November 28, 2016 DMG

NY… What a Ride

The picture you see above is the last one I took in NYC. Inside a van (will explain later) heading over the Manhattan Bridge on our way to JFK Airport… the beginning of a 30+ hour journey back to Adelaide, Australia.

We spent a little under 18 months living in the concrete jungle… and a jungle is exactly what it is. Heading in I figured I’d just get used to it and normality would set in, and to a certain extent it did. However, I’m pretty sure my mind was blown at least once a week throughout the whole 18 months.

Summer 2015

We landed at the end of May and spent the first 30 days at the Residence Inn, Times Square (or as we now refer to it… Times Scare). For those that have visited Times Scare you’ll understand my next statement… we were lucky to be far enough away from it to not hear or see it! Sure, it’s must experience, but I hate the place. It’s commercial America at its absolute finest. I mean the 24/7 energy consumption alone is enough to make you ill, let alone the creepy ‘characters’ trying to take your money. Then there’s the shoulder to shoulder ‘slow walk’ through damn near all of it, trying stop your daughter getting elbowed by everyone walking passed (she was just the right height). Surprisingly, we didn’t go there often. 🙂

The hotel was just a block away from Bryant Park. While the park is busy, this was much more our style. If there is one thing NYC does right, it’s their parks (well, most of them). There were ping pong tables, seats and tables, a board game section, a reading section with library, mini carousel, and a huge lawn area. It’s a beautiful place in the middle of all the chaos. As mentioned in a previous post…

One of the first days we were here we walked through the park and Jude saw on Facebook that John Waters (director, author, actor, etc.) was speaking at the park and then doing a book signing! So we hung out for about 30 minutes and got to see John again (had seen his spoken word a few times back in Australia) and meet him to have books signed! A very cool NYC experience within the first week of being here.

The hotel was reasonable. It was neat and tidy, pretty attentive staff, and from what I’ve heard about cheaper NYC hotels, that’s pretty much all you can ask for. We did have an air-con leak in the room which produced a bit of mould on some luggage, but they had most things cleaned or replaced (by way of money), and gave us a bigger room.

Quickly after landing we began the apartment hunt. I don’t know anyone who would find the process enjoyable, especially at the beginning of NYC summer when everything is in demand. Some warnings taken from a previous post…

  • Standard broker fee is 15% of the annual rent, and it needs to be paid up front.
  • Without US credit you’ll be asked for a massive security deposit. We were lucky enough to negotiate our a little bit, but when the market is hot you can’t expect landlord’s broker to give in much (one place asked us for a year’s rent up front!).
  • You need to be prepared. By that I mean have everything you need ready before you start looking. If you see a place you like you’ll probably have to put in an application on the spot or risk losing it to someone else. Obviously this is more often the case for the less expensive apartments, but still happens in the higher end as well (especially in summer).
  • Be prepared to look at places without your broker. Some landlord’s broker won’t share their fee and therefore your broker won’t get anything from the deal. In fact, you can do it all without a broker on your end, but it will be MUCH harder… especially if you don’t know how the market works here.
  • If your money is overseas get it across to the US as quickly as possible. If it’s delayed then you may lose the place you’ve applied for. International transfers can take up to 10 days in some cases, and the landlord won’t wait that long.

If we had our time again, we would have looked at subletting, at least initially. This would have given us more time to find the area we loved and not get so far behind in relation to money. That or look more closely at luxury buildings as they generally don’t charge the tenants the broker fee (the call it OP, or owner pays).

We ended up finding a place in the West Village. Small and way overpriced, but we had a deadline, and we wanted to be zoned to a ‘good’ public school… so we took the hit.

The same weekend we moved in we were surprised by the Pride Parade that just happened to work it’s way down our new street, Christopher. First thing in the morning I had wondered why the NYPD barriers were going up along the sidewalks… and come about 1pm… no more wondering! It was a crazy 11-12 hours of Pride magic and madness… welcome to the Village!

The remainder of the summer was spent settling in to the new apartment and area. Lots of exploration of the West Village and surrounding areas.

Fall 2015

Things were starting to cool down. Jasmine started school and settled in really quickly (she is an amazing little girl, even if I do say so myself). Although, it felt like she was home more often than not. I don’t think they had a full week until some time in October due to all the holidays they observe in the lead up to Thanksgiving. She went to PS 3, one of two public elementary schools zoned for the West Village. It was about a minute’s walk from our building! She’s a private school girl here in Australia, so absolutely loved no uniform, teachers by first name, free breakfast, etc. There was no way we were going to put her in private school in Manhattan as the cheapest I could find was approx. $40,000USD a year! PS 3 was OK. It was obvious they cared for the kids, but the education department should do more. I was told they only fund the core subjects like Math, English, etc. and all the others rely on parent and community donations. To me, that’s a disgrace. But Jasmine was happy, and that’s the most we could ask for knowing it was not forever.

We took our first day trip out of NYC and caught the metro north railway up to Cold Spring. What a beautiful little town on the Hudson River, about an hour an a half north of NYC. A nice main street with various shops and cafes, including lots of antique places which are always great to browse through. It’s also the home of Cape Cod Leather, home of leather goods worn and used by the stars! We got chatting with the owner about our recent move and he was kind enough to heavily discount our purchases after our horror real estate stories! We ended up river side enjoying an ice cream before heading back to the jungle.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned work in the post, and it’s deliberate as I wanted this to be work free. However, I need to mention it briefly as it’s the reason I flew to the Netherlands for a few days! My client for the entire time I was working in NYC was Rabobank, and not long after starting with them I went on an introductory meet the team trip to their base in Utrecht. I stayed in Amsterdam as it’s only a 20 minute train ride to work, so outside office hours I had a great time walking around the city and exploring the canals. It’s an amazing place and I wish I’d had longer… but just means I’ll have to go back one day!

This was about the time when the weather starting getting comfortable enough for me to walk to and from work each day. It took approx. 45 minutes each way depending on the path I took and how many tourists I had to dodge. In Adelaide, this would be unheard of. I don’t know anyone who would walk 45 minutes to get to work, but in NYC it’s kind of normal. Catching the 3 subways I needed would have only got me home about 5-10 minutes sooner, so why not breathe some fresh air (cough cough), get some exercise, and see the sights? I walked to and from 102 Christopher St and 245 Park Ave… Map. My favourite path took me past the Flatiron Building, which amazed me every time.

Fall in the US also means it’s time for Halloween. Sure, we knew about it before and have even had a party for it as it coincides with my Birthday… but nothing could prepare us for it in NYC! Pretty much the entire city dresses up. As if the people of NYC aren’t already crazy enough… why not throw in some scary costumes? It was a blast… and Jasmine ended up with over 100 pieces of candy, so she was stoked.

We also had a few other firsts… Thanksgiving and S’mores. Sooo good, yet sooo bad.

Winter 2015/2016

I don’t think we could have had a nicer winter for our first in North America. After seeing on the news what happened in the winter of 2014/2015 we were a little worried whether we would be able to handle it. Turns out we had a very mild one with plenty of the good, and not much the bad.

We took our first trip out of NY state and headed to Philadelphia for a long weekend. What a gorgeous city, and this is where we saw our first ever snow fall. We ate Philly cheese steaks at the Reading Terminal Market, took our tourist pics of the Liberty Bell, ran up the Rocky steps, and visited the Museum of Art. We also experienced our first -20 something wind chills… fun (not).

Christmas Day is one memory that will be with me forever. We had lunch at the Rockefeller Center overlooking the ice rink (and the queue a mile long!), walked around 5th Ave and the shop’s Christmas window displays, then headed up to Central Park for a nice relaxing stroll. It was pretty much the perfect day.

NYE was also very cool. We had decided a long time before hand that we wouldn’t even bother trying to see in the New Year in Times Scare, screw that! So we headed out to Coney Island for music and fireworks on the boardwalk.

In January we had our first, and only, blizzard for the winter. From what I was told it was the ‘perfect blizzard’. The snow started falling on the Friday evening and continued through to Sunday morning. What was particularly ‘perfect’ about this blizzard was that you could still head outside and enjoy the snow fall. It wasn’t too windy, there was no traffic, and while the snow is fresh it’s really great fun. We spent the Saturday going for small walks around the West Village just taking in the magic of the snow (we don’t get snow in Adelaide). Then sun was out on the Sunday and the snow was gone in a week… which is lucky because it can turn pretty damn ugly once it’s mixed with NYC trash and dog shit!

We also had an All Access Tour of Madison Square Garden (MSG). The place is iconic, and seeing it when nothing is on is a fantastic experience. You even get to see the locker rooms!

Spring 2016

Spring is a special time of year for us… Jasmine’s Birthday. This will hopefully be one that she’ll remember for a very long time as we dropped an absolute bomb ($) on a trip down to Orlando. 5 days as Disney World followed by 2 at Universal Studios. It was amazing, and tiring! Doing it again we’d allow for a few days in-between to just chill by the pool, etc. but for this trip we just hit the parks hard. There really is nothing else like it. Even as an adult you get lost in the magic and the parks are outstanding with their level of detail, attractions, rides, etc. We timed it to be outside of school holidays so that the crowds weren’t too bad, and being May the weather was also pretty good. The longest we waited for a ride was about an hour, which I’m told is pretty good (you hear stories of 3+ hours!). Jasmine had a blast, and in the end that’s what it was all about.

Spring also brought us to our first (and only) Yankees game. I saw $10 tickets advertised and snapped them up. Sure, they were behind the base, but they were still great seats and we had a great time. Yankees scored a home run, and they won! What more could you ask for. Despite the games averaging 3 hours in length it doesn’t feel like you’re there for that long. They do a good job of entertainment in the slower periods of the game.

Oh, and some more MSG action. We saw Pearl Jam play the Garden. We’re both huge fans of Pearl Jam and the voice that is Eddie Vedder (there is nothing quite like it). We did have great seats but still enjoyed it. MSG does a great job of the sound and visibility no matter where you’re seated.

Spring is a beautiful time of year in NYC. The blossoms bloom and the parks become beautiful once again. Needless to say we spent plenty of time in them!

Summer 2016

This was a big season for us. We knew that our time in NYC was coming to and end so we tried to squeeze in as much as possible.

With our lease ending in the West Village we managed to secure a furnished loft in Soho (through a friend of a friend of a friend – it’s how it works in NYC) to end our time in the concrete jungle. This gave us the opportunity to sell all our furniture and have a smoother transition heading toward the flight home. Soho is… the shiz people! I loved it. Sure it’s insanely busy during the day (where isn’t in NYC?), but get up early and walk around before the shops open… magical. Cobbled streets, street art/graffiti, it really is like walking through a movie set. The closer you get to Broadway and messier it is, but head west towards Thompson and Sullivan and you get tree lined streets, nice little restaurants and cafes, and a bit more residential. It was my type of living.

Another great gig was experienced… Eagles of Death Metal at the Williamsburg Music Hall. Despite them coming on about 4 hours late at 2am, it was insanely good! Jude handed over a necklace to Jesse Hughes, we both caught picks, and I managed to leap much higher than I ever have before at 5am to secure a drum stick!

Summer also marks another Birthday… Jude’s. I managed to land some tickets to Paul McCartney at MetLife Stadium as he just happened to be playing on her actual Birthday. We both love the Beatles, but Jude even more so. Seeing one of them live on stage singing all the classics was an amazing experience, and even more special as a Birthday celebration. Needless to say we both sang the ‘Birthday’ song pretty loudly.

Another couple of trips outside NY state, the first being Montreal, Canada. This was one place I promised myself I would go while we were living in North America. I’ve always wanted to go, and I wasn’t disappointed. We had 3 nights in downtown Montreal and were walking distance to everything we wanted to see and do. Notre-Dame Basilica and the rest of Old Montreal took my breathe away. Absolutely stunning. After the first day walking around we learned that we’d once again been followed by the Pride Parade, but this time it was Montreal’s. So on that day we headed out earlier as we didn’t want to get stuck in the crowds. We saw some beautiful art in Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and headed toward the Old Port where a festival and multiple markets were taking place. It’s a vibrant city in the Summer.

The second trip was via bus down to Washington DC. We landed a last minute AirBnB in Capitol Hill and spent a couple of days checking out the nation’s capital. We didn’t have enough time to venture outside of the Capitol Hill and National Mall areas, so I can’t speak for the rest of the city… but what we saw was impressive. Most amazing to us were all the museums and that fact they are free to enter. We had nowhere near enough time to even scratch the surface, but what we did see was brilliant. Native American, Air and Space, National Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and on the second day the National Gallery of Art. We saw pieces that you could only dream of seeing. Jude, being the art buff, was in her element. I was so happy we had the opportunity to see DC and some of the things located there.

Fall 2016 

It was now time to wind down and get things organised for the trip back to Australia.

We managed to take one last trip to Central Park and also had an hour rowing on the lake (just like being in a movie). Although somewhat crowded with other row boats, the lake was peaceful, and coming from Australia probably close to a once in a lifetime experience for us.

The weekend before flying out one of Jude’s favourite bands was playing Webster Hall… Green Day. Note, this is one of the biggest rock bands in the world, and Webster Hall has a 1500 max capacity. In other words, landing tickets for this gig was like winning the lottery. Jude and I were trying at the same time on the day they were released and I was lucky enough to land 2! What a way to say goodbye to NYC. The gig was fantastic, but the special moment actually came after it. While in NYC Jude got to know Jesse Malin, a great musician who just happened to to the opening act for Green Day, and also the owner of a little club in the East Village. After the gig had finished Jude spoke to Jesse and got her name on the door at the private after party… long story short we ended up at the party hanging with the guys from Green Day, and much to my surprise Jame Hetfield. Yes, that’s correct, I was in the presence of a Metal God.  \m/

A true NYC experience to end our journey. Magic!

As you can imagine, after spending approx. 18 months in a city like NYC there was far more than what I’ve written above, but I’m not up for writing a novel at the moment.

In summary…

The Good

Things we liked:

  • The experience – When I say experience, I don’t mean the whole ‘moving the family across the globe for 18 months’ experience, that was hard work. I mean the experience of being in a city like NYC. Living and breathing each day in a place that is constantly buzzing. It can be tiring, but worth it.
  • Graffiti/street art – I took hundreds of photos! The art in NYC is amazing, and you definitely don’t have to go to a museum to see it.
  • There is ALWAYS something happening – You are spoiled for choice in NYC. The only blocker is how much you’re willing to spend.
  • Museums – Seeing things you would only otherwise imagine. Original works by some of the world’s greatest. I’m not an art buff, and even I was awestruck by many of the pieces I saw.
  • You can truly be yourself – NYC has a little of everything, that’s part of the beauty of it. You want to take your kids to school in your pjs? Do it… no-one will care. You want to eat at a fancy restaurant in shorts and a t-shirt? Go for it. There seems to be an understanding that NYC is what ever you want it to be, and people either accept you or ignore you. So you really can look and act however you want.
  • Concerts/gigs – This is more Jude’s thing, but OMG… they ALL come to NYC. This is a big deal to us being from Adelaide, because we normally miss out on the majority of bands and musicians. If you planned your trip around seeing great bands, you would never leave!

The Bad

Things we didn’t like (beware – ranting and cursing to follow)…

  • Service industry – NYC, work your shit out! Please! I could count on one hand the amount of times we got what I would consider good service. The majority of retail shops we went to were appalling! Customer service is pretty much non-existent. If you’re lucky you may get grunted at, but most of the time you’ll just get ignored. Tried to work out why this was the case, but gave up. In the end we just expected it and were likely rude back to them (yes, NYC will change you). Even if you’re not training in Customer Service 101 you should at least have basic manners when talking to another human being.
  • Food – Sugar, sugar, and add some sugar. The US is known to have an obesity problem… not shit! Look what utter crap they put in the majority of their food. You could leave a loaf of bread on the counter for 3 weeks and see no visible change. It tastes like cake! We did what we could to find healthier options, but when you do they cost a fortune. It’s no wonder people just get the junk instead.
  • Real estate game – It should be fucking illegal. The whole thing is just wrong! Read about it elsewhere… I get too angry to even think about it.
  • Tipping – OK, so… I get that wait staff get paid beans. However, I’m not paying any less for my food, and in fact most of the time the cost of my food is insanely expensive. The profit made on the food should partly go towards paying the wait staff more so that I don’t have to pay and extra 20% (the suggested tip)! Why should I pay more instead of the establishment paying decent wages to their staff? Hated tipping with a passion.
  • Competitiveness – NYC is a tough place. I can’t imagine it being anything else unless you’re extremely wealthy. There is a culture of competitiveness that goes beyond what I believe is healthy. This is true for both the working culture (that I was a part of) and general life in the city. You can’t help but feel everyone wants a piece of you, and more likely your money, so they can get ahead.
  • NYC changes you – A small example… after arriving in NYC I would often turn around and apologise when I bumped into people on the street (which of course is hard to avoid sometimes). 3-6 months in I completely ignored them. This may not be a big deal in NYC, but after coming back to Adelaide I found myself ignoring people still, and back here that makes you an arsehole. I’ve read a few times that you either leave NYC, or you become a dick. While that statement is a little extreme and ultimately black and white, I can see the logic. If you want to succeed in a city like NYC you need a little bit of ‘mean’, and I don’t like that.

The Good and the Bad

The subway!

I formed a love hate relationship with the subway not long after I started using it in anger. It’s disgusting, can be dangerous, unreliable (delayed/not running), crazy hot and uncomfortable in summer, no mobile signal, and often jam packed with shitty people (or people who have shit themselves).

However, even when considering all of the above it can get you almost anywhere and it’s reasonably cheap. Coming from Adelaide, which has one of the most useless public transport systems I’ve ever encountered, it was nice knowing I could get on the subway and get to the location I needed without ‘too much’ hassle. There have been multiple times since returning to Adelaide I’ve missed it.

Favourite Places

Some of our go to places in NYC (in no particular order)…

  • Coney Island – Sure it’s busy and kinda filthy, but Jasmine LOVED it. You’ll see all shapes and sizes, and who doesn’t love getting ripped off buying a famous Nathan’s hot dog?
  • Central Park – If I ranked the list, this would be number one, specifically Strawberry Fields. To be in the middle of a city like NYC and not realise it is just testament to how big and peaceful the place really is. Shout out to our favourite Strawberry fields busker Jimmy!
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  • Hudson River Parks – Our go to evening walk while living in the West Village. From the eastern edge of the Hudson River we could see across to Jersey City and took many great sunset shots while Jasmine was practising her cartwheels and handstands on the turf.
  • Battery Park – A little (well, little when compared to Central and Prospect parks) gem downtown which has it all. Courts, playgrounds, lawn, picnic areas with art sculptures, and more.
  • Prospect Park – Brooklyn’s Central Park.
  • Superare Fight Shop – OK, so this one is definitely one of ‘my’ faves. A kick arse mma fight shop on the Lower East Side. These guys kill it! Hey, they stock Winning boxing gear, so who wouldn’t love them!?
  • East Village – For me, this is NYC. Gritty, dirty, happening, edgy, a little dangerous… it’s wasn’t a great place to walk around at night with Jasmine, but what an experience when you do!
  • Highline – Sure, you need to get your elbows sharpened for use against all the tourists on a Sunday afternoon, but the walk is amazing. The old above ground railway that has been converted to a walking path/park. You get a totally different perspective of the city, and there are loads of great photo opportunities along the way.

So that about sums it up. Would I do it again? Yes, but I would learn multiple lessons from the first experience and approach it very differently.