By Geeta Lalvani
For the first two years that I lived in New York, I shared a 1 bedroom apartment with 3 other girls. I needed more moments alone than I could find in the place where I lived, so I’ve found little pockets of home scattered across the city. Sometimes it’s possible to feel both at home and alone amidst a sea of strangers.
Some would say that everyone who lives in Manhattan is running from something. Whether it’s the ghost of her past self, his unfilling occupation, the family that doesn’t understand them, or an expectation of who she’s supposed to be – you can feel it permeating the air when you walk around outside.
I think that’s why my first home away from home was the waterfront.
During the daytime, you’ll see runners and families walking and a young couple holding hands. It feels happy and carefree, almost. Whenever I sit and read here during the day, I feel nostalgic for a feeling that I can’t quite pinpoint. I wonder what the runners are running from.
But I first fell in love with the waterfront at night. It felt like my escape from real life.
Although the day was beautiful and bustling, downtown is empty when it’s dark outside. There’s barely any runners, and certainly no families. The residents are sleeping, while the tourists populate Times Square, and the commuters sleep peacefully away from the banks and businesses. The nostalgia of the day darkens from a curious sense of longing into what feels like loss – but what have I lost? Is it possible to miss something without knowing what that something is?
As it grows later and later, you’ll only see people who are on their own. My eyes feel heavy and the skyline looks blurry. Nobody makes eye contact with each other. My favorite benches are the ones up a set of stairs – it feels far away from the occasional passerby.
I don’t remember why I first decided to cross over to the other side of the river, but I’m glad that I did. The other waterfront became a special type of home for me because there’s effectively no chance of running into someone I know. The place feels like mine – a true escape. Maybe escaping to a different state is the only way for New Yorkers to truly run from whatever it is they’re on a journey away from.
Across the river also boasts my favorite coffee shop to work in. They’re open until midnight, which is unheard of in my downtown neighborhood. While Starbucks may not make the best coffee, their rewards and guaranteed free wifi make for a good home away from home.
The seating in each one is different. One is best for Sunday, another for daily work, and yet another is perfect for both coffee with an acquaintance or a difficult conversation with a friend. The options are basic, but they are indeed endless. They’re familiar, in a way.
The only place that feels more familiar by now is the back of a 15 passenger van. Though the people change, there’s enough that stays the same – a group of young adults escaping the city for a weekend.
The view from the front feels like a light at the end of the tunnel, except we never really reach the light. Driving across the different Interstates feels like an escape, the escape that everyone longs for… But we never really breathe again until the weekend of debating is over, and we’re all back in the city. You can feel the mixture of relief and longing when the van returned – it feels like home for all of us, but only temporarily. Some homes are found in people, not places.
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