union Square. Street musicians playing jazz for quarters in Columbus Circle. The toxic, glorious experience of doing anything at all, at any point, on a rooftop.
If your bliss has something to do with yoga, I commend you. If it has something to do with doing crossword puzzles while eating a baguette on your fire escape, I commend you, too. And if you’re still looking for your bliss and wondering if it’s anywhere to be found in New York City, take comfort in the knowledge that you have 8.5 million neighbors doing the same thing. -- Eliza Dumais
Sign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer.