Moving to NYC!
June 6, 2008 5:31 AM   Subscribe

Moving to New York City. Give me some advice you wish you had been given!

I'm moving to Manhattan at the end of this month to start a new job (or, more accurately, first real job out of undergrad). I have an apartment already, UWS, so I don't really need any apartment-hunting advice (although if you have some nuggets for the future, feel free to share). I don't have any specific questions, but I figure there are lots of people on here who have moved to the city and wished they had done things a little--or a lot--differently, and I'm hoping to get some of that insight.

I'll take any advice, from the practical (how to get my stuff there, where to buy furniture) to the metaphysical (how to prepare my aura for Manhattan, what books to bring). Lay it on me.
posted by jckll to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
have you searched previous threads? this question pops up with some frequency.

for me, the hardest thing to get used to was the noise and constantly being around people. the only place you can retreat is your home, which is usually a tiny, dumpy hole with bugs. so it's hard. i would seek out some quiet spots to go and recharge. you're right near one of my favorites: riverside park.

you know you don't need a car, right? i mean EVER. sell your car, use the money for rent.

invest in a good bag. you tend to lug a lot of stuff with you. likewise, invest in at least one pair of very cute but very comfortable shoes.

everything will cost twice as much as it does at home. i don't know why. it just does. budget accordingly.

don't be afraid to ask for directions. invest in one of those laminated "streetwise" maps you can get at barnes & noble.

craigslist is a great resource for used furniture and just about everything else.

you'll feel totally overwhelmed for about six months. if you can ride it out, you'll make it there. if you can't, you won't.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:43 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you not read any of the other AskMefis on New York City? No offense, but this question has been asked like 100 times.
posted by waylaid at 5:43 AM on June 6, 2008

Wow. The Related Questions feature is even more useful now. Look below!
posted by canine epigram at 5:44 AM on June 6, 2008

Dump all your preconceived notions. When people tell you what it's like, or give you unsolicited advice (unlike the advice you asked for here), or just share their own personal observations, you should just smile and nod and then ignore them.

Also, bring few books, because Manhattan apartments are small, and the public library system is the best.

Learn where the real lines of demarcation for neighborhoods are, not the self-esteem driven ones. You're not doing this to be status-conscious (eww), but so you can be appropriately skeptical.

Don't refer to subway lines by their colors, and learn to pronounce Houston correctly.
posted by aswego at 5:51 AM on June 6, 2008

I lived on the Upper West Side when I first moved to New York, and I'll warn you that it feels a little detached up there. It takes forever to reach by subway, and most of my friends weren't interested in coming to visit my apartment due to its location. I spent a lot of time traveling downtown on the subway, and it takes forever to get home at night. Just remember: it's not you, it's your neighborhood. When you have the opportunity, move to Brooklyn, which is just as cheap but ends up being more convenient to reach in most cases. And don't be afraid of finding roommates with craigslist; everybody does it and it can be a great way to broaden your social circle.

Be aware of other people around you. It's crowded. If you're lost, keep moving or step aside. Never stop in the middle of the sidewalk ever. Don't turn around unexpectedly; there is someone right behind you.

Don't be afraid. I've dropped my wallet on the ground twice, and both times it was returned to me without a single dollar missing. People will give you directions if you ask. No one's out to get you. (OK, maybe someone is, but the chances are slim.)

Best of luck. Come to the next NYC meetup. They're great fun.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 5:55 AM on June 6, 2008

You need to go back and check it out Help -- the UWS is a lot less "detached" than it used to be, and you are exaggerating travel times terribly with words like "forever"

Many of my students live in Brooklyn and get to Morningside Heights on the 2/3 to the 12 in 30 -45 minutes, depending on time of day; I get there from the w village in 20-25 minutes

However, the advice to never stop in the middle of the sidewalk is excellent

No matter what anyone tells you about New York, it's basically all true -- that tends to happen when you squeeze 8 or 10 million folks into a few square miles of terrain

And I for one will never, ever even consider leaving the best city on earth

(PS, not everything is "twice as expensive" either -- a lot of stuff is cheap or free in ways that make up for the expensive stuff; you can entertain yourself for almost nothing if you like esoteric art, films, lectures, and music, for example, every single night of the week)
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:15 AM on June 6, 2008

And don't be afraid of finding roommates with craigslist; everybody does it and it can be a great way to broaden your social circle.

I second that. I found fantastic roommates through craigslist...way better than the friends I had tried to live with before that. I guess this is more of a "advice for the future" type thing, though.

Get to know your neighborhood. Spend as much free time as you can wandering around and understanding what it has to offer you. I'm moving out now and only now getting to know it well.

Get used to the idea that you will run into people on bad days who are assholes. Or maybe they're like that all the time, I dunno. Deal with it be actively ignoring or, if necessary, putting on a mean veneer. These people will most likely be few ad far between. The experience will be temporary, and on the whole, not typical of your interactions with those around you.
posted by piratebowling at 6:22 AM on June 6, 2008

Buy earplugs. In almost any apartment, either street-noise or sounds from other tenants will be an issue at one point or another, and if it happens at 1:30 AM on a work-night, you need to be able to just pop in your earplugs and stop worrying about it, instead of laying there seething. Don't worry about hearing your alarm in the morning, the suddenness and high pitch of the sound always wakes me up even through plugs.

No matter how tired you may get or how much you desire to nest in your new place, try to steel yourself up to say "Yes" to every invitation or opportunity that comes up. You'll see more of the city, meet more people, and learn things faster.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 7:29 AM on June 6, 2008

Information is your friend.

Buy a Not For Tourists guide. They have incredible maps of the city with tons of information (including subway lines). Use to plan your trips until you learn the subways well. Read Chowhound to learn good places to eat.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:53 AM on June 6, 2008

I've lived in Inwood or Washington Heights for 7 years now and I'm still amazed at how lazy some people in this city can be. The poster above who told you to move to Brooklyn because people won't come to the Upper West Side? They are obviously not FROM NYC, or else they wouldn't care about getting on the subway for the 20-30 minutes it would take to reach you. Besides, if you're moving to the Upper West Side, chances are you don't WANT to hang out with spoiled brat hipsters and burnt out artists in lame, tired Williamsburg anyway.. so don't sweat your location. Upper West Side is fine and depending on where you work it could be REALLY convenient.

Some tips:

- If you like listening to your iPod, invest in some noise-canceling earphones. I'm a musician and it bugs me to hear people blasting their ear drums with those Apple earphones. They are surely doing major and irreparable damage to their ears.

- If you like food delivery, sign up with Fresh Direct and give it a try. It's great every now and then to have your entire shopping list brought to you.

- If you like food in general, be a regular at Fairway.. it's an upper west side landmark and isn't a ripoff like Whole Foods.

- Do yourself a favor and buy a caulk gun and simply seal off every single crack, crevice, hole, or other such entry point for mice or roaches. Taking the time to do this methodically will make your life absolutely wonderful. Then lay down some preventative roach bait/traps and you shouldn't have a problem.

- Most importantly.. DON'T STRESS OUT TOO SOON!

Good luck.
posted by ChickenringNYC at 8:02 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Many of my students live in Brooklyn and get to Morningside Heights on the 2/3 to the 12 in 30 -45 minutes, depending on time of day; I get there from the w village in 20-25 minutes

But if you live off the 1 or the B/C and you're coming from the east side, it can take 45 minutes. Learn to love the D train to 59th St/Columbus Circle. That's what I did when I lived uptown. But learn to control your rage when the C that you've been waiting 20 minutes for spontaneously turns into an express to 125th.

Read all of Mo Nickel's links. Then read the non-guidebook version of what to do (and not do) in NYC: make sure the read the comments.

Off the top of my head, in my first month when I moved to the UWS 5 years ago I noticed that:
- cooking for yourself is not that cheap but also not that expensive, but by the time produce makes it to your average grocery store (aka not Whole Foods or Fairway), it's looking a bit ragged
- nobody has central air, and window AC units suck
- very few people have a dishwasher
- NY1 was all I needed in the morning but runs on a loop
- Menupages was a god-send
- the 1 is always crowded, the B is rarely crowded but stops running before 9pm, and the A/C are always running slow
- when the subway train enters a station and you get that brief moment of cellular connectivity, and someone's phone rings, they always try to answer it, even if to say "I'm on the train!"
- iPod earbuds leak sound a lot
- the UWS is nice and quiet at night
- utilize your proximity to Central Park (I didn't when I lived uptown)
- everything's gonna be OK
posted by kathryn at 8:12 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding buying the Not for Tourists guidebook, it's the absolute best and small enough that you can always carry it around with you, as well as meeting people over Craigslist, I joined some co-ed softball teams that way, and it was a very easy way to expand my social circle.

Two other things, one practical, the other metaphysical:

1. Whenever you ride the NRW, F or EV trains, and are looking at the subway signs to figure out what side of the track is uptown and what is downtown, know that "Queens" is Uptown, and "Brooklyn" is downtown. I found myself on Roosevelt Island more than once, not a good feeling.

2. I think it really takes a full year to feel settled in, and at home here. It takes that long to get used to the transportation, the hauling groceries up four flights, the hustle-bustle of rush hour and knowing where to go in your neighborhood for good food, to buy a napkin holder, or play trivia at a bar. And at least that long to find real friendships that are going to last. Just know that it all gets easier around that Year 1 mark.
posted by acorn1515 at 9:33 AM on June 6, 2008

There is a free bus to Ikea in Elizabeth, NJ that runs from Port Authority on the weekends. Starting June18, there will be a free water taxi leaving from lower Manhattan going to the new Ikea in Red Hook.

You'll hear it a lot but it may take a while to sink in- living space is worth more than having stuff in this city.

Now, that may seem to contradict going to Ikea, but I just downsized from a 500sqft apt to a 380 sqft studio, and Ikea was essential to making my space livable. They have cheap, inventive stuff that is perfect for small spaces. Oh, and you can probably buy it for hallf price on Craigslist.
posted by kimdog at 10:27 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

This thread makes me want to move to New York.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 10:31 AM on June 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

A few things about the subway that threw me after I moved here from Chicago (I don't know what you're used to so these may not be a problem):

- Not all entrances lead to tracks in all directions. Often the uptown entrance is on one side of the street and the downtown entrance is on the other.
- Multiple trains stop on the same tracks. This is obvious, but it did throw me. Know what train you're getting on, and don't be afraid to poke your head in and say "is this the Q?" to folks in the train.
- Some trains are express and some trains are local, but they're either one or the other--that is, there's no "Local N train" (only express) or "Express R train" (only local). The exception is that some express trains run locally at nights or on the weekend or when there's construction.
- People will say "the A/C" or "the 2/3"--they just mean that you can take either one, because for large parts of their runs they run together and make the same stops.
- If you're on the platform and there are incomprehensible instructions and you can't figure out where you're supposed to go to get your train or what the train that's in the station is doing, just follow the herd. This has worked for me 90% of the time. Often the crowd intuits things that aren't said or can sense bullshit.
- If you're going through the financial district, don't plan on transferring trains at Fulton Street-Broadway-Nassau. You can, of course, but the station layout is just bizarre and it involves more walking than you really want to do.
- The N and the R stop on the same platform for most of their runs in Manhattan, but not at Canal Street. The N is downstairs from the R, except when it's late at night, when the N stops on the R track. Don't wait for half an hour on the wrong platform like I have more than once.
- Don't be an ass about squeezing into doors when the train is leaving.
- The buses aren't romantic, and many folks get by without ever taking them, but it doesn't hurt to know about a few that can make your life easier on occasion, and to consider taking them when you're going somewhere unfamiliar.

New Yorkers, or at least a certain omnipresent subset of them, are extremely pleased and proud to offer subway guidance.

Friends who live in the outer boroughs (which may be quite a few people if you're making friends with other folks your age) will really appreciate it if you don't make a big deal out of taking the train to come see them or to go out in their neighborhood.

Go to the Brooklyn Museum. It's the second largest museum in the country, has fabulous stuff from all over and from all time periods, and is completely empty unless there's a big special exhibit or it's First Saturday (also recommended). I recommend the American art galleries, but it's all good.

Upright Citizens Brigade (improv comedy) offers some of the best bang-for-your-buck entertainment.

Get a Zagat guide, read Chowhound, and get to know the city's food. Any effort you make to seek out good meals will be well rewarded. I wasn't a foodie when I moved here, but it happened. On the upper west side, Fairway, Zabar's, and H&H Bagels are worth visiting to get you started. And go to the Union Square greenmarket on Saturday.

Not everything is more expensive here, but eating out typically is. Your definition of a cheap meal will change, at least for sit-down restaurants. We laugh now looking back at what we thought was too expensive when we first arrived. Like I said, though, if you put a little thought into it, what you can get for your money is totally unparalleled.

Go to the Main Branch of the public library (officially the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, the one with the lions out front) on 42nd street and request books so you can see your slip go through the pneumatic tube and then wait for your number to be called when your book comes up the dumbwaiter. In the mean time, admire the awe-inspiring reading room.

Fish's Eddy on Broadway a few blocks north of Union Square is a really fun place to pick up remaindered china to set you up in housewares, but their prices have gone up lately. Still worth visiting.

Read E. B. White's essay "Here is New York."

sondrialiac is right about the "Bag Lady"-style cart. You need one.

Don't call 6th Avenue "the Avenue of the Americas." That's for business cards only; locals still call it 6th.

People are nice, if abrupt and protective of their personal space. My cell phone once dropped out of my pocket as I got up out of my seat getting off a R train. I didn't realize it until the doors were shutting, but I got on the parallel N train, met the R at the next station, got back on, and found that the woman across from me had picked up my phone and was holding it for me.
posted by rustcellar at 10:43 AM on June 6, 2008 [7 favorites]

posted by Dizzy at 11:22 AM on June 6, 2008

I also have to second the recommendation in the comments of kathryn's link to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Do this starting in Brooklyn Heights to get the real view. It's a great way to get a sense for the scale of the place. You can do a miniature version of this by taking the N or the D between Manhattan and Brooklyn: the trains go over the Manhattan Bridge (just north of the Brooklyn Bridge) with great views of the harbor and financial district.

Also, as kathryn and acorn1515 said, everything's going to be OK, even if it takes you a while to settle in. It really felt like a foreign country for months, and now I can barely imagine leaving.
posted by rustcellar at 11:36 AM on June 6, 2008

Some trains are express and some trains are local, but they're either one or the other

Not strictly true. The N actually does run local above 34th (only the Q is express above 34th). The E and F run local in Manhattan and express in Queens. The 3 runs express in Manhattan and local in Brooklyn. The aforementioned Q, which runs express in Manhattan, runs local between Atlantic/Pacific and Coney Island (the B is the express, but doesn't actually go all the way to Coney Island).

And then you have the weekends. This weekend, uptown 1 trains run on the express track from 72nd to 137th, the 2 and the 5 change places for some portions of their routes, and C trains aren't running at all. I'll stop now.
posted by oaf at 7:32 PM on June 6, 2008

Also, don't rush to Staten Island. You aren't missing a lot.
posted by oaf at 7:37 PM on June 6, 2008

oaf, the Q is actually express as soon as it hits Manhattan, not just above 34th.
posted by piratebowling at 8:11 PM on June 6, 2008

I didn't say otherwise.
posted by oaf at 8:50 PM on June 6, 2008

Oh, my apologies. I read it too quick and switched the order of "the Q" and "only" in your sentence. Now I feel foolish.
posted by piratebowling at 6:56 AM on June 7, 2008

Lots of answers already on the more philosophical aspects, so I'll talk a little bit to the practical (sorry, it's long):

- it's fantastic that you already have an apartment, bc that tends to be one of the biggest culture-shock moments for new NYers (cost, size, quality, bugginess, location etc). Invest in a window AC. It's like 96 degrees here right now and the humidity is killer.

-Furniture: While Craiglist is great for a lot of secondhand things (definitely for the AC), I would caution you to be careful buying furniture off of it for one very simple reason: bedbugs. If you end up getting your kitchen table there that's one thing, but I would NEVER buy a bed or mattress from it, and I'd be leery of getting a couch, either. I don't want to sound overdramatic dramatic, but bedbugs have become a serious problem in the city (and other places in the country, too) over the past few years, and trust me, you do *not* want to have the experience of getting rid of them. Or of realizing they are SUCKING YOUR BLOOD omg omg sorry I'll stop.

- IKEA is a godsend. And cheap enough for low-cost post-college budgets (especially bc you won't need very much to fill up your sure-to-be-small apt). Someone already mentioned the free bus service from Port Authority to the NJ/Elizabeth IKEA, but in terms of getting your new furniture home, I wanted to raise the option of hiring a small van service off of Craiglist (look under "services -> labor/move"). There's a whole cottage industry of people who, for $40 or $60 an hour (or a flat fee), will pick you up, drive to you IKEA and wait while you shop, load the van and drive your stuff home, and take it up to your apt. Some of the listings are a bit sketchy so use your judgment and take a friend with you if you feel uncomfortable, but it's definitely an option. And obviously you can pay IKEA to ship it to you, but that will take a couple of weeks and put you at their mercy; or rent a van yourself, but some people are understandably uncomfortable about driving in the city--plus since you're under 25, you'll be paying extra fees anyway.

- If you do use a van service, take a trip to IKEA on the free Port Authority bus beforehand and figure out exactly what you want to buy. I did this and was in and out of the store (as my van waited) in about an hour--since I was paying for the time, it was definitely worth the extra scouting trip.

- is also awesome for lots of good-quality furniture/bedding/linens etc at a lower cost. You may already use it, it's not exactly NYC-centric.

- Make friends with someone who has a car, or a Zipcar membership. You'll only need a car once a year, but it's handy to have it on call.

- There's a Target at the Queens Center Mall in queens, and another in Brooklyn.

- Decorate a little -- a few pictures on the walls, some curtains; it's the easiest way to make your apt feel like home. It's important to have your apt be someplace you want to go back to, because the city can be overwhelming at first.

- I second the FreshDirect (online groceries delivered to your door) suggestion. I don't use it for fragile things (ie eggs) or fresh food I won't be cooking in the next week, but once every month or two you can do an order for anything heavy (cans) or nonperishable. It's only $5 for shipping on orders that cost $40 or more, which is easy because in NY that's like 3 boxes of cereal (kidding, but only sort of). They let you pick a time slot for delivery (I used to work til 9 or 10 at night, and would always pick the 10-12 pm one) and they always came within the time frame, unloaded promptly and without any attitude. The one time they were going to be late, they called me.

- It's worth it to take a look at the buses, too. NY has a very good bus system that many of us (myself included) always forget to think about when figuring out transportation.

- Keep a copy of your lease handy, and don't hesitate to call 311 (NYC information line) or check online for your landlord/tenant rights. Here's hoping you won't need to argue about anything, but there are some crappy landlords out there!

And just a little bit of the opinion stuff:

- Don't get stuck in the some-Manhattanites mentality of thinking that Manhattan is where the city ends. Queens and Brooklyn have a lot of great things going on, as do the other boroughs.

- There are so many wonderful restaurants and bars--don't get into a rut of going to the same "comfortable" ones; take a chance and try something new.

- You'll be OK. As several people above said: there will be times when you think you won't be, because it IS a hard city in many ways--but it's a great one too, and you'll be fine.

Best of luck!
posted by alleycat01 at 5:23 PM on June 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's a Target at the Queens Center Mall in queens, and another in Brooklyn.

The closest one to the Upper West Side is likely the one in the Bronx, at 225th Street (take the 1 there and walk two blocks east).
posted by oaf at 5:11 AM on June 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

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