As we stood in line at the La Guardia Airport taxi stand on Wednesday afternoon, I joked that our cabbie would know where we were going just by looking at us. I suggested that if we flashed our iPhones, we might just get beamed directly to Park Slope without saying a word.
I knew this, despite never having set foot in Brooklyn. There are things you just know sometimes, based on people you know who live in a certain location, or what you read and see in movies. And I was right. As we approached the B & B in Park Slope, the driver began to ask us questions such as, “Does 6th cut through here?” and when we answered, “No idea,” he stared into his rearview mirror. “You don’t live here?” he asked incredulously. “I knew you were either going to Brooklyn or Queens when I saw you in line! You know, you just look like people here.”
Yup. We know.
We’re not Manhattanites, just as surely as we’re not from San Francisco’s Marina, Boston’s Beacon Hill, or Chicago’s Old Town. We’re in a niche of our own and I see that as clearly as our cabbie did. I bet he could’ve said that we drive an old Subaru and are Obama supporters, too, if pressed.
In certain parts of Manhattan, I feel like an ubergeek surrounded by super models. Like my limbs are all out of place and my clothes are wrong and mismatched, marking me as a midwestern rube who might as well have corn husks stuck in my teeth and a button on my flannel shirt reading “I heart dairy cows”. In Brooklyn, I’m just me, in my own skin, and feel perfectly right. On 7th Avenue, I can walk into store after store and find shoes, a scarf, and a handbag – boom! boom! boom! – that are totally me. I tried to shop in Manhattan; even in stores that I liked, the vibe of the borough in general just isn’t right and I can’t do it.
We have done New York as if we lived here – staying in a real home on a real street, taking the subway everywhere that we can’t walk to, and hanging out with friends in its parks and restaurants. By this afternoon, I rode the F train from Manhattan back to Park Slope as if I’d been doing it all my life. Caught up in my book, I nearly missed my stop, so relaxed and at home was I. I didn’t even look up for my glimpse of the Statue of Liberty as we crossed into Brooklyn – what, that old thing?
This is a place Matt and I could live. Easily. We could be very happy here, and there are plenty of other families around raising their kids, some of whom we already know and love. We’ve often said that New York is the only place we would consider living that we haven’t already tried, and have always noted that Brooklyn in particular is appealing. It’s liberal and diverse – a city unto itself – fantastic. We agree that we’d live here before we’d go back to San Francisco, in fact. But this neighborhood in Brooklyn shares too many of the cons we lived with in San Francisco as well, and none of them are worth going back to at this point. After all, if we had $800k to burn on a condo, we probably would have spent it already in California. And all those Bugaboo strollers? Come on, people, you’re just walking to the park, let’s get a grip.
But more than that, I don’t want to live where the cabbies expect me to live. I never want my life to be that predictable, and I don’t place such a high value on doing what’s expected and, perhaps, easy – because it would feel easy to live in a community of people who think like us and look like us. When the NYC cabbie had us pegged as Park Slope denizens, I was amused that my prediction came to fruition but a bit embarrassed to be automatically placed in that demographic, because that’s not my kind of comfortable. I much prefer the slight double-take of a Chicago cabbie when I hop in and say, “Rogers Park”, where the homeless go through our Dumpster in the middle of the night and people are diverse economically – not just racially. It feels more real – and right – to me.
And so, back to Rogers Park we will fly tomorrow, back to the little boys in the big city that has become our own, but feeling far more at home in this huge, gorgeous city than I would have expected after only four days.
I can’t wait to come back.