Day 1/90: Moving Into Brooklyn

Written by  //  July 19, 2011  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  1 Comment

Day 1 was moving-in day. Moving into New York is a bit of a night-mare. First, one has to find housing, which is easier said than done here. Anyone who has tried to find a house in Bombay would empathize. Ideally, it would be nice to have a friend moving out of somewhere in NYC when you are thinking about moving in. Unfortunately that happens but rarely. Many people end up therefore at the mercy of online housing sites – think www.craigslist.com or www.airbnb.com for long-term stays and the usual travel sites like www.expedia.com for short-term stays, especially if you’d like a nice, cheap hotel. Craigslist and airbnb function as free markets for sub-letters and landlords; much like the house swap system in parts of Europe, except here of course you don’t swap, you just pay some money.

Craigslist.com is my personal favorite, but not because it is more effective – its not. It’s my favorite because nothing can prepare you for the shock of living in NYC like craigslist.com can. My own experiences have been relatively tame; but my friends have been swindled, been proposed to, been re-united with childhood friends, been stalked. Going through a craigslist experience is pretty life-changing! For the fainthearted, airbnb.com is probably better. At least it has a system by which your money is secured because they charge a USD 65 service fee. Also, airbnb.com allows its users to post online reviews of places, so if you sub-let a place with good reviews, then you’re doing pretty well.

Other thoughts on housing in New York (this obviously does not apply to you if you have a nice Wall Street type job and a broker manages housing for you):

  1. Sub-letting is cheaper than hostels are. Even stuff like the YMCA.
  2. Always go house hunting in the evening. New York neighborhoods change dramatically when the sun starts to set.
  3. DO NOT pay people without having seen the house and the person you are paying. This may seem obvious, but several people forget this annually and get swindled.
  4. You’ll have to share a bathroom. For some reason, New York houses are rarely built with a 1:1 bedroom-bathroom ratio.
  5. Keep a look out for the closest Laundromat and dry-cleaners. Unlike the rest of the U.S., New York actually has a service economy that is affordable.

I followed this process this year. I had done so last year as well, with disastrous results. Against all advice, I found a room in upper-upper-upper Manhattan – fondly known as Spanish Harlem (the inspiration for the song, yes) – on 161st street. Harlem has a curious reputation in popular culture: simultaneously known for its high-immigrant population, being the epicenter of African-American history and culture, and its high crime-rate. As loathe as I am to give in to stereo-types, I’m afraid that all these are very true. Harlem is lovely – every street is a lesson in American history. It houses the famous Apollo Theatre, the Abyssinian Baptist Church and the excellent Studio Museum of Harlem (more on this later). However, someone also got stabbed 17 times outside my kitchen window, in my first weekend after I moved into the area last year. I’m not joking. I fearfully asked someone around the scene of crime if this was normal. They told me: “Dun worry hun, they wanted him. They don’ stab no one 17 times if they not want him”. “They” was presumably some organized crime network in the area. Not too comforting.

Of course this was an aberration – I don’t mean at all to suggest that vicious stabbings are a routine part of life in Spanish Harlem (in fact, the rest of my summer passed without accident) – I’m only suggesting that should any of you want to live there, please be careful, that’s all.

This summer therefore, after much deliberation, I chose to live in Brooklyn, one of NYC’s five constituent boroughs (more on Brooklyn later). I found a place near Prospect Park (Brooklyn’s answer to Central Park), about 2 minutes away from the park, in a very Caribbean neighborhood. My room mate was a life-long Brooklyn resident who owned the house, was a vegan massage therapist who worked in a food-cooperative and swore by organic food. Here I began to settle down for my 90 day stay.

One Comment on "Day 1/90: Moving Into Brooklyn"

  1. Amitabh August 6, 2011 at 5:55 pm ·

    Was in ny at exactly the same time. Did not know you were at ny…else I would have dialed in. Will try to remember that the next time I am around 🙂

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