Do you remember Sesame Street? Sadly, I remember very little from this beloved show that used hand Muppets to teach young kids age appropriate life lessons. It's interesting how ones' subconscious works however, and today, while walking through Hell's Kitchen, I found myself humming the song "These are the people in my neighborhood" -- a song that originated on the show.
Saturday's my errand day. I wake up late, futz around the apartment, go to the gym and then gradually make my rounds gathering everything I might need for the upcoming week. First, I stop at the Amish Market to pick up my specialty produce. I've lived in Hell's Kitchen for nearly six years and I remember when I first moved here and had no money, I'd go to the market for salads in the evening and chat with the lovely salad man who worked there.
Next, I stop at Amy's Bread for my weekly treats. I joke that one of the reasons I love Hell's Kitchen so much is the fact that there are more bakeries per square foot than any other Manhattan neighborhood. Amy's has an especially fond place in my heart and I'll attribute my insatiable sweet tooth to the fact that the employees of this lovely local bakery know my name--and order--by heart. I've been going here for at least six years and knowing the people who work here-- their stories, hopes and aspirations--adds a profundity to the otherwise banal act of purchasing baked goods. The sincerity of their smiles when I enter the shop doesn't hurt either.
My third stop along the way is at the sidewalk street vendor, a man I know only as 'David'. He has the best fruits and vegetables in the city and always slips some extra fruit into my bag as I pay him.
Finally, as I near my apartment, I see the men who work at the local tire and car repair shop at the top of my block. These men hold a special place in my heart. When I first moved to Hell's Kitchen about six years ago, my parents were understandably skeptical about my move. Around fifty years ago, this neighborhood had a bad reputation to say the least. Aptly dubbed 'Hell's Kitchen' because of its formerly being the hang out for New York's Irish Mafia (and the proclivity of the neighborhood residents to dispose of dead bodies in the Hudson River), HK had a bad rep. (Check out T.J. English's 'The Westies' for a great look at the history of Hell's Kitchen).
After visiting the location and seeing how gentrification had changed the formerly dangerous hood into an affordable, residential gem, they were convinced and gave me their blessing to move into my new apartment. Nonetheless, I live very far west and my walk home (especially late at night) can be a bit sketchy to say the least. And so, as I approach my block and see the familiar faces of these men, the men who see me leave my apartment each morning to go for my run or my bike ride, or as I head off to work, who see my comings and going, the men and women I socialize with, and who always greet me with a head nod, a kind word, or simply a smile, I'm overwhelmed by gratitude for their presence. I (somewhat facetiously) like to think if they did not see me one morning, they would raise the alarms and notify the authorities about my absence.
I often write about social media and I think that the more time we spend in the digital environment, the less we appreciate those interactions that take place without a screen as the middleman. But in reality, it's these little daily doses of humanity that solidify our bond and identification with the places we call home.
As time has passed, more and more of my friends have moved to this neighborhood, further entrenching me here. But it's these local men and women who really cause me to feel at home in Hell's Kitchen though my family lives in Brooklyn.
As I continued to hum while putting the key into the lock of my building, I was struck by how apt Sesame Street's neighborhood song was. These are the people in my neighborhood, the people that [I] meet each day. And they're the reason I can't imagine living anywhere else.