When I first moved to New York after a decade in Boston, I got a lot of weird reactions from people. I heard:
— “Boston isn’t a city. It’s a small town.”
— “Don’t you just love living in New York compared to Boston?”
— “I hate Boston. No offense.”
— “New York makes my ADD flare up.”
— “New York is dirty and dangerous.”
— “The Yankees suck.”
Though far and away, the question that I got most was, “Which city do you like best?” People asked this with expectant, suspicious looks on their faces, their estimation of me predicated on my answer.
The question aggravated me for a number of reasons, one of them being that I found it impossible to answer to anyone’s satisfaction. “Neither,” I said. And it’s true. I love both cities for different reasons.
Another reason it grated is because asking someone which city they like “best” suggests a sort of false permanence. For any one city to be better implies that everybody wants the same thing, that the city never changes, that you yourself never change. Whether you love one place above another is entirely contextualized to your life. Think about all of the places you’ve lived or visited. Your experience of those places is heavily influenced by your age, viewpoints at that time, your preferences, and the people you’re with.
As an example, for years I was unable to step into an IKEA because when I was 12, my mother yelled at me in one. Man, did I hate IKEA and all of their smörgåsbord-fahrvergnügen furniture! I associated that giant blue-gold warehouse with feeling sad. I was almost 30 years old before I went into another IKEA, and I’m only now realizing the gravity of having missed so many Swedish meatballs.
There are a lot of feelings wrapped up in the places we love. When I lived in Boston, I was in my 20s and going to grad school. I had my first adult apartment. I had a major relationship breakup. It’s the place of my first full-time job, my first experience with politics. It’s the home of my mugging. Boston was a great place to be a big fish in a small pond. I tend to see it as the city that nurtured me into adulthood.
In New York, I sometimes feel unhinged, in both good and bad ways. On the one hand, I can do almost whatever I want. On the other hand, I can do almost whatever I want. Scary. This is a big pond with big fish and little fish and medium fish. That’s why the sushi is really good. This is also a city that embodies contradictions: there is good and bad and ugly and beauty. It’s international and huge, provincial and small. This is how I see New York – it represents all the warts and glories of adulthood.
Loving both cities doesn’t mean I can’t clearly see the differences between the two. There are, of course, points of parity, some areas where one city edges out over another. I can only speak for myself and my own experiences, but I also think that I’m a fairly good judge given that I’ve lived in both places. To fairly compare the two, we have to take a look at the considerations people make when choosing city life. Things like:
The rent is too damn high in both places. Apartments are small and real estate agents are leeches. However, in New York, the rents are somewhat higher and there aren’t as many cheap neighborhoods. New York will also try to sell you a closet as a “cozy studio.” Though New York has better views, Boston has brownstones and cobblestone streets out the wazoo.
2. Public transportation
In Boston, the subways are fairly clean and color-coded, but they only run until about midnight. In New York, the subways are labyrinthine, sometimes smeared with poop, and they run 24/7. Boston’s subway has a cute name, “the T.” New York’s subway is called many names, none of them cute. But however we New Yorkers feel about the MTA, New York’s public transportation has to carry more people to more places than most other major cities, and it does it with few hiccups.
Winner: New York
I’m the wrong person to ask about any city’s professional sports teams. I don’t care. I can’t muster any enthusiasm. Whether your team is good or terrible, it says nothing about your hometown or your own accomplishments. Maybe the Yankees suck, ok? Maybe the Red Sox need to clean up a little bit. And yeah, maybe hockey is the Fredo of team sports. La la la la I can’t hear you.
However, I do find sports fans fascinating. Right after 9-11, I went to a Red Sox game where, in support of the tragedy in New York, the entire crowd sang along to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” Years later, New York returned the favor when, after the Boston Marathon bombing, the crowd at Yankee Stadium sang “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. These acts of kindness are unheard of between the two rivals, where, on any given night at Fenway, you might get beat up for wearing a Yankees hat. This proves, once again, that sports fans can be greater than the sum of their own team.
Godammit, now I’m crying. I love all of you. Stop fighting.
Winner: Boston, because Fenway. C’mon. It’s a great park.
New York wins. I’m sorry, Boston. New York runs the full gamut from terrible to transcendental, but the best here is the best everywhere. Except for burritos. Nobody does burritos quite like Anna’s Taqueria in Boston, and I cannot find an equivalent here in New York. Still, I’m too busy eating pizza, burgers, and donuts to feel too sad about it.
Winner: New York
Winter sucks in both places, though Boston sucks just a teensy bit more.
Winner: Definitely not Chicago.
New Yorkers can be rude, but Boston is on par. In general, city people are bustling assholes who always have somewhere better to be and you’re getting in their way. They’re also engaging, funny, and fiercely loyal to one another in time of strife. But maybe most importantly, city dwellers can put away the booze!
You can see why it’s so hard to choose. After all the calculations are made, it’s pretty much a wash for me. The only deciding factor is this: Boston was right for me then, New York right for me now.
So please stop asking.
*There won’t be a Round 2 unless we somehow drag L.A. into this fight.