Make It in New York

by Sonya Bernhagen 2 years ago in advice

A Personal Journey

Make It in New York

New York City. Luxurious uptown Manhattan, Fifth Avenue, Wall Street, Mad Men. Or the gritty-yet-bohemian Village (for the gay and free), Alphabet City, St. Mark's Place, Taxi Driver. Although these are polar opposites and you could find some middle ground in Chelsea and Midtown, with all opinions aside, this city has something to offer anyone and everyone. Be that as it may, she’s not easy. With a real estate value of $1.5 trillion, or 5 percent of the nation's total, it seems only the rich or stealthy can make it here. 8.5 billion residents made it here one way or another to "be a part of it," as the song goes. Now, with the streets clean and subways safe, we witness a new wave of youth fill the void.

She's here to stand tall and intimidate us, her cavernous skyscrapers that engulf us. I could listen to her sirens and tires on wet pavement all day. She’s everything I was missing, without even knowing. I’ll do anything to thrive here, my pinnacle, my summit of cities. This is it.

The good thing about the high population density is the turn-over rate, making it relatively easy to get a job. I applied for a high-end retail gig on the Upper East Side and was immediately hired. Finding an apartment came fairly easily as well, this cute little duplex in Queens. If anything, it was the act of sustaining them that came with obstacles.

I walked into work one Tuesday morning to find out that a co-worker accused me of being gay; he told my manager, and everyone was immediately uncomfortable around me. What did I do that was so gay? I come to work, do my job, and go home. I like to keep it professional, or at least classy. I was unlawfully fired for maybe being homosexual. What did they think I was going to do? I had urged them not to flatter themselves. Never in my life would I have guessed New York City would be the one to fire me for a sexuality that wasn’t even exhibited. But, of course, I hadn’t any proof, so I had to keep moving.

The next job I came upon was at a café in Long Island City. I had a friend of a friend refer me and voila. I was a barista there for five days when a co-worker stole money out of the drawer and framed me. Fired. "Get outta here ya fuckin' bum." This is the thing about being young yet competent. I can do a good job and I know I can do even better at a better job, but no one will take me seriously…that's a separate issue. Moving on.

I’ve been working at a restaurant in the Upper West Side. Been here for about eight months now. The money's decent, my coworkers are charismatic, and my bosses mostly love me. I’m not the biggest fan of working for a corporate franchise, but it’s paying my rent and feeding me so I’ll agree to suck it up.

The Upper West Side is one of those old neighborhoods with old money and families and parks and quirky little boutiques. I run into a lot of the infamous “old New Yorkers” on my walks from the subway to work. You know the kind; they grunt and shuffle passed you and yell at all the cabs that they swear almost ran them over. The guys smoking Marlboros and groan when the city subtly changes, whether it’s because their rent went up or their train is having signal problems. They’re some of my favorite. That notorious character we all simultaneously mock and love.

Finding your neighborhood is really important based on your character. Whether you’re uptown chic, downtown bohemian, Brooklyn hip, Bronx tough, or Queens versatile. It's easy to fit your personality to your neighborhood, but as we all know, our personal budget is always put into play.

My personal experience became something of a sticky situation I like to call a Big Apple Illegal Sublease, only in New York, eh buddy? I woke up one morning, got ready for work, and on my apartment door, I see, in big letters: EVICTION NOTICE. Alright, here's the breakdown: I’ve been paying my rent to an “apartment manager,” as he called himself. He charges me and my roommates twice the rent, and pockets the extra profit for himself. Smooth, but you know you’ve been caught when the actual landlord evicts us all. Lawyers get involved but it’s all a medieval fight for land and money. Every force, every motivation is driven by how much you got in your pocket in this iconic city. Money will tear us apart.

I’d like to think the power and will of us creatives could be enough to shift someone’s opinion and open the minds of our superiors. Unfortunately authority often has a limited vision, and in this city of hustlers, who has the time? It's like the making of a film: it costs an insane amount of moolah to pay for equipment and a cast and crew, that in most cases, they’ll only make a film that will for sure get the views they need. This means they’ll make a twelfth Spider-Man movie before they’ll create a new or controversial production. Which is especially prevalent here, where every little thing is precious: money, time, space, ideas, performances, living. Even dating in this city is a hassle for a Brooklyn bartender and an uptown designer (who wants that commute?). We will pride ourselves on what it takes to be precise and independent and successful, because it’s a New Yorkers' mantra. This entire series of ups and downs, the climbing and falling, it’s an everyday ordeal. We will be prepared for every contingency, every orifice in the world of opportunity. Everyone’s got their story as to how they got here and their strange experiences or what they had to do to get here or there. This city creates memories for all of us — her character and fortitude molds us and kicks us around but in that she gives us the motivation to work and stay here. New Yorkers are ballsy because it’s how we survive, no, it’s how we thrive. The saying is true, if you can make it here you can make it anywhere. This city is a never-ending rollercoaster. Let's ride.

Sonya Bernhagen
Sonya Bernhagen
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Sonya Bernhagen

Freelance writer living in New York.

See all posts by Sonya Bernhagen