The Coats We Wear

I walk through the bone-chilling cold with a gray scarf tied around my neck and two layers of sweaters under a green, puffy coat that comes down nearly to the knees. My feet are wrapped in Merino wool socks, but they never seem to retain the right amount of heat during the morning commute. A faux-fur hood covers my hair, and the only thing truly left to the elements are my madly blinking eyes.

 Circa 2014

Circa 2014

These eyes have grown accustomed to New York City’s frigid months. But not all winters are created equal: some years it rarely dips below 25F during the day; other seasons the wind chill is documented in Central Park at a numbing -11F.

The last time I remember the weather being so unbearable for long stretches of time was in 2014. I’d just met the boy I was going to marry. We were planning romantic dates throughout the city—walks on the Highline, cocktails at fancy bars, first kisses in smoky, old lounges. The whole bit. But much to my dismay, the temperature hovered around 5 degrees for portions of that January. So I was stuck in my shapeless, fluffy parka. Bits of feathers would fall out of the sleeves if I sat down too quickly.

Like I said, romantic.

This year is proving to be another cold winter. I loosen my scarf as I approach the museum, and swipe a key card. My office is through the chilly Grand Gallery, where a massive canoe and a large amethyst geode greet me every morning. As does a security guard, who over the last few days has given up on decorum and dons full winter gear. “Hello, there,” he says while rubbing together his hands.

I walk up a large set of stairs and turn into one of the cultural halls that focuses on the people of Mexico and Central America. I’m the only person in the gallery, and my heels click loudly on the stone floor.

Throughout the museum, hidden doors and subtle staircases house secret passages to the hundreds of employees working on a spectrum of tasks, from discovering new species, to vacuuming the dust off of specimen. On the staff-only fifth floor, there’s a hallway said to be six city blocks long. It’s filled with artifacts in wooden cabinets, bones in large lockers, classrooms, and laboratories. It makes me think back to every New York institution I’ve visited—where does the MOMA keep their artwork? What hidden room does the MET use to refurbish its collection of Colonial furniture?

There is one downside to working in an architecturally fascinating building from the 1800s: That brisk winter wind loves seeping in through invisible means. I’m lucky to be in a turret office, surrounded by massive windows that fill the room with natural sunlight. Because of this, complaining is not an option (but it should be noted that “drafty” is a common adjective from visitors to my work space).  

I wrap a shawl around my shoulders, and keep the gray scarf on for most of the day as heavy winds beat into my glass tower. Later that afternoon, I glance out the window and see a girl lose her knit cap to the wind as she crosses Columbus.

She looks so cold as she chases after it, hands outstretched and gloveless.  

This visual takes me back to another winter. In 2011, I was working as an unpaid intern at Martha Stewart Living magazine. Her offices were off 11th Avenue, and just about as close as you could get to the Hudson River without jumping in. I remember the icy wind that would smack me in the face as I ran by the just-opened art galleries of Chelsea, and the old warehouses with their mysterious stories. It was my first winter in New York, and I was still learning how to layer. My face was often red for at least 30 minutes after I’d arrived to work, and small blood vessels had popped on my cheeks.

It was a hungry and lonely season. My grad school friends and I were trying to figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up—which, was supposed to be happening soon. We would be magazine writers, and journalists, and book editors… and literary agents? And…

And we did just fine. I’m not sure we actually grew up—but we’re all at least pretending to know what the next season will bring. Ivy is working as a digital editor at everyone’s favorite bridal magazine, and Clare has consistently worked up the ranks of one of the largest publishing companies in the world.

And me? I’ve worked in e-books, magazines, advertising, and now at a museum. My words are still my meal ticket, and there is something humbling about that.

So, I’ll cozy up in my drafty old office, and look out the big windows to the New York City that I adore. I get the honor of waking up every day, and observing people from hundreds of countries exploring our town. They come in droves, seeking the best hotdog, the best cocktail—the “best” and most authentic anything! It’s true that many of them never know which way is uptown or downtown on the subway, and that groups of tourists often cause pileups on the sidewalk—but most arrive with stars in their eyes. I admire this vulnerable traveler.

It reminds me of myself, from a New York past.

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London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it.
— Dorothy Parker

What Was Your Biggest Culture Shock Visiting New York City?

Note: I was originally asked this question by someone on Quora, a Q&A website.  

I came to NYC seven years ago and never left. But I moved here from the South, which is a very different part of the United States—so, believe me, I was shocked 100x over. Here are some of the basics that threw me for a loop.

1. You don't ever hang out in Times Square. You see it in movies, pictures, and read about this iconic neighborhood in books. But in reality, unless you work there or frequent Broadway once a week, you will not spend anytime in this (very crowded) area. I don't know why, but I just assumed Times Square was the social hub of NYC. Wrong. When you're visiting, go downtown!

2. There's a reason no one smiles on the subway. I used to think, "These people look miserable. Why don't they ever smile?" It took me about 2 months to get the vibe. In the South, we greet everyone. You wave at neighbors when you drive by, or make conversation at the grocery store. But here? There's just too much. Too many signs, messages, noises—if you interact with every person you come across, you become overwhelmed. Mentally exhausted. This isn't an excuse to be rude, but it explains the blank stares and headphones on the subway. Everyone just needs a minute to themselves.

3. Bodega is not a word in Virginia. I never heard it until I moved here. Now, it is a life source.

4. Mom and pop shops/restaurants still reign supreme. This may be true for many cities, but if you're a child of the suburbs? This is news to you! When I go home now, I get panicky when we roll into Applebee's. That said, occasionally your errands can take forever in the city. To the Polish bakery, to the laundromat, to the organic juice guy, to Urban Outfitters, to the hardware store. There are not very many malls or "one stop shops."

5. Some buildings need a revamp. The grittiness of the city has never bothered me. I suppose I just expected it. But I'm always shocked at how outdated Port Authority and Penn Station are—WTF? 1970s NYC is alive and well!

6. There are many homeless and mentally ill people sleeping on the streets. Old men, families, and a slew of teens. It's totally heartbreaking and becomes such a common sight that you forget it's actually a huge problem.

7. This city moves fast. Everyone is going somewhere, everyone is fighting to be here, and everyone is walking 100 miles an hour, especially during the commute. I also walk an average of 5 miles a day—so if you're visiting, be prepared. Bring good walking shoes! (I’ve worn these tennis shoes, these nice boots, and these rain boots for years.)

8. You still need green space. This one surprised me, but my love for nature has actually increased while living in the city. Take an afternoon to go to Central Park or Prospect Park. Enjoy a booze cruise on the water. And, most importantly, you need to leave the city at least once a month. You'll come back refreshed, and in better shape to take over the world. Promise.

Local's guide to New york city - nyc culture shock

Have a question about living in or visiting NYC? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

What Are Some Underrated NYC Attractions?

When people visit NYC, they want to experience "the real deal"—not just the Empire State Building. So here's a pretty specific, localized list of underrated attractions in the East Village of Manhattan. Skip the hop-on, hop-off bus and do you own weird walking tour! 

  1. Get some of the best coffee in the city at Abraco on 7th street and if you're hungry, sample their olive oil cakes. Then walk down 7th and pop your head into thrift stores like punk-themed Trash and Vaudeville, or AuH20.
  2. Keep heading east on 7th, and walk around Tompkins Square Park. There's a lot of history here, including riots in both the 1870s and 1980s. But now visitors stroll through and people watch, listen to music, or check out the dog park on the far side of Tompkins.
  3. If you're hungry, I would recommend Tompkins Square Bagels for the real hand-rolled, water-boiled experience. Or, stop in to Crif Dogs for a tasty hotdog with all the fixings. Note: There's a telephone both at the front of this restaurant, and a speakeasy rests on the other side of the wall. Please don't tell...
  4. Head back west on St. Marks. The Museum of the American Gangster is usually open from 1-6pm, and is a fun little tour.

Other Things to See in the East Village

  • Nuyorican Poets Cafe
  • Community Gardens (my favorite is on 6th between Avenue B and C)
  • The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space
  • Sidewalk Cafe, a hub for the Antifolk music scene
  • STOMP's Off-Broadway show

Places to Eat and Drink

  • McSorley's (the oldest "Irish" tavern in New York City)
  • Ace bar (with arcade games)
  • The Wayland (best garden margarita, tasty brunch)
  • International Bar (total dive with outdoor space)
  • ABC Beer (outdoor space, craft beer)
  • Lois Wine Bar (good snacks, wine on tap)
  • Ten Degrees (good happy hour)
  • Mudspot on 9th (yummy brunch)
  • The Smith (brunch spot that takes reservations)
  • Death and Co. ("speakeasy" that's easier to get into before 8pm)
  • The Mermaid Inn (more expensive, but amazing seafood)
  • Van Leeuwen Ice Cream
  • Big Gay Ice Cream

Walkable Attractions + Neighborhoods

  • Union Square
  • The Strand Book Store
  • Soho and Lower East Side
  • Washington Square Park

Have a question about other underrated attractions? Leave a note in the comments section below! 

 Family brunch at Mudspot.

Family brunch at Mudspot.

What is the Climate in NYC by Season?

So you want to visit NYC, but you don't know the best time of year to schedule your visit. Here are some facts to consider: The Big Apple has all four seasons (though our spring is quite fickle!). This image from Weather.com is a helpful visual of our average temperatures by month. Note that July is typically the warmest, and January is the coldest.  

average new york city temperatures by month

Other Considerations

  • In the summer (June - mid September) NYC has some major humidity, like much of the East Coast. We don't have “dry heat” like you might experience in Arizona or parts of California. So you need to stay hydrated because you’re going to sweat—quite a bit! Also, please wear deodorant, especially if you are taking public transportation. 
  • Many large department stores and restaurants blast the AC in the summertime, so if you’re one of those people who gets cold indoors easily, pack a light sweater in your backpack for the day. 
  • In winter, wear layers! I repeat, wear lots of layers. I invested in a knee-length down coat as soon as I moved to NYC, and it was probably one of my best purchases. I wear fleece-lined tights in winter. When it’s really unbearable outside, I also wear tights under my jeans. While New York is not the coldest city in America, it's important to remember walking is one of our main forms of transposition. Be prepared for snow if you’re visiting in December - February.
  • In my opinion, New York was made for fall. Summer is my favorite time of year, but I think autumn is a lovely time to visit. You can see the leaves changing in Central Park, wear a light jacket, and worry less about rain than in the springtime. But honestly, every season has its perks :)
 Me and my #1 Dude in Brooklyn during fall. 

Me and my #1 Dude in Brooklyn during fall. 

Have a question about a certain season in NYC? Leave your thoughts below in the comments section!


Double Decker Bus Tour of Downtown Manhattan

Double Decker Bus Tour of Downtown Manhattan

See the best sights in lower Manhattan with a pass valid for 24 hours. This New York tour includes stops to Greenwich Village, Times Square, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, SoHo, Chinatown, Little Italy and more!