Until I was 18, I never lived above Interstate 10. My idea of a New Yorker was everyone I’d seen on television. Guys like Archie Bunker, Oscar Madison, George Jefferson, and Louis De Palma. Angry old men who wore permanent scowls and who lived in a smog-filled city occupied by millions of other angry people. I was 25 when I first arrived New York via a Greyhound Bus from Houston. I landed in Port Authority back when it was still a pretty unpleasant place. The stench of urine was inescapable. The homeless were everywhere. And yet, I immediately felt at home. Not because of the desperation, but the exact opposite. There was something about the resilient energy of New Yorkers that resonated with me during a very desperate point in my life. Eventually, I got sober in New York. Thanks entirely to its people.
When I called New York home, I knew guys like Bunker and Jefferson. But I also knew knew remarkable people who were the most honest I’d ever met. People who picked me up by my scruff, looked me square in the eyes – and told me the truth. People who were willing to help me get right – as long as I was willing to help myself. People who took me into their lives without any predispositions. Growing up in the Deep South, we didn’t talk much about our problems. Even when our worlds were crashing down around us – mostly we just pretended that everything was always ok. Until I lived in New York, I didn’t even know what it meant to accept a problem and then attack it. But boy, did I learn.
I moved away from the area in 1996 after a blizzard that dumped three feet of snow in 24-hours. This southern boy was just fed up with the cold. So I kidnapped a girl I met up there, and headed back down below I-10. We’ve since moved halfway back, to Charlotte, but I don’t think I can ever go back up north because of the damn cold. That said, I miss New Yorkers. And when events like Hurricane Sandy or 9-11 occur, I want to be up there with them – helping pick them up like they did with me so long ago. Thanks to social media, I’ve made friends everywhere. But some of my favorite people continue to be New Yorkers. Not because anyone I know now knew me when I lived there, but rather because there’s something about the honesty of New Yorkers that endears them to me. I gravitate to that brutal honesty. It saved my life. I may have been born and raised along the Gulf Coast, but I grew up in New York.
Stay resilient, my New York friends. Know you’re loved.
Image of Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, during Hurricane Sandy. (via The Atlantic)