Becoming a “New Yorker”: Glass slippers don’t make for an easy morning commute.


The first time I attempted to be a real New Yorker I was nearly hit by a car.

For the longest time, looking like I belonged in New York City came with a belief in the practicality of impractical shoes while practicing a series of stony faces with “business” and “meeting in ten” written all over them. My knowledge of being a true New Yorker came with a belief in a fully stocked iPod, song after song serving as ammo to drown out the chaos around me, and a sense of indifference for my surroundings, as if the use of a Metro Card and hailing a cab was installed into my being.

So back to that time I was nearly road kill.

There I was, about the bridge the distance between 42nd and 43rd East, juggling all sorts of sophistication and city girl swagger along with my grande skim milk misto. Determined to abandon any 3rd grade instruction of looking both ways before crossing the street. After all, REAL New Yorkers do not look both ways. REAL New Yorkers don’t even flinch at dead bodies in the road.

Look serious. Have a mission. Stay focused. Head up. Chin up. Pensive, Hannah, pensive. Busy but sexy. Make the world believe you have everything. Strut and push to the front of this crowd. Strut, push, strut, push. Crap, don’t trip. Runway style. Total “Devil Wears Prada” predecessor.

Whoosh….

Ok. Look cool. You just nearly got pummeled by a car but stay cool. Everyone noticed but you will never see these people again. It’s o.k, you are fine.

If the judges of America’s Next Top New Yorker had seen this one they would have surely gawked at my performance.

A 3 from the Tyra of the show. A 2 from the Twiggy. A straight zero from the Janis Dickinson. A sympathetic 4 from the Nigel Barker of the show.

I may have interpreted the New Yorkers of this city all wrong. In trying to possess a certain exterior, I forgot about the interior. Correction: I sacrificed the interior.

I won’t lie to you. If you could look inside of me right this very second you would see it: I am falling apart inside. Nothing to worry about, it’s just that New York is a whole lot more glamorous and romantic when you visit at Christmastime or when you come for the day with friends and they don’t leave you standing alone on the platform.

New York City would be different, I am sure, if I had more than $25 in my pocket and I didn’t call the poorest congressional district in the nation “home.” New York City would be a different story if I was still comfortable with buying $7 jars of almond butter and if 4 floors of Forever 21 were still my mecca. If I had not sacrificed buying any clothing this year, because it turned out to be a want and not a need.

New York City is a different story for that fact that I shrink in stretching out my hand to a cute guy at a bar, introducing myself as a volunteer. A charity case. A girl you should probably buy a drink for, not because she is pretty but because she makes no money. On purpose.

I bet if I were to slide a Metro Card into the hands of Cinderella, she would feel exactly like me.

All dressed up but knowing that the clock will strike at midnight. And I will be plopped back in the Bronx with a pumpkin and a few mice.

I am practically drooling over the sound of a credit card swiping. I am on the verge of begging a tourist with a suitcase to let me show them a trick:

If I can prove that I can fit into your suitcase, will you take me home?

So I guess this is the point in my story where I know my shoe is lost. I have evidently lost something and I do not know just how I will gain it back yet.

But we forget a certain part of the Cinderella story, after the ball but before the grand shoe fitting. The In Between Time. Cinderella didn’t sit around and wait for the other shoe. She didn’t search frantically for it either. She went on cleaning, and sweeping. And Serving Others. Until everything fell into place.

She learned to live with one shoe on and one shoe off.

One foot in a world I have grown up knowing all my life, the other in a borough that challenges me every single day.

But here is my resolution: Instead of walking around uneven, I will take off my other shoe and walk barefoot for a little while. I will stop trying so furiously to be my illusion of a “true New Yorker” and start living like the 300,000 neighbors of mine who know the sound of poverty at the front door. The ones I came here for. I will take out the earphones, stop drowning out everything that I find hard to hear, look straight ahead with a smile on my face.

I will look both ways.
And then I will cross the street.

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26 thoughts on “Becoming a “New Yorker”: Glass slippers don’t make for an easy morning commute.

  1. Hannah, this is an amazing post. Keep on doing whatever you’re doing: With a million Mastercards you could never buy the kind of wisdom and karma that this post shows your are gleaning.

    Thanks for sharing this, truly.

    1. Thank you Michael. It is always great to put out there exactly what I am feeling and have people be receptive. One of the multiple reasons for loving blogging.

      I will certainly keep on going…

  2. Remember, when I made Laura promise me that no matter how bad her feet her, she’d never walk barefoot around the city?
    Please please please …haha. No, but really this is a great post, and from being in the city, I can totally understand the yearning to wanting to look like a pro in the city. The first time I got into a cab, I got in the front seat, and the cab driver said to me :WHERE ARE YOU FROM: Trying to play off that I was from New York, he said, “no you aren’t, because you sat in the front seat of the cab. New Yorkers sit in the back” ha. Nicely done.

    1. By the way–if you hop behind a tall man who is trying to cross in front of moving traffic, this tends to help get across more safely. I learned this, this morning

  3. These tales of your newfound chapter are nothing short of poetic, and always, always, with a strong message that makes me want to be a better person. Just today I was walking downtown, thinking if only I had a fancier coat, or could wear the highest stilettos and pull them off confidently, if only I had the money to buy business suits then maybe I’d fit in more as a Grown Up Career Girl. But as is the case with you too, the streets aren’t glamourous – they’re home to the city’s poor and homeless, who’d give anything just to have a blanket over their shoulders. We need to put things into perspective every once in a while. Thank you for reminding me to do that today.

  4. wphew scared me there for a minute, you go cinderella one shoe, no shoes, try socks like you said just keep on going love feel His grace

  5. I’ve always said I don’t know if I could live in NYC. It seems to be the dream for many but I don’t know. It’s expensive and overwhelming (for your senses) but what you are doing sounds great and so rewarding, even though it also sounds tough. For how long are you planning to stay in NYC?

    1. Right now I am here until June.. Up to me after if I plan to stay or not.. I am not one to stay in one place for too long.. Boston is looking pretty enticing every day.

  6. I’m not sure I would ever be comfortable in New York, but you seem to be doing a pretty good job. Still, I can see how it’s hard.

    I love the last bit about Cinderella. You’re right. She didn’t sit around or search frantically. She kept right on working, until she finally got her happy ending. 🙂

  7. Hannah, NYC doesn’t need it another New Yorker. I believe it needs you. I know you’re there for multiple reasons- for yourself and so many other people that will be impacted by your experiences. I went through this who transition in moving to Chicago 2 years ago and sometimes still have my moments of wondering if I should try and fit in better. But what good does that serve? Wear your worn-out shoes and/or sore bare feet proudly! NYC is a better place because of you.

    1. K.. You are absolutely awesome. I think that if I was not working fulltime at the UN I would work fulltime telling you how great I think you are.

      Keep being you love.

  8. Hi Hannah,

    Fabulous writing here. It’s funny and tragic and uplifting and humbling at the same time. Not easy to do that.

    I’m drawn to this line the most, “After all, REAL New Yorkers do not look both ways. REAL New Yorkers don’t even flinch at dead bodies in the road.”

    I wonder if a lot of New Yorkers feel they have to act hardened or if they are hardened by the reality of a big city. Does a big city need to harden us?

    When I get crazed about anything, I keep telling myself it’s an adventure that will add texture to my life. A life without texture is smooth and shiny but without imperfections it’s not going to be memorable.

    Try walking up to that cute guy in the bar and showing him your glorious texture. He’ll then feel comfortable showing you his …

    Enjoy the city! G.

    1. Texture.. love this.

      I was a sociology major in college and one of the classes I took was the Sociology of Urban Life… I learned that a lot of people living in big cities need ways to cope with the stimulus overload, all the lights and noises and people. I find it easy to need that sometimes, there are days when I just need to put my headphones in and shut out everything and everyone while walking to work… It is overwhelming to do the commute on a daily basis.

      Thanks for your wonderful comment. It is funny, I didnt think this post would end with a tone of optimism. But as I wrote it in a coffee shop my emotions drifted right along with the piece. A perfect piece of catharsis if you ask me.

      Hope all is well!

  9. Amazing post, Hannah. The New York mentality always sort of scares me honestly, people so focused on giving off the right appearance, looking the right part. Stay true to yourself. You are an wonderful person, New York will change you but you’re also going to change New York.

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