You can't stop New York City

Bookshelf, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, June 2013

Standing on the L train heading into Brooklyn, I became concerned. The train sped up and appeared to accelerate faster than usual. I looked around, but no one else seemed to notice. The train barreled through the tunnel faster and faster. I almost laughed out loud, it was so startling to me. I thought to myself, yes, this is what New York City feels like. An immense amount of speed, an overwhelming amount of metal and concrete and a whole lot of people who have no idea why you might be freaked out by all this.

Not that I was freaked out. Not exactly. To be honest, I loved it. But I didn't always. It took me a while, and a few trips, to warm up to New York City. I had no idea why people bought I <3 NY t-shirts and why so many professed their love for a city that, to me, appeared overcrowded and unforgiving.

And just to be clear, it is overcrowded and unforgiving (or, it can be).

But, that's just it. What I've come to love about New York is that, it doesn't pretend not to be overcrowded and unforgiving. New York is what it is. Take it or leave it.

And the people. The people! So many people. I love them all. The barista at Think Coffee who smiled back at me and asked if I was having a good day, the guy in line behind me who barked an order at the barista without even blinking an eye (and the barista didn't blink either), the waiters at Le Pain Quotidien on Bleeker Street who kindly took my order of green tea and a soft-boiled egg every morning, the countless people who helped me find my way when I got lost (which was a lot), the woman who yelled, "Don't you fuck with me young lady!" at her daughter in the middle of a busy sidewalk, the tourists who asked me for directions (ha!), the young men in Bed-Stuy who gently teased me and asked me if I'd date a black man, my sweet friend, Emily, who taught me how to correctly pronounce Bed-Stuy (thank you, Emily), the deranged guy on the subway platform who reached out and tried to touch my face, the old lady who slowly and carefully lead her young granddaughter by the hand down Bowery, my instructor at The Interdependence Project, Ethan, who encouraged me to find my voice and my lion's roar, and my friends in the Immersion program, Mona, Emily, Alexandra, Ambika, Anna, Anya, Paul, Jacoby, Robert, Monica, Patrick, Ash and Kim Brown, who all welcomed me as if I were coming home, rather than just visiting (I will never be able to express in words how much this meant to me).

The people, I've found, are the very best part of the city. My favorite part. Tough on the outside and nothing but heart on the inside. Treat a New Yorker with love and respect and they'll give it back to you tenfold. Not all New Yorkers, of course (and you better be ready for that). But most of the New Yorkers I met, despite the chaos all around them, revealed bountiful warmth and squishiness underneath their cool and driven exteriors.

Waiting for my plane to take off at La Guardia and to take me home for the last time this year, I stopped in one of the shops to kill some time and grab some snacks. There on the shelf was an I <3 NY coffee mug. Naturally, I grabbed it. The lady behind the counter smiled at me, wrapped my new mug in paper and threw in a few samples of free candy, just for good measure.

I <3 NY.

(A little New York State of Mind)