The City 

There are those of us who run with what little we can scrounge up and carry on our backs. We know what we’re running from, but we don’t know what we’re running toward, and yet, we feel it’s frenzied calling. Its chaos steadies us. And if you can calibrate yourself to its rhythm, you get to be a part of its unrivaled wave.

I’ve known the country life, it’s a part of who I am, but it would never have allowed me to grow into who I am and who I am still becoming. I’d always dreamt of it—an unreal city, an unattainable palace of love and charm filled with rats and dirt. 

I saved up, and off I went, straight to Hotel 17. I couldn’t afford the Chelsea Hotel, but the 17 was pretty close. If we were late coming home, we had to scale a wall to climb through the window, which set the tone for the adventures ahead.

The constant exploration: Save the Robots, subway rides, monuments and statues, 80 blocks of solid walking, candied nuts, buskers, fashionistas, the hustle and bustle, bagels and pickles, Broadway, outdoor dinners, and Times Square lights. 

You have to earn your stripes to belong. Not just by getting cut in line at a taxi stand or yelled at on the subway, but by breathing through it, savoring its repellant magnetism. It takes grit to earn the title. The taxi pinchers, coffee bumpers, filthy rats, and dirty looks didn’t scare me. They fed me with the dose of reality that The Big Apple always promised. 

Every block fills me with wild and wonderful thoughts. My nervous system might be near a failing point, but its beauty and pulse are restorative. 

It might chew you up, but it doesn’t spit you out. It grounds you and grows you. It’s had its peaks and valleys, but it always recovers. Just like the changing of seasons, there’s a new iteration and evolution to look forward to; it evolves and morphs, following the heartbeat of its citizens. Never static. 

I’ve made great new friends here. Reconnected with old friends and built a community and passion that’s weathered a storm. ONDA was a spark of an idea… and it began here, as so many brilliant ideas have.

We can say “We are Strong” because we are still here. We tough it out. We are New Yorkers.

- Naomi Watts


 New York City 

I’m a born and raised New Yorker. Like my Mother, my Father, my grandparents before me. I have lived in New York City my whole life, minus a brief five and a half year period that included a year in the Bahamas. But when I came back to New York, I never left her again. 

It's a funny thing being a true New Yorker, and I know for a fact that there aren't many of us left here. People always seem to respond in a slightly stunned and confused way when I tell them I grew up here, as though it couldn't be that anyone was really from here. Then that's followed by....you don't SEEM like a New Yorker? I've always been baffled by this statement. What does it mean? In recent years I've come to think it means that people simply don't know what a New Yorker is. How could they? New York is filled mostly with transplants. Dreamers who came here searching to succeed, achieve a goal, experience the energy and grit, challenge themselves, escape their prosaic lives, or maybe just to know what it is to live in the frenetic hustle and bustle that is NYC.

For me, however, it's something quite different. For me, New York is a very large small town. I've lived through many decades here, and trust me, that comes with a lot. There were the dirty streets and muggings of the '70s. Club hopping and rubbing shoulders with Madonna and The Beastie Boys as a teen in the 80's (when it was ok to be 16 and go to studio 54 and Danceteria). Being a part of the Fashion and  Magazine world that was still reaping the benefits of large expense accounts in the '90s, going to extravagant parties, and traveling the globe in style. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. The stories are endless. But the NYC I know and love? That's a city where every neighborhood holds at least a dozen personal and intimate memories of growing up and where, traveling through the city on any given day, I'm guaranteed to bump into at least a couple of people that I know.

I learned to ride a bike on Rutherford Place between 15th and 16th Street and spent years roller skating that same street with my best friend. I often visited my grandmother on the Lower East Side with my Mother, so we could go to Katz's deli or get rock candy at Russ & Daughters. New York holds so much history for me. My family's history, starting with my maternal grandparents who came through Ellis Island in the 1930s, and the history of my life. Many nooks and crannies of the city house my very special, personal, and sometimes private moments. And now my son will carry on the same tradition. I hope that he'll experience it in the same way that I did. Not for its grandiose qualities but for its more hidden ones. The ones that only someone who has spent a lifetime here could really understand.

I love NYC. For its ability to shine as a beacon for so many, to hinge itself carefully and quietly to each and every experience, and most of all, its ability to pull all who live here together in person and spirit when it needs them the most. When this city is in crisis, the denizens who reside here transform from living busy, sometimes anonymous lives to banding together to do what's needed to lift it back up again. I've honestly never seen anything like it. I lived through 9/11 when there was just nothing more for us to give or donate. Why? Because everyone had come out in droves to help, or to somehow be of service. There were overflows of food, donated blood, work boots, and batteries. We all had the same need - the need to be of use, provide, and help anyone who needed it.

In my opinion, you can't define what a true New Yorker is. That's what makes being one so special. You get to define that for yourself, and only your personal experience here can tell you what that means. But it will ALWAYS mean one common thing for most of us, we are in it together, and we will do what it takes to keep this city and its people thriving so that future New Yorkers can tell their stories and share their experience. Whatever it takes.

Yours truly. A born + raised New Yorker,

- Larissa Thomson