For the most part, our arrivals offered reasons that were not radically surprising, but that were optimistic, heartening, and endearingly dreamy. No one, for example, said he’d moved here to take advantage of a depressed rental market, but many offered some variation on “I came here to live out my dream.” Marc Devine, a 38-year-old jazz pianist, followed a kind of personal Taj Mahal pilgrimage: He’d been living in Austin, and the club he played at shut down, so he sold all his stuff and moved to Harlem, where he now lives one block away from Minton’s, one of the most important jazz clubs in the world. Others admitted they’d come because, believe it or not, they hope the job prospects will be better in New York than they were back home. (If you think it’s bad here, try Florida.) In fact, if anything, the severity of the recession served not to anchor these people to the spot, but rather shake them loose—stripping away the last excuses that might have stalled them from moving in the past. (When you get laid off from your job, or get dumped by your boyfriend, New York is the best revenge.) And nearly all of our arrivals share the same irrational, blind bravado that spurs someone to relocate to the most expensive city in the country in the middle of the worst recession in a century. You know, the same kind of irrational, blind bravado that may have once spurred you to move here yourself.
Kit Schultz, for example, is 28 and just arrived from Columbus, Ohio. In some ways, her story could have been told anytime in the last 50 years, and in other ways, it’s very typical of right now. She lost her job as a nanny late last year and found her prospects were dim. Before Christmas, she went out for drinks with some old college friends who are living in Brooklyn, and they invited her to come out and stay with them. So she packed a van, headed east, and arrived in New York on New Year’s Eve. A new year, a new life, she thought. Now she says, “I am having a great time here, but it’s also very hard. I’ve never been this poor in my life. I don’t exactly know what tomorrow’s stories will be or even how I will pay my cell-phone bill. But I am confident this city will continue to open up for me in ways that I cannot even imagine, and I look forward and forward.”
That seems like a pretty good motto, not only for our brand-new arrivals but for the slightly beleaguered city to which they’ve arrived. So to inspire Kit and all the other newly minted, forward-looking New Yorkers—and, frankly, all the rest of us, too—we asked several more-seasoned citizens to tell us what their arrival in the city was like, whether that happened 76 years ago (David Dinkins) or last fall (James Franco). Diane Von Furstenberg came by boat with a suitcase full of stencils, then got invited to lots and lots of parties. Andy Samberg lay on his couch, shooting at mice with a water gun. Richie Rich met Madonna on his very first day here. Maggie Gyllenhaal hid from a man on PCP. Padma Lakshmi lost her vegetarianism to a series of street-cart vendors. And everyone, in one way or another, fell in love—with men, women, hot dogs, drugs, even the subway (vampires be damned), and, of course, with New York, a city you never just move to. Because you always remember the day you arrive.