October 28: the 11 year anniversary of my move from Texas to New Jersey. Feels so very incredibly long ago. And I wouldn’t have even remembered today as the exact anniversary, but luckily my dad maintains this super detailed calendar at home, complete with world and family events and milestones. And, apparently I share the anniversary of my move with the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, which was completed 49 years ago today!
I moved to Houston right out of college, ironically, because I didn’t want to follow suit along with the rest of my graduating class and move to Chicago. It’s just what Illini do, it seems. (And it just took me nine years to later join them.) So I chose Houston. It probably wouldn’t be some people’s first choices, but aside from my pipe dream of moving to New York City, there wasn’t anyplace else in particular that I had much desire to be. So I bunked with my sister and her husband and their growing family for a bit, and then I moved into my own place. It was my first time being out on my own. And in hindsight, Houston was probably a fine choice. Life there was easy. And easy was good, considering it was the first real “city” I ever lived in.
After spending three years in Texas, I thought I was getting settled there. I had a solid group of friends. I generally liked my job. I bought a condo. But then I got a job offer in New Jersey. The stars somehow aligned because the job sort of found me; it wasn’t something that I had applied for. And all I heard was, “20 miles from Manhattan.” I didn’t really think twice. I just thought I’d be going from one big hair state to another. More importantly, I knew that if I didn’t take the opportunity that presented itself, I’d always wonder, what if? Fortunately, I haven’t found myself ever wondering, what if I’d stayed in Texas?
Illinois to Texas was culture shock. But Texas to New Jersey was even more culture shock. While both states may like their big hair (and fake nails), there’s not much more that they have in common. My early days in Jersey were not easy. And they were not fun. And I had never heard so many people — well-educated, intelligent people — drop F bombs in the workplace. So much of what I thought I’d like about Jersey — the fast pace, the no-nonsense attitude, the big city life — was so intimidating in those early days. I remember crying, wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into and why it had to be so hard. I was a wee 20-something from southern Illinois, after all.
My first apartment in New Jersey was in a high-rise just across the Hudson from Manhattan. Being a somewhat naive 20-something, I was focused on being as close to Manhattan as possible without being in Manhattan, and a modern building with amenities that I was accustomed to in Houston. In addition to culture shock, I suffered from sticker shock. Apartments with swimming pools and gyms cost a lot more in New Jersey than they do in Texas! But the most devastating blow I was dealt in my new home was my first electricity bill of the winter… I was certain there was a mistake when I read my bill, which said that my electricity for one month cost $600. Nope, no error. Apparently living along the Hudson River and having lots of windows in your apartment can be a bit pricy to keep warm in those cold winter months.
But in time, things got better. I ditched my fancy apartment and moved into a really sad — but vintage! — apartment in Hoboken, a town so much more my speed. I think the word my dad used to describe my apartment was “sketchy.” The word I’d use to describe it is “affordable.” I spent my weekends and then some in Manhattan. I made friends. I partook in bagel Fridays at work. I spent summer days down the shore. I may have joined in the F bomb dropping in the office a time or two. (I still blame Jersey for the foul mouth I have to this day.) I grew to really love Jersey and defend it with pride whenever someone would knock it (I still do). And for a long time after I left New Jersey to move further up the East Coast, I felt like I was going home every time I drove back to New Jersey, oddly.
It’s funny how life has a way of working out the way it’s supposed to. When I was nearing college graduation and firing off cover letter after cover letter to companies in New York and New Jersey and hearing rejection or worse — nothing at all — I got discouraged. I truly thought the East Coast wasn’t meant to be for me, so I moved on. And then just when I got comfortable — maybe too comfortable — New Jersey came knocking.
I’ve written this much about New Jersey without a single Bon Jovi reference, but I’m not quite finished. Jon Bon Jovi once said, “New Jersey shaped who and what I am. Growing up in New Jersey gave you all the advantages of New York, but you were in its shadow. Anyone who’s come from here will tell you that same story.” I concur.