Spectators at the 2015 TCS NYC Marathon, preparing to cheer for participants as they make their way through Brooklyn.
If you've read a couple of my previous blog posts, you know that I've been thinking about all of the changes happening around New York City. Part of that change manifests in the renaming and re-bordering of neighborhoods. My own home sits on a street that is a kind of "no man's land" between South Slope and Gowanus, its designation changing depending on who you speak with and their own time in the City.
"Gowanus" as a neighborhood is a fairly new label. Large chunks of it was previously considered South Slope, Park Slope, or Carroll Gardens. A quick Google search for "Brooklyn Neighborhood Maps" combined with a Craigslist search for rentals in Brooklyn reveal how many different opinions there are about where and what each area is called. Although it may seem trivial what you call a neighborhood, it can make a huge difference in terms of the rent you pay and the cost of nearby amenities. Remember Elaine's delivery dilemma in that classic episode of "Seinfeld"? The struggle is real. Are you in the up-and-coming new area with massive growth potential? Are you in a solidly family-oriented and quiet neighborhood with the best public schools and hospitals? Will you be surrounded by artists and students or lawyers and techies? Your neighborhood's name can instantly reveal (or at least, give you a decent educated guess) the answers to those questions.
I walked down 9th St. and a little bit of 10th St. below 3rd Ave because it cuts through some of the disputed border areas. It has a very strange mix of old industrial, residential, and new business up and down the street. And of course, you also get to cross the 9th St. Bridge that allows boats and other water vessels to pass through the Gowanus Canal (it puts the "fun" in Superfund!). I actually ended up arriving at the bridge just as a boat was coming through, a barge of trash attached to it. The smell was...intoxicating, in the most ironic and pun-filled way possible.
The subway station at Smith-9th St. has been undergoing construction and upgrades, and the modern architecture and shiny materials provide a striking contrast to the old luncheonette and deli below it. Across the street from the station sits a car wash/U-Haul parking lot that somehow seems perpetually dusty and never quite legitimate.
This mish-mash of industrial, commercial, and residential has made me wonder which will eventually win out. HAHA, just kidding, it's gonna be residential whether it's through legal means or not. Just like in Chelsea and the Lower East Side and Red Hook and Williamsburg--where abandoned factories became trendy lofts and condos--these strange brick buildings will probably transition into palatial multi-million dollar dwellings within my lifetime. I'm holding out hope that this portion of 9th St. between Smith and 2nd Ave. remains primarily industrial and commercial, with many of the spaces being rented out to musicians and artists that need studios for their work. The "next-big-thing" could be inside that brick building on 9th St. just before the bridge, recording their master track. I can only hope they live long enough to enjoy their success, as the toxic fumes wafting from the Gowanus during the summer months are difficult to avoid.
You also can't help but notice the elevated train tracks, slicing through 9th St. before running parallel to 10th St. Sometimes it's funny for me to see these shining metal trains reflecting the sun's rays when just a few decades ago, Bruce Davidson captured the gritty, graffiti covered trains and their riders in his iconic series of photos about the New York City subway system. As much as we bitch and complain about the fare hikes, the occasional foul smelling train car, the delays, the inconvenient construction and repairs on lines (I like to mock the L Train riders as much as the next person, but I feel pretty terrible for them right now)--it's still amazing how efficiently it does run on the whole, especially since it's a 24 hour service (I'm glaring at you, BART, and your hilariously inadequate hours of operation).
And finally...here's a photo of a pizza place. Because I'm pretty sure I'm morally obligated as a New York resident to post one. Also, their to-go slices are delicious.
Things in New York City change. Duh.
Living in Brooklyn is a bit like living in a bubble. Correction--living in Brooklyn with a family and child to raise is like living in a bubble. I don't wander into Manhattan or Queens or the Bronx like I used to when I was single and on my own. I can't just leave my house whenever I want to catch a show or check out a bar or wander. It doesn't work like that for me anymore. That's fine. I'm too tired and lame for trendy places. I yawn far too often non-ironically nowadays. And, apparently, Child Protective Services frown upon leaving a toddler unattended.
Because I so infrequently visit the other boroughs, it's always jarring for me to see what has changed and what has remained the same despite that change. Storefronts that were staples of my first years in NYC disappear, replaced by trendy eateries and retailers. More corporate chains are popping up, but so are boutiques and specialty stores. Aging but legendary establishments feel dwarfed and overshadowed by their new, shinier, larger than life neighbors. The city feels much cleaner, and the almost predictable cycles of death/growth are strangely comforting; but the sterility and monotony of these changes rather ironically smack you in the face. Who knew I would sigh sadly upon seeing so many of the sex and smoke shops gone from 6th Ave.? That a tear would come to my eye when discovering the Coffee Bean on MacDougal St.?
Honestly, I'm mostly okay with these changes. I'm not in denial that they're going to happen. It's really only when places of great sentimental value disappear that I clutch at my heart. The restaurant where Matt and I had our wedding reception luncheon? Gone. The hole-in-the-wall sandwich place that my friends and I would frequent during late night cramming sessions in college? Gone. The bar where I had my first legal drink on my 21st birthday? Gone, and twice replaced (in fact, almost obliterated by the recent explosion in the East Village that killed two men and destroyed three pre-war buildings...while construction was underway).
Just as the city changes, I change too. I'm changing from that young kid who was intoxicated by the pace and energy of NYC, to the Brooklyn-bound/bound-to-Brooklyn parent that jumps on the train occasionally and reminisces about what used to be here and what used to be there. It's strange to bear witness to a city's constant transformation, but reminiscing and passing on these emotional memories fuel the ethos of "New York City" for each generation. So go ahead and sigh, roll your eyes at the "old timers". We don't mind.
You're next, after all.
I vacillate between "Eww" and "Aww" when it comes to public displays of affection (aka PDA). It's one of those situations you really can't judge until you see it happen, and your reaction is usually heavily influenced by whatever mood/stage of life you're living at the moment.
In a new relationship? "Aww, look at that cute couple smooching under the bridge!"
Bad break-up? "Eww, look at those morons making fools of themselves under the bridge. UGH."
Recently married? "Aww, isn't love lovely? LOVE FOR EVERYONE!"
Recently separated? "Idiots. WHERE'S THE WHISKEY?"
There's something about New York City in particular that encourages (or, at the very least, doesn't discourage) couples from being very affectionate to each other in public, no matter what their age or relationship status might be. It's not just teenagers and twenty-somethings making out on the L train on; I've definitely witnessed women with salt & pepper hair perched on their balding significant other's lap making goo-goo eyes at each other. For all I know, that woman may be the CEO of her own company, and that man could be the head of recruiting at a large law firm in Midtown. But there they are, giggling and whispering like a couple of high schoolers behind the bleachers of a football game. Except they're not in high school, and it's the middle of Bryant Park. And now her tongue is in his ear! GAH! LOOK AWAY!
Ironically, the density of New York City's population allows for a comfortable anonymity for most residents. You would experience a painful sensory overload if you really tried to take in all of the sights, sounds, people, commotion, etc. that flood every street and every avenue, every minute of every hour of every day. So we all walk around with blinders at 50% opacity, filtering out what we don't need but paying attention to the more curious or out of place when we see it.
PDA always makes it through my filter because, in a city that's always moving, PDA requires stillness from its participants. You have to plant yourself in one place for more than a few seconds. You have to focus on one person. You have to put your blinders on 100% opacity to the rest of the world. You have to be willing to act like a bit of a fool because very personal love--the kind that moves you to make a public display of affection--many times looks like foolishness to others. And that's fine! I'm glad that you find such joy in your relationship! But please try to remember that love isn't all goo-goo eyes and kisses under the bridge. PDA can be demure and quiet and just as lovely. A caress of the cheek, a squeeze of the hand, the wink of an eye. Classy and non-gag reflex inducing. Everyone's a winner!
But if you can't help yourself, make good use of your $1750/mo studio apartment in the West Village and leave the rest of us to fall asleep quietly on our train ride home.