I had lived in a cramped 3-room apartment in the East Village for 12 years. The neighborhood was decidedly cool, but the problem was that the rest of the world was finding that out. What had once been a quiet backwater of Manhattan was now ground zero for entertainment.
Any night of the week there were conflicting barrages of sound from the Pentecostal church, the Brazilian lesbian bar, the Mexican pizzeria and the new rock clubs across the street. After the clubs closed at 4 AM, there was a bum who thought he was Screaming Jay Hawkins. He approached everyone on the street saying "Excuse me, do you have any Grey Poupon?", or simply, "Gimme a quarter -- I gotta get laid." This was funny the first 38,923 times.
I had fought so long and hard to find an apartment that for all its faults, I had imagined that they'd have to carry me out of there. To my surprise, I left on a month's notice. A friend of mine had gone out in Williamsburg, and thought that it would be a great place for me to live. We went the next evening and had a fantastic time. There was a village-like atmosphere, but it was still really cool. It was like a suburb of the East Village. We went to 3 bars with live music, had great food and talked to everyone who lived there. By the end of the evening, I said, "I have 6 and 6 things only to say: I love it, I love it, I love it, I'm moving, I'm moving, I'm moving."
That weekend we took a look for an apartment. We thought that even though the neighborhood was full of lofts, I would prefer an apartment, probably near the subway, like there, for instance. My friend didn't notice, but he was pointing at a sign that said "Apartment for Rent". It turned out that it was the entire top floor of a building with a reasonable rent.
The landlord was quite a character. During our negotiation he would call me at work three times a day. "Hello Evan -- this is Mike the landlord. One more thing I forgot to ask you, uhhh, what's your hat size?" He wasn't taking any chances and this went on for weeks, but I finally got the place. My apartment was exceptional, and from my bedroom I could see both the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center. Plus, to my incredible surprise, I had an honest landlord. There might be three of these in the entire universe.
I absolutely loved Williamsburg. It was calm, tranquil and fun, a different New York. The view of Manhattan was better than you get in Manhattan, and with a 10 minute ride, I was closer to downtown Manhattan than my friends on the upper West Side. Yet I lived in a different city. I was friendly with all the local merchants, and spent quiet weekend days walking around.
It was at this time that I first took up photography. I had inherited an SLR camera from an aunt. She was the type of person who didn't do things half-way, so I was scared of the camera for years. I reminded myself that I'm a computer professional, and we have a saying, "R.T.F.M" (which stands for "Read the Manual") so I finally did, and took gobs of beginner's pictures. Luckily, the neighborhood was interesting enough to speak for itself.
The Brooklyn presented here is a very different Brooklyn than you get in the coffee table books. In fact, to get to the "other" Brooklyn, you actually have to take the train through Manhattan. There's no real architecture, and a lot of industrial grit and grime. While it has none of the beauty of Brooklyn Heights, it does have an incredible amount of character. Besides, it's real, which despite their attractions, Brooklyn Heights or Park Slope can never claim to be.
I've been back lately, and it's still a fantastic place, though the buzz has started turning into a roar. As with the East Village, people have a way of finding things out.