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.
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.