Live Broke In A Big City
My 20’s were a really good decade. My priorities were as follows: 1.) Hustle everyday to figure out my career, and 2.) Have A LOT of fun. We (Brian and I) moved to New York from Oregon in 2001, when we were 22, with absolutely no plan and barely any money saved (well, Brian got into NYU grad school so HE had a plan, but not me). The decision to do that, informed my whole life. Obviously, and yet in a lot of ways it was totally irresponsible – which is exactly what you are supposed to do in your 20’s. Not be irresponsible, but take risks and be adventuresome even if your bank account tells a different story.
Here we were; the day we left to drive cross country to New York. I wish I could say it was also Halloween or perhaps some sort of local “dress like a weirdo” holiday, but it wasn’t. It was 2001, and that is just what we chose to adorn our bodies in.
We were so up for adventure and didn’t care that we didn’t have an apartment lined up, jobs in place, or any friends there to meet us. There was a spirit and fire in us that I can only hope my kids have at that age.
I think back and wonder HOW we had so much fun when we had no money. We are conditioned in society to correlate the two – and obviously in a lot of ways it is true, but man did we make some insanely fun memories without spending a dollar. I was bartending at night, and walking dogs during the day, then later worked retail. Our rent was $1200 for a tiny 400square foot studio apartment. And then after we broke up, I moved to Spanish Harlem by myself and paid $1100 on my own (this was in 2002, that same apartment would be $2k now at least). I remember often having under $100 in my bank account and I wasn’t in a ‘borrow money from my parents’ situation.
But the thing is, when you are 25, and have just a couple hundred bucks in your bank account you make your own fun. You live with too many roommates, you seek out the hole in the wall indian joints and eat a lot of rice to fill up, you sneak into Broadway theaters at intermission. You might even make a table out of a stop sign and a saarinen base.
In case you are wondering what the heck is that, don’t worry, I’ve got a closer photo:
Our standards and expectations on what qualified as a good time were lower, so the fun we had was so high. The city had so much to offer as the fun just existed in the city naturally. Sure, we saved to go see a show, and once a year got super dressed up to go to a really expensive dinner, but other than that we hung out, and made ourselves freeloading tourists – waiting in lines for cheaper tickets to things, walking around for hours, hanging out on stoops and people watching. We even had our engagement party at a 6th street Indian restaurant that was BYOB, and we told all our friends to do just that. Nobody cared and it was a total blast.
So whats the point? The point is that if you have an inkling to live in a big city, but have very little money JUST DO IT. This is the only time in your life that you will be able to do something like that. I’m not saying that I’m old and lame, but basically now I’m old and lame. When you are 22 you don’t know that living in 400 square feet with another person is uncivilized, or maybe you do, but you don’t care. The older you get, the more comfort and space you want and need. You have your things, your king bed, your huge squishy sofa. Now that we’ve lived in a house in LA I honestly don’t know how I would go back to small city living, but I’m INSANELY glad we did it when we did.
Living in a tiny apartment forced us to always be out, and being out forced us to have fun and see the city and world. We would bring food/drink to central park and literally hang out all day with friends. We would camp out next to the outdoor concerts that cost money and drink and listen to the music for free. We would bar hop and try out like 13 different bars a night – although this was before drinks cost $17 each. We would go to the cheap off broadway shows that were either amazing or terrible. We went to The Moth every week, bad improv all the time, and when we were invited anywhere that seemed to have a cool art scene, we felt like we had made it. And we had. We were cool.
And we travelled. You’d think that not having any money meant that you can’t leave the country but we did. We went on an all-inclusive resort-y vacation to the Dominican Republic that cost $500 for flight/hotel/food/booze for a week, and then later to Vietnam and Laos where we lived on $15 a day (including lodging). Now we labor over every hotel and restaurant choice, but back then we didn’t care, we were psyched to be anywhere different. But looking back we should have travelled more and done even weirder sh*t.
While I don’t want to go back to wearing say, cotton chaps and a vintage teenage mutant ninja t-shirt, there was a freedom and liberty in being 26 that is harder to access when you are 36.
I know a lot of people who say “I would have loved to have lived in New York” but they didn’t, and now, after having a proper house, kids, etc. It’s probably not going to happen. So if you want to do it, or if you don’t, just be sure to get outside, travel, do weird stuff, live broke, work your ass off creating some career (even if it means dog walking during the day) and have a hell of a lot of fun, you will never get this time or age back again in your life.