Trusting the Journey

I still can’t believe I ended up in New York.

When my internship hunt began last fall I wanted to stay in the Boston area, where I am comfortable and where I feel safe. Boston is familiar; it is a constant. It is an anchor in my otherwise change-filled, stormy existence. As a result, I never seriously entertained the thought of moving to another city for a job, especially a city as large as New York. I have nothing against the Big Apple, however it takes a special person to thrive amidst the hustle and bustle. New York is not for the faint of heart – it is big and fast and uncompromising. It is the type of place that will eat you up and spit you out if you aren’t careful. You have to keep your head on a swivel and your focus sharp otherwise you will get overwhelmed by its unrelenting pace. Some people thrive in New York; others wilt under the pressure.

I distinctly remember having trouble adjusting years ago when I visited the city, a time when I was far more mobile. Every time I’d come down to visit I’d end up with a massive headache, whether it was from the adrenaline rush or from sensual overload. I never felt comfortable in New York. Fast forward to last November. New York was still not a credible option. Even if I found a job in the city, I thought, the logistics would be a nightmare, or at the very least a hassle I didn’t need to endure. Fate apparently had other ideas. One night at the last moment I decided to attend a company information session, and came away impressed. I felt I had nothing to lose in applying. Next thing I know I was booking a train down to New York in the dead of winter. Shortly thereafter, I was given an offer I couldn’t refuse.

So naturally, where am I writing this from? New York. As I’ve learned by now, life doesn’t follow a script. It’s funny how it all played out. I remember telling myself at each stage of the interview process that I wasn’t going to go through with it, but a voice deep within kept telling me it was a risk worth taking. Every time I wanted to stop the process and withdraw my name from consideration, I said yes when I was convinced I was going to say no. At the end of the day, it was the right opportunity, at the right company, at the right time in my life. This chance may never come along again. The hourglass of my mobility is slowly, steadily, draining towards empty. If I didn’t move to New York now, would I ever get this chance again, while I can still walk on my own two feet?

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When you can’t walk the streets, find a rooftop.

I am three weeks in, and am happy to report that I have acclimated myself quite well. Thanks to the support of my parents and my fellow BC’er who I’m interning with, the logistics have worked. I am happy with my decision, especially since it is only for a summer and it provides a perfect test run of the city and of the job. I have adjusted about as well as I can reasonably expect. However, the adjustment has not been without frustration. When is it ever?

I used to love walking down streets and getting lost in my surroundings. New York has some of the most beautiful architecture in the world and a variety of neighborhoods with varying degrees of grit and charm. Each street is famous and unique in its own way. Going for walks was always a favorite activity of mine. Exploring neighborhoods always added context to my life. To have my ability to walk slowly taken from me, as you can imagine, has been excruciating. I don’t mind not being able to run and I can live without climbing stairs, but walking freely has been the toughest ability to lose. Since New York is so big and so many of the subway stops are only accessible by stairs, I have to be driven everywhere. I can’t tell you how many buildings I’ve passed by that I want to see in greater detail, or restaurants I want to wander into and eat everything on the menu.

In Boston I have been able to distract myself from what I’ve lost by focusing on schoolwork and spending my time with friends. I know which places I can go to and which to avoid due to inaccessibility. Here in New York, it has been quite the learning curve. It has taken me a while to build up comfort with the city, and believe that there are actually places I can go to that are accessible. Right now whenever I hear about a cool place I check Google Street View and Yelp, only to find out more often than not that I can’t get in. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, yet I still often feel like an afterthought in an able-bodied society that values “historic preservation” over inclusion. I can’t even imagine what it was like 25 years ago.

But none of this is new to me, nor is it unexpected. The most difficult adjustment has been in answering questions about my disability. Since I am in a new city, in a new place of employment, I am surrounded constantly by new people. Inevitably, I am getting a lot of questions such as “Did you injure yourself?” or “What happened to your leg?” as I fill up my cup of water or while I’m being driven to work. Some people have asked where I live, and when I tell them it’s only three blocks away, they say “Oh nice, it’s not a bad walk then.” For that answer, it’s best to nod.

It’s not a fun spot to be in. On one hand, when someone asks about my crutches I could say “Actually, it’s not an injury, I am disabled” and watch as the person’s face contorts in horror. On the other hand, I could outright lie and say “I injured my back”. I don’t like either extreme, so the best answer is usually somewhere in between; a half-truth if you will. “Yeah, I’m having leg problems” or something like that. The fewer words the better. Usually when they realize you are not willing to talk about it they drop the subject. When they ask where I live and assume I can walk three blocks, I know they mean nothing by it.

These questions hurt. They force me to have to answer about why I am different (my crutches and how I walk), yet deep down I know that the person is sincere and wants to feel empathy for me, so I have to answer respectfully. If I answer “Yeah, I can walk it under extreme duress”, they become humiliated, I become humiliated, and no one leaves that conversation feeling good about themselves.

This is why I like to tell everyone – especially if I am in a new group of people – as soon as possible about my condition. Although I don’t like bringing it up, it’s like pulling off a band-aid: it is better to get the pain over with as soon as possible.

You are probably thinking by now that I’m having a terrible time down here, but I assure you that is not the case. Improbably, despite these bumps in the road – and that’s what they are, small speed bumps in the grand scheme of things – I have adapted to my surroundings. You see, a city like New York shows you quickly what you are made of. Although I’ve encountered the inevitable ups and downs, there is nothing this city can throw at me that can compare to what I’ve been through.

New York has thrown me out of my comfort zone, but then again I can’t remember the last time I was in my comfort zone. Playing it safe won’t get me to where I want to be. At this point in my life, I have come to believe that there is something greater at work, and I have to let it play out. The dots are connecting. Whether I am actually on the journey towards the cure for my disease, or I have merely tricked myself into believing it, I don’t know.

But what I do know is that I am not satisfied. Until I can say that I can walk those three blocks home without lying through my teeth, until I can say yes to going somewhere without dwelling about accessibility, until my body doesn’t feel like a prison anymore, I will not be satisfied. I will put up with every disappointment, every frustration, every question, every societal injustice I have to if it makes it worthwhile in the end.

I still can’t believe I ended up in New York. Then again, I’m right where I need to be.

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My favorite building in New York, the Flatiron building.

New York City

I can’t say that I expected to write a blog post so soon about New York City, simply because I had no reason to go. However, things can change quickly. When you are a business school student and you don’t have an internship locked up by this time, and a company offers you an interview, you take it no matter where it may be located. For most people, a quick trip down to New York City would be a no-brainer.

For me? I had to use my brain on this one.

I love New York, and in a different life might already be living there. But I’ve chosen to stay in Boston, mainly because I am familiar with the city and am surrounded by a support system that enables me to maintain a high quality of life. That said, I always think about what it would be like to live in New York.

If things break my way, I may soon find out. Last week I was offered a chance to interview at a company down there that I’m interested in (a company that I’ll leave nameless for now since I am superstitious and haven’t gotten an offer yet). Surprisingly, it wasn’t an immediate yes for me to agree to the interview, as the thought of traveling to and from New York, given my lack of mobility, was a bit frightening on the surface.

In fact, part of me wanted to turn it down right off the bat, which in retrospect would have been a terrible idea. Had I done that, I knew deep down I would have regretted it. After careful thought and weighing the pros and cons, I decided to take the challenge head on. It was an opportunity too good to pass up.

I was in New York City for less than 24 hours, but it felt like a week. I took the trip down after a full day of class, right on the heels of an enormous winter storm (I refuse to call it Juno) that rocked New England. Fortunately, the streets were well-plowed, and I was being reimbursed for my Uber trip, so I didn’t have to dwell on the surge pricing. My trip was also made easier by the fact that I wasn’t going alone – two other classmates were interviewing as well. They helped me with my bags and my suit, so that I never had to carry anything the entire time. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to go!

We took a 5:20 train down to New York. I had never taken the Acela before, and let me say, it is SO much better than the Northeast Regional. It helps when someone else is paying for it, sure, but the convenience, the quiet and the lack of stops is worth the cost. Food? Adult beverages? Yes please.

Once we got to Penn Station, we took a cab to the hotel we were staying at, the UN Millennium located right next to the United Nations. The cabs in the city come fast and furious, and it was easier to hail one than to request an Uber (which is not the case in Boston).

The hotel itself was nice, and the employees were extremely helpful and courteous. I have to say though, from an accessibility standpoint, I was disappointed. There are two towers in the building, the East Tower and West Tower. My classmates were in the West Tower, and I was in the East Tower (or was it the other way around?). In order to get to the tower they were staying in, I had to go up three stairs. That may not seem like much, but when you are in my situation, that might as well be an entire flight of stairs. The other option was to go outside, walk to the other building, and enter there, but I thought that was ridiculous, so I didn’t go over. I didn’t think too much of it. After all, the view outside my room was breathtaking.

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My hotel room view.

The next morning I headed downstairs to meet my classmate for breakfast before our interview. I got to the lobby, walked over to the restaurant, only to see that it was down a staircase. I was astonished.

This building was built in the 1970s, which, although that predates the Americans with Disabilities Act, should mean that everyone can easily access the hotel restaurant. Instead, I had to flag down the concierge and have him lead me the way, which if I recall the steps correctly, was to go up to the 2nd floor, walk through the restaurant kitchen, go down two levels in the service elevator, and exit the kitchen. I felt like I was trespassing. For someone in a wheelchair, it would have been difficult, maybe impossible, to navigate the kitchen.

So yeah, that was a little frustrating. Fortunately, the day more than made up for it. I had a great interview, and a positive experience at the company’s headquarters. People were extremely friendly, and I was given all the assistance I needed to navigate the offices. Fingers crossed I’ll hear some good news this week!

After the interview, I went back to the hotel, changed in my friend’s hotel room (I had to bite the bullet and go up the stairs), then camped out and took a nap on one of the chairs in the hotel lobby. Meanwhile, my classmates decided to be Lewis & Clark and walk up and down the city. When they eventually made it back from their three-hour voyage, we took an Uber to Penn Station (shout out to Sherwyn our driver who was secretly a Pats fan!) and headed to the train. Well, first we had to fight off crowds of crazed travelers. New York walkers have three speeds: fast, faster, and I’m going to run you over. It was 5:15 on a Friday, so it wasn’t surprising that everyone was hustling and bustling. It was an obstacle course not to get trampled on or bumped into, as I would most definitely have gone down. I learned long ago to stay out of the way when in crowds. Somehow, I survived unscathed and on my feet.

We arrived back in Boston around 10:15, and I was home by 11. I was exhausted after a long day. I slept until noon on Saturday (and could have slept all day if I didn’t have midterms to study for next week).

All in all, the trip was worthwhile. I got to leave my Boston shell for a day, and build confidence for the future that I can go somewhere big and relatively unknown and stay standing. If all goes well, maybe I will be back here in the summer.

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The view from my classmate’s hotel room.

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