Liz Funk loves Albany

By Jessica Pasko

liz funk todayLiz Funk wrote the book on overachievers. No -- really -- she did. The 20 year old Pace University Senior and Voorheesville native just released her first book, "Supergirls Speak Out." A few weeks ago she was on the Today show and she's got interviews and lectures scheduled all over the country.

But while many young people are leaving upstate NY after college to start new lives and begin their careers, overachiever Liz Funk has come home to the Capital Region.

She talked with Jessica Pasko about why she's back, and shared her thoughts on stopping the upstate brain drain.

I think it's interesting -- and kind of great -- that a young woman with a book deal and a private school education has returned to her upstate digs, considering the Capital Region's notorious "brain drain" problem. What do you plan on doing next? Where do you see yourself in the next couple of years?

I honestly much prefer living up here to living in Manhattan. I lived in the city for three years, and although I'm so glad I did it and I had a blast, living in New York City is really hard! Sex and the City and Gossip Girl and chick flicks give an overly romanticized look at New York life. Because most young people in NYC don't have cars and live in small, grungy apartments, everyday tasks like getting groceries home and getting to class can be complicated and labor-intensive, and it can start to affect your productivity and your mood.

I really do like the Albany area; I think it's beautiful. I like to go out to Indian Ladder Farms in Altamont and Thatcher Park and take in the scenery. But I can see what you're saying about the brain drain--I went to see Avenue Q at Proctor's a few weeks ago and people started getting up during the finale to leave, and I was shocked--like, "Seriously, people?" You would never see that in New York, and it embarrassed me a little.

But, in general, I do love the Capital District. The people here are so friendly and nice. There is more possibility here, too: there's a smaller creative class, so it's a more supportive environment for young people to dream big. And I think twentysomethings who live in medium-sized cities and the suburbs grow up to live more cheerful, more organized lives.

I will probably move from Albany within the next year to get more life experience, but it will definitely be to somewhere more laid back than New York, like California or Florida or Paris. I honestly have no idea what the future holds for me--and for all the other students who are graduating this year--but I have the overwhelming sense that we'll be happy and find jobs and hopefully encourage our government and our culture to incite some positive change.

Why do you think this area isn't a more appealing to younger adults?
The irony is that this area is such a great  place to live; I like it so much better than Manhattan--it's such a civil, happy life up here!  A big part of the problem is just that there aren't a wide variety of jobs here.  At this point, none of what I do professionally has ties to Albany; I'm telecommuting to New York (or other cities) 100%.  Although I haven't searched for a job up here, I get the sense that there aren't many avenues that creative professionals can take. But I think the bigger problem is the mood here. 
I think people think that when you live in a big city, you have the opportunity to explore your personality and your style and be funky because there's more anonymity and glamour in a city--but you can have style and personality in the suburbs!  This area needs a little more diversity of people with different talents and looks and unusual interests, and I think people living in this area shouldn't feel shy about being edgy even if this area is technically a suburb. There was an awesome article in New York magazine in the late summer about the possibility of living in Buffalo and how New Yorkers are leaving NYC for Buffalo and I think we young overachievers need to view Albany the same  way--that it's an open frontier of possibility that we can make our own.
What do you think we're missing in this area that could maybe attract more up and coming achievers?
I think the biggest thing the Capital District is missing is brunch places.  I'm completely serious.  I used to live in Hells Kitchen, a cool neighborhood west of Times Square, and between 56th Street and 50th Street, there were probably 15 places where you could have a really awesome brunch with mimosas and Benedict salmon or nice French toast or whatever.  There is no better way to start the weekend than with a good brunch.  Actually, the restaurant/hangout thing here is a big problem.  I don't think there are many easily accessible places in this area to curl up with coffee or a glass of wine or have a private conversation with friends in a cool atmosphere.

Although--here's the thing, I think you have to bloom where you're planted.  When I left New York, I was a little sad, just because I felt like I lost a lot of the possibility and je ne sais quoi in my life.  But a week or two after I'd been here, I went to Barnes and Noble and chatted with this woman in a beautiful vintage fur coat, and she was wearing a cute knit dress and ankle boots... just to hang out at the mall!  So I think you can still explore your style and your personality and dress like you live in a city of 1 million or 8 million, even if you're going to shopping malls and eating at chain restaurants.  I think that until the legislators come up with a solid plan to bring more jobs to this area and make it a more enticing place for young people to live, it's all in the mentality, for now.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


Justin's, Ramona's and Marche at 74 State all do great brunches.

Does anyone find Liz Funk really condescending?

I'm glad that the girl who just moved back to Albany and is planning on moving again to "someplace more laid back - like Paris" finds it amusing that I make an effort to have style and personality even though I live an ignorant, brunch-free existence of shopping malls and chain restaurants in Upstate New York.

Or maybe I'm just jealous because I'm not a Supergirl.

@Cecelia: to be accurate, she said "more laid back than NYC" when referring to Paris. I can give her that. Rest assured: Paris more laid back than Albany? Hell no.

There are myriads of brunch places in the area. So many that it's easy to overlook small joints and stick to your old habits. Chewing on this existential issue with my friend K, she came up with the Magic Restaurant Jar. Believe me, that jar filled up fast. Try it at home.

@-S: True. For some reason I figured New York State when she said New York.

Bread and Jam in Cohoes has a live jazz brunch. I haven't been in several weeks but when I did go it was awesome. Homemade crepes!

"Because most young people in NYC don't have cars and live in small, grungy apartments, everyday tasks like getting groceries home and getting to class can be complicated and labor-intensive, and it can start to affect your productivity and your mood."

Um I sort of want to punch her in the ovaries. Anyone else? "Complicated and labor-intensive" sounds a lot like "I'm a whiner and don't want to take public transportation." Well, out in that real world you're about to graduate into, LOTS of people don't have cars. Not just young people in NYC. Also, out in that real world LOTS of people live in small, grungy apartments, not just young people in NYC.

Oh and FYI Liz Albany is not a suburb. Albany is a City and the Capitol of the State of New York. A suburb is a residential area which is outside a city. Voorhesville, where you are from is a suburb.

If you actually came into the City of Albany you would see that we are not missing brunch places.

If you actually came into the City of Albany you would see that we have many places to curl up with coffee, wine and a small group of friends.

But then again that might be to "labor intensive" for you.

@S - I LOVE that idea! AOA eds - you totally need to pull up the picture S is referencing. What a good idea!

I'll second Summer's brunch suggestions, and also add Cafe' Madison.

Think I need to agree with Cecelia... not just condescending but as naive as most 20-year-olds.

And I think this feature's intro is a bit misleading. Ms. Funk said herself she'll probably leave Albany in the next year for more life expereince (which sounds like a good idea), so why would you say she's moving back when so many others are leaving?

Marche @ 74 State seems a bit pricey as you scan the menu, but keep in mind your brunch includes FREE and BOTTOMLESS bloody marys or mimosas. Oh the joy.
I hear great things about Cafe Madison, but have yet to visit.

Liz grew up in the same town I did - Voorheesville, and admittedly there isn't a whole heck of a lot to do there. There's a big difference between living in Voorheesville than Albany, so perhaps that's more what she was referring to? Who knows.

i love my jar! it's a simple concept...if you're having a hard time coming up with places to eat, just take five minutes to look here:

or here

or here!

Liz Funk is more than just condescending..She is naive,
elitist and in for one hell of a shock when the real
world begins to crash in on her just out of college world.
One word of advice for Ms. Funk and those of her age
group...drop the overuse of the word " cool ". Its fine if
you are 11 or 12. It is pathetic if you are 22 or 23.

I sighed a lot while reading this interview. For someone who claims to love Albany so much she doesn't seem to know much about the city, and that's a shame. But I do agree that there aren't a whole lot of places for a 20 year-old to get mimosas around here. Someone should get on that.

brunch places.

yep, that's what Albany needs to attract "up and coming achievers". I'm with Cecilia and Leigh on this one..double sigh. Liz Funk strikes me as just a TAD precious and I fear that in the not too distant future, reading her own comments will find her cringing (even a sophisticated Supergirl like herself).

But I do love that many AOA readers didn't find her so twee that they suggested options for brunch. yep..offer brunch and hard driving type As, creative entrepreneurs and numerous small start-ups will come in droves!

I agree- she doesn't seem to know the city much at all. Perhaps she needs to actually live here for a while in order to form a better judgment. I get the impression she hasn't spent a whole heck of a lot of time in Albany itself.

"And I think twenty-somethings who live in medium-sized cities and the suburbs grow up to live more cheerful, more organized lives."
Whoa! Where do you get off? A lot of the train-wrecks I know lived in small cities and suburbs. Most of the level-headed people I know grow up in large cities. What does geography have to do with happiness and organization of the population?

"it's such a civil, happy life up here!" I'll remember that the next time someone comments on my ass while I'm walking home from the grocery store. I'll also remember the next time I have to climb over snowbanks to cross the street that's it's harder in NYC because people don't have cars. Oh wait, I don't have one either.

Really Funk, if you display anything, it's the stereotypical ignorance of being raised in the suburbs. Sadly, going to a big school in a massive city has done nothing to open your eyes. People have it hard everywhere, people are jerks everywhere, and people live and work here already. This isn't open frontier just because New York magazine hasn't written an article about Albany like they've just switched a light on and wow! A city!

Oh no, I'm a 30-something! Does that mean my cheerful, organized days are over? Honestly, they're only finally beginning to feel more cheerful and organized. My 20's were a mess.

In fairness though, I think we are being a bit hard on her. I don't think she meant to be nearly as insulting as she has come off. I myself am much, much happier here, and I've lived in Voorheesville, Delmar and Cobleskill (much briefer stints for the latter two). I can empathize with her though, because when I was her age it was my dream to move to NYC. Now I realize I'm better off as just the occasional visitor. Albany is the best fit for me.

It depends on your lifestyle; whether you prefer to lounge on a porch and walk in the woods daily or go to restaurants and museums daily. I actually love all of the above (and I'm lucky enough to have a porch to lounge on), but I wouldn't trade city living for anything at this point in my life.

@Leigh--agree about the sighs. The word that comes to my mind is "vapid." (Other words: "trite," "superficial.")

Hard to figure how a person who appears to be such a lightweight managed to score a book deal.


C'mon community! Let's start a coalition to show those cool New Yorkers how big our folksy upstate hearts can be! We'll recruit working moms, old folks and others to carry up the groceries and do the laundry of single twenty-somethings whose parents are probably subsidizing their apartment in Manhattan. Really. We're approaching 10% unemployment rates and this gal is lamenting the lack of brunch places?! When there ARE, actually, plenty of great brunch places (add Avenue A to the list). I'm not saying we all need to be gloom and doom at all times, but a little sensitivity is called for.

@Summer- I like your attitude and agree with the points you made, including the one about AOA readers being a bit hard on poor ol' Liz.

I'm feeling really lucky that no one gave me a venue to speak my mind when I was 20. God only knows what foolishness I would have spouted.

With about 10-15 more years of life experience, I have no doubt that Liz will a bit easier to take. And really, what's so bad about being excited and a bit naive when you're 20?

I'm feeling the need to step in here and defend Liz, and not just a half-hearted attempt like some others have.

1. On brunches: I am unfamiliar with both brunch places here and in NYC, so I cannot comment specifically on brunch, per se, however I am familiar with eateries both here and in NYC, and there is (in comparison) a BIG lack of cheap eats in the Albany area. CASE IN POINT: a falafel from Mamoun's on MacDougal St. in Greenwich Village is less than half the price of a falafel at Al Baraki. This isn't a dig at Al Baraki, but rather a supply and demand issue. The brunch places named above, I'd venture a guess, are far pricier than the brunch places Ms. Funk mentions in Hell's Kitchen.

2. Chain restaurants = icky, for a laundry list of reasons irrelevant to this post. I tend to avoid them. If this makes me elitist, then I embrace that. When you live in the Capital District suburbs, it's difficult to do so; that's why I live in Albany proper.

3. Liz has a confusion between the difference of "suburb" and "small city," I'll give you that - however, she's only had experience living in either a suburb OR a large city, so it's easy to see how that can happen. I do hope she explores Albany proper during her time back here, and maybe lives in Center Square for a bit, to get a little more perspective.

3. To add to that, to the poster who mentions she doesn't have a car, are you honestly going to tell me that you're the rule and not the exception around here? I don't think it comes across as "whiny" or "lazy" to say getting around (especially grocery shopping!) without a car is labor intensive when you grew up in the suburbs - it IS labor intensive, especially if you're not used to it. Saying something is labor intensive =/= whining about your situation.

4. Perhaps she does come across as a bit naive. However, she's stating her view of things based on her (albeit, to date, limited) experience. And, naive or not, Simon and Schuster seemed to think that she was sharp enough to offer her a book deal. And, quite frankly, I'm a bit appalled by how insulted people are by the fact that she stated what she saw as marked differences between upstate and NYC. Urban planners have noted many of the same differences that Ms. Funk outlines as to exactly why "Tech Valley" will fail (and, to boot, why there has been such a "brain drain") - many young people don't have an interest in living in sprawling suburbs (that require half hour commutes to their offices), filled with crappy chain restaurants. Suburban dwellers get EXTREMELY TOUCHY when people even suggest that their lifestyle is simply not for everyone. Perhaps it's in part because they like holding the notion that everyone who lives in cities does so because they either don't have the means to live in the gilded suburbs, or because they're "elitist liberal New York City types."

So, you decide to attack her because she makes a crack about brunch.

Give me a break.

@ irisira: I think you are making some unfounded assumptions here. I don't live in the suburbs and I fully admit that NYC is awesome. The thing is, both the content and the tone of Funk's answers in this interview are condescending and out of touch with reality. I'm guessing that that is what many of the commenters were referring to when they criticized Ms. Funk.

@ Lucy: Perhaps you're right. I started off my comment trying to make a point, and I think it got lost in the shuffle. I grew up upstate, but my entire family is from Brooklyn, so I've grown up seeing both "sides" of the upstate/downstate argument. And, more often than not, I tend to side with the downstaters.

But, that's irrelevant. What I SHOULD have said, was, that perhaps the tongue-in-cheek comment about brunch was lost on most people, or perhaps I'm lending more interpretation than I should to it; however, I read it as the reason for the brain drain is the perceived lack of character this region has. WE know that's not true, and I think in her own way, Liz was saying that she also knows it's not true (even if she doesn't "know" it in the same way we do, and to judge her by that standard, IMO, is unfair), but there is an impression that this region is saturated with McMansions, chain restaurants, and big box stores, which is unappealing to many young people who are trying to stretch their wings and explore new horizons.

Save for a few pockets, their assumptions aren't THAT wrong. What's worse is, once you start working you will often find many of your peers trying to force you into the same sterile suburban lifestyle. Not always, depending on where you work, but at my office I work with about 30 people, ranging in age from 23 to 60s, the overwhelming majority of us under 40, and most of those people live in the 'burbs. Not only that, but those of us who do live in the city(ies) (we can't forget Troy and Schenectady!) find we're constantly having to defend ourselves from the veiled criticisms as to why we've CHOSEN an urban lifestyle.

Regardless, though, whether these assumptions are wrong or right, this is the picture that young people see when they think of this region, and perhaps rather than getting angry and defensive about it, dismissing those concerns as "conceited" or "naive," we should take a closer look at these concerns.

And, next time, I'll take a step back from posting until I've better thought about what to say, and not just post angrily ... or, at least, I'll try to. :)

Ok "irisira" and others - I was trying to ignore, but its time to set yous straight:

1. FIrst of all - anyone who considers brunch places the "biggest thing the Capital District is missing", as this genius does, has absolutely NO IDEA what they are talking about. And if you can't find good cheap eats in Albany or Troy you need more help than I can (or want) to give you.

2. Chain restaurants - agreed. Go local.

3. There are waaay too many rich elitist-types here in Center Square (case in point - the CSA) to recommend it, I'd say they outnumber the artsy hipster-types 5 to 1; if you don't live here let me tell you, it ain't what it used to be. I'd recommend downtown Troy, or maybe the Hudson park neighborhood or Delaware Ave area. You need a little roughness to appreciate the city life, and CS has become too plastic.

4. NYC is not awesome, it WAS awesome - too many people like Ms. Funk (?!?!) have moved in. Its a gentrified shell of its former self, the soul is all but gone down there - but we still got ours up here folks, so be proud of the capital district's old-school northeast spirit.

"...more often than not, I tend to side with the downstaters."

oh yea, and SHE isn't a downstater - she's from frickin Voorheesville!!

Okay, Liz Funk bothers everyone because she is young, middle class, white and privileged and these kids start opening their mouths and assuming they know more about the world than they actually do. She makes people cringe and resent them...this in the nutshell is Liz Funk--pretentious, arrogant, assuming that she knows more than she does about how the world works...She is so embarrassing. There are soo many more creative and intelligent people to ask these questions to in the area--Young people working hard--and AOA interviews this Liz Funk that things just get stuff handed to her.

She needs to actually live without her parents help or school financial aid--On her own and maybe get a cold hard kick of real life in her comfortable, cushy life before she just goes around telling others about living in Paris or food and culture...Liz Funk is not the beacon of cool for me...when anyone starts their conversations talking about Gossip Girl or Sex and City...It reeks of typical and mainstream.

Amelia, I didn't realize you knew so much about her personal "privileged" "cushy" life. Are you guys friends or something? Because I believe that no matter who you are, everyone has a cross to bare. Everyone has pain. You're acting like she's never even had so much as a paper cut and has dozens of servants at her disposal just because you don't happen to agree with her.

Listen, I have a 20 year old cousin who says really stupid things. A lot. Things that probably aren't true, that come off as arrogant, obviously exaggerated, or otherwise cringe-worthy. But I don't argue with him. Wanna know why? Because that's what 20 year olds DO. My 20 year old self was no exception.

Full disclosure:

I'm also young - 21, have lived in albany for going on 4 years, and grew up in what most would consider the suburbs.

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