Friday, June 22, 2012

Touching My Old Lives

I was little girl on Christmas eve excited at the end of April as I prepared for my trip home. Not really home anymore, I haven’t lived in NYC for more than six years. But it’s the place where I have the most history. Last time I was there, almost two years ago, I was overwhelmed with differences—how much the City had changed since 2005. For a brief moment I wondered if my planned month-long stay would be too long. Would New York feel foreign? Would I still feel connected to old friends now that we only have sporadic communication?
Two years ago, I was mired in differences. New York had changed significantly during the four years I’d been away. Every neighborhood had up-scaled. It was fast becoming too expensive for lower-middle and lower income workers. Where could artists afford to live? Where did you find the work of up and coming designers now that luxury-label chains stores were replacing boutiques? Would so many whites move uptown that Harlem, the Black capital of the world, would become a majority white community?
When I returned to San Miguel after that trip, I had to laugh at myself. I sounded like some of my friends who have lived here for more than 20 years. They bitch constantly about changes in their colonial city instead of enjoying what these changes bring. We all seem to be most resistant to changes at home. I vowed that the next time I went to NY, I wouldn’t let missing what was stop me from enjoying what is.
I had a great time this May.  For half of my NYC vacation, I stayed with friends on 148th Street, five blocks from my old home. The neighborhood has more diversity, both ethnically and economically, now. And this brought more commerce. Retail franchises haven’t migrated that far uptown yet but most banks have branches within walking distance, and every cell phone operator has a storefront. There’s a deli and more restaurants. Whites and Asians have moved in but many of the old residents remain. People whose might not interact are living together in the same neighborhood. All of this is good.
I had a great time but didn’t want to live there again. The expense of NY no longer matches my finances. Like many in the 60-year plus club, my salary didn’t continue to grow, like my mom’s did, as I aged. Several of my NY are experiencing monetary stagnation or downturns. The freelancers have less work. Others lost jobs in their mid to late 50s because their salaries were too high for the current economic climate. Many are making less money than they did a decade ago while paying astronomical fees of health insurance. They’ve been forced to eliminate things they frequently enjoyed—restaurants, plays, concerts.
If I still lived there, I wouldn’t be able to maintain my brownstone.  My friends on 148th Street complained that their monthly heat bills had been $1,800 two winters ago when the city experienced record lows. Electric bills last July and August when air conditioners were needed day and night had averaged $1,200 a month.
I wouldn’t move back to NY even if my income increases dramatically. I’d still choose to live someplace where you can enjoy life at a lower price point. Someplace that would leave more money for travel.
New Orleans was a different story. When I stopped there on my way back to San Miguel to replace my driver’s license, I had the same visceral response I’d had the first time I visited in 1995—it felt like home. For a moment I wondered if selling my house had been a mistake. Momentarily I forgot why I'd done this—fear of the annual hurricane season. I would be filled with anxiety every year for five months, June through November. I can’t live like that, no matter how much I love it. But I want to visit often, now that the horrors of Katrina have faded.
Now I’m back home, energized by my time in the States. Realizing that for this beat of my life, I prefer living in Mexico. I may want to be based in San Miguel but don’t want to be all the time. A month in NY has revved my engine. I’m determined to find a work to finance travel.