Thought Catalog

Things Have Changed In Williamsburg

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In May of 2006, my friend Meredith and I moved into a small two-bedroom apartment on the corner of Broadway and Hooper Street in Williamsburg, across from what is now the line-around-the-block lounge, The Flat. The residents of our building were mostly older, Puerto Rican families. As two white college-aged girls we stood out a little, but not excessively, as the neighborhood was already gentrifying, and kids like us could be found downstairs at the restaurant Moto every night.

Moto is a very special place, and a permanent marker of the last six years of my life. Built under a flatiron-type building, it is small, dark, and gloriously intimate, lit by dim candles and bursting with the music of live jazz musicians. The place has literally been around since forever, far before Williamsburg was a scene or mason jars as water glasses were the norm. Having just finished “A Moveable Feast,” I was naturally drawn to everything about it.

Meredith and I spent many nights and mornings there, no matter how broke we were, drinking wine and eating their delicious, gooey date cake. So many potential boyfriends or just Union Pool morning-afters were brought to Moto as a test, or perhaps just to show off what we had found. Though some might say that even in 2006 we were late to the hipster/North Brooklyn game, to us it still felt new. At 22, we were the Christopher Columbuses of our group of friends.

I did not last long in Williamsburg, on account of being penniless. Having not yet figured out how to make something out of nothing (or one-week’s pay as a dog-walker stretch over a month), I had to return home to my parent’s condominium in Canton, Massachusetts. I began working at a Planned Parenthood clinic situated humorously close to the B.U. campus. My boyfriend at the time, also a Boston resident, had a job at a nearby camera store, and we would steal away to his Allston apartment at night, pretending we had some grasp on our post-college years.

We decided to save up and move to San Francisco. In January of 2007, after the death of my grandmother and the small, plane-ticket-sized inheritance she left me, we packed our bags and flew across the country. I could say a lot about California, but I will only say this for now – there is no place quite as beautiful.

Two years later I returned to New York alone, still broke, and very tan.

Williamsburg was still the same then, the mysteries and excitement of it still allowed me to think that anything was possible. One day I ate lunch alone at the Roebling Tea Room next to Maggie Gyllenhaal. At someone’s birthday party I watched an entire cabaret show in the backyard, complete with a stage and pyrotechnics. I woke up in friend’s apartments on Manhattan Ave, Grand Street, North 1st, Guernsey, and Berry. We ate at Motorino, Papacitos, taco trucks, Dumont Burger, and Juliette. There was always twenty-dollars for brunch because at the time I was subsisting on the refund from my graduate school student loans — impermanent money that is both in and out like a lion.

It would be wrong of me to not point out that at this time, I was actually living somewhere between Park Slope and Gowanus. It’s a fuzzy memory, partly because I was spending so much time drinking and hanging out in Northern Brooklyn. South Brooklyn is fun too, but it doesn’t have the same meaning for me, so sometimes I like to just pretend I was renting a room there to store my things.

I spent a lot of time trying to get into relationships because I wanted a boyfriend to share an apartment with. Looking back, I know that was foolish, and at the time I probably wouldn’t have admitted that was my goal, but it very much was. As a poor, somewhat permanently adolescent twenty-something living in New York, a relationship can be the golden ticket. It comes with a long list of warnings, and very careful instructions, but if used properly, it is a way out of a type of living that at some points feels more like dirty slush on the sidewalk than a cool McCarren Park margarita.

There was the boyfriend on Grand Street with the 3-month old pile of dishes in his sink. We dated in the early fall, when it was still very hot. I would sit at his desk while he was away at a freelance job and work on my graduate school papers. The city, in every capacity, would enter and nauseate me. I couldn’t get the windows open wide enough. The ugly cat he owned ran whenever I approached it, dodging furniture and hiding in the small spaces created by too much clutter. Its hair was hay-like and rusty from endless cigarette smoke and cheap pet food. It was a fat and miserable thing. Nothing about this Dickensian situation was appealing to me anymore, but at the time I did not stop to wonder why.

Then there were the two friends Meredith and I tried to date. They lived on Scholes and were trying to start a men’s clothing line. Their apartment was pristine, as was their shared history. They wore respectable J. Crew, had decent, old-man jobs, and hardly drank, smoked, or had sex. Meredith and I thought we were corrupting them, which we would laugh about as we blasted Regina Spektor from the stereo of her little purple car. How could we corrupt anyone?

In an apartment on Leonard Street I met a young man who loved The Red Sox, dinosaurs, Italian food, and dancing. Covered in tattoos and full of stories about when he was younger, he lacked that frustrated New Yorker mentality so many young men possess. He loved the city wholly, for all its flaws and all its slush. A year later, we moved in together, just a block away on Eckford Street. That was 2010.

Last Saturday a group of old friends decided to try some new places. We started at the tequila bar on Wythe, and did a pit stop at Nita Nita. We ventured to a new “dancey” place where at 1 a.m. on a Saturday, we were the only people on the floor. Eventually one of us made a suggestion that was both sincere, and ironic, “how about Union Pool”?

We found ourselves there for all of five minutes, as “the bathroom line was too long and we were having people over the next day and should be responsible and go home”. It was good to see it though, still packed to the brim, with a bouncer out front. Kids a lot younger than us had staked their places in the booths for the night, waiting for their moment to happen. I liked leaving them behind as much as I liked seeing them, knowing I could still go there if I wanted to but that I didn’t have to stay.

Many people say that Williamsburg is ending (if it isn’t over already), and that the Whole Foods and High Rises will turn it into the Brooklyn Heights of the North, but I am wondering if we have failed to recognize that many of us have changed along with it. Tonight we might go bowling at The Gutter, and tomorrow we might be out buying garden supplies at Sprout. We grew up here, and the town, just like us, can’t be expected to stay the same forever. TC mark

image: Presidente

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    • Shirley

      hey this was nice. a refreshing break from the articles that clump together generalizations about new york.

    • skwerl

      Beautifully done.  Happy and heartbreaking. 

      More of this, TC!!

    • Kavanderloo

      how very creative and insightful
       

    • Anonymous

      Glad to see an article about Williamsburg with only one hipster mention. Good job.
      But don’t worry, another hipster(or whatever they’ll be called) will spring up somewhere.

    • Asdf

      The pace of this was so natural and the tone was pitch perfect. You made me fall in love with the Williamsburg of your early 20’s. What a fantastic and beautiful piece.

      I really would love to hear the other side, though. The argument that “it’s done.” I get the feeling that I’m seeing the place through your nostalgic eyes only and that there is another facet to this story.

      Well done. What a perfect piece for a Sunday morning.

    • Christine

      This was refreshing. I tip my hat to you, Caitlin.

    • http://twitter.com/daniela_oneL Daniela Asaro

      If you’re from Mass, and moved to Williamsburg in ’06, can’t really claim you grew up in the neighborhood. Thats just me being a defensive born/bred New Yorker. Otherwise, glad to see a positive article about Williamsburg for a change.

    • devon

      Reallly good!!!! As a Manhattan native myself, I respect this

    • AARON

      lol, privileged white girls move to new york and meditate on how things have changed… since 2006. Lady, just because you slept with some nasty hipster types before Whole Foods moved in doesn’t mean you “grew up there”

      give me a break

      you’re as trendy and foreign as all the rest

      • Asdf

        lol, random Internet commenter comes to a blog and meditates on how superficial an article is. Sir, just because you thought some nasty snark before you finished the article doesn’t you “have to post it”

        give me a break

        you’re as edgy and funny as all the rest

    • Tom

      You know there are people that read this that AREN’T from New York, right? Is this the North Brooklyn Gazette?

      Nope, didn’t think so.

      • Jonah

        fuck you tom

    • Turd Ferguson

      “the mysteries and excitement of it still allowed me to think that anything was possible. One day I ate lunch alone at the Roebling Tea Room next to Maggie Gyllenhaal.”

      perhpas the most unintentionally funny two-sentence juxtaposition in the history of TC

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500654073 Kevin Kelly Kenkel

      barf city. another name dropping non-native “new yorker” casually listing off all your favorite places as if you were the first to discover a single unique thing about brooklyn. also with a sentence like “The place has literally been around since forever, far before Williamsburg was a scene or mason jars as water glasses were the norm. ” what the fuck kind of grad school papers were you working on?

    • Golda

      I’m not sure, I felt like this was kind of shallow piece about how sex and money happened in different neighborhoods. If I am really supposed to enjoy reading about a nostalgic recollection of a place and not just a well-written journal entry, please bring me there. I do love the references to Maggie G like most other ladies my age, but I feel like I know more about the smoke-stanky cat than the neighborhood itself. Also, just one line about “older Puerto Rican families” was bland and maybe even offensive? A lot of literature I love about New York takes you there. I do understand if this was supposed to just be a “hey remember this” for people who have lived in Williamsburg, but I feel like this piece has potential to be more than that. 

    • Cg

      You grew up here????!?! What a f**ken joke. This neighborhood was here before you came and brought your 100 coffee shops and bed bugs.  You ruined what a neighborhood this used to be. You know nothing about being a new yorker. You name drop a few hipster shit holes and you think you own this place. This is my neighborhood  get it right.

      • Mrs. Caruso

        Okay, so hopefully it turns back into the drug infested shit hole it was, perfect for you and your arrogance. The bed bugs existed before we bought our delicious coffee imported coffees in. xo.

        • http://www.facebook.com/jmaat Ji Tu

          By moving here and setting up your “delicious coffee” you  indirectly kicked out all my childhood friends and family that now have to move into actual drug infested shit holes. And the bed bug infestation started in 2007. These are truths i hope you will remember while you sip your stumptown.

        • Mrs. Caruso

          Dude, that’s life, survival of the fittest. Williamsburg is close to the city and it’s no surprise people were indirectly kicked out. 

          I’m sorry your friends and family were kicked out of their neighborhood, but they CHOSE to move to actual drugs infested areas! There are plenty of reasonable neighborhoods that are close to the city: Astoria,Middle Village, Woodside, parts of Jersey City etc. 

        • Guestropod

          You are not a good person, Mrs. Caruso

        • Bayard

          Go back to Michigan.

        • YL

          Your comments ooze with unchecked privilege, Mrs. Caruso.  People grow up where they grow up, and they live where they live.  How do you define “home,” Mrs. Caruso?  Do you define it as a place that must have delicious, imported coffees, expensive “dive” bars and areas that are squeaky clean from drug use?  Most people don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing where they grow up, and us regular folk call our drug-infested areas “home” because that’s what it is.  People shouldn’t be kicked out because people like you feel entitled to own any place you land on.  What are you, a colonizer?

        • YL

          Rude. That “drug infested shit hole” was home to many people who had been living in the neighborhood for generations.  Yes, gentrification often brings “nicer” things and life necessities like “delicious imported coffees,” but that doesn’t mean that people participate in a neighborhood’s intense gentrification “own” a place.  Talk about arrogance!

    • https://twitter.com/#!/ZachAmes macgyver51

      The next time someone defends hipsters, I will hit them in the face with this article.

    • Jesus

      Your story is unlike the story of tens of thousands of your peers. No, really. 

    • Sam Heckinger

      Ah! You meant Williamsburg, Brooklyn! LOL stupid me, I read the whole article thinking you were talking about Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia and then I was like DUH!!!!

      Boy is my face red

    • Paul

      I’m a bit meh. Nicely written but you did come to an area already populated by thousands of like minded individuals, who had been settling there for years. I’m sorry if its change bothers you more than your individual growth suggests.

    • lily

      This is just incredibly dull and pedantic. What bothers me the most about Thought Catalog is that so many of the writers don’t seem to work hard at their writing. It’s not to say the writers don’t have it in them, the ability to write great articles, they just don’t seem to try. They type onto the page and for some reason the editor accepts these simple and unedited articles as ready to be published. People identify with these articles (or some do) because it sounds like them. But a writer’s job is not to sound like everybody else, to “think aloud” onto a page. 

    • myriss89

      Things have changed in Williamsburg, but if she arrived in ’06, she missed the show. The only difference in the last six years have been specifically which names to drop to make other superficial conformists think you’re cool on TC.

      This chick is like a sheep in wolf’s clothing. A harmless, fake-subversive publishing a first draft white whine without a clue about anything of substance.

      Girl, if you want to be adventurous, go somewhere populated by people who seem different from you, and stick it out when it gets difficult, then see if you learn anything about yourself.

    • Tc

      Out of all the irksome things in this article, I’d say what bothered me most was her describing her situation as “Dickensian”. That’s just outright insulting to anyone who isn’t a privileged white girl.

      • Guestropod

        after she finished spending all her money on $20 brunches, she was thrown into debtor’s prison

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500084103 Scott Indrisek

        I believe she’s referring to WILLIAM Dickens, the famed social realist novel who wrote so movingly about the plight of privileged white girls in the late 20th century. I think he’s Lena Dunham’s godfather.

    • Buck Biro

      Genuine lamentations from a person that fully participated in the changes she is lamenting about? Epically ironic and absurd.  Tens of thousands of post college idiots move to NYC and “grow-up”, as if the 21 years spent in Des Moines was a wash. You (and a thousand other you’s) are not at all as unique as you think you are, and the fact that the author wrote this in seriousness proves that (I still hold on to hope that this was a well formed joke).  The legitimate creative class in L.A., N.Y.C, and every little place in between collectively laugh at the hacks that think moving somewhere (i.e. Brooklyn) makes you cool.  You’re no cooler than me, a very uncool Mid-Westerner that knows better. Hurts don’t it? No? Well brace yourself, it will.

    • http://twitter.com/JMonkeycum Jefferson Monkeycum

      I moved to Brooklyn (Park Slope) after college in 95 then into Williamsburg in 98. The gypsy look was in full swing. Still remnants of rave culture. Rock-n-roll was just starting to retake the city en mass. And people complained, with only a small handful of bars in the neighborhood, that Williamsburg was becoming gentrified. GASP! This seemed new and horrifying and obtrusive. How dare someone try to change it? It was good just the way it was a few years earlier! Don’t change it!
      And as the years rolled by, the story never changed. It was good just the way it was a few years earlier! Don’t change it! And I realized that it was and always will be good just the way it was a few years earlier. For 14 years I’ve watched it change. Massive surface changes. But the ideas, creativity, love of music, food, and drink hasn’t changed one bit. It’s still Williamsburg. It changes everyday. And the people in it write it’s history everyday. Someone will ALWAYS complain that it’s no longer what they want it to be. But for countless others, the party has just begun.

    • Anonymous

      he. he.

    • wowfb

      “At 22, we were the Christopher Columbuses of our group of friends.”
      this is so funny for so many reasons 

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500084103 Scott Indrisek

        I think this is meant literally, as in “we slaughtered and sometimes pillaged or at the very least ended up giving out blankets laden with smallpox to the natives.”

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