The Ex-Villagers | Bought a Ticket to the West Coast

mari 2Courtesy Mari Fagel. Mari Fagel and her boyfriend.

“Damn girl, you one fine piece of midget!”

Having just moved to New York City, I was already feeling small in such a big city. But when I was cat-called out on my five-foot-one height while walking down Bowery on my second day here, I wondered if I was ready to take on the Big Apple.

I’d lived in the city briefly in the summer of 2007 while interning and, frankly, I hated it. Each morning I woke up to the stench of fish coming in from my window since my N.Y.U. dorm on Lafayette was across from a Chinatown seafood market. I was so excited to hang out with my college friends who’d grown up in the city, only to realize they were in the Hamptons nearly every weekend and ate dinner at home with their families during the week. So there I was, taking the N train from Rockefeller Center back to Canal and Lafayette after work each day only to crawl in bed and watch episodes of “Greek” on my computer.

Then, three years later I got the call from NY1 News that I’d been hired as an on-air reporter, so I decided to give the city a second chance. With just two weeks to find a place, and having experienced only Chinatown and Midtown the summer I’d interned here, I was clueless as to where I should live. But then a close family friend told me her third roommate was moving out. Perfect. Bowery and First would be my new home.

mariCourtesy Mari Fagel View from the Bowery and First apartment.

I had no idea about the neighborhood I’d be moving into. I’m the girl who thought Duane Reade was pronounced “Dew-on Red-ay,” like some accented French word. I had never heard of Mars Bar and in my mind CBGB was just a cool logo I saw on shirts. So when I told friends I was moving to the Lower East Side, I was met with looks of shock and surprise. I’m the girl who came with suitcases filled with collared button down shirts and pantsuits, not exactly your standard outfit while strolling St. Marks.

Soon after moving in, I tried to fit in as best I could. I started going to Yoga to the People, and even participated in the weird grunting and groaning noises mid-warrior. I got a yellow feather extension in my hair at Salon V on East Seventh. I even started figuring out all the go-to places in the neighborhood. Best cocktail bar? Elsa on East Third. Best nail salon? E-Nail, with its $22 mani/pedi, on Second Avenue. Best late-night snack? Spicy rice cakes at Momofuku Noodle Bar on First Avenue.

mari 3Courtesy Mari Fagel East Houston and Chrystie.

My two- (converted into three-) bedroom apartment on East First Street started to feel like home. I developed a happy routine, grabbing a latte from Think Coffee before hopping on the F to Chelsea Market for work. I grew to love the neighborhood, so when my roommate told me she was moving back home to L.A., I knew I wanted to stay in the area. My boyfriend lived on the Upper West Side, but I was willing to endure another year of cross-town and uptown treks.

I ended up getting a studio right across the street at Houston and Chrystie – such an easy move I figured I didn’t even need boxes; I would just take all my stuff in grocery bags. Not a smart idea. The day I moved it was mid-July and nearly 100 degrees. After 15 trips back and forth, I felt like I was going to faint.

Living on my own for the first time, I felt settled in my cozy 450-square foot apartment. I started to feel like a real New Yorker. I knew all the places to take friends when they came to visit. I felt like an unofficial tour guide when my parents came into town. My friends would start asking me for restaurant recommendations. I had finally come to love the city, but knew it was time for a career change. I’d always worked in journalism, but after covering a few legal stories it reminded me of how much I’d enjoyed a college internship at the Cook County Public Defender’s Office in Chicago and the Speech and Debate club in high school. I decided I wanted to go to law school and try to combine my passions for journalism and law. Then I got into U.C.L.A., in my hometown of Los Angeles.

Just as I was getting used to the city and to the East Village, it was time to move back home. Luckily, I had several months to enjoy the city before packing my bags again. My boyfriend and I made a bucket list of must-sees and must-dos. We took a dim-sum cooking class, inspired to try to mimic Chinatown dishes back in L.A. We went to a Knicks game, a Yankees game, the ballet, the opera, the symphony, the Met, the Museum of Natural History, Blue Note Jazz Club, the jazz bar at the Carlyle. We went to see “Death of a Salesman” and “Newsies” on Broadway. We’ve been knocking things off our list all winter and spring, realizing we had to jam pack everything we wanted to see in the city in only a few months.

Now, as I prepare to leave the East Village and move out west, I’m so thankful for my last two years in New York. I’ve experienced so much, grown so much, and can safely say I leave standing taller than when I arrived. Though after that first cat-call, I’ve learned to always rock the heels.