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Waking Up to New York


Connie Chung, newscaster
Arrived: 1983
I came to New York to work at NBC News. They put me up at the Helmsley Palace hotel, and I thought New York was incredible, fully based on the fact that I was staying at the Helmsley Palace hotel and ordering room service. NBC finally asked me, “When are you going to get an apartment?” So I finally did.

Padma Lakshmi, Top Chef host
Arrived: 1974
I first came to New York on Halloween night. I was 4 years old and flew on Air India’s unaccompanied-minor program. I remember landing, and seeing all the big buildings, and being super-excited about this new adventure, and also, of course, being reunited with my mother. She was waiting there to pick me up.

There weren’t that many Indian groceries in Manhattan back then, so my mother would take me on little field trips: to Jackson Heights for Indian spices, to Chinatown for noodles and Asian vegetables, to Spanish Harlem to eat empanadas or find sugarcane and tamarind. She wanted to introduce my young palate to all types of flavors and cuisines and ingredients. She didn’t want me to be left out at school, and she wanted me to be able to eat everywhere.

My mother worked at Sloan-Kettering and we lived in subsidized housing on the Upper East Side. I remember roller-skating down from 81st Street and meeting her for lunch in the summers. We’d eat falafel from a pushcart on First Avenue. Looking back, I’m amazed how much we ate street food. My perfect meal would be a pretzel with mustard and then an Italian ice. I was a vegetarian for a lot of my childhood, so I would order a hot dog but tell him to leave the hot dog out—just the bun and the fixings, like sauerkraut and mustard and relish. Slowly I started eating hot dogs.

Agyness Deyn, model
Arrived: 2006
The only people I knew when I arrived were the band the 5 O’Clock Heroes. They took me under their wing and got me a room with one of their mates. It was an office on West 10th Street. I don’t know what they did there; I would come in and they were all at computers, on the phone. I just would run in and sleep. I loved how fresh New York was. I felt like I was the star of my own film. One day, I came across Trash and Vaudeville and tried on some jeans. The guy at the checkout counter, Jimmy, looked like Iggy Pop, all rock and roll in his leather pants and long scraggy blond hair. He looked at me and went, “No, no, no,” and got me the smallest-size jeans in the store. “The tighter the better, darling.” After that, I would go into Trash and Vaudeville whenever I was at a loose end or feeling lonely. I’d sit there and chat with Jimmy, and he’d tell me old stories of New York.

Andy Samberg, comedian
Arrived: 1998
I moved to New York with three friends from summer camp. Two of us were going to NYU, and the other two were in that self-loathing, debaucherous postcollege year of self-destruction. We crammed into what probably should have been a two-bedroom on Bleecker and Macdougal and sectioned things off into a four-bedroom by putting up a lot of curtains.

That was an absolute disaster. We were all really broke, and those dudes were out of control. There was no one in the house that did any cleaning, so by halfway through the year there were rats and mice everywhere. I grew up in the Bay Area, so I’m fairly “at one” with nature, but this was different. California nature is lovely. New York nature is disgusting. At first, I was really grossed out by it, but by summertime, I remember lying on my couch watching TV with a water gun, and every time a mouse would run out from behind the TV, I would just spray it. There was no “Let’s try and catch them”; it was just like, “Take a hike, buddy.”

The mice kind of became a part of the house. We weren’t feeding them or anything, but we definitely got less skittish around them. It’s interesting how much you can adapt to when you don’t have the means to fix it. We did get the sticky traps once. But when one got stuck, we were all too scared to get it and throw it out or kill it. Literally, we were four college-age dudes curled up on the couch listening to it scream for three days. We took turns going back and peeking at it and yelling, “Oh God, it’s there! It’s dying! It’s dying! What do we do?” But you can’t get it off; if you pull it, you rips the limbs off. The humane thing to do would have been to smash it with a hammer, but no one had the stomach to do that, so it was pretty awful.


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