- I had a plan to move from New York City to Philadelphia. Then the coronavirus pandemic happened.
- I was still able to relocate, but not before changing my plans countless times.
- I was living in a 400-square-foot apartment filled with moving boxes for weeks on end. On the day of the move, my rental car was towed by the New York City Police Department.
- The process was stressful, but now that I’m settled in, I’m so glad I went through it all.
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My hands were shaking, my face was flushed, and it felt like I could barely get the words I wanted to say out of my mouth.
No, I didn’t have COVID-19. This was the “before times,” and I was about to tell my editors I was leaving New York City where we worked and moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with my partner Mike. It felt like an ultimatum because it was: If they weren’t open to me doing my job as a health journalist remotely, I’d have to quit. I didn’t want to. Luckily, they agreed to let me work remotely.
Mike and I decided we’d move in April 2020, right before our lease ended. We went to Philly and found our new home. We rented a moving truck and told friends our plans. We planned a going-away party at my favourite Lower East Side dive bar.
Then the coronavirus pandemic happened.
My boyfriend Mike and I lived in Manhattan’s East Village for 3 years. Before that, we lived in Astoria, Queens for a year.
Our 400-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in the East Village was only the second place we looked at during our rental search in 2017, and we fell in love with the location.
We were just a few blocks away from Tompkins Square and East River parks, and our neighbourhood was filled with community gardens. It was quiet, too, by Manhattan standards at least.
But Mike never loved how crowded and loud New York was, and I was getting tired of the daily grind too. So in the summer of 2019, we decided to plan a move to Philadelphia.
We both grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and liked the prospect of being closer to our families. Both of my parents grew up in Philadelphia where much of my extended family lives, so I felt a special connection to the city.
We knew we didn’t want to give up city life completely, but were ready to save more money and live in a larger space than we could afford in New York.
Moving my entire life to a new city during a global health crisis proved anxiety-provoking, exhausting, and relieving all at once. It also required lots of improvising and flexibility.
Originally, Mike and I reserved a U-Haul and asked nearby friends and family to help us move our belongings into the truck so we could drive it ourselves.
We wanted to save as much money as we could so we could buy new furniture and save up to adopt a dog.
But once the pandemic resulted in stay-at-home orders, we knew our plan was foiled.
So we cancelled the U-Haul and hired a moving company in Brooklyn that was still open and willing to make the two-hour drive with our belongings to Philadelphia.
Originally, we planned to move on April 18. But as stay-at-home orders continued, I became increasingly nervous about getting stuck in New York City for months on end.
We decided to move a week earlier and booked the movers for April 1o.
We packed up the tiny apartment using recycled boxes from the pharmacy a block away, and with Amazon Fresh delivery boxes that we accumulated from weeks of staying at home and ordering groceries online.
We created what I like to call the “leaning tower of boxes” by stacking as many as possible in the corner.
I knew we’d have to continue working from home right up until the move, and I needed space to do that.
I had nowhere to sit and work besides my couch, bed, or a rock-hard folding chair. By the last week we were in New York, I was ready to scream “Get me out of here!” and knock over all of the boxes in a fit of rage. Instead, I cried a lot and watched way too many TikTok videos.
For most of March, I would find a bit of sanity with daily midday walks to the park. But during my last week in the city, I became increasingly worried about getting sick, so I stayed inside as much as possible.
I got fresh air by sitting on my fire escape (sorry, landlord) and going for brief walks during off-hours or on quieter streets away from crowds.
But I was still worried I’d get COVID-19 right before the move and ruin our plans.
In the end, Mike and I didn’t get sick during the move.
We also rented a car to drive ourselves to Philly. We picked up the car the night before and decided to park it on our block since the movers were arriving early the next day.
It was pretty surreal to drive through a near-empty Manhattan.
When I picked the car, an employee told me it had been disinfected twice, but I cleaned it with Clorox wipes that I brought along just in case.
The morning of the move, I woke up at 7 AM to Mike running into our bedroom and yelling, “Someone stole our rental car!”
I never jumped out of bed so quickly. At first I thought, “How? We didn’t leave a single item in the car overnight and I know I locked the door.”
Then it hit me. Our car had been towed.
I thought we’d diligently read the signs outlining parking rules, but apparently that wasn’t the case.
At 7:30 AM, we wore masks while riding in an Uber to the tow pound on the other side of Manhattan.
Over $US200 and an hour later, we got our rental car back just in time for the movers’ arrival. This time, I took extra care to park in a legal spot.
The movers arrived at 9:30 AM and packed up our one-bedroom apartment while we stood as far away as we could in the kitchen. Three hours later, we were ready to head to Philly.
We drove on near-empty highways and passed lots of dystopian signs warning people to minimise travel.
About 2 miles out from centre city Philadelphia, we spotted this sign directed towards New Yorkers like us. We had already planned to self-quarantine for two weeks when I saw that Philadelphia health officials requested it in late March.
After 2 weeks of staying in our own home, we were finally able to go for walks around the neighbourhood. My inclination was to explore my new city, but that’s on hold since most businesses are still closed.
When we decided to move in August, I was excited to explore a new city and find my new favourite coffee shop, bar, and takeout spots. I was ready to reconnect with my Philly friends and family I hadn’t seen for months and years, but those plans are indefinitely postponed.
Right now, getting to know Philly involves long walks while wearing face masks, ordering takeout from local restaurants, and getting a daily cold brew from the coffee shop down the street that offers physically-distanced ordering.
Moving during a pandemic was never part of my plan. But the experience validated why I wanted to move in the first place.
Sometimes, I feel a bit sad thinking about how I didn’t get to say goodbye to New York in the way I wanted, getting drunk with my best friends, eating at my favourite restaurants, and sitting in the office a few last times with my coworkers.
But now I live in a 900-square-foot three-story house with a backyard, save $US500 a month on rent, and just applied to adopt a dog.
At one point in my life, I was willing to sacrifice these dreams for another one I had: Living and working in New York City.
That dream wore on me after a while, and moving during the pandemic highlighted the things I was happy to leave behind. I was sick of feeling suffocated by crowds of people and living in a box that had just enough space for our belongings. I was sick of calling my fire escape “outdoor space” when the parks I loved became too dangerous of places to hang out.
When the pandemic began, the cramped nature of New York City only intensified that feeling.
I’m so happy to be in Philly, go on secluded walks, and eat lunch in my private yard. Setting up my new home has been a welcome distraction.
I don’t know when I’ll really get to know the city the way I intended. But now that I’ve lived in Philadelphia for a month, I can say my decision to move to a smaller and more accessible city was the right one for me, and one I’ll be happy with for years to come.