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Motown to Manhattan: a few observations

This is the second installment of the Detroit Stories series. If you haven’t already done so, check out the background of Detroit Stories and the first installment, an interns take on Detroit.

This is a guest post by Erica Moss. Erica and I met through the social web and became friends. Her enthusiasm and passion are contagious. She’s also pretty damn smart and full of creativity.

Erica Moss is the social media and outreach coordinator for the online Masters in Nursing program at Georgetown University. She adores Mexican food, Taylor Swift, community building and Michigan football.

We couldn't have been more excited to see this New York City sign. We were blissfully ignorant as to how far away from the city we actually were.I didn’t grow up in the Detroit area. I grew up in a sleepy little suburb of Grand Rapids, I’d never been to a Tigers game and I knew very little about the Motor City. So when I moved to the 248 three years ago, there’s no way I could have known the impact it would have on me and the amazing people I’d come to call friends.

And then everything changed.

OK, so I’m being dramatic, but in July, my husband and I really did pack up all of our possessions (including one white English bulldog) and embark on the 12-hour drive to New York City. He had been accepted to Columbia Business School and would be pursuing his MBA for the next two years.

I was apprehensive to say the least. We had built a life in Royal Oak, and I wasn’t ready to leave that behind. I was perfectly content driving to work every day, calling my beverage of choice “pop” and living only a short car ride from my family.

New York City looks good on us, don't you think?We’ve been here for about a month-and-a-half now, and while it’s not the complete 180 I expected it to be, there are some distinct differences between Manhattan and Motown. A lot of them are food related—lay off me!

A few things I’ve learned so far:

It’s ALWAYS soda. As Michiganders, we’re aware what soda is, but we all call it pop, right? New Yorkers are quite the opposite. They simply don’t know what pop is, and if you ask for one, you get the deer-in-headlights look. And don’t make the mistake of requesting two refills of your “soda” at the restaurants that charge you full price for each one.

Almost every restaurant posts its menu out front. This is genius, and a product of the walkable nature of the city. It allows you to check out what they have to offer before committing to a table, and also prevents you from sitting down at a restaurant that charges you $20 for a burger (this is NYC, after all).

All of the McDonald’s locations are deplorable and slow. I know what you’re thinking: Why am I bothering with a fast-food chain when I have access to some of the greatest restaurants in the world? Well, sometimes a girl has to get her Chicken McNuggets fix, but I’ve learned to subdue it after several trips to different locations around the city. There’s trash everywhere, the tables are dirty and there is simply no urgency to fulfill your order in what any person would consider a reasonable amount of time. I asked a native New Yorker about this, and he validated my experiences, saying they actually used to be worse than they are now, but that the company has made steps to improve. We’ll see.

Every single pizzeria is “New York’s favorite pizza.” And they get away with it by putting quotation marks around the phrase. It’s comical.

You haven't had pizza until you've had it at Grimaldi's in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn.

You notice subtle differences in everyday phrases. When you order food from a fast-casual restaurant, they ask you if you want to “stay here” as opposed to what I’m used to: “for here or to go?” At retail shops, they say “on line” versus “in line,” such as “Next person on line, please!”

If you buy groceries, they always double bag everything. Once again, it’s a product of the fact that people walk everywhere. And since you’re going to have to haul your goodies home on foot, be sure you don’t buy your milk, apple juice, green tea and laundry detergent in the same trip.

None of the ATMs are outside. Almost all of them are housed inside their respective banks, and if it’s after-hours, you have to swipe a debit or credit card from that institution in order to get inside the bank and gain access to it. A good safety feature, I guess?

The Subway system isn’t nearly as scary as I thought it was. I really only have to worry about the 1, 2 and 3 trains, for the most part, and all you need to know is that the 1 is local and the 2 and 3 are express. And the public transportation option on my Google Maps app is a lifesaver — I couldn’t get around without it. Oh, and the Houston Street stop is pronounced “Howston,” not like the city in Texas.

If the DJ plays “Empire State of Mind” in da club, the people go nuts. Kind of like when the “born and raised in South Detroit” part comes on during “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

OK, that’s all I’ve got for now. It feels like I learn something new every day in this giant city, so if the fabulous Becks Davis is up for it, I might be dropping some more New York knowledge on you guys very soon.

Did any of my observations surprise you? Do you know something about the city that I don’t? Just want to give the Mosses (or Mona) some love? Feel free to light up the comments section.

Follow Erica Moss on Twitter.

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Reader Comments (10)

I really liked your insights Erica! I actually did the reverse trip you did. I'm a born and raised Jersey girl then spent 5 years in the Bronx to pursue higher education. New York was always in my sights and I had deep passion and drive to be there. After I graduated I decided to do a year of volunteer service in Detroit. It was a huge adjustment! I didn't understand this whole thing about coneys, to meet that was amusement park at the end of the D. I had to drive everywhere, and to me there was a huge drop in the amount of people walking around. But I fell in love with Detroit because of it's amazing sense of community and the numerous amount of opportunities to make real change. Best of luck in NYC!

September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

Danielle, thank you so much for your comment! I loved your remark about Coney, because, of course, to me it's simply a hot dog with chili on it. Visiting the actual amusement park is on my to-do list. :) Are there any hidden gems (restaurants or otherwise) that I should also check out?

September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErica Moss

welcome to the island! I am from Detroit but I have lived here off and on since 1981. It sounds like you may live on the Upper West Side if your husband is at Columbia. I live on the Upper West Side also and I have a Vernor's stash. If you want I can take you around the neighborhood and decode NYC. They WILL look at you like you are nuts if you say 'pop' and no one says purse here's a pocketbook.....xxSusan

September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

I've come around quite a bit to the virtues of Detroit pizza, but to me, it's NYC 'za uber alles. Cheap, ubiquitous and oh-so tasty. Your post made me miss the city. (Brooklyn '95-'96.)

September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSven Gustafson

Great post! Your comments resonated w/ me, being married to a Jersey girl who has also lived in NY. She always says "on line" --and I used to think she was referring to the interwebs. ;o)

September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave Moss

First, I love this post because I can hear you saying it and I miss your voice! I remember the "Howston" thing as well from when we visited. The "New York's favorite pizza" thing cracks me up as I remember that as well. We really wanted great pizza when we came there - to experience NY to the fullest and we kept laughing that everyone deemed their store the best. What a fantastic city and I love to see your adventures through twitter & instagram. Miss you though in the D. ;)

September 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElena

Just yesterday two friends from the D commented how the smells in NYC are aggressive & assaulting. Are you noticing that? I didn't have that experience, however, it's been more than a decade since my visit.

September 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Great post, interesting insight, Erica. The first time I went to NYC, I was walking down the street with my friend and randomly decided to get my eyebrow pierced (she got her nose pierced). I'm so glad you're not as spontaneous as I am in that regard.

That said, please keep us updated about other subtle things you've noticed, as the only thing I ever noticed was "Wow, Times Square looks a whole lot bigger on TV!" (It does!)

Also, I would very much love to read a post such as this from Mona's perspective. Just sayin'. ;)

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStacy

@Susan: We are on the Upper West Side, which is nice because it's such a short train ride for the hubby to school. I love the purse vs. pocketbook thing; I've also heard that "tennis shoes" are actually "sneakers" here.

@Sven: Thanks for the comment. I had no idea you lived in Brooklyn for a year; I hear some spots there are becoming just as expensive as Manhattan.

@Dave: I also think of the Interwebs when I hear that phrase! I do remember you saying your wife was from New Jersey, so I'm sure you could relate to a lot. :)

@Elena: You are too sweet! I love that you had the same reaction to the pizza thing, but the next time you visit, I can point you to the actual "best" pie. ;) I promise to keep the updates coming, and I miss you guys oh-so-much.

@Catherine: Your comment made me laugh! NYC is definitely not known for smelling like roses, but fortunately for me, I have a poor sense of smell, so it likely doesn't impact me as much as other people. Trash day is especially ripe, though, as restaurants and apartment complexes pile bags upon bags on the curbs.

@Stacy: Ha! I shan't be getting a piercing anytime soon; rest assured. :) I will definitely keep the updates coming, and I'll see how Mona feels about a first-person account of her experiences.

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErica Moss

The "double bagging everything" is partially rooted in the old days, when nefarious elements still controlled the paper products business in NYC. They'd go around to all the restaurants, delis, and the transactions went something like this:

Delivery guys: "Your order of bags, straws, and napkins is here. That will be four-hundred bucks."

MR. shop owner: "But I didn't order any paper products!"

Delivery guys, strategically open their jackets : "Uh yeah, you did. Now wheres our cash?"

Ever wonder why NYC delis universally used to give you a bag, straw and stack of napkins when you only purchased a can of soda? Or why floor space -arguably a NYC retailers most valuable asset- was readily given up to stack packages of paper products and/or bags?

There ya' go.

September 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertoke!

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