16 May 2007

Giving Directions To Hipsters

Counting last summer and the (not quite) two months since I returned in March, I've spent less than five months in Williamsburg. And to be fair, the Williamsburg where I live is not the first place many people think of when they hear the name, that distinction being reserved for the Hipster Strip and its immediate surrounds along Bedford Avenue. But apparently I already have the look of an old-timer, because the newly arrived seem to make a beeline for me to ask for directions.

And there are a lot of new arrivals these days, about three quarters of them appearing to have graduated college in the past couple weeks. Sporting nascent beards (you can tell because they haven't had a chance to get grubby from the city air) and ironic hats, they wander through the convoluted streets trying desperately not to let on that they have no idea where they're going or what they expect to find when they get there.

It's taken me a while to get used to the street plan, which was apparently laid out before rulers or t-squares were invented, or else by someone who was drunk, but after semi-mastering the tangled mass of spaghetti that passes for the map of London, Brooklyn was never going to be too much of a challenge. Still, when an earnest young man with a burgeoning but very clean red beard interrupted my reverie to ask directions to Lorimer and Norman, I had to look up at the overhead street sign to verify that we were indeed standing on Lorimer Street.

Lorimer runs near my house as well, but it's a very different Lorimer from the one that skirts the northeast edge of McCarren Park, and anyway, all the streets go rather askew at the point where Williamsburg meets Greenpoint. It's as if the two communities designed themselves to produce maximum confusion and difficulty for anyone straying across the admittedly nebulous border, calling to mind the way that early railroad lines used different gauges of track to make it difficult for the competition to encroach on their territory.

Actually, I wasn't in a reverie as much as I was pondering the conversation I'd just had with a guy who, unlike most of those around me, had lived his entire life in the neighborhood. I'd been wondering what the locals thought of the influx of middle and upper middle class young people that has so radically transformed this area in the past decade or two, and he'd been happy to share his views on the subject.

"These new people," he'd sputtered, "Hey, I got nothing against them, and they done some good stuff for the neighborhood. I go out of my way to be polite to them, but man, they got some attitudes. Like, I'm holding the door open, you know, just to be a nice guy, and they just go walking through, no thanks, nothing, not even noticing me, like I'm the fucking doorman or something. So I decided, fuck 'em, I'm not going to let myself get all burned up about it, I'm just going to let the door slam in their faces and let them deal with it."

I also learned, by his correcting me several times, that he resolutely refused to refer to the area bordering the Hipster Strip as Williamsburg, that to him it always had been and always would be known as "the North Side." Trying to soften his mood about the newcomers (myself included), I said, "Hey, they may have no manners, but at least they're driving up your property values. At the rate things are going, you'll be able to retire a rich man."

"Yeah, you got a point there," he said, "if I owned my house, that is. I rent." Oops. "Hey, it's all right," he assured me, "I'm making plenty of money off the new folks. I'm an exterminator, see, and these people see so much as a cockroach, let alone a rat, and they're screaming for me." To illustrate his point, he showed me a picture of a bedbug that he keeps stored on his cell phone. "This little guy here is gonna put my kids through college."

1 comment:

erika said...

Pat and I are direction asking magnets. We're not sure why. Maybe we're the only ones walking around the neighborhood.