City Living: One Hectic Month

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The view of Broadway from our balcony includes yellow taxis, green taxis, pedestrians, buses, trucks, and, of course, bikes.

Our first month living in the city has been quite hectic. Many of the issues raised in my first update on city living remain unresolved. We still haven’t quite figured out how to make everything fit in our apartment [it turns out the boxed set of seasons 1-5 of 24 wasn’t really our main problem]. No matter how hard I try, the girls’ room remains a cluttered disaster site [in no small part due to the counter-efforts of my daughter]. We also haven’t settled on a synagogue yet, and despite going somewhere different for nearly every single Shabbat and Yom Tov, we still have more shuls to try.

I think I’m starting to understand why so many people talk about the “energy” of the city. Every day is a new adventure, if only because of the challenges being in the city constantly throws at you. Living in the suburbs, there was never all that much allure to going out for food. My wife cooks much better food than most restaurants (seriously, this is not an exaggeration, I know I am very lucky), and the accommodations are always pleasant. But now, living in a small apartment with a very small kitchen, the pressure to go out all the time is immense. Thankfully, there are so many (kosher) places to eat out on the Upper West Side that the main challenge is deciding what new place to try next.

Still, sometimes you want to eat at home, which means you need to buy groceries.  We’ve yet to figure out quite how we’re going to do this.  There are plenty of supermarkets and grocery stores around, but none are ideal.

One problem is that they are all cramped, making it very difficult to maneuver with a baby in a stroller.  We tried going to Fairway, which my wife loved up in Westchester, but we quickly realized that it was not going to work as a family trip.  I decamped with the kids to a Starbucks across the street while my wife finished the shopping.  Even so, she was hesitant to buy too much stuff as we were facing a 15-block walk home.

Thankfully there are plenty of stores much closer to us than Fairway, but odds are if it’s not cramped and crowded, then it’s very expensive.  Now I’m sure solutions to this problem exist, and there must be some cheaper stores out there.  Maybe Sunday afternoon is just a really bad time to go food shopping, but that has always been our routine.  In the suburbs, our savior was Costco.  Manhattan has a Costco, but it is far.  Even so, we love Costco so much I’ve thought about buying a cargo trailer for my bike just so we can still shop there.  But before I do that, this weekend I will try driving the car home and driving there on Sunday.  In the meantime, we’ve been buying a lot of stuff from Fresh Direct and Amazon.

Even going to the playground can be an adventure. Elizabeth had just one playground that practically everyone went to.  Riverdale had a few more.  The largest one, the Spuyten Duyvil Playground near Seton Park, can get quite crowded on a Saturday afternoon, but we were always sure to see some familiar faces. I found this quite comforting in many ways. But the Upper West Side has vastly more playgrounds.  I suspect the various playgrounds here will offer no such comfort of familiar faces, though maybe I’ll be proven wrong. Due to the sheer quantity of both high quality playgrounds and of families using them, I feel it is unlikely we will get to know a group of “regulars.”  We’ve visited at least 5 different playgrounds in our neighborhood in the last month, many featuring unique sculptures and play equipment, and we still haven’t been to them all.

The variety of synagogues, restaurants, stores, parks, and playgrounds make each day living here different and interesting, but the most unique aspect of living in the city is that major events, the kinds that draw hundreds or even thousands of people, are constantly taking place at your doorstep.

Our first such event was Simchat Torah.

During the first days of Sukkot, I lamented that it was difficult to feel the presence of the Yom Tov when you step outside the synagogue and are immediately thrust into the middle of a busy work day.  With open space at a premium, it is not surprising so many observant Jews choose this weekend as a time to get away from the city (and maybe next year we will, too).

Simchat Torah was the complete opposite.  Everywhere we went there were tons of young singles who had come from all over the region to experience the remarkably decadent never-ending parties thrown by so many synagogues here.  That night we felt more like club-hoppers than shul-goers, listening to gossip on where to go next, standing in line for the popular venues, then squeezing through massive crowds to try to get a drink (alcoholic, of course) or a bite to eat.  I’m not sure what people must have thought of us coming to these parties toting 2 young children, but the girls didn’t seem to mind.

The second event, already extensively blogged about here, was Bike MS.  Had we not lived in the City, I may not have been able to attend the event at all, as my rider packet still has not arrived in the mail nearly a week after the event.  Even though the event itself turned out to be a bit of a disaster, the rest of my family managed to make the best of my absence by visiting the Children’s Museum.

When I finally got home at about 6 PM, everyone was hungry and the last thing my wife wanted to do was start cooking, so we all headed out at the last minute to Noi Due, a kosher Italian restaurant that feels remarkably like a regular New York City restaurant and not your standard kosher fare.  For one, they don’t have sushi (for some reason every full scale kosher dairy restaurant outside Manhattan feels obligated to offer sushi on their menu), which I think is a good sign.  There were also no pictures of Jerusalem or famous rabbis on the wall (or at least none that I could see, since it was so dimly lit).  What they did have, though, was solid good-tasting food.  [On the other hand, I’ve yet to escape a restaurant around here with a tab of under $75.]

So that just about summarizes our first hectic month living here.  If you have any tips on how to make it work, please let us know as we’re still figuring it out.  And if you live nearby, we’ll be glad to have you over — just as soon as we figure out what to do with that boxed set of DVDs and all that other stuff!

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