With the impact and after effects of Hurricane Sandy still very much surrounding us all, I find myself thinking back to all I've witnessed, experienced, and survived during my 13+ years in New York City.
This is the only place I've ever really wanted to live. I wrote a book about it. I write this blog about it. And right now feels like an appropriate time to share just how my New York story began.
-- By fate, pure coincidence, or more likely, the grace of God, I moved to New York City on Friday, August 13, 1999. I wasn't the least bit frightened. I was too young, too happy, and too wide-open to be scared. I was ready. Or, at least, I was as ready as I'd ever be.
In fact, just before I left my parents' home in Richmond, Va., my mother asked me, as she held back her tears, "Why do you have to go to New York?" I knew she feared for me, her baby, in the midst of the people, the pace, and the temptation. I knew she was concerned because I'd have very few friends and no family to lean on.
I understood why she asked, but without hesitation I replied, "Because I'm ready take a chance on me."
Almost immediately, her eyes cleared. She understood. Shortly after, she and my father took me to the train station on Staples Mill Road. My childhood dream of writing ads, in New York City was a mere six-hour ride away and nothing was going to stop me from realizing it. I'd have probably walked up I-95 if I had to.
I had a job waiting for me, a little money in my pocket, and a place to stay. (And knowing what I know now of New York City that's more than most.) I arrived at Penn Station around noon. And my first class of NYC 101 was in session and I didn't even know it, yet.
I exited the station, hopped in a cab and said, "Southgate Hotel, 371 Seventh Avenue."
I was off and running, sort of.
Ten minutes later we had gone about a block and a half. We made a turn. Another 10 minutes passed before we made another. The driver pulled up to the Southgate Hotel. I paid about $9 for the ride. As the driver pulled away, I realized I'd only gone from one side of Penn Station to the other. The driver didn't bother tell me I could've and should've walked.
I laughed. I took it in stride as a ($9) lesson learned. I actually said to myself, "Welcome to New York." I felt like the guy who gets handed the illegal package near the end of Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City." Except, I wasn't going to jail. I was in heaven.
My first weekend was a blur. I ventured out for hours at a time, just walking, taking it all in. I remember thinking I could add an -er to every descriptor I'd ever heard or read about New York. Loud-er. Bright-er. Strange-er. Smelly-er. Busy-er. Sexy-er. Crazy-er. Big-er. Hype-er.
Spelling and grammar be damned! I was living in New York City.
Before I knew it, it was Monday morning. Time to start to my first real, full-time, benefits-paying, job. Having studied my Streetwise Manhattan map, I knew it was just a three-block walk.
On my first day, my creative director pulled me aside and said, in a very easy, yet matter of fact tone, "Look Howard, we're not really hand holding, nurturing type of shop. I'm going to give you assignments. If you do well you'll get more assignments and better assignments. If you don't, I'll find someone who can."
To this day I don't know if it was intended as motivation or intimidation. I do know I took it as both.
That coupled with first cab ride taught me the lesson that continues to be my greatest source of information and inspiration: New York City is sink or swim, all day, every day, in every facet of your life. So we must fight for what we want, or lose it...
So now, post-Hurricane Sandy, as we set our sights on getting back to our version of normal, the art of sinking and swimming comes to mind, again.
However this time, just as with other disasters that have befallen us over the years, it isn't about you, or me, as individuals. It's about us, together. It's about our ability to help one another do what we do best: Fight.
Fight to bring our city back, again. Fight for ourselves, our families, our friends and our dreams, again. Fight to have something we can't have anywhere else, again.
Our fight is why we will recover. We don't know how to stay down. That's why we won't.
New York City may be a "sink or swim" town. But, sinking isn't really an option. Not here. Not now. Not ever. So we will fight.