Stay or forever go
Play or you'll never know
Your spirit's divided
You will decide if I'm all you'll be waiting for
Right now, weather.com tells me that it's 63 degrees in Brooklyn. 63 degrees, just after midnight, with a light breeze blowing in off the harbor. The breeze is cool enough to chill my skin without chilling me as I sit on my stoop in a short-sleeve shirt drinking an Abita Beer Fleur-de-lis Restoration Ale, my umpteenth beer of the day (I've lost track). There's no doubt at all that it's one of those nights in Brooklyn. One of those perfect Brooklyn nights capping a perfect Brooklyn day.
The day started with 70-something degree sunshine and a bike ride exploring Brooklyn's maritime past. From my house, I set off to the south to Red Hook, a neighborhood heavy with industry, docks and warehouses that is virtually cut off from the rest of Brooklyn by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Red Hook is "old Brooklyn", in the sense that it's far enough from transportation that yuppies like me haven't invaded to gentrify the neighborhood. Civilization is most definitely present there, but Red Hook hasn't lost that gritty New York edge that has disappeared from, say, most of Manhattan. Red Hook is, in every sense of the phrase, a mixed use neighborhood.
From there, I reversed course (though not on the BQE as Google Maps would have you believe) to the Brooklyn Navy Yards, with a quick spin by the Brooklyn Navy Yards Commandant House, now a private mansion of the type that is almost unfathomable in this town. The mansion was described pretty well by a New York Times reporter in 2003:
This mansion, originally the home of the Brooklyn Navy Yard commandant, has been converted to a private residence, largely hidden behind high brick walls draped in ivy. The mansion's driveway, off the Evans Street cul-de-sac, is visible through an ornate wrought-iron gate. A vintage Bentley and other old cars are parked in the driveway.
The house itself is white clapboard Federal style, with a pitched roof and a huge greenhouse; it was the commandant's house from 1806 until 1966, and was declared a city and state landmark in the 60's. Despite the house's seclusion, it imparts a regal air, as if it were a Newport waterfront mansion dropped inexplicably from the sky.
A Newport waterfront mansion in Brooklyn. Who knew?
Arriving back home, I grabbed a quick shower and shave before heading on foot back to Red Hook for a friend's birthday party, at the Red Hook Bait & Tackle Club, a nautical themed bar. There were many of us. We stayed, we drank, we ate some of the best key lime pie you'll catch north of the Florida Keys. We all rued the lack of garden for outdoor drinking, before moving to a bar next door that, well, HAD a garden for outdoor drinking. Minutes slipped into hours and although I never forgot I was in Brooklyn, it was easy to believe I could be in LA.
The breeze started blowing in off the harbor around 5pm, just as the Queen Mary 2 was departing from the Red Hook cruise terminal for ports unknown. Eventually, some in our party decided food was a good option, and so we boarded the B61 bus (no subway in Red Hook, you see) for the Cobble Hill-stylings of "Pacifico", a Mexican joint housed in a building that looks like it has stood there for the last 200 years. Tasty Mexican food and a pitcher of strong margaritas were consumed. With good company, a full belly and a nice buzz, life seemed pretty damn good, and again my thoughts wandered to LA.
New Yorkers Brooklynites are in touch with their city in a way Angelenos never will be. I was telling someone I met at the birthday party that nobody moves to New York to move to Brooklyn; you move to New York to move to Manhattan. Unless you grew up here, it's only after you've soaked up Manhattan for a while and start to have a feel for "the city" that you realize that there are other parts of New York City and, in fact, Brooklyn is pretty damn awesome. As someone with designs to eventually move back to Los Angeles, this realization gives me some pause. I've always been so sure that my path lies back to those mild 70-something degree SoCal days, back to those walks along the Venice boardwalk with a cool breeze blowing in off Santa Monica Bay, back to those nights spent throwing back beers beneath the comfort of heat lamps in gardens connected to the back of West LA lounges. And yet, after Brooklyn days and nights like today, I wonder if moving back to the City of Angels is right for me. There's no doubt that part of me desires the change -- 12 years in the same place will do that to you -- but another part of me lives for the fact that this town has bones, and those bones sing to me in a way that the gloss and veneer of Southern California never will.
Who knows. I've never been one for cold feet, and even now I'm barrelling down the path that leads back to Santa Monica at full bore. The likelihood that I wind up back in Southern California is pretty high. And yet, I've definitely begun to wonder if leaving behind what I have here is the right choice for me. Somehow, I doubt that I'll ever be part of a photo like this in LA:
Saturday, April 15, 2006
Stay or forever go