Why I Love Visiting New York City in the Summer

Why I Love Visiting New York City in the Summer

Growing up, I always assumed I’d live in New York City in my 20s. I wanted to be a magazine editor, after all, so I watched and re-watched “The Devil Wears Prada,” imagining what my own path might look like. Later, I read and re-read Joan Didion‘s famous essay “Goodbye to All That,” in which she writes that she was in love with New York “the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again.” I yearned for my own love story with the city.

I did get a taste of living in New York when I was 21 — a fresh-faced summer intern at a fashion magazine, not unlike Andy and Didion. My best friend and I spent the summer working in Manhattan and living in Williamsburg, taking the creaky J train every day over the glimmering river. We shared a queen bed — really, just a thick mattress on the floor — in a bright apartment with no air conditioning. We absolutely loved it.

The comfortable warmth, even as the sun died, always felt like a promise that anything could happen.

There was so much to behold. Summer in New York City then was a taste of what life might be like in the real world: those commutes on the train and dates in Central Park and after-work happy hours on the Lower East Side. We drank wine on our fire escape, talking about lofty questions late into the night, and we explored the city’s lush parks and cool museums and too-expensive restaurants. My favorite time of the day was right before sunset, stepping out into the golden light with just a T-shirt on; the comfortable warmth, even as the sun died, always felt like a promise that anything could happen.

In the intervening years, I never did live in New York City. I moved to Washington, D.C., after college, and stayed there for several years until I moved back to San Francisco, where I grew up. I’ll never say never, but I often feel like my window to move to New York City has passed. I’m not the fresh-faced magazine intern I once was.

So maybe that’s why I absolutely love visiting the city now, and especially during the summer. I know this can be controversial — even happy visitors lament the smell of melting trash and heavy, humid air in June, July, and August — but even the sweat and smells are charming to me. They signal that people have emerged from all corners, that we’re all sharing in these days and nights that stretch out forever. And the city comes alive in a different way than, say, during the holidays; it takes on more of a languorous, easy vibe than it does during the rest of the year.

My most recent trip was just a couple of weeks ago, and it was a quick one — I was there for the relaunch of PS, and enveloped in the intensity of being there. I was reminded that New York always feels like the center of the world, made even more obvious this time because I was staying in the heart of Manhattan. I was graciously hosted by EVEN Hotel New York, of IHG Hotels & Resorts, whose Times Square South location is situated just a few short blocks from the center of it all. Locals, of course, will tell you that you shouldn’t spend much time in Midtown, where all the tourists congregate. But never having spent much time in Midtown myself, there was something electrifying about it all, almost like I was visiting the city for the very first time.

One night, it was perfectly warm but not hot, so I left my hotel in just a T-shirt. I walked up towards the middle of Times Square, where the skyscrapers’ screens illuminated the faces of passersby in neon hues. There were cars honking and babies crying and music wafting from somewhere; I smelled roasted nuts and body sweat and cigarette smoke.

The chaos of it all was life-affirming. When I walk on the streets of San Francisco, it’s so quiet I can hear my own breath. But in New York, it’s impossible not to bump up against so many disparate lives. As I rubbed shoulders with businessmen and foreign tourists and tried-and-true New Yorkers, it reminded me that we’re all living out our own stories — that there’s always beauty and struggle and grief and joy happening at every second of every day, all around us. I’m confronted with that in New York more so than any other place I’ve visited.

Of course, I’m not sure I’d have the stamina to deal with the overwhelmingness of it all day in, day out, through all four seasons. Eventually, even Didion left the city she loved so much. I can’t deny, though, how intoxicating it is to stand on a New York City street corner in June, the warm breeze convincing you anything could happen next.

Lena Felton is the senior director of features and special content at PS, where she oversees feature stories, special projects, and our identity content. Previously, she was an editor at The Washington Post, where she led a team covering issues of gender and identity.

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