I love New York City, I really do. Just passing my three-year anniversary living here I can say with confidence that I have no intention of leaving anytime soon. But last summer was particularly hard for me to spend anytime in the city.
It was miserably hot (probably the worst summer I have ever experienced), I was getting very limited hours at the bar I work which was leading to a lot of financial stress, and to top it off my boyfriend left for Florida for an indefinite amount of time to deal with some really terrible family stuff.
I couldn’t have felt more lonely and trapped in my favorite city in the world.
My instinct in most unpleasant scenarios is to run away. Distance has a way of making even my biggest problems seem smaller. I’m sure a therapist would argue that this is a terrible coping mechanism, but it works for me. Even though I know most of what I want to escape from will catch up to me eventually, or be right where I left it when I get back, a new environment always helps put things in perspective, and that is exactly what an escape to the countryside of Pennsylvania did for me.
When things seem exceptionally bad in my life, I can always count on my best friend Elizabeth (not Liz, Lizzie, or any other variation) to be there. Even though we have only known each other for three years, there’s something you need to understand about Elizabeth. She is the best thing that could have happened to a girl from California who moved across the country to a scary city without a single friend.
Last June, when I was sinking into what I consider to be a deep depression about everything in my life, she suggested an overdue road trip she had been wanting to take to her grandparents in Allenwood (and when I was struggling with a new blog post topic, she even suggested I write about it).
Spending most of my time indoors with the AC on full blast and crying every other day, I couldn’t think of a better time to get out of the grimy concrete sauna I was stuck in. So it wasn’t long until we booked a rental car and was on our way.
Now what’s there to do in Allenwood, Pennsylvania you might be wondering. Not a whole lot, and that’s exactly why it’s one of the greatest places I have ever been to.
For starters, it’s breathtakingly gorgeous. There’s so much green, and you can actually see where the sky meets the horizon.
I sometimes get so caught up in exotic destinations and all the places on the other side of the world that I want to travel to that I completely take for granted that there are beautiful places within arms reach. Just a four hour drive away from New York City and we were waking up to green hillsides and open land, the kind of place where you can actually feel small under a massive sky.
On our first morning, we sat drinking coffee on the front porch of her mother’s childhood home, just staring at the view. I couldn’t hear trains or sirens roaring past me or see a homeless man exposing himself on the corner of 42nd at 8th. I wasn’t crammed on a crowded subway or dodging packs of people on the streets of Manhattan. I didn’t know what to do with all the silence and space. We could talk about anything, listen without interruption, and just breathe.
It was on that front porch we decided to stay an extra day.
There isn’t a lot of the typical things you would think “to do” in Allenwood (there wasn’t a local mall or movie theater that I saw), but I didn’t spend a second of my time bored. Instead I did the things that I could easily enjoy as a child but somehow forgot how to do. Like be outside, lay in a hammock in the yard and not rely on television or the internet for entertainment. I appreciated the pace and ease of being somewhere that was so completely opposite of New York City.
On our first afternoon we drove to buy cartons of fresh eggs from an Amish family who lived nearby. I was completely mesmerized watching the woman grab laundry from her clothes line, all the dresses and shirts exactly the same except for the color, while her son collected the eggs right from the chicken coop as we waited. The tasks that seemed so ordinary became a source of reflection for the most basic things I take for granted in my own life. I was fascinated by their ability to live so simply.
I didn’t know this family at all but I knew the woman letting the wind dry her clothes wouldn’t dream of dropping bags of them off at the corner laundromat to have someone else wash and fold while she grabbed an iced coffee on her way to a $30 yoga class. For just a moment, I envied that.
Within the few days we were there, we shopped at the local market for summer corn (that we happily shucked and ate two ears each of), helped cook a huge dinner to eat on a long table on the front porch with her entire family that all lived nearby, and made homemade strawberry cupcakes right out of a recipe book since her grandma had every ingredient and tool we needed to make them from scratch without even having to make a special trip to the grocery store.
For fun we took the mule out on what was literally called the Back Road. We drank iced cold Corona bottles sitting in the bed of the mule while her mom drove and I imagined what it would be like growing up there, running barefoot on the dirt roads and having to walk the length of a few city blocks to get to your neighbors front door. The dirt paved roads were narrow and bumpy and seemed to go nowhere without apology.
We tasted cider from her grandpa’s cider press, practiced shooting his guns at a paper target, and on our last day there, her mom drove us around the State Game Lands. We passed overgrown fields amongst old ammunition bunkers and walked through an old veteran’s cemetery. We stood staring at tombstones with barely visible names and dates, with small American flags waving in the ground next to them. We parked the car off a gravel road near the entrance and hiked into the wild mess of trees and species. I remember driving back to her grandparents house, knowing we were leaving soon and not wanting to.
On our drive back to the city I started wondering why I was so set on living in New York. Last summer, it was hard to know what I was coming back to. I felt completely untethered to my job, apartment and entire life I had spent the last few years building in the city. I couldn’t remember what I loved about it or what it had given me in the short time I had called it home.
It was so easy to immediately sink back into the dark hole I had started digging right before going to Pennsylvania. The time I spent in the country, I remember thinking over and over, I could do this. I could live here and be blissfully happy. Although I knew that it wasn’t true, I sort of wanted it to be.
To be honest, I would miss New York way too much if I left. There is a very real sense of pride and accomplishment I get from living in a city that most people consider impossible. A city that I once remember thinking was impossible.
I have become way too accustomed to my 24 hour grocery stores and endless amounts of food delivery options. I am addicted to the convenience of living in the city, the familiarity of strangers and unlimited access to different cultures. And it doesn’t hurt that my best friend lives here and that my boyfriend is back to being only an MTA ride away.
I’ll probably continue to drop my laundry off at the corner laundromat for the foreseeable future, but still, it’s nice to know that Allenwood exists.