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Musings – Where I Would Like to Live – 4 December 2012

30 years ago I left Miami Beach at the end of 11th grade while my father was mayor of the city, and I couldn’t imagine life anywhere other than Miami Beach. I was brought up in a house where my parents preached to anyone who would listen that Miami Beach was the greatest place in the whole wide world. I used to take people down to South Beach when nothing was there yet to try and prove that South Beach could be fun for people under 65. I was sent to a yeshiva in Jerusalem for a year and didn’t enjoy living there. I certainly didn’t enjoy living in Washington Heights in upper manhattan during my college years at Yeshiva University where people got mugged 2 blocks from the edge of campus. I recall how on the first Friday of orientation week a group of 20 of us went to walk to the local Woolworths pharmacy to go shopping and how I vowed this was no way that I was going to live throughout college. (I just split off and hoped for the best.) Law school in Philadelphia was better. I returned to Miami for a few years but there was no opportunity for me there at that point so I wound up back in Israel, then in Washington DC and finally again in Manhattan beginning in 1995 where I’ve been ever since.

NYC has certainly changed – much cleaner and safer and – with more income – more pleasant to live in particularly as I moved from the West 90’s to the 70’s where the neighborhood is just better. NYC is also a great place to be able to leave. You can get almost anywhere in the world within 2 flights. Now 30 years later, my wife challenged me to think where I would live if I could retire tomorrow. I’ve had a very hard time coming up with a place other than NYC. Although one has to live with the knowledge that this is Ground Zero for those wishing to destroy the pinnacle of civilization as we know it, the greater odds are of survival in a city that offers some of the best medical care in the world. Go just 20 miles in either direction and the quality of medical care goes down real fast. Utilities work here (at least in my neighborhood they weren’t affected by the recent hurricane); there are lots of things to do, it’s easy to get around and people here have energy. You get good workers and very little “manana” complex. Supermarket lines can have 20 people in them but they go fast. See what happens in Miami with just one person ahead of you. People cross the street a lot faster here. Taxes are higher, but you make a lot more money and in certain instances spend less. I’ve never owned a car here and people here tend to be physically fit because they walk a lot and climb a lot of stairs. You can live in an apartment with supers and a doorman and never have to fix anything. When I was a kid my dad had a gun at his bedside and our home alarm went off every night for years, plus I’d stay up every night for years waiting for the cockroaches to come out so that we could spray the room to get rid of them because Florida is a tropical climate and you get lots of bugs. The climate in NY is actually pretty good, as I’ve decided that I’d rather be cooler in the summer and just keep going away during the 6 weeks of January/February when it really gets cold. The heating is so strong here that we actually run our air conditioning all winter long. You really don’t want to be most places in the US when it gets hot during the summer.

But where else to live? My winner after much consideration was Palm Beach, Florida, but only as a last resort. There you have a nice demographic, it’s easy to get around (Miami and Miami Beach has become a real traffic jam too much of the year and prices are close to par with New York City) and there are no state income taxes. But you get hot summers, it’s probably boring there and the airport there is limited unless you drive 90 minutes to get to Miami. California is too far from Europe and I’m not big on sudden disasters such as earthquakes where you wake up under a piano. Asia and Africa are off the map for me. I know some people like living in Thailand because there they can have 3 maids for next to nothing. Doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t mind cleaning toilets and bathtubs, wiping the floors and doing the dishes. I’ve done all of those this past weekend. Singapore is clean and low taxed, but far from anywhere else. Australia is high tax, far from anywhere and the health system sucks. Israel is a tinderbox of tension, taxation and it’s not totally civilized. Arab countries are just not a place for a Jew to live. That leaves Europe with its high taxes and prices, social instability – Jews are not liked there and it is becoming a lot angry with Moslems who don’t want to integrate – and it gets really cold in winter. On the plus side, life could be pleasant there and there are lots of places to go within easy reach. Switzerland is probably the best of the lot, but it’s truly boring and insanely regulated. You can hardly wipe your ass without having to register the toilet paper somewhere. Unless you’re in the UK, everything is in a foreign language. So back in the US, Chicago is freezing in winter – Canada is actually pleasant but only in summer. Which leaves me with NYC and a Palm Beach winter. Pretty impossible if you have kids and yes, the schools in NY are better. I recently sat with a guy on a plane who was from Monaco who was moving to NYC because he said that even though he’d be taxed, he’d make more money and his kids would have a life. So there it is.

I say this even though I am in mourning — my favorite gelateria Grom just closed downstairs and our block, although it has many other redeeming features, such as 3 Italian restaurants, a cream puff place, a coffeehouse and a 24 hour supermarket — will never be the same. My kid hopes for a toy store.

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