IN WHICH I have less than 48 hours to get to New York City, find a place to live, seal the deal, and return home, victorious. Period. This is my account of my housing reconnaissance, May 7 – 8.
I’ve always had this thing about New York City. Ever since I can remember, it seemed to me a terrifying mixture of too much concrete, too much hype and too many people hell bent on doing each other too much harm. Obviously, I have entire storehouses of negative New York memes running rampant through my already imaginative mind. I pictured NYC as a cruel and uncaring place; a wretched empire for the young, the rich, the jaded and the exceptionally greedy, where being pick-pocketed, mugged, and robbed was just something that happened while you stood in line for coffee.
And then I learned I was being transferred there.
Once I stopped hyperventilating, I began pouring through the history of the city; spending hours hunched over Google Earth, memorizing subway maps, bus schedules, and generally reading everything there was to know about this mecca of perpetual insomnia. I imagined that IF I found a place to live, it’d be an overpriced cubbyhole beneath creaking stairs in a condemned building. I imagined that crackheads, pimps, thieves and junkies would take turns breaking into my apartment while I slept, stealing everything that I owned, over and over, until I went mad. I further imagined that if I went to my employers and complained, they’d somehow blame me for negligence. (I pride myself on being a law-abiding person, but I’ve had some bad experiences with authority figures in the past, instances which I’ll not expound upon here, but which have nonetheless left me permanently mistrustful of bureaucracy of any sort. Die, trust. Die.)
Two pieces of information did wonders for my mood: One, NYCScout, a production location specialist I follow on Twitter, revealed that there were only three “real” New York alleys left in the whole city. The odds of me being dragged into one of them by a gang of vicious 6th graders and beaten within an inch of my life was officially slim to none. And two, there was the legacy of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; a blitzkrieg on the underbelly of New York of old, which many say resulted directly in the dwindling crime rate.
Your predicted response: “But I miss the whores in Times Square!” I realize that NYC means different things to different people, and there are some of you who probably love it. Awesome. I’d like to point out that you already have fond memories and experiences on which to base your opinions. I, at the time of writing this, do not. So please, allow me the opportunity to be wrong.
Housing: I knew I was going to need a place as close to the subway line as possible. There is such a thing as a real estate triangle in NYC; SPACE, LOCATION, and PRICE. You can have two. Unless you’re a household name, you probably won’t get all three. There was no way I could afford anything in Lower Manhattan or Greenwich Village, which was a straight shot uptown on the 1 Red line. My secondary was Brooklyn; specifically, the quiet, tree-lined neighborhoods of Williamsburg.
The subway and bus routes were like colorful rivers that cut through the city, flowing straight toward the mouth of the Staten Island Ferry, and without a better source of info, I based my apartment-hunting strategy on this. A stroke of good luck: a fellow photographer and good friend introduced me to his brother Anthony; an up-and-coming real estate broker who just happened to work for the largest firm in NYC. This made all the difference in the world. I contacted Anthony; we agreed on a time and a place to meet, and he advised me as to what forms I would need to bring along. There was nothing left to do but go.
I caught the 0635 train departing Union Station on Friday, May 7. Next stop: facing my fears.
Friday, 10:36 – Climbing up out of Penn Station, I was immediately overwhelmed by the mass, movement, meat, and metal around me. If I were an asthmatic, I’d have been sucking on my inhaler like it was my job. Truth be told, I’m not a big city guy. I like small towns, quiet neighborhoods, and lots of silence. An ideal afternoon is spent hiking along in the woods, or exploring abandoned buildings. I can’t really explain the tightness in my chest brought on by my first glimpse of the city.
Time to focus. I moved east toward my hotel until I looked at my watch — holy fucking fish fingers! I had less than 25 minutes to find the subway, make my way to Brooklyn, and meet my broker! Fortunately, I believe in redundancy and prior planning. I’d already downloaded HopStop and plotted out my course in the event that I ran late, and everything I needed for the weekend was on my back. I tightened the straps and turned South along 6th, making a beeline for Herald Square. After a few wrong turns, I descended into the subway. (I’m going to miss the swipe card technology of Disco Charlie’s Metro system.)
Friday, 11:59 – Now in a rental property office somewhere in Brooklyn. Arrived just minutes before my broker. (Go, me!) I’d dressed sharp for a change; new brown shoes, khaki trousers and a respectable navy blue button down. I lost all sense of “with it” in the restroom when I sprayed room freshener on my hands after mistaking it for hand soap. The upside? I smelled like flowers. The bathroom mirror had fallen from its mounting brackets some time ago and was propped in place with bricks of Styrofoam and blocks of concrete. At least I could see that my shoes were tied properly.
Friday, 1:30 – I found a place! (*sigh of relief*) MAYBE. The property hadn’t even been listed yet. One bedroom, gas stove, new appliances, wood floors, fresh paint, great view, plenty of floor space, tile bathroom, NNE-facing windows with a balcony, and plenty of storage space. Third floor, steel doors, secured building, good locks. I’d have rooftop space with a view of Manhattan, AND it’s in a tree-lined neighborhood just a few blocks from a Lego-simple train ride to the office, AND and it’s within my price range. It even included a giant wardrobe that matched my writing desk and bookshelf. I thought about how great it would be to move in.., clean the place from top to bottom, stock the fridge, arrange my bookshelf, open the windows, light some incense and wait for the rains to fall…
Conflict: I wanted to get my hopes up. / I couldn’t afford to get my hopes up.
Even as we were viewing the apartment, I was told that the top floor apartment had *just* been taken. I immediately staked my claim on 3R, and hoped for the best.
Later: Turns out my broker has a similar interest in pulp sci-fi, and he’s been working on an “old time” radio show, but hasn’t had time to get it off the ground. We talked time travel, wormholes and exchanged globe-hopping experiences over beer and tacos in a Mexican place nearby.
Later still: Man, they aren’t kidding about Williamsburg being the capital of hipsters. I think I’ve seen Beck about thirty-five times in the past 6 hours. Painfully thin and bearded is where it’s at, apparently.
Q: How many hipsters does it take to change a light bulb?
A: It’s a very obscure number, you’ve probably never heard of it.
Friday, 5:00 – I checked into my hotel on 6th and 37th. Unpack, unwind. I laid out my gear in an orderly manner, everything spaced evenly along the counter from largest to smallest and in order of use or importance. (Yeah, I’ve got a little problem…) Ventured out to get some food, returned to my room. “Oh, but you should have explored! I would have looked around! I’d want to see everythin –” Yeah, I’m sure you would. I wasn’t in town to spend money or explore. I needed every penny for tomorrow. There’d be time for that later. Hopefully.
Not surprised, I couldn’t get a signal in my room after 9 p.m. Watched TV, once again reminded of why I haven’t had cable in over a decade: because it sucks.
Saturday, 1230: Once the application forms were signed, I walked around my (hopefully) new neighborhood, figuring the best thing to do with all this nervous energy was learn the lay of the land. I found a grocer at the mouth of the Graham Street subway stop with all my favorite things on the shelves. (see also: Guinness, Naked, fresh fruit and vegetables.) I was so optimistic about my apartment and a new life in this neighborhood that I must have wished ten little old ladies a happy Mother’s Day. (Kind words from a 6-foot boy scout in Buddy Holly glasses makes old ladies smile.) I found a Thai restaurant, a coffee house, AND they’ve got a little something called Barcade; a happy marriage of beer and electronic nostalgia. Galaga and Guinness, here I come!
From their Twitter page: 2 new games just arrived: Satan’s Hollow and Paperboy. 3:41 PM Mar 24th via web
I walked back to the Frost Street apartment and stood across the street, visualizing myself living there, establishing a routine, and becoming familiar with my surroundings, a fixture in the neighborhood. If this didn’t happen the way I hoped it would, I had no idea what I would do. I wouldn’t have the time and money to make another trip north. This was all or nothing…
Next objective: I took the subway to my new office and timed the route. Thirty minutes later, I was standing at the front door of the southernmost building on Manhattan Island, buffeted by the wind and squinting from the dust being blown up around me. Easy! I’d be up and out the door no later than 0655 every weekday. Plus, I could work as late as I wanted and still catch a ride home. Checked my watch again. My train pulled out of the station in four hours.
After I left Battery Park, I walked north along Church St to Sixth, to the Avenue of The Americas to Greenwich to 11th the whole way to 35th. I reasoned that with all the tourist traffic this town had, it’d probably worked out the transportation bugs long ago. And if 8,363,710 could live here then I could, too.
Once I got over the vertigo and the overwhelming amount of concrete, craziness and carbon-based lifeforms, I was OK. I tried hard not to get my hopes up about the apartment, but I had to have something positive to focus on. Without a home to call my own, I’d be in dire straits. Imagining that I would have a place to call home in this busy biomass did wonders for my mood. Lately, I’d had the feeling of being backed into a corner. I just needed an even break, and I began to feel that NYC might just be what I was looking for.
I felt as though my perception of the world had just grown from a two-lane dirt road in a school zone to an eight-lane superhighway complete with triple-cloverleaf overpass. Sort of.
7:00 – Saturday evening. Now in Penn Station, waiting for my 9:00 train home. Sipping at an iced coffee with two shots and enjoying a cold Guinness while I recharge my physical batteries, and attempt to replenish my iPhone’s power supply.
I talked to a DeNiro look-alike while I waited, another soul hoping to make it as an actor: “So I finish my head shots, ” he says, “and I’m on H street, walking along, minding my own business, right? I put a cigarette out and this guy says to me, ‘Hey, gimme a cigarette.’ I says to him, ‘I got no cigarettes, and I ain’t tryin’ to sell ya one, either!’ And so he says to me, ‘Man, you’re a fucking asshole!’ How the fuck am *I* the asshole, here?” We laughed, then he says, “You’re a pretty big guy, he prolly wouldn’ta said shit to you.” They called Deniro’s train and he walked away.
After a :50 minute wait, I boarded my train back to Disco Charlie. I managed to pick a crap seat. No electricity.
We’re stopped at Newark airport. An express train whips past; a fantastic display of the Doppler effect. WEEEEEEOOOOwwwww…
Moments later, one of the porters comes by and flicks a switch just out of my view. Electricity! “Master Blaster runs Bartertown!” With nothing good to read (William Gibson’s “The Difference Engine” had failed to scratch my itch), I proceeded to Tweet my ass off:
Home by 3 a.m., up at 7, it’s…
P.S. I got the apartment.