Escape from New York (?)

My family at Brooklyn Bridge Park, where we were married June 6, 2004.

If you’ve been looking for me on the interwebs, you might want to direct your browser over to KnockedUpAbroadTravels.com, or better yet, Facebook or Twitter.  If you’ve been wondering about all the Detroit links and thoughts about other cities I’ve been posting on those social networks, keep reading. We arrived back in Brooklyn on Labor Day, after a month of travel in New Zealand and South Korea, and over two years living in Istanbul. Since arriving back, in between trips to Target and IKEA (moving back into an apartment after a few years away is nearly as much work as moving anew), we’ve been pondering what’s next for us. Ideally, we’d be packing and planning for another overseas assignment, but as life rarely happens as you plan, we’re looking for a plan B as well as a new place to call home, whether it’s in between expat stints or for the long haul. My husband’s consulting job has moved from client-side to pre-sales, and he can now pretty much work in his underwear from a coffee shop or from home anywhere in the US. Since moving abroad and having a baby, I’ve been working freelance in travel writing (need an article about Istanbul or travel with a baby? Email me) and public relations, and hope to stay more or less at home for a bit longer, especially  in a place where daycare isn’t on par with college tuition.

Perusing real estate ads and feeling a bit confined in our one-bedroom in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, we’ve come to the conclusion that IF we a) sell our apartment with a decent profit AND b) I go back to work full time, we can maybe afford a decent two-bedroom and be slaves to a mortgage and exorbitant NYC daycare costs. OR we could move to Detroit (yes, Detroit, really). But before I get to that, here’s some background on what we are looking for in our next city:

  1. Cheap real estate. The average home price in Brooklyn is OVER half a million dollars now. When we bought our apartment eight years ago, we were looking for something under $300k, looked everywhere from upper Manhattan to south Jersey, and (fortunately) found something for a fraction of that. We’ll (hopefully) do pretty well if we sell our current place, but we won’t be able to afford anything bigger without leaving the five boroughs/greater metropolitan area, so we might as well find a new base rather than commute for hours when we need to make a meeting or a flight out of town. After over two years in a furnished apartment in Istanbul, it’s amazing how easy it is to live without the majority your stuff and without thinking about home/decorating things, but oh, it would be nice to have a house. And our own laundry! And an army of basset hounds! Okay, maybe just one dog. My first priority on real estate hunts is a historic house (would love plenty of built-ins like bookcases and butler’s pantries) at least 50 years old, something more than two bedrooms and at least two baths. No need for more land than requires a small garden and a hammock, we’d rather not deal with lots of landscaping. Bonus points for a front porch so people can walk by and see me relaxing (maybe in my hammock) and say, “Nice day for it!” and I’ll say, “Amen, brother!”
  2. A major international airport. Given our work requirements and personal passions, an airport with a lot of nonstop flights is key. Additionally, traveling with our baby has become not only a priority in the first few years, but something of a calling. Since I started traveling with Vera, I’ve realized domestic flights are the worst bit, so it’d be nice to be close to an airport with at least a few flights to Europe and or Asia. NYC obviously has the most international connections, but I wouldn’t miss the horrific immigration process at JFK one bit. Lufthansa and KLM are particularly useful in flights outside of the usual NYC/MIA/DC/LA hubs, linking several of our potential future cities with Europe.
  3. A large body of water. In NYC, we’ve spent years taking the subway or a rental car out to Far Rockaway, Brighton Beach, and Coney Island. We don’t need a beach house (too much maintenance and hurricane worries), but reasonable access to some sort of water would be nice. Husband used to limit this to oceans, but after two years near the Bosphorus (where there is water everywhere but hardly a drop to swim in without paying handsomely), he’s open to the Great Lakes as well. Still, this generally limits us to the two major coasts and midwest, as Husband still blanches at the idea of the south.
  4. Walkability – The glaring omission on this list is public transportation; however, I’ve come to terms with the fact it is not something at which America excels. Unfortunately, the better the public transportation is in a city, the more expensive the housing tends to be, so I can’t afford to require a metro system. After all this time in NYC, I still don’t know HOW to drive a car, even my learner’s permit is expired. Many people in this country (and in Istanbul, too) live in lovely areas with plenty of amenities nearby, but they still have to get in their car to pick up a carton of milk or go for brunch. I can deal with this and adjust to a lifestyle with a car, but I’d like to be able to walk somewhere, whether it’s a corner shop, Vera’s future school, or a park. When we moved to Ditmas Park eight years ago, there was one restaurant, a sketchy bar (the Cornerstone. Ah, memories!), and a Duane Reade drug store, and now Cortelyou Road is awash with cute cafes and even a few shops. Even if our future neighborhood isn’t bustling with amenities, it’d be nice to be in a city where it’s possible things will change in a few years.

The long answer for why we are thinking of leaving NYC (after nearly fifteen years for me!) are less tangible and harder to easily reconcile with just one (or any at all) city. They grow out of our experiences as expats, as well as parents, as well as people who are just tired of waiting in line for Trader Joe’s groceries.

  • Community matters - As an expat, you get involved in a type of community you often don’t find after, say, college: everyone is from different backgrounds and with different interests, but sharing a similar experience that bonds you for years to come. Unless you are from another country or culture, you don’t find much of this in New York. You have circles of friends and micro-communities in your neighborhood or workplace, but often once you change jobs or move boroughs, you might as well live on the moon. Pre-Turkey, I loved the fact that New Yorkers keep to themselves. In times of crisis, and sometimes, in good times too, New Yorkers rally and take care of each other. But most of the time, you’re on your own, buddy. In Istanbul, any time I looked lost or in distress, people would help me. They didn’t mock my poor Turkish or give me wrong directions just because they thought I was a dumb tourist (something I’ve seen, or maybe even done, in New York), they HELPED me. No one ever rolled their eyes, pretended they didn’t see me, or passive-aggressively complained to the co-op board, they saw me as a fellow citizen, a fellow parent, a fellow member of society. If the baby cried in the supermarket, everyone came to our aide and she was quieted in seconds. I miss that. In Detroit, even sketchy-looking dudes downtown held the door open for us, ran after me when the baby dropped a toy, and even gave me spare change when the People Mover ate my token. I already have networks of people in Portland (and Detroit too) of East coast refugees, eager to weigh in on neighborhoods, give recommendations and introductions, and even the most annoying-looking hipsters surprised me with kindness and understanding.
  • I don’t *need* to be here anymore. I moved to NYC at age 17, and before we went to Istanbul in 2010, I’d spent my entire adult life here. Until I lived abroad, I thought I’d always want to live in NYC. But when I got off the plane on September 2 and heard a chic young woman ask her boyfriend where they had dinner reservations that night, I was ready to turn right around and go back to Istanbul, it’s just not my scene anymore. I have little doubt that New York is still the greatest city in the world, but I don’t *need* to be here anymore. I’ve gone over two years without easy access to boxed mac & cheese, I can easily do without multiple restaurants serving gourmet versions. It’s swell to have a place down the street that serves Nepalese dumplings and another with Filipino fusion cuisine, but it’s not a requirement for where I live. I’m not here to meet a partner, start a career, go to school, or even go bar-hopping; I’ve done all that for over a decade. I remember how a good friend of ours left NYC for her native city of Minneapolis and explained how now she could have a life where she goes out with friends, drives to Target, and can actually afford to eat at some of the better restaurants in NYC when she visits. A couple good local places are really all that’s required, the rest can always be more excuses to travel.
  • My priorities have changed since having a baby. Vera has changed my priorities and way of thinking, but not necessarily in the traditional sense. Living in Istanbul got me used to being in a place where children are valued, but also just considered a part of life, no more or less important than adults. They aren’t scheduled within an inch of their lives, or sanitized by germaphobic parents, or segregated to “family-friendly” restaurants. My fellow parent friends in Istanbul are creative and cool people who’ve continued to travel and socialize with their kids. If we go out to a cafe and the babies act up, we go outside until they calm down (that is, if a fellow patron or waiter hasn’t stepped in to help), but even crying babies are considered part of the cost of being out in public, along with slow waiters and Greenpeace petitioners. New Yorkers have surprised me with their help and kindness, but I also get eye-rolls, hostility, and businesses that outright ban children. I know many awesome people with kids in NYC, but holy hell, are there are a *lot* of people with kids. And more people means more assholes ruining stuff for us thoughtful parents with well-behaved kids. I believe in self-policing, and the idea that I have the right to bring my kid along to happy hour if *I* think it’s appropriate *and* will do all that I can to ensure she doesn’t bother anyone. I also believe in the idea that if *I’m* infringing on someone else’s experience, they have the right to ask me to take care of my kid or leave. Bonus points for places where other customers want to help me rather than just snark at me, and whatever region gets the least amount of submissions to STFU, Parents.
  • Looking for creative freedom - I used to see NYC as a Mecca for creative types. I moved here to go to theatre school, took writing and improv classes here, and have met dozens of writers and artists (especially during my foray as an artist’s model at the Art Students’ League in the late ’90s). Nowadays, I wonder how young creatives can *afford* to live in this city without a trust fund or a side gig dealing drugs. More often than not, the young people I meet who move here come for a job at a law firm or a hedge fund, have to supplement a journalism career with a corporate copywriting job (if they are so lucky), or struggle like I did for years in various industries and jobs without fulfilling the reason they came to NYC in the first place. I long to live in a place where if my life’s dream was to open a pie/stationery shop (a potential Istanbul business discussed with a fellow expat, hope someone makes it happen), I could do that without throwing my life’s savings into a business that has a few months to make it or break it. Maybe I’d like to get back to community theater, or keep writing until Vera goes to school, or just afford to *go* to see a performance without sneaking in during intermission.

Rather than make this any longer, I’ll save my thoughts about Detroit (and other cities) for some upcoming posts. For the record, in addition to Motown and Portland, OR, our short list includes: Pittsburgh, Miami, Denver, and Burlington, VT (though you might note not all meet our requirements, but we are thinking about them anyway). There might be others along the way, and there are others we’d love to consider like Philadelphia or Chicago, but feel we may be a few years too late to find something affordable and/or central. Would love to hear other suggestions. As it’s almost mid-November and we have nearly every weekend booked for the rest of the year (visiting family in Chicago and Raleigh, plus vacations in the Dominican Republic and Brazil), we are likely looking at a spring/early summer move, all the better time to put our one bedroom with patio on the market!

6 responses to “Escape from New York (?)

  1. My best friend lives in Portland and if it weren’t for all the rain, I’d love to live there. A lot of cities on your list are appealing though, so hopefully you find the one that’s right for you :)

    • Thanks Laura, we loved Portland too! The rain didn’t bother me so much as the distance (from East coast, as well as Europe) and the earnestness of people, but it’s still on our short list.

  2. Terry Fuller

    Just saying — DC area has some good things — bike trails to downtown– Metro — trails along the Potomac going N and S. — growing theater and arts in DC. Great mix of folks from all over.

    Terry Fuller — in-law cousin.

  3. DC is fantastic, but while cheaper than greater NYC, not by much. Political folks can be a major PITA, too. I did love living there, though. Still miss the views driving back from National Airport (I will *never* call it Reagan) over Memorial Bridge.

  4. Pingback: Motown love: Why I’m (still) on the D(etroit) train | The Notorious M.E.G. blogs

  5. Just now getting caught up on your blog, and while we have very different lives, there is a similarity in the feeling in wanting to go somewhere that better resonates with where my life is now. Portland, OR, is high on that list, so I totally understand your desire there. Much like your thinking on Detroit I get people looking at me like “WTF is she thinking?!” when I break out with a rousing rendition of “Cleveland Rocks!” I’ll be following along as you make your decisions.

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