It's Just a Season
There is an enormous pile of rubble where my grocery store used to be. A wrecking ball tore through that sucker, and all that’s left is a mound of crumbling red ruins surrounded by a deep green construction fence. They’ve torn it down to make room for a huge pile of glass-block condos with a shopping center on the bottom floor. The old grocery had a going-out-of-business sale a few months ago, and all I got out of the deal was some half-price tin foil and a bag of cinnamon chips. They were already out of chocolate.
Up the street, our local bagel shop swapped out wood paneling and linoleum floors for white subway tile, marquee letters, and free Wi-Fi. Another bagel shop further up started selling Bacon-BBQ cream cheese; such a blasphemous mutation of a New York classic even my Bubbie in Houston is rolling over in her grave. My corner bodega now sells kale smoothies. My hair salon, where very mature women go for their weekly wash-and-set, just got a makeover too. They rolled over the bright green paint that made complexions sallow and painted every inch soft mauve, one wall covered in that plush upholstered fabric you’d see in a rich woman’s closet. I wonder if they’ll keep the sign in the window advertising group bus trips to Atlantic City. Somehow I doubt it. They probably consider it tacky now.
The Athens Cafe, a classic Greek coffee shop where people could sip frappes and eat flaky honeyed pastries for hours, closed after 30 years. Now a trendy Southern spot where they slip duck fat in the biscuits takes its place. We went Saturday night. The biscuits were amazing. The duck fat really does add incredible flavor. What was my point again?
It’s getting crowded here. It’s getting younger too. Hipper. More hoodies and Chuck Taylors. More ironic beards than real ones. Tin ceilings in coffee shops. There are so, so many coffee shops. And rents! Gah! Don’t even talk to me about the rents.
But who am I to complain? Am I allowed to? Aren’t I being hypocritical?
I’m not a native New Yorker. I wasn’t raised in this neighborhood, or anywhere near it. I live in a city, where change is constant and inevitable. For me to expect Astoria to look and feel the way it did ten years ago is foolish and naive. This is not MY NEW YORK or MY ASTORIA. I didn’t found this city. I don’t get to decide who and what sticks around. I’m a hypocrite. I complain about change, while absolutely LOVING most of the changes. Vin and I have tried almost every new restaurant in town. We are those assholes rolling in with wide-brimmed hats and skinny jeans. We would put subway tile in our kitchen if we had one. We crane our necks up at tin ceilings in coffee shops and sigh because we find them so beautiful. I’m exactly who real New Yorkers complain about when they complain about gentrification– I just got here earlier. Vinny gets a pass because he was born here, and also because he is Vinny, and Vinny is so damn charming it’s hard to be annoyed with him about anything. Plus, hello…his name is Vinny and what’s more New York than that?
Meanwhile, I worry about Old Astoria being pushed out by New Astoria. I sigh about potentially losing businesses I’ve never patronized. I want the shoe cobbler to have work forever. I don’t want the barber shop to let go of their striped pole or start serving shots of whiskey like they do in Manhattan. I hate how sugary their cakes are, but I’d never want that 60-year-old bakery to lose their lease. What if they close the old vacuum repair shop? The one that fixes only 20-year-old models? Wouldn’t it be sad if that fabric store went away? What will become of the neighborhood if we lose the European housewares stores? The ones that sell fuzzy toilet seat covers and lace tablecloths that look like huge doilies? Where will Astoria find its charm then?
When I moved to Astoria ten years ago, it wasn’t the trendy neighborhood it is now. It was safe and there were plenty of things to eat here, but it wasn’t a place where the reputation was such that they could charge ridiculous rents for small, nondescript apartments. Now it is, which sucks, unless we are actually able to buy property here, in which case… keep growing Astoria! I think you need another really great pour-over coffee place on Steinway Street! See? Hypocrite!
It’s early November, and the leaves are wearing their autumn colors. We don’t have a ton of trees on our block, but the ones we do have are definitely in their prime. It doesn’t get more beautiful than autumn leaves, it really doesn’t. Check your Instagram. Everyone agrees.
The changing of the leaves signals a last hurrah for the growing season, and the transition is fast, moving from green to red to gold to bare in a matter of weeks. We’re already through the better part of the show; the leaves will all be on the ground by next week, and the thought of it makes me sad. As the leaves fall and the branches go cold, I remind myself that time is a gypsy, forever packing up and traveling in and out of town. I remind myself that nothing is eternal; that everything–eventually– will change. That change can be good. That it’s all just a season.