The Everlasting Allure of the Shitty City

The cover of Unwinnable #174 features a black-and-white double-exposed photo of a ghoulish person holding their hands up to their screaming mouth. "Every time I write, things only get worse," is written across the image in shaky red lettering.

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #174. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Looking at the world and finding it confusing. 


Relocating to a new city at 30 years old is, in some ways, the worst possible time you could ever pack up your life and start over. If only for the simple fact that by then you’re entirely set in your ways. You have your routines, your places, your people. You don’t allow outside factors to interfere with the 16-18 hours a day you’re awake that you’ve lived the same every day before and will again every day after. Why change? Why go somewhere else and have to rebuild that routine?

And by that logic, relocating to New York City at 30 is a comically terrible decision. And yet, entirely set in my ways – and not much a fan of crowds, noise or public transportation – I did just that. The never-ending allure of the shitty city got the best of me.

And it really is the shittiest city in the world, you know? Filthy. Prohibitively expensive. Run by the dumbest human beings who have ever lived. Impossibly inconvenient to go anywhere. Full of assholes. Garbage weather. Garbage everywhere. This place sucks!

But that’s why we love it.

Part of this is, I’d wager, a bit of Stockholm Syndrome. If we don’t constantly tell ourselves we love living here, we run the risk of remembering how expensive it is to live in New York and running to better places to live that are nevertheless less cool, like Chicago or God forbid, Philadelphia. But I think more realistically it is truly a place that captures the heart of its residents in a way no other place can.

The red and yellow facade of the Brick Cafe on a sunny corner in Astoria, Queens.

For the correct citizens of New York – new, old, lifelong, or not – it’s a place you instantly want to share with others. To take care of. To give back to. Or in my case, to write about. I use the word “correct” because there is, in fact, an incorrect person who also lives here who does none of the above and has made this place demonstrably worse for everyone but themselves. You usually find them hanging out on the Upper East Side or SoHo, working at Condé Nast and living in the various condos littering the various coasts of the various boroughs, though particularly Williamsburg in the godforsaken area near the Bedford Avenue train station. Global warming should take care of them in a few years, however, so I see them as a temporary issue. I digress.

New York forces people outside of their comfort zone, and in turn, makes them create a new comfort zone. If you prioritize living in a community non-destructively – and you should, otherwise move somewhere else, like, I don’t know, the middle of the ocean – you have to learn how to be a part of a community, how to support it and how to help it grow. Choices as simple as where you buy your strawberries, not to mention how you vote, rent and many other massive decisions that happen in a city have ripple effects that help or hinder New York.

In turn, you get the privilege of participating in the beautiful microcosms that are New York neighborhoods. You get to learn from your thousands of neighbors. I can barely begin to describe how important it feels for me, someone from Kentucky of all places, to live in an area – Astoria, Queens – where English is not the primary language I hear every day. I beg my friends to come see my neighborhood, enjoy it and walk around it the way I do.

Of course, I used the word “privilege” up there and I do recognize that there is no wholly nondestructive way for anyone like me to move to New York these days. I try every day to mitigate any damage my presence may bring and try my best to fight against further gentrification. But I do fully understand I’ll never be completely innocent in this conversation and can only hope to give more back to the community than I take.

All of this is to say, I wanted to write about New York! I feel like this place has, in a lot of ways, given me back my life.

A quiet Astoria side street lined with cars extends into the distance, the late-afternoon sun filtering through the canopy of trees that arches across it.

It is, at times, an unbelievably shitty city on some of the most fundamental levels and often a complete structural failure for most of its citizens. The important thing to do is to fight back against those failures – by taking part in your community, and by literally fist-fighting Eric Adams in the fucking street.

Beyond that, I feel like I’ve never truly cared about where I live, and as such, places have never felt truly comfortable. But I do care about Astoria, about New York. I care about the people on my street and on my block. I care about all the history. I don’t know, I care about taking the N train on the elevated tracks and getting cool views of the skyline and the roofs of houses. I care about it all! Everything that matters and doesn’t, because that’s what makes a place what it is, every single person and every single thing. I care about all the ways in which this city, in the short time I’ve lived here, has made me a better person. It’s also made me a bit of a worse, more grumpy person but I’m working on that and I maybe wouldn’t be so grumpy if people on the sidewalk would learn how to walk, but one thing at a time.

So, please come visit when you get a chance. Meet New York on its level and I promise you’ll love it the way the rest of us do. The everlasting allure of the shitty city gets everyone eventually.


Blake Hester is a New York-based writer focusing on the videogame industry. His work has appeared on Polygon, Vice and Game Informer. He’s also the cohost of the Something Rotten podcast. Keep up with him on Twitter @metallicaisrad.


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