I'm a brand new New Yorker.
In late August, I accepted an awesome job offer, gave my notice at my job in Philly, notified my landlord, signed a lease in Brooklyn, packed up my apartment, and peaced.
I lived in New York once before, the summer after my junior year of college for two months, but being a 20-year-old intern with a bad fake ID and an NYU summer dorm lease does not a New Yorker make.
Being a new New Yorker has its challenges, from figuring out how to tell which subway track is local versus express to strategizing how to retrieve that 4-pack of toilet paper from the way-way-up shelf at the supermarket (yes, 4-pack -- no more bulk shopping!).
But with three and a half months under my belt, I've got enough distance from life as a Philadelphian to draw a few conclusions about how to overcome the new New Yorker bump (here's a freebie: stop calling it Avenue of the Americas).
1. How to keep your balance on the subway
I seriously felt like for the first few weeks, I was the only one who practically went crashing on top of the person next to me every time the train jerked even slightly. Word to the wise: beware the L's wooden-roller-coaster-style crashing hurtle across the river from Williamsburg to 1st Avenue. Not for the weak of knees. A good technique on any train is to stand with your feet slightly wider apart than seems normal. It's all about the strong base.
2. How to avoid the annoying, awkward sidewalk dance
You've done it. I've done it. But until you master the art of finessing those head-on, path-intersecting sidewalk encounters, you come across as a hopelessly tourist. After all, one of New York's most defining characteristics is its crowds, and if you don't know how to seamlessly navigate your way through one, you obviously live in a different zip code. Here's a tip: pick a direction -- left or right -- you always go, and stick to it whenever one of those situations arises. As you and another passerby approach each other from either direction in the same sidewalk lane, pick your side and veer that way with confidence. It helps to avoid eye contact; if you connect with the other person, you'll inadvertently start doubting your next move, which is when the sidewalk dance begins. Resist. Stay strong. Go for the veer.
3. How to tell which way is north
You already downloaded HopStop, so you're good to go with finding directions between one part of the city and another. But what about when you emerge from the subway station only to find yourself blinkingly paralyzed as to which way you should start walking to reach your destination? A handy piece of guidance given to me by a long-time New Yorker: no one else knows which way to go, either. Unless you take that route with frequency, or have spent a lot of time near that intersection, it's a total crapshoot which street to start walking down, in which direction. So just pick a street and check the street sign at the next block, at which point you'll be able to gauge from the last block's sign whether or not you need to recalculate. Here's all you need to know: numbered streets go up. So if you walked from 13th to 14th Street, you're walking north. You can also use the compass app on your phone, or refer to the skyline: Empire State Building is north, the Freedom Tower is south.
4. How to tell which way is north in Brooklyn
It's hopeless. Don't even try.
5. How to even begin deciding where to eat, hang out, and shop
I was that kid with extracurricular O.D. -- on Wednesday nights, my mom used to make dinner and pack it for me to eat in the car en route from Hebrew school to dance rehearsal. I play jazz drums, so I love hearing live music. I'm a huge word nerd, so literary events and author readings are my brain candy. I minored in art history, started dance at the age of 3, have a huge respect and appreciation for live theater, and own about 15 pairs of shoes too many. New York has the world's best in each of these categories. But it's hard to figure out where to dive in. How do you find the best comedy club that's not touristy, and with a reasonable drink minimum? How do you pick a place for dinner when you're trying to meet your friend halfway between your neighborhoods (and how the hell do you figure out where that is, geographically)?
A few websites, apps, and email newsletters that have helped me out: apps Yplan, Sosh, and Flyer plus Time Out New York's, Thrillist's and UrbanDaddy's daily emails for event suggestions and stuff to do; apps NYC Way and The Scoop for general city guides; and blogs DailyCandy, Eater and Brightest Young Things for all of the above. When all else fails: Yelp.
Honestly, though, the best resource has been friends and coworkers, who can provide human-verified recommendations for great pasta joints, quirky clubs, cooking classes, and so much more. It can get super overwhelming just thinking about all the thousands of restaurants, hundreds of theaters and museums, and bajillions of boutiques that line the city streets. The best thing to do is focus on living your life and enjoying each day's new sights and experiences, even if they're serendipitous rather than planned strategically.
6. How to save money on wine
Four words: Trader Joe's Wine Shop.
7. How to save money on books
Get a free New York Public Library card at any branch. Note that Brooklyn and Queens each have their own, different library systems so you'll need separate cards for those.
8. How to save money on groceries
Get a friend with a FreshDirect account to send you their referral code for a chunk off your first order. Also, again: Trader Joe's.
9. How to find the best public bathrooms
Here's the thing: it's best to get into the routine of using the bathroom while still at your location, be that your office, apartment, restaurant, what have you. You'll be hard-pressed to find a publicly available restroom that's not revoltingly disgusting, barred from use unless you buy a $6 bottle of water, or with a 25-minute line. It's good to know, though, that you can generally find reliable bathrooms at Starbucks (albeit with a wait), at transit centers like Grand Central and Penn Station, department stores, Barnes & Nobles, and some parks. There's a full list of New York City parks with public restrooms on the Parks Department website. You're welcome.
10. How to tell which neighborhood you're in at any given time
11. How to figure out the subway card swipe so you never get the error message
It's a light touch that grazes the left side of the machine swiftly. Practice makes most-of-the-time perfect.
12. How to maximize your time on the subway
Wasting time is something I've never been able to abide. So the daily minimum of 40 minutes I spend underground without WiFi and cell service have to be as productive as possible. It's also kind of mind-boggling when you think about how much time you spend underground in New York. A standard subway ride can be 30-45 minutes, which is how long it would take me to literally get from one end of Philly to the other.
Tips: download podcast episodes at night so they're cued up on your phone before you get on the train; bring a (not-heavy) magazine or book with you in the morning, but only if you don't mind gawkers peeking at what you're reading; bring your Kindle with you or use your smartphone's e-book app; pay for a premium streaming radio account like on Spotify or Rdio so you get access to unlimited music without WiFi.
Those 12 tips are a start to overcoming the new New Yorker bump. There's a chance you always occasionally feel like a new New Yorker if you weren't born and raised here. There are days I feel like I just got here (which I did), and days I find it hard to remember my old routine in Philly. The best part is that there are 8.3 million other people in New York, all at various stages of new New Yorkerdom, so no one's going it alone. This may or may not be the last city I live in, so I want to make the most of it while I'm here. All in good time -- or at least, in a New York minute.