Last weekend I was up in Woodstock with my husband. We rented an Airbnb and spent a few days hanging out with friends, going to lakes, and cooking with local produce. It was like a Kinfolk feature! Coming back to the stinking, sweaty, loud city really got me thinking: would it be better to just move upstate full-time? We'll never be able to buy an apartment in NYC anyway, and it just seems like you could get a house up there, take it easier, and raise kids with much less stress. Why don't more people do this?
A Native New Yorker responds:
There are a number of reasons why moving upstate is a terrible, no-good, very bad idea, but the first and most important is winter. Have you ever tried to put chains on your car in a ice storm, just to get a carton of milk from a supermarket ten miles away? Only to discover that your battery has frozen and the driveway is impassable from last night's snow, and also the bus isn't coming to pick up your kids so you should probably tell your boss you won't be coming in this week? And it's only December! Wait until February and the weather really gets bad!
Every summer I have at least one friend who floats this idea of moving upstate- usually after a long weekend in Phoenicia or Rhinebeck or Woodstock-one of the quaint towns. You rarely hear someone come back from one of the more beat-up places on the south side of the mountains—say Ellenville, or South Fallsburg, with a plan to move there full time. The resort towns, though— they do present an enticing illusion: relatively cheaper housing (you can buy a house in Saugerties for $200,000!), fresh air, and a few streets of cute stores— what's not to love? Plus it's only two and a half hours to the city— you can be back all the time, seeing your old friends!
Forget it— those are all tempting lies. The $200K house is actually next to the town dump and isn't winterized, the fresh air is filled with mosquitos six months a year and is too cold to breathe the rest of the time, and the cute streets don't have any of the stores you'll actually be shopping at (those will be at the Mall in Kingston). You'll also be driving to Kingston, or Poughkeepsie, or some similar place for work. Your employers, who will likely be the local hospital, government, or school system, will also be paying you less than what you could make in New York City, because they know you have fewer options.
Did I mention driving? Obviously, public transportation is out of the question, as our Upstate politicians have made sure to underfund the local bus systems. You'll probably need at least two cars. Forget about staying out late with your friends drinking— you've got to drive home and those roads are dark— going head-on into a deer because you had one drink too many is a sad way to die. Once your kids come along you'll add "permanent chauffeur" to your list of daily tasks— getting a kid to playdates and parties is hard enough in the city— now imagine doing it with thirty mile car trips both ways. And forget ever coming back to New York City— you'll be driving in twice a year, if that, because it takes four hours in traffic, and the experience will be unpleasant, because once the human brain adjusts to the rhythms of rural life, the city is overpoweringly loud and oppressive— much more so than you find it now.
About those kids! I've argued before that moving out of NYC is a good way to fuck up your children, mainly when discussing how soft the suburbs makes kids. A lot of those arguments apply here: the kid from Ardsley might be the first to die of a cocaine overdose freshman year at NYU, because he's never been exposed to hard drugs before, but the kid from upstate is in even greater danger: the most likely cause of death is falling off a roof, because they've never been up higher than 3 stories and then try to take a selfie with the skyline to show all their upstate friends, and gravity takes its course.
You get the idea- the future belongs to crowds, and more likely than not your children are going to have to come back to the city at some point in their lives for school or work. Is raising them in the woods good preparation for that? Sure, they'll probably know how to start a fire with two sticks, but can they get home from that Ridgewood Loft party without getting lost, robbed, or pressed into the sex-trade? I'm just spitballin' here, but I think we both know the answer is no.
Sure, moving upstate might be a net positive for someone— maybe the guy with family in the Hudson Valley, and a job in reservoir maintenance. For everyone else the best solution is to deal with the underlying problem: NYC burnout. This is a phenomenon wherein even people who love NYC (even, very rarely, natives) feel the urge to get the fuck out of town. Completely normal! What sane human being wouldn't be occasionally repelled by paying bankrupting rents to live in a boiling cauldron of filth?
When you feel this way, simply breathe, meditate on the many positive reasons you've chosen to live here (our inexpressibly varied culture! the restaurant scene! your great job and weirdo friends!), and then take a short vacation. A weekend is probably a little too brief, a month is way too long. Vary the destination so you don't get too beguiled by any one place. Stay until you become bored or catch Lyme disease, and then return, refreshed and ready to live in the greatest city on Earth.
New Yorkers have been doing this for generations! My grandparents spent weeks every summer at the Catskills' hotels— Grossingers, Kutsher's, etc. My parents rented a shack in Byrdcliff, the hippie artist colony near Woodstock, and later, a cabin at a communist bungalow colony near Wurtsboro. They also forced us to go to sleep-away camp, which at the time felt like a 6-week ticket to a forest prison camp, but which I now regard as a wholesome way to teach your kids to appreciate city life— you like it more when you compare it to sleeping in a leaky lean-to in the woods.
N.B. The best part about upstate, which is the access to fresh produce, NYC solved about forty years ago, with our Greenmarket Program— all the corn you want with none of the hassle of driving on the Thruway!
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