HELLO TO ALL THIS by Caroline Biggs

{To honor the struggle of getting to New York, I reached out to some of the most eccentric, entertaining, and ambitious women I know in this city—all of whom came from elsewhere and all of whom, despite their many differences, came with little more than the will to take on this terrifying but rewarding metropolis.}

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In 1957, as a child of ten, I visited NYC for the first time with my parents and my brother Michael.  (I was so excited I threw up in the train station.) I still remember the Rockettes at Radio City, the huge cigarette ad with real smoke in Times Square, and the view from the top of the Statue of Liberty.

In the mid-60s, my brother Michael studied art at Pratt and I would visit him whenever I could.  As the decades passed, I wandered from my hometown of Richmond, to Washington, DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and finally back to Richmond. I had been brought up to believe that if I was a religiously disciplined person I could overcome my creative, free-spirited nature.

At age 32, lost, I bottomed out on alcohol and drugs.  After being sober 9 years, I finally mustered the courage to move to NYC.  When I first arrived, I lived for a while in a women’s residence run by the Volunteers of America. Finding my way here was not easy, but today, over 20 years later, NYC is the home I had always been searching for–it just took me a long time to find it.  During these years, more than half my family has died (including my beloved Michael with whom I first experienced NYC).  As a result, I’ve had to reach out to others to teach me the full meaning of friendship.  Though I’m sure this can be accomplished anywhere, I found the help to become a whole person here.

I wish I could tell you that I have become wildly successful in a career, but that has not been my path. I have a rich, creative (and sober!) life.  What I value most is the people NYC has brought into my life.  My people.  My home.

{Maureen, Artist, from Richmond, Virginia, 20+ years in New York City.}
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 My first reading performance in New York was in the wake of an awful haircut. A terrible memory. His [hairstylist] name was Vincenzo; he had a thick accent I couldn’t quite place, and a nice smile that lit up his face, especially when he said things like, “You are so funny, you know?” Usually I ignore such obvious consumer traps, but I let this stranger have his way with me. Obviously he had great taste.

Unfortunately, good taste meant making me look like the prince from Spaceballs. My writing career, I decided, was over.

But when I arrived to the performance and watched the other readers, I became at ease. New York writers. Many of them had hair even shorter than mine, or should have because clearly they didn’t know how to manage it.  But their hairstyles or lack thereof didn’t really matter, I decided. Their stories were really good. I gave them a pass, and myself as well.

{Nedda, Writer, from Parsippany, New Jersey, 15+ years in New York}

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This is one instance in which I have been thankful for the oblivious naiveté of youth. The truth is: if I had known what I was in for, I’m not sure I would have made the same decision.

My first year of college at Barnard, all I seemed to hear about was the blissfully exciting time all of my fellow Berkeley High alums were having, scattered around the various universities of California. Except for those of us who, in the name of broadening horizons and getting as far away from family as possible (no, mom, the fact that I could do my laundry at home is not an incentive for me to go to Cal), decided to move to the east coast.

We were all miserable.

I had dreamed of going to school Back East ever since I was aware of higher education, heavily steeped as I was in romanticized tales of my parents’ ten-year period in Cambridge (before my time). I pictured myself at the top of a brick turret, curled up in a wingback chair with a cup of tea and Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy as a snowstorm raged outside. I failed to realize that just because San Francisco and New York are both liberal, urban, ocean-adjacent cultural centers didn’t mean that my new environment would be the Bay Area with weather.

I was wholly unprepared for the degree of culture shock. I felt like there was no one in the entire school who could ever understand me and no one had told me that snow in New York stops being charming after 3 hours when you’re trying to avoid lakes of brown sludge wearing beat-up converse.

But the benefit of being 3,000 miles from home was that I couldn’t run away. Separated from the default opinions absorbed from the environment in which I grew up, I was forced to establish and redefine those values for myself. Then it was possible to find people I could connect with and discover the indefinable moments of sublime experience that only a city like New York seems to conjure.

Also, it helps to buy snow boots.

{Elisa, Graphic Designer, from Berkeley, California, 7+ years in New York}

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My first attempt to move to New York was naive. After less than a month in the city, I found myself back in Kansas and living with my parents. Depressed but determined, I vowed to get whatever dismal job I could, spend nothing, and count the days until I could return to what I’d come to believe was the best place anyone might go.

While job searching, I saw an ad in the paper looking for anyone available for travel and willing to ride an ostrich. Out of curiosity, I called the number. Less than a week later, I found myself in California, working for a traveling animal show. Three times a day, my task was to jump on to the back of an ostrich and try to hold on while it tore around a race-track. I stayed on the bird only once and crashed into the dirt every other time. While painful, I thought this was only fair, as the ostrich likely wasn’t interested in the race to begin with.

A month in, I landed wrong (elbow-first) and broke my arm. I hung up my racing silks and happily retired. By that time I’d saved enough money to rent a room in Bed-Stuy [Brooklyn]. Arm in a sling with a suitcase of clothes and books, I went to Brooklyn, where I remain. It seems appropriate to have done such a strange thing in order to live in such a strange place.

{Jodi, 25, Writer, from Wichita, Kansas, 5+ years in New York}

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In high school, I felt incredibly compelled to study in New York and explore my then recreational interest in fashion. Unbeknownst to my parents (and without a visit to neither New York nor the campus), I sent out my early decision application to NYU.

After being accepted to NYU’s Stern Business School program and courses began, I immediately picked up an internship with Marie Claire magazine’s fashion department and a part time job with a small boutique in the Meatpacking District. It was important for me to balance out the business curriculum with fashion-related outlets that motivated me to move to New York in the first place.

Come graduation, I had interned at Marie Claire, AEFFE USA and COSMOGirl! while holding onto my retail job. I also volunteered for NYU’s Fashion Business Association during school.

When I was referred by an editor to join the start-up fashion website StyleCaster in 2008, I seized the opportunity and over the next three years moved up the ladder from fashion assistant to style and market editor. Recently, I joined the BULLETT Media team as their fashion market editor contributing to both their print and online outlets.

{Janice, 25, Fashion Market Editor, from Wilmette, Illinois, 5+ years in New York}

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Although I’d been to New York City at least once a year for my entire life, I guess I’d have to say that the first time I really came to the City was when I was 17 and moving into my freshman year dorm at Barnard College.  I was torn because I had left a boy and countless friends behind in Ohio and had those feelings of despair and certain doom that only a 17-year-old can muster – that feeling that the world is completely and utterly over, when in reality, it was only just beginning.

On that first move-in day I arrived early with my aunt (a Barnard alumna herself) and painstakingly unpacked my things.  At about 3:30 in the afternoon she left and I tried to pretend that I was calm, even though I was utterly terrified and alone.  My roommate still hadn’t shown up, so on top of everything else, I was nervous to meet her.  All of a sudden this amazing ball of energy burst into the room and introduced herself as Neeti, gave me a huge hug, and said how excited she was that we were going to be roommates.  I breathed a sigh of relief until about 10 more Indian people showed up at the door, all talking to and over each other at about a mile a minute.  Neeti’s mother insisted on calling me Sarah and asked me repeatedly to take photographs of the family as they moved Neeti in (just shy of missing the deadline, which I came to learn was typical).

Then, as if by magic, Neeti’s family members disappeared and we were left alone in that little room we shared on the 4th floor of Sulzberger.  Little did we know that that day would commence the start of a friendship that is still as integral to our lives as it was that first year when we were staying up all night studying, not cleaning our room, and chasing after boys in Butler Library.  To me, New York City is nothing without the people there with you, and my experience certainly got started on the right foot. 

{Amanda, 25, Co-Editor [ReVisionist], from Westerville, Ohio, 8+ years in New York}

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I got to New York with 2 suitcases, an almost dead cell-phone, and $11.  The first suitcase— “hot pink with polka-dots!!” as my roommate (and ride from La Guardia) always emphasizes when recalling our first meeting—was filled with my archives; my archives being the pieces in my wardrobe (i.e. bags, shoes, dresses, tights) that I would NEVER entrust to FedEx when shipping the rest of my closet.  The second contained a twin-sized air mattress, an air pump, a pillow, and a blanket—the items that would comprise my entire “bedroom” for my first month in the city. Technically, I had $25 to my name when I got off of the plane, but after realizing I had left my charger in Chicago mid-flight, I was forced to pay the ridiculously inflated airport-markup for a universal charger (from that budget-Sharper Image store, no less) and was left with just over ten bucks to last me the week.

I remember pulling up to my apartment in Harlem the first time.  Let me tell you–I don’t care where you come from—even with the Hudson River as your backyard, seeing Harlem the first time will scare the shit out of you. Despite having visited the city countless times before—you never really look at it how you would when you know it’s home. How on earth was I in Manhattan without a Sephora within walking distance? I hate Starbucks but I at least like knowing it’s around the corner, which at 141st and Broadway, it is not. What the f— is a bodega?

I thought living in Chicago, without a car or a central grocery store, was more than ample preparation for New York. It wasn’t. And the truth is, going on two years later, everyday is a manifestation of that first day here: me, broke, with my archives, and New York. And unlike Chicago, I was finally in the city I had always dreamed of—and part of learning the ropes in this city is discerning that almost everyone here struggles in some form or the other. The bodega on the corner, where I do all of my grocery shopping, considers me a fixture—they worry and ask around the block when I’ve been gone too long. $5 morning coffees have been replaced with Café Bustelo and a stovetop percolator that is so embedded in my morning routine—I often forget to the put the espresso in it. Sephora is reserved for trips downtown, which I take almost daily, and can afford to because I live in Harlem. [Which is still Manhattan proper, mind you—and really, all I’ve ever dreamed of.]

{Yours Truly, 28, Editor [ReVisionist], from Derby, Kansas, 1+ years in New York}

{ xx }

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