Thursday, August 09, 2007

Report: Around the Big Apple in 180 days


By Robert Valencia

February 10, 7:30 p.m.: After having set foot in New York, the first reception I received was wind gusts that averaged 30 F. The cold weather was inclement, and getting lost in the JFK airport was somewhat predictable. Fortunately, I have found the shuttle bus stop that would take me to Manhattan. I arrived to New York City with bulky luggage that not only included clothes and personal belongings, but dreams and adventure; one of them was to finish my graduate studies.

As a matter of coincidence, the song that started to play in my iPod was New York, New York by Frank Sinatra. It was a weird, yet special moment. As the bus was heading Downtown, I could see from afar the majestic skyline, including the iconoclastic Empire State and Chrysler buildings. There was a piece of that song that caught my attention:

“If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere…”

That small part of the lyrics entails a tangible truth, but it was going to unravel along the upcoming months. Despite of being a city that equals the dream of many young professionals like me, the Big Apple is a hostile city, which competition is on a daily basis. It’s no wonder called “Zoo York,” or the “Concrete Jungle.”

Nonetheless, the part that Sinatra was crooning “I’m gonna wake up in the city that doesn’t sleep,” would take about five months because my first stay was Peekskill, a small town that is almost 80 miles away in Upstate New York. I started to experience abrupt changes in my life, yet I decided to take this step. I knew what I was getting into, because I was leaving my comfort zone in Miami, where I have friends, family, church and a stable job, but moving out of the Sunshine State was just a mere purpose of broaden new horizons.

It is evident that, in these kinds of experiences, unexpected things can happen. After living 10 years in the “capital city of the sun”, winter clothing comprises sweaters, one scarf and, maybe, one pair of wool gloves. There were blizzards during Valentine’s Day—the first snowfall I could see in person—and the meteorologists forecasted heavy snowfalls during the month. When I got to the Peekskill train station, I was just wearing a suit for a career fair at Iona College. However, I did not bear in mind some details: First, artic weather can penetrate a jacket, three t-shirts, and a scarf; secondly, I lost one of my gloves, as if I were impersonating Michael Jackson and, last but not least, one of shoes had a hole at the bottom, so one of my feet was completely soaked. Once in the station, people started to ask me, “Where is your coat?” I could not answer to that question because the wind gusts chapped my lips and froze the muscles of my face. .

Having seen the obstacles in the way, I was forgetting a “small” thing: I was counting on God’s help. That way, things started to evolve to a vertiginous pace: I moved to New Rochelle a week later, and I’ve got a job in Manhattan two weeks later.

“….these vagabond shoes….are longing to stay...I want to be a part of it, New York, New York…”

At the end of February, I was located half a block from Iona College, right in Beechmont, an opulent neighborhood. I shared some moments with a family from Chicago and two playful dogs that sometimes got to my last nerve when I had to cook. Once March began, I started in a company that sells TV commercial spots for advertising agencies. This might sound exciting, but my job title was “executive assistant,” a neologism for “secretary”. I started to work as I also started classes at Iona, increasing my stress level. At that point, I had to choose whether to work or to study; I chose the latter, as well as to do some small gigs for the company I worked at Miami.

And that’s how five months have passed, in which I dedicated 100 percent of my time to my studies, but at the same time, I was holding to a hope of finding a good job. During these months, I started to experience big changes, physically and spiritually. I had to cook my own food, and I was highly dependent on public transportation—the one that many times left me behind, trying to run after buses as if I were in a Little Miss Sunshine scene. Ironically, I could achieve the everlasting resolution I always made at the end of the year and that, for some reason, I could have never made: losing weight; and I’m not talking about losing two or three pounds… I’ve lost 40. There are some factors behind that, since I had to walk one mile to take the train everyday, as well as the unfruitful effort to equal my mom’s seasoning. My pants, jeans and shirts started to look big on me.

I was still holding on to a couple of miracles. Though I had approximately 10 to 15 job interviews, and a bunch of handshaking, smiles, Q&A’s, nothing came to an agreement. One of my biggest disappointments was the possibility to work for a Hispanic social networking website, and after two months of talks and e-mail exchange, the answer was a rotund “no.” As time went by, my budget was running out.

I became highly dependent on God like never before. I started to congregate at Harvest Christian Church in Manhattan, whose Christian doctrine resembles my former church in Miami, although there are substantial differences. I lifted my prayers to God for a prompt response, but I felt so much impotence to the point that I was confronting Him, but silence prevailed. One way or the other, I was standing tall, and I kept removing the dust of my dark suit for each job interview.

Un verano en Nueva York

A summer in New York

Investing half of my budget for a summer course was another big faithful step. Even though I had no fixed income and, as I was talking to other companies for possible job openings, I put all my trust to God, and I decided to take the risk. Don’t ask me how, but I felt such big hope, and the faith I was trying to keep up finally took shape: I’ve found a job as associate editor for a magazine in Manhattan. I started to exercise my new position after having finished my first year of graduate school with a high GPA.

Everything was in God’s control and time. Once I finished my summer course, I moved closer to NYC, whose skyline I can see from my window. Now, I changed the commuter train for the crowded subway, in the midst of a reigning heat wave that seems to blaze the Big Apple, changing my outfit for the first time (I wasn’t even wearing shorts or flip-flops in Miami for the sake of elegance). I’ve also changed the normal cardinal points for midtown, uptown, downtown, east side, west side, lower east side…to name a few.

Undoubtedly, New York is a fascinating city. The “Capital of the World” title was very well earned, not just because it’s a global center for entertainment, real estate, fashion, arts or business, because the worldliest of things can be seen here: same-sex couples holding hands, eccentric characters on almost every subway stations playing African or Andean music, break dancers or Michael Jackson impersonators, Arabic falafel, knish and pretzel cooks releasing smoke on almost every corner. This is perhaps the most expected time of the year for many New Yorkers because they unveil their skins for sunrays as they devour every page of today’s latest books or crank up their ears with state-of-the-art mp3s. Just like the Sinatra song, now I can say I wake up in the city that never sleeps.

Coming to this city was not an easy choice. Indeed, I could say that this is the riskiest thing I’ve ever done. And even though the distance between my loved ones, I could say I have stood tall in these six months. The next six or nine months are going to be more intense, because not only I have to be in charge of my full-time job—which I’m grateful for—but I also have graduate courses to take that will start this fall, with a thesis project. I know, there are other interesting, more powerful testimonies than mine, but there’s a saying that goes “whoever doesn’t suffer, he/she doesn’t earn anything”. I’m sure the efforts will bear fruit henceforth.

“…it’s up to you, New York, New York...”

1 comment:

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