I moved to New York city on Nov 11 after living in the DC area for nearly 20 years. I had visited NYC several times and did many of the touristy activities such as Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building observation deck etc., but never felt drawn towards the city. I found it dirty, overwhelming, too chaotic and crowded. It isn’t that I’m not a big city person–I lived in London for a few months in 2015 and absolutely loved it. However London, although similar to NYC in population, feels like a very different city to live. Because London was never designed to a be a big metropolis, but instead grew by absorbing outlying areas in the city proper, it retains a hub and spoke character, with pockets of density separated by parks and corridors of low density. Furthermore, the public transportation system in London is world class. The tube is clean, aesthetically pleasing and generally runs frequently and on time. The bus transport system is usable as well. With its rich and storied history, the city offers limitless possibilities to learn and explore for a history buff such as me. Interestingly, I didn’t know much British history when I lived in London.. over the last 2 years, I’ve read a ton of British history, and can recite most of the Norman, Plantagenet and Tudor kings and their deeds by heart. With this new found knowledge, I’ll likely get much more out of a stay in England now.. Anyway, coming back to NYC–I never felt drawn towards NYC the way I did for London, and never felt the desire to move there, although that would have made much more sense, specially as a career move. I’m in tech, and despite some fits and starts, the DC area is just not a hotbed of tech, specially tech unrelated to the government or defense.
I had been a long time DC area resident, and loved living there. It is pretty much the only place I had lived consistently after moving to the US in Aug 2000. There is much to like about the area. The region abounds with world class museums, highly accessible outdoor activities, including my favorite bike trails–Capital Crescent, Mt. Vernon, Rock Creek park trails and several others. Interestingly, I never lived in DC itself, only in MD and VA, the states adjoining DC. Although the traffic on the beltway can be atrocious, getting in/out of DC is generally not too bad, specially if you live in suburbs of MD/VA bordering DC such as Bethesda or Arlington. Even though the region boasts the second-busiest rapid transit system in the United States (in 2021), I mostly used my car to get around and hardly ever used the subway or the bus system. I found them too slow and often unreliable. I love salsa, swing and other partner dances, and the DC region has an active social dance scene, with excellent studios (eg., SalsawithSiliva) to take lessons. I met several of my longstanding friends through social dancing. DC and surrounding suburbs are clean, generally safe and dotted with parks and other green spaces. Being the national capital, DC hosts most of the foreign embassies in the US, which often organize stimulating cultural events.
I had a lovely 2 bedroom apartment in Rosslyn, 5 min bike ride from Georgetown and the Potomac river. Two of my favorite biking trails ran by the Potomac river, one on the DC side and the other on the VA side. It was quick and easy to go kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and sailing on the Potomac.
Most of my adult life events happened in DC. I came to the area first for attending grad school at University of Maryland in Aug 2000. I had a brief stint in State College, PA for a few months for my first job, but didn’t quite fit in a college town far away from a major city. So I came back to the DC area, and made it my home. I bought my first home in 2006 in Laurel, experienced my first earthquake in 2011, got a MBA at Georgetown in 2013, went through an acquisition, traveled all around the world, moved to Arlington, sold the house in 2019 and many others.
Recently though, I increasingly felt that I had outgrown the area. Like many big cities, the DC area took a big hit during the pandemic. Although it staged a comeback starting in the middle of 2021, things weren’t quite as before. I was still single, and as I was getting older, the pool of dateable women was also drawing thinner and I’d often see the same women on the dating apps, speed dating parties etc. The DC area was also a misfit in terms of career and growth opportunities. Notwithstanding Amazon’s HQ2, the DC area remains dominated by the federal government, and the big and small contractors that serve it. There aren’t too many great career opportunities not related to the government. Despite that, I did reasonably well in my career and always managed to find good job opportunities. After getting into Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) at IQT, and learning cloud computing at Capital One, I have grown tremendously, specially in the last 3 years at Capital One. However, there is no telling where my career would have gone, had I lived in a more “techy” area such as the Bay Area, NYC or Boston. The thought of moving out of DC for career reasons sporadically crossed my mind, but the comfort and familiarity of the area tilted the balance in favor of staying.
However this year I finally started to give the idea of moving out of DC serious thought. In the US, there are only a handful of serious contenders for a destination–the Bay area, Boston, Austin, Chicago and NYC. The bay area would probably be the best fit for career opportunities, but I never liked living in San Francisco or Silicon Valley. Boston and Chicago are too cold in the winter and I went to Austin in July this year and couldn’t believe how hot it gets (107 degrees at 7PM!!). I also considered relocation to Europe, however the salary difference between Europe and US, specially in tech jobs is just too large (a factor of 4 or 5). Plus, going through the immigration journey once was enough, I didn’t want to repeat the experience. That left NYC as the only viable option.
My modus operandi is generally to mull over things in my mind for a while and then spring into action once I’ve made up my mind. Uprooting my nice and comfy life and moving to NYC was a big decision, and I didn’t want to regret it, specially given my concerns about the hectic pace of life in NYC. So, I decided to do a trial run by getting an airbnb for 3 weeks in October and gathering some data about how living in the city actually feels like. My friend Kevin who moved from DC to NYC several years ago, provided some tips about good neighborhoods to get an abnb. After a few days of searching (and being shocked by the nightly rates), I finally booked an apartment in the Bowery neighborhood in lower Manhattan. This neighborhood wasn’t highly rated by Kevin (and perhaps that’s why) but was cheaper than upper west/east side or midtown. I also put my own apartment on abnb to defray some of the cost. I set the minimum length of stay to 5 nights to minimize the number of stays and associated key pickup/drop-off and cleaning arrangements I’d have to manage while I was away in NYC. I promptly got several reservation requests which pretty much filled the entire duration I was planning on spending in NYC. I arranged with my housecleaning lady to do the key transfer and clean the apartment after each guest check-out.
On the evening of Oct 5, I cleaned out my personal belongings from the bedroom and living room, cleared out some closet space for the abnb guests and moved my valuables into a box and dropped it off with my friend Katie. On Oct 6, I loaded my suitcase and bike in the car, and drove off to NYC. After about 6 hours (including 1 hour in stop and go traffic heading into the Lincoln tunnel) I arrived in Manhattan. I easily found my abnb apartment, and transferred my luggage. The apartment was nicely furnished, but being located on the ground floor, surrounded by other buildings, didn’t get much natural light. I had to figure out where to park my car. I used the website spothero to find parking garages, but was shocked by the nightly rates (~55-60$/night). Being a bit tired and weary, I just parked at a nearby garage for the night. The next day, I reserved monthly parking at a garage in midtown, costing around $550. In hindsight, I should have parked my car in Jersey city or Hoboken in New Jersey, which would have been significantly cheaper.
In my experience, a large part of your overall life experience depends on the people around you. Being surrounded by like-minded people who you connect with can make a sub-optimal living situation bearable. The converse is true as well. I like people who are intellectually curious, self-aware, avid readers, care about the world, self-disciplined, ambitious but easygoing, adventurous and good listeners. Such people exist in all urban areas, and NYC being the center of the world in many ways is likely full of them. For me, the difficulty has always been meeting quality people. So, an important data point in the decision to relocate to NYC was the ease of meeting people I’d want to be friends with. Over the next couple of weeks, I hit the social scene in the city hard. I attended lots of social dance events, walking tours, speed-dating events, Internations happy hours, meetup events etc. The evidence was mixed, though generally positive. Because of the much larger population and more importantly, population density, social events are better attended and there is much greater diversity of occupations. I met people from several walks of life–writers, fashion designers, make-up artists, songwriters, various types of therapists (in addition to the more common occupations of law, science, accounting, finance etc) that I rarely encountered in the DC area. However, in niche activities such as swing dancing, I quickly started seeing the same people, which though good in a way (because it creates a sense of belonging to a community), was surprising because of the sheer size and density of the population in NYC.
As mentioned above, biking is a huge part of my life and the amazing bike trails in the DC area played a big role in keeping me there for so long. I can’t imagine living in a city without great biking opportunities and evaluating the biking scene in NYC was another important data point. For that reason, I brought my bike with me. I’m happy to say that NYC surpassed my expectations in biking opportunities and bike friendliness. I biked along the Hudson river greenway couple of times, took the ferry over to New Jersey and biked in Hoboken and Jersey city, crossed the Brooklyn bridge to bike around Williamsburg and biked around Central park several times. One time I tried to bike around Manhattan. I started at Battery park, biked along the Hudson river greenway to Inwood hill park on the north end of Manhattan island, and then tried to bike back down along the East river. Somewhat to my dismay, there is no proper bike path on the east side of Manhattan. A bike path exists in some areas, but keeps disappearing among city streets. Another issue is that getting to the bike trails requires biking along the crowded (and sometimes pot-holed) streets and avenues of NYC, which can be a bit nerve wracking. Thankfully, several avenues and streets have bike lanes that are relatively easy to follow. However because of the density of car and pedestrian traffic, one has to exercise a much higher degree of vigilance and situational awareness than is the case in DC and other places I’ve biked.
As a result of all the biking, I also got a good sense of the layout of the different neighborhoods in Manhattan. The architecture and the views are simply stunning. I was also disabused of my perception of Manhattan as an island full of sky scrappers. I found that large parts of Manhattan, specially on the upper east and west side are full of historical 4-5 story buildings in green, leafy neighborhoods.
The streets of NYC are dirty, both in absolute and relative terms. It is easy to find discarded food, plastic/paper bags, broken glass and other trash on the streets. When it rains, the water pools up on the side of streets in many areas forming puddles that one must walk around or wade through. You can see trash lying on the tracks in the subway system. Some areas resemble a third world country in cleanliness. This had always bothered me during previous visits to NYC and did so for the first few days on this trip also. However after about a week, I got used to the squalor and stopped noticing it. The NYC rats get a lot of press (fun fact about rats – a rat can survive a fall from a 5 story building without suffering serious bodily damage!). You do see rats scurrying around, specially on the tracks in the subway. However there are rats in DC also, despite it being significantly cleaner than NYC. I didn’t encounter an unusual number of rats during my wanderings.
Manhattan is one of the most densely populated locations in the world, with a 2020 census population of 1,694,251 (not including tourists and visitors from other boroughs) living in a land area of 22.83 square miles. This adds (divides?) up to 72,918 residents per square mile. As a result of this high population density, the streets of Manhattan, specially in touristy areas are crowded and teeming with people. Somewhat unusual for a first world country, honking is quite common. After having lived in DC for 20+ years, the crowds took some getting used to, but quickly became part of the background.
The NYC subway is the biggest metro in the world (defining big by the number of stations–NYC subway has 472 stations), although the Shanghai Metro is the world’s longest metro network at 803 kilometres and also has the highest annual ridership at 2.83 billion trips. DC has a metro as well, but it seems like an afterthought and not very usable. The trains aren’t very frequent (specially in the evenings and on weekends; even on the weekdays, some trains run every 20 minutes!), the stations are sparsely distributed, connections can take forever and riding the DC metro can occasionally be dangerous. For all these reasons, I rarely used the metro in DC and just drove or biked everywhere. The NYC metro is a totally different beast. It is dirty and unsightly (peeling plaster on the walls and ceilings is a common sight), but highly functional. The stations (specially in mid and lower Manhattan) are densely spaced, the trains run frequently and usually on time. I used my car once (to charge it) throughout my 2.5 week NYC trial. It took me a few days to understand how the system works (specially figuring out the local and express trains), but I really started enjoying the ease and convenience of it. Most places in Manhattan can be accessed faster using the subway than any other means (particularly during the weekdays when trains run more frequently). Using the system is also cheap–~$120 gets you unlimited rides on the metro, and a single ride is $2.75. I purchased a monthly metro card during my stay. The card offers unlimited use of the NYC metro. Unfortunately, the New Jersey path system is separate and requires purchasing a separate metro card. Later, I learnt that there is a much better way to pay for the metro. You simply register with a system called OMNY and tap your phone (or contact-less credit card) to pay the fare at subway turnstiles and buses. OMNY keeps track of your rides and caps your fare (you ride free after 12 paid OMNY trips per week). It is very easy and convenient to use! Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with the New Jersey transit and the JFK air train. You need to buy separate metro cards to use those systems. NYC has an extensive bus system as well, but I didn’t use it much (although I’ve started using it more recently, and find it easy and convenient). Google maps has a great integration with NYC public transportation system and provides excellent directions for getting from point A to B, taking into account train/bus arrival schedules, delays, local vs. express tracks etc. You can generally time your arrival within a few minutes. It feels like winning the lottery when you walk on the platform right when the train is pulling in :-)! Funnily, for me the trickiest bit was figuring out which way to start walking after exiting a subway station. I’m yet to figure out the orientation feature on Google maps. I usually just start walking in one direction to see which way the dot indicating my position is moving on the map and change direction if needed. Sometimes the world trade center building can serve as a landmark, because it can be seen from many parts of Manhattan and tells you which way is downtown.
New York city is known for being one of the most expensive cities in the world and sadly this reputation is well deserved. Everything (with public transportation being a notable exception) costs more than what I was accustomed to in DC. Food and drinks (of comparable quality) cost ~15-20% more, while the rent can be 40-50% higher (specially if you live in Manhattan). To add insult to injury, there is a ~3.8% tax for living in NYC, on top of the ~6.6% New York state tax. The tax rates are progressive, so the rate you pay depends on the bracket your income falls in. So be prepared for your living expenses increasing by 25-30%, unless you make lifestyle changes or live in New Jersey.
After about a week and half, I had gathered enough information to feel sure that moving to NYC was the right decision for me. I realized that there would be some trade-offs, but on the balance, I’ll be better off in NYC than in DC. In addition to a different lifestyle, I’ll also have many more career opportunities. As evidence, my linked-in mailbox lit up after changing my location from DC to NYC. Having decided to move, I set about finding an apartment–no easy task in NYC, with so many choices. I didn’t have many specific requirements, except that I wanted to live in a high-rise, having never lived in one. My apartment in Arlington was on the 10th floor, and that was the highest I ever lived. One of my strategies for apartment hunting was to look at for-rent signs on buildings that looked interesting on my bike rides and note down their names and phone numbers. I saw several apartments in midtown and on the west side of Manhattan and a couple in Brooklyn. They were either too small, had a poor layout or wildly expensive (sometimes all three). Luckily my longtime friend Kevin, who I knew from my ballroom dancing days in the DC area and who later moved to NYC, suggested Atlas, one of the buildings owned by Gotham properties. Kevin lived in Atlas for several years and loved his stay. So, I called the leasing office and arranged for a viewing. Atlas is located at the intersection of 38th st and 6th ave, in the heart of midtown. I saw an apartment on the 34th floor, and liked it right away. It had nice hardwood floors, open layout, gorgeous views and decent amenities. The view from the rooftop was incredible – a 360 degree view of Manhattan, because at 48 stories, Atlas is one of the tallest buildings in the area. I pondered for a bit but pretty much decided to take the plunge and apply for the apartment.
Having decided to move to NYC, the trial had served its purpose. My move in date for Atlas was Nov 12, and there was less than a month to pack my stuff in DC and find someone to sublet my apartment for the remaining lease duration. So, I went back to DC a week earlier than planned (I was also scheduled to speak at a conference in DC, and going back earlier coincided with the conference dates as well). At the same time, my friend Kevin who had recommended Atlas, had moved out of NYC and was trying to decide his next move. Luckily, Kevin decided to move back to DC. He had seen my apartment earlier and liked it, and agreed to take over my lease. So we almost literally did an apartment swap between NYC and DC! I didn’t get the apartment Kevin had lived in, so it wasn’t a clean swap, but we certainly swapped our apartment buildings!
So, I drove back to DC and set about slowly wrapping up my affairs there. I considered having a going-away party, but there was a lot to do and not that much time, so I just met a few close friends individually to say good bye.
I called several moving companies, and ultimately went with Georgetown movers. Because it takes ~5 hours for a moving truck to cover the distance from DC to NY, it is very difficult to finish the move in one day. Loading dock and service elevators can usually only be booked for 2-3 hour slots from 9AM to 5PM. That wouldn’t allow enough time to pack and load a one bedroom apartment’s belongings, drive 5 hours and then unpack and set up the items in the new apartment. So, the movers executed the move over two days. They disassembled and wrapped up the big furniture and loaded up the boxes full of small items (which I had already boxed up) in their moving truck. To make the logistics a bit easier, I drove out that evening and spent the night in a town in NJ about an hour away from New York city. I drove out early next morning with the goal of arriving at my new apartment building before 9 AM (the earliest time the service elevator was available) to meet up with the movers. On the way, the movers called to tell me that the street in front of the apartment building had been blocked by the police to conduct some investigation. That caused some stress and anxiety, but ultimately the police let the moving truck in.
The rest of the move went well, except the last bit. Movers are required to inventory all the items they are carrying. When they have finished unloading your belongings in your new home, they’ll ask you to verify all of your belongings have been successfully moved and sign-off on a form. Make sure to only sign-off after they have finished unpacking and setting up your furniture as you want it. I made the mistake of signing the form while most of the heavy furniture was still in boxes. The movers promptly took off after I signed the form and I had to unpack and assemble the couch, tables and other big furniture on my own.
Overall, the move cost me about $2400, a pretty reasonable price for a cross-state move.
To park my car, I picked a garage in Jersey city, which at $250 a month is significantly cheaper than anywhere in Manhattan. So far, I’ve used my car 3 times in around 3 months. I really haven’t felt the need for a car in NYC.
It is Feb 19 today, so it has been a little over 3 months since I moved to NYC. I did some traveling after moving to NYC also (a week in Peru to hike Machu Picchu over thanksgiving, and ~2 weeks in India and Thailand over the Christmas break), so I haven’t been in the city the entire 3 months. Incidentally, one of the benefits of being in NYC is that traveling internationally is a lot easier. There are direct flights from JFK or Newark airport to lots of cool international destinations, and one can travel to JFK and Newark using public transportation. In fact there is a new option for traveling from Grand Central Madison station to JFK, that should take about 40 minutes, shaving about 20 minutes of travel time from midtown Manhattan to JFK using the subway.
I’m loving NYC so far. I’m been socializing a lot, going to a lot of swing dances (Somewhere Nowhere in midtown is the best swing venue I’ve found so far, and I go there pretty much every Wednesday :-)), walking tours (which have been great for discovering the city, but disappointing for the purpose of meeting new people), speed dating parties (great for meeting new people, and occasionally dates) and other networking events through groups such as New York Social Network.
My apartment is amazing and the location is very convenient. I wake up to splendid views of the empire state building and other landmarks of midtown. Three major subway stations (Bryant park, Herald square, Times square) are within a 5 min walk. Several of the dance studios I go for socials and lessons are also within a mile. The area is quite commercial though and many people that I’m meeting live on the UES (Upper East Side) or in Brooklyn. I may move to another part of the city next year.
I’ve enjoyed having some “aha” moments, such as when I discovered that 5th Ave separates East from West–street addresses to the east of 5th Ave are labeled east and vice versa, and that Tribeca stands for “Triangle Below Canal street” and Soho (Noho) stands for South (North) of Houston street. During a history of the New York subway tour, I learnt many interesting facts about the New York subway, such as that it used to be run by two private companies– Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT), the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT). Additionally, New York city established a city-owned Independent Subway (IND) in the 1920s to create a subway that was “independent of manipulation by the IRT and BMT,” with the City’s Board of Transportation itself managing the operations. In 1940, after the BMT and IRT went bankrupt, the City took them over and a gradual consolidation occurred. However the legacy of the separate origins of the three components of New York subway is still visible. Today, all the numbered trains (1,2,3,4,5,6,7) were operated by IRT, while the lettered trains operated by BMT or IND. The tunnels and subway cars used by these companies were different in size. The IRT tunnels were narrower than the IND and BMT tunnels. Therefore, BMT and IND trains are longer and wider than those from the IRT lines. Therefore a BMT/IND train also can’t fit into a tunnel made for IRT trains. However, an IRT train is able to fit into a BMT/IND tunnel, although it isn’t safe due to its narrower size and also the gap between the train and platform would be too wide.
So, if riding a numbered train felt a bit tighter, then that’s not just your imagination, those trains are physically narrower (by ~2 feet)!
Another couple of interesting facts. You may notice that streets in lower Manhattan don’t follow the regular grid pattern that the rest of Manhattan is known for. This is because streets in lower Manhattan were built along the path laid down by the original Dutch settlers of Manhattan (which used to be called “New Amsterdam”) in the early 17th century. The plan for the rest of Manhattan was developed in the late 18th century following a grid pattern, because homes were easier to lay out at right angles. Broadway that runs diagonally across midtown is a notable exception, because it follows a native Indian trail that originally ran from North to South across Manhattan.
Another quirk of New York city is that you hardly ever get carded when going to a bar or club. Much different from DC, where I’ve seen 70-80 years old people being asked for ID.
I hosted a house warming party the last weekend of January, which was attended by ~15 people, most of who I met after moving to NYC. Kevin’s friend Robert who lives on the top floor of Atlas, made amazing drinks and we did some Salsa and Tango dancing later. I got great reviews of the party from everyone who attended.
I’ve been going biking 2-3 times a week, around central park during the weekdays and along the Hudson river on the weekends. So, central park has become my new “Capital Crescent trail”, the lovely bike trail from Georgetown to Bethesda, which I loved to bike in the DC area, and the Hudson river greenway the new Mount Vernon trail, the amazing 17 mile trail from Rosslyn to Mt. Vernon, where my bike and I spent many delightful weekend afternoons, usually in the company of a history podcast.
One thing I feel slightly guilty about is that I’m not missing DC much at all, except of course the many wonderful people I came to know over the years. A notable exception is the embassy social scene in DC. I loved attending dances and other cultural events at the various embassies in DC. That was a mainstay of my social life in DC, and where I met several of my friends and romantic partners. So far, I haven’t found an equivalent in NYC. I did attend a swing dance at the Salmagundi club this Friday evening, which was wonderful, but there doesn’t seem too many of those around.
I also expected NYC to be noticeably colder than the DC area, given its more northerly location, however I haven’t noticed much of a difference. This is my first winter in NYC and except one really cold week, it has been relatively mild. As the winter turns into spring and summer, I’m looking forward to exploring other delights of NYC, particularly water activities! The beach is only about an hour away, unlike DC where the Atlantic beaches were 3.5 hrs away. I’m also eagerly looking forward to exploring the Hudson river valley area. I did drive out of the city to the Palisades last weekend and really enjoyed the jaunt.
I’ve also started playing Pickleball recently, and really enjoying it!
Few other photos from being out and about are below.
Nicely captured your 20 yrs journey at DC. Your apartment in NY has beautiful view. Wish you very comfortable & eventful stay in NY. Stay blessed