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I, Citiot


Feeling the urban squeeze.
Illustration by Zohar Lazar  

I pinned my hopes on a dairy farmer with a son in the preschool. She was lean and kind of hot. She always showed up in work boots and dirt-smeared clothes, and she had gentle brown eyes. We took to chatting about the dairy business at pickup time. Finally, as Thanksgiving approached, I worked up my nerve.

“Could we visit the farm sometime?” I asked. “It’s so new for us, it would be really exciting.”

“Sure!” she said. “My son would like that.”

“Great!” I said. “How about next week?”

She thought a moment. “Well, deer season starts Monday, so it’s going to be hectic for a while.”

I felt myself deflating. “Why is that hectic?” I asked.

She turned those innocent eyes on me. “Because that’s when we get our meat,” she said.

My jaw dropped slightly open. “We freeze what we don’t use,” she elaborated. “We hardly ever buy meat at the supermarket.”

For the first time, I made myself confront the fact that in moving upstate, I had quite possibly done something stupid. The tremor of fear buried in my initial e-mail came a little closer to the surface. I was worried about myself. Maybe I wasn’t going to make it here, after all.

Then winter came.

New Yorkers’ striking out for the country is nothing new. Half the time, I discover that people I’ve assumed are locals just came here from the city a lot longer ago. My babysitter, a 2006 graduate of Kinderhook’s Ichabod Crane Senior High School, is the offspring of New Yorkers who arrived twenty years ago. A friend named Irene Mitchell got here in the mid-eighties—she grew up on Tompkins Square, living in an apartment inside the public library, where her father was the custodian. My husband and I hit it off with a plumber, only to discover his roots were in Union City. He and my husband stand around the kitchen swapping crazed-driving stories like college buddies.

But the new crop—those who’ve arrived in the past five to seven years—is different. We’re here because we couldn’t afford to stay. I did the math: My family had to move 135 miles from the city to get a four-bedroom house for under $200,000 in a district with decent public schools. Recent émigrés tend to be casualties of the real-estate boom, a weird spin on the white flight of the sixties: Instead of our rejecting the city, this time around the city rejected us. It flushed us out because we couldn’t keep up. It demanded more of us, in terms of our ambition and upward mobility and materialism, than we were willing to give. Maybe we owned an apartment, and it became worth so much money that we decided to cash out and grab a better life. Or maybe we missed the buying train altogether. Nick Raposo, a writer for children’s TV, and his wife, Ticky Kennedy, a stay-at-home mom with a Ph.D. in early-American literature from Yale, weren’t just squeezed out of the New York market—they were too poor for New Haven. They bought a mid-nineteenth-century farmhouse on seven acres in North Chatham, where they’re raising their three kids. “For the price of the farm, we could get a nice one-bedroom apartment in the middle East Side in, like, the Fifties,” he says. “Or a two-bedroom in one of those horrible college towers. I’m sorry—you don’t break your piggy bank for that.”

Heather Campbell, a marketing guru, and Jeff Andrews, an e-commerce manager, were “old-timers” in an East Village co-op building who grew dismayed as the neighborhood changed. “When we moved in, the building didn’t have a managing agent,” Heather says. “So we all did something. I was the treasurer—I paid the bills. We all knew each other and would hang out together. Now people don’t want to get involved.”

But Heather and Jeff’s disillusionment went beyond real estate. “I had my life perfectly planned up to the age of 35, and then I didn’t have anything planned after that,” she says. “I had everything I desired, and then all of sudden, I was like, ‘Oh, I did it. And actually I don’t like where I am.’ New York just wasn’t the same anymore. You get into this cycle where you have to keep this job you hate because that’s the only way you can afford the apartment you love. You’ve bought a place, you’ve got a mortgage payment—you can’t all of a sudden decide to change careers and start making $17,000 a year again. It got to the point where the sacrifices we were making in order to be able to live there negated the purpose of being there.”


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