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HBO’s ‘How to Make It in America’ inspired a young writer to do the same

For Cory Townes, it was time to break out of the mold of ‘normalcy’


Fortune favors the bold. What may be a simple, loose translation of a Latin proverb often affiliated with military camaraderie also doubles as the unofficial mantra of self-starters, go-getters and risk-takers everywhere. In a world where structure and normalcy often find themselves parallel to complacency and stagnation, it’s often those who decide to take their own fate in their hands who consistently speak of living life to the fullest with zero regrets. And with the millennial generation kicking down the doors pried open by Generation X in the fields of entrepreneurship, more and more men and women are going off of the beaten path, looking for their own light, their own way. And, in many cases, that unknown journey often leads its traveler to one place: New York City.

In 2012, I was still in my hometown of Philadelphia. I was a specialist at the Apple Store, which I have to say was one of the best retail jobs I’ve ever had. I was breaking into the freelance music journalism fields in my spare time, and lived a very routine life: Go to work, work and smile, clock out, head home, and see what my then-girlfriend might’ve made for dinner. There was very little that would change in my daily cycle and, at 25, something inside of me knew there was something more that I should be doing.

Fast-forward to the early hours of the next morning, and I had finished the first season.

One day while having a conversation about great TV shows, a coworker of mine asked if I had heard of HBO’s How to Make It in America. I had said no, and he vehemently told me to watch it and that I’d love it. I looked it up on one of the computers and saw that other than Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi and that one Latino actor I’ve seen in mad movies, I didn’t recognize any of the cast. The title of the show was surrounded by a neon outline of the NYC skyline, with the tagline “Dream big or go home.” Seems pretty interesting, I remember thinking at the time.

Fast-forward to the early hours of the next morning, and I had finished the first season. It was amazing, it was funny, it was shot well, the soundtrack was dope, and most of all, it was incredibly relatable. It was the story of two guys, Ben Epstein (Bryan Greenberg) and Cam Calderon (Victor Rasuk), two friends and entrepreneurs from New York City who decided to say f—- the system and any naysayers in their way and started their own business, a clothing line named CRISP (yes, the name of the brand was incredibly cheesy, but work with me here.) In the first eight episodes of the show, I found myself completely captured by the wily antics of Cam and Ben. Whether it was the challenges of running a clothing brand (I had just separated from a clothing brand I had previously spent the past six years dedicated to), to finding themselves the victims of life’s misfortunes, to managing and mismanaging their love lives, to dealing with their monotonous day jobs, I could definitely relate to the scrapping, surviving and hustling to bring their dreams to reality in one of the few cities that could make that possible.

You feel like you’re in the land of opportunity, that anything is possible as long as you put in the work, and maybe have some blessings come along the way.

New York City has a certain mystique about it — an air about it amidst the weird smells, leather Yankees hats and tourists who can’t stop looking up. It can’t quite be identified or labeled, and I’m not sure one could put their finger on a description even if they tried. But it’s an ambiance that brings inspiration to those who are fearless and maybe even foolish enough to let go of themselves and fall to it. You feel like you’re in the land of opportunity, that anything is possible as long as you put in the work, and maybe have some blessings come along the way. And How to Make It in America successfully captured that essence in 30 minutes of television. From randomly spotting some chief marketing officer of a prestigious fashion brand, to mingling amongst the “who’s who” of “who’s whos” at some random function over bottles of Jameson and free conversation, that’s what living in NYC can be like for someone looking to find their pot of gold here, ESPECIALLY to a transplant.

Something inside of me changed after watching that first season of How to Make It in America. I felt as if I had bumped my head on the glass ceiling during my time in Philly, that I had become a big fish in a pond that suddenly seemed small to me. I felt a self-induced stigma of complacency that was crippling. To a majority, going to and through college, coming back home and landing a nice paying job is the start of the rest of their lives, and it never involves leaving the city. I suddenly found that unacceptable for me, and it seemed that the universe started placing more happenings in my life, arrows pointing up I-95, past Weehawken High’s football stadium, through the Holland Tunnel and into the city that would lead me to my career.

Because I discovered the show a year too late, I also felt as though the story of Cam and Ben was never finished. HBO decided the show would only last two seasons, and despite executive producer Mark Wahlberg’s claims that they were trying to resurrect the show on another network, we were left with a final scene with Ben and Cam mending an almost fragmented partnership at their friend Kappo’s (Eddie Kaye Thomas) “Going Away to Prison” party, with the future of CRISP as hazy as an MTA holiday train schedule. But the damage had been done, the effect had taken place. I had to move to New York, and I would do whatever I had to get there.

Fast-forward to now. I’ve been a Brooklyn, New York, resident for the last three years, worked for both prestigious companies as well as worked for myself, found love, or at least something like it (going from Brooklyn to Harlem, New York, is practically a long-distance relationship), and have had enough peaks and valleys to fill a topographical chart. And yet, I still have moments riding the M train across the Williamsburg Bridge looking at the New York skyline where I still have the realization that, Heh, I really live in New York. And it’s a decision that I can call one of the biggest and best of my life, one that has definitely shaped me into the man I am today. And even in the darkest days, I fall back on the knowledge that taking a leap can pay off huge in the end, even if it means peddling cans of Rasta Monsta in Washington Square. The ride is far from over, and to those who are considering risking it all, just look at the cover of season one. Want to know How to Make It in America? “Dream big or go home.”

Cory Townes is a writer from Philly who is based in Brooklyn. Cory's work has been in other publications as SB Nation, Nylon, Vibe & EBONY.