Just like I kept telling everyone who would listen for the past five years that I was living in New York City, I tell people now that I live in Washington, D.C. But for the last five years, I was actually living in New Jersey and similarly now, the state that I am actually living in is Virginia.
The similarity pretty much ends there. Life in Falls Church, Virginia and Newark, New Jersey are as different as Washington D.C. and New York City. New York, as I mentioned earlier, is crowded, chaotic and full of towering glass skyscrapers. Washington, on the other hand is empty most of the time, with old European style large squat stone buildings. In New York the subway is complex and ugly, the D.C. Metro is simple and beautiful to look at. In New York the museums, zoo and botanical garden are huge and they cost a lot to see. In D.C. the same things are compact and free, while housing almost similar-sized collections. In New York you would find it difficult to walk ten blocks away from the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree during the last week of the year. In D.C. you can park your car a block away from the National Christmas Tree on Christmas eve. Of course, the New York tree, as all things in New York are, is over twice as tall as the D.C. one. However, this post is not about comparing these two cities; we can do that another day. This post is about life in Falls Church and how it differs from life in Newark.
|The National Christmas Tree. Now compare it to this.|
The biggest difference between Newark and pretty much any other place is, to put it simply, that the other place is not Newark. What it means is you can venture out alone at night without the certainty of getting robbed, you can keep your car anywhere with valuable stuff in it without the certainty of it being broken into, and you can drive in the relaxed mode without the certainty of being honked at.
Although I lived in a relatively empty part of Newark, the New York metropolitan area is mostly crowded. Also, the buildings are mostly old, and the roads (except the major ones) are narrow with one or two lanes in most places. Virginia is relatively empty, with a lot of new construction and many roads having three to five lanes. At least that's what I see in the places that I go to most of the time. The most pleasant surprise was the ease of driving to Washington from Falls Church as opposed to driving to New York from Newark. Although I did not drive either of these routes myself, I have been in the car, and the drive to New York from Newark is a nightmare of traffic jams and tolls while the drive to Washington is just a half hour pleasant drive. Without any toll.
It would be unfair to say Newark was all bad, of course. The thing that I miss most here is the absence of the light rail system right up to my house or university, and the lack of any shops to speak of within easy walking distance. For the last five years, I had avoided driving completely because I hardly ever needed it. Here I would not survive a week without a car. I have to drive to work every morning, drive to get my groceries, to get my phone fixed, to go to the mall, to the DMV, to see a movie, to Walmart or IKEA, and to go to pretty much anybody's house. People living in the US for some time won't find this unusual at all, but for me, this is a somewhat new experience.
Which brings me to the issue of driving.
Some readers of this blog may be unaware of the fact that I bought a car earlier this year, though it is unlikely considering that each of the four readers were informed of this bit of news by other channels of communication. Actually around this time last year, I started learning to drive which resulted in me finally getting a driving license in March. I immediately started looking for a car so that I would not forget how to drive. I wanted a car good enough to drive my parents around when they arrived in May, yet cheap enough that I would not mind reselling at a throw away price if I had to relocate to the other side of the country in a hurry. What I found was an old Toyota Camry whose age in hours was slightly more than its price in cents and significantly more than the number of miles it had run. I have been driving it around ever since, and hopefully getting better at driving with time. I drove it to Virginia from New Jersey last month, and I use it to go to work everyday. The reason I brought this up is because this is the most significant change in my life after coming to Virginia. Not only do I have to drive whenever I am going out, but also I am often the most aggressive driver on the road which is completely opposite of what used to happen in New Jersey. That does not mean I drive carelessly. I am just saying that when the light goes from red to green, usually I am the first person to move forward even after waiting for a second or two. In New Jersey you wait a second extra and you'll get honked at.
Finally, the apartment that I moved into has wall-to-wall carpeting. Again, this is no big deal for most people living in the US, but I have been living on hardwood flooring since 2008 and so I am now terrified of spilling liquids on the carpet. This means I have to devote quite some time to housecleaning every weekend which was very easy earlier. On the plus side, carpeting also means I can sleep on the living room floor occasionally when I am watching a movie on the living room desktop late in the night. I also have a balcony which is too cold these days but I assume it will be pleasant sitting there during the summer.
I am waiting for the summer because I want to go exploring all over Washington like I did with New York, and these days it is too cold for that. Besides, I have never had to clean snow and ice off the car in the previous winters. I had to do it twice this year, and I can already say I don't like the experience.