In 2012, about a month before I was set to graduate from Lock Haven University, I visited New York City with my dad and stepmom. I don’t remember what show we were seeing (probably Jersey Boys or Rock of Ages, our family favorites). We stopped in a coffee shop right off Times Square called CaffeBene. Since we had some time before the show, we decided to take our coffee up to the upper level of the shop and sit for a while amidst the sweater-wearing, laptop-using students. Something in me clicked: this was it. This was my atmosphere. That, coupled with the New York City literature class I took during my last semester, got me thinking. I suddenly got it in my head that I had to do graduate school in New York City.
For a while, I spoke of nothing but post-graduation in New York City. But that dream faded away when I was rejected from NYU’s prestigious graduate writing program. Instead, I ended up at Montclair State University, 20 miles from home, with a beautiful view of the NYC skyline. I settled into the idea that I never would have made it in NYC anyway — I’m too introverted, too socially anxious, etc. Plus, I would probably have missed my opportunity to pursue the Disney College Program. Everything fell into place, and that was that.
I’ve lived just a thirty minute drive from Manhattan nearly my entire life. Even when I was living in Lock Haven, PA for college, I’d make the three hour drive home on weekends to go into the city and see a show. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see more Broadway and off-Broadway shows than I can even count. I have a stack of Playbills well over a foot tall. There have been times (recently, actually) that I’ve gone into the city two weekends in a row just to see shows.
And with each trip, I’ve fostered my love-hate relationship with the “city that never sleeps.”
Almost always, a Chciuk family trip in to the city goes like this: go in -> go to lunch or dinner -> go to the show -> leave as fast as possible. I know the theater district and Times Square like the back of my hand. On the rare opportunities that I venture away from Broadway, it’s to visit family members; two of my cousins live in Brooklyn, and I’ve explored the Chelsea area a handful of times with them. So I guess I can say”my Manhattan” is the theater district, and not much beyond that.
As faithful readers of my social media know, I am currently obsessed with Deaf West’s Broadway production of Spring Awakening. So when my mom asked me if I wanted to go see Daddy Long Legs, a show currently running in the intimately-sized Davenport Theater, my response was, “Sure, but can we stage door Spring Awakening after?” Despite the fact that my mom doesn’t get the appeal of standing at the stage door and waiting for performers, she said yes.
Yesterday was a beautiful day, despite the wind and 45 degree temperatures. For those of you who have never been to the city in the fall and winter months, it becomes a bit of a frigid wind tunnel. But with the day we had planned, I was in high spirits. I walked on autopilot from the parking garage on 47th, across from the Brooks Atkinson theater (where Spring Awakening is playing), to John’s Pizzaria, a staple lunch location on our last three trips. Afterwards, we had some time to kill before the show, so mom and I walked around for a while. I found myself feeling the same way I had in the upper level of CaffeBene just a few years prior: I love this city, and I want to live in it.
Now, of course, that’s not going to happen. I’ve got things set in motion to apply for jobs and move to Florida in June. Don’t worry, it’s not likely that my plan will change. But this is the first time since I moved home from Florida in 2014 that I’ve doubted my plan. And it’s an interesting feeling.
I have a list of people, places, and things that I will be sad to leave when I head to Florida after graduation. I’m going to miss my Jersey bubble and the things that have been home to me for the past 25 years. But now I can add “my Manhattan” to that list, the parts of the city that I cherish. The places that, even on brief visits, feel like home.
I wish I could explain what it is about NYC in the fall that captivates me year after year. The weather isn’t great, but I bundle up in my winter gear and brave it anyway. It’s crowded. It’s loud. It’s all the things I don’t normally enjoy, but like Disney World (which is also crowded and loud), it somehow works for me.
Yesterday was a picture perfect day. Daddy Long Legs is a spectacular show (and the reason I keep saying “My Manhattan” – I wish the lyrics were available so I could quote it). The stage door of Spring Awakening, and getting to meet the cast I adore so much, was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life. These are the things I’ll miss about “my Manhattan” — driving in for these little bursts of unforgettable eperiences; being able to book Broadway tickets a few days in advance and drive in at our leisure; having access to some of the world’s most incredible theater.
I’m going to Disney World for a brief trip later this week. I’m hoping that being in the place I’m uprooting my life for will remind me of why Manhattan isn’t an option for me, and why I want to uproot my life to begin with.
Because, if I’m being honest, I think it’s going to be very hard to leave New Jersey come June. And NYC is much closer than Florida.