A Change of Place: The Fashion District

Side Note: An apology. I have been posting every weekday but things have been chaotic for the last couple of weeks. I’ll explain later. But here’s a post with a little taste of what’s been happening in my life. Good things in store!

For the past few weeks, we’ve been camped out in a hotel while the building completes some repairs to our apartment. It was a nice hotel: the room was a little bigger than the usual New York shoebox, it had a little two-burner kitchen so we didn’t have to eat out every night, the room was clean, without fail the staff was very nice, and it was close enough to our apartment that we could drop by every day to pick up mail and nudge the progress along. (Our only complaint about the hotel itself was that the elevator’s brain needed reprogramming.)

But the hotel was located in an area of town I’d only walked through on my way elsewhere. A neighborhood bordered on the south by Penn Station, on the north by Port Authority (the bus terminal), and on the west by the Lincoln Tunnel. As a result many people “only walk through” on their way to work elsewhere the in city. It’s a working neighborhood, the garment district, with first generation Americans working entry-level jobs. A midday line of workers leading into the service entrance of the building next door revealed a little lunch counter, open only 10-3, Monday-Saturday. My husband wondered if it’s a hidden gem and determines to visit one Saturday [spoiler alert: he spent the night with a porcelain pillow; so not a gem]. A native New Yorker, he loves the energy that the crowds bring.

But, at 5 pm, when the garment-workers go home to their families in other boroughs or New Jersey, the fabric and button and feather and zipper stores and mom-and-pop shops (there are few chain stores there) draw their shutters and lower their gates. The bars stay open for the tunnel and train crowd. And the locals become more apparent. There are few apartments in this neighborhood. The homeless have become more prevalent in New York since Bloomberg left office, and the drug-addicted are prominent in this neighborhood in a way that they aren’t in other areas. It reminds me of the city in the 80s and 90s.

There were three tourist hotels on our block alone, two on the next block over, another four or five one block up; just a few blocks from Times Square (by far, my least favorite area of the city), it may seem convenient to them. The night we moved in, we rode up in the elevator with what seemed like Israeli gamer-kids, and I noticed another crowd of them waiting on the street when I dashed out to find something to carry-in for dinner. Later in the week, I noticed what seemed to be attendees for a convention of little girl beauty pageants. Mostly it seemed to be international or southern tourists.

And it occurs to me that maybe they think that all of New York is like this. They see this hotel, they walk up a few blocks to the lights, get their picture taken with a sweat-smelling Elmo who demands a tip, see a Broadway show edition of a Disney movie, eat at the Appleby’s or the Olive Garden on Times Square, or maybe grab a slice of $1 pizza and wonder what the big deal is, or stop at a deli and spend – as I heard one family remark – over $100 for “three doubles and three bottles of water,” perhaps get pick-pocketed, maybe walk a little further, shop at the giant, outdated Macy’s, wait in line for the Empire State Building.

This could be their total experience of New York City. They’ll assume that all neighborhoods are like this, and it will reinforce their ideas and assumptions about the city.

Now that my construction is finished, I can go home again to the real New York. But the tourists we shared our hotel with will never have that opportunity – for them, New York will always consist of the garment district.

I recommend the hotel but, if you stay there, leave the neighborhood and find out what New York is really like.

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