I’ve always been a little confused as to why my mother was teary-eyed and even my stoic-of-a-dad developed a noticeable lump in his throat that day at LAX. For my sophomore spring break, I would be leaving my home in the suburban bubble in Southern California known as Cerritos, and visiting my relatives and go sightseeing on the East Coast. 15 years old, and brimming with excitement from the expectations of my journey, I waved goodbye one last time from the other side of the airport checkpoint.
After the 5 hour plane ride, I arrived at the Newark Airport in New Jersey. I could almost immediately feel something different about the place. There was an intrinsic and subtle quality in the air here that didn’t exist back at home. Maybe it was just because the weather was colder (anything below 70 is considered freezing where I’m from), but the place simply felt different. And I loved it.
I saw the Hudson River, ridiculous amounts of trees, mansions, narrow and sloping roads, and a myriad of features I would not see at home during the drive home with my aunt. Even though I was living in Demarest, New Jersey – a small quiet suburb – I was genuinely fascinated at how different suburbs from opposite coasts could be. The “suburbs” where I’m from normally entail sparse foliage and identical townhouses neatly organized around roads specifically created for cars.
The most significant part of the journey was Manhattan, also known as “the city” (only tourists actually call it Manhattan), and it completely transformed me. Getting lost on purpose, then finding my way using maps or asking for directions was my favorite activity. I had never seen jazz musicians, beggars, businessmen, kebab vendors, or so many different people from all walks of life on one street. Everything was so new, but charging into the unknown never made me feel so at-home.
New York was a new frontier that I simply couldn’t get enough of. Full hustle and bustle, the city inspires a unique vitality for life in all of its inhabitants, and that distinctive quality must have rubbed off onto me as well. It was a stark contrast to the easygoing suburban lifestyle back home. Over here, almost everyone looks busy with their lives whether it’s the business executive at Wall Street or the dedicated street performer at Central Park. Overall, the electric environment here stimulates everyone to find a calling and work hard to achieve success in whatever niche they belong in. Freedom and responsibility are high in supply and that seemed to be a more powerful incentive to succeed than anything else I had experienced before. This new, fresh outlook on life was the unidentifiable feeling I had felt when I first stepped out of the Newark airport.
Now I’m at the LAX airport again, but as a slightly different person. My parents pick me up late at night. They share puzzled looks as they see their son walking towards them with a swagger that only city slickers have and a tall starbucks espresso in his hand. Maybe that day when I was leaving was simply a dress rehearsal for the real thing. I love my home and am fully appreciative of it, but I hope to walk past that checkpoint line again one day. Next time with more baggage, mom bawling, my dad even sniffling, and although I too will be fighting back tears I will be at-heart the 15-year-old kid raring to go explore what’s in store for my life in the east.
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