A Midsummer Night's Nostalgia

I am running. 

We’re in a field and the sunlight sprinkles my auburn hair, lighting it on fire. The neighbor’s unkempt flowers are crushed beneath our feet and dust gets kicked up from your bike. We’re about to go—I don’t remember where—but it doesn’t matter because going anywhere is enough and the thought of it all makes me giddy. 

I am climbing. 

Up the electrical box, over the old bowling alley’s wall, and onto the roof where our small view of our small town is all we could know or want. And it’s perfect when it begins to rain. The humid mist makes the empty parking lot look like a scene from a movie. We all scream in delight as water rushes over our dirty feet. But getting off the roof is hard. I fall from the sky to the ground and it hurts. You try to catch me, which is kind. (You always try to catch me.) Maybe we’re not invincible—but then again, that theory still needs testing. 

I am dancing. 

We’re in a backyard somewhere near the beach—the air tastes salty, like the sweat dripping off of all of us. There is music, and laughter, and a late, loud night that leads to a quiet sunrise. You hold my hand for longer than you should, but I don’t mind. We always love the people that will leap with us—to where, it doesn’t matter because, as I’ve already told you, anywhere is enough. 

I am walking. 

I love meandering through the East Village, and you don’t mind because it makes me smile. We get an egg cream from the old bodega on St. Marks and eat oysters for dinner. It’s humid and the apartment doesn’t have AC but you sit with me anyways because it feels nice to be still with somebody. I stare at your eyelashes while you take a nap, and I smile at the little golden strands that catch the light. 

I am crying. 

It’s early in the season but too warm, so my hair is pulled into a ponytail. I walk on 7th Street, unaware of what is lurking. The darkness suddenly grabs at my cotton dress and I scream over and over again. Police lights come twelve minutes later, and then I see the cold face that felt nothing. You comfort me as I sip on a soda at 3 am, and I hold your pinky finger while the detective asks questions about that walk home. It seems we are not invincible, after all. 

I am smiling.

I am walking toward you; you’re the one that I adore. It smells like roses, and there’s a line of mud on the hem of my dress. The air is heavy with Virginia's humidity. My spirit leaves my body for a moment and dances in the summer air, like a lightning bug in June. I am jealous of my own joy; I want to keep the moment in my pocket and pull it out to watch it again, and again, and again. But the sun sets, and we must move forward, forever altered. Where we go, it’s unknown, but going anywhere is enough.

I am summer. 

There’s a shade of pink only New York summers know. The color illuminates the countless brick buildings of our city, turning even a dingy facade into something briefly ethereal. Rose-tinted hues reflect off of thousands of glass windows in a display of blinding brilliance, right at the cusp of darkness. But even the light is not invincible to the night that swallows it. Still, each morning, she persists.

I am old. 

I don’t know if I’m alone—or maybe I’m with you? The end feels very much like the beginning, so I’m told. Ah, but it’s all the little bits in between... the dirty feet, the lightning bugs, the anywhere we went—the anywhere we’re going. 

And that vibrant shade of pink. 

summer new york britney fitzgerald

And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

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!

New York City Tip #2: Don’t Get Lost in Acquaintances

The music was incredibly loud; you could feel the bass thumping in your stomach, churning all those gin and tonics into a limey soup. 

A hundred or so people were smashed into a downstairs bar in the Lower East Side on some steamy Saturday night, drinks in hand. Arms in the air.
Sweaty, salty, dancing.

The girl next to me had smeared her eye makeup and looked like a blitzed vampire. Wait… Was that who’d I’d come to the bar with? Eh, maybe. Everyone was wearing the same costume. Black jeans, black boots, an array of leather and lipstick.

“Make you put yo hands up, put yo, put yo hands up.”

The drinks were overpriced, but some guy I didn’t know was buying. Another one, he asks. Sure, why not? You can’t do this scene without at least three cocktails, I tell him with a grin. But he’s not listening because he’s just trying to sleep with my friend. And I don’t really care because I’m out of cash.

“Hell yeah, make you put yo hands up.
Make you put yo hands up, put yo put yo hands up.”

The group I was with had danced hard for over an hour, laughing and jumping around the center of a low-lit dungeon. But the initial fun was dissipating as 3AM approached. So I decided to voyeuristically watch the Drink Buyer make moves on the gal I suddenly realized was not my friend, but actually someone I despised.

Now this acquaintance’s job required her to be stunning, and she certainly turned heads. But after a few nights out together, I realized she was self-centered—or, perhaps just dull because conversation perpetually lagged. And in this drunken, insecure state she suddenly repulsed me. Leaning, leaning, tripping, hiccupping. Her eyes were bloodshot as she asked me to fix her hair.

Come with me to the bathroom, she said grasping the air for my hand.

As she pulled me, a relative stranger, through dark corridors in search of a toilet to puke in, I oddly thought of my father. He’d once made the off-hand comment while we were watching an old black and white film that he felt bad for truly beautiful people who age poorly. I can’t recall who he was speaking about, but his words suddenly rang true. I imagined this fragile creature incapable of coping with the future—and maybe also the present—living with only the hope of being validated.

I told my drunken counterpart it was time to go home as she stumbled out of a graffiti-covered stall. She protested, citing her connection with the Drink Buyer. I lied and told her he’d left the bar—they’d already exchanged numbers, so she could figure it out tomorrow over coffee, Advil, or whatever the hell self-proclaimed “fashionistas” eat for brunch.

But he liked my dress! She was whining as I walked her upstairs, trying not to smell her acidic breath. Of course he liked your dress; everyone loved your dress. You looked fabulous tonight. Now we’re getting you a car.

She admitted she was tired, and that maybe it was time to go home as I tried to both hold her up and flag down a yellow cab. Once the driver confirmed my acquaintance’s address, her head bobbed toward blissful blackout.

I shut the car door and never saw her again.
But that was fine, for both parities.

Some people make you better, some people make you worse, and some people just distract from the glorious things you are about to discover.

For me? I want to walk with people who tell good stories.
Split meals with individuals who make me think.
Dance with friends who appreciate the same songs.
Laugh until my sides hurt!

So I’ve learned to swiftly cut my losses—and move on.

New York City Tip #1: Become a Regular Somewhere

The best time to experience the gentle side of Lower Manhattan is most certainly on a Monday afternoon.

While you walk east or west along the quiet streets of the Villages, you will notice a leisurely communal pace. On 7th Street, the hat shop owner is chatting with the barber on her front stoop. The usual European suspects hang outside of an Italian restaurant, smoking, laughing.  An old Ukrainian store, that’s only open till 4 p.m., is at its busiest hour: The matriarch of the business can barely stand up, but she knows each customer by name and greets them in her native tongue. They all buy mason jars of honey from upstate.

This is New York.

But observe these rituals closely because they are a privilege to witness. Students are at school, commuters have made it to their destinations, and the nine-to-five toil has commenced. Our streets are calm; take it in.

Weekdays out of the office often remind me of the year I spent in retail. Saturdays were slammed with patrons coming from or headed to brunch—everything revolves around brunch—and two consecutive days off was an out-of-the-question request. So I began to cherish my random afternoons, spent at a bagel place off the 30th Ave subway stop in Queens.

“How’s your mo-ther,” a man with an Italian accent asked me. I was paying for an everything bagel the size of my face, drenched in bacon n’ chive cream cheese. It was my third week living in New York, and every time I walked into this busy breakfast restaurant, Anthony asked me the same thing.

Why? Because my mother has a way with people.

During my second week living in New York, Toney and Bob decided to drive up from Virginia. Before their arrival, my room consisted of six garbage bags full of unfolded clothes and a sleeping bag that I'd slept on top of because it was so damn hot. But not anymore! The parents were here with my bed, an AC unit, and tons of questions.

“Is it safe?” Mom wanted to know.
“How far away is your school?”
“Do you like your neighborhood?”

What they were really asking was...

To reassure my excited/terrified parents, I took them to a “hand-rolled, water-boiled” bagel shop my roommate had suggested. Alas, we walked in and were immediately accosted by an unfamiliar world.

“Toasted, scooped, with lox!”
“Just a nosh. Mini bagel today, thanks.”
“Whole-grain everything with Nova!”
Whip, whoosh, crinkle.

The three of us silently took in the situation with wide, worrisome eyes. Workers behind the counter were barking out orders, moving golden disks of bread through a well-established assembly line of toasters and cream cheese.  

I decided to try my best.
“Uh, I’ll do an everything bagel, with sun dried tomato.
Er… uh, toasted?”
Whip, whoosh, crinkle. 

Embarrassingly enough, I realized my parents and I had all placed the exact same order in equally mystified tones.
Whip, whoosh, crinkle.

“Ah hello, miss. To stay or to go?” the manager asked my mother. He seemed to take his time with us, perhaps because we were three unfamiliar, slightly anxious faces.

I’m not entirely sure what happened next, but I do know my mother tends to talk incessantly when she’s nervous. Maybe it was because I was moving to New York, or perhaps she was stressed from the long, migraine-inducing car trip. Whatever the reason, this is what I heard from across the room:

“Ma BABY is moving to New Yaaark, Anthony!” The man starts laughing, and Mom motions for me to come back to the counter. “We’re from Virginia! But Astoria seems nice. Britney, come back over here!”

I roll my eyes, like an angsty 14-year-old. My mother could make friends with a parked car.

“She’s ma OLDEST,” Mom says leaning across the counter, Southern accent and all. The line has died down so there’s no one directly behind her. Meanwhile, an internal panic has caused my legs to awkwardly move toward the conversation, but paralyzed my face in a fretful expression. (I’m sure I looked something like this pug being pushed down a slide.)

“Now, you watch ova her,” Mom said, pointing a finger at Anthony.

And by golly, that Bagel Man watched over me until he was hired at a different franchise. He would ask about my mother, about school, and friends. One time, he even scolded me for wearing high heels. “What would you mo-ther say!? It attracts atten-tion.”

But some days Anthony was the only person I would talk to before 5 p.m. Like many who have uprooted to this city, I knew not a soul upon my quixotic arrival. And when you live in a sea of aspiring, ambitious go-getters, you must learn to enjoy those peaceful Monday afternoons—sometimes by yourself, with just the company of the city and its characters.

I’ll admit it. My mother was on to something.

Smile at neighbors
Know your Super.
Be “a regular” somewhere.
And revel in the quirks of our home.

It will make you feel human, especially when you’re alone. 

Many among the regulars of a third place are like Emerson’s “commended stranger” who represents humanity anew, who offers a new mirror in which to view ourselves, and who thus breathes life into our conversation.
— Ray Oldenburg

Those Jazzy Days of Summer

The Fashion Girls of 7th Avenue are always easy to spot. They’re skinny little things, with striking angles in strange places. Diet Coke in hand, they wisp down the street. But their faces are a little too sallow, and by the end of the day their chic messy buns often just look… messy. 

I don’t envy them, I thought while consuming Taco Bell from the passenger seat of a rented Tahoe. The Fashion Girl in my line of vision was perched on the sidewalk, struggling with an umbrella that refused to open. We drove on and I silently wished her all the best.

A mash-up of Phantogram and Vallis Alps played as we stuffed our faces with “tacos” and “burritos.” Three guys in the backseat laughed at something seemingly hilarious, while a sudden storm exploded in the night sky. The SUV barreled away from the city, the Poconos our distant destination. 

In my mind, there’s a jazzy song from the 1920s playing all summer long in New York. The cadence of crowds on-the-go fits the high notes of exploding trumpets; our feet always moving to a four-beat rhythm. But once away from the city's addictive pull, everything slows down... 


The next morning I awoke to the smell of bacon rising from the kitchen of our borrowed lake house. My fan hummed as I changed into a bathing suit and shorts—why bother with clothes when it’s that warm? After brushing my teeth, I threw my makeup bag and sundresses into a suitcase, where they would sit for the rest of the weekend.

Ah, freedom. Lashes undone and my hair in a true messy bun, I chowed down on food in the Pennsylvania heat. (And I silently wondered if that Fashion Girl with the pesky umbrella liked being skinny as much as I liked bacon. #BreakfastThoughts) 

For the next three days, I didn’t change out of my swim clothes—that’s the beauty of vacation. Yes, there was a shower at some point. But not even an hour went by post-shampoo before I was back in the lake.

We lounged in giant inner tubes by day, collecting golden freckles or weird sunburns. At night we’d cook sizzling burgers and mash limes for homemade margaritas. If you’d peeked into our cottage, you’d have seen coral tee shirts, scuffed up flip-flops, and several gin drinks lying about. Oh… and also a piñata from Walmart.

It’s in these moments that I sense the comfort of summer.

That familiar feeling, charged with nostalgia and the unexpected, haunts me all year. In my admittedly bias opinion, summer is the most tangible of the seasons. It’s salty, sweaty, and the East Coast humidity seeps into your every pore. 

But something about warm weather makes us more agreeable to anything of the slightest interest. “Yes” to one more drink; “yes” to seeing the sunrise; “yes” to it all.

Coming back from vacation is always slightly depressing—but at least in July when you return to New York, she welcomes you with a warm, dewy hug. Then that jazzy song in my mind starts playing once again, and the city dances, dances, dances…

The Fashion Girls of 7th Ave. tango with the Finance Boys of Park. Manhattanites drum up their nerve, jiving to hotspots in Brooklyn. Wealthy Upper East Siders salsa off to the Hamptons…
And everyone left just keeps dancing.
As fast as they can.

The city dances, dances, dances—with a cocktail in its hand. 

As I Walk, We Spin

There’s a man at the 2nd Ave subway station who plays the blues on an old saxophone.

His notes are haunting as they bounce off white and blue tiles, echoing down empty train tunnels. Some of the high tones escape to the street above, but most of them remain trapped in their dark, dripping dungeon. He’s played the same music in the same spot for at least two years—but probably longer. 

“Medium coffee?”
“Yes, thanks,” I reply.

My barista of choice is working today. He knows exactly what I want, and leaves just the right amount of room for milk. We chat about the construction from the East Village explosion while I do my coffee choreography—splash, swirl, insert straw, sip. He says he’ll see me tomorrow; I tell him to enjoy the suddenly agreeable weather. 

New York smells earthy and fresh today, like a proper April. We don’t get a spring here like we did in Virginia—only two weeks of tulips, and then a steamy summer. But fluke days during this volatile season are, of course, welcome. 

I pass a homeless man outside of CVS, content to be silent in the sun. He usually hangs around the corner of 5th Street, waiting for spare change. His wheelchair is loaded with collected goodies, like the dingy version of Santa’s sleigh.

Then I see the dog walker with her parade of polite and well-groomed pets; there’s a Frenchie, some mutts, and usually one unidentifiable fluffy breed. It’s quite possible this woman’s salary is higher than mine.

As I walk, the city spins and spins. You can see people smiling at their phones, or crying to friends over watered-down mimosas. Beside me is a kid on a scooter, who will one day become a man with a motorcycle. In front of me is an older woman with tattoos and a cut up jean jacket, who could probably tell us salacious stories of an East Village past.  

The season is changing, and everything else morphs with it.
Time bleeds on, with or without our blessing.

But when life isn’t consistent, or perhaps when your mind is anxiously awaiting whatever is next, take comfort in the city’s cadence—the humming, whirring rhythm of productivity and bizarre normalcy. There’s an energy in the city that creeps out of our winter-worn bodies each “spring.” It hypnotizes us to crave new encounters, new ideas, new people—anything novel! That maddening desire for the new, new, new culminates with an explosion by late summer, only to leave us tired for the next season of snow. 

But we’re not there yet.
We’re only on the cusp of it all. 

The characters may change, yet the story remains the same.
And "so we beat on…” 

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
— from "The Great Gatsby"