Bright Lights, Big City

So long, farewell, au wiedersehen, goodbye

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It's the emptiest and yet the fullest of all human messages: 'Goodbye.' — Kurt Vonnegut   I must confess something. I have a dispicable tendency to hold other people in contempt for leaving me — for taking another job, for moving to another state, for turning off years of friendship like turning out the lights. But that can be chalked up to human emotions. The worst of it is, I do the very same thing. I got another job. I moved to another state. Heck, I'm living out of trash bags ... read more


It’s beginning to look a lot like the most wonderful time of the year

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Today, I am thankful.

Not because I'm lucky enough to have a healthy, beautiful family, and friends who offer me place at their table for a warm holiday meal.

Well, that counts, too. But today I am thankful for what is coming.

The fourth Thursday of every November marks the beginning of the hap-happiest time of the year. When snowmen frolic merrily, glittering lights sparkle, and bells jingle all the way through the woods to Grandmother's house.

Since I was knee high to a menorah, I have been enchanted by those five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years. There's a certain magic that comes only when the air has chilled and the giant red ornaments are dropped into a fountain along Sixth Avenue.

Of course, there's no better place to celebrate the season than in New York City. No, that's not exactly true. A better place would be at the Mississippi home of my two-year-old nephew, or under the sunny Charleston skies with my parents. Even sitting around a table in Maryland, surrounded by friends I've collected through the years.

But The Big Apple's not so bad.

Today, I start the season right by waking up in time to find my place on the couch to watch people freeze in the Herald Square stands during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. (The parade, which I was meant to attend in person to check off of my NYC bucket list, but was too intimidated by the predicted forecast to plan a trip outside of my warm apartment.)

The morning tradition melts into the afternoon practice of stuffing my face with food someone else cooked. Though 2013 briefly threatened my 27-year-long ritual, it turns out I won't need to lunch with the unlucky Cosi employees stuck making my turkey-and-stuffing sandwich. Instead, I'll hop a train to Long Island, where I will stuff my face with food a friend and coworker cooked.

And, just as my body begins digesting the mounds of slop I devoured barely hours before, the beauty of a long weekend of relaxation, TV marathons, and — FINALLY — holiday music will set in. Three days to myself — not spent on endless store lines or shuffling through the crowds ogling Rockefeller Center's ice skating rink. But three days to commence the first “Love Actually” viewing of the year, perhaps take in an afternoon showing at the theater, or — and I can't stress the importance of this enough — lay in bed, stare through my blinds at the Chrysler building, and just breath.

Sometimes I stop myself, walking through Union Square or hanging onto the subway car railing, and remember the holidays in Frederick. Festive music blaring through my car's speakers, houses lit with flashing icicle lights and gaudy inflatable (and even more impressively working) snow globes, and the China Chef buffet on Christmas. (Life's a lot simpler in New York for a Jew during Yuletide.)

The Rockettes, the Bryant Park Holiday Market, even the giant ornament that is Times Square isn't always enough to satiate my longing for the holidays of my childhood — drives through local neighborhoods to criticize their light displays, lighting the menorah and unsuccessfully pretending we weren't actually waiting on the couch just to receive the night's gifts.

That's the real magic of the season: memories. Something to hold onto when you can't actually hold onto family.

No matter where you spend the holidays — at Mom and Dad's, with an adopted family of friends, giving back at a soup kitchen, or alone, in front of your TV, singing along to Barry Manilow concert DVDs — remember to make some memories.

And be thankful. For the true goodness in others, for the days to come, and for weeks of leftover turkey.

Happy Turkey Day!

Whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye

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Have you ever had a dream? Of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sort, that is. Not one in which Kate Upton is wearing a bikini and applying sunscreen to your hard-to-reach spots.

A life goal, a mission you strive to complete. An answer for your teachers' inevitable question of what you want to be when you grow up. Or a first date's inquiry about where you see yourself in 10 years.

Well, I did.

And I achieved it.

I have been living and working in New York City for 17 months, earning my limited keep as a technology news reporter, slipping easily in and out of love with this crazy, mixed-up town.

There's so much more left, though; more plans, more goals, more ambitions. If only I could muster up the talent to snag an Esquire magazine writing gig, where I'd lunch in Central Park and call Scott Raab and Tom Junod friends. There are Saturday Night Live tapings, Broadway acting debuts, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parades, book signings.

But in the meantime, I'll fulfill another long-time aspiration — 3,260 miles away in Scotland.

Scotland: Home to Robert Burns, J.M. Barrie, the Highlands, the Lowlands, bagpipe bands, Sean Connery, whisky, William Wallace, David Tennant's right eyebrow, David Tennant's left eyebrow, come to that.

And, as of February ... Me.

If there's one thing you should know about me (aside from my undying devotion to adult-contemporary crooner Barry Manilow), it's that when I fall, I fall hard. And a little more than four years ago, I fell for Scotland. Cobblestone streets, brogue accents, castle turrets, rolling green hills speckled with fluffy white sheep; a sort of kindness and excitement utterly foreign to the rest of the world.

And with its distinct ties to literature and entertainment — as well as the daily penguin parade at the Edinburgh Zoo — I am about 97 percent sure Scotland was established 10,000 years ago with me in mind.

The anglophilia began in high school, probably during my first viewing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the 10th grade. At the time, I couldn't pick a crumpet out of a biscuit lineup, and had no understanding of the stark difference between being British and being English. (Yes, it really matters.) But I knew I wanted to experience a place where people talked with a lilt and The Beatles hummed their first harmony.

A half-cocked intention to spend a college semester studying abroad in London slipped by, and my yearning to visit Dear Old Blighty grew stronger. Finally, the day came: 'Twas the summer of 2009, and my bags were packed for a two-week cruise around the British Isles. England, Ireland, Scotland, and about four seconds of France. I've yet to top that vacation.

In the years since, Scotland became more than a hopeful future destination wedding location. It slowly — but very surely — turned into another goal, another mission.

Another achievement.

And another occasion to feel so overwhelmed with emotion and stress and nerves and excitement that I almost simultaneously burst into tears and vomit on the L train.

Only 79 days remain in New York City — a sort of death sentence. Less than three months to check off all of my NYC bucket list items, all the while mentally, emotionally, and physically (possession-wise) preparing to leave my family, friends, co-workers, temporary puppy roommate, and life behind.

Still, the decision was easy: Spend [at least] a year in Scotland on my own, or tell my nephew in 40 years that my greatest regret was being too afraid to take a chance on a dream.

Lang may yer lum reek!


Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for

College Dazed and Confused

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Is it possible to suffer from culture shock in a world to which you'd once grown so accustomed?

I returned to my alma mater over the weekend to participate in a collegiate media summit apparently making the annual rounds through the Pennsylvania state higher education system.

A fairly last-minute decision, I'd been contacted a few weeks earlier by a former professor — now the chairwoman of the Journalism Department — asking if I'd like to speak on a panel about working in the magazine publication landscape.

My immediate consent barely departed my email server before the anxiety set in. While “hate” may be a strong word, when I speak in front of crowds of more than two people, sweat tends to ooze from my forehead and under my arms, and my trouble with eye contact downgrades to a simple eyes-closed strategy.

Not to mention the fear of the unknown: touring a campus almost completely renovated since I last visited four years ago — the year after I graduated, in town for a friend's wedding.

But the deed had been done, the email sent. I knew my professor was desperate to fill a hole in the schedule, and something told me the last thing she needed was me reneging on my promise. So I cancelled tentative plans with out-of-town friends, and booked a Zipcar for the weekend. IUP or bust!

Sparing the gory details, I'd call the weekend a success. Whether or not my frenzied responses actually made any impact on the few and the brave students I met remains unseen.

But more important than helping to mold the future of the fourth estate, I had the thrill of returning to my four-year home-away-from-home-away-from-home: John E. Davis Hall — the shared journalism building and stomping grounds for the TV station where I cut my teeth in the behind-the-scenes broadcast world.

Despite the consistent smells, unmoved vending machines, and familiar college vibe, my weekend at the university felt less like a blast from the past, and more like a wrong turn into a foreign land. A small town where Smiley Cookies are sold on every corner and autumnal scenic views rival those of the Scottish highlands.

The very antithesis of Manhattan.

There are no gently sloping hills as far as the eye can see while staring out the windows of a subway train. No drive-thru Starbucks. Just a concrete jungle, teeming with wild animals who wouldn't know how to get to a state of relaxation if Siri provided explicit directions.

Somewhere along the way, between tossing my college-graduation mortarboard and yelling at my first New York cabbie, I found a sort of common ground. Maryland. Baltimore. Frederick. Where stores close at 9 p.m., but locals can always find something other than people-watching at the Super Walmart to amuse themselves.

Five years, and four towns, later, I think I'd mostly forgotten what college life felt like. But among equally unfamiliar buildings and familiar friends, I briefly fell back into life as an 18-year-old student discovering a new life, and the shock of it all.


Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for

A sprinkling of fall in New York

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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

The perks of being a New Yorker: The Hamptons

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Carroll Creek Park. Central Park. The Weinberg Center for the Arts. Broadway. Market Street. Times Square. The Frederick News-Post. The New York Times.

Frederick has, in moderation, everything New York has. And with less stench.

But there's one thing this island has that Maryland can never claim (aside from cultural diversity and real bagels): The Hamptons.

The summertime seaside resort favorite of the wealthy is simply a group of hamlets which form the south fork of Long Island. And boast some of the most pricey residential properties in the country.

Since we're not Gossip Girl socialites or the sons and daughters of Revenge's rich and infamous, most never have the opportunity or reason to venture to the summer colony.

But take my word for it: A trip to the Hamptons is like pulling a gift out from under the heavily decorated Christmas tree (yes, I'm Jewish; just bear with the metaphor) and unwrapping it slowly — ribbon-bow first, then each corner of the perfectly folded paper — before realizing that the box holds the very things dreams are made of. Dreams you never knew you had.

My first visit to the sandy beaches of the Hamptons came exactly a year before my second trip (give or take one day). It was the lucky side effect of living in a city frequented by my uncle — a former New Yorker and hanger-on of his long-time friends. One of whom happens to own a spot of realty about an hour and 40 minutes due east of the city.

There was a birthday party planned. The big 1-5. For my uncle's (let's call him Barry) friend's (let's call him Bill) daughter (let's call her Bill's daughter). Rain forecasts forced the Saturday festivities to be postponed until the next day's sunnier skies.

Still, my dad, Barry, and I made the sub-two-hour trip to see Bill and the family. And the Hamptons. Because the white arenaceous beaches and lapping waves — not to mention the sprawling architecture — require their own attention.

Even under Saturday's desolate skies, the world seasonally inhabited by the other 1 percent was a sight to behold. We stood on the stairs leading from Bill's under-construction main house directly to the sand, seaweed, and shells below, and stared in awe. At least I did, in between Instagramming photos of my impressive day.

As the day brightened, we ate, talked, suffered a minor tennis injury (on Bill's personal court — we coulda sued for millions!), then talked and ate some more. Before heading back to the city, ocean views became a little more clear, as the day's fog lifted and we were able to catch a quick glimpse of the true upscale beach bum lifestyle.

But this year marked Sweet 16. The coming-of-age age when teenage girls flaunt their bikini bodies and pubescent boys' farmer's tans run rampant. And who's cooler than the chick with the beach-side, hot-tub-adjacent abode whose parents are willing to invite 20 high schoolers to trash their pool house?

The answer: No one.

So, for the second time, I tagged along with my uncle to the Hamptons on a mid-August Saturday, this time under the conviction of the shining sun and rising temperatures. There before us was the clear blue water, the dozens of locals hiding under umbrellas in the sand.

The open pool — which was, last I saw it a year before, covered by a tarp heavy with rainwater — now home to a bobbing swan float and poolside basketball net (which serves as a sore spot for my uncle). Ping-pong. Burgers. Swimsuits. Sunburns. Finally — the Hamptons of the rich and famous.

Catoctin Iron Furnace. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Frederick Film Festival. TriBeCa Film Festival. Moderation, my friends. But there's no substitute for the Hamptons.


Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for

10 Things I Hate About You, New York City

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Everyone hates New York City, even if it's just a little bit.

The crowds, the stench, the attitude — There's as much about this town to resent as there is to adore. Sometimes more, depending on the season.

Winter, spring, summer, or fall, I can think of at least a dozen reasons I want to punch New York City in the throat. Here are the first 10 that popped into my head this scorching July.

(And no, this won't be written in iambic pentameter.)

1. I yelled at a cab driver last week. Sure, it wasn't his fault I'd waited no less than 30 minutes to hail a taxi at 10 p.m. on a rainy Monday. But neither did he care. I'm a fan of Martin Scorsese, and therefore am aware of the magnitude of chewing out a cabbie. But when 13 months of pent up aggression at the men and women who pilot speeding yellow bullets through the city streets finally boils over, all bets are off.

Perhaps my summer reading project should tackle the Taxi and Limousine Commission rule book, which must prohibit drivers from changing direction or making two stops on opposite sides of Park Avenue. But what are you losing out on when the meter continues running, and your tip grows minute by minute?

It has become common practice for me to keep one foot on the pavement until I get the nod from the driver that my journey's end is acceptable. Or he asks me to navigate, following my phone's Google Maps directions and his newbie knowledge.

2. Tourists flock toward Times Square like a moth to a colorful and flashy flame. And aside from those New Yorkers unfortunate enough to have snagged a job in the area, city dwellers universally avoid the radius of Broadway to 7th and 42nd to 47th.

It's not that we don't appreciate the beating, singing, dancing soul of this city. It's that we hate people — a simple side-effect of living in New York. Tourists stopping at every crack in the sidewalk to snap photos of the Coca-Cola sign or point out the window bank that once served as Carson Daly's hosting platform. Pedophiliac costumed characters and the Naked Cowboy. Overcrowded stores and overcharging chain restaurants. (I actually saw a T.G.I. Friday's commercial disclaimer that prices are higher in Times Square and Hawaii.)

The only two reasons I venture into the heart of darkness: A visit to the TKTS line for discounted Broadway show tickets, and Ellen's Stardust Diner.

3. I'd have better luck finding food in the jungles of The Hunger Games arena than in just one city grocery store. And even if I could fill up my hand cart with everything I need for a few crock-pot meals, getting those goodies back to my apartment is no easy task.

Architects have a cruel sense of humor, building supermarkets down the block with aisles narrower than my bathtub and shelves emptier than the calories in a cronut. Or dropping an all-inclusive store into a crowded hub 15 minutes away by foot, or two packed subway stops, and then some.

4. If America is the great melting pot, then New York City is the fondue pot preparing dessert. Play a game of I Spy on any corner of any block, and within 15 minutes you'll spot almost every color, creed, nationality, sexual preference, shape, size, and level of sanity.

Still, in one of the most diverse and therefore culturally accepting cities in the country, if not the world, there is so much hatred. Hate crimes are reported every week, even recorded via cell phone on the Queens-bound F train. I just wonder sometimes: What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?

5. At least once a week, the headlines of the free daily papers that coat subway platforms taunt riders with reminders of this city's depressingly high cost of living. No one moves here with the delusion that it will be easy to pay rent, buy groceries, do Happy Hour, and still see a Broadway show or visit a museum once a month.

But there is an expectation of sustainability: earning a sub-six-figure salary, fulfilling all of your financial responsibilities, and still hitting that wine bar for your friend's birthday celebration.

Not so fast, according to the New York Daily News: "Nearly one third of New Yorkers are 'severely burdened, by housing costs" (July 29, 2013).

6. Hipsters. 'Nuff said.

7. I've never missed vehicular traffic, until I moved here. The scorching hot summers, the snow-blown winters, and every day in between, makes me yearn for four doors (I'd even settle for two), an adjustable air conditioning/heating system, and butt-printed soft seats. Far away from uncomfortable exposed-skin grazing and wafting body odor, sauna-level underground platforms and awkward eye contact. The public-transportation commute may boast the occasional perk — save on gas money and car insurance, no chance of grand theft auto — but in the end, people generally frown upon caroling along to Phil Collins in the train.

8. In a year of wandering East Village sidewalks and shoving through Midtown crowds, I've dropped an entire pant size, just by being a pedestrian. A naturally fast-moving, often frustrated pedestrian. And until the city's public works department paints lane markings on footpaths, I'm really going to need slow pedestrians to move on outta my way. Walk like you drive, people — stay right, pass left.

9. Yankees fans: I'm Boston-born and briefly raised. This is self-explanatory.

10. But mostly I hate the way I don't hate New York. Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all. My contempt for this city runs deep. But like the afternoon rainstorms that often plague my lunch hour, those moments become a fleeting thought immediately replaced by a vision of the Brooklyn skyline or a slice of authentic pizza.

Actually, it's pretty easy to rally when you realize your 18-year-old self would punch you in the throat for taking this city and this life for granted.


Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for

Mega Busted: The Trials and Tribulations of Traveling Without a Car

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If home is where the heart is, my home is scattered around the country. (Not unlike how I think I'd like my ashes to settle one day.)

New York has become my default "home." There's no longer a childhood room awaiting my arrival in Maryland; only one of my high school friends still carries an Ellicott City address. Everyone in my life, from high school to college and beyond has shuffled around, landing in cities from coast to coast; two even left the country for a couple of years to explore foreign lands.

So, when I get "homesick," it's for a home that doesn't actually exist. It's for my parents' beautiful South Carolina patio. For my grandfather's chair perched in my brother's Mississippi abode. For playing with Legos in my college friends' eastern Maryland rental.

And for the rest of my family and friends, in Washington, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, The United Arab Emirates, and Mozambique.

Don't get me wrong — This city is home enough for me. Its skyscrapers and packed sidewalks blanket me like the winter snow. But, like so many New Yorkers, sometimes leaving the city is the only reprieve.

Ay, there's the rub. Since I sold my beautiful Toyota Camry last year, I've been without a personal vehicle, relegated instead to electronic communication, LaGuardia Airport, and Megabus to get away.

"The trials and tribulations of traveling without a car — how nervous it would make me," a friend recently wrote to me in an email, just after my return to the city following a weekend in Baltimore for a wedding.

The trip was planned months in advance: I would take the bus from New York to White Marsh, from where my best friend would pick me up and drive me to her house for the night. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Except not.

I've been riding the Megabus line since December 2008, on the recommendation of a trusted friend, with whom I was traveling to (surprise!) The Big Apple. The concept was brilliant — fares starting at $1 (depending heavily on time of day and how early you snag a ticket), free WiFi, and a reputed worry-free trip. So was the case for a while: Prices were reasonable (comparable, at least, to similar services like Bolt Bus), as was Internet access. Occasionally, I could even find two seats to myself — a makeshift bed for a couple of hours.

But somewhere between New York's Penn Station and Baltimore's Penn Station, Megabus lost its way, slinking down from mediocre means of travel to full-scale mayhem.

The last straw was my trip to Baltimore, which began with a 1.5-hour wait for a tardy bus on a Friday evening, under increasingly darkening skies, and continued with a 10-minute-cum-hour-long stop in Delaware while a relief driver ambled her way to our bus.

All child's play, really, compared to how my delayed evening ended: I fell apart in an empty White Marsh Park & Ride at midnight under the spritzing rain, frantically trying to contact my best friend, who I believed could only be taking her last breaths from under her overturned car in a ditch beside the highway.

It turns out she'd left her phone in the backseat, and showed up about 10 minutes later. But Megabus had already undone me. And I knew I could never let that happen again. It was in those moments — in the deserted Baltimore parking lot — when I settled on no other means of short-term treks than via rental car.

Travel continued its antics recently, on a return flight to LaGuardia from a visit to see family in West Palm Beach. In short, almost two hours stuck in a crowded plane on an airport runway is not how I envisioned my relaxing post-July 4 weekend.

My hopeful remedy is currently on its way to my apartment mailbox, in the form of a Zipcar membership card. Though I'm sure this, too, will find a way to sully my upcoming trip to Boston. As long as I've got Barry Manilow on the stereo, I've got a semblance of sanity.


Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for

Stranger than fiction: Can real life in NYC compare to Hollywood’s fantasies?

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Everyone knows New York City. Even those who have criminally never visited have seen photos of Coney Island or the backdrop of Times Square, can pinpoint Central Park and undoubtedly recognize Radio City Music Hall.

Hollywood has leaned on the Big Apple since the turn of the 20th century — Hanging the city up like a white linen sheet on a backyard laundry line, letting it blow in the breeze. Every inch of this town has been combed through for the purpose of entertainment. And sure, it's easy to believe that love stories really do come true at the top of the Empire State Building, but for most New Yorkers, life isn't quite what it seems on screen.

"In my imagination, your life is just like Girls," a friend wrote in an email about seven months after I moved.

For the record: it's not. (My roommates, actually, are better versed in the telling of questionably legal empty-warehouse raves.) Though, according to my highly unscientific calculations, Lena Dunham's dirty-sexy HBO comedy is one of the most accurate presentations of life in New York that you ever will, or ever did, find on television — premium cable or otherwise.

Filmed and set in Brooklyn (and occasionally outside of my Flatiron District office building), Girls tells the often horrid tale of being a 20-something navigating life in New York. Been there, screwed that, right? Not this time. Dunham's polarizing show about a pack of formerly privileged young females trying to make ends meet without their parents' ATM pin numbers has taken heat for everything from a lack of color (Donald Glover to the rescue!), an over-ripe sex drive, and a certain first-world-problems flavoring.

But when you manage to look past the half-baked relationships and the barista aprons, Girls feels real. It may not always feel right, but it certainly feels real. Television executives don't seem to actually care to strive for a sense of reality, though. They just want spacious accommodations with plenty of room to hang a boom mic out of the frame. Inaccuracies be damned, be it real estate, transportation, or the volume of pizza joints on every corner.

I'm not the only one holding a grudge against Hollywood for lying to the world about this fair city. Complex's Brenden Gallagher compiled a list 25-deep of movies and TV shows that got New York City wrong. Sprinkled among the entire Spiderman trilogy, beloved classics, and every NYC-based action-adventure flick are obvious exaggerations, like Sex and the City.

In this particular episode ["Ring a Ding Ding," season four, episode 16], Carrie states that she paid $750 for her Upper East Side studio in 2000. Though the apartment is rent controlled, it was also pretty big. (And by "pretty big," Gallagher actually means the size of a small Starbucks, with a walk-thru closet and a designated den, not to mention room to run laps around a queen-sized bed.) The most conservative estimates put her apartment in the neighborhood of at least double that.

But the famed Manhattan foursome was produced to be the dream-sequence to real New Yorkers' struggles with love and friendship; they embodied women's (and gay men's) greatest fears, most extravagant happinesses, and all of those embarrassing topics we'd never dare bring up over Sunday brunch. They were never meant to serve as a mirror, reflecting back your dingy apartment and two-train daily commute. Come to think of it, when was the last time you saw a TV character climb into a crowded subway car, or even mention the 4-5-6 or A-C-E line?

Public transit rules this city, and I know that Joey, Monica, Rachel, and Chandler could not afford to pay their respective rents AND catch a cab to Central Perk every day. Friends actually does a spectacularly good job of eschewing the transportation discussion completely (before Phoebe inherits her grandmother's taxi). Do they walk to the coffee shop? Take a train to the office? Does it really matter, though, when they come home to outlandishly lavish adjacent, top-floor apartments — one of which has a balcony the size of my bedroom? Nah.

How I Met Your Mother suffers from the same afflictions as the '90s hit: Overly endowed living quarters (hardwood floors?!), too much time and money spent in an eatery, inconceivably empty and clean city sidewalks. Not even in a Fringe-like alternate universe could architect-Ted, pre-school-teacher-Lily, and law-school-student-Marshall afford their spacious, two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, from which they seemingly travel by taxi cab only to visit their broadcast newscaster friend Robin in her beautiful, fireplace-boasting, equally unrealistic Brooklyn rental.

Of course, from a two-bedroom Frederick apartment, with a balcony overlooking a crowded parking lot and community pool, it was easy to turn a blind eye to even the most obvious Hollywood misnomers. (Does it bother anyone else that at least three-fifths of the Big Bang Theory gang dresses for every day as if it's a crisp October evening on the east coast, instead of any given moment in Southern California?) But a year of life in the big city has changed me; my skin crawls every time Marshall struts down the bare street, greeting friendly shop owners and helping a delivery man fix his bike.

You'll still find me curled up in bed, laughing at Seinfeld and 30 Rock reruns, lustily dreaming of the day my city apartment resembles something other than a crowded closet with a bathroom.

Everything you always wanted to know about riding the New York subway (But were afraid to ask)

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Despite spending four years reporting on (and occasionally participating in) Frederick County's planes, trains, and automobiles, I never became truly immersed in public transportation until I actually left Maryland.

I'd sold my precious car — my safety from physical and emotional storms, and my favorite place to blare Barry Manilow and Steve Winwood on a breezy summer's day — to the News-Post's own Patti Borda. For the first time in five years, I was without a personal mode of transport. I couldn't just swing by Wawa for a meatball sub or take a drive to Barnes & Noble for an afternoon among the books.

Suddenly, my livelihood depended solely on an MTA MetroCard and my own two feet. I started out slowly, either walking or catching the M23 bus to and from the only place I knew in the city: the PCMag office.

All the while, the big, bad subway station was always lying in wait, ready to eat me and my naïveté alive. I'd braved the Washington, D.C. Metro stations before — with the hustle and angry bustle of people just trying to get to their destination without tourists confusingly standing in their way. But D.C. is New York City Lite. The air conditioned stations, the semi-on-time trains, the general cleanliness and lack of homeless people sleeping in the corner. How could I ever face the New York subway system alone?

It took at least a month, and a very inactive Saturday with hours of buffer time, to build up the courage to venture underground. I dove right in — a 30-minute train ride to Brooklyn, and back again (sandwiching an afternoon of shopping at Target). If memory (and my daily habits) serves, I excitedly called my parents on the walk back home from the subway station to share my grown-up-ness.

Since then, subway has become more than a delicious sandwich shop — it's my main mode of transportation (with the occasional taxi ride from the west side where train stations are scarce and cabbies are bitter).

In the 11 months that I've been sub-terrestrially exploring the city, I've figured out a few things about the system. Things which are essential to humankind, and my sanity.

So I present to you, Stephanie's Statutes: The top 10 rules for riding the New York City subway:

– You do not need to hold your significant other's hand from platform to platform.

– Do not read and walk (a book, a magazine, your cell phone, etc.). **


– Do. Not. Stop. At. The. Top/Bottom. Of. The. Station. Stairs. I repeat: Get the heck out of the way of people running to their trains.

– Please leave the child stroller at home...

– ... And when you do, don't let your toddler try to walk up the stairs on their own. Just pick them up already.

– When carrying shopping bags/luggage, do not sit on it in the train car, especially not directly in front of the opening doors.

– At least three people can fit on a train car bench between poles. Don't fill that space with your bag.

– Do not continuously lean into the track to check for an incoming train. When it arrives, you'll know. You just look foolish.

– If you have not showered or applied underarm deodorant for at least two days, do not raise your arms to hold onto the subway car railings. Find a nearby person to grab or just take a wide gait and plant your feet REALLY well.

Oh, and keep in mind — If you see a rat crawling through a crowded train car, don't yell "It's got rabies!" as people scream, hop up and down, and climb onto the seats. (I speak from experience.)

Happy riding, and please, stand away from the platform edge.

** Also perfectly suitable life lessons for navigating the mean streets of the Big Apple.


Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for