I used to think that the problem with having your family come back into your life after 20 years apart is that no one’s necessarily the person they used to be–including the person who walked away from their hometown in the first place.
Could you just throw up from all my back and forth of will we? Won’t we? Where will we? Move to Los Angeles? Move home to Queens? Stay in Chicago? I know I could. The problem is it’s hard for me to admit what I really want. And that is, I want to live in the same city as my family again, but, Lord, I don’t necessarily want to live in New York, again.
Staying in Chicago is not a long-term option. For Ryan’s career it would be. But after 14 years, no matter how much I used to love Chicago and still have a lot of affection for it (now that I’m past the “Chicago, you suck!” years), the fact is I never, ever planned on Chicago being forever. That little red turkey timer popped up a long time ago.
Until my family and I reunited, the question of where to go next had an easy answer. Ryan and I love Southern California weather, and California produce, the idea of a city that balances amazing automobile access with great and quickly growing rail transit, and being Disney parks fans, the idea of not having to get on an airplane to walk down the original Main Street USA.
By the time my family and I knew each other again in spring 2015, I had already done lots of research and interstate networking and planning and heart-setting on an eventual move to Los Angeles. We had even chosen sides on neighborhoods. Ryan wanted Pasadena because the Rose Parade and Bob Barker. I wanted Los Feliz because the Red Line at Vermont and Sunset.
And then the whole world changed and we were suddenly visiting New York City. And the idea being able to hang out with my crazy nephews, spend a boozy Sunday with my sister-in-law, drive out to Suffolk and ask Little John why he thinks he’s allergic to the Goddamned telephone (yeah, I said it) became and remains something I want as much as I’ve ever wanted anything in my life.
And it’s not even the no 75 and sunny all year, the no California avocados, the no Expo Line to the ocean, the no monthly Plaza Inn chicken dinner at Disneyland, that has me bracing for impact. It’s the memory of the great feeling of relief I felt at leaving the crazy-drama-OMGWTF-ness of my NYC hometown behind fourteen years ago.
Since our targets have been re-set on Queens, I’ve spent a lot of time researching and learning about the NYC of today, since the city I left in 2003 is itself a memory now. Regularly reading the news, flashbacks of old drama mingle in my head with news of new suck. The subway screwed up every single weekend for maintenance work now melds with 2017’s year of total Penn Station and subway system meltdown. Daily stories of which drugged-out whacko accidentally killed which innocent bystander meld with this year’s madman who mowed down Times Square pedestrians and the woman awakened on a J train by a man urinating in her face. The relentless worry of high rent, a city income tax, and not enough hours in the day to work to pay for it all…well that’s off the charts a decade an a half later.
It’s all a question of priorities, but I wish it were easier to figure out mine. I don’t prioritize L.A. over my family. But I do wonder if I would have left the first time, even if my family had still been in my life. And whether the person I am all these years later is prepared to handle, hopefully with a better strategy (or at least one that doesn’t include leaving again), the big, giant, stress ball that is my hometown.
On the other hand, every city I’ve ever considered–including the one I live in now–I’ve judged via one criterion. That is, how close can I get to feeling like I still live in New York? World city? Enormous transit system? Vibrant arts and culture scene? Foodie paradise? Can I not crawl into a log and die if I still don’t know how to drive? Chicago met that compound criterion. Los Angeles meets it, too. Even better than Chicago, as far as I’m concerned.
But if the idea of moving back to New York scares me so much, why am I so eager to recreate New York in other cities?
Chicago taught me the answer to that. Citizens of every city have one overarching thing that they complain about. In the Windy City, it’s the weather. No matter how good it may get, there’s always room for a Chicagoan to complain about it–at length. It used to drive me crazy when I first got here, but now I understand it simply as part of the local psyche.
Angelenos, no surprise, complain about traffic.
And New Yorkers complain about the drama of New York. Before I left–back when I thought I could never, ever leave because I believed like any good native New Yorker that my hometown was the center of the universe–I complained about the crazy of it all. Considering moving home, I’m reminded of the crazy of it all and complaining about it all over again–like any good native New Yorker would. If we do end up in Queens, no matter how secure or settled we become, I’ll still bitch about it. That’s how it is being a New Yorker. Don’t believe me? Talk to my family about their New York lives some time. Or any of my hometown friends.
I’m not so much scared of moving back to New York as I am simply being a New Yorker again. I’m not eager to move back to New York because New Yorkers are never eager about the drama of their New York lives. But at least now I know I can say the same thing about my hometown that I can say about my family.
I miss it.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.