“HOW TO MOVE HOME: if you’ve never been there before,” is a short series on the blog Fancy Deli about why, after almost a decade, I left New York City for Sacramento, California.
Eight years ago I responded to a short Craigslist ad: “one bedroom with a private yard” plus an almost inscrutable photo of a small window with a fire-escape beyond it. I would have skipped right over it had it not been for the location. Or, as they say in real estate, the “location. location. location.” It was the very same block I stood on the moment I decided to uproot everything and move to New York City. As Didion put it, “the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself.”
The woman who wrote back from the ad said if I couldn’t come today, I shouldn’t bother coming at all. She was sure someone would “snap it up” before tomorrow. I was living in Boston with a boyfriend, who I raced over to the Chinatown bus to go and see it. Then I hovered by my cell phone, praying he’d make it in time. The apartment, he revealed upon arrival, was actually a studio unit with a window you could crawl through, and down the fire escape from, into the unused backyard of the chiropractor downstairs. It was expensive, yet crumbling. It had some original architectural details due to it having never been updated, in about a century, beyond sloppily carving the single family home into three apartments. It had a kitchenette in the front, a bathroom in the back, and that was pretty much that.
But the neighborhood: it was in tree-lined, a cornucopia of blended couples wearing bi-racial babies, and deeply, to the bone authentically, hip. It was a neighborhood you dressed up for, where a trip to the bodega felt like crossing a stage. It was a brownstone among row after row of brownstones, all of which looked straight out of an episode of sesame street, except grander. We gave the property manager a certified check for three months rent, packed everything we owned into my Volkswagen (in a thunderstorm no less) and drove to York City. We arrived exhausted, got our keys from a dreary Chinese take-out place next door, and slept on the lumpy wood floor. I woke up to the cacophonous bustle of Brooklyn at day break and went immediately to the bald front window, thrilled and wide-eyed as a child. I saw our car, with everything we owned inside it, had been towed: Welcome to New York.