It’s can be a rough culture shock moving from a small hometown to a big city for the first time—especially when you’re from a close-knit Southern town where “everyone smiles and waves at everyone, whether they like you or not,” and you move to a pretty sketchy area of a city like Newark, New Jersey.
This was the story for Randi Skaggs, now a 41-year-old middle school teacher in Louisville, Kentucky, who relocated to Newark after college. She was overwhelmed by her lack of success—and the even worse poverty all around her.
But her story took a surprisingly inspiring twist—facing the most dangerous side of her new home, she also discovered the human side.
It’s the story that won The Moth’s Louisville Grand Slam storytelling competition.
Acknowledging that she is the living cliche of “the country girl who comes to New York to change the world with her theater,” Skaggs moved to Newark as a cheap alternative to living in NYC on her friend’s recommendation—but she was greatly misinformed about the conditions of the city.
“Newark is the first place I ever heard gunshots,” she said.
Skaggs says she tried to keep a positive attitude—it was just a place to sleep, while she pursued her dreams over in New York.
But the commute to work still required a twice-daily visit to a particularly sketchy bus station, which she jokes was “basically an HBO miniseries about urban decay.”
Everything went fine for a while, and one day she wasn’t surprised when a homeless man came up and asked for money.
She handed the man some change, but he wouldn’t take it. She didn’t expect what would come next.
“I want money, not change.”
But Skaggs was broke, too. “Because I’m just a naturally helpful person, I showed him my empty wallet,” she joked.
But things escalated quickly. The homeless man demanded they go to an ATM. Skaggs truthfully told the man she didn’t have anything in the bank, but he wasn’t buying it.
“You’re gonna get me some money. You wouldn’t be the first person I killed.”
Terrified, Skaggs did something unexpected—she just started talking, rambling hilariously about her own struggles in the city.
“I know you think I have money. I really don’t. I don’t have it as bad as you do, but I’m sleeping on my floor right now because I can’t afford furniture, and most days I have ramen noodles and a banana, not that I’ve lost any weight since I moved here.”
“No offense, but if I did have money, I wouldn’t live in Newark.”
She became overwhelmingly sincere, telling this hostile stranger about her self-doubts, how she missed home and her family and felt she wasn’t cut out to make it in the city after all.
“I’m probably gonna die here tonight because I’m too proud to admit that I don’t belong here.”
But to her surprise, the man didn’t kill her—in fact, he hugged her.
“It was my first human contact in a while,” she joked.
“You’re gonna be something great one day,” she recalled the man telling her. “Don’t you leave New York City.”
The homeless man walked away, leaving Skaggs to wonder what had made him have a change of heart—and what made her reach out to him.
The answer, she believes, is that they were both tired of their respective “bubbles.”
“I was tired of not looking at the people and the things around me because I was so afraid of how different they were from what I knew. And I bet he was probably tired of people never looking at him.”
It left a lasting impression on Skaggs.