The last month has been a whirlwind. I haven’t been in one city for more than 4-5 days at a time, making me feel pretty nomadic and awesome, but also leaving me exhausted (and longing to sleep in a bed that is my own (twss)).
After finishing my PhD the natural question was: ‘What now?’ I spent the last months of my degree ignoring the next step, focusing on the task at hand and being so longing for a break that I convinced myself I might just move back home and retire when I was finished. My parents beamed with pride at the thought of this. Of course, right after my defense my mind jumped five steps forwards: ‘What do I do now? Where should I go? When can I leave?’ One thing I was sure of was that I wanted to leave Toronto. Although I love the T-dot, it’s not somewhere I see myself settling down, and regardless I want to see more of the world before I do that.
I knew I wanted to live in New York City before I had ever even been there. Having lived in the three biggest cities in Canada – Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto – moving to New York seemed simply a natural progression of my urban trajectory. Unfortunately, the logistics about how this would happen remained unclear. When I recently learned that one of my scientific idols was based at NYU Langone Medical Centre, however, a dream-like path suddenly lay before me. Somehow, I was going to go work for her after my PhD, and kill two ultimate goals with one stone: big city living and big time cancer research.
Let The New York Times begin!
A few weeks after my defense I e-mailed her, and was thrilled to get an invitation to interview at the end of March. ‘This could really happen!’I thought to myself. I figured I should visit some other labs while I was there, so I got in touch with several other PIs and ended up getting two more interviews, one at Columbia and another at Sloan-Kettering medical institute. The trip was set! Unfortunately, I was also scheduled to move out of my apartment in Toronto by April 1st, leaving me two days to pack up upon my return from NYC. Then I found out a friend was visiting Toronto until April 4th...no problem! I planned to stay with my friend in North York from April 1st-4th. I figured I could get packed up before I ventured to NYC and have two days to get everything out. An unexpected trip back to Vancouver 10 days away from my NYC trip, however, made the next 3 weeks suddenly look quite daunting: 4 days in Van => 3 days in TO => 5 days in NYC => 2 days in TO => 3 days in North York (basically a different city if you ask me ;) => move back to Van. Oh, and did I mention I would travel to and from NYC by 12hr bus ride, and stay in a different residence or hostel every night?! Giddyup.
I could get used to this!
NYC was a complete (amazing) blur, but if anything is clear in my mind, it’s that the city is made for me. As soon as I stepped off the bus and into the buzzing, glitzing, jammed downtown Manhattan streets my heart was happy. I made an impromptu (and in retrospect, brilliant) decision to walk from the bus station to the NYU residence where I was staying and felt like I was walking through Yonge and Dundas Square during a weekend festival...except it was a Monday night on 33rd street. People were still shopping on Fifth Avenue, joggers were navigating through the crowds, gym-goers were popping out from their workout on every other block, while others yelled drunkenly across streets, discussed business on some hidden microphone, or catwalked down the sidewalk dressed in a leopard-print fur coat and 6-inch heels. The best part was that no matter how ridiculous someone looked or acted, no one took a second glance. Everything – and I mean everything – goes in NYC. Naturally, upon my arrival at the residence at 10pm I decided to go for a run. I was again shocked by the number of people that filled the streets at this time, and by the joggers that I met around Central Park. In need of a late-night dinner, I walked into some random restaurant on my way home, not expecting much. Instead I was greeted by a menu of 20 gluten-free salads, each kicking the Joey’s beach out of the water. Yep, at that point I was pretty sure this city was made for me.
A salad containing everything but gluten #GFdream
I spent what little free time I had between full days of interviews running around Central Park in the early AM. That was an experience in itself. It must be the only place besides the paths of Eldoret where there are so many runners you feel like you are running in a road race at any hour of the day. Except that in NYC joggers simultaneously train for the best race costume awards. One morning I saw a woman in what looked to be circus attire, complete with face paint, a wig and fluorescent pink feathered leggings. And this is not on a Saturday at 11am where someone might be drunkenly jogging around in last night’s wild gettup. It was 6am on a Wednesday! But still, no one took a second glance. I started to feel uncomfortable in my boring blue shorts and top, and developed renewed thanks that Adidas generates particularly 80s-like outfits, such that I would conform to the vibrancy of the city on most occasions.
One of the coolest runs was seeing what were most definitely a couple of female Ethiopian elites galloping through the trails. I was running along the main paved path and caught site of them being paced by an Ethiopian male. They seemed to be doing some kind of cross-country tempo run, as they constantly zig-zagged through the trails, across the main path, up another trail, back down and across the main path, and over again, such that by virtue of their roundabout route I was able to keep up with them if I travelled in a straight line. Awesome. It was entrancing to watch them glide along and it made me push out of my pitiful slog, if not due to inspiration, to pure motivation to keep them in sight.
View of Central Park from the top of the Rockfeller Centre
Another thing I noticed about Central Park is a serious lack of washrooms. Perhaps I missed something, but during each of my runs there I failed to see a single washroom, let alone port-o-potty. I figured this was done purposefully to force people do their business elsewhere. But common’, for a park that is filled with metabolically primed runners, that seems like a pretty mean thing to do! Luckily for most of my runs I escaped the need. However, on the last day G.I. Jane made a serious appearance. 20 minutes of calmly ‘keeping an eye out,’ turned into 10 minutes of frantically re-navigating down random paths, to 5 minutes of sprinting out of the park in mad search of any establishment that would host me. Of course, I got out of the park on a residential side in which there were no stores or restaurants to be seen. Seriously?! Probably the only block of Manhattan that doesn’t have a Starbucks. At this point I had to stop running, as I was afraid any impact would force out a terrible explosion. Images of the G.I. Jane from Ottawa re-emerged in my head. After embarrassing myself in front of strangers’ lawns in the middle of the National Championships in 2011 I promised myself I would never go back to Ottawa. I refused to make NYC my second city of no return! This could not happen! My dreams would be crushed! In the midst of my terrorizing thoughts, I spotted a small store kitty corner to the park exit. ‘THANK THE LORD!’ I exclaimed in (near complete) relief. I hobbled up to the entrance only to discover that my exclamatory praise was well-suited, as the store was part of a large church. I walked in and asked the very demure woman at the counter if I could please use their facilities. ‘Why of course my dear,’ she reassured me, ‘Go through the church to the very end of the aisle, turn right, then left, then left again, walk down the corridor, then turn right, then there will be a small wooden door on your left. Lift the latch up and walk through, and it’s the second door on your left.’ I looked at her with puzzled eyes. I was too desperate to have her repeat any of it, however, so I quickly thanked her and started to make my way through the church maze. It didn’t help that it was pitch black and I couldn’t distinguish a wooden door from a cement wall. As my anxiety increased, so my biological clock ticked. By the time I reached the wooden door I thought I would have to beg forgiveness from the lord for the sin I was about to commit right then and there. Somehow I managed to lift up (what I guessed was) a latch, thrust the door open and plonk myself on the toilet. I could not have been saved so close to the end. I looked up to the ceiling in relief, and realized that this was probably the only time in my life that I had truly been saved by the lord. Only in New York.
Thankfully I survived the trip and the rest of my move out of TO and back to Vancouver, but without a number of other stories that I will be sure to tell in upcoming blogs. Is it normal to have sequels? For now, it’s nice to be under one roof and running through the peaceful trails of the Westcoast. Vancouver may be the only city that makes me wonder why I am going to NYC!