As the seven year anniversary of my move to New York approaches, I find myself reflecting on how much the city, and I in it, has changed. It is said that life is a series of seven year cycles -- what we like to eat, our career paths, and who we are as people are supposed to change significantly every seven years or so. Even marriages and romantic relationships are challenged at the seven year mark (although I would argue that these days that happens a lot sooner.) When I moved to the city in the summer of Ď96 I was an idealistic 23-year old from the Midwest who awakened every day in awe that I was living in the big city. Today, living in New York is something I take for granted, although in the manner of a curmudgeonly old-timer I am constantly comparing todayís city to the New York of my past.
This Saturday at the Yankees/ Rangers game I had one such opportunity. Stevieís friends from Virginia were visiting for the weekend and purchased $20 seats for the game. When I first moved to New York my roommates and I would show up on game day, splurge 6 bucks on bleacher seats, and party like rockstars for 9 innings, or as long as we remained conscious. Iíd heard that the bleacher seats had become alcohol-free during the Guiliani administration, so I hoped to recreate the bleacher section experience in a higher-priced section with superior views of the game. I was wrong. Today, $20 earns you admission to the cheap-family section, where single moms with outer borough accents placated their ADD sons with Crunch N Munch and soda. As I watched the birthday announcements and pre-recorded ďfamily funĒ segments on the enormous computerized screen, I missed the bleacher days where we drank bottomless cups of beer, smoked pot, and insulted the visiting teamís outfielders. I purchased a beer but drinking in the midst of nine year olds ruined the experience for me. I apologized to the out-of-towners, explaining that baseball games were far more captivating before Yankees Stadium became Disney World in the Bronx.
This month two city policies were passed that also gave me reason to complain. The subway fare was raised to $2 and smoking was banned in bars and restaurants. Again, I find myself extolling the olden days, when a subway ride was a buck and a half and you could do whatever you wanted to your lungs in the bars. Last week I went to a show at Don Hillís and watched as a fire marshall policed the bar twice to ensure no cigarettes were dangling for the lips of its pack-a-day patrons. When Fishbone took the stage a moshpit formed, and I found myself swept into the body-jarring chaos, partly because I felt like was getting away with something illegal.
The New York I live in today is cleaner and safer than it was when I arrived. Even my neighborhood, the East Village, once home to squatters and drug users, is a place I am proud to show my parents. When the Gap moved into Astor Place I remember how appalled we all were, thinking that it would never stay long. That was about six years ago, and itĎs still there, now joined by a Kmart and an Ann Taylor. Thompkins Square Park is a place for birthday parties, not to score heroin. This is good, but it makes me wonder -- where is the seedy underbelly of New York today? Itís not in the bars, itís not on the sidewalks, itís not in Thompkins Square Park. The subways are graffiti-free; there arenít even as many rats roaming the sidewalks anymore. Where did they all go?
My friend, a native Manhattanite, recently told a tale of how he collected crack vials as an adolescent. In his lifetime in New York, he's seen a lot more change than I have in a mere seven years. Still, we all have our crack vials of memories that we miss when they're gone. When I moved to New York, Summerstage was free, Times Square was a place to buy sex, and paying 8 quarters for a game of pool was unconscionable. As New York has cleaned up its act, city-dwellers have paid a price. Only time will tell whether or not we're getting a good deal. In the meantime, newcomers to the city may have to endure tales of smoky bars and drunken baseball games from the lips of people like me. Don't dismiss us too quickly -- if we bitch enough, maybe someday this city will be delightfully sullied again.