A Montanan’s Guide to New York City

By Beacon Staff

If you’re a Montanan visiting New York City, let’s face it, you’re a long way from home. Yes, there’s a “Naked Cowboy” posing for pictures in Times Square, and a metallic, anatomically correct bull statue near Wall Street. But the similarities seemingly end there. The population of Kalispell would fit into approximately one-fourth of a square mile of Manhattan, according to population density. And look closely – that bull’s anatomy isn’t quite right.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit.

“I think everyone in Montana should come to New York City because it’s so different, and yet it’s still the United States,” said Jyndia Schaible, a 23-year-old Flathead High School graduate. “That, to me, is amazing. It’s our history, it’s our heritage.”

And so let Jyndia, two other native Kalispellians, and this New York City journalist and University of Montana graduate be your guide to New York City.

In Montana, opportunity comes from the land. Once it was: “There’s gold in the rivers.” Now it’s: “There’s powder on the mountains.” Still, the great expanses are what draw tourists to the Big Sky. In New York City, the reverse is true. Unless you are obscenely rich, you aren’t going to be buying or renting much space in New York City. The only bad news I’ll give you in this whole story is this: Your hotel is going to be overpriced.

“I feel like you could rent a whole city block in Kalispell for what you would pay for a decent two-bedroom apartment in the city,” said Brandi Dougherty, a 1994 Flathead High School graduate.

New Yorkers love talking about rents and apartments, and bemoaning the missed real estate opportunities before prices began to skyrocket 20 years ago. Fun New York Game No. 1: Ask a New Yorker how they found their apartment. Then listen to a journey as torturous as anything Bilbo Baggins faced. Then, casually, mention what you pay for rent.

With space at such a premium, the public parks in New York are preternaturally popular. Brandi likes Prospect Park in Brooklyn, where you can find ponds, running trails in the woods, and peace. It’s big enough for a Montanan to appreciate. Gabriel Jostrom, Flathead High 2000, likes Central Park, where he occasionally rides his mountain bike (illegally) on the north end of the park.

“There’s some bum trails that have been padded in by some people up there,” he said.

Gabe told me this, in fact, on a bench in Central Park, not far from the office of the hedge fund he works for. On that day, it occurred to me that the way I would describe Gabe’s clothes ¬– casually expensive – is not a description I commonly used in Montana. But don’t let the black leather loafers and blue-blood aqua zip-up sweater fool you – Gabe is a Montanan at heart.

He plays in a bluegrass band, for God’s sake. It’s called “All Night Cookin’” and when he tells me the Web site he makes sure I know it’s “cooking without the g.”

So how did Gabe end up in New York City?

“I went to Harvard for school, and I met a pretty girl there from New York,” he said, laughing.

Fun New York City Game No. 2: Imagine living, like Gabe, with your significant other in a 500-square-foot apartment. Your space – 250 square feet – is approximately the size of a typical Kalispell closet.

Work opportunities have always drawn people to New York City. There are no hedge funds in Hungry Horse, and no publishing conglomerates like Scholastic in Whitefish. That’s where Brandi, who has the gentle demeanor of a schoolteacher and the wardrobe of a hipper J. Crew model, works. She helps create the book club flyers you might remember from elementary school.

But it’s not jobs that keep people here. Brandi moved to the city in 2000, and doesn’t plan to leave. The reason is the energy of the city, that joyous, indescribable crush of overstimulation. Fun New York City Game No. 3: people watching. People watching in the city is novelistic, with endless passing plots, romances, villains, confusions, and poetries.

Part of the city’s energy also comes from the multitudes of bars, restaurants, shops, and tourist sites packed into an easily walkable area. For example, here’s an example of what you can find in my neighborhood, the East Village, in a five-block radius:

A store that sells medical oddities and stuffed rats.

A three-course dessert restaurant.

A 90-year-old shoe repairman.

A “secret” bar that you have to enter through a phone booth in a hot dog shop.

A Japanese appetizer restaurant where they give you a cup of sugar to make cotton candy after your “meal.”

Jyndia showed up in New York City in September 2007. “I came here with two suitcases and one box that I shipped, and so I literally had nothing,” she said.

Though she baby stepped into city life by living in Portland, Ore., for college, she showed up in New York like “one of those tourists that stands and does a 360 taking pictures, and I almost got hit by a taxi because I totally wasn’t looking,” she said.

In the ensuing two months, Jyndia has grown into a New Yorker. When I met her in SoHo, her favorite shopping district, she multi-tasked – walking and joking with her friends while text messaging and darting between taxis as she crossed the street. On the subway uptown, she laughed loudly – New York loudly – and didn’t lurch when the train left the station.

But here’s a secret about New York: the people are pretty nice. Fast moving, yes, but the Letterman barbs and the conventional wisdom that New Yorkers are surly and impatient just isn’t true. For the most part people will help you. They’ll probably be shocked you’re from Montana – they may even, says Jyndia, think Montana is in Canada – but they’ll be friendly.

Jyndia may be assimilating in New York, but there’s plenty of Montana in her yet. As for New Yorkers, she says, “the closest they’ve ever gotten to a cow is McDonald’s.”

Brian McDermott, a University of Montana graduate, is a freelance photographer and writer living in New York City.

Related: NY City Recommendations

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