We are gathered here today to toast and roast our dear old chum, someone who’s like no one, someone who’s a chameleon, a shape shifter. You may know them as the Big Apple, Gotham, the City So Nice They Named It Twice, the City that Never Sleeps, the Empire City. Many simply call it The City. Me? The nickname I like best is A Beautiful Disaster.
I give you the dynamic, the dastardly, the dreamy—New York.
I've left New York multiple times over the years, sworn them off for good, to never return, only to eventually make my way back. I’m not alone in this pursuit to try to live without New York only to find that New York lures me back just by existing.
Joan Didion famously said goodbye to all that, wrote a book about “staying too long at the dance” when she headed west to California, and then years later, happily returned to live out her days here. Nora Ephron, whose work and life are synonymous with New York, was born here and describes being “ripped” from it at age five when her family moved to Los Angeles. She would spend her whole childhood in L.A., go to college at Wellesley in Massachusetts, and in 1962 run back to New York after what she termed a “horrible intermission.” She took another brief 4–year hiatus in the name of love (for a man) that moved her to D.C., and in 1980 went back to New York for good. She made her love for this place the center of her world, and ours, through her many timeless films.
E.B. White loved New York as much as anyone who’s ever strolled these streets, and he made his love immortal when he wrote the effortlessly 7,500-word essay titled eloquently “Here is New York.” It’s his last line that always leaves me in tears and makes me vow to survive and thrive in the city for as long as I have breath: “… this city. This mischievous and marvelous monument which not to look upon would be like death.”
Unlike Joan and Nora, once E.B. left his New York for Maine, he never did move back, but instead spent the rest of his life in exile, longing for the New York of his youth, which was long-gone and would never return.
Maybe Texas Guinan said it best: “I would rather have a square inch of New York than all the rest of the world.” Let me be clear, I just did an apartment search and a square inch is just about all anyone can afford in this market.
If you leave, by choice or by force, as many do, New York will always take you back, whenever you’re ready. No grudges held, no explanations needed. Like any good friend, you’ll just pick up right where you left off.
Trust me on this. I've left New York many times. But I’ll tell you a little secret—I'm never leaving again. New York is stuck with me now, forever. I’ll be a 105-year-old woman, walking my little dog.
In my humble opinion ... there’s no better place for a dog than New York. The sidewalk is an all-night buffet for them. Here I’ll be, eating matzo ball soup and a bagel, the best in the world thanks to our water (which—surprise!—we get from upstate). I’ll still be scarfing down a New York City slice of pizza, served piping hot out of the oven onto a generic white paper plate as I walk around the city reliving a different memory around every bend, on every block.
The spirit of New York is baked into the streets, embedded in everyone everywhere, wherever they come from, all at once. In my golden years, I’ll still be madly in love with New York, whoever New York is at that point. As my best friend says, I'm a New Yorker first and an American second.
Truer words have never been spoken by anyone, except maybe Carrie Bradshaw who said, “If you only get one great love, New York may just be mine. And I can’t have nobody talking shit about my boyfriend.” Preach, Carrie. You come for New York, you come for me. I will defend New York as much as any friend, family member, or lover.
New York gave me every dream I've had, and some I never dared to dream until they found me. It’s no wonder that more movies are filmed here and filmed about here than any other city in the world.
Make no mistake: New York gives as good as it gets and takes a lot from us, too. Mostly money. But what it gives in return is priceless—the freedom to be exactly who you are and to find a community where you fit. There’s no typical New York day, neighborhood, or experience. But there are quintessential ones, and they happen every day, on every corner, to just about everyone who makes a life here. New York is a city of nearly 10 million faces, and each is different, and New York and New Yorkers wouldn’t have it any other way.
That’s the thing about New York. Today, it’s different than it was yesterday. Tomorrow, it’ll be different than it is today. Change is all you can ever bank on. But if there’s anything I’ve learned during my years in New York, it’s that this too shall pass, change, and morph, whether we want it to or not, because in New York it always does. New York lives, loves, breathes, remembers, grows, changes, and evolves. And not always for the best. Like us, New York has low periods of woe and disappointment.
No flower blooms in every season, even if that flower is named New York. Perhaps especially so.
New York has seen dark and dismal days. Some may say right now, the year 2023, is one of those times. But here’s what I know to be true—decry and declare the end of New York. Call New York dead. Say New York is over. This is the end. Everyone’s leaving. Get out while the gettin’s good. But those of us who know and love this place, and have been around the proverbial and literal blocks many times over, know this: never count New York, or New Yorkers, out. We may fall, but we rise, always, and higher than ever before. Just give us some time (and a lot of coffee).
They say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. What they don't tell you is that once you do make it here, you'll never want to make it anywhere else. Because nowhere is like New York. This is an inventor’s paradise, a city where things begin, a city where we make ourselves and our lives into whatever we want them to be.
Friends from D.C. visited me a few years ago. While having breakfast at Barney Greengrass, they asked what I love about it. What I said, and continue to say: whoever you are, whatever you're into, New York has it. There's room for everyone to be exactly who you are, to find a community of others who are like you. The diversity is unmatched. You’re welcome, whoever you are, wherever you come from, and wherever you’re going.
I can be alone in New York and never feel lonely. When I'm burning the midnight oil, I take comfort knowing there are others who are also toiling away, probably right next door or across the street, and loving what they're working on as much as I love what I work on.
And if by chance you are the one person who’s into something no one else seems to be into, then you start your little merry band of one and others are sure to take up the cause.
Howl here, and you’ll find your pack, or make one.
If these streets could talk, they’d never be able to come up for air. There are just too many stories to tell to slow down and take a breath. And so New York and New Yorkers are often breathless, gobsmacked by a particular brand of magic that makes anything and everything here not only possible, but probable. The layers, above and below ground, physically and metaphorically, are endless. It’s turtles all the way down, and all the way up.
Keep looking up. Keep striving. It’s a New York pastime to keep your head in the clouds and your heart full of dreams.
Not to say that New York is never cruel. I've racked up plenty of pain inside these borders. Heartbreak. Loss. Betrayal. Disappointment. Disease. Terror. Add all that up and you might question why I'm still here. Because, here, I live. I really live. I feel alive in New York in a way that I’ve never felt anywhere else.
Here, I’m fully awake.
Speaking of being awake … New York, why you gotta be so loud all the time? I know. I know. You got a lot to say. As the world’s first megacity, New Yorkers speak over 600 languages. Every time I go somewhere else, I’m reminded that the whole world lives here, and so everywhere I go in the world feels familiar. Everywhere feels like a piece of New York.
I travel, have adventures in distant lands, and when my plane touches down at JFK, or my train pulls into Grand Central, or I drive down the West Side Highway, I still get butterflies in my stomach, like Christmas morning, like the first day of school ... like the first moments of falling in love.
Something incredible could happen at any moment on any day here, and often does.
New York is full of beauty, and also full of trash. But there's treasure in those heaps of garbage. And don't take my word for it. Go to the Museum of Trash with objects collected and curated by a sanitation worker during his 30+ years working the streets in the wee hours of the morning. Garbage shouldn’t be stunning, but here, it is. And that’s not the only thing that doesn’t make sense.
There’s nowhere as complicated and complex as New York.
Like a hummingbird, this place shouldn't work. It defies the laws of physics that anything ever gets done here. But it does, just like a hummingbird flies, and then some.
The people. New Yorkers. The very best people you'll ever meet are from here, live here, and move here. And we know how to move, on the streets, into and out of apartments, up and down the corporate ladder, in and out of fame, favor, and fortune. One minute you’re down, and the next you’re up so you celebrate the highs and weather the lows, all the while knowing however you’re doing today, tomorrow it’ll be a whole new deal.
So New York, after all we’ve been through, and all we will go through in all our years ahead together, I want you to know I got you, all day every day. You aren’t the easiest nor the cheapest to live with, but you are the most fun and spontaneous partner-in-crime a girl could ask for. You amaze me. You are unforgettable, and a life without you wouldn’t be the life for me.
So let’s all raise a glass to this wild and wondrous place that I’m so proud to call home. New York, here’s to you, and all that you are and all that you will be.
Here, our best days are always ahead of us, and we’ll face them together.
*Feature image from dikaya888 (Adobe)