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By my own standards I am a true New Yorker. I was born and raised on Staten Island; I moved to Brooklyn in my 20s; I lived briefly in Queens; I spent a couple of years on the Upper West Side and three more years on the Upper East Side. I knew the Bronx would be my next stop, but I was worried that life there would not match the experience of “City” living. Was the crime there really as bad as I had heard? Would I miss the luxury of having dozens of restaurants, bars, and shops surrounding my apartment? Would my cat object? Did I really want a longer commute? Would my friends come visit me? Could I still really consider myself a New Yorker? I was getting older and starting over was getting harder, and I just didn’t know what this famously tough borough had in store for me.
Prior to moving to the Riverdale section of the Bronx I lived on the second floor of a 1918 railroad apartment on the Upper East Side, sandwiched between cars buzzing along the FDR and the jackhammers and subterranean explosions of the Second Avenue Subway project. If I wasn’t listening to frat boys puking at 2am, I was shouting above the blow dryer and the yippy-barking from the doggy spa downstairs.
In the Bronx, I was surprised to find my mornings filled with the sounds of song birds and children going to school. In the evenings I hear the almost romantic sound of the 1 Train, slowly pulling into the train yard at 242nd street after a long day of shuttling commuters. Police sirens are so rare now, I actually notice them. I like that.
When they say “one-bedroom apartment” in the Bronx, they generally mean a separate room specifically designated for sleeping. For two years I lived in an Upper West Side apartment advertised as two bedrooms for $2,100 per month. My bedroom was created by building a wall right through the middle of what was once a nice sized living room. I had to climb a ladder to reach my bed, which was located in a crawl space quaintly labeled a “sleeping loft.”
The apartment I moved into in the Bronx was over 900-square feet, rent was $1,300 a month, and it actually had six closets. I also have an eat-in kitchen that has not been converted into a second bedroom. This is still New York City, so the Bronx apartment is far from perfect. In the summer the heat is oppressive being on the top floor, and in the winter, well, the heat is also oppressive due to the old steam radiators. But come on: six closets!
I can’t say for certain why, but I have seen some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets of my life while looking out of the windows of my Bronx apartment. From my bed I can watch the sun rise over Van Cortlandt Park, as a fiery red orb illuminating the early morning sky. Never before had I witnessed the drama of the sun setting behind the Hudson River and the GWB, painting the sky with intense shades of amber, red, and orange. The other day I was walking home as the sun set, and I marveled to see so many people stopping on their way home to snap a picture with their phone or to steal a moment from their hurried New York lives to appreciate their neighborhood bathed in the light of the setting sun.
For those who bother to look for it and appreciate it, wildlife is everywhere in the Bronx. From my bedroom window, I can watch red-tailed hawks perch on the weathervane above Manhattan College. I have seen groups of deer browsing on Hunter Island, and coyote tracks in Pelham Bay Park. We have the famous Bronx black squirrels. In winter, bald eagles patrol the frozen Hudson River in search of an easy fish dinner. On walks with my dog, I keep an eye out for skunks and raccoons. I even taught my wife how to convince a black-capped chickadee to land on her hand, as if she were Snow White.
There is a noticeable absence of pretense in the Bronx. The Bronx has so much to boast about: it’s the birthplace of Hip-Hop, it’s home to New York’s real Little Italy, Arthur Avenue, there’s the famous Bronx Zoo and The New York Botanical Gardens, there’s the multitude of seafood restaurants on City Island, there are no hipsters, and there are the Yankees. But people from the Bronx don’t tell you where they are from and wait for your reaction of awe. Bronx pride is understated in a dignified, stoic, definition-of-cool sort of way. I’ve learned to love that the most.