People always talk about the sense of energy in New York, and they are correct.
New York is a high-intensity place, with an implicit promise of great opportunity so that every waiter can become an actor, every lowly proofreader can become an editor, every person who is “good with numbers” can become a hedge fund manager. As the song says, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
An ad on the subway summed this up very nicely:
Besides the sense of opportunity (which admittedly was battered by the recession of 2008), there’s also the fact that New York is always changing. You turn your back for a second, and old buildings are being torn down and new buildings are rising in their places to create a new city-scape.
For my overseas readers, New York City is comprised of five boroughs (mini-cities): Manhattan, which is what many people inaccurately think of when they say “New York City,” Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Manhattan has and always will be the jewel in the crown, but Brooklyn is now the place to live. In the past ten to twenty years, there’s been a huge exodus to Brooklyn as the Manhattan middle-class and artists were driven out by high prices, and Brooklyn is now where you will find much of the energy, arts scene, and people with children.
When I lived in Manhattan for fifteen years in the 1980s and 90s, you wouldn’t go to Brooklyn on a dare. Brooklyn Heights, on the waterfront south of the Brooklyn Bridge, was fine, but Cobble Hill and Park Slope were sketchy, Prospect Park was definitely iffy, and most of the rest of Brooklyn was just too dangerous to spend much time in if you didn’t have to. Artists were starting to move to Williamsburg, across the East River from Manhattan, in order to live in huge warehouse space and lofts that were much cheaper than in SoHo (South of Houston Street) which were being bought up by large numbers of celebrities and wealthy people.
In Manhattan, the West Village was gentrified in the 1970s and the 1980s by gay men. At that time, the Alphabets (Avenues A, B, C, etc., on the Lower East Side) were the place to get a foothold in Manhattan real estate, or at least a cheap apartment to rent. Later, Chelsea, on the west side from about 14th to 30th Streets, became the place to live.
What’s happening now, according to my friend Steve, is that people are getting priced out of Chelsea, and are moving north to Hell’s Kitchen, west of Midtown and north of Chelsea. This was the part of town where the Irish gangs historically lived and the murder rate was high. I remember looking at an apartment for rent in Hell’s Kitchen; it was a dark, dingy, depressing railroad-style apartment with a bath in the middle of a tiny kitchen. I didn’t take it. Prices are now soaring in Hell’s Kitchen.
One store had the most compendious collection of spices I’ve ever seen. Have you ever seen such mouth-watering colors?
Speaking of eating, I saw this sign in the Village:
Only in New York would the nineteen days from February 17 to March 7 be considered “a week.”
I met my best friend from high school whom I haven’t seen in many years because she and her family live in California. Her son, a constructor of crossword puzzles, is the second youngest person ever to have a crossword published in the New York Times. At the advanced age of 17, he was addressing an annual convention of crossword enthusiasts in Brooklyn.
After taking the subway back to Manhattan and walking another 50 blocks (you do a lot of walking in New York City), I saw this sign in a Barnes and Noble:
A Chinese laundry (and yes, they are called “Chinese laundries,” the same way you’d talk about “Korean markets,” or you’d say, “There’s a Korean on the next corner”) had a man working in the front window. He was ironing the shirts at the right of the photograph, then putting the finished, ironed shirts to the left. Great marketing!
One more post to come!