An Upper West Side Story

23 Apr

I think I’m in love.

Of course, I’ve thought I was in love before.  But it was never for real.  When I first moved to New York, I thought I loved the Lower East Side.  But it was too hard.  Too noisy.  And after 9/11, too fraught with memory.  We needed some time apart.

So I moved to Brooklyn.  Where I thought I was in love again.  But when I lost my job, the herd of toddlers living above me who treated the hallway above where I slept as their own personal playground and enjoyed flooding their bathtub so that it would rain down into my bathroom became too much.  I fell out of love.  I just couldn’t take it.

So I moved to Park Slope.  I thought I loved Park Slope, but what I really loved was the park.  I didn’t love the neighborhood.  My feelings about my neighbors can be illustrated with a single anecdote.  I was walking to the subway one morning, behind a gentleman in a suit, when a child on a tricycle zoomed past, nearly knocking me onto a stoop.  The child smashed into the gentleman, the tricycle’s tire riding up his pants leg, smearing it with mud.  The child’s mother ran up to him and screamed into his face, “Jesus Christ, why don’t you watch were you’re f*cking going!”  I wasn’t in love with Park Slope.

So I moved to Cobble Hill.  I did love Cobble Hill.  And I loved the apartment I was in.  But I didn’t love my roommate or the landlord who lived below us with his wife and two boys who felt our apartment was an extension of their apartment.  They would just barge in at any time and make themselves at home.  And their father often did the same thing.  It was creepy and I already had a man in my life, so I decided to move in with him.

So I moved back to the Lower East Side.  Things had changed in the neighborhood.  It was even noisier than when I first lived there, and our apartment was so small and cramped.  We tried to make it work, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

So we moved to Bay Ridge.  There were times when I truly loved Bay Ridge.  On foggy nights when I could hear ships talking to each other across the bay, over breakfast at Pegasus, while shopping along Fifth Avenue, during walks to Red Hook, when Fred was at our window.  But those moments of love were far, far outweighed by dark, bleak, seemingly endless stretches of anger and hatred, brought on by the Sisyphean subway commutes. I would often arrive home in a towering rage, having left work after 8pm and getting home after nine, on a side closer to ten.  It was not good.  My nerves were fraying, as were Isaac’s.

So we moved to the Upper West Side.  And here I sit, in our pretty little apartment with the sun streaming in through three big windows, a block and a half from Central Park, in the midst of a vibrant, grown up, happy neighborhood, chock full of restaurants and shops and groceries and museums.

It’s beautiful and I love it.  Just yesterday I went for a run along the Hudson River.  As I turned inland I began flagging.  I ran up 80th Street and turned down Broadway.  As I crossed 79th Street a man popped out of the subway, took one look at me and yelled “Come on girl! You can do it! Pick up those feet! RUN! RUN! RUN!” Everyone turned to stare at me and people giggled and muttered encouragement.  And it worked. I picked up my pace and beat my sluggishness.  I love this neighborhood.

I find it funny that in the ten years I have been in New York, until we moved here, I had probably ventured up to this area so infrequently I could count the number of visits on one hand.  There was the time I took the wrong train, and the time I went to Fairway, the time I got my wisdom teeth out, and then there was one of the worst days of my entire career in New York.

It was while I was waitressing at a Mexican restaurant owned by a certain restaurant mega-group.  They had such a regimented training program for their waitstaff that they felt confident in telling someone from one restaurant to go to another when they were short-staffed.  One Sunday morning, I rolled into work, after having worked a double the day before and having missed the evening family meal. I was half-starved and exhausted.

And they told me to go to the Upper West Side to work brunch.  The most hated assignment in the company.

I argued, I begged, I pleaded, and off I went, uptown.  Of course I took the wrong train, got lost, arrived late, missed the family meal and was summarily shoved onto the floor where I was faced with a phalanx of angry grandmothers who wanted their bellinis now, but were being forced to wait until noon by New York’s liquor laws.  They were cranky, they were grouchy and they were awful. Simply awful.  Everything was wrong, nothing was ever right. Their eggs were overcooked, undercooked, too wobbly, too burnt.  It was endless and exhausting.

So as noon rolled ever closer, the bartenders began lining up champagne glasses, some empty, some with little pools of peach nectar or orange juice at their bottoms.  And then the clock hands aligned.  The waiters lined up with our trays, corks popped, waterfalls of champagne were poured.  I loaded up my tray, headed up the marble stairs to the mezzanine where I was waiting, and then I slipped.

CRASH!!! BANG!!! Tinkle! Thump. sob.  I slid down the stairs, still clutching my tray, into the middle of the dining room, all eyes on me, staring, mouths agape, covered in champagne and juice.  And then I started to cry.  The regional manager, a tiny slip of a woman, marched over and picked up my not-insubstantial frame, frog-marched me through the dining room and tossed me into a coat closet where I proceeded to sob and sob and sob.

She came back a few minutes later with a sandwich and a glass of Coca-Cola.  Ten minutes later I was back on the floor and managed to complete my shift plus a little extra.  I splurged and took a taxi back downtown, and then splurged again on a bacon cheeseburger and more than one dirty martini.  I vowed never to go back to the Upper West Side.

Thank god I don’t take my own word seriously. I still haven’t gone back to that restaurant yet, but I’ve thought about it.  And you can rest assured that if I do, I will leave a very big tip for our waitress.

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10 Responses to “An Upper West Side Story”

  1. Christine April 23, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

    OH man, the waitressing story? I just want to give you a hug. I worked at a chain in Florida, and the worst day I’ve ever had (and maybe the sickest) I arrived to open, did a double, had apparently developed a 104 fever (so said the thermometer when I was finally home) and was so tired of an obnoxious table of twenty that I had, my last table at 10:30pm, that I went inside the giant refrigerator and just sobbed.

    I think the Upper West Side is lovely. We stayed in a hotel on W. 78th(?maybe?) a couple of months ago to attend a friend’s wedding. Spent the next day walking around. Lovely. I’m so glad you’re happy there.

  2. Andrea April 24, 2009 at 9:09 am #

    What a great story, start to finish. I live and grew up in rural Vermont and NYC scares me to death. I just love your recount of the city. You make parts of it seem okay if not wonderful.

  3. ann April 27, 2009 at 8:23 pm #

    Christine — Thanks! I could have used a hug at the time ;-) Your story is hug-worthy as well. How awful to wait on people with so high a temperature! Glad you like the UWS too. It’s kind of awesome :-)

    Andrea — Come visit! I swear, we don’t bite :-) And it is wonderful, in the same way that Vermont is wonderful. I know, I’ve been to both.

  4. Madeleine April 28, 2009 at 9:19 am #

    Yikes, what an awful moment! You deserve another martini for any residual horrors that arose as you relived it for us.

    Even without dropped trays, brunch here can be too high-pitched, too . . . something. People get really obnoxious. We really ought to have a sort of waiters’ holiday in the form of a Sunday without brunch. Just for one day, let the entire city make their own eggs and their own drinks and follow their own nit-picky instructions as to exactly how everything should be prepared!

  5. Julie April 28, 2009 at 3:39 pm #

    Great story, great pictures, and of course, as always, great location.

  6. Ulla April 29, 2009 at 2:04 pm #

    what a great post! just lovely! you are a true new yorker, you have lived everywhere!:)

  7. Christina April 29, 2009 at 6:17 pm #

    When you find home, you just know it. I’m glad you’re there.

  8. ann April 29, 2009 at 8:00 pm #

    Madeline — Hiiiiii! How are you? I couldn’t agree more with you about the waiters’ holiday. Brunch is the worst fake meal ever invented. The restaurants give away so much free, and the diners never think about it, or more impotantly, tip on it. Down with brunch! Up with breakfast at home!

    Julie — Come visit! I’ll take you on a tour. You can even be my guest at the Met!

    Ulla — It’s such a big city, takes time to find the perfect place :-)

    Christina — Speaking of home, I planted so many of your house-warming gifts this past weekend at our other home. Thanks again. And everyone else, you should really check out Christina’s current post. The pictures and words are so beautiful.

  9. Terry B April 30, 2009 at 10:10 pm #

    ann—I love the Upper West Side. The Lower East Side is gloriously gritty and a fun place to occasionally hang out. But the UWS is a glorious neighborhood—lively, livable, everything you need. We try to stay there when we visit, and if ever I got a chance to live in New York, I would so be your neighbor.

    • ann May 1, 2009 at 5:29 am #

      Terry — I’d love to have you as our neighbor! It would do wonders for the level of jazz connoisseurship of the ‘hood :-)

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