Monday, September 14, 2009

The Big New York City Move

On this day 400 years ago, Henry Hudson had already sailed up the Hudson River, although it was obviously not named that back then.

More importantly, it was 27 years ago, almost to the day, that I moved to New York with my friend Dennis Perrin. It was a Tuesday at about eleven pm when we climbed into his big tank of an early-to-mid 70s olive drab color Mercury Marquis with a white vinyl top and missing front grill.

We drove all through the night, seeming to convince each other, if I recall correctly, that we were making the right decision and taking the right direction in our lives. We weren’t going into such a big change blind because we had visited NYC for one week the previous June for the big anti-nuclear rally that began at the UN and ended in Central Park.

We arrived in New Jersey and I was driving when we got pulled over by the New Jersey state police. I had seen them going the other way, unless there were two different troopers.

Driving Dennis’s car we obviously looked like a couple of potheads although I was not into pot as much back then as I would later become.

I told Dennis we were being pulled over and he shoved a joint he’d just rolled—or some similar scenario—as far back under the seat as he could.

I pulled the car to the shoulder and the troopers made Dennis and I get out of the car. One trooper reached up under the seat but could not grab anything. The troopers separated Dennis and I and tried to get us to admit we had some drugs and where it was.

I remember the trooper telling me it would be easier on us if I just told him where the drugs were. Ha! I think it went easier on us just the way it worked out—with me saying nothing.

The troopers took Dennis and I to the trunk where we had crammed all the possessions that would not fit into the back seat.

The troopers were asking who owned everything they held up. Dennis had hidden his stash in the pocket of an article of clothing near the bottom of the pile of clothes. When they asked whose shaving kit it was and I claimed it, I knew we were home free.

I don’t remember the exact sentiment, but I think Dennis and I laughed and celebrated our victory and even saw it as a sign that our trip was ordained by the Gods of Manhattan.

We arrived in Chester, New Jersey where we stayed with the family of a friend of Dennis’s. Her father was a pharmaceutical executive. They were from England and very nice people. We had stayed with them in June.

Dennis and I would drive to Morristown and park the car then get the commuter train to Hoboken, catch the PATH to the World Trade Center and scour the city looking for jobs.

I don’t remember looking for very long. Memory is a bit fuzzy, but I remember sitting on a bench on 26th Street on the north side of Madison Square Park worried about getting a job. The job I got was at 25th and Fifth Avenue, right around the corner, in this building:

It was a shipping and receiving job for Frankel Associates. Dennis had also gotten a job down near Wall Street, if I remember. But he and I were somehow running out of money. I thought I had saved a thousand dollars and I cannot remember how much Dennis had saved. I remember Dennis and I talking in the guest room where we stayed and knowing our backs were against the wall and we had come so far that we couldn’t just go back home.

So, we asked to borrow about $600 from our hosts. I know it was not any easy decision for them, but soon they said yes. The next day, I told my new boss I needed another day to find a place to live.

Dennis had to start work the next day, I believe, so the apartment finding was up to me. I remember sitting in Washington Square Park with the Village Voice and finding a listing for the apartment we ended up renting—apartment 4C at 153 Norfolk Street in this building:

I had no idea where Norfolk Street was, so to find it I “listened to the wind”, as it is called, and I began walking down to Houston and then east. As I approached Bowery, I remember thinking that I didn’t really want to go much farther. The Bowery was scary back then. But something told me that Norfolk was on the other side of Bowery and that was where I went.

I remember paying the money and signing the lease. The rent was $395. Quite expensive for that neighborhood back then, I would say. They knew I was not a New Yorker. But we moved to New York to live in Manhattan, not in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx or Staten Island. Dennis posted a recent video of our first building on his blog last week.

I remember we loaded up the car and drove into Manhattan on a Sunday night—either the 12th or the 19th. We came through the Holland Tunnel and up to Houston and over to Norfolk. Before we got to Bowery (somewhere around Mott Street) we took the Indiana license plate off the car because we didn’t want people to know we were from Indiana and rob us.

Luckily we found a parking spot right in front of the building and unloaded the car. We didn’t have that much stuff and it didn’t take that long. I don’t remember what we ate for dinner that night. I also don’t remember a giant sense of enthusiasm. There was a real and gripping sense of what lay ahead—adjusting to New York. I had wanted to live in New York since I was 14. I had moved even farther away from home at the age of 20. But New York is New York. If you don’t respect it, it can eat you alive.

Going to work everyday and developing relationships and exploring and learning everything New York had to teach changed me beyond anything I could ever have imagined. Dennis and I developed a sort of New York toughness. The winter was rough but invigorating and the next spring was so rewarding.

Dennis and I moved to a New York that still had a little roughness left over from the 70s. It’s been 27 years ago, but to put it into its proper perspective, we arrived less than two years after John Lennon was murdered, about five years after Son of Sam was arrested, about six years after the release of “Taxi Driver”, and about seven years after the premiere of the “Saturday Night Live”, and the Twin Towers had just nineteen years left to stand.

It’s too bad the memories of one’s more precious days are only relegated to photos and fading memories, whether your own or of the people you shared the experiences with.

It’s too bad there isn’t a You Tube for the things we’ve done and the places we’ve been.

Happy New York Move Anniversary, Dennis.