By Cassi Heale
Lying in bed one November morning, browsing Facebook even before wiping the sleep from my eyes, as you do, I spotted a post on my news feed that sparked my interest. A friend was advertising an available room in the desirable area of Park Slope in Brooklyn that belonged to her best friend. I thought, “that’d be rad!” but continued scrolling the feed. After passing the twentieth SomeECards cartoon post, I caught myself still fantasizing about living in Brooklyn. I sent my friend a short message stating my interest and asking for some specs.
She told me her friend was looking to get out of New York for a couple of months and was subletting her room on the third floor of an historic Brownstone home for a very reasonable rate. After learning the address and checking out the street view of the place and neighborhood on Google maps, I contacted her friend. Over the next couple of weeks, we exchanged e-mails, texts, and even had a Skype date with a couple of the housemates where the friend gave me a virtual tour of the house. We all seemed to jive well, and following the chat and a private housemates’ meeting, I learned I was in!
The timing of this opportunity was a thing of spontaneous beauty. Only a month prior to spotting that Facebook post, I had left my career job of nearly six years. The idea was to explore myself and decide what I wanted to do with my life. Long story short, I was in the same relationship for eleven years, and had not really had a chance to decide solely for myself what I wanted. I knew I wanted to travel! That much was certain, and imperative. I needed to take myself out of my comfort zone, out of Sacramento, and plant myself in a new scene for a significant period of time.
I had never been to New York, but the idea to visit had actually come before learning about my friend’s available room. On the last day of my employment, I was sitting in my office when a respected customer paid me a visit. He and I had a wonderful working relationship, and he was stunned to learn that it was my last day with the company. Concerned, he asked a number of questions, mostly curious to learn what my next move would be. I told him I did not have another job lined up, but that I was open to exploring any opportunities I found interesting. He insisted on making sure I had his business card, which I couldn’t seem to locate, so he walked out to the parking lot and retrieved one from his car, returned to my office, and handed it to me with a serious look and said, “If you ever find yourself wanting to live in New York, call me. We’ve got a place for you.”
I thanked him, but honestly, I immediately brushed away the idea. Me? In New York? I continued packing my desk and did anything to pass the time—one of the main reasons I left that job was the lack of workload—until 5 pm. Just for fun and in a daydream state, that had become quite habitual in that office chair, I began researching his company and their New York location. The town was not very common, but I noticed that Brooklyn was a reasonable train ride away. Delving deeper into the daydream, I came across an online quiz created by a savvy Brooklynite, which analyzed the most fitting neighborhood for me to live in, based on my answers to a couple hundred questions regarding my thoughts on graffiti and the importance of being in close proximity to a bodega***.
Fast forward a month and a half to the aforementioned Facebook post. All signs seemed to be pointing to Brooklyn. Suddenly, I was bookmarking articles and websites about Brooklyn and Manhattan like a crazy person. I also created a Pinterest board titled “Brooklyn holds you,” which is a lyric from a Norah Jones song, containing all things New York that I found interesting. I became borderline obsessed.
Once I knew my dog would be carefully looked after by my friends and family, and my girlfriend would be housesitting, I booked my flights. One month in Brooklyn seemed to be sufficient.
Getting Acquainted with my New Hood
Amidst my bookmarking obsession, I learned of a volunteer writing program in Park Slope that involved working with grade school kids for a non-profit organization. I submitted an application, and was really looking forward to completing some volunteer work, but unfortunately didn’t receive a response until a couple of days before returning back to California at the end of my trip. I did, however, visit the program’s location, which cleverly took place in a shop called the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co., accessed through a trick bookshelf. I snapped some photos and purchased one of the volumes of the kids’ published works. That day was spent mostly strolling along 5th Ave in my neighborhood (not the Manhattan 5th Ave), popping in and out of vintage and thrift stores, which, by the way, are fantastic in New York! Each shop was even more curated than the next. I scored an awesome Guatemalan-style burlap textile with bright colors that I plan to hang in my kitchen from Guvnor’s vintage shop, then decided to pinch the pennies the rest of that shopping day. Okay, so maybe I treated myself to a mani-pedi, but that ultimately turned out to be a silly idea, seeing as how my hands and feet were unfailingly covered during my month-long stint in that frigid weather.
Ugh, the cold.
The one bad thing I will say about my trip was just how cold it was. “Really? It was cold in January? Shocker.” But seriously, it is a kind of cold I cannot describe. The moment your face, if not covered by a scarf, is touched by the cold biting wind, your chin and lips chap something fierce, and all the bones in your body lock up. I was lucky, I learned from others there, to have such warm weather for the first couple weeks I was in town, which I have to agree was not all that bad. However, to a northern California native, it was nowhere near warm. I routinely sought refuge from the cold in bars, restaurants, and the subway.
This beast I had heard so much about, but had not yet in my life experienced, turned out to be my favorite part of my adventure! For $2.25, I could go anywhere. Central Park, Barclays Center, Chelsea Markets, Bushwick, Brooklyn Bridge Park… they were all a speedy train ride (or two, or annoyingly five on the weekend) away. After surviving my first hiccup trying to board a train from Manhattan to Brooklyn one late night my first week there, I felt like I could conquer anything. Instead of panicking when the man who could not (or would not) speak English motioned to me that my train home to Brooklyn was not running anymore that night, I decided to resurface onto the street and seek out another subway station. It was either instinct or sheer luck that I arrived at another station after speed-walking a few blocks and found a train that would transfer to my direct homebound train. My phone had frozen, you see, so I was tapping in to old school resources. I quickly learned the importance of toting a book or some other reading material on my person at all times, so as to not only blend in with the locals, but to truly enjoy my time spent in transit on the trains.
Books are Critical – And Skip the Museums
That’s one piece of advice I would definitely give to anyone looking to spend some time in New York: bring books, a few from different genres. You will be prepared when The History of Love starts to depress you as you rub thighs with an elderly Jewish man next to you on the crowded F train, and can switch gears to Eat Pray Love and inject your soul with a healthy dose of Liz Gilbert’s witty-self-deprecating-humor. I would also advise visiting Brooklyn in the dead of winter if you hail from typically warm climates. That way, when you return home, you can annoy your friends who are whining about the fifty-something degree weather by replying, “You think this is cold!” Humph. “Try walking the Brooklyn Bridge at night in January!” Lastly, don’t put so much pressure on yourself to hit every major museum on a short trip. Everyone will recommend it, but there are so many free sights to see, and you will feel less like a tourist if you instead pull up a barstool at an unfamiliar but inviting pub in the neighborhood and chat up the bartender and locals. I had the most fulfilling conversations when my feet didn’t touch the ground (and my hand clutched a lowball glass) that added an unmatched shot of life to my adventure. Museums will always be there. I told myself I would return another time to experience the MoMA, The Met, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and catch a show on Broadway. I don’t regret skipping those attractions on my first trip to New York.
- Northeast Kingdom (Bushwick) – farm-to-table restaurant; have Mac serve you brunch.
- Angry Wade’s (Cobble Hill) and Kettle of Fish (Greenwich Village) – Green Bay Packer fans unite!
- Sweetwolf’s (Park Slope) – my neighborhood spot; good food; cozy vibe; bonus: it’s a coffee shop in the daytime (Forty Weight Cafe); great for pickup en route to the subway
- Flipster’s (Park Slope) – homey vibe filled with regulars and conveniently located off the 7th Ave stop; perfect when you’re starving and don’t want to walk all the way home to eat
- Alchemy Brooklyn (Park Slope) – gastropub with delicious Guinness pancakes and a killer Bloody Mary; I can imagine the back outdoor patio being gorgeous in warmer seasons
- Eataly (Manhattan, Flatiron District) – Get there as it opens to see a bustling mecca of the freshest food and friendliest staffers, but do your research online before visiting to select which of the 9 restaurants to dine at (reservation recommended)
- Donohue’s Steak House (Upper East Manhattan, Lexington Ave/E 64th St) – $$; nonchalant and so old school there isn’t even a website; best Manhattan cocktail; for the meat & potatoes crowd
- Street vendors are ubiquitous and sling mouthwatering gyros and hot dogs, so grab some cheap grub when you’re on the move.
- And friendly warning: last call at the bars is typically 4 am, so expect to literally party until the sun comes up, if that’s what floats your boat. I stayed afloat and miraculously lived to tell the tale.
(**On my first night in Brooklyn, I would learn the proper pronunciation, BO-de-ga, and at the advisement of the head chef of the restaurant at which I was dining, “if the bodega doesn’t have a cat, find another bodega.” I’d love to tell you the reason if you ask me in person.)
Guest blogger Cassi Heale is a Virgo, enjoys frolicking on Stinson Beach with her dog Ziggy Stardust, and is powered by sunshine and good coffee. And, by sunshine and good coffee she means Kentucky Bourbon and sarcasm.