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SoCal New Yorker


SoCal New Yorker

Chet Anekwe

Jetblue flight 623…

Row 6.  That’s my row.  And always an aisle seat.  So either 6C or 6D.  I always pay extra for these larger, “economy comfort” named, seats.  I like row 6 because it’s an exit row, with no seats directly in front of me.  I can literally stretch my legs out completely in front of me.  

This is my route.  Once or twice a month, almost every month, I fly to NYC from LA.  I almost always fly JetBlue and I almost always sit in row 6, seats C or D

Now I am 20,000 feet in the air, going through some turbulence.  The plane is jostling up and down, swaying side to side. Flight attendants just told us to take our seats and fasten our seat belts.  It is pretty rough right now that I’m afraid it might even wake up Busta Rhymes, who is sitting in the last, Mint Business class, row, in front of me, catching some, I would imagine, much needed Zs..  Woo-ha!….  Nah looks like he is sleeping right through it….

Me?  My mind is in LA.  Thinking about getting back to my wife, Rebekah, and our young 3 month old son, who grabbed his Mom’s phone and tried to kiss it when he saw my face when we Face-timed yesterday.  It brought me to tears.  I lie….  I flat out cried like a baby..  Yeah, my mind is there…

However a piece of my heart always remains in the Big Apple, New York City

My daughters still live there with their Mom.  I see them every time I go back.  We have a thing we call “ethnic dinners” where we choose a different ethnic restaurant to have dinner.  This time I attended my youngest daughter's elementary school graduation. They fill me with joy and I love every second I spend with them.  But they are not the only reason, a piece of my heart stays in NYC.   

NYC is my first love.

I lived tons of places.  My parents, and subsequently I, moved around quite a bit.  However it is NYC that serves as the thread that strings my life together.

My maternal grandfather, great and grand mothers all lived and died in Harlem..
My parents met and married in NYC. (I was even conceived in NYC)

It was NYC we fled to, when my mother kidnapped us from my father’s house in Lagos.  
It was from my mother’s house in Queens, where I got my acceptance letter to Philips Exeter Academy.

It’s where:
- I met and married my daughters' mother.  
- We divorced as well.  
- My youngest daughter was born.  
- I met the love of my life, Rebekah.

All NYC.

The vibrancy of it.  Its tough veneer, but soft heart.  It is at once loud, over populated and aggressive, yet there is not a place on earth you can feel more alone. It is constantly moving, but rarely changes.  It can build and toughen you up, then tear you to pieces in the same day.  One of the few places on earth, where you can completely be yourself and no-one will bat an eye. And yet, it forces you to change.  Bends you to its will, till you merely become part of the cornucopia of humanity the collide every day into waves of energy that vibrate the city.

When I left NYC to go back to Nigeria for college, I didn’t expect to be gone for 10 years.  As the years began to accumulate, I was increasingly aware of my longing for NYC.  I would feel a lump well in my throat watching movies set in NYC.  I would recognize a street and get involuntary goose bumps.  The subtle emotional withdrawal would, at times, physically manifest itself.

When I finally came back, I went to live with my brother about 40 mins from NYC in New Brunswick NJ.  I would take every opportunity to go.  I would hop on the NJ transit and head back to my city.  I would walk around without sunglasses, because I didn’t want my senses to be artificially obstructed.  I moved back the first real opportunity I got.

I love Harlem the most.  For a multitude of reasons, but the main being, I consider it the one and only true Black village in America.  The one place where, throughout the dark, racial history of America, black people felt safe to just, be…..

But the city requires emotional rent from its inhabitants.  The city takes tithes from you. It exacts its emotion mortgage, like an angry mythological God-like landlord.  It leans on you, gradually eroding parts of you, till they either calcify and break or whither away, destroyed.  Thing is, you won’t know which one will occur till it has, and both leave you in pieces..

I've seen it wear down the elderly, the sick.  Seen it eat away at the innocence and gentleness of people from milder places, turning them into cynical suspicious beings who always have their guard up.  It’s tough being at attention all the time.  At all times, being acutely aware of your surroundings, people, events, traffic, escape routes, “see something, say something”, all while making sure you never look someone else in the eye.  

We finally got out.  We moved.  I had once proudly professed that my license would always have a NYC address, yet we moved cross country to Southern California.  Yeah, the quintessential NYCer now lives in SoCal.  And you know what, I love it.  There were things I didn’t realize weighed on me, until they were lifted.

I no longer spend the day worrying about Rebekah on her commute to work.  Like the one day, some asshole starting cursing her out because she was following traffic rules, but he wanted to backup illegally and she was blocking him.  “Fuck you bitch!  Move the fuck back!”…. All because he didn’t see another fellow NYCer, sitting next to her,  her husband, that would have gotten out of the car with the quickness, because I stay ready…  

And then there is that. I have to be ready to protect and defend my family in an instant if any situation arises on the streets or literally anywhere in the city.  From grabbing and jacking up a strange, crazed drugged out woman, who onetime ran towards Rebekah pointing in her face, yelling racial obscenities.  Then calling me a sellout, after I slammed her against a building, for protecting my “white” wife.  

To more serious situations

I was riding the A train from Harlem, with my eldest son, who was 11 at the time, towards World Trade, with another drugged out, but very large man was screaming obscenities at the whole subway car.  Vile, violent things.  How we were out to get him and he would “slit a nigger’s throat” if anyone tried anything.  I looked up around me at the car full of morning commuters, all nervously looking away, ensuring their eye contact did not meet this crazed aggressor.  Then I broke the cardinal NYC subway rule, I turned and looked directly at him.

I did this because this was in the aftermath of a case where a shooter killed commuters on the Long Island Railroad.  It was said the man was yelling while loading a gun.  And because no-one wanted to look at him, did not notice until he started shooting.  

So I turned to face him.  I wanted to keep him in my sights..  And exactly what everyone else feared, happened.  

The crazed guy focused on me.  He did not move from where he stood, but directed all his vile obscenities and anger towards me.  I, sat silently, but never broke my gaze with him.  At our stop, I got up and motioned my son in front of me and we got out of the train.  I looked up and saw that this crazed guy, using the door closest to him, had ALSO got out of the train! He was now, standing on the platform, pointing and screaming at me.

I looked at my son, there was deep fear in his eyes.  I said “Go upstair to the booth and wait for me there.  If I am not up in 5 mins tell the attendant what is happening”.  As he ran upstairs, I turned to the guy, opened up my stance and stared back at him.  People were walking around us briskly,  heads down, with no-one, I mean no-one, stepping between he and I, who were no more that 12 feet from each other.

We stood, me, silent, him, screaming, for what seemed like an eternity.  However just as the train’s door started to close, he stepped back inside the train.

I went to find my son.  He was scared but ok.  He said he was scared that guy would have hurt us.  I said “If he was able to touch you, let alone, hurt you, it means, I am already dead”.

I had no clue what that guy was going to do.  But I have always had a saying since my days in college : “If I see a madman walking down the street, I’ll cross to the other side.  If he crosses to meet me, that day, I will be madder than him”

I was scared, but I swear by all I know to be true, I was ready.  I was prepared to throw that guy, and myself, onto the third rail if it meant protecting my son. It would have to been over my electrocuted body for any harm come to him..

This is the edge I chose to live on while in NYC.  How can one sustain that?  How can one constantly be on guard for any event or situations that could arise on any street corner or train station or anywhere in the city.  At one point, you either begin to curtail your existence, or you leave.  We left.

To be fair it was more a great job opportunity for Rebekah, and the terrible NYC winters, that did us in.  However being in SoCal, I realized the toll my city was taking on me.  It was considerable.  We now live a lighter, easier life.  In just one year, my wife, has returned to the sunny pleasant easy going Michigan/Wisconsin girl, she was when she first moved to NYC.  She didn't like the hard boiled egg, NYC made her become.  Now, she’s sunny side up.  All puns intended…

For me, my hard NYC core remains, but I am enjoying my new higher quality of life.  With the great weather, riding my motorcycle along the PCH coastline, In-N-Out burgers, what's not to love? Even though I miss NYC all time, I get my fix with my monthly visits.  I think we are in SoCal to stay… My new hastag is #Socal_NYCer….

….yeah but….even till today…..I still have my NYC license…….

- Chet Bashari Anekwe -