It has just gone past midnight in New York (9 a.m. Moscow time) and here I am, celebrating my third anniversary as a proud U.S. citizen.
Who would have thought that a trial three-month voyage would turn into an almost decade-long love affair with the Big Apple. They say if you manage to stick around through the most critical period -- initial two years -- as a foreigner in New York, there's no going back. You pretty much get "stuck," in the best possible sense of the word. Home sweet home, it sure becomes.
To be honest, the transition wasn't all that easy for this once nearly-homeless, hotel-hopping 20-year-old stranger with a red (instant color association -- communism) passport. I would not be the first and sadly won't be the last gullible young girl that was generously promised (though ultimately conned) mountains of gold, glitz and glamour by a reputable music producer. Lesson to be learned: an impressive track record is not always synonymous with professionalism and trustworthiness.
Given the choice again, knowing what I know now, would I trade my comfortable lifestyle in the heart of Moscow for new, unpredictable, humble beginnings as a stranger in a strange land with not one friend to greet me upon arrival at JFK? You bet.
Whether you're trying to make it in entertainment, politics or real estate, there is practically no way anyone will willingly go out of his or her way to make this transition oh-so-easy for you -- just another hopeful immigrant, welcome to the club. (Especially if they were once immigrants themselves.) To be fair, this is not just about jealousy and competitiveness. Visiting on vacation is one thing, but invading their space and sacred territory is something else. More often than not, it's possessiveness that ultimately prevails above friendship. "What's mine is mine and not yours." Check.
One of my old friends that had moved to New York a few years earlier gave me a valuable piece of advice: "If you want to go grocery shopping, make sure you avoid WholeFoods and other brand-name supermarkets -- try one of the cheaper alternatives. You're a new immigrant, don't forget. Start low and try to work your way up -- maybe someday you will!" Friendly encouragement at its best.
While I wholeheartedly (and somewhat naively) believed I was coming to New York to make an album with a major record company affiliate, within days I found myself stranded in the middle of Manhattan with no contacts, limited cash and nothing even remotely similar to a mattress of any description. (By the way, did I mention that this was all unfolding during the annual Marathon weekend, a minor detail that turned my first few weeks in NYC into a major nightmare.) Every hotel in the city was fully booked. The "manager" that had graciously invited me to America the Beautiful unexpectedly took off to California within a week of my arrival. On my part, I spent several days and nights talking to his answering machine, obviously to no avail. Apartment-hunting was not one of my fortes, but sleeping on a different couch night after night was losing its charm by the minute.
The night of the U.S. presidential elections in November of 2004 will linger in my memory for years to come -- mind you, for all the wrong reasons. While the nation remained glued to their television sets until the wee hours of the morning, I spent a sleepless night in the business center of the hotel where I had miraculously booked a room for one night only. As my newly adopted home's future was being determined in the not-so-distant state of Ohio, I frantically surfed the web in the heart of midtown Manhattan, oceans apart and miles away from home, struggling to determine my own fate in the vast metropolis.
The majority of apartment listings ranged from "too tiny" to "too expensive", "too far out of the city", "too dingy" and so on... you name it! It was all wrong. Every time I stumbled upon a more or less decent spot, I couldn't resist dialing the landlord immediately -- it was way past midnight, more like 2 a.m. to be precise, but wasn't the nation supposed to be wide awake in sheer anticipation of election results? Poor argument, I admit, but not for a kid barely out of her teens who still believed that the whole world must revolve around her -- and her alone. While most potential landlords either sent me straight to voicemail or hung up without even hearing my heartfelt plea for affordable accommodation, the rest of them lectured me on basic manners and phone etiquette. ("Try calling during normal business hours and "do you know what time it is?")
A partially broken American dream, seemingly endless hotel-hopping, marathon weekend and '04 presidential elections would all come to an end sooner or later, but not without jumping through some unexpected hoops along the way. "Coming to America" and "clear sailing" are two expressions that can never really go hand in hand... especially whenever and wherever a former Russianette is involved.