I left New York City for a small city in the South. Here's what I miss about my old life — and what I don't.
Welcome to The Moving Diaries, Livability’s new column following the relocation story of Jessica, a writer who recently moved from NYC to Asheville. Every week, Jessica will share a new chapter of her moving experience, from figuring out how to save money to how to make friends in a new city to how to move during a pandemic (spoiler alert: it’s complicated but possible). Thinking of moving to a new city yourself? Not sure where to start? Shoot us an email at email@example.com to submit a question for Jessica to answer in an upcoming Q&A!
My husband and I visited Asheville a few months before the pandemic began. Luckily, we got to have a normal experience of this small city to get a feel for what living here might be like. It was a tourist experience, of course. We don’t usually go out to dinner every night, for example, and I would definitely not buy a ticket for the Biltmore House unless my mom was in town. Still, a four day-visit introduced us to the friendly people, artsy culture and laid-back lifestyle that made us choose Asheville as our new home.
Once we decided to move, I made a “bucket list” of experiences to have in New York City before we left. In my 19 years of living there, I had done nearly everything I wanted to do in every borough. Somehow I had never been to Brighton Beach or Coney Island, so I wanted to visit both those neighborhoods; I would have loved to have seen the Broadway show “Come From Away.” My bucket list mostly contained my favorite activities, things I knew I would not be able to replicate in Asheville.
- Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art at least three times
- Have all-you-can-eat salmon tataki at my favorite sushi place, Yuka
- Take the A train to the Rockaways for a beach day, including fish tacos from Tacoway Beach and soft-serve ice cream from Rippers
With one year until the date we chose to move, the list would be doable. It could potentially even be my busiest, most culturally engaged year ever.
Then the coronavirus hit New York City.
I spent most of the last seven months as a Brooklyn resident inside my apartment or at the nearest park. I didn’t visit any museums, I only took the subway for doctors’ appointments, and I can count the number of times that I ate (outdoors) at restaurants on the one hand. Kale and I did make it to a beach once (Orchard Beach in Pelham Bay Park), but I have to say that wearing a mask on the beach felt pretty weird.
For this reason, it is tricky to separate what I miss about New York City, because I live in Asheville, from what I miss about New York City, because of the pandemic. In other words, I don’t know why I miss what I miss about New York City.
I probably miss restaurants in New York City the most. I feel guilty for writing that because there are incredible restaurants in Asheville. We knew from our visit (and from my Bon Appetit subscription) that Asheville is one of the country’s top foodie cities. Restaurants like CuratÃ© (where I’ve eaten) and Benne on Eagle (where I haven’t yet) regularly show up on national “best of” lists. I have eaten the best doughnuts of my life here (Hole Doughnuts), as well as the best burger (Buxton Hall).
Yet there are specific restaurants back in New York that I long to eat at again, like Jing Fong and Nom Wah Tea Parlor. Dim sum in Chinatown isn’t something I’ve found replicated here in the mountains of North Carolina, nor would I expect it to. But gosh, do I want a dim sum brunch on a lazy Saturday morning.
I also miss my favorite bookstores in Brooklyn and Manhattan. I lived near the Greenlight Bookstore location in Fort Greene and it was my “happy place.” Picking up an iced mocha coffee from Bittersweet and browsing at Greenlight – inevitably spending more money on books than I should – was a cherished way to spend an afternoon. McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore that has four shops around the city, is another favorite.
Asheville has a bunch of bookstores as well, ranging from a big ol’ Barnes & Noble to a worker-owned radical bookstore called Firestorm. Not surprisingly, I fell in love with Malaprops Bookstore/Cafe, an independent bookstore in downtown Asheville, on our first visit. Since we moved here in October 2020, Malaprops is the place in Asheville that I have visited the most. Not only does the shop have an incredible selection of books, but it is strict about mask usage. I feel totally safe browsing indoors there.
But unlike Greenlight Bookstore back in Brooklyn, I don’t live within walking distance of Malaprops. Like most places in Asheville, the bookstore is a short car ride away. It involves parking the car (and paying for parking). It’s not as easy to get what I want when I want it – entitled, yes, but very much a New Yorker’s raison d’etre! In fact, the biggest adjustment that I’ve had to make is no longer having the instant gratification that New York City provides.
What I miss about New York City is mostly hard to describe at the moment. But a list of what I don’t miss is easy to do. I don’t miss the relentless noise, walking in the freezing wind, and pushing a shopping cart of groceries up a hill anytime I wanted to shop at Trader Joe’s. I don’t miss weird smells in subway cars, “standing room only” rides at rush hour or feeling the drip of a mystery liquid from the ceiling while waiting for a train. I don’t miss the stress I felt all the time.
My happiness improved enormously when all of these inconveniences left my life. They were quality-of-life issues that built up slowly over time, ultimately propelling me to leave. And so I don’t think I can say that I truly miss New York City. At least not yet.