You don’t need Halloween to see a freak show in NYC. On any given day, I see grown men in costumes that my four year old nephew wears as pajamas. Eccentric is NYC’s middle name. Halloween is just an occasion for the real freaks to come out in full glory. For example, if I go to my temp gig super early, I get a glimpse of the “street walkers” (male/female/trans) walking home from a night of work – interesting sight at 6am. This morning the street walkers “dressed up” for Halloween. Talk about a $2 hooker hot mess!! It was too much. I am still transitioning from one career to a new one. Here is my costume: walking around in a suit with a briefcase pretending that I have a full-time job with benefits, vacation time, sick leave. Feels so good to be employed and have job security. Better not get too used to this before I make the mistake of buying something, assuming I have a regular check or holiday bonus coming my way. Darn, even Halloween isn’t fun.
Close Encounters of the Scary Kind
New Yorkers mourn that the city has changed. It’s not as gritty as it used to be. They miss the hardness and the edge. If you want a brush with a little NYC edge, let me share a tip you won’t find on NYC tourists maps. Now I am a street savvy woman from Chicago. I can spot “transitional” issues of urbanization and the tale tale signs that gentrification missed the supposed transitional neighborhood. Being from Chicago, you know that Daley Sr. modeled the Chicago Housing Authority (“projects”) after the tenement buildings here in NYC. So anytime I see a building that looks anything like a CHA project, I get antsy. That can be deceiving here in NYC because regular tenements (not projects) have the same architectural look as project tenements. However, there are some clues. On my street map, it lists “houses.” I thought that was odd because these “houses” take up blocks and they weren’t designated as museums on my map. Oddity – I think not.
First encounter, I’m trying to get a sense of what I can afford for an apartment once I’m settled. I browse the web and come across a place in a good neighborhood that is $300-400 under rent for the neighborhood. Strike one something is awry. Being street savvy, I know it is best to visit a neighborhood in the daylight and at night. A place can be quiet by day and then the freaks come out at night – you feel me. So I decide to stroll over, check it out and then go to Central Park to read a book. I turn the corner and oh no. I see a middle age couple unpacking a moving van for their daughter going into the building listed below rent. Now the building itself was nice. It is what was next to the building that caught my eye. Strike two, this “house” looked like a cross between Ida B. Wells and Robert Taylor Homes. Da’ projects! No wonder the rent was under market. The projects is next door! I’m staring at the couple unloading their daughter and wondering what the world is wrong with them. If she doesn’t make it home for Thanksgiving break, they only have themselves to blame. Here’s my dilemma. I was already half way down the block when I made my project discovery and the fellas hanging out already spied me. This is street savvy part. Don’t turn on your heels and runaway. I had to put on my “homey don’t play that” face and walk on by. No face firmly in place, I walk by the neighborhood homeys without incident. Strike three – cheap rent isn’t worth my wondering whether or not I’ll be an innocent bystander victim of inner city violence. Call me whatever you want (bourgeois, stuck up), the value of my safety is priceless. As a single woman I don’t do transitional or up-and-coming neighborhoods. Allow me to tell you what that really means – you will be robbed on the regular until the neighborhood is safe enough for the cops to answer your 911 call. Pleeease!!!! I went home and asked my roommate about the “projects.” My roommate said, “there are no projects in Manhattan – you need to go to the boroughs.” I told him that I know projects when I see one. He said it was like section 8 – subsidized housing. I said, “if that is NYC version of section 8 then I don’t want to see the real projects.” From then on, whenever I saw “houses” on my map, I used alternate transportation.
Fast-forward to this afternoon. I have an appointment on Museum Row. Being frugal, I took the train. From the train I had to walk four blocks to Museum Row. What a difference a block makes in NY! I get off the train and it doesn’t look like a Fifth Avenue neighborhood. Not bad, just working class. No problem. I proceed to walk the four blocks west to Fifth Avenue. Oh no! Deja vu and not the good kind Dionne Warwick sung about. I look up and I am across the street from another “house.” It wasn’t on my map. I need to walk through the “houses” to get to Madison and on to Fifth. What the what?! I went from working class, to “houses” in a block. I arrive on Fifth Avenue and am greeted by doormen. Talk about the schizophrenia of differences within four blocks. I decide that I will not take the train back because I am not walking through the “houses” again. I will walk through Central Park to the Upper West Side if need be, but I am not taking the train. In NYC, you can never find a cab when you need one. I had to walk 20 blocks (short blocks) but I was wearing heels, before I could get a cab to Midtown West. Just another day living and learning in the NYC.
My version of NYC fright night.