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Episodes: I happen to like New York


Emily VanDerWerff

May 25 2016

5 min read



Every time I go to New York City, I think I picked the wrong coast. Then, when I go back to Los Angeles, I realize I didn't.

To be sure, New York has almost all of the things I like about Los Angeles (the culture and the feeling there's always something about to happen and the general sense of living in one of the centers of civilization) with almost none of the things I dislike (the traffic, the bland, unchanging weather).

It has unparalleled public transportation. It has one of the world's great theater scenes (though LA's theater scene is hugely underrated). It has a lot of my friends. (LA, obviously, does as well, but the strange, sprawling nature of LA makes it harder to plan social outings. Then again, I've heard from New Yorkers that the same is true there, so maybe this is just a point against urban society in general.)

And yet...

The thing I'm realizing as I move from young adult to firmly "adult" is that most of life is accidental. I ended up in LA because I'd always wanted to live either here or in New York, and I got offered a job in Riverside (a town about an hour east of Los Angeles that we must never speak of again). But around that time, I was trying to get a relative to get me a job at a New Jersey commuter paper, one that would have put me within spitting distance of the city.

So what happens to me if he gets me that job? Does the New York media world eat me alive? Do I thrive? Do I somehow return to my brief college fascination with directing plays? Do I try to write them?

Or, corollary: When I took the Riverside job, the other offer I seriously weighed was in Omaha. It was less money, but more money in the sense that the salary would have gone farther in Omaha than a higher salary would go in Riverside. At the time, I could sense that basically everybody I knew was hoping I would go to Omaha, which was just a few hours from where both my wife and I grew up. And as if to sweeten the pot, we found this great, massive apartment in downtown, exactly the sort of place that somebody just out of college would want to move into simply to seem adult.

The reason I went to California was simple. Yes, I wanted to write for TV or about TV, and I knew that moving to LA was a better place to do that than Omaha. And yes, the weather seemed nice. But the reason I left was because I didn't know the version of myself that lived in California, and I could tell you everything about the version of myself that lived in Omaha, right down to how many kids he had and what regrets he had in old age.

And I still don't know who I am in LA in a way that slightly excites me. How many kids does he have? I don't know yet. What does he regret? Probably everything. That, ultimately, is what keeps drawing me back. The version of me who moves to New York is a version of me who pushes all his chips in on working some sort of media job while writing the occasional book. And don't get me wrong -- that's a version of myself I like very much.

But life seems to calcify you, bit by bit, until you only have a few avenues open to you. And in LA, I still feel like I have the most possible avenues, even if a bunch of them are effectively dead ends. (For as much as I think it would be fun to open a restaurant, I would be absolutely disastrous at it.) I can still see all of these trajectories jetting out into possible futures.

And, of course, you can't predict anything. I could be hit by a bus tomorrow. I could decide to take over my father's farm 10 years from now (I doubt it). The world could end. Everything could change. Nothing could change, and life is what happens when you're making other plans. I know the definition of hubris is to think you know what's coming. But all the same, if you pay attention, you can usually sort of see where the various timelines of your life are heading, off into the gloom, assuming all things stay the same.

Maybe that's why LA still makes me feel a little less grounded, like I might be swept out across the Pacific. In New York, I feel like I know who I am, like I know who my friends are, like I know my hobbies and routines. And I can feel the ghosts of all the Todds who found their way there sooner or later, much more clearly than I can feel the alternate versions of myself that are in LA.

Maybe that sounds heady, but that's why I travel. Not just to see other parts of the world and understand how people live there, but to understand all of the other people I have been and could be. It's all an accident, all happenstance, with a few decision points along the way. Make the most of them.


Episodes is published at least three times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox Dot Com.

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