I watch Knicks fans cuss out Trae Young’s name. I watch the best of Coney Island spin on their heads and mispronounce Joe Biden’s name while with their toothless mouths they scream into a cheap microphone. I watch folks go wild at San Gennaro, at the Central Park water balloon fight, at a Pop Smoke memorial, in Dyckman, in Harlem, in Times Square. And I think to myself, “Man, I miss New York.”
This is all while I’m sitting on my couch in Park Slope, just a few miles from where all of Sidetalk NYC’s videos take place.
Sidetalk began as the passion project of NYU students Trent Simonian and Jack Byrne. They wanted to showcase New York, build a brand, and create entertainment made for sharing on social media. Their first one-minute video on New York Fashion Week blew up on the Internet, spreading across the networks due to word of mouth and the fact that New Yorkers don’t shut up about New York, either in person or online. Two years, eighty-six episodes, 800,000 Instagram followers, and many more interested, disturbed, and obsessed folks laters, Sidetalk has shown the world the best and brightest that New York has to offer.
The videos capture a city that famously never sleeps, not even during the darkest days of COVID. New Yorkers meet in Union Square to cheer on Andrew Cuomo’s resignation. They jab at Joey Chestnut’s hot dog a.k.a. glizzy eating mastery. They stake their claims as the Boardwalk King, the Queen of Brooklyn, better than Boston, better than Atlanta, better than everyone. These videos show all sides of New York, even those that bubble up from the muck at the bottom of the Hudson.
In these videos, people who left their city out of fear, necessity, or sickness over its loud, cramped, and coughing quarters find something to miss about their old home. Hell, even people who never skipped town still find themselves homesick.
New York contains five boroughs, over a hundred distinct neighborhoods, and more than eight million people of races, religions, political beliefs, bagel preferences, and so on. Sidetalk captures it all in its most raw form and dilutes it down to a one-minute digest. One day in an Internet Archive of the not-too-distant future, these small but mighty clips will remind viewers of what was here.
Watching these videos, I see the eccentric faces of characters I’ve met on my own travels around New York. Of course there’s the Naked Cowboy, but there’s also Sandy Kane, the Naked Cowgirl. There’s Big Chocolate Daddy and his ever-flexing oiled pecs. There’s Spider Cuz, Mo Mozzarella, Ray-Dizzle. A$AP Rocky makes an appearance. Michael Rappaport shows up.
I’ve lived in the city for almost nine years straight, ten if you count the time I spent here as an intern. To spend ten years in New York feels like a major achievement, and to have your dreams fulfilled is to summit one of the world’s greatest mountains. I didn’t become a late night talk show host or writer, but I got married, performed music on some notable stages, walked and biked around almost every inch of this city’s streets, and didn’t die. I think not dying in New York is the least anyone who lives or visits here can hope to achieve.
My time in the city won’t last much longer. I do want to escape to greener pastures, and with my wife’s work and the kind of life we’re hoping to create for a family, it looks like those pastures will take up space in the state of Massachusetts. (Go Pats; they’re better than the Jets and Giants and they always will be. Fight me, cowards.) But some things about New York have taken up permanent residence in my soul: The grease from a pastrami sandwich at the deli down the street, the “bing-bong” of the subway car doors closing, the smell of a smoking pothole at 4:00 in the morning after a night of drinking and karaoke down on West 4th Street, watching the Mets hit a walk-off home run and hearing the fans’ cheers echo across the Long Island Sound.
I’m gonna miss this place someday. But no matter where I go, no matter how much time passes since I leave New York City, I hope Sidetalk’s there to show me who’s outside.