If you ask me how to get to my house from the freeway, I will tell you to turn right at the Shell Station, turn right again after three stoplights and then turn left once you pass the house that looks like it’s leased by Boo Radley. Ornithologists say birds have a sort of sixth sense when it comes to geographical awareness; if this is true, then I am like the bird at the very far end of the V, constantly checking his bird-blackberry and occasionally migrating northwest. It took me an entire semester to realize that New York is south of New Haven; it just sounded so much cooler to say “I’m going up to New York for the weekend.” And I’d prefer to gloss over my recent realization regarding the misnomer that is Rhode Island.
When I decided to spend the summer down in New York City, I realized that this was the opportunity to establish in myself some sort of internal compass. I could get around just fine using the map feature on my phone, but I wanted to navigate the streets like a real New Yorker (and the map feature on my phone takes almost minutes to load — I mean, I could get mugged in that time). I asked my NYU friends to help me out with the basics. “The street numbers go up as you move north,” my friend Zack explained. “It’s really not too complicated or worth obsessing over.”
I became obsessed with getting good at geography. “We’re going west, right?” I would ask my friends as we walked from 20th to 32nd street. “The L train took forever today, it would’ve been quicker to walk from 14th Street and 8th Avenue to Union Square!” I’d brag to a girl at a bar, before the bartender would kick me out for being underage. “Which way is north?” I would ask the bartender outside the bar as I began my long trek home.
After two months of effort, I finally achieved my redemption about a week before I left the city. I was happily walking to my internship, listening to “Mushaboom” by Feist on my iPod, when a middle-aged couple stopped me. “Which way is 26th Street?” the woman asked. I took off my headphones confidently and jerked my head towards the nearest intersection. “Just walk there and turn left,” I replied assuredly. “You see? The street numbers go up as you move north.”
I smiled to myself as I watched the couple walk off. What was it that told them I lived in New York? My casual indifference? The confidence in my swagger? The lyrics of “Mushaboom” by Feist that I was loudly singing? Whatever it was, it mattered not. I was mistaken for a New Yorker, and in my book, that’s as good as being a New Yorker. And even though 26th Street was most definitely to the right, by the time I realized that, the couple was long gone.