Monday, October 27, 2014

Finding New York

The massive London Terrace complex, in Chelsea, 
between 9th and 10th Avenues, 
on 23rd and 24th Streets.

Since late 2006 I’ve spent time with Jim, my significant other, in NYC. His place is just north of Greenwich Village. It’s known as Chelsea or, as the New Yorker once dubbed it in jest, Gaymanistan.

Jim’s apartment is in London Terrace, a pre-war complex that takes up most of a big city block. Life runs smoothly with the help of elevators, concierges, a secure package room, valet services, laundry rooms, even doctors, physical therapists and a number of shrinks including the actress Lorraine Bracco, who once played a shrink on “Sopranos.” Tim Gunn lived here for a time and so did Sam Waterston, star of “Law and Order.”

We have a post office where I sometimes spot Wallace Shawn, from “My Dinner with Andre,” looking unkempt and sounding nasal-y as he mails off his packages. We have a deli with a great salad bar, a grocery store, a Joe’s coffee shop, a lively hairdresser and a barbershop, even a podiatrist. And if you don’t want to take an elevator to the ground floor and venture outdoors, most anything can be delivered. This is the New York City that many experience some version of, and part of why it’s heralded as great. A city block is a neighborhood with everything you could want in your day-to-day life mere seconds away. Everything else is a subway ride away, though I prefer to walk.

Jim moved here 40 years ago. 1974. It was a rough neighborhood back then, but things have evolved. Chelsea now boasts a five-star quality of life, with high rises sprouting up everywhere to take advantage of all the perks. Banks and drug stores populate many of the corner lots, the High Line is half block away, and scores of galleries draw boatloads of well-to-do people from all over the world. Chelsea Piers, a block away on the Hudson River, has a state-of-the-art athletic club that hangs out over the river. Cruise ships, always a spectacular sight, come and go. There’s a driving range, skate board park, a carousel, and yachts owned by people like Diane Von Furstenberg. Jim’s rent stabilized apartment has positioned us in a place that, while quite extraordinary, feels pre-destined: banks, luxury housing that crowds out the High Line’s sun, yet another yogurt shop. There are few surprises here.

Before our neighborhood gas station was demolished 
to make room for more luxury apartments, 
some artists erected this installation. 

I ask New Yorkers, “What do you mean when you say you love ‘the energy’ of NYC?”

Is it the honking roil of traffic, the masses crammed on street corners waiting to cross, the lines at Trader Joe’s that are so long they are delineated by workers holding up big signs that say, “Line Starts Here” or is it the palpable stress every time the monthly rent bills come in the mail?

Again: What is meant by New York City’s energy? What am I missing? Or has it come and gone?

I finally glimpsed what people are talking about. I went with Jim to an industrial section of Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, to look at a window restoration job. The building is an old three-story farmhouse — a gem — hidden in the middle of hundreds, if not thousands, of run down factory buildings. Many of the buildings are empty and others are taken up with a mix of small businesses like a one-man upholstery shop, party spaces in warehouses and trades like window making. I saw a smattering of artist studios taking hold, surrounded by an exuberance of graffiti. And then, of course, this holdout farmhouse that’s about to become a gorgeous organic restaurant imagined by two young restaurateurs from Sydney, Australia.

You can feel that something about to happen and it’s that promise, that creative force amassing in this blank canvas of a neighborhood, that’s utterly thrilling. It makes you want to stake a claim — so that when we met with the young couple with the pages of dreamy architectural drawings, I said to Jim, “Let’s help them make this happen.”

Here's what we saw in Williamsburg...

A window maker's completely fetching storefront.

Three loading dock bay openings tell stories we can only guess at. 

And so much amazing graffiti it was hard to stop looking and get to the meeting on time...

 "Speak your mind" pretty much says it all!


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