Some of my earliest memories are of visiting my grandmother’s apartment on the Lower East Side. We thought it was an adventure to use a bathroom in the hallway, and it was exciting to go upstairs via a hallway that was dark because someone had stolen the light bulbs. The tenants didn’t have an incinerator to dispose of garbage, but there was always the window.
Her building was replaced by a hotel, but for those who think that staying so far downtown is giving them a more “authentic” New York experience, they are really missing a lot. What’s missing is a way for visitors and transplants to get that essential, sense of place that’s unique to the Lower East Side. Otherwise, why bother schlepping all the way down there if the area feels like anywhere USA, littered with the same banks, drugstores, restaurant chains, luxury retailers, and yogurt stores that can be found everywhere else?
Here’s my solution: “Tenementally Yours,” the ultimate “Living Like a Local on the Lower East Side,” travel package. Picture this:
As you fumble with your keys, a colorfully-dressed junkie steals your suitcase and all your valuables. Not to worry, it’s really a valet who will take your things to your room.
Just about the size of a kennel, but with fewer amenities. Each tiny room boasts delightfully whimsical bathroom arrangements. Depending on availability, your room could have a bathtub in the kitchen and a toilet in the hallway that you get to share — a wonderful way to really get to know your neighbors. Visitors in the winter will experience the kind of sporadic heat delivery so common to many when New York was a real city.
During your visit, you can enjoy:
The Trash Marathon
Much of the New York experience is garbage intensive. In high-rises, the destination is the incinerator, where elves handle the trash, but tenements are the real deal. Each visitor will find outside their room a bag of randomly assembled — but messy — trash in a Chinese take out plastic bag so thin you can read the nutrition information off the labels of the cans. The competition is to get downstairs to the trash bins before the bags break. The bags are engineered to always break at the top of a flight of stairs.
The Retail Carousel
Each day, they will have the excitement of learning anew where to buy a newspaper, get a quick bite to eat, or buy a toothbrush, since all the in-hotel “BO-degas” will be popup stores, changing and moving from one day to the next.
New York Archetypes
Visitors will have the chance to interact with a cast of “real New York archetypes” (sanitized for your protection). You have your choice of the Friendly, Non-threatening Homeless Guy, the Tough Old New York Broad, the Funny and Energetic Aspiring Rapper, the Young Graffiti Artist, and the Random Street Performer. At check-in, you will be assured that your package includes an authentic New York City janitor, but you will never ever see him.
Lastly, to experience the true New York ethos, each day, randomly chosen visitors will find a note under their doors about an increase in room rate; you can either pay the increase or have 15 minutes to get out of the room.
In reality, newbies learn “tenementality” as soon as they arrive, when they leave doleful notes on lampposts about the suitcase they left outside “for a minute” (“The New York Minute – it’s not just a song lyric” could be our unofficial motto).
It’s true that the only constant is change, but it’s frustrating to see how much of the City’s heritage and flavor is being sanitized, watered-down, merchandised, or outright destroyed. Oddly enough, my grandmother would probably be cool about most of it (except for the loss of De Robertis) — if she could make a few dollars off of it. Nonna couldn’t read or write, but she sure could count. Maybe that drive and savvy is the source of New York City’s vitality…if it doesn’t kill it first.
But don’t get me started about that.