postcards from new york, no. 1: brooklyn hustle
Hello, it's me again!
Would you look at that? The Californian Takes New York gets a sequel! A more permanent one. This originally started out as another travel blog series—I moved to the city very last-minute for a summer program, and I wasn't really sure how long I'd be staying. But as I learned from living abroad by myself, sometimes you just have to say "f*ck it" and go for it. So now I am officially a New Yorker! Or at least on my way to becoming one. I'm still working on learning the subway system (yes, but which way is southwest?!) and overcoming my fear of cockroaches (which, coincidentally, dates back to August of 2015), but the latter especially has been unsuccessful.
This series will be like little postcards, mini life updates, whenever I feel like writing them/have collected a good amount of material for them, while I adjust to my new home. My original New York series was born out of a promise to my mom and sister to write small notes about my life in the city every day, so this is kind of a continuation of that.
It felt like I was just here a couple of months ago but I can never really get enough of this city. And now that I'm here for good, I'm determined to explore beyond my regular haunts (like Spot Dessert Bar)(but of course I'll still take anyone that visits there). The first month I lived here, my friend Heather let me sublease her cute lil Williamsburg walk-up, so I had a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment all to myself. I know some people get bored or lonely, but I actually really like living alone. There's a kind of solace in coming home to an empty apartment and being able to relax and free your mind from the clutter of the day. Other great things are being able to walk around without pants on, eating whatever you want without judgment, and having everything be exactly where you left it the previous day. Amazing.
I've lived here for a little over five months now, and it's been an absolute whirlwind. I got accepted to and participated in two different summer programs: Creative Strategy Bootcamp, a digital media mentorship program founded by a creative strategist at Google and a bunch of other really rad people, and Griffin Farley's Beautiful Minds competition at BBH, a weekend-long planning and bootcamp and networking event. I started working with Madwell, a fun and brilliant full-service agency in Brooklyn, as a brand strategy intern on the Insights & Experience team. And I just signed a one-year lease on an apartment in Crown Heights (apartment tour coming soonish, or whenever I finish moving/decorating). Guys, I don't know if anyone else has discovered this, but apartment-hunting is really stressful? But actually, though.
As hectic as my life is (at one point I told my mom that really all I wanted in life was to be able to unpack my suitcase), I feel oddly settled now. I feel like my real life has finally begun. When I was riding in the taxi from the airport, I couldn't stop smiling as soon as I saw the Manhattan skyline because I was so happy to be back. I finally feel at home, which is ironic because my first night in my new apartment I slept on my floor because my mattress hadn't arrived yet. So glamorous, I know.
But when I was living in Singapore, I was a little bit frustrated, because I was living an adult life—working a job, paying rent, traveling around on weekends—but it wasn't my adult life, because I always knew it was temporary. Now, things like apartment-hunting may stress me out, but it's all part of the hustle. I used to really hate that word, especially when it's used by frat boy entrepreneurs that post those obnoxious double-spaced "motivational" LinkedIn statuses (how is that still a thing, my god). But I do understand it now. One of my favorite qualities about myself is my resourcefulness. And it takes a lot of hustle to make it on your own anywhere, which is why I'm always confident that I'll be okay anywhere.
Brooklyn itself is another world; a little slice of New York City, with its own distinct flavor. It's boisterously colorful, in both the literal and figurative sense. It's still in its adolescence as a happening place, so you can see the hallmarks of the gentrification process in the works: actual graffiti alongside painted brick advertisements for Perrier, empty dirt lots next to fancy coffeeshops, tiny mom-and-pop grocery stories next to microbreweries. And I know I should be opposed to all of the new establishments, because they're effectively pushing out lower income residents in favor of ridiciulously overpriced hipster bait, but I kind of love that everything is so unassuming on the outside. You find that the best bars are those that look like neglected warehouses, and the best coffeeshops are in renovated garages.
It's a bit quieter. There's less noise at night. The rumbling of the subways moving beneath the concrete is something I strangely miss. Here, the only noise is the billowing smoke from the nearby dumpling and noodle factory rooftop. It's not quite as frenetic at the city, but it's still got that signature New York charm. It's nice.
But I do miss Manhattan sometimes. I've always loved sitting and watching the windows of all the buildings glitter for hours, seeing the cars glide past and the hazy glow of changing traffic lights in the empty streets. I miss the aliveness.
I just finished my contract at Madwell almost two months ago, which was awesome. I can't remember exactly how I found this agency; I think I recognized their work somewhere (fun fact: They are the agency behind Chrissy Teigen's Vita Coco commercial). But I knew instantly that I loved it. The people are from such diverse backgrounds and are all insanely multitalented, which would be intimidating if they weren't all so nice and genuinely awesome.
We also have a very particular cat named Jackson (full name: Apple Jackson) and a sweet German Shepherd named Oscar. They don't really like each other. But I'm on a mission to make this cat love me. He's slowly warming to me.
The Insights & Experience team is still in its nascent stages, which was really cool because although the clients were smaller than those I had at POSSIBLE, I got to be heavily involved in formulating the overall brand strategy for multiple clients, and actually shaping the methodology for the I&E team, which was rad. It was also a really interesting mix of strategy + UX, which I think is lacking at a lot of other agencies. If there's anything I've learned from being a strategist, it's that agencies greatly undervalue strategy, which is ridiculous to me.
While I was there, Madwell had its seventh birthday party, which was very fun. The party was appropriately kid-themed, with cotton candy and popcorn machines, a candy bar, a bounce house, and an open bar (so maybe not that last part). It was really nice to see everyone outside of a work context, especially since I was still getting to know everyone, and also fun seeing our CEO and CCO absolutely smashed. Good times.
The Creative Strategy Bootcamp, my first summer program, was the pet project of a guy named Mike, a creative strategist at Google, who saw a gap between the teaching of marketable creative strategy skills and job openings in digital media, and decided to create this program to fix that. It was a lot of fun but also a surprising amount of work. We always had a bunch of projects going on at one time, with a very short timeline on deliverables. But our spec campaigns were really fun, because we got to produce work for clients like Spotify, Adidas, Glossier, and Warby Parker. It reminded me exactly how much I like creative strategy—you really do get to use both halves of your brain and think in a capacity that doesn't really exist in other jobs or industries, and more importantly, you get to do everything because you're not limited to the confines of a traditional job description.
The program wasn't affiliated with Google, but since Mike works there, we got to meet in their office above Chelsea Market, which is all kinds of cool (they have an amazing kitchen, a drink fridge, and a cookie jar that always had great madeleines). We also had a couple mentors, from companies like Vox, Quartz, and Facebook, that oversaw our projects. It was honestly such a privilege to work with them, to present to them, and to get personalized feedback on our own work. They were all intelligent, articulate, and wildly creative. And they in turn pushed me to be as such.
We got to tour the Vox and Facebook offices, and I also met one of my favorite Instagram photographers, @humzadeas! You may remember him from my mention of him two years ago as one of the photographers I was trying to emulate. He was super-cool and humble, and it was fun just following him around to see what he saw, and what he found interesting as a photographer.
Our assignment was a 24-hour photo challenge: take a picture of a New York landmark from a new or interesting angle. These were my submissions:
I really admire Mike for taking the initiative to create this program; he was a great mentor, and he is actually the personification of "ambidextrous." I love that he saw a problem, had the idea to fix it, and actually did it. That's real hustle right there. I love people with passion and I respect people with initiative, and Mike is both. He was an awesome mentor to us, and we all learned so much from working on such cool projects. I'm honored to be a part of the founding class, and to be surrounded by so many wonderful and wildly talented people.
The second program, BBH's Beautiful Minds, is a competition for up-and-coming strategists. It was created in honor of BBH Strategy Director Griffin Farley who lost his battle with mesothelioma in 2013. It's a really amazing opportunity. But I didn't realize exactly how amazing until I got there. This program was insane. People fly in from all over: Chicago, Miami, Boston, Ireland, Brazil, Ukraine. One girl in my group actually went to UCSB a year before me and had mutual friends with me. Life is crazy.
And they were all so chill. I think there's always anxiety that when you get a bunch of high-achieving people together in a room that there's going to be intense competition or conflict (#tbt to pledging, ha). But everyone was so friendly. Some people were in the middle of a career change, some were already working as strategists, and some had never seen an ad agency before.
It took place over one weekend: a mixer on Friday, training seminars and planning sessions all day Saturday, presentations and finalist announcements on Sunday, and the showcase/gala on Tuesday. We turned around an entire campaign in 24 hours, from brief to pitch, which was insane (I didn't even have the opportunity to take any pictures; it was that crazy). It was probably one of the most stressful/challenging things I've ever done. Our client was Be My Eyes, an non-profit app that connects volunteers to visually-impaired people via video chat who want help with small tasks, like reading the labels on soup cans. Technology is revolutionizing the way the visually-impaired interact with the world, so this was a very relevant challenge.
In digesting the brief, we really had to do a lot of research on the way visually-impaired people not only perceive the world, but also how they perceive themselves. It ended up being quite the revelation. There's so much we don't know about blindness and the challenges of adapting to everyday life, and it almost felt wrong to discard the research we didn't use, because it's all very important. I think we forget exactly how many visually-impaired people actually exist, and how accessibility for blind/VI people is still very limited. The Accessibility mode on iPhone helps a little, but the tools available to blind/VI people are shamefully limited.
I met up with Daniel, Tia, and Adrien again, and we did Smorgasburg Round II! If you read The Californian Takes New York series, you know of my intense love affair with this Brooklyn street food festival, and I was excited to go back.
We did that thing where we wanted to eat everything but got so full that we could only try a couple of things. This also happened the last time we went, so clearly we need a new strategy. But we did try some truly excellent food (will I ever get tired of marveling at overpriced hipster food?)(short answer: no).
But I'd say the desserts should get special recognition because they were really different. The popcorn chicken + scallion pancake and mango strawberry lemonade were very tasty, but I feel like I could have found them at other places as well, or even made them. But the lemon ice cream bar was incredible. It was a surprisingly complex mixture of textures and flavors: crunchy, marshmallowy, sweet, tangy, and buttery. So good. And the churros weren't like the kind you get at the fair. They were much more crunchy and less oily and had less cinnamon and sugar coating on the outside. We decided they tasted a bit like lightly-sweet kettle corn. They kind of reminded me of the crunchy fried pastry that the birthday ice cream at Chevy's would come wrapped in (anyone remember Chevy's?). They were delicious.
PMO and I went to Brooklyn Flea in Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), which is actually under the same ownership as Smorgasburg and almost equally as wonderful.
I found this guy selling these cute vintage advertisements, which I have an unreasonable attachment to, I think because of their quaint wholesomeness. It's almost like nostalgia, except I was decidedly not alive when they were popular. I chose a Coca-Cola one from the 1960s, right when the industry made the switch from painted/hand-drawn ads to photographs. I love drink advertisements in particular because they do such a good job at evoking very precise emotions with just a shot of the product (the accidental Arby's Pepsi ad will forever be one of my favorite commercials).
We walked around Brooklyn Bridge Park along the water, which was beautiful. We couldn't stop marveling at the weather, because normally summers in New York are quite hellish. But this was a perfect day.
I think I really fell in love with Brooklyn at that exact moment. You could see the vibrant Manhattan skyline across the water, and the sky was a rich blue with Pixar-perfect clouds. It was gorgeous.
Then we went to Prospect Park, which I swear was designed specifically to be a miniature Central Park.
We also went to the NYC Summer Ice Cream Blizzard hosted by the Grand Bazaar for National Ice Cream Day, which was pretty much just a giant ice cream festival. Amazing. We had peach ice cream from Blue Marble, peach jasmine and strawberry basil ice pops from people's pops, and matcha soft-serve in a fish waffle cone from Taiyaki NYC (which happens to be owned by my high school boyfriend's fraternity brothers, but I didn't know that at the time).
Nothing beats the actual Central Park, though, which I swear is stunning in every season.
I'm on a perpetual quest to discover the best ramen place in New York, so PMO took me to Totto Ramen, which I'd actually been to once before but never remembered the name of. It's this tiny little ramen shop in Midtown West, crammed underground. Patrons wait on a line outside and order ahead, so when you sit down at the counter (which is within touching distance of the kitchen), your food is immediately ready.
And some of my best friends visited me! Shoutout to everyone who's come to see me in New York so far—Melissa, Nihaal, Preeti, Rey, Henry, Conrad, and soon, Britt. I moved here knowing only a couple of people, but I haven't felt lonely for a second.
Between Madwell, Creative Strategy Bootcamp, Beautiful Minds, and just getting my life together in general, my life thus far when I have time revolves around finding things to do in the city (especially if there's food involved), so I've got updates on those things, coming soon. I've slept very little since I've moved here; from my insanely busy schedule or from pure exhilaration, I'm not sure. But it's been a wild ride. I can't wait for what's next. Stay tuned. It's winter now, so get ready for a lot of pictures of me being unprepared for cold weather.
This pretty much all started when my friend tagged me in Mike's LinkedIn post about seeking creative strategy mentees. I found the Creative Strategy Bootcamp program, applied, got accepted, and booked a one-way ticket to New York.
(Edit: If anyone's interested in CSB, applications for the 2018 season are now open!)
So there you have it, kids. Always check your LinkedIn, because it could change your life.
Wish you were here.