Latrobe, Pennsylvania has a population of about 8,000. It’s where Arnold Palmer swung his first clubs and where Mr. Rogers occupies a burial plot. It’s where the banana split was invented and where Rolling Rock beer originated. I was born there and stayed until I was 18 years old. We would do small town things—throw stones through the glass at the closed-down brewery, sneak out of my friend’s basement window to meet boys in pickup trucks, and rope swing into the creek that flowed below the train tracks.
Home was as comforting as it was suffocating, and I couldn’t wait to leave. Braving the move to a city, I was treated like I’d survived the 74th Hunger Games. You score heroine accolades—you become someone who escaped.
During the holidays one of my relatives began raving about how I am “living the dream.” I thought of the nights I’ve spent curled up in bed, wallowing in loneliness, the day I totaled my car and that time someone roofied me at a bar. “Good,” I thought, “the facade is working.”
I knew I would miss my family, that making friends would be difficult and that I would have to work on my street smarts a bit, but there were some culture shocks I couldn’t have anticipated. From mine to yours, here’s what happens when you leave suburbia for a city:
1. You discover no one cares that you’re Linda’s daughter and Lauren’s older sister.
In a small town, your dad’s friend is your mechanic and your mom’s coworker cuts your hair. In a city your last name holds zero clout. The auto body shop will try to rip you off and your hair dresser might botch your “just a trim.” There’s no accountability, but it becomes freeing. When you move to a city, you can be anybody you want.
2. You realize that food is actually really good.
Dinner out with family or friends used to mean you’d grab a table at Applebee’s. There was one main road that ran through the town where chain restaurants lined up next to each other and on weekends they were filled to capacity.
Once you move to the city, your taste buds are resurrected with ethnic, competitive dishes from original, local restaurant concepts; and brunch becomes a fourth meal. Suddenly, pizza has a texture between rubber and cardboard. Ethiopian food apparently exists, and it happens to be amazing. When you finally do go home to visit, you’ll wonder how on earth you made it to adulthood without some kind of vitamin deficiency.
3. You loath bikers, but you become a boss at parking.
The only thing you used to have to dodge in the street was an occasional bunny. Parallel parking was also something you hadn’t executed since your driving test at 16. In a city, bikers, unlike bunnies, will sue if you hit them (which, strangely, makes them more acceptable to hit). And as for parking, not only do you have to remaster the art of pulling in curbside, but you need to become capable of fitting your car into literally any form of space. Give it a week. You’ll seriously consider buying a SmartCar.
4. Your wallet decides if you’re going.
There used to be no excuse for not showing up. You’d meet your friends at a hole-in-the-wall where the bartender knew you by name. If you didn’t have cash, he’d spot you till next week. But a round of shots cost less than $10, anyway, so it was hardy a problem.
Now that you’ve moved to Miami and your “out” possibilities involve three story clubs with bottle service, you practically have to pay to breathe the dingy air. Fill the meter, buy a drink for $20, buy another, take a cab home, lose your phone in the cab, get your car in the morning, discover a parking ticket. And suddenly, in less than 12 hours, you’ve managed to spend that week’s income.
5. This is OK though, because your necessities are within walking distance.
There were only a couple “convenience” stores back at home, and if you didn’t live on that side of town, it might’ve taken a 20 minute drive to get there. In a city you can find anything from vegetable oil to soap to a tribe of armadillos by way of foot. And walking is still free, I think, though that pedicab driver would have you think otherwise.
6. Public transportation actually becomes NBD.
Back in Latrobe, if it was too far to walk and you didn’t have a ride, you weren’t going. Buses were something your kid sister took to middle school and the train stopped two towns over on the way to Philadelphia. In a city, you are exposed to the great world of public transportation, and you’ll have to come to grips with the fact that suddenly, the world really is your oyster. Literally. If you want oysters at midnight, the train goes right to the bar. It’s economical, ecological and easy to miss your stop if you aren’t paying attention.
7. Safety actually becomes a concern.
As a kid, you rode your bike in circles around your 30-foot driveway while your mom watched from the window. Your best friend’s parents didn’t even know where she was during the day, and if you both happened to just turn up at dinner time, then that was how the evening would go. Crime was rare in your hometown, and you always had someone looking out for you. In a city, it’s best you don’t search how many sex offenders live within one block of your apartment. Ignorance is bliss.
This is the hardest thing to come to terms with, and pepper spray becomes a girl’s best friend. Learning to trust your instincts, and your surroundings, comes with time, but when you first arrive in the dense neighborhoods of the city, everything becomes a threat.
8. You will spend a lot of time alone.
You haven’t missed your friends’ birthday party in fifteen years. It was often the same–dinner at a restaurant that got progressively fancier each year, maybe a movie. By your late teens, it included a visit to the local bar where nobody ID’d and you always knew at least one other person there. There was always someone to hang out with. In a city, there are no built-in friendships, and most of the people you come in contact with throughout the day aren’t looking for camaraderie. Even a simple “good morning” can be hard to come by.
9. People who are from your home town, region or state feel a connection to you.
On the contrary, while living within two hours of another person used to be of no value, when you live in a city and you find someone whose roots are similar to yours, this person becomes an immediate ride-or-die. You’ll pass them in the local Publix and take note of their hometown college sweatshirt, and it’ll be the first fulfilling conversation you’ve had in weeks.
10. The thought of returning to suburbia gives you anxiety.
Going home to what was once your normalcy now feels small and plain. It’s nice for a visit—time slows and familiar places remind you of who you are, or once were mixed in with something new. You’ll be back in that same old bar where they still don’t ID, even though they haven’t seen you in over a year. You’ll order the same drink, and take note that it’s decidedly stronger than the ones they serve you now in Miami.
Few things change while you’re away. Like maybe you’ve just been gone on a long holiday. But when you’re catching up with friends and the question arrises, the answer is, “No, I don’t see myself ever moving back.”