When I was in 1st Grade, my family moved from Lexington, KY to Long Island, NY. We rarely went into the city - Manhattan was a different place then. On those rare occasions, we did venture into the city, I marveled at the gigantic buildings, the subways, and how fast everything moved. I rode in yellow taxi cabs, I mean ... wow. It was a very different world from small-town life in Kentucky. My family only stayed there for a short while but it always made an impression on me because of the brief but spectacular friendships I made there. My new friends were from Iran, Israel, and China. They were real people with real experiences that were complex, gritty, and unapologetic. My family moved and never returned. New York, it seemed, was not for the lighthearted.
It was only years later as an adult that I returned to the city. I decided to leave graduate school in California to move to Manhattan. It was not an easy decision but I had been captivated by the city as a child and always dreamed of returning. It was not just a dream. I was drawn to the city like a moon is attracted to a planet - always in orbit and never quite touching down. I flew into JFK Airport on an American Airlines jet on the evening of Halloween, 1999. It was a perfect night to land. After meeting up with some friends we headed out to Halloween parties across the city. I was dressed appropriately as one who had just stepped off the boat. It was a wild night and I was informally initiated into this new world.
I went to my new office on Monday morning for my formal initiation. Working in my first skyscraper, the office was complete with one entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. I was in true awe looking out at the lower Manhattan financial district and further out, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island... I had arrived. I wanted to share my experiences with my best friends in the world so I bought tickets and flew them up into my new world. I was so proud and wanted them to share in my happiness and perhaps even brag a bit. I was making it in New York. If I could make it there, I could make it anywhere.
A few months later, I invited my girlfriend to fly in for the millennium New Year's Eve celebration. It was completely insane with about 1 million people in the streets. We braved the freezing weather, lined up in Times Square, and watched, with the rest of the world, as a crystal ball dropped at midnight. We all sang 'New York, New York' and stole our first kisses of the new millennium. Ticker tape thicker than a blizzard falling from the sky, reminding us all of the magic of this night. This night could only happen once every 1,000 years. I had wanted to be a part of it and here I was in the middle of it all. Though there were people as far as you could see, very few people can say they were there. What a night.
Sometimes things done spontaneously for fun or adventure in our youth become defining moments or decisions in our lives. Moving to New York was one of the moments. My new job was at the American Museum of Natural History - the place with all the dinosaurs. I do so love biology and paleontology. How did I get this lucky? I was able to walk around the museum after closing and spend hours alone just staring up at Tyrannosaur thinking about what his life must have been like. I was transformed into a little kid, full of wonder and excited about each day of work. I was quite proud to be a part of something so amazing and so special.
Eventually, I left New York again. I've returned many times since. Sometimes alone; sometimes with friends. Always in awe at being at the center of civilization. In a real way, New York has always opened up new chapters in my life. As I head there again this weekend, I wonder what new chapter awaits me.