The sweat and grime of a surprisingly inaccessible—yet friendly—Astoria, NY is settling in deep formations just below my eyes. My proverbial “bags” are full of wayworn soot, courtesy of the two hours I spent with Jack-O speeding about the bar and club district in Queens’ most reasonably priced district. About two years ago, I read an article in the NY Times about the few places in New York City that offered cheap rent, and Astoria topped a list that included, among other places, Riverdale and Alphabet City. Thinking that Astoria's financial reasonableness and proximity to Manhattan (15-20 minutes to Midtown) would foster a well-to-do professional community absolutely enthralled to be saving money on a premium location—and, therefore, willing to indiscriminately tip bartenders—I took Jack-O along on a job-hunting mission.
Those assumptions about Astoria's bar culture may or may not be correct. I still have no idea. I spent the first hour and a half of my journey discovering that, although I live in Queens, I have to take a subway into Manhattan just to catch the N or W back to Astoria. While the trip demoralized me and the humidity exhausted the rest of my faculties, I rued my decision to wear a black button-down shirt over a thick, black, cotton t-shirt. When the train finally arrived at Astoria Boulevard—and once I spotted Jack-O studying the classifieds under a Christopher Columbus statue—I was already about go home. The mental disquiet involved in deciding to push on was excruciating, but we did, in fact, make our way to downtown Astoria.
The first thing we noticed is that, unlike in four-and-a-half of New York City’s five boroughs, not everybody in Astoria wants to kill you. In fact, the kind souls we solicited outside of bars and lounges were more than happy to give directions, offer advice, and wish me luck. Furthermore, despite the fact that I didn’t get to speak to a single bar manager or owner—in close to 10 attempts—all the patrons, bartenders, and waitresses I met were exceedingly polite. Most were also exceedingly attractive. I have no idea why the rent prices in Astoria are so low—it’s a veritable Eden of attractive, young people minutes outside of Manhattan and saturated with restaurants, bars, movie theaters, banks, employment opportunities, and subway stops. It’s within a few miles of two airports. It has a dirt-cheap, kick-ass music rehearsal studio (http://www.astoriasoundworks.com), and its name—“Astoria”—sounds like the princess in a Victorian fairy tale. Why anybody would opt to pay more to live in Flatbush is beyond me.
The lessons from tonight are obvious: never wear two layers of thick material during the summer, never look for a bartending job without copies of your resume, never rely on the subway (or acid) for an expeditious trip, never take Jack-O anywhere unless he’s full of Red Bull, never buy Listerine breath strips if they cost more than one dollar, never pay Manhattan prices to live in an environmentally appalling pocket of Brooklyn, never finish the book you’re reading if it will leave you with nothing to do on the trip home, and never, ever put three hamburgers on a gas grill without making sure there is propane left in the tank.
And never come in from a summer night without taking a shower. I smell like Flatbush.
Stay Swampy, New York