After about ten minutes of walking in the pouring rain, I just had a feeling I had to be going in the wrong direction. I didn't know what the Navy Yards would look like but my feeling was, it probably wasn't going to be a Starbucks. And that's all that seemed to be in this part of Dumbo. Chain stores, boutiques, the usual retail hell.
So I dropped into the Starbucks, to both get out of the rain and try and get my bearings. I asked the young woman behind the counter if she knew where the Navy Yards were and she looked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language or English. She had no idea what I was talking about, and had absolutely zero interest in helping me.
I looked around. Somehow you can always tell a local, longtime resident in even the most gentrified of areas. They look less rich, typically. That's pretty much the only real clue. I spied a middle aged Latino man entering the coffee shop. He seemed approachable, friendly, and like he knew where things were.
"Hi, sorry to bother you," I said. "But I am looking for the Navy Yard, am I in the right area?"
He smiled. "Oh, noooo," he said. "No, it's far away from here. No. You want to go that way," he gestured exactly in the opposite direction of how I had been going. "You want to go down York Street until you can't go any more and then you want to make a right. And keep walking and walking from there. It's far. Really."
I repeated the directions back to him, three times, because I have no short term memory.
"So how far am I?"
"About a mile and a half," he said. "Good luck."
A mile and a half, at night, in the pouring rain. One of the great ironies of getting your car towed is that you need your car to get it back because the tow lots, I've learned, tend to be so damned far from everything and everyone. But I had no choice. Walk it I would.
Unless I got lucky.
I started to look for cabs. Now, back in my day, six years ago, you never saw a yellow cab in Dumbo. You'd see the occassional livery Town Car, those guys go everywhere, but not actual New York City taxi cabs. There just wasn't enough traffic. But now in all its hipness, maybe I could get a ride.
And soon enough I saw one going down York Street. I waved it down, but it didn't pick me up. Instead a middle aged couple just sat in it, until they were joined by another middle aged couple. I was bummed, and kept walking. Then down the street I saw another. I did one of those classic New York screams--"Taxay!"--and he pulled up. No one stole my ride, and I was in business.
The cab had one of those annoying video screens that are almost impossible to turn off, but otherwise was quite comfortable and I was grateful for the ride. Another irony of New York: what would've been a hellish walk turned into about a five minute cab ride. Soon enough I saw them, the Navy Yards. You just know them when you see them. They are ugly and look like Navy Yards. I got out, tipped the guy two bucks by mistake instead of one, and then walked to the Navy Yards.
My only experience with the Navy Yards before this had been that they were mentioned a few times in the book "Last Exit To Brooklyn," usually as the setting for some latent 50s era covert-homosexuality, or as a place where violent white ethnic toughs cruise around looking for some cover latent 50s era homosexuality. In other words, a nice dangerous little place.
Well, that was all over. If it had once been a place filled with enraged gangs that era had passed as far as I could tell.
The Navy Yards had a guard in a little room, an overhang to barely shelter a few people shivering beneath and not much else, at first blush. Then I looked closer to see where I should go. I started walking but apparently was going the wrong way because a female cop immediately popped out of nowhere and started to berate me. "No, not THAT way," she yelled. I re-oriented myself and walked towards the graceless gray square that had to be where I needed to check in. These places are always graceless gray squares, I reasoned, so I had to be in the right location.
To be continued ...