Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hot Times in the Hood

I moved to the neighborhood in the first week of July, which means that I've only been in New York for a little over a month. Although I have yet to witness a fatality (knock on wood), I have seen two rainstorms that were massive enough to flood out the subways, a tornado that chewed up Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, an underground explosion that blew off two manhole covers and took out a car, a shooting, and an apartment fire in Harlem. Worst of all, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority has decided to refurbish all the Bronx stations on the 4 line and is completely restoring the B and D lines.

Gentrification, I fear, may be on the way.

My biggest problem with this massive improvement program is that I feel a little responsible. The facts are on the table: shortly after my wife and I arrived here, the City of New York began spending millions of dollars to greatly improve the aging infrastructure of the Bronx. Personally, I think that someone told them we were coming. The trouble is that neither I nor my wife wants to be an agent of gentrification; frankly, we moved here to get away from annoying white people, not blaze a trail for them. I have nightmares about a Starbucks moving into the area. As it stands, I get my cafe con leche (dos azucares) from the grocery store on the corner, where it costs fifty cents and is prepared by a psychotically grinning Dominican who can't quite get over the crazy gringo and his freakish tendency to tip. I don't know if I could handle a double decaf half caf caramel macchiato with two percent milk, easy on the whipped cream. I think my head might explode.

If they start improving the schools, we're hitting the bricks.

One weird thing is the huge number of police in my neighborhood. While I'm glad that they're here, I'm a little disheartened by the fact that they need to be here. Also, I'm not too excited about the condescending attitude that they adopt when wandering through my neighborhood. This, combined with the fact that they tend to move in packs of two to five and all dress in blue, makes them seem like a gang. Well, a gang that has the ability to leave parking tickets. I've already gotten two, and am keeping them in the hopes of building a collection of origami ticket terns.

One bright side to the explosion in my neighborhood is that it has given me a great excuse to take pictures of my street. Since my friend Alex has been asking me to show him where I live, I am hereby proud to offer a glimpse of Bainbridge Avenue and 194th Street!

The first two pictures are establishing shots of the flaming manholes (I just realized how gay that sounds). In the pictures, you can see the front of my building and a few of my neighbors, who congregated outside to watch the fireworks.

And here are a few other pictures of the fire. As you can see, it created quite a traffic jam. I particularly like the one of the female firefighter standing underneath a "Drugs Crucify" sign:

And here's a little movie of it that I shot on my digital camera. There isn't any sound, and I apologize for the shaky camera work.

Later that night, as I walked down to the grocery store for some milk, I passed two young policemen who were standing on the corner, watching ConEd workmen fixing the problem. I asked them what had happened and one, an excitable irish kid who couldn't have been more than 22 or 23 told me that the heat set off one of the manholes, which made a car explode, and consequently set off the "secondary." He then went on to tell me that it was "really cool." When I raised my eyebrows, smirked, and said "really cool?," he put on his game face and told me that it was "um...really terrifying." His partner laughed loudly and I wished them a good evening.

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  • Wow. 50 cents for a coffee?

    So, do you miss the quiet country of Blacksburg? Seems you are acclimating well to your new home and hood. I'm impressed as it always takes me months to get into the groove of any of the places I've lived.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At August 15, 2007 at 1:00 AM  

  • Ha! Ever the teacher. Poor kid.


    By Blogger Glamourpuss, At August 15, 2007 at 8:35 AM  

  • Most important, where do I stay when I come to visit? I'm liking the cost of food on the street.

    And please, go get "Pride of the Yankees" and a bunch of other old videos of the glory days of the NY Yankees, with Babe Ruth in them, and Lou Gehrig, before you go to Yankee Stadium. It's really a shrine to baseball. You don't have to actually like the Yankees to 'feel' the history of the place when you're in there.

    And then, there's the Cloisters.....

    By Blogger The CEO, At August 15, 2007 at 2:29 PM  

  • Reflecting Pool-
    I know! And it's good coffee!

    I'll have to write a post or two about the quiet places I've found, like the botanical gardens and a few of the cemeteries. There's a lot of peace and quiet in the Bronx, if you know where to look for it.

    Moving has taken a little getting used to, and I'm still working on it, but I feel like I fit in here, at least for the time being.

    Do you have similar moments? I've also been passing out books to the neighborhood kids. They're blown away. I fear that I've got a bit of an evangelistic streak.

    I haven't been to the Cloisters yet, but I have spent a bit of time poking around in Inwood and Washington Heights. There's some amazing stuff up there, too.

    Sounds like I have to go for the whole experience when I visit Yankee Stadium. I'll start the homework now.

    You can always crash on our floor--we've even got a couple of inflatable mattresses. Best of all, if I ever get a job, we'll put a few things in storage, and there might actually be room for all of us to move around the apartment at the same time.

    Alternately, I'm pretty sure I can find you some cheap lodgings nearby. Of course, they might charge by the hour.

    By Blogger Crankster, At August 15, 2007 at 4:31 PM  

  • Welcome to New York! You still haven't witnessed anything as terrible as what happened on campus in Virginia, and I hope you never do.

    Watch out for the Flaming Manholes, though. They're a hot new band and all their instruments are pink.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, At August 15, 2007 at 11:02 PM  

  • Nice one about the gormless irish kid- I love putting people in their places with the most idiotic statements that they make..

    By the way Ive awarded you and award buddy.

    By Blogger Judith, At August 17, 2007 at 3:38 AM  

  • My year in NY was in Queensboro when I was the age of the Irish kid. It was alternately cool and terrifying, and sometimes it was hard to tell the difference.

    By Blogger Spellbound, At August 19, 2007 at 9:51 AM  

  • I hope that the neighborhood retains its flavor too. There's something repelling about the sterilized versions of neighborhoods that supposedly are improvements! There's a book you might find's called New York Waters and talks about the NY waterfront and changes. I met the photographer..really nice guy (lives in Brooklyn)

    By Blogger Claudia, At August 19, 2007 at 11:16 AM  

  • Hearts-
    Knock on wood. There don't seem to be too many psychos in the hood. A couple of crack addicts, but no psychos!

    What does gormless mean?

    And thank you, thank you, thank you. I appreciate the award, and the sentiment!

    I like Queens. Every time I go out there, I see a lot of wealthy white kids in their 20's who are pretending to be tough. It feels a lot safer.

    Of course, it's had a lot of urban renewal over the past couple of years!

    I wish you were here. You're referencing a conversation I've been having a lot lately. It seems like a lot of New York just isn't...genuine. It's like "New York Land" with little sections where hired actors recreate cultural attractions for you. It's a little sad.

    By Blogger Crankster, At August 20, 2007 at 12:41 AM  

  • Ahhhh....New York~~~~~

    By Blogger Odat, At August 20, 2007 at 9:23 AM  

  • Last time I was in the Bronx, I was cat-sitting.... (for a real cat..not code for something else...)

    By Blogger amusing, At September 7, 2007 at 8:02 PM  

  • Odat-
    No surprises, eh?

    Cat sitting in the Bronx sounds like a set up for an interesting story...

    By Blogger Crankster, At October 23, 2007 at 5:48 PM  

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