So Long, New York

It’s official. The answer to the question “Is It Time To Leave New York?” is Yes, at least for me. I signed an early termination form, giving my landlord 60 days’ notice for ending my lease early. By the end of November, I will no longer be a New Yorker. After 22 years, it’s a lot to think about.

The simplest explanation for my departure is money, or, more accurately, the lack of it. New York has always been about status and been more expensive than any other U.S. city, but the end of rent regulations, the drastic reduction of crime and other enabling factors have opened the floodgates and made things profoundly different now. Manhattan, and now its outer boroughs, has become a free-for-all for the very rich. New studio apartments in my neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen go for $3,000/month. A brand new building on my block offers studios for $4,000/month. And the new development at the Hudson Rail Yard? Fuhgeddaboudit. It’s greed on the grandest of scales in the form of real estate rape, without the courtesy of a reach-around (which is available for an extra fee, though).

Coupled with skyrocketing housing costs is a shift in work. For the past 13 years, I’ve been a designer, art director and content creator of sorts, providing an extremely detailed and very personalized service that was intricately custom-tailored to each project, like a bespoke suit. Nowadays, people want a Mercedes-Benz – or something that looks like one from a distance – for the price of a bicycle. It’s a fast-fashion world, and from the smaller boutique outfits to the major media players, people want it cheaper and cheaper every year. That doesn’t really jive with the cost of living in Dubai on the Hudson.

Another thing I’ve noticed is a rapid rise in the sheer mass of people. This town has always been crowded, but ask anyone who’s lived here for a long time and they’ll tell you the same thing: Who are all of these people and where are they coming from? (And where are they getting the money it takes to live here??) Within a three block radius of my apartment building, thousands of new apartment units have been built in the last six years, and more are under construction. The sheer mass of bodies on the sidewalks going to and from work and out and about on weekends is nuts. At the current rate of growth, one look at the 1/2/3 subway platform in Times Square at around 6pm is leaves no question as to why an already-stressed mass transit system is headed for even more challenging times.

As the wonderful Emmy-hoarder Julia Louis-Dreyfus said on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast earlier this year, “New York is so expensive, so crowded… and full of very rich people.”

I will miss it, though. I got to do a lot of things and meet a lot of people that would not have been possible in any other city. I got to act on stage, television, and film because I lived here. I got to meet, dine with and get to know some of my idols because I lived here. I’ve been published and featured in magazines, photographed for a popular New York coffee table book, recorded for voice-overs and audiobooks. The sheer proximity to everybody else here enabled me to get connected to some of the most interesting, most exciting, and most hilarious people I’ve ever met. I got drunk here (a lot), fell down here (a lot), and ultimately got sober here. I fell in love here, a few times. One of those times was with a man who might have been the love of my life. And then he died. (I don’t talk about that much.) I’ve buried good friends here. Robert, George, Kevin, Merle, Norm, Austin, and others… And, of course, the best boss I’ve ever had: Joan. It’s been a wild ride. Everything I built here, I built it on my own name, which is also my father’s name. I’m proud of my life here.

New York is where I became a grown up. I learned who I wasn’t, I figured who I was, and I accepted and became that person. You can’t really bullshit here. People are too close together and we can smell it. Grandiosity and nonsense get snuffed out pretty quickly, and your smarter types have no tolerance for it.

You also learn to be efficient here. Deadlines are real, the pace is fast, and people want things yesterday. In order to survive, you to be quick on your feet, graceful under pressure, and very decisive. There’s no time to linger and belabor. Go, go, go. This town moves like a 45 rpm record. When you step off a plane in another town, a New Yorker can immediately feel the speed move to 33 rpm. New York City is exhausting, but the rush can be exhilarating and intoxicating.

All that said, my decision to leave New York reminds me of my decision to stop drinking. When I hit my bottom, the time had come for me to acknowledge that alcohol was the problem. Drinking wasn’t working anymore. Over the past year, I’ve hit a different kind of bottom, but a very real one nonetheless. Ludicrous housing costs; plus trying to keep up with laughable pay; plus no money left at the end of every month after working until I’m half dead; plus drunk bridge and tunnel trash fighting, yelling, pissing and puking in front of my building; plus proximity to boast-worthy New York features like Broadway shows, good restaurants, shares on the island and other amenities that I can’t enjoy because I can’t afford them; plus continuous exasperation with all of the aforementioned and more equals “maybe New York is the problem.” Like I did with alcohol, I’m taking New York out of the equation and working on what remains.

On a bad day, I’m a mess about it. Earlier today, I had another one of the many breakdowns I’ve had since I made the decision to go. “What have I done?” “What’s going to happen?” “What do I do now?” As I mentioned earlier, I’ve built my entire adult life here, and so much of how I identify myself is tied to this place. It’s a bit of an existential crisis.

On a good day, I’m able to see things very differently. I often compare trying to survive in New York to pining for the affection of an indifferent lover who doesn’t care if I spend the night or go home. Because that is what New York is: an indifferent lover. She doesn’t care if you spend the night or go home. She will gladly take, but she won’t necessarily give back. Loyalty is one luxury that this luxury town seldom offers. I don’t matter here. I’m not essential. With exceptions, we’re all replaceable, certainly by younger legionnaires who are willing to do what we do for a lot less (though not necessarily better), which makes profit-hungry business owners and shareholders much happier. I certainly have an ego with a generous dose of vanity, but I also have the wherewithal to understand that when I leave, few people will care or even notice. New York will grind on, without a blip in her pulse.

The few people who will notice are the precious true friends I made on this Gotham journey – the kind of friends who stuck by my side even when I wasn’t useful to them, which is a rare bird in a town of opportunist climbers and takers. It’s a small group, but a group that is dear to me. I love them and I will miss them in ways immeasurable. Most of them come from my beloved tribe of sober folk who saved my life and selflessly taught me how to show up and to live one day at a time without a drink. They will be the hardest to leave.

What I won’t miss is the feeling of debilitating and demoralizing impotence in a city tricked out for people with superhuman spending powers. Since I don’t do hedge funds, daddy’s money, or luxury real estate or ride in the wagons that circle those camps, I’m going to try a different land where I can still do work I really enjoy, where I can actually have some money in the bank, where I can afford health insurance again, where I can avoid having a panic attack at the end of every month, where my dogs can sniff something other than heaps of garbage bags and sleeping homeless people, where I can walk and not get steamrolled by growing herds of blow-dried drones staring into their iPhones, where the real estate market hasn’t lost its goddamn mind, where the local government hasn’t completely fucked over the class of citizens that made the city interesting in favor of the dull rich who are surfing the shiny hollow wave of a city they’ve smothered.

In spite of all that, I conclude this schizophrenic missive with a very heavy heart. I love this insane town and the dear friends I leave in it. As one of those dear friends once said to me, “New York is a c#%t, but she’s my favorite c#%t.” I couldn’t agree more.

Once I’ve sold all my possessions except for my clothes, my bicycle and my dogs, I’m off to an exotic land called Cleveland. Wish me luck.


Category : Editorial new york, new york city

54 thoughts on “So Long, New York”

  1. Philip says:

    Congratulations, George. I completely get it as you’ve pretty much summed up my experiences and feelings about Los Angeles. And I’m starting to eye Palm Springs.

    1. karl says:

      Amen George…… And I am no religious fanatic.
      This also sums up London. It’s fast becoming a city devoured of character but highly clinical and boring….. And I am just describing the people. Art and architecture are not far behind!
      All the best in finding a new home.
      Keep up writing for the rest of us……

  2. aj14121 says:

    Congrats to you, George. I know that was a very hard decision to make. I understand how you feel, and I was born, raised and went to school in New York, but like you, I feel that now at the age of fifty, it’s time to go. Very recently having a conversation with a friend among the many things that you’ve mentioned, which is a part of your decision to leave New York City has been come a disposable city. What I mean by this, what ever people don’t want they quickly get rid of it and that includes people. I believe that it’s time for me to leave this city, and I am thinking about Greece. I’ve met a wonderful Italian man, who has invited me, so we’ll see….
    Congrats to you again, and all the best to you.

  3. ads1969 says:

    I guess its the end of an era, but one that had to end. Im looking forward to hearing more about your move and your new life. Incidentally, tomorrow just happens to be Rosh Hashana or the Jewish New Year. (A time for new beginnings) Whatever you do I hope you will be happy.

  4. Joseph Crangle says:

    Gotham’s loss is Cleveland’s gain. You’ve got your creativity, talent, your canines and a dramatically lower cost of living. An exciting new chapter in the book of George. Wishing you wonderful adventures on the shores of Lake Erie.

  5. Can’t argue with any of those points George – best of success with the move. I am a native of Queens, but have been a country mouse for several decades… for so many of the reasons you cite. Enjoy the land of Cleve…

  6. Nicole OShea-Holohan says:

    George, I’ll miss you..and the ability to hear your perspective on a City I love so much. It’s a shame I also see the same changes in her that you do. Cleveland is about to gain a whole lot of positive energy. Good luck!

  7. Chris says:

    George, I enjoyed reading your post. It reminded me of myself 14 years ago. I have been in a similar situation to yourself, but mine was fueled by the fallout of 911. There was a voice inside me told me that I was done in NY, yet it was hard because my life was there and I grew up there from childhood. Long story short, it was the best move to make! I’m happily weaned off of the NYC pace and lifestyle, but it took time… We were there a few weeks ago visiting friends and family and I was amazed at how much has changed. I’ve settled down in Florida and have become content with NY being a great place to visit, but I don’t want to live there anymore. All the best to you on the new chapter in your life. Time for you to explore! Chris.

    1. George says:

      Thank you, Chris. 9/11 was, of course, my worst day in NYC. I recently went to the 9/11 Memorial. I had to duck out. I couldn’t get through it (though it was so beautifully and respectfully done).

  8. Raul Diaz says:

    Thank you George for this great article….I too was a lifelong New Yorker until 2 years ago….I now have an affordable apartment not far from the beach with a balcony and washer and dryer…..and finally have a nice bank account, a job I love and a boyfriend…but I still can’t help loving New York. She sure messes with your head!

  9. Anthony P says:

    Good Bye Mr Hahn, Manhattan is losing a good one in you.

    Even though I don’t know you I feel sad.

    More and more original and genuine folks are being driven out.

    I work in Real Estate and it is sad to see what has happened here in NYC.

    To think a walk up 500 sf 1bed in your neighborhood is around 2500 is nuts but the truth.

    Manhattan has really lost most of its flavour, every area has the same bars, restaurants and grocery stores.

    The Lower East Side is not much different then the UES now.

    I could go on and on about how much this town has turned bland and hollow but I am preaching to the choir.

    I wish you all the best in Cleveland.


  10. Sepp says:

    George, as someone who the city three months ago for parts north, and who just took the 1:15 train ride into see a preview of an off broadway show, who spent the morning traveling around to the 16 community yard sales, we don’t miss it. The people we meet at the yard sales were engaging and diverse and excited to be this town. We have friends that call us to go out. There is a vibrant arts scene and talented people. It might look like a scary step now, we asked ourselves for weeks if our choice was right, but I can say there is a life after nyc and its pretty great. You story is on the mark, the big apple is rotten now, your just being wise and will start eating healthier!

    Oh and it helps that we the BEST Chinese food (as in really fresh, not canned) in all of westchester! Lol

  11. George, I’m so saddened by this writing, but I understand you. I was particularly impressed with how you compared your disillusionment with the complete bottom you faced while drinking. That brought your decision into clear focus for me, and I truly mourn for you. I almost fell off my chair when I read the last sentence; Cleveland! You know my entire family is from Cleveland, and I spent many a summer and Christmas holiday there. I myself moved to Houston, as you know, and I never in a million years thought I would ever move to such a place. However, I found a life here that I’m very fond of now. I believe you can make your own happiness wherever you go, and I have faith in you. May you find joy in the new chapter of your life. I hope one of these days our paths will cross again. Love you!!

  12. Kevin McGinty says:

    Well stated George! Everything happens for a reason. You had a great run there. Time to move on and start a equally great run in CLE!

  13. Jesse says:

    Great article. I live in St. Louis and was considering moving to New York! I have friends there and have visited many times. Though in my heart I still want to move there once I considered all I would have to give up to live there just isn’t worth. Plus as you mentioned the cost to live there overall is insane!!! It is definitely a city for the rich. I will just continue to visit. I’m considering relocatung to Dallas, TX. now. How did you come to choose Cleveland? I’m sending you great vibes on your new journey and hope you adjust well.

  14. Tony says:

    Good luck, George…Try not to dwell on the door that closes, but all the new doors that will open. Thanks for all your work.

  15. Juan Cruz Mathus says:

    George, hello from the very south end of our very same continent. Argentina, that is. I fully understand what you said and your feelings, too. You started your text explaining all the things that you will miss from New York and finished it with the things that you aim now in which should be a new, different approach to your life, excepting for the sort of work that you will do.

    Your friends must be this most difficult part to deal with, but think that -because you love both them and the city- with the money you will now save, you can pay a 2-3-5 day visit to them and the city a few times a year.

    You are going to Cleveland, which looks good from the films and TV and magazines or books I’ve read. It should not be the mayhem NYC is and maybe your dogs will appreciate that. Probably, even though it is still a big place, it will give you more chance to spend a little more time to dedicate to the spiritual side of your person. providing that you have a faith or religion to pay attention to.

    I am from Córdoba, second largest city in Argentina, a good 700 kilometers from the capital, Buenos Aires. B.A. is 10 times more fancy than my place, but 50 times less fancy than New York, yet it faces absolutely the same sort of disgusting problems you are telling about the Big Apple. Maybe in a smaller scale to New York, despite Buenos Aires being an almost 7-million people city. I love the place, I have tons of great friends there, it’s quite cosmopolitan for the South American standards and eveything is attractive and funny, but you eveytime I go I have to carry a wagon of money notes…that I don’t have! I used to go very often in the past, when that was not exactly the case. Now I go just a handful of times. It’s a similar situation.

    Back to my own town, with less than 2-million souls, the renting side is the one affecting me the most, just like it happened in your NYC neighbourhood. Nobody in my family have a house. I have to rent a very, very, very small apartment in Córdoba. Argentina goes, as usual, a terribly hard financial time with the ghost of inflation never ceasing, so every 6 months, I pay more and more and more. Figures that I never manage to raise to my customers as incomes. We also, among a longer list, have insecurity problems. Crime is just around the corner in so many places that, in order to get away just a little bit of it, my girlfriend and I search neighbourhoods that are not 100% safe but at least keep a little lower in the violent statistics. And the real state agents who get our monthly payment (over 60% of my total incomes) know that as the lady who owns the flat does, so they charge you for that without any mercy.

    I am not trying to tell you this only for consolation, but just to make you see you are not alone in the world regarding this kind of feelings which rather often than not leaves us weak and a demoralised. I consider myself immensely lucky to have a God to believe in, so the strength I don’t naturally have inside me in the moments I think about that, He gives it and faith helps quite a lot in the hard task of surviving to the global rules of 21st century. my friend.

    In 2012, I was taken to Europe for a few months to work alongside a client (I am a motorsport journalist since 1990 and by then I was also doing the management role for this young driver). He raced a car from a Swiss team, so he decided to rent an apartment in Bern. Locals were as frustrated as us concerning the flat rental costs). And that was not only Switzerland, but all around Europe, with just a handful of exceptions. Call it globalisation if you want. It’s pure crap, but it is everywhere. Different proportions, same problem roots. The world is still moving to a no end street, where only the richest (or daddy’s boy and girls) can make their dreams, too, most of the times.It’s not only New York, but I guess you will be fine and doing very well in Cleveland. I will continue reading your posts when you put your laptop to work from Ohio. In the meantime, please receive my best wishes for this new chapter in your life! Juan

  16. Bradford says:

    You hit the nail on the head with this one, George. Not only is this piece well written for the personal touches alone, it also draws on what many people are experiencing globally as cities like New York continue to push out the impecunious. I’ve always thought of New York like a drug. Experiencing it for the first time is both overwhelming and intoxicating. After a while, the drug loses some of its potency and you become addicted. Breaking away from this fix is like trying to go cold turkey.

    On the bright side; Convergence and connectivity make where you live less important than ever, less distractions make for more focused writing and New York is always easy to visit and perhaps made that much more enjoyable for it.

    Best of luck to you, sir. You are a pioneer and a profit of past lives no longer profitable enough. You are, however, paving the way for all those who will come to the same hard decision; self reinvention results in a less-costly life leading to an array of unimaginable opportunities.

  17. Brad says:

    Hi George,
    Loved what you had to say about leaving NY. So much of it rang true for me as I had many of the same thoughts and experiences before finally making my own decision to leave a few months ago after living there for over 25 years. It wasn’t easy, I was very stubborn about staying and finally threw in the towel after yet another month of scraping by. I’m now in Los Angeles and though it’s not without its challenges, I am so happy I left to be in a place that’s slower, more relaxed yet still interesting. I don’t miss the daily trials and tribulations of living in NY at all although I do miss my friends. But they now have a reason to come out and visit and best of all I now live in a place where I actually have room for people to stay over.

    In any case, I wish you the best of luck and happiness on this new adventure you’re embarking on.


  18. George says:

    Thanks George — I’m going through a similar existential crisis. A bit further south, MiamiLandia in my case. The parallels between Dubai on the Hudson and Dubai on the Bay are uncanny.

    Is hard to ignore the fact that with the exception of taking my little one to school I hardly leave my house. The squeeze between the expenses of living here, and the effort and energy it takes to almost pay for it all has become suffocating. While not panic attacks it manifest as crippling depression and loss of focus. Both are a terrible conditions for a fellow Art Director. And never mind my rage at the stream (sudo) clients asking for speck ads just to see if I like to devalue my work a bit more today.

    The rich kids have squatted on the party I helped along; and now I — along with all my friends — can only look on from the outside as I fight the unwashed masses and bargain hunting tourist. Is like trying to swim in a toilet that refuses to flush.

    Best of luck in the land of Cleveland — let us know how you get on!

  19. Great article for those of us who remember our own departures from that great city we love so dearly. I’m now in Columbus and happy as a clam. I think, I hope you’ll come to love Ohio as I do. The people are phenomenal. Great culture. Fantastic theatre. Amazing food and friendships. And you can’t beat the cost of living here. NYC is only an hour away and we all vacation there. Come visit me in Columbus. You’ll only be a stones throw away. 🙂

  20. Gregory Moore says:

    As a fairly new follower of your blog, I’m saddened to hear you’ll be leaving New York. I was hoping I’d bike past you one day…but with the nonstop mass of CITIBIKES everywhere, I guess that would be needle-in-a-haystack-ish. I totally get all your points in moving elsewhere. I’m a strong proponent of ‘shaking the tree’ when things are stagnating by moving to new surroundings. And, here’s the good thing: A move is not an irrevocable severance from New York. I left NYC in the early 90’s when it was atrocious…filthy, crime-ridden, homeless everywhere, et al. Spent 8 years in California, where I recharged and came back to a very different New York (in 2000). You can always return, if that’s what you need….though I predict you will take Cleveland by the shoulders and make it your own. But should you decide one day to return, New York will still be here. Whatever you do, do NOT view this as “giving up”. You are turning the page to your next chapter, which I’m sure will be brilliant. Best of luck, George! I look forward to following your future progress!

  21. Mitchell Teplitsky says:

    Wow, I’m going through everything you wrote, and you expressed these feelings so eloquently, I barely can think of anything to add, except thank you.

  22. Jay Lesiger says:

    Wow, George, you encapsulated so many of the things I’ve been feeling and thinking. I have lived in NYC my entire life (first 20 years in a then-lower-middle-class Brooklyn, the next 48 in Manhattan). We remain in New York State part of the year, but now the majority of our time will be in Pasadena (chosen for climate, ease of getting around for this lifelong non-driver). So I’ll be sort of bicoastal, but the pull of NYC is still very strong (the change just happened in May), and I have meltdowns periodically as I try to find my way (and retirement adds another layer to the many changes). Not clear how this diehard New Yorker can ever be a Calfornian, but I’m gonna give it my best shot. Good luck, thanks for your help over the years, and I know you will survive splendidly.

  23. Kerry Riffle says:

    Great piece, George. I, too, left NYC back in June after almost 15 years, for pretty much all of the same reasons you outline above. Currently (temporarily) ensconced in Maine, though – as I’m trying to be self-employed and follow my bliss at the moment – I’m planning to just float around for a year or so, until we see if the business takes off and until I decide where I really want to land (though Palm Springs is currently at the top of that list). Next stop: NW Ohio with the family for an extended visit. Then… who knows?

    I miss NYC and all the potential she offers. But all I did was go to work and then go home and repeat the cycle endlessly since my rent and basic living expenses most often ate up my six-figure income and left me with little else to spend on the glorious amenities of the city. The frustration was just not worth the always-looming potential.

    So… here’s to whatever is next. Best of luck to you in Cleveland!


  24. John C. says:

    And thus completes the third panel of a triptych painted by the magnificent word artist, George Hahn.
    (Two NYC sides that framed the angst and desperation of ‘Sad Faces’ center panel.) Leave the rich bitch behind. Move on. Find some love, and flourish.

    (I lived at 343 West 46th, so easily identify with the life and ‘hood.)

  25. We move out of Manhattan 2.5 years ago and relocated to Cleveland. I lived in NYC for 25 years, my partner Samuel Botero since 1963. We both saw the dreary gentrification spread inexorably. Chase and BofA banks and Walgreen or Duane reeds knocking local businesses off the map. The city population slowly shifted from interesting and exciting to drab and style less. Comfortable, gracious or quirky and charming restaurants gave way to slick jumped up places populated by pretentious nouvea riche vulgarians guzzling high priced wines with palates made for swill, passing judgement on dishes the names of which they couldn’t pronounce. Impassable traffic gridlocks both automotive or human made getting around impossible. We decided to pack it in. We came to cleveland because I lived here once. When we visited together for the first time 5 years ago, we really liked what we saw. I will always remember NYC with love. It was so wonderful once. Maybe in twenty years, when the trolls move on because there will be no reason to live there, a new generation will revive it again, making it the crown jewel of world cities it once was.

  26. John Bence says:

    I made the same decision two years ago. I had worked in NYC for over 30 years as a television producer. When the work dried up, I had to make the decision to move. I’m now teaching high school English in Las Vegas, NV in a Title 1 school. Most of my students are English Language Learners or the children of immigrants. The work is challenging. I miss my group of New Yorkers, but not New York because of the crowds and the cost. New York is not alone in this respect. Every major city I’ve traveled to over the years has been flooded with the offshoots of globalization: high costs, huge crowds (often tourists), and overwhelmed infrastructure. Maybe I should have left earlier, but basically I have no regrets about New York. It offers an experience that no other American city does. Please keep us informed about your adjustment to Cleveland. It has a great art museum and perhaps the country’s finest orchestra…but oh those winters….

  27. Leila Zogby says:

    Well, George, you’ve put in your time. You’re entitled to want to try The Next Thing. Just be sure to take your woolies. Cleveland in January … BRRRRR. And, please, don’t lose your sass.

  28. ANNE FAIRFAC says:

    Wonderful piece, and the metaphor of sobriety perfect. Ever wonder if we were just jumped up on fight or flight adrenaline, or was it really that exciting? I moved to Lake Worth, Florida, full of artists walkable, warm Winters Big Trees quirky architecture. not scrubbed, ungentrified. I have a lovely tropical garden and real friends who have time for me. I wasn’t chased out by high rents because I own property in Manhattan and honey, I still don’t like it. All those smug suburban Millennials everywhere, it is just not interesting anymore.

  29. Bob says:

    I went through this. It was difficult and I miss NYC every day. However, I also like my four-bedroom house on a golf course that has a mortgage waaaay less than my rent was. In Minneapolis btw which is a great city with a huge amount of culture and a number of Fortune 500’s. Good luck!

  30. A great read and I wish you only good things for the next chapter of your life.I too was born,raised,lived and worked in NYC up until 1986 when my company moved me to Asia.After 5 years in Tokyo and 24 years in Hong Kong every time I returned to the NYC for business meetings and to see my Mom I felt that the city was changing, feeling more like an alien.The things I found exciting or humorous now annoyed me and by nature I am not a bitter person.Hong Kong too had changed after the handover in 1997 but it was livable until the government (one country 2 systems yeah sure in words only)decided to open the floodgates to Mainland Chinese.It was always an understandably expensive city but turned into a ridiculously expensive city even with a 6 figure salary such as mine.So I left the corporate world of the fashion industry which makes Dynasty looked like the Disney Channel and where kind words are about as common as water in the desert.Mom passed,I closed her life and my book on NYC and moved to Taiwan 7 years ago where my partner of 12 years lived(long distances relationships don’t work).Life is good and there is nothing I miss about NYC.Sadly it has become a city without a soul.

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