By Ariana Hwang
There are so many homes on every street
Piling into lines so neat, but I won’t fold into these lives, I’m too drunk on that
Suburban smell, to know which one of them is mine
I live in a colonial two-story house with one cherry blossom tree and a balcony no one ever uses. I tell every visiting friend or Uber driver, “It’s the white house over there.” It isn’t too hard to recognize amid other houses: you will see a yellow 10 mile per hour sign with an arrow pointing towards my white brick home. In all of my 21 years, I come back to see that the grass lawn is just the same and the driveway has at least one parked Honda vehicle.
As a young adult, I find myself outgrowing this quiet and familiar life. The boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens have already taken over me and my future plans. Even after four years of studying at Baruch College as an undergrad, I still feel alive every time I arise above ground from Penn Station. The air is thick with the smell of halal food carts. Every Friday, someone hands me a free Time Out magazine. And sidewalks are in constant motion with people crawling from all walks of life—those coming out of a concert from Madison Square Garden, businessmen and women rushing to catch their scheduled trains, and tourists trying to navigate their way in such a dense city. When I’m here, I think: spontaneity actually exists.
Long Island, on the other hand, is a cultural wasteland that prioritizes space, conformity, and outdated values over anything remotely unique. And if you’re a non-driver like me, good luck getting anywhere unless you have someone who can drive you places or you don’t mind taking a bus. New Hyde Park is the mundane town in which I reside with only a few things that seem worth mentioning. I live close to my favorite Long Island diner and a library I tend to rent a ton of books and DVDs from when summer arrives. Going back further, when a Blockbuster store existed and wasn’t replaced by an Urgent Care center, my dad and I spent our weekends scanning its shelves for movies and video games to rent, alongside candy I would pick out: 25 cents gum balls and red licorice. Everywhere else, you’ll find what the city already has: chains like Starbucks, Shake Shack, Barnes and Noble, Macy’s, along with doctor’s offices, gyms, and parks.
In the city, the chances of meeting more people with diverse interests and making new friends are always higher. Leaving high school, I didn’t have to change who I was to see this happen. When I went to high school in Great Neck, the student population was predominately Asian and Caucasian, with a very small percentage of them being Hispanic, African American, or multi-racial. It was uncommon to see JAPs (“Jewish American Princesses” everyone called them) hang out with anyone but JAPs; and the same went for Asians, minorities, and the theatre kids. I had a friend who once implied I was being a depressed hermit— “Why do you want to stay in and be sad?” This same friend who belonged to the theatre group once ignored me at a post-production party like I was an anchor holding her down from being a floating socialite.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wasn’t exaggerating when he based the West Egg—a fictional setting in his book, The Great Gatsby— off Great Neck. Materialism permeates the brains of its suburban youth. You can’t find Waldo in Great Neck because everyone owns Abercrombie & Fitch tops, Juicy sweatpants, UGGs, Lulu lemon leggings, Nike sandals, Coach wallets, North Face jackets, and college sweatshirts with every college he or she has applied to. Long Island has malls like Americana Manhasset mall, a luxury shopping mall dedicated to rich suburban moms’ tastes, and Roosevelt Field Mall, for the more common folk like me. Going to the mall as a teenager and middle schooler was never a unique experience; I bought clothes from Forever21 and H&M, ate at the food court, and explored more shops that all felt the same. This could never compare to spending a day at an art museum like The Met, bringing back Chinese food to consume at Madison Square Park, or filing through dusty old vinyl at a West Village record store as old as Bob Dylan.
The music I plugged into my ears was always an outlet I kept to myself. It followed me from my bus stop, in which I’d blast a stupid amount of Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, and indie bands I was just getting into, to the hallways I’d walk through after the bell rang and I was switching from one class to the next. I realized this more during my senior year of high school as I began secretly celebrating my love for certain bands with concert t-shirts and buttons, and started idealizing myself playing guitar like a rock star after learning the rhythm part of The Beatle’s “Rain” in a class taught by my sixth grade band teacher. Like Scott Pilgrim, I was fighting this world with music. I started taking guitar lessons with my talented and heavy metal-obsessed teacher, John, who lit cigarettes before and after our every session at the American Guitar Museum. I was even lucky to have my best friend, Katherine, agree to go to concerts with me—at Bowery Ballroom where we first saw Drowners, at Central Park for Foster the People and Alt-J, and at Madison Square Garden for the Arctic Monkeys. This was only the beginning of me seeking live music elsewhere, just because Long Island lacked a whole lot of it.
When you can’t find too many unique, creative, diverse, and welcoming communities, you begin to feel like you are being pushed out from where you live, and instead, become more desirous to leave. While an optimist might respond to my sentiments with “Be the change you want to see”, I argue that some people and places hardly ever change, despite the uniqueness or unconventional efforts you might offer them. I choose the city, because there is more life out there than just simply watching people smoke weed in basements and pretending to really like each other.
Howbeit, I won’t entirely condemn Long Island for being a terrible place. It isn’t. It’s not a place to forget or feel ashamed of living in. I think it has actually led me to where I am today. I’m more ambitious than I ever was, with jobs and internships I’ve worked during college at Insomnia Cookies, Live Nation, and doNYC. I’ve experienced some of the best moments of my life from dating people who live in other boroughs. In the last two months, I’ve witnessed the Broadway-Lafayette station turn into a museum in memoriam of David Bowie with limited edition Ziggy Stardust metro cards, gamed at America’s largest virtual reality experience center, and curiously entered a fetish party with techno music. I’ve always believed there were more experiences to be had and with more exposure to them along with an amalgamation of people, life grows richer and you feel inspired to do more. Little did I know, the boredom I faced in Long Island was pushing me toward a future in which I could re-establish more meaningfulness and envision myself somewhere else. This realization accompanies my thoughts daily as I’m on the brink of graduating. I’m planning on saving as much money as possible because I’m only a 30-minute train ride away from being where I’ve always wanted to be.