I'm no John Cougar Mellencamp, but I live in a small town. It just happens to reside in the biggest city in America. It's often been remarked that New York City isn't exactly a city; it's a collection of small towns that share the same real estate. Inwood is living proof of that.
I wound up here kind of by accident. You talk to people who live here and either they were born here, or they knew someone who lived here who turned them onto it. Me, I found it basically the same way that Eddie Murphy found Queens in Coming to America: spun a globe, dropped my finger and said, "Well, that sounds like a nice place." Okay, I exaggerate, but it's close.
My friend Adam and I interned at a theatre together, thought we'd be good roommates and decided to look for a place. This was way back in the Dark Ages: 1996. We took the train out to Queens, either Astoria or L.I.C. and were unimpressed. It seemed sleepy and dead and all made out of concrete (and there go our readers from Queens...thanks for coming by!). Then we went up to Inwood. One of us heard from someone who heard from someone who read in the Times that it was the next big thing. That sounded good to us. (We were young.) So we took the A train (yes, we sang the song. We were young.) and got off at Dyckman Street.
There was life there. A big green leafy park. A little diner, right by the subway. Next to a slightly sketchy Irish bar (it would be about a decade before I set foot in there). Across Broadway was a strip of shopping, Dominican restaurants, a Spanish-language bookstore. During the Great Home Run Race of '98, two years later, Sammy Sosa would take a victory lap here. This wasn't some outer borough. This was cool.
Adam and I moved in and I never left. 12 years later, I still see the same faces, the kids who ran up and down the hallways of my apartment building have grown up, some familiar faces are gone, some new ones have shown up. But the town still hums with life.
For me, it's a place where people know you, know how you like your coffee or what your drink is, know when you're heading to work or what you want on your pizza, know the people you know (and you know the people they know), all separated by at best two degrees, where people know, well, honestly, entirely too much about you and your comings and goings, but that's okay. They're still New Yorkers, so they'll keep it to themselves. (You hope.)
If this project is about anything for me, it's about showing people that, even here in the big city, we're all just small town folks.
- J. Holtham