Life’s most rewarding journeys often begin in the most unexpected places. Five and a half years ago, it was the summer of 2006 and I was one of the two citizens from the American Legion Mountaineer Boys’ State chosen to attend Boys’ Nation in Washington, D.C. There are 49 Boys’ State programs across the country (Hawaii is the only state without one) ran by the American Legion where you learn about state, county, and local government through direct participation. Kids from across their respective state gather at college campuses (or in WV’s case a nice 4-H campground) and run their own government by holding elections and then actually learning what their office does through realistic role-playing exercises. Boys’ Nation is the national equivalent of Boys’ State where two boys from each state are chosen, and the Boys’ Nation senators learn about the federal government while simultaneously meeting Washington V.I.P.’s like their real-life Senators and Congressmen as well as the President of the United States. It’s one of the most prestigious honors that a high school junior can receive, and I’ve always considered it a turning point in my life. Little did I know just how true that would turn out to be.

If you had asked me where I thought I would be in January of 2012 at the end of that life-changing summer, I would have said that starting my second semester of law school in one of the finest law programs in the nation would have been the most likely scenario as I was planting the seeds for my future career in politics. If you had told me that I would be moving to NYC to begin an editorial internship for a small but quickly growing website specializing in indie music and that I hadn’t been interested in politics for nearly two years, I would have started laughing uncontrollably and asked what you had been smoking. That just shows how much we know about life back in high school. I came into college and began conquering West Virginia University’s political science department. I received almost perfect marks in all of my political science courses, became a favorite of many of the professors, and won a departmental scholarship that every grade level could compete for at the end of my freshman year. Cue the following four years of an increasing interest in academics and empiricism (which sadly has no place in America’s political culture) as well as my near total disillusionment with our nation’s political system and my own personal liberal heroes like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and it should shock no one that I no longer wanted anything to do with the political world I so desperately wanted to be a part of in my youth.

Since I was trying so hard to escape from my political past, it should seem immensely shocking that a face from my Boys’ Nation past would be the path for me to find my new voice. As some of the people who will read this post know, I began a blog devoted to reviewing movies back in February of 2011 and over the past year it’s focus has increased to cover a wide assortment of different media (music, television, video games, literature, etc). I was enjoying this writing so much that I wanted to take the opportunity to explore it professionally. I sent my resume, cover letter, and some samples of my writing to as many entertainment journalism companies as I could, but without any actual experience (and a major completely unrelated to the field), I never expected to hear back from anyone. Luckily for me, one of the boys that I went to Boys Nation with (he has since became a counselor at the program) heard that I was looking for a job. One of his best friends is the managing editor for the indie music website that I mentioned earlier. Kameron (my acquaintance from Boys’ Nation) put me in touch with his friend Joe (my new boss), and the rest is, as they say, history.

(My initial intention with this entry was to chronicle my journey up to New York from WV as well as my initial impressions about my new neighborhood after my first full day in the city. It’s obviously grown a little broader than that and I apologize for the fact that is likely to be a lengthy post.) After a lengthy and stress-filled hunt for an apartment, I finally settled on a place in Brookly’s Crown Heights neighborhood as time was running short and the price seemed reasonable. The night before I left WV to move to New York, my computer (which I’ve only owned since the week before Thanksgiving) crashed and went into an endless reboot loop that I wasn’t able to fix. To say that threw a wrench into my plans would be an understatement as it is my primary means of communication with the outside world and I couldn’t afford to buy a new one. To make matters worse, I spent the entire evening before I moved trying to fix my computer which left no time for me to organize the scant belongings I’d be able to take with me to the city. Rather than being able to leave at 7 AM when my mother showed up with her truck to help haul me and my stuff to NY, we had to spend the next hour haphazardly collecting my clothes and other belongings, and I’m sure things were left behind in the rush that I’ll only discover to be missing once I take the time to organize my belongings. On an empty stomach and with little sleep, I began my move without arguably my most prized possession (though thankfully my mom helped me get a cheap laptop as a hold-over until my computer is fixed).

West Virginia had been wracked by snow and ice storms in the days preceding my travels, and I was worried that weather might keep the trip from occurring in the first place. Add in the fact that NYC was under a severe winter weather advisory, and I was just a neurotic mess over the multiple ways this trip was already screwing up. Fortunately, we were able to avoid most of the inclement weather just up until we reached NYC itself when suddenly the snow decided to come down in its full force. The last time I came to NY, I parked my car in Jersey City and took the train into Manhattan so I could reach the office in the Village where my interview was taking place. This time, my mother’s GPS took us right through Manhattan itself in order to reach my apartment in Crown Heights in Brooklyn. My mother had never been to NYC before, and even though she thought she was a traffic expert from driving in Morgantown’s notoriously awful traffic as well as some of the D.C. traffic where she lives in VA, my mom nearly had a panic attack when she had to face Chinatown traffic for the very first time. I honestly thought that she and my sister were going to start crying because they were so nervous. Perhaps because I wasn’t driving this time (dealing with rush hour traffic out of the city after my interview nearly killed me), I wasn’t suffering from these same nerve problems, but I’m now concerned that my mom’s initial encounter with the endless flow of cars and people on the streets of Manhattan may ruined this particular concrete jungle for her and my sister forever.

Traffic actually seemed to get even more stressful for my mother when we made it into Brooklyn. Her tear ducts are blocked so her vision has been a little spotty lately to begin with but at some point during the drive, our headlights got so caked with slush and mud that they stopped effectively lighting the roads so with the snow coming down, we could hardly see anything. We eventually made it to my neighborhood all right, and that was when I got the biggest surprise of my evening. I found the apartment off a website called airbnb.com that one of my roommates had told me about back in Morgantown. At $660 a month, the apartment looked gorgeous from the pictures I saw, and since everything else was in the $900-$1000 range that I was seeing (in terms of what I would have been willing to pay), this seemed like an easy choice. When I saw the apartment itself, it actually looked even better in real life than it did in the pictures. It’s huge (my room is a normal NY size, but the rest of the apartment itself is simply enormous), and it’s just well-decorated and spacious and I love it. Of course, the payoff for the luxury of the apartment is that I’m 95% certain that my French roommate and I are among the only caucasians in all of Crown Heights…

I don’t intend for that to come off as a racist statement because it isn’t. I’m one of the most liberal people I know, and growing up, my family took care of four African American teenagers for foster care. I’m just not used to being a minority. I’m not actually the only caucasian in Crown Heights. Apparently, the neighborhood is a fairly even mix of orthodox Jews and Caribbean blacks/African Americans. I haven’t seen any other members of the Tribe except for myself yet (I don’t practice Judaism but it’s an ethnic heritage on my mother’s side of the family), and except for when I got on the subway, I haven’t seen any other white people yet. My roommate assures me the neighborhood is safe and that hes’ lived her for over a year without any troubles, but it’s still hard to shake this feeling of being out of place. I’ve gotten plenty of strange looks as the long-haired white kid that looks like he’s 14 walking the streets by himself but I haven’t felt threatened or unsafe at any point. To put this into perspective, I took the subway from Manhattan back to Crown Heights today, and during that ride, the subway started out with many more white people than black people, but by the time I got off at my stop (the train’s last stop), I was the last white person aboard the train. Now I know how all of the black people in Barbour County must have felt.

I’ve only been here one day, and I’m already bowled over by how many adjustments I’m going to have to make to how I live my life. I went to the “supermarket” last night to buy some groceries. I’m a bit of a picky eater (it’s a serious problem at this point in my life and easily my most prominent character flaw), and I instantly grew concerned at the lack of the normal foods I eat at the markets in this area. I’m going to have to either explore and find places that carry the food I like or learn to actually cook more than the things I can make in my microwave. Also, I’m going to have to learn how to be a pedestrian for the first time in my life. I had to walk to my classes in Morgantown, but I never spent more than a couple of minutes outside thanks to the PRT. I’m likely to spend a good 15-20 minutes each way outside in the currently freezing New York air which means I’m going to have to dress more warmly in the past. Thankfully, I stocked up on winter clothes during the drive up. I didn’t wear those clothes today and by the time I made it back to my apartment after exploring in the Village (and making sure I knew how to get to work tomorrow), I had almost no feeling left in my fingers. I am very excited though to discover great little hole-in-the-wall places to eat. I have a personal vow to not eat at any chain restaurants and instead give my money to small businesses that could use it more during the time I’m here.

I could honestly ramble over the many different things on my mind right now (how big of an opportunity this is for me, other clever song title puns I could have made for the title of this piece, the homeless man who thought I was a woman at first glance, spying Wayne Coyne’s doppelganger) but I’m suddenly hungry again and I’m going to make myself some leftovers of the Crown Pizza, Chicken, and Coffee pepperoni pizza that I ordered last night. It isn’t great and I’m regretting not ordering their hot wings instead, but I’m hungry and still don’t feel like learning to make real food for myself. I want to make posts like this a regular part of my blog experience. Either once a week or every other week, I want to take the opportunity to give everyone back home an update on how I’m doing up here with some pictures of the experience (none of these pictures except those of me are pictures I’ve taken obviously) such as pics I’ll snap at the shows I’m covered to assign as well as recording sessions baeble does and just my adventures around the city. This feels like a crucial turning point in my life, and I have a whole new chapter in the book of Don Saas that no one has written in. I’m here to make sure this is the most exciting and rewarding semester of my life thus far.

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