Here I am in my tiny apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, getting all weepy about finally moving.
You see, I’ve lived here for nine years. One place, nine years. Leaving is difficult. I know. I stayed here way too long. It always was too easy to not leave. The old velvet handcuffs. I had no compelling reason to go.
I have never lived in any one spot this long in my life. I got quite attached to my humble little abode. I don’t think I’ve ever simply had time to get attached to anything ever before. Due to the transient nature of my upbringing and, later, my occupation, I’ve never stayed in one place for very long. So nine years is a LONG time.
I love the layout of this tiny space that the rental agent assured me was 476 square feet. It seems so much smaller. And, like most people, I’ve acquired a lot of stuff over nine years. I decided three months ago to leave and the move has been looming large and heavy over my head like a big black cloud. It’s almost over.
I adore my neighborhood. Hell’s Kitchen was still on the gritty side when I moved in here, nine years ago, on Halloween. Now it’s all gentrified, a dozen high rises have gone up around me, bringing thousands of new people into my neighborhood. It’s definitely not the same place it was when I moved here. But I’ve been fortunate to watch it grow up. On the downside, all of this new building took away my distant and twinkly view of the George Washington Bridge and the cruise port along the Hudson. Still, I never tired of the view.
In case you didn’t know, Hell’s Kitchen was once home of the The Westies, the notorious New York City Irish Gang. “West Side Story” is based on this very neighborhood. So there’s lots of history here. It’s always been known for its tough reputation. Hookers. Drugs. Homeless. Weirdos. There was a grisly murder in the high rise down the street long before I moved in. The guy who coined the “Club Kids” recently got out of prison for chopping up his roomate and leaving him to dissolve in acid in their bathtub during a frenzied, drug crazed crime spree. There was a heroin manufacturing factory in a brownstone a half block away a few years back.
My apartment is 14 short blocks away from work, 20 minutes on foot, including elevators. I love the convenience. I am so spoiled. I am about to become a commuter. Adding at least an hour to each direction of my daily commute. Am I crazy? Maybe.
So many sounds make up this place. Interestingly, I always needed the white noise of a fan to sleep before I moved to New York. Here, I have the sounds of the city to lull me into slumber. I have a hard time sleeping when it’s too quiet.
First, there’s the white noise, the din of the city. Then there are the sirens and car horns and the sounds of boats on the Hudson: everything from cruise ship horn blasts and their muster drills to pleasure and tour boats, water taxis and tugs…the one long and three short blasts of their horns as they back away from their piers into the river. Fleet Week always was centered on the pier closest to me — my Pier 84. I always vowed to take a cruise leaving that port, even so I could just say “I walked here to the cruise ship from home.” I just never got around to it.
One Sunday morning a few years back I was awakened waaay too early to the sound of Oprah Winfrey’s voice bellowing and ricocheting off the high rises. She was doing some kind of event near the Intrepid. I saw Chicago, Lionel Richie and Earth, Wind and Fire perform on the Intrepid. Plus countless fireworks shows that launched there, usually without warning, but always a pleasant surprise. During Super Bowl weekend, the Bud Light Hotel was parked at my dock. I had almost a front row seat for the Foo Fighters concert, from my bed. I actually sang along, the sound was so clear and so loud. (It was a great show).
I’ll also miss the boys next door at FDNY Rescue 1, as they go screaming out of their fire house on runs. It’s always been comforting to have them so near. They’re the best neighbors you could ever have.
I’ll miss the rumble of the Amtrak train as it passed under my building, always wondering about the stories of the travelers on the thousands of trains I’ve watched entering and exiting New York over these last nine years. Yes, the train drove me crazy at times. I used to work the night shift. But every morning at 7:25, that train would stop in its tracks, waiting to roll into Penn Station and would blast its horns. Really loudly. Sometimes, seemingly, loud enough to blast me right out of my bed.
I could hear the roar of the crowds in Times Square from my apartment — I live two blocks away. The city would literally vibrate on New Year’s Eve. I walked over there on New Year’s Eve once, as a regular person and fought the crowds and had an awful time. I went twice as a news producer and had the time of my life. I generally avoid Times Square, unless company wants to see it. It’s too congested, too expensive, too commercial.
Each night around 1:30am, I hear the clip-clop of horses’ hooves. There’s at least one carriage that goes down my street, back home to its nearby barn after a very long day ferrying tourists around Central Park. A sound you just wouldn’t normally associate with urban living.
I will miss an incredible view of the city’s skyline, especially at night. I have never gotten tired of my view, as you’ve probably gathered over the years from my numerous postings of photos. I’ve seen rainbows and spectacular lightning through these windows. I once witnessed a shooting in a parking lot, where a high rise now stands.
Every year I got a free preview of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade the night before, as the floats traveled up Tenth Avenue to their assembly spot. For a couple of summers I watched the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks throw my window from the comfort of my sofa.
On nights I couldn’t sleep I’d gaze out the window from my bed and count the yellow taxicabs. I always told myself, once I hit 100 cabs, I should be well on my way to sleep. It usually worked. Not tonight. My last night here.
Other nights I’d watch the jetliners as they lined up, dots in the sky, either approaching Newark on the Jersey side of the Hudson, or I’d simply look up. On certain nights, the flight path to and from LaGuardia Airport goes directly over my building, along the Hudson. The planes fly quite low. Sometimes, I worried, too low. It was fun when I’d fly back to NYC when I could see my apartment roof and sometimes wondered if there’ll ever be a day we could just say “here” and parachute home.
The moon cast its own special glow over Manhattan from my point of view. I’d watch it rise, casting a surreal light over Midtown. On at least three occasions I watched the International Space Station fly over Manhattan under a clear, starry sky.
Lots of interesting things have happened to me over this last chapter, in this apartment, which in the truest sense, has been my haven. My last two precious dogs lived here with me. Their little nose prints still dot their favorite window. I never had the heart to clean those tiny prints off.
I was here when Superstorm Sandy hit two years ago. Feels like yesterday. The water rushed up my street, as I am in a flood/evacuation zone. But it didn’t get as far as my building, thankfully. I took my little dog Andy to look at the damage along the Hudson the next morning. We checked out his dog park, it was okay. (Boy, I’ve missed that place, but since he passed, I can’t bear to go there. So many friends with dogs. Sometimes you know more dogs than people in your neighborhood through the friendships your dogs make). We were most fortunate. Just a few blocks to the south, Manhattan was shrouded in darkness for two weeks. Other places, as you know, were devastated.
I’ve seen TV shows and movies shot on my street. Actors wandering around. Photo shoots with models in front of some of the grittier buildings across the street. The President’s motorcade tore down my street once. Another time we were shut down because of a bomb threat. On September 10th of this year, THOUSANDS of motorcycles screamed down 43rd St. To honor those lost on 9/11. It was quite a site.
Back in January there was a horrific fire in the high rise on the corner. One man died.
I witnessed the mighty New York Times move out of its building down my street to its new headquarters.
I’ve seen THREE (!!!???) bowling alleys pop up in my neighborhood, countless wine stores. I guess the new people moving here need to drink and bowl. I’ve watched restaurants and businesses come and go. Neighborhood characters, too. I’ve made quite a few friends in my apartment building.
For a while they shot “Project Runway” in my building. I just learned the other night that Patrick Ewing visits frequently, as he shares custody of his dog with his ex-wife. I’ll miss Ellen, the actress down the hall. She’s lived here longer than I have and she’s always been so nice. I also met a matchmaker who lived here, a medium, an agent for actors and an author. There’s a dog who’s lived down the hall longer than I’ve been here but I’ve never once seen. His owners never, ever take him out (that poor dog). Many of the people who work in this building have become friends who I will surely miss. So many interesting people. Lots of characters I’d see on the street, too. The homeless man who collects returnable bottles. I was startled to see him in another neighborhood once. The school crossing guard, Desiree, who always has a kind word. The man I nicknamed “Batman” because he had this miniature wooden bat he waves around in front of the corner bodega.
I’ve watched probably one hundred businesses turn over on Ninth Avenue over the past nine years. Again, the main reason, as I’ve spoken to business owners: The Rent is too Damn High. Seriously. My friend and former co-worker Matt once told me “you know you’re a real New Yorker when you can walk down a street and point to store fronts and say ‘this used to be…that used to be….'”
I’m going to have to reconfigure my routes to the airports. It was always so easy launching from the Port Authority two blocks away. The “A” train will always be my train. The M-11 is my bus. I have my favorite meat market and vegetable stand. My pizza joint. My Chinese place. The Little Pie Company.
So if it’s so great here, why am I going?
It’s time. Hard as it is. I stayed here way longer than I should have.
The rent is getting ridiculously high. The rent really is too damn high. I don’t know how people can afford to live here anymore. In fact, a new study came out today: NYC’s homeless population in every category — singles, families, children, blacks, whites — is on the rise. I’m not surprised. This city is becoming one of “haves.” I definitely can afford the $575 monthly rent hike, but why should I pay it? Enough is enough. I’m sad the neighborhood is changing so much, too. Change is a part of life. I get that. But this neighborhood is losing its character by the day.
I also haven’t slept too well for a few years due to all of the construction. Relentless jackhammering, yelling, blasting. I remember the day I moved in, I rushed to the warehouse across the street because the lettering on the building said “New York Public Library.” Voracious reader that I am, I was so excited. So I burst through the front door with my library card, only to be turned away. The building was owned by the library, but it was a central depository, meaning they brought books from all over the city to this warehouse, only to be redistributed among the libraries. So many books, yet none I could read. Two years ago they closed the depository and started tearing down walls and adding stories. That old warehouse now will house the new Beacon High School. That means, after all the construction and upheaval: teenagers! Yikes.
Not sure why I’m so sentimental over this place. I’d tell anyone else who wrote this tome that it’s time to grow up, to move on, to roll with the changes. Or as Taylor Swift would sing “Shake it Off.”
Hell’s Kitchen has a piece of me and I definitely have a piece of it in my heart and my psyche as I move forward. Starting a new chapter, a new adventure, a completely new and outside-my-comfort-zone living situation, a vastly different neighborhood, new people, new things to do, places to see.
So November 1, I hit the reset button on my life in New York.
But for now, here on my very last night in my Hell’s Kitchen, I will listen to the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves as I do now at 1:44am and I count the taxi cabs, as a light mist seems to fall only over West 43rd Street, Hell’s Kitchen, NYC.