The sun has settled on New York once again, as it’s been known to do every year. In these boroughs where summer isn’t eternal, the early days of warmth are more precious than anywhere else. They’re powerful. At times powerful enough to drive many of us to seek the fair-weather borders of L.A. permanently. But in the summer, New York is full of its most valuable resource: Optimism.
About 11 years ago this month, I came here in a tired and cliché way: with my belongings and retrospectively embarrassing wardrobe in one bag, the final Harry Potter book, and a backpack with my laptop. Great things were waiting, hard things were waiting, terrible things were waiting. But the excitement was there, and it was punctuated every time I saw the Empire State Building. After all, this is where you attempt to make it so you can theoretically make it anywhere else. All that was heightened by the optimism of a summer in the city, complete with gritty necks, nasty subways, foul odors, pit stains, and heavenly walks past the open doors of climate-controlled Zaras.
When the warm weather comes back, that same energy I found then flows slowly back into the city. You see it on the newcomers, freshly plucked from under their graduation caps, intent on making their mark. You see it on the very first spring-like day, where suddenly everybody is friends with everybody else and strangers trade smiles instead of darting glances.
City dwellers shed their heavy and dark layers of wool, down and fleece, their skin screaming for the sunny side of the street. Bodies reveal themselves again — some soft, some changed, some new, some engineered — as flashes of skin and shape dot the city streets. Everybody is startlingly beautiful outside of their hibernation. All of us are frisky and drunk on the sights, the lingering effects of annual summer vacations we took for granted. The air is heavy with unrelenting pollen and romantic possibility.
The streets swell with tourists who pause without warning to glance at store windows in SoHo, an act that would be cruel if it weren’t so adorable. We welcome them begrudgingly, because we need them to keep telling the story of our city, to share what the fuss is about, and of course, to pay for everything. Lunch hours lengthen as everybody attempts to shorten their work day as much as they can, sunning themselves in their offices’ nearby parks. Any patch of green will soon be claimed by somebody looking to relax and remember what the grass feels like, rising only when it’s indented on their skin. We become creatures of the outdoors.
When the weekends come, an exodus of well-moneyed and house-sharing masses make their way elsewhere. What’s left is a hot quiet, a sweaty calm, and a sweltering subway station — a half-full city that’s made for wandering and conquering. The remainder of us will drape ourselves across fire escapes, mythical backyards, and on tar rooftops until we find a friend in a glass tower with nicer versions of each. By the time Fourth of July arrives, you swear you can see tumbleweeds rolling across deserted avenues. That quiet race is to be interrupted by the fireworks above the city, crashing like a midsummer thunderstorm.
Nighttime is electric. It shimmers with the light of going-out tops, spilled drinks and bad decisions. Most days it blurs somewhere between day and night, with everybody too eager to wait until the sun goes down to see each other. In summer, one more drink is inviting, as opposed to an obstacle between then and bedtime.
Eventually, summer will frustrate you. It will hit like the drop of an air conditioner one day, out of the blue, and all the things that made the summer charming will turn on you. You’ll find ways to escape out of necessity. Your mind will turn toward fall, for the layers you shoved to the depths of your closet not months before.
But as you wave goodbye, you’ll know, and you’ll remember, there’s no place like New York in the summer — piping with optimism, possibility and all the great, hard and terrible things it has planned for you. Summer is when you fall in love with New York and everything else, despite the heat.
Photos by Pierre Crosby.