The main thing I have learned from living in New York is that there’s no greater pain than a terrible commute. Taking the train usually means losing a part of your already deteriorating soul, as you’re bound to either a) get stuck underground; b) get rerouted to a different line and miss your stop; or c) encounter the smell (and occasionally the sight) of human feces. On some days, it’s all of the above. Of course, there’s the option of taking a car to your destination, but this means being stuck in traffic and handing over your life savings to Uber. And then there’s walking. Most people opt for a walk when it’s less than a mile long, but not me. (I’m not like the other girls.) A long, three- to four-mile walk to get me to where I’m going? Honey, that’s where I thrive.
Now hear me out. As hellish as commutes can be, they are the only time we as New Yorkers aren’t busy doing something. Ironically, going somewhere on foot is the time we’re forced to stop. Stop reading article headlines; stop zooming in our own Instagram photos; stop fantasizing about how to escape from a burning train car. This suddenly free time should be enjoyed. Call me old-fashioned, but I find it hard to enjoy any time spent in a train full of people or in a car full of at least one other person. But on a walk, you can truly be by yourself, even on a crowded sidewalk. You can listen to music, a podcast, or the honking and yelling symphony happening on the streets. Your walk, your choice. And as a bonus, you can breathe in the fresh, heavily polluted New York air.
Also, did you know New York is, like, really pretty? Turns out there’s a whole city out there beyond my phone screen that I only started noticing when I went for my long walks. New York has so many different neighborhoods across the five boroughs, each with its—dare I say—vibe. When you’re walking the streets, checking out those vibes, New York is never out of places that are ready and willing to take all of your money.
It’s fun to go on your own walking tour of the different New York hubs and see where they begin, end, and intertwine. I’ve stumbled into small coffee shops, local bars, and restaurants that are willing to let me use their restrooms, all of which I never would have discovered had I been on the train compulsively checking my Tinder matches. One time I ran into a pizzeria in desperate need of a bathroom after inhaling a cold brew, and while I was in there I realized it was a restaurant from the show Girls. Can you imagine if I hadn’t discovered this and then wasn’t able to text all my friends back home about it to make them jealous of my cool life? Tragic.
When you show up to your destination, you’ll probably be much sweatier than the people you’re meeting, but your soul will be much more intact.
Not too long ago, I had to make a doctor’s appointment (nightmare). There are approximately five million doctors in New York, but only a few who take my terrible health insurance. The only doc who could see me was in Park Slope, a Brooklyn neighborhood that requires me to take multiple trains from my Brooklyn neighborhood to get there. (Remember when we touched on how the trains in NYC are trash?) I decided to walk to and from my appointment instead. On the walk home, I passed through Prospect Heights, a neighborhood where I used to work as a full-time nanny. I had that job during my first year in the city, and as I walked along the streets I was overcome with a comfortable sense of nostalgia. I walked by a bar on the corner of where I worked and was immediately transported to a time when I sat by the window, writing in my notebook and sipping a beer after my shift. I remember that night well, because I was writing jokes for an open mic and running them by a guy I had just kissed for the first time the weekend before. Remembering this excited, younger version of myself, I stepped back into the bar. It was just as I had left it. I ordered a beer and sat in the same spot I had that night. I took out my phone to share this memory with someone—the guy I had been texting all those years back. He’s still my boyfriend to this day.
It’s easy to get stuck in the hustle of the city and feel like you have to be miserable while doing it, or else you’re not a true New Yorker. But when you go on long walks, you can calmly exist amid that hustle, walk through it and take a look beyond it. Who knows, you might find a small park you never knew existed where you can take your next date, or a graffiti wall that makes for the perfect Instagram post (important). And when you show up to your destination, you’ll probably be much sweatier than the people you’re meeting, but your soul will be much more intact. And in this city, you gotta protect your soul whenever you get the chance.