New York, New York, A Helluva Town – The Bronx Is Up But The Battery’s Down

A Helluva Town

I love NYC, but I wouldn’t want to live there. This sentiment was further cemented into stone when I stayed with my daughter for eight days this past December. The saga begins with my trip via shuttle from Laguardia Airport to Manhattan on a rainy Monday night. NYC Airporter purports to go to Penn Station, but in fact it drops you off at Grand Central where you wait endlessly for another shuttle to Penn Station which stops at countless hotels in between. After waiting 25 minutes in a misty rain outside Grand Central and rudely being told to move by an abrasive shuttle driver, I decided to take the subway downtown. Unfortunately, there was no escalator at the station and I had to drag my suitcase down 30 or so stairs. I took a train that was nowhere near my target location and had to walk eight or so blocks West on Houston Street. My daughter came running down the street to meet me about four blocks from her temporary digs. We had not seen each other since August 1, so it was a warm reunion, to put it mildly.

Apartment Living in the Big Apple

As I mentioned, my daughter was living in a temporary space owned by a friend – she had sent me a few pictures but this did not prepare me for the reality. When I walked into her place, I saw a half gutted raw space in the front room which wasn’t so bad. However, when she took me into her bedroom, my first reaction was that it looked like a crack house. While I have never seen such a place, I love the program Breaking Bad and was thinking about Jesse’s house when he was on one of his drug-induced benders. OK, so I am exaggerating a bit, but because this space was unfinished, there were no closets, no kitchen, and no dressers to store any clothes. Her clothes were piled up on two chairs, the mini fridge top covered with piles of food, and the top of a tacky long side board scattered with all her supplements. Without a kitchen, my daughter was buying expensive prepared foods, cooking limited meals on a beat-up hot plate, and steaming food in a small little pitcher made for brewing tea – both sitting on the raw unfinished floor. And this is where I was going to crash for 8 days – with very loud and bold mice, as I discovered the first night. But I have to say I was proud that my daughter could rough it this way, living with far less than she did in Chicago, albeit spending a lot more with little to show.

The Kitchen

Raw Space - Wires

Apartment Hunting in Manhattan

Needless to say, one of the priorities while I was in the Big Apple was to help my daughter find a new apartment. Easier said than done, but what an eye opener. My daughter already knew how challenging this would be because she had called many places within an hour of being listed and they were gone, had seen at least 10 apartments before I arrived, and had no luck. In Chicago, my daughter was living in a somewhat luxurious high-rise in the South Loop with a 24-hour concierge, fitness room, outdoor pool, and a spectacular view of the shoreline all the way to Michigan City and a cool, birds-eye view of Soldier Field. The rent with a view started at $1,200 a month and was $1,450 when she moved to NYC. That kind of rent in NYC will get you a 4th floor walk-up in Harlem or the far environs of Brooklyn (not the hip areas) – or if you are lucky, a tiny room in a 4-person share in the Village. The first day we saw four apartments, the second day three, and the third day we were both bummed out and saw only two. We gave apartment hunting a break until my last day when we saw just one. Her dream apartment was $2,250 per month for a completely rehabbed studio right off of 6th Avenue in the West Village – what we didn’t know was that this dream would become an elusive nightmare.

The Studio that Got Away

We both loved the rehabbed studio, although I thought it was a little expensive for the space. We stopped by the management office which was actually just three blocks from my daughter’s gutted place. The application was nine pages long and rather daunting – I didn’t have to fill out something this extensive for my mortgage! The incredibly surly, rude office manager Donna, also told us that we would have to provide a $2,250 cashier’s check and a $200 cash deposit just to be considered. Because I was away from home, filling out the application took several calls home to retrieve information including professional/job references! I was able to go to my two banks in NYC – about seven blocks apart, where I had to get copies of full bank statements to accompany the application, as well as the cashier’s check. All of this took a good part of the day and when we dropped off the application, Donna looked at it and said it was weak because I (the guarantor) wasn’t working full-time and my daughter had not yet started her full-time job. She suggested we attach additional financial data from mutual funds, which necessitated several more phone calls. There was one other application in for this apartment and she stated it was stronger. In any case, we managed to get the application in on Tuesday, December 18 and she said we would have an answer by Thursday and she would call us. When we didn’t hear anything, my daughter called and Donna wasn’t in – so she called back later and they had not yet run the credit check. We called several more times and by the time I was leaving on Christmas Eve, we still didn’t have an answer. My daughter finally got a resounding NO a full 10 days after we applied for this studio! They gave her back the uncashed cashier’s check and a check for the $200.00. Good grief!


The Studio That Got Away

Studio Kitchen

 Ghettos Galore

Other than the beautiful studio that was not to be, every apartment we saw was decrepit and very overpriced. But we had some very interesting experiences, with a few episodes worth sharing. There was a tiny sublet studio on Barrow Street that looked like a transient rooming house on Skid Row with horrific prison-like flourescent lighting. At $1,400 a month, this little dive was just $50 shy of my daughter’s luxurious Chicago apartment. There was no oven and when I asked the current tenant about it, she said she ripped it out because the apartment was too hot. The spout in the bathtub was a hazardous, rusty, raw pipe and when I asked her about that she said the cover fell off and it wasn’t worth replacing. She also mentioned that it was nearly impossible to get the super to make any repairs so she never bothered.

We saw two studios in what looked like a dingy dormitory building in NYU territory about six blocks east of Washington Square Park. The security guard told us that the tenant was at home and we should knock and that the second unit was empty and the door would be open. When we knocked, a woman talking on her cell phone with wet hair wearing only underwear opened the door. She barely said anything and never stopped her phone conversation. Our mouths dropped open at the sight of this place – it looked like she had been burglarized. There were hundreds of clothes strewn all over every surface and several jewelry boxes with necklaces, bracelets, and earrings exploding out as if somebody had just rifled through them looking for valuable jewels. The walk-in closet was so crowded that the door wouldn’t close fully. The woman was getting very agitated on the phone – we hightailed it out of that $2,400 a month studio as quickly as possible. The second unit at a bargain $2,100 a month was a totally disgusting space that had not been remodeled in probably 60 years or so. The bathroom, although uglier, reminded me of one of my sister’s early apartments in NYC – when sitting on the toilet your legs would hit the sink.

Designer Bathroom - Circa 1950

Medicine Cabinet - Circa 1950

The Talker

The last apartment we saw was in the heart of Greenwich Village on a very touristy, lively street with restaurants, clubs, and boutiques – in other words – very loud. In fact, this first floor studio apartment was just above two restaurants – a Sushi bar and Chinese take-out. The owner was a very nice, extremely chatty Israeli guy who pinned our ears back for what seemed like an eternity – likely made worse by the 90+ degrees inside temperature. All of the apartments we visited were overheated, but this one took the cake. The place came furnished – along with a Murphy bed that was so heavy that I doubt my petite daughter could pull this out of the wall. The guy was renting this out to a revolving door of friends and unlike all the other places we saw, this one did not have a lease and was short-term with an option to renew. That also meant that he could raise the rent anytime he wanted and at $2,100 a month, this was not exactly a bargain. This would be a last resort just in case my daughter couldn’t find anything else. A week after I left, she found an apartment with a friend in Brooklyn. Although her work is in Manhattan and this apartment is on a busy street, she is out of the gutted space and has a nice kitchen in which to cook meals.

The lesson I learned is that so much of what I have taken for granted in Chicago is so much harder to achieve in the Big Apple – a helluva a town, but I wouldn’t want to live there.


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