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  • Writer's pictureDillan Taylor

Alone in the city

My makeshift travel work desk.

One week of my NYC test run down. One week to go.

I’m feeling one of two emotions at all times:

  1. I can’t wait to go home to Maryland

  2. I never want to leave this place

I’m in an entirely new space so my survival instincts are keeping me on guard and it feels like I should be on vacation. But I’m working full days of sessions and writing.

One of my best buds lives in Brooklyn. But last week, he was quite busy until Thursday, so I had to entertain myself each night prior. I’m quite good at that, but it’s scary.

It feels like I’m the new kid at a school where everyone already knows each other.

Vital Climbing Gym. It’s hard to beat.

I’m staying in Williamsburg. It has a stereotype of being the yuppy, stuck-up part of Brooklyn.

While I can’t speak for the 150,000 people who live here, I can say that folks don’t seem too thrilled to start conversations with a stranger. There’s no silliness. People seem calculated and reserved. Everyone’s hot and everyone knows it.

I’ve sparked conversations with people at the climbing gym and with a few at coffee shops. The vibe is very much not, let’s be friends.

And that makes sense.

There are 8.2 million citizens in this city. If everyone stopped and opened up to every person who started talking to them, it would be unsustainable. People are doing their own thing.

But after a few nights in a row of this, I was beginning to doubt my social abilities. Maybe I’m not as extroverted and conversational as I thought. Maybe I’m not a master at making new friends in new environments.

Then I went to a chess meetup.

Meetup.com is great. You give it your location and the kinds of activities or groups you’re looking to take part in. Then you just RSVP and show up.

I just typed “chess” and 100+ meetups popped up. The closest one was Tuesday night at a brewery in Gowanus, an industrial neighborhood of Brooklyn.

After putting off getting on the subway (for fear of getting lost or stabbed), I geared up my Google Maps and headed south. Navigating through the different stops and line transfers made me feel like an adult who had a mortgage and could start a fire on his own.

I made it there with no stab marks and only mild disorientation. I walked into the brewery and was greeted by a jolly bartender with tattoo sleeves.

“Hey! Are you here for the chess? Can I get you a beer?” I wanted to hug her.

She pointed me to the back table. It consisted of six people who waved at me and called me over. It was the first time anyone had been excited to see me since coming to NYC.

I had met my people. They were chess nerds like me and we discussed our journeys in the game. I spoke about my tournaments, which made me sound way better than I actually am. After about five minutes of conversation, I realized I wasn’t this unlikable country boy.

What I have been understanding more and more, is that New Yorkers are quite willing to open up. They just need a context in which it makes sense to do so. Meetups, shared interests, groups.

We started playing.

I won a few games, then lost a few. But what I loved was that people just kept piling in. There were close to 30 who dropped in with their chess sets or their dogs. Everyone was friendly.

My new home.

My feeling was that if I lived here, I’d love to organize the event. Try different areas, hold tournaments, etc.

By the end of the night, I had added people on Facebook and even invited someone to a gifted coaching session with me. It was all I could’ve asked for.

Over the weekend, I spent each day with some of my best friends.

I’ll share those stories tomorrow.

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