Soldiers of the Empire State


You have to be slightly insane to live in New York City, and thoroughly masochistic to fall in love with it. There’s nothing constant or predictable about New York, not even the weather, and especially not good fortune. It’s a moody, morally-flexible metropolis, hiding lies and secrets behind mammoth skyscrapers; the illusion of the American Dream made tangible, then destroyed, all under the same flashing, neon lights.

Yet, people continue to flock to Manhattan in droves, overflowing the sidewalks, overcrowding the subways, and settling for sub par standards of living just to call themselves New Yorkers. In actuality, New Yorker is just another term for a martyr. We shack up with Craigslist roommates in crumbling, “prewar” apartments with no air-conditioning. We sit on cement benches eating fourteen-dollar salads in the shade of steel giants, strategically avoiding eye contact with everyone but our smartphones. We race from point A to point B pretending that we control time, all the while cursing late trains, crazy cab drivers, and careless pedestrians. We sacrifice nearly all human comforts–space, time, money, and privacy—just to wear the title of New Yorker like a purple heart; another wounded soldier of the Empire State.

And for what? The Statue of Liberty is no Eiffel Tower, and few of us have ever been to Ellis Island. There’s little natural scenery, and the limited parks and trees that exist are carefully blueprinted, positioned, and planned, only to be destroyed with the same strategy to make way for the city’s next superstructure. We don’t boast any royal families, (unless you count the Trumps), and our government officials have a tendency to put sex before politics. Contrary to what we might tell our suburban friends, we see more homeless people pissing in public than celebrities on the subway. What, then, is the lure of living in this unsympathetic, gritty mega-city?

Perhaps, more than anything, it’s the challenge. Like climbing Mount Everest or sky diving, there’s something about living in a place so wholly unlivable that taunts the ego and ignites our daring. If not to satisfy our own thrill for danger, it’s to prove something to all those people who stick their noses up at New York and say, “Why would you ever?” Why would you ever willingly move there? Why would you ever endure dirty streets and crowded subways? Why would you ever live in a box when you could live like a king for the same price in a different city? Of course, these why-would-you-evers will never be New Yorkers, and it’s this fact alone that defines us, strengthens us, and fills us with pride—and there’s no denying the boundless pride New Yorkers take in themselves and their city. Unlike the rest of the world, we’ve survived this life, this city; these limitations and sacrifices. While other cities rely on their history of struggle to support their pride, New Yorkers rely on their past, present, and future. We earn our pride every day, in the dark alleyways, cramped quarters, and overflowing everything of New York City.

There are people who swim with sharks, wrestle alligators, and bungee jump from rickety bridges, and then there are those who choose to live and love New York. We are slightly insane, masochistic, and stubborn, just like the city itself. Yet, we know that living in a different city wouldn’t produce in us the same blind fearlessness that makes us capable of surviving all the other challenges of living, and gives us the courage to take on the rest of the world. As the saying goes, if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere–but in our heart of hearts, there’s no place a New Yorker would rather be than in this moody, morally-flexible, unpredictable, unsympathetic, perfect, wonderful, beautiful city.

This piece was also featured on the website Thought Catalog in September 2014. 


10 replies »

  1. Haha love this post! Love the humour, the mater of facts, the unfiltered descriptions 🙂
    I love New York as well – even though I only lived in my own manhattan apartment for 1 week. Have you ever been to Bangkok though? I wonder how the chaos actually compare between these two cities ( I need to live in NY before Xmas to make a substantial comparison 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Natasha 🙂 I’ve never been to Bangkok, but it’s on my bucket list! I’m sure it has its own unique chaos and challenges, and you’ll have to let me know your thoughts if you get to spend some extended time in NYC. Of course, my essay fails to mention the struggles of people living in cities that are dealing with poverty, corrupt leaders, and crime–and the people who live these lives are the true soldiers. But from a first world perspective, the lifestyle New Yorkers willingly endure to call the city their home is laughable, admirable, and insane all at the same time. 🙂

  2. I grew up and was raised in New York and moved to Florida over 10 years ago. Physically, Florida is far more beautiful than New York, except during Fall season. It’s the only time I really do miss it, and during Christmas. But still there’s a love I’ll have for my home state because, well it’s my home state. My advice to anyone thinking of making the move up there or going for travel is to visit outside the city. It’s not all tall buildings, chaotic, or grimy. Go to boroughs like Queens its diverse with culture, or travel upstate and experience life aside from the hustle and bustle, experience historical landmarks. That’s what I love about New York, it has something to offer for everyone, you just have to find it:)


    • I could not agree more, Rakhi. I actually grew up in upstate NY in Saratoga Springs, and currently live in Queens. When people hear I’m from New York, they automatically assume NYC, but as you said, this state isn’t all tall buildings and chaos. There’s mountains, and rivers, and beautiful scenic drives, but you’d hardly believe it if your only experience in New York was in Manhattan!

  3. I’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail twice and NY was one of my favorite states to walk through. I especially love Harriman State Park! And I love the city… I’ve only been a visitor but adore the chaos and grit and history. Wonderful post about this great city.

    • You’re so adventurous, Robyn! New York is a very diverse state and people often don’t realize there’s more to it besides NYC. So it’s great that live had the opportunity to really explore it. Thanks for sharing your stories!

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