Saturday night I was out with friends of friends having just consumed a whole pig when the subject of where I lived came up. As is typical among the young urban elite the shock of hearing that people reside off of the island of Manhattan was too much for them and a long uncomfortable silence ensued. If only the answer to "what neighborhood do you live in?" had been decidedly Brooklyn based I could have justified my existence under the guise of hippsterism or possibly even extremely early family planning but the scourge of Queens leaves one with very little to turn to save reasonable rent and a love for a spacious living room. Don't get me wrong, I happen to like Astoria a fair bit mostly because its relatively quiet residential streets make it possible to lie to my country girl heart about exactly where we are living but I suspect it would be a much easier place to justify if the much promised gentrification that people have been yakking about for years would hurry up and get here already.
I have lived in Astoria for three and a half years and I feel that I have done my part to gentrify the shit out of this place. In addition to hiring a cleaning lady and paying for laundry service on a regular basis I am also white in the nondescript way that makes it all but impossible to determine the culinary specialties of my mother (she makes a mean salad). I exclusively purchase my caffeinated beverages from the independently owned and wittily named cafe on my block. I joined the local CSA in an effort to send the message that, "YES! Queens residence are finally too good for grocery store vegetation!" and hopefully encourage the opening of a Whole Foods. I even started a blog about the neighborhood in an effort to court the young tech money. All to no avail; the blocks around my house are still home to only greasy Chinese and $.99 stores. I know on some level I'm supposed to fear gentrification for the way it will embolden my land lord (though realistically I can't imagine him being emboldened into much beyond a cocktail before 2pm while taking in a round of 18 in Delray Beach) but really how much will my rent go up if we got a book store up in here? Everyone thinks gentrification is all Starbucks and Panera Bread pushing out the local flavor, they forget that white washing these streets would also mean higher quality brunch options for all.
For almost two and a half years the building next to the Ditmars train stop has stood empty save the char and ash the were left over after a particularly extra crispy fire broke out in an Italian restaurant. I'll admit that a month or so ago when I saw construction workers laying down plywood and tile I got my hopes up. A pilates studio? A bar with a disproportionate number of blue drinks on the menu? A kitschy boutique selling overpriced novelty salt and pepper shakers in the shape of gnomes next to notebooks made from 60s era junior high school sex education manuals? My heart swooned.
The new neighborhood entrepreneurs did not consult me before setting up shop but if they had I could have provided them with a long list of things that Astoria already has too many of. Dentist offices (particularly overly fancy ones decorated with flat screen tvs). Banks that are not Bank of America and which charge roughly $75 for every ATM transaction. Cafes where smoking laws do not apply. Stores specializing in knit tube tops. Sad hallway sized bodegas selling printer cartridge refills. My 2 block walk from home to the subway already takes me past a Famous Footwear and a Foot Locker and yet on Friday what should I see taking up residence in the former shell of the burned out pizzeria but a Payless Shoe Source (You could pay more, but not in Queens.)!
So now what? Obviously my dreams of a nice farmer's market and a cute gellato shop are floundering and on top of stocking up on heirloom tomatoes and green tea ice cream via Fresh Direct I also need to find a new way to justify my neighborhood choice. Can I get get away with a claim that I'm "keeping it real" by choosing to live with the "true New Yorkers"?