Moving on up to the "big city" has been idealized in popular culture for decades. The starry-eyed protagonist gets out of the infamous yellow taxi to behold massive skyscrapers. It's the ultimate sign of adulthood, responsibility, and coolness. But then, a huge bus comes by and splashes her new, cool cardigan with city sludge. No one tells you city life will also include the unique pleasures of dodging garbage trucks that stop in the middle of crosswalks, or getting a wicked case of food poisoning from the 24-hour deli. Here are a few of my favorite city survival tips.
How to Breathe Fresh Oxygen
Fresh oxygen is hard to come by, especially in an urban environment. There's hot dog cart fumes, sewer spews, and any variety of gaseous leakage in the air at any given time. Even humans have their own smells—sweat, cigarette breath, Axe body spray. There have been times where I've wanted to pull out a medical mask and/or oxygen tank just to walk down the street. Urban life is polluted, and besides condemning people with the evil eye or handing out free deodorants, there's not a whole lot you can do. You can, however, take advantage of public parks and the train. Most cities are designed with air quality in mind, and have some trees around to help you breathe (they produce oxygen, remember). Go stand next to some trees, or take a trip to the tree-rich suburbs.
How to Avoid Annoying People
PSA: the world is filled with people. And cities have even more people per square inch than anywhere else. Here's the thing about people. They like to talk, they like to party, and they like to find special ways to annoy you. But there are some great people in the world. They're the ones that will give you directions when you're lost in Brooklyn, or will graciously hand over that parking spot you've been eyeing. The secret to dealing with people is to not let them have control over you. See that lady clipping her nails on the subway? Just look away. Those cackling hens in the park? Noise-cancelling headphones.
How Not to Starve
Cities are food-havens. You can spend hundreds of dollars on amazing food in a single afternoon. But be sensible. Buying ingredients from the supermarket (or even trying a food-delivery service) can be much cheaper, healthier and more convenient than waiting in line for the greasiest burger you can wrap your lips around. Take advantage of farmers markets to get fresh, seasonal ingredients and kill a few hours in a productive way. When in doubt, there's always ramen.
How to Zen Your Pad
Your room is your one reprieve from the sometimes nasty outside world, so take care to make it home. Adding scented diffusers, beads, candles and flowers is a good way to create your fantasy from the inside out. Always have soothing music playing, like Debussy. Take frequent but not too frequent naps. Read books. But make sure you crack the window on occasion, and pay your rent on time.
How to Find Your Sanctuary
Any city will be, to a degree, mad and/or maddening. Your job is to conquer it by finding little spaces you can call your own. Whether it's the Russian History section of the public library, or the riverside lot, any part of the city can be your own, if you look hard enough.
Urban landscapes, though sometimes polluted, overpopulated, and insane, are wonderful places to live. City life can be lonely, though, even with all of the people. Breathe, exercise, eat well—you already know these things. And remember: each city was once a town, which was once just a pile of dirt. Channel that lovely pile of dirt, and reflect on how far you've come.