BY GEORGE HAHN
We’ve been through it here in the Big Apple. And it’s not quite like it was after 9/11, when we could actually hug one another in our collective grief. This is different.
When I broke up with NYC back in 2016, I was mad. Basically, I was mad that I couldn’t find a quick pivot from what I had been doing for a living into something else that would enable me to continue living here. My resentment level was through the roof.
Then I spent three years in my hometown of Cleveland. It was OK. There were things I really liked about it, and things I really didn’t. After about a year and a half there, I was missing New York terribly. Then I spent the next year and a half trying to hustle the right opportunity to get back. That opportunity materialized just before the new year, and I started 2020 as a New Yorker again, just in time for the pandemic.
We all know how it was here. It was terrifying for a good while. Those of us who didn’t or couldn’t leave the city were sequestered to our apartments, periodically sneaking out in masks and gloves to secure food and toilet paper amidst a chorus of ambulance sirens and a rising death toll.
As scary as it was in the city, I was glad I was here and not somewhere else. This is my city. Except for the three-year blip, this is where I’ve lived since my 24th birthday. Like most, I moved here to pursue a dream. But even if the dream changed, this was the city I wanted to live in for as long as I can remember. Whether I was an actor or a writer or a consultant or a whatever, I wanted to do it here. Because I love it here. I loved it from the distance of movies, television, and photographs as a kid, and I love it even more in real life as someone who actually lives here.
Years ago, a friend suggested to me that – other than perhaps London and Paris – New York is the only city that doesn’t have an inferiority complex. Maybe it’s true. I don’t know. I do know that New York is one of the world’s HQs for finance, entertainment, fashion, art, culture, architecture, cuisine, you name it. Other than yards to maintain, garages to overfill, and strip malls that resemble a New York City street movie set on the Paramount backlot, it wants for nothing. It’s unapologetically gritty and glamorous, dense and diverse. It’s the city that inspires “New York style” flourishes in other towns.
Despite its problems (and it has many, like any other vibrant metropolis), despite its expense, despite its noise, despite its grit and despite this pandemic, which asks us to make mostly temporary adjustments and modifications to our behavior, it’s a city like no other city in the world.
It will come back. And it will probably be different, perhaps for the better. One of the reasons New York is New York is its agility and relative receptiveness to progress and change. It’s perpetually in motion. As I’ve said before, your favorite diner at the end of the block will close, your favorite building will be demolished and replaced with one you hate, your parking spot will become a bike lane, Barneys will go out of business, people will leave or die. That’s New York. It’s in the brochure. Where people have issues, as I did, is with an unwillingness to accept that New York is constantly evolving, as it is now, though perhaps more rapidly than our preferred timeline.
In the midst of a grand exodus from the city by both people and businesses, one of my favorite quotes about our current moment came from Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Jerry Saltz, who had a gorgeous message to creatives or anyone wishing to start anew on fertile ground, much like the pioneers who redefined and reimagined the West Village, SoHo, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, i.e. those who didn’t go for ready-made sheen but saw beauty and potential in the ruin before it became gentrified and luxurified:
“Come to New York City. Start over. Commercial real estate is devastated; prices will plummet. You are tasked with building a new art world and a new city. I and millions of others did this here once upon a glorious time. Now it is all of your turns. Grab your tools, brushes, kids, and come to NYC. You are the luckiest people in the world. All ages.”
As a lover of this city who spent three years in a place where willingness to change, adjust and shift was met with resistance, I see New York through different lenses than I did before. I understand the change, I accept it, and I welcome it.
As I sit here writing this, alone, in the middle of one of the scariest periods in our lifetime, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. I happen to like New York, a lot, and I’m so goddamn lucky to witness firsthand and actually be a part of what she comes up with next.
We’re not just going to be OK here. We’re going to be amazing. Are you in?