When we think about traveling to new places, what is the draw? Is it the food? The history? The sights? The recreation? The people? Honestly, coming to New York, for me it was probably the “things to do and see”.
So it comes as a bit of a surprise that it just might turn out to be the people that bring me back. I think that GAT would agree that we are so pleasantly surprised by the welcome we have received from the people – in the neighborhood, on the subway, in the park – wherever we go. NYC has a reputation for the people being busy, cold, gruff, not helpful or welcoming to tourists. Don’t believe the negative gossip. We have found the opposite to be true. Everywhere we’ve been we’ve felt welcome, no more so than in our Bed-Stuy neighborhood.
We feel that especially strong sense of community here in the neighborhood. Yesterday I stopped in at a tiny little jewelry store that I have passed many times. The older gentleman immediately welcomed me and complimented my “beautiful salt and pepper hair”. We chatted about the changes brought on by COVID (including giving up on the hair dye), his wife the jewelry-maker, his time living in LA, our community in the Bay Area, and the people of Bed-Stuy.
Next door, I chatted with the store owner and her nine year old grandson. We talked about the retail business during the holidays, the value of giving children responsibilities, and their inter-generational family business.
Then Glen and I went to dinner last night around the corner at a restaurant where we have dined several times. We brought Blair here during the warmer weather when there was a street party in front of the restaurant every Sunday. Last night, we sat inside for the first time and had just received our meal when the owner recognized us from earlier visits and came and sat down with us to chat about the restaurant business in Brooklyn. As he left, he ordered another cocktail for us and thanked us for our patronage. We didn’t have the heart to tell him it would likely be our last visit on this trip.
In earlier posts, we’ve shared about the sense of community here on Halsey Street – starting with the Block Party and extending to our ongoing interactions with neighbors. You might remember that Glen received a BBQ t-shirt from Mike on Day One. Violet shared her cooking herbs, dog treats for Dug, and stories about the upstairs neighbor. Earl greets us from his stoop and offers his evening philosophical musings and advice on safety. Landlord Mark remarks that the neighbors “like us better than them” because we take the time to get to know them and engage with them. This is the beauty of “stoop” life.
Neighbors helping neighbors is a theme here. The other day, I found a man’s ring near the basketball courts down the street. Mike agreed to help me find its owner by posting it on his Nextdoor page. When Ida landed here and the neighborhood clean up began, everyone came out of their brownstones to discuss the damage and share resources.
I’ve written about the older gentlemen who sit on the sidewalk throughout the day, chatting with each other, playing cards, playing music, etc. I have enjoyed greeting them when I walk by and as the temperatures have begun to drop, I miss seeing them out as often. I stopped by today and asked if I could take their picture to introduce them to you. They willingly obliged me.
And my favorite story…There’s an older gentleman who comes down the block with his leaf blower several times a week. He blows the leaves off the sidewalk and even enters each gate and clears the front “yards”. I’ve seen him many times as I’m seated in the living room and I give him a “thank you” wave. Yesterday I was using up the frozen bananas I had saved for banana nut bread. I made a loaf for him, hoping that I would run into him. I wasn’t exactly sure where he lived so in the afternoon, I put a loaf of bread in a bag and headed out to meander the neighborhood. As I was going back to our street, I spied him walking toward me in the distance. When our paths met, I told him how much I appreciated his neighborly kindness and offered him the bread as a thank you. He switched his walking direction and after formally introducing ourselves, (his name is Melvin), we headed back toward Halsey together. Melvin was beaming from ear to ear and when I asked if he ate banana nut bread, he said bananas are “all I eat”! As we walked and talked, he said that he finds people to be good and if he’s “nice to people, they are nice back to him”.
Hear, hear, Melvin. Thank you for living as an example of kindness.
And now I’m crying…