Goodbye Astoria

Dear Astoria,

Do you remember when we said our first hellos? I was straight off a plane from Milan, re-teaching myself how to live out of dresser drawers instead of zippered suitcases. I still remember the bright November morning when I saw you, Astoria, for the very first time. My full bed and wooden couch rocked left and right past cafes, falafel trucks, banks, small groceries and streams of moving people. Steinway Street appeared to be another country: baklava in bakery windows, groups of men sitting stoically drinking tea and smoking hookah. Little Egypt, I would learn. The skyline of Manhattan loomed in the distance. I felt dwarfed by the noise and the power of this place, your buzzing soil.

That was one year and 4 months ago.

Each morning in the winter of 2014, I walked south past sleeping businesses-fashion stores Hug and Easy Pickins’, McDonalds, Modell’s, Starbucks, the prom dress store- all silent in the early light.

I took the R train all the way across Manhattan and down to City Hall. Do you remember? Everyone said I was crazy to take the local train such a long way. But I didn’t mind. It gave me time to read my books, borrowed from the local Queens Library. We shared many books, you and I.

Then the new job and a new commute. This time, I walked to the N,Q train aboveground or took the bus when my timing was right. I watched a coffee shop open and finally felt like I wasn’t the newest one on the block. In the summer, my roommates introduced me to the beer garden and the Greek restaurants along Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard. We ate at Sugarfreak, a New Orleans-style restaurant with beignets bananas foster, a memory of which still makes my mouth water. I joined a yoga studio and a gym while treating myself to fresh, hand rolled bagels on Saturday mornings. During one of my first 3 mile runs, I stumbled upon Astoria Park and slowed down to watch children playing in the grass and skipping along the river.

In Astoria, I found the mixture of culture that I had dreamed New York City would foster and nourish. There were young millennials running in new sneakers and old college sweatshirts alongside Muslim men and women on their way to prayer. Greek grandmothers would shop on early mornings in the grocery store as I stumbled in for seltzer or eggs. Old and new. New Yorker natives and foreign immigrants. Spanish speakers. Italian sausage makers. Young married couples and single roommates.

Daina and I stayed longer than we had planned; six months quickly evaporated into sixteen. In the final days before I moved, my nights were spent sitting on the floor meticulously wrapping each plate and mug in bubble wrap and placing them in cardboard boxes. They clinked against one another as if to say, Where are you taking us? Why can’t we go back to our cupboards and shelves? I didn’t have an answer except to say,

because it’s time.

Thank you for all you’ve done. I found a great young woman to take my bedroom. Be kind to her, Astoria, as you were kind to me. Let her listen to your heartbeat, the percussion of daily life. Show her the fresh feta cheese and the best falafel truck. Let her walk the friendliest streets and find the best way home. Nudge her through the doors of your museums and coax her over the bridge into Sunnyside when she is ready to explore. Her heart is open and ready. I was a stranger once too.

From your shore, Manhattan feels both overwhelmingly close and light years away. We are both older and I’d like to think a little wiser too. Take care of yourself, Astoria. I’ll be back soon.

Katelyn

P.S. I moved to Jersey. Don’t cry. 

IMG_4131
Queens Comfort, made famous by Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, has a line out the door every Saturday and Sunday 

 

 

IMG_4215
A magical breakfast from Brooklyn Bagel 

 

IMG_2860
Morning sunrise in Astoria Park 

 

IMG_2624
Beignets Banana Foster 

 

Advertisements

On Finding Permanence

I know life is too hectic when returning a friend’s phone call or e-mail feels like a chore. After work it seems there is always something to do or someone new to see. Most nights, I return home with just enough energy to flop on the couch before dragging myself to bed and planning out the next 24 hours. What am I going to eat for lunch? My weekends too are filled with movies and parties and new bars to try. I’m spending money left and right, quite the opposite of my traveling days.

IMG_2423Today, my boss informed me that they extended my contract for another month. The full 90 days. And that feels like a step in the right direction. A step toward permanence. And here in this city–when the R train switches to express or doesn’t run at all, when the cloudless sky turns instantly to snow or rain, and when finding time to do your laundry is the hardest task of the month–permanence isn’t all that easy to come by. IMG_2419

Not that I’ve always been a fan of permanence. Traveling abroad felt quite the opposite. Every day it seemed like I was staying in a different hostel, eating meals with different people, and learning to say hello in different tongues. As travelers, my new friends and I would laugh in the face in permanence and in those sad souls who had to go to the same job and sit in the same room with the same people each day. How did they survive with such a steady routine? Their lives seemed so small, devoid of color and true adventure that we proudly displayed as badges on our backpacks and in our journaled words. But in the month and a half since I’ve moved to New York, I’ve begun to understand what I scoffed at on the road. I realize how much I’ve craved some kind of rhythm and familiarity. A place to hang my clothes. A neighborhood I can navigate alone. I cling to my friends and can’t imagine my transition would have been possible without them. Small moments have become so important–dinner with my boyfriend once a week, hugs from my roommates after a particularly long day, the stranger who picked up my glove as I got on the subway– all bringing life’s blurriness back into focus. Small moments and a library cardIMG_2407

During my first week in Astoria, I walked to the Queens Library to get a set of books and dive headfirst into reading again. It felt like the right place to start. I had a grocery store, a pharmacy and now, a library. But when I arrived, the kind grandmother-ly woman at the front desk informed me that I needed to have verification of my name and address. No such luck. I left dejected and empty handed. Since then, I’ve been reading books that the former roommate had left and honestly don’t know if I can handle another young love romance novel. Sorry Nick Sparks. 

But this evening weeks later, I returned to the library with my paycheck stub in hand and barely containable excitement. I handed my paperwork over with a flourish and I signed my name on the dotted line. Holding my prized possession tightly, I walked up and down the shelves and smiled as if I was greeting long lost friends. Here were the stories I’d been waiting to read. Here was the knowledge, in plays and travel books, that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. And here, in this small piece of plastic, was another small sign that I was finally proving my residence in a place that still feels so very new. IMG_2426

Another step toward permanence. Not forever perhaps. But at least for a couple weeks. Then I can always renew.