My wife and I spent last weekend in New York City. She had a continuing education class on Friday, so I had the whole day to myself. I had no plan or agenda. I left my bags at the hotel and went out walking. I got breakfast at some diner, which I can’t remember. Eggs and an English muffin with orange juice, which was fine, but nothing special. Then, since I was in the neighborhood, I wandered over to Rudy’s.
Rudy’s is a famous music shop in Manhattan. By famous, I mean a place that people who are into guitars have heard of, even if they aren’t from New York City. They always have nice stuff there, but well out of my price range. There were a couple nice looking MTD basses, but for whatever reason, window shopping guitars wasn’t doing it for me that morning. I was in the mood for records. So, I asked one of the people at Rudy’s where I could find a good record shop. He laughed and said that there are tons of them, but that I was in the wrong part of town. Rudy’s is on 7th and 48th, near Times Square. He said I had to go to the East Village or Williamsburg. He mentioned Rough Trade records as the best around. I asked if they had a specialty and he said no, they have everything. I was a little hesitant to walk all the way to Brooklyn (I always walk, I hate the subway and taxis), but I had a whole day to kill, so I decided to go see what Rough Trade was all about.
Now, I’m not from New York City. I’m from Connecticut and I went to college in New Paltz, New York, which is about two hours north of NYC. That’s why I refuse to call it the City or New York. The City is too vague. There are lots of cities and I don’t want anyone to be confused about which one I mean. And most of New York is not New York City. I know, I lived there for three years. Living near New York City for my whole life has given me a different kind of perspective. I’ve been there a lot. I’m comfortable there. I mostly know my way around, but I’m not a native. The natives are quick to point this out. I don’t take the best routes. I go to touristy places. They know the real New York City and as an outsider, I do not. I have to admit, part of why I decided to take this walk was to see what I could see, to try to see this real NYC.
When I left Rudy’s I didn’t exactly know where I was going. I knew I had to head south and east to find the Williamsburg Bridge. I figured the safest way to do that was to head east until I hit the river and then go south until I hit the bridge. That way there would be no chance of overshooting my target. Once I was in Brooklyn, I’d check my phone for real directions. My plan worked. It turns out I had to back track a little as the bridge doesn’t start right at the river, but I found my way.
I would talk about the walk itself, but there really isn’t much to say. I passed a lot of buildings that mostly looked the same. There were some schools with kids playing outside, some small parks with people walking their dogs, churches, restaurants, and businesses. I think I passed about 100 Starbucks and 150 Duane Reades. There was a ton of graffiti on the bridge, but none of it was interesting or amusing. Williamsburg was more residential and the buildings were a bit smaller, but there still wasn’t much to talk about.
Finally, I arrived at Rough Trade. It was promising from the outside. It looked like a record store. It had a handwritten sign out front and the usual notices near the door. I spent a long time working retail, so one of the first things I noticed upon entering was a lot of wasted space. But, it was a large space, so they still had potential. Unfortunately, the second thing I noticed was that they clearly don’t have everything. It is really focused on Indy-pop, which is not my thing. After some wandering I found the Jazz section. It took up half a bay, and the other half was filled with blues, folk, country, and roots music. I started digging, and trying to lower my expectations, but I was disappointed. Their jazz selection was mostly classics and look-at-me-avant-garde (I know that sounds incredibly snobby of me, but I’m not sure how else to describe it) and blues was even less interesting. It’s not that it was a bad store, it seemed to have a lot of pop, dance, and hip hop, but it sure wasn’t what I was looking for. I left and walked back to my hotel without even stopping for lunch.
I know my New York City adventure doesn’t sound like much. There wasn’t a lot of adventure, it was boring, and I wound up disappointed. But, it wasn’t a waste of a day. I learned something. I learned that the real New York City has been right under my nose all these years. I missed it because the natives have such pride in their city. I’ve always expected the real New York City to be big, exciting, and wonderful. The real NYC, however, is just like every other city. It’s people’s homes, schools, and favorite restaurants. It’s people’s friends, neighbors, and pets. It’s sweet, in a way, that the natives love their city so much that they think these things are special. And, they’re half right. Homes, schools, restaurants, friends, neighbors, and pets are special, but they are special everywhere. People shouldn’t go to New York City looking for the real New York City. They should go for the Met, MOMA, and Guggenheim. They should go for Broadway, Rockefeller Center, and the Empire State Building. Those are the things that make New York City unique because those are the things you can’t get anywhere else.