On June 2, 2012, I walked into a mid-rise apartment along the East River, rolling suitcase and black garbage bag full of clothes and bed sheets in tow.
In an empty room — save for the standing light in the corner — I dropped my belongings, unrolled an air mattress, and stared at my new home.
My first New York came tightly wrapped in simultaneous homesickness and utter elation.
On paper, this was just another move — the ninth in 18 years. Up and down the East Coast I went, from Massachusetts to Florida, Maryland to Pennsylvania. But these New York minutes somehow feel heavier than the rest: An almost decade-long search for my holy grail has landed me in a life I'd always hoped for, but never expected. At least not until after another five or 10 years in the business.
"I've wanted for years to live and work in New York City," I tell the curious. "So this is a real dream come true."
Some people simply stare at me as though I've told the dopiest joke in Chinese, spoken by one of the five heads protruding from my neck. The rest, though, knowingly smile and nod, as if my flight of fancy is the very same one they learned about in elementary school: the American dream.
The late Nora Ephron — writer and my personal life-model — moved to the city a day after walking across the Wellesley College stage to accept her diploma. A brave Beverly Hills girl, Ephron stepped off of the bus with only the dream of becoming a journalist and the socks packed in her suitcase. (OK, so that's probably not the whole truth, but it's more fun when it sounds dramatic.)
"I thought it was going to be the most exciting, magical, fraught-with-possibility place that you could ever live in; a place where if you really wanted something, you might be able to get it; a place where I'd be surrounded by people I was dying to be with," Ephron wrote of her first New York, 48 years later. "And I turned out to be right."
Don't get me wrong — small-town living takes a special type of lionheartedness. Frederick was my home for two years, and my playground for four. I made friends, gathered sources, and inevitably grew to feel at home in the place I spent five days a week discovering.
But when the word spread in the newsroom of my move to the Big Apple, there were more than a few co-workers' and friends' puzzled looks that silently screamed, "Why would you ever want to leave this town?"
And ay, there's the rub: It's not that people necessarily believe western Maryland is the A-1 place to live. It is simply that, to those who call Frederick home, New York isn't.
Crowded sidewalks, blaring car horns, people wearing mismatched shoes mumbling to themselves outside of the corner diner — it's easy to spot the fear that New York inspires.
Oh, but this city is best at surprising. It's the greatest date a girl could ask for. Romantic, funny, sensitive, rebellious, and always available. But there is a hidden metropolis, accessible only to the few [million] and the lucky. Sure, it may hike up its skirt and show a little leg for tourists. But the true city comes out when you're not looking. I mean, I double dog dare you to not smile while staring out the car window as the looming city skyline regally passes by.
Seven months later, and I'm still grinning.
* * *
I'd intended on this column reading like an email exchange between Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly in "You've Got Mail": Pithy, full of New York wisdom, and with a few "Godfather" quotes thrown in for good measure.
Could this be the beginning of an Ephron-inspired New York City journalism career (sans the cheating husband and legal threats)?
A girl can dream.
Even if some have already come true.
Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.