We often take the "comfort zone" for granted. We live in our homes, our neighborhoods, our towns and we acclimate ourselves to the surroundings.
When you live in the South, you know that grits come with every breakfast and tea is always sweet. In the Midwest, you'll find Pepsi in the "pop" aisle and expect fistfights at every hockey and football game. Out West, you wouldn't dare light up a cigarette in a bar or wear clothes six months out of fashion.
Even if these things sound ridiculous or overgeneralized, they are elements of the "comfort zone."
Well, I've been living in New York City for six months now, and I've finally reached that place. How can I tell?
* I was walking through Times Square a couple of weeks ago and I saw a crowd cheering for a local street band. I already own their CD.
* The shop owners in the local 24-hour bodega know me on sight, and always wish me a pleasant sleep when I stop by on my way home from work at 9 a.m.
* I have a favorite bar. Even though I don't drink alcohol, there's something comforting about The Half King. Maybe it's the black couches or the vanilla candles on every table. Maybe it's because it's a hangout for writers, or because they play a lot of Prince music. It's probably all of these things, and combined they make me feel welcomed every time I enter the place.
* The two Greek brothers who own the diner I frequent always looked pleased to see me when I sidle up to the counter. One night, I arrived just as they were closing and the older brother said the kitchen had already closed for the night. He offered to make me a sandwich anyway.
* I know where to stand on the platform edge. It sounds silly, but where you stand on the subway platform determines your riding destiny. For example, say you get on at the front of the D train. When you arrive at 42nd Street, you'll be closest to the 40th Street exit. But if your final destination is the coffee stand in Bryant Park on 42nd and 6th, you're going to be hoofing several blocks to get there. However, if you get on at the far middle of the train, it'll let you off 10 steps from the coffee stand. Much more convenient!
* I know to keep my mouth shut and my eyes closed while driving in a yellow cab. I know how much it costs to get back to Brooklyn using this mode of transportation, and I know the three general routes to get there. Once I recognize the driver taking one of these routes, I bury myself in the seat and watch the skyline pass by. If I tried to watch the way my cab is weaving in and out of traffic, squeezing through impossibly close calls with death, I'd never survive.
* It takes four hours of travel time to get to Jones Beach on Long Island. In the summertime, this venue hosts some spectacular concerts with big name artists: Sting, BB King, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Santana. But if you use public transportation to get there, be sure to bring a book or radio. I have to take the subway to Flatbush, hop on the Long Island Railroad, switch trains at Jamaica and then take a bus to the beach. I have to do the same in reverse. On the plus side, if you know this in advance, you can just relax and enjoy the ride.
* The skyline is now a familiar sight. Whenever I see movies set in New York, I can always pick out the major landmarks, mostly because I've seen them every day or actually visited these sites.
* My speech is now peppered with "fogeddabout its" and "are you fucking kidding mes." It's addicting, I tell you. Robert DeNiro just seeps into your blood.
* Some New Yorkers are actually quite friendly. Since moving here, I've learned how to use the subway system, how to lessen the pain of a migraine and how to find a broker-free apartment -- all with the help of strangers.
* Want to have the most amazing dessert? The Gramercy Tavern has this tiny $8 chocolate souffle with mint ice cream that'll curl your toes.
* Lady Liberty has a friendly face. I know because I pass her post every day on the way home from work. She may have been a landmark of freedom for millions, but she never fails to make me smile on a daily basis.
* I've started thinking in cross streets. No one lives at 555 Grand Street. Instead they live at 23rd and 8th or 72nd and Broadway.
* I know where to get the best bagel (at a tiny shop on 41st and 6th) the best 24 hour diner that delivers (The Starlight) and the best place in the city to buy fresh vegetables and bread (the green market in Washington Square on Saturdays).
* I know more about the sex lives of strangers than you can imagine. Apparently, it's considered normal to discuss these adventures on cell phones. And everybody shouts into them. Makes for interesting character studies.
Yes, it's true. I've acclimated to my new surroundings. I've found the "comfort zone."
According to the natives, I'm still a bit too pleasant and friendly, but they're convinced that'll go away in time. Now the only thing left is to choose my baseball team affiliation -- then I'll be a "true" New Yorker.