A peculiar sort of sport occurs in New York each summer: A mass exodus of locals fleeing the city for ocean views and country roads. Replaced by hordes of tourists, the city remains the same, perhaps even a little less hateful.
But just as the September air shows its first signs of cooling and pop-up Halloween shops move into mini malls, the New York sidewalks begin to fill up again.
Fall comes with certain inalienable truths: school, sweaters, shorter days. It feels like my favorite Elton John song, with flourishes and deep piano riffs, carrying me into a sort of happiness that comes only with crunchy autumn leaves and knee-high boots.
Mostly, it means that my roommates — both brave New York City teachers — have finally returned to work. If there's one thing I hate about summer (and believe me, there are at least seven), it's waking up every morning to two closed bedroom doors and coming home every day to Law and Order marathons in the living room.
It's nothing personal. Really. My roommates, aside from kindly taking me in when I was sure I'd be living out of an empty dishwasher box on the city streets, are kind and hilarious and suspiciously good at Jeopardy. But you try — at 8 a.m., five days a week — slinking past two people who have absolutely no obligations for the next 90 days, and pretend you don't want to eat all of their Honey Nut Cheerios as they lay unconscious in bed.
So, it turns out I'm one of those people who root for the beginning of school. My 11-year-old self would kick me in the shin for admitting it. But that post-Labor Day swing is my second favorite time of year. Right behind Girl Scout cookie sales.
And what better place to celebrate the natural high of perfectly tuned 72-degree temperatures than The Empire State?
Autumn in New York is meant to be celebrated. Free balloons should be tied to park railings. Outdoor chess matches should be entered into by strangers. Apartment windows should be pushed open for the first time in months, allowing ambulance sirens and crisp air to flow in unison.
But while I embrace the dying flora and my new lightweight jacket with adorable leather stripes and buttoned pockets, I can't help but feel the creeping sadness of everyone I pass. The kids jumping off of park swings to see who can land the furthest from their starting point. The coffee shop baristas who know the last of the Grande Strawberries & Creme Frappuccinos will soon be ordered.
It's the season of football beginnings and baseball endings. Of new Apple iDevice announcements. It means pumpkin- and pine cone-themed-decoration Pinterest boards. And Lands End catalogues heavy with long coats and fuzzy slippers.
As a friend recently made clear to me, people don't step into autumn with the expectation of slipping into a depressive state, readying themselves for winter hibernation. Quite to the contrary, she explained. This is the time to frolic outside, store months' worth of Vitamin D, and find those cozy mittens your aunt knitted for you three Christmases ago.
So, go outside. Watch the leaves change color, rake them into a pile on your lawn, then sigh as your kids jump into them and instantly destroy two hours of back-breaking work. Ride your bike through Baker Park.
And, for the love of Frosty the Snowman, don't listen to your Scrooge-y co-workers who belittle the upcoming holiday season with scowls and hateful words about Christmas music and candy canes.
Oh, and finally take that trip to New York City to find out what autumn is supposed to feel like.
Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.