It’s been exactly a year since I moved from the trendy comfort of Astoria’s streets to the dingy Bohemian setting of Bushwick's painted up warehouses... As my block in Brooklyn continues to change, I think it's time to stop and take stock.
By David Davila (playwright / songwriter)
A year ago this week I wrote a blog about joining the great migration to the neighborhood of Bushwick, that exotic land also identified as “East Williamsburg” and known only by its vast abandoned warehouses and colorful Puerto Rican population.
When I moved here a year ago I absolutely hated it. In the first few months our heat didn’t work, we experienced a home invasion, we had to call the police on several occasions, our new Saudi Arabian roommate never showered, and we discovered that we had ants, mice, and bedbugs. It was a nightmare.
On top of that we were scared to walk home at night due to the ominous empty factory, and the gothic crack house that were across the street from our new remodeled dream apartment.
There was no grocery store, no laundromat, no restaurants, none of the every day necessities that people need to live. All we had within a twenty block radius of our apartment was a BP gas station with a Dunkin Donuts, and a Popeye’s chicken.
But the biggest change from Astoria to Bushwick in all honesty was my sex life. Astoria was packed with the boys of Broadway, designers, models, and night life adventurers – my rolodex was filled with the names of boys I could call up at any moment and spend a day or night with.
Bushwick however, was different. The number of booty calls on my speed dial quickly went from ten to zero and there were no signs of any gays anywhere nearby on GRINDR. Most of the gays that showed up on my radar app were either DL married guys (which I just don't do) or a few miles away. If you asked me then, Bushwick was officially “the frontier.”
See, we didn’t really plan on moving to Bushwick; on contrary we ended up there. It was a last resort move when we couldn’t find anything else and our time was up. Several of my friends had just made the move and had been telling me over and over that Bushwick was the place to be. Our new apt had a washer and dryer and I said “why the hell not?”
It’s been an adventure to say the least. What I’ve learned about Bushwick is that there is a rich history in the culture of the home owners that dates back several decades. There is a pride in the Puerto Rican families that have become my friends and it didn’t take me long to learn that speaking badly about Bushwick was a direct insult to them – so I quickly refrained and instead tried to find the beauty in the neighborhood that was inspiring this pride in them.
They were born and raised in Bushwick, and in Bushwick they would die – that is, unless gentrification kicks them to the curb.
And it might.
It’s happening now as we speak. Every day the boys on my Grindr app get closer and closer. The closest gay went from a mile away to a mere 126 feet. They're moving to the block. They're closing in on the residents of Bushwick and the changes are very evident. A few months ago I saw a cute, young, gay, white couple holding hands on my block, and last week another couple holding hands at my subway stop. The neighborhood is changing.
That empty factory across the street? Condos. That gothic crack house reminiscent of Addams Family? More condos. All along the streets of Bushwick Ave and up and down Myrtle, apartment after apartment being gutted and remodeled, and old warehouses being turned into condos, restaurants, performance spaces.
Whether it's good or bad, it's changing and I'm partly to blame.
The close knit Puerto Rican families that line the town houses are quickly being swallowed up into the counter-culture of Bohemian life and art. For me, it was something new. I’ve always wanted to live in the center of Bohemia and I’d finally accomplished just that. No one ever said Bohemia was beautiful. Everything ever written about the culture of beauty, love, and art has been about how miserable and ugly it is.
It’s in the center of the idea itself – look around you; look around the gutters and find the beauty in everything you see. Bushwick was brown and vast, but within it there was beauty. Gobs of it. Gobs, and gobs, and gobs of it.
There was spirit, and there was art at every turn. Soon I discovered the local hang outs around Jefferson and Morgan, the amazing restaraunts with exquisite cuisine, the walls and walls of endless murals that sprawled the many factories. Soon I found the many artists painting on the corners, sketching me on the train, the poets battling it out at the taverns, and the musicians carrying their guitars hitther and yonder. I was right where I belonged.
Ever since I first heard the soundtrack to RENT when I was fifteen years old I had dreamt of being a Bohemian, and now I am.
I joined the Bushwick writer’s collective, I started playing hipster-esque shows with singer-songwriter Steph Nash, and I kept living life with the little i had, and telling everyone that would listen, how Bushwick changed me.
Now every day there are more and more artists, more gays, and more opportunities congregating in Bushwick. A year after moving to Bushwick and hating it, I can honestly say that I've fallen in love with it.
I'd fallen in love in love with the mix of family history and bohemian ideals.
But gentrification is a bad word. Gentrification is a scary thing for people who own property in New York. Gentrification means "I have to move farther out, I have to move to Jersey, I have to leave my life as I know it."
How long till our edgy and artsy Puerto Rican neighborhood becomes a corporate yuppie cesspool of hipster wannabees? Is it possible to improve Bushwick for the people who have lived here for decades without erasing their history from this ever-changing hood?
As I look toward this new year I look towards the many goals I hope to accomplish and I look towards Bushwick hoping that the Bohemian ideals of love and life can merge with the history and street-picnic culture of block party pachangas; without pushing out our good neighbors.
Here's to hoping that Bushwick thrives for decades more as a familiy community that not only welcomes artists, but also welcomes the families that originally built it.
I hope the gentrification of Bushwick only means that the home owners and shop owners of this land will only thrive and and enjoy the riches of a newly invigorated land.
Here's to hoping! Amen.
... and now for the 90's jam of the week. For some reason this popped in my head this week. Listening to the lyrics as an adult song-writer I must give Amy Grant, or whoever wrote this song, props. Great song!
DAVID DAVILA is the guy behind those 52 SONGS concerts and author of the Tex-Mex plays ADAN Y JULIO, MEN OF GOD, ABUELAS OR THE POVERTY CYCLE, CREDO, REQUERDOS OF MY LIFE, ANIMAL HUSBANDRY, and AZTEC PIRATES AND THE INSIGNIFICANCE OF LIFE ON MARS. He's also the composer/lyricist of the musicals VOX POP, CORNER GIRL, FUCKING BEAUTIFUL (with Sean Havrilla), and the song cycle TALES FROM HIGHWAY 281. He is a self proclaimed Voxist, a Diva enthusiast, and founder of Lone Star Theatre Co. Wanna talk about it? www.daviddavila.net
EMAIL HIM | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | OTHER POSTS BY THIS AUTHOR