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. 

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

 

 

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A magical breakfast from Brooklyn Bagel 

 

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Morning sunrise in Astoria Park 

 

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Beignets Banana Foster 

 

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July in New York City

Summer, if anyone is wondering, has arrived in New York City. The humidity crouches outside every store, office building and Duane Reade waiting to accost each human being who leaves the comfort of air-conditioned heaven. Every afternoon, there is a Mister Softee truck selling ice cream cones on Wall St. for the hot and sweaty traders. Back at home, I spend countless evenings on top of my covers while the window fan blows thick, wet air around my room in vain. Yes, summer has definitely arrived.  

IMG_3157This past weekend was July 4th and despite my excitement for fireworks and beaches, I learned the hard way that no self-respecting New Yorker stays in the city. No one. These forward-thinking individuals make plans for the Hamptons, New Jersey shores and literally anywhere else in traveling distance in order to avoid the swarming locusts affectionately known as TOURISTS. But despite the mass exodus, our little apartment on 41st St. gathered the last remaining souls of a Friday BBQ and a perfect start to the long weekend. We played games, drank beer and generally lounged. More than one neighbor slowed down while walking past and I’d like to think they approved of our kick-off weekend activities.  

JULY 4TH

The summer I interned in Washington, D.C., I spent the entire afternoon lying on a blanket and staking my claim for a prime grassy spot near the Washington monument. As my friends arrived and the sun set, we listened to a big brass band and clapped for the best firework show I’d ever seen. And while there were crowds and noise, I felt like I was at the heart of America celebrating with the forefathers’ newest generations. This perfect memory of our nation’s capital was in no way related to another very American showing five years later (July 4, 2015) on Coney Island: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating ContestIMG_3185

The ride to Coney Island itself is an epic journey, almost 1.5 hours from Queens through Manhattan and out to the southern rim of Brooklyn. Thousands of families, couples, young kids and enthusiasts sporting live snakes and colorful outfits showed up for the event. The smell of hot dogs, cotton candy, small children and sweat mixed and floated through the crowd. Above the din, I could just make out the screaming voices coming from the various theme park attractions and roller coasters near the beach. 

IMG_3177There is something simultaneously inspiring, revolting and ultimately patriotic about watching grown adults try to stuff as many Nathan’s hot dogs into their mouths as possible. In only 10 minutes with the aid of water and jumping (to assist gravity), Matt Stonie ate 62 hot dogs to beat out the reigning champion, Joey Chestnut. The crowd went wild in the remaining seconds and I couldn’t help but feel like all of America was cheering for something grander than the simple consumption of wieners. 

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Daina (2 hotdogs) came nowhere near the female record of 38 hot dogs set by Miki Sudo
Boyfriend Billy with his flag-inspired socks
Boyfriend Billy with his flag-inspired socks

As the event ended and our little party neared the beach, it began to rain. The drizzle was enough for us to roll up our damp towels and hop back on the N,Q bound for Brooklyn. While the original plan was to watch a movie in A/C (decidedly American), we stumbled upon Patsy’s Pizzera and immediately fell in love. The pizza was glorious and we had the back patio all to ourselves. The service was only second to the personalized visits from the owner, naturally named Tony, who gave us sangria and shots of Grappa on the house. Full of delicious food and a slight buzz, we made our way to the grocery store to purchase necessary snacks for the evening firework stake out.
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I want to tell you about the visit to my friend’s apartment in Park Slope and the angry taxi driver who navigated the streets of Brooklyn to bring us toward the East River but there just isn’t time. Sufficient to say, we found a beautiful location between the Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge where we laid our towels and waited for the rest of our party to arrive. By 9:30pm, our group of 11 looked south with eager anticipation as the first firework lit up the sky. 

The confusion and disbelief last approximately 15 seconds before the majority of the crowd realized the fireworks were being shot off directly behind their line of sight. The very sturdy and thick foundation of the Manhattan Bridge completely blocked our view from all but the edges of the largest explosions. Immediately, the masses made their decision. The crowd split into those who began running south for a better view and those who simply laid back down and cracked open a beer. Our little group did a combination of the two and I was able to capture the finale from my prime location behind a small tree. 

A small wish to you, dear readers:

“May your humidity be low, your spirits high, and your stomachs full in all the days following our country’s birthday until July 4th returns one year later bringing new Old Navy flag shirts and iffy promises of sunny skies.”

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Juno: the #blizzardof2015 or #Snowmageddon2015

“It’s here! Winter Storm Juno’s First Heavy Snowfall Arrives.” -The Weather Channel 

The blizzard is here. From Boston to New York, wind whips along carless streets as last minute shoppers trudge home with the most necessary kitchen staples. Eggs. Bread. Milk. Beer. Schools and universities have closed for tomorrow. Travel bans are in place and public transportation has shut down.The snow, which started as light flurries in the morning, increased steadily and by early afternoon most offices in NYC had sent their employees home. Since I was never put on the company wide e-mail chain, I missed the important memo and went home an hour later than necessary. But that’s just the kind of dedicated employee I am. From the office to the streets and back at home, it seemed everyone was talking about the #blizzardof2015.

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View from the office

And now? Peeking outside of my little Astoria apartment window, I see

…not much. 

Apparently the worst is yet to come. My roommates are in bed asleep, hoping a winter wonderland will await them in the morning. Nothing better than a “work from home” kind of Tuesday. Daina, my dear roommate, faced the crowds of the local grocery store and we now have days worth of delicious chicken tortellini soup. Our stash of red wine, while depleting rapidly should last another couple of days. And tonight our little group of four (Daina, Megan, Sam and I) sat around the coffee table playing Jenga and watching The Bachelor on TV like any normal group of people preparing for the worst storm of their lives. 

All of this–the shopping, the wine, the food, the great company–reminded me of the evenings spent in Northampton around our wood stove. I remember Nemo and Hurricane Sandy, holed up in 38 Henry St. with good friends and a cozy home. The Nor’easter of November 2012? I blogged about cookies and Election Cake. This year, I bravely attempted smitten kitchen recipe for Salted Carmel Brownies:

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Did I use a plastic spoon to stir my homemade caramel sauce, successfully melting white plastic into my browning sugar? Maybe, maybe not. But my multiple attempts at melting sugar and 9pm dash to the grocery story for parchment paper seemed like small prices to pay for the delicious dessert that eventually came out of the oven. My stomach is full, my head is sleepy and my heart is full knowing I have a snow day for the first time in a long while. 

During the 11:00pm news, a politician warned people to stay inside since people who fall down on the sidewalks may be invisible to emergency crews. Invisible. Refinery29 has some tips for ladies needing a list of things to do during their snow day including lounging in pjs, catching up on reruns and fitting in a squat workout. Swimsuit season is coming.And me? I’ll wake up in the morning, open my window shades and hope to be dazzled by the early morning brilliance of snow on a January day. I’ll try to clean the house and answer those pesky e-mails but hating tying myself down to “productivity.” Plus there is online shopping to do since the bf’s birthday is coming up way too fast so tonight I’m just thankful for newsworthy blizzards…and Amazon Prime. 

Stay warm. 

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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. 

A Pauper in Queens

Pack. Drive. Starbucks. Drive. Reststop. Drive. Arrive. Park. Unpack. Assemble. Arrange. Rearrange. Hug. Kiss. Goodbye. IMG_2156

My parents (bless their maternal/parental hearts) woke up early this morning and loaded up a borrowed truck with all of my belongings despite the upstate New York cold. My stuff, hidden away in storage for months, was dusted off and organized into crates, bags, larger bags and boxes. I pictured our boot tracks, imprinted in snow on the living room carpet and kitchen floor, melting into clear puddles as we drove away. Destination: Queens. 

IMG_2159I always forget the “first night in a new apartment” feeling until after the sun has set and dinner is nothing but empty plates and an unopened bottle of wine. Directly after opening the front door, I have a preprogrammed need to unpack quickly, to move my belongings from their cramped, dusty boxes and into my new nest. Kitchen supplies find new cabinets. Clothes find their rightful drawers. The bed is arranged and rearranged to find the “best” feng shui position. Move the bed away from the wall to encourage love. Never sleep facing the door. Avoid mirrors and electronics. Eventually, the packing slows and I inevitably find myself standing in a strange apartment with the pieces of my life scattered across the new hardwood floors. IMG_2160

This night, I did what any self-respecting individual would do. I opened a bottle of Champagne, cut a slice of pumpkin pie and watched Sleepless in Seattle. From my position on the couch, I could see into my bedroom but wasn’t ready to tackle the remaining bit of organizing that needed to be accomplished.  After the hotel/hostel lifestyle, the idea of sleeping in the same room for longer than five days feels confusing and excessive. Then again, the idea of having a job also seemed like a long forgotten concept and in just four days I will be rolling up to my new office in downtown Manhattan. Life changes pretty quickly. Oh look, my glass is empty… IMG_2157

Do you remember the end of Sleepless in Seattle? Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) meets Annie (Meg Ryan) at the top of the Empire State Building in a parallel of the 1957’s movie An Affair to Remember starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. It’s evening in New York City and foreshadowing You’ve Got Mail, Tom and Meg look at one another and fall in love. It’s magical.

I have a romantic vision of myself as a well-spoken, weller-dressed New York wonder woman. This fantasy individual has a packed social calendar but still has time to reverse climate change and get eight hours of sleep. She has an excellent shoe collection and remembers to dust under her bed more than once a year. Maybe one day, I will take the elevator to the observation deck of the Empire State building and like Tom Hanks, find my crazy New York adventure was exactly what I needed it to be. In the meantime, I’m just an uprooted sapling hoping there is enough soil in Queens to find nutrients and put down new roots. 

New keys. New door. Same me. 

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[Like the pictures? Thanks new iPhone 6. I have rejoined the current generation.]