Love, New York

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I blame my dad and Betty Herman for everything.

It all started in the third grade.  My dad went to New York City to complete his medical residency.  My little eight-year-old self had no concept of this faraway land called Manhattan.  I could probably find it on a map (thank you Carmen San Diego), but that's about it.  I knew nothing about the neighborhoods, subway lines, broadway shows or how to hail a taxi cab.  Here is what I did know: I got presents.  In the third grade, gifts that arrived in the mail from New York is pretty much the most exciting thing that can happen to a girl, other than if Zack Morris really was my boyfriend.  The FAO Schwarz stuffed bunnies and Statue of Liberty postcards was really all it took.

Fast forward eight years.  Junior year spring break.  St. Patrick's Day.  My first New York.

I wanted to be popular, and yearbook was as close as I got.  I slaved away in F101 for two years, complaining about long nights and thinking that croppers and senior salutes were truly, completely the most important things in the world.  The Putnam City North yearbook won what I could only view as the absolute most important awards in the world, right up there with Pulitzer and Nobel Prize.  Betty Herman, my yearbook teacher, was the kind of teacher that was ridiculously demanding and impossible to understand, but also the one that I would take on Oprah with me in 30 years to thank for never giving up on kids who gave up.  Betty Herman needed, begged and pleaded with me to make the sacrifice of traveling to New York to accept our better-than-the-Oscars yearbook award.  (At least, that's how I remember it happening.)  And so, along with my dad and little sister (who could have cared less about New York), I boarded a plane for the Big Apple.  If only I knew then how much money I would spend on airfare to New York in the future.

I fell in love. 

More than I was in love with Zack Morris or Dawson or Pacey. 

(Sidenote: I also blame this trip for falling in love with Tiffany & Company.)

Armed with a disposable camera, I captured Times Square, South Street Seaport, Fifth Avenue, the St. Patrick's Day Parade, even the World Trade Center towers (illuminated green for the holiday).  17 months later, they were gone.  The day of the awards ceremony, I took the subway to 116th and Broadway, walking for the first time beneath the iron gates of Columbia University. 

Over the next five years, I landed at La Guardia two more times, once for a "mission trip" when Baylor journalism students scoured the city for news-worthy nonprofits to profile.  I slept in a sixth-floor walkup in Hells Kitchen and made my first trips to Staten Island and the Bronx.  And then graduation came, and I bought a one-way plane ticket to the greatest city on earth, determined to make it as a 21-year-old broke teacher.  This lasted approximately seven weeks, during which I toured fifth-floor walkup apartments with a shower in the kitchen and trekked to the Bronx for job interviews.  I was insane.

Five years and five trips to New York later, I knew the neighborhoods, the subway lines, the broadway shows, and the correct way to hail a cab.  Living in Texas and Oklahoma, my most time-consuming hobby had become job and apartment searching in New York (thank you, Craigs List).  Exactly ten years to the day later, I walked back through the iron gates of the Ivy League.  The very same banner welcoming high school journalism students to Columbia for the awards ceremony waved overhead.  It was one of the first perfect spring days in New York, when parkas are traded for summer dresses and 70 degrees feels like 105.  And just like that, I fell in love all over again. 

A few months later, longing for an answer to boredom, I applied.  Just woke up one morning and thought, "I think I'll go to Columbia."  Never mind that it accepts 15% of applicants and is the number four ranked university in the country.  I am an expert in the art of going to school.  You see, I love this crazy, ridiculous profession called student affairs.  My whole entire job is to help other people achieve their dreams.  I believe that there are two things that have the ability to change lives: Jesus and education.  Don't judge me, I know it's cheesy, but that's what I think.  The thing is, you can only go so far without a "terminal degree" in this field.  Eventually, people have to see the letters behind your name to take you seriously.  So I pulled out all my smart people books, brushed up on Aristotle, and wrote what has to be the best admissions essay ever created.  And then I waited. 

I stopped by the Upper West Side campus with baby sister...

I interviewed, adding a bucket-list trip to the Macy's Parade for good measure.

Six weeks felt like an eternity to wait after that.  The anticipation was killing me.  As it turns out, I'm not a very patient person.  (God and I are working on that.)  Just when I thought I couldn't take it anymore, I had mail.  One cold December Friday night, my trusty iPhone delivered a pretty awesome early Christmas present.  Driving home from work, I literally pulled my car over and frantically entered passwords to access my application.  It was like waiting for Dawson to kiss Joey all over again.  I had mail.

I'll always love you, love New York.