There were 20 or 30 gangly 20-somethings vying to fit through the ever-aggressive Subway car doors into spaces meant for far less (and far less angry) folks. It was the usual weekday morning commute hustle, as I’m sure the hipsters would refer to it. I waited back in order to secure a spot against the door.
A guy with a man purse wouldn’t step in all the way – he also wouldn’t take off his man bag and make some extra standing room.
“Sorry,” I said to the man standing in between me, my purse that I was struggling to take off, and the man child.
“What are you all going to do when they close the L train,” he asked. This man was probably in his early 40s; he looked like a man who did actual work for a living, and he had a decidedly New York accent. It wasn’t offensive, though, like someone from Long Island or Staten Island.
“Drive,” I laughed.
That quieted him right away, and I realized he had lumped me in with them. For a brief moment, I had been lumped in with the hipsters and trust fund kids who didn’t actually have to hustle for anything, but the logos on their screen print tees, non-profit jobs and adult dorm room (apartment) were screaming “I’m different and work hard” otherwise.
I smiled. “I imagine everyone will move,” I remarked, looking around the car at the drones.
“Yea,” he said, almost excitedly. “That would be a good thing for the neighborhood.”
“I agree,” I said.
“I’ve lived on Lorimer for 46 years,” he said (also confirming my estimation of his age), “and it was never like this.”
“I can imagine the neighborhood has changed a lot in the past 5 or 6 years, even,” I said.
“Yea,” he continued. “It’s people like this and a bunch of tourists. It’s not what it used to be.”
“We used to live in the East Village, and it felt like the same thing happened there,” I added. “Especially within the past 5 or 6 years.”
“Yea, I used to live in the East Village, too. Sixth Street between B and C.”
“We were on 12th between A and B. It’s so different even now.”
“Yea,” he agreed. “The neighborhoods have changed a lot.”
We both looked around the Subway car at the zombied eyes of the riders, mostly glued to cell phones playing some bejeweled game or another.
“You know the Hassidic Jews, every week I have one of ‘em knocking on my door wanting to buy my property,” the man said. “It’s not much, but it’s ours. They want to buy it and make one of ‘em tall apartment buildings. No freaking way.”
I liked this guy. He was a holdout from another time and generation. One where you lived in a community and cared about the people around you. You didn’t grow a mustache as a sign of individuality (just to look like everyone else), you didn’t pay $200 for ripped overalls to wear with stiletto heels, and you worked hard for everything you had in life.
“There are already so many complexes going up by the water,” I remarked.
“Yea,” the sound of urgency laced with a subtle sadness in his voice, “and hardly any of ‘em are union jobs.”
So he possibly worked in construction, but definitely worked with his hands, from what I was gathering.
“That also means the jobs are done pretty poorly,” I added, which they were.
“Exactly. You know, Eliot Spitzer owns property on Kent, and he’s going to turn it into a bunch of those skyscrapers,” he said.
“Wow. It’s going to be a different neighborhood,” I said. He nodded.
“You know,” I added, “it’s sad to see the rent going up for retail spaces and restaurants. It’s pushing out many of the businesses that were here a long time.”
He shook his head in somber agreement.
“It won’t be such a bad thing when the train closes down for a while,” I continued. “It will also be a good time to buy some real estate.”
I think I caught a smile creep into the corners of his mouth.
“True,” he said.
It had been maybe 5 minutes into our ride, and I was, in fact, getting off at Union Square – the hipster-meets-yuppie hub of the L Train.
“This is your stop,” he stated, mostly for effect, I thought, as I had turned toward the door in anticipation of exiting.
“This is me,” I said. “It was nice talking to you.”
“You too. Have a good day,” he said.
“You, as well. And good luck,” I added.
“Yea,” he nodded with raised eyebrows as the door opened and I joined the robotic army pushing up the flight of stairs, transferring to our other trains or walking up into the world, ready to greet another day.
I smiled thinking he had lumped me in with all of them. I was nothing like them. But I was getting onto the L Train at Bedford, and that assumption probably would have worked for 9 out of 10 riders. I was proud to be the 1 out of 10.
I smiled a few times as I walked to the 6 Train. I couldn’t help but think that, with my sneakers, frizzy hair and no make-up (it was 7 AM), I had maybe fooled him a little. Maybe I even taught him a little. Either way, I felt like a weathered New Yorker who could talk about the neighborhood and community and not feel like a fraud – I had laid down roots.
Not bad for this Jersey Girl.