The FreshDirect ad said, “This winter, the smart money is on soup.” Only a year ago, it was on synthetic CDOs. Such was our not yet dearly departed grim season, with its wave after wave of viruses, brutal weather, and headlines pulled straight from the apocalypse.
As a mood of insecurity verges on panic, New Yorkers are entertaining plans for slipping away. A woman I know, who was elbowed out of her job of ten years, is thinking of upping sticks for the Hudson Valley and going full druid. An old attorney friend was out of work before the market crashed and quickly discovered a job market in seizure. He’s now planning a motorcycle diary in the Argentine Patagonia. A twentysomething gallery-girl friend writes: “My funds are lowwwwww … but I’m eyeing the Sihanoukville shack scene for late spring!” The direst plan I know comes from an old classmate, now a titan of finance. “You want a life hedge, in case the U.S. goes T.U.,” he says, referring to the British vulgarity tits up. “Norway, Canada, and Australia. You’ll want somewhere resource rich.”
Edging it back from the brink, what if one left the city for a breather? Living in New York City, after all, is an open marriage. You are allowed to stray. And current airfares are seductively, strip-teasingly cheap (Europe under $500, Sydney under $900, anywhere domestic for a song). My eye has started wandering back to old paramours. To Tasmania, where the wine and abalone are plentiful and the surrounding waters so clean that kelp forests plunge 115 feet down to the seabed. Or maybe to the scrub islands of Georgian Bay, the giant gunnysack slung over the shoulder of Lake Huron, where bird cries ping off granite outcrops. Or here’s a weird one: Kansas City, the loveliest town you’ve never been to, with its landlocked stolidity, its bubble-free economy, its café-filled neighborhoods that “relax and spread,” as a poet once said of spring leaves.
Like almost everyone else in New York, I have a bank account that is lowwww, but as active an imagination as I’ve had in ages. The downturn is, barring disaster, an invitation to relax. The mania for keeping up incomes and appearances, for dressing in accordance with the stage set that New York had become, has broken. Winter is receding; the time has come to ease into spring, if cautiously. I started biking over to Prospect Park earlier this March. I’ve blown consecutive afternoons searching real-estate listings in the Faroe Islands. The urge to resist the comfort of the well-worn groove is growing. Forget the soup; the question is, Where should I go?