Our Town downtown
May 22, 2006
If you had your pick of places in this country to write about on an ongoing basis could you beat telling someone you write about downtown Manhattan? For sure, there are other places where events could compel you; New Orleans this year or the Mexican border of some southwest states in the upcoming months or out to Iowa with the pols. And in some romantic notion of independence, the idea of Bozeman or Austin are certainly alluring. But for a week-to-week area to cover, what can beat this downtown?
The idea of downtown anywhere is exciting. It’s where you go to mix it up, with art and colorful fashion storefronts, cool comic books and record stores and foreign films, food from Ethiopia. It’s the stroll-theater part of cities and towns everywhere. In small towns it’s where the pool hall is. It’s where you want to hang out with your friends and where you hate to leave when it’s time to go home. But that’s where this downtown is different. You don’t have to leave this downtown; you can live in it.
You may, in fact, be one of those New Yorkers who say, “I never go above 14th Street.’ Or above 23rd or Canal or Houston. It’s a matter of pride, a happy assertion of living in a place where you fit. Away from the town or house or the apartment building you grew up in. Away from parents. Away from an old order. It’s your place.
We want to be in this place, too--with you, even while knowing that we’re coming to one of those places where everybody wants to be the last person to have arrived, after whom no one else is needed. But we think we can bring something to you that will allow us to be your companion. We want you to let us in.
Like newcomers anywhere, we’ll bring fresh eyes, and sometimes wide, curious ones.
E.B.White, in an essay he wrote in 1949 called ‘Here is New York’, talks about newcomers to New York. And while we aren’t newcomers to the city, only to your part of the city, his observations may apply:
There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter—the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the NewYork of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last—the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its political deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from Italy to set up a small grocery store in a slum, or a young girl arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer, each generates heat and light to dwarf the Consolidated Edison Company.
We will likely feel our way our around your part of the city for awhile, getting to know the touchstones and the character of the place. We’ll point out things that excite us that some of you may have seen or been to many times, others of you may have never noticed what we did. No matter, we’ll evolve into downtown as you have, as other publications have before us.
We’ll bring you stories by writers whose names you’ll get to know as the weeks go by. We’ll introduce you to people downtown we find interesting, tell you about the things they’ve done or are planning to do. We’ll pass along our enthusiasms about shows and art we’ve seen and food we’ve tried. We’ll be learning as we go about our new ‘home’ and that’ll be stimulating for us.
We hope that translates into a paper you’ll like.
-- Bill Gunlocke