Photos by Seb Herforth
My favorite part about New York City is the skyline—and I mean it. The buildings? Beautiful. City lights at night? Enchanting. Sunrise from across the Hudson? Love it. But beautiful as it may be, the truth is that I only love the city from the outside looking in.
I lived in New York last fall for my first semester of college, and it still never gets old seeing people’s faces when I tell them how much I hated it there. I then recount my misadventures and do my best to explain that living in New York City is very different than just dreaming about it. New York really is special, but it caters to a certain state of mind. Now that I’m here in Boston, I see the glaring differences between the two that I never would have picked up on without living in both. They each have drawbacks along with wonderful qualities, but as a student I feel much more at home in Boston.
When I moved into my dorm at the New School University in Manhattan, I had the same hopes for my time there that any song, movie or TV show about New York advertises. New York had, for my entire life, seemed like the epitome of a city—speed, business, fashion, grime and noise, a complex haven for my every aspiration. And a few cool things did happen while I lived there: I ran into Philip Seymour Hoffman on my way to class, saw the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, met J.K. Rowling at a book signing and had to re-route my path to school because The Amazing Spider-Man was being filmed. There was always something happening, but that didn’t mean it was affordable or feasible for me as a student to enjoy those things. It didn’t take long for New York’s quirks to turn into annoyances.
The plan to transfer from the New School became official when I realized that New York is not built for a traditional college experience. New York schools always say that “the city is your campus,” but I disagree. The city is not your campus, it’s your environment. Walking to class in winter isn’t really that enticing anywhere, but when your class buildings are spread out all over the island of Manhattan, it’s even less so. I craved centrality and an actual campus with grass and trees. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice some aspects of city life, but I definitely needed the college feeling.
Naturally, a lot of thought went into where to go next. I had visited Boston in high school and thought it was beautiful, historic and respectable, but not a city. Or rather, not my city. Where was the noise? The vendors crowding every inch of the sidewalk? The gridlocked streets and constant pedestrian-versus-taxi warfare? “Nice try, Boston,” I thought. “There’s nothing like New York.”
But living in New York helped me realize that the environment surrounding Northeastern, a school I had always known and loved from afar, was actually rather enticing. All the aspects of Boston that I had previously decided weren’t cosmopolitan were now exactly what I wanted.
First off, Boston kind of rules when you’re 20. Boston is young; it seems like most people I pass on the street are close to my own age. Not only that, they’re nice. Standing at a crosswalk or in line for coffee, I’ve found that people are either genuinely congenial or innately polite, whereas New York boasts the opposite attitude. New York is filled with middle-aged business people who very well could be the nicest people on the planet, but would never let their demeanor betray that fact. Niceness in New York is suspicious. That hardly seems the case in Boston.
Plus, Boston feels like it’s built for me right now: The college student who really likes a good night’s sleep but also wants the opportunity to eat chicken fingers at 1 a.m. Although I have heard plenty of complaints from students that nothing is open late enough, you won’t hear any from me. I’m content with planning my evening to end a little earlier if it means I can have a quiet night staying in and relaxing.
Therein lies the key difference between Boston and New York: New York never stops. It absolutely is the city that never sleeps, and that never let me sleep. As if by perfect design, Boston kind of shuts down after midnight or so, catering perfectly to my life right now. I have no trouble finding something to do at night, but afterwards I can come home and fall asleep watching Netflix without a crowd of degenerates shout-singing along to some obscure indie song. Grunting garbage men in the alley behind my apartment may wake me up at 7 a.m. on occasion, but you win some, you lose some.
The only way that New York trumps Boston is in public transportation. More often than not, walking provides a shorter trip time than does taking the T. Pull it together, Boston.
Still, in all honesty, I’m falling in love with Boston more and more every week. There is just one pleasant surprise after another. The biggest shock was discovering that cars stop for me when I want to cross the street, even when there is no stop sign. No honking in the millisecond that the traffic light turns green. No speed walking unless you’re late to class. It’s a whole new world.
Baz Luhrman puts it well in his song “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” with the line, “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.” I think I made it out just in time, and my bitterness is definitely fading. New York, and its perpetual noise and dog-eat-dog attitude, will always have a twisted place in my heart, but Boston’s a fine place to spend the next few years of my life.
Once it starts making some better bagels and pizza, I might even call it home.