Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Taste of Old New York

During the boom years in New York, the city became somewhat unrecognizable to those of us who arrived in the very early 80s when it was just starting to climb out of its 1970s "Prez to City: Drop Dead" period. The trains were terrible - late, dirty, always breaking down. I remember the conductor of the N train saying "This is an N train, N like in Nicotine", which did  seem the most appropriate way to describe it at the time. There were many homeless people living on the streets and the neighborhood around my school was dangerous in a way that seemed thrilling to my 19 year old self - full of squatters and drug dealers but also of underground clubs, cheap bars and restaurants and store front galleries. It was a grubby, run down place but it was a place that had possibilities.

With the financial boom, those possibilities became realities, I suppose, to some, but they were people who had lots of money and their ideas about what was possible were different from mine. The Bowery, where my school is located, has become a glitzy avenue of wealth, amazingly enough. The East Village and Lower East Side have become a playground for young and wealthy Europeans. Or, they were that before it all fell apart. In a rather shockingly quick amount of time, I have been seeing glimpses of "old New York". I'm not saying this a good thing or that it isn't revealing of a high level of human suffering. No, I know the economic collapse is hitting the most vulnerable among us first and hardest so it is nothing to cheer about. But I would be lying if I said it didn't bring out a wee bit of nostalgia in me.

So, with a hat tip to Marilee for bringing this to my attention, I offer up this optimistic bit of old, pre-AIDS, pre-crack cocaine, pre-boom New York, with all the possibilities it inspired among the rubble.


OfTroy said...

Having grown up in NYC, i too see change..

I remember the lower east side of cheap eatery, and Filmore east.. and when McSorley's was MEN only.

I was a teen when Hair came out..

10 years later, I saw Hair again in London.. and it saddened me.
the lower east side i knew.. bohemian, and cheap, was run down and drug infested. the good was gone..

Its different now, (again) but then so are so many NYC neighborhoods.

NYC is a Living City (not a dead remnant) and its always changing.. sometime for the good, sometimes not so good..

Its on steriods.. sometimes anabolic, sometimes catobolic --alway building up, or throwing down.. never the same.

Patti Blaine said...

Helen's last paragraph would be a good start to an epic poem... ;) And OMG but that video made me laugh and cry. Such ebullience and optimism. Where are those men now?

Robyn said...

I know, Patti! I had the same thought! Also I couldn't help but laugh because my super-hetero brother LOVED the Village People in all his 12 year old innocence. And there they are dancing in front of the Ram Rod! We were all so innocent then!

Helen, maybe you should get started on that epic poem...

island sweet said...

my first trip to nyc was 1965. i took the train with my mother from toronto and she basically turned my 15 year old self loose. and i felt safe. and i was.
i thought of you today robyn and your outing to new jersy when i watched the footage of the plane in the hudson river... xxx

bluebird of paradise said...

Thank you Robyn for giving me credit (when none was due) I love reading your blog. It feels like i have "a cousin " in NYC!~