Fording the river

It was cold, windy, and snowing; the perfect day for a walking tour in a new part of the city. Some time ago, sharing in my excitement of exploring every corner of New York, my mom had sent me a pack of walking tour cards. There were about 50 or so, each a pleasant walk through some interesting, historical, or culturally rich part of the city. Well…Manhattan, anyway. There were 2 or 3 in Brooklyn, but if you wanted to see some of the many, many other interesting, historical, or culturally rich areas, you were on your own.

My wife Chrissy and I had decided to pull out the walking tour for Brooklyn Heights, and take a stroll. In February. As wonderful as our apartment was, the lease was coming up, and the increase in rent was something like 50%. The rest of Manhattan was not looking so great either at the time, either. It was time to cross a river.

We focused on Brooklyn because we had a lot of friends there already, mostly in Park Slope and Prospect Heights. Those neighborhoods seemed desirable, but still felt a little too far away from Manhattan. As funny as it seems in retrospect, at that time I felt I wanted to be as close to that island as possible–which in New York terms, of course, means as close as I could afford.

So we found ourselves on that cold, windy, and (did I mention?) snowing day wandering Brooklyn Heights. It wasn’t the kind of Brooklyn I was used to, the tall Victorian brownstones with their bay windows and dark streets. Rather, these townhouses were a little smaller, a little lighter, and older. Street after street of lovely little red brick Federalist-style houses, with the occasional Queen Anne thrown in for flavor. And maybe it was the gently falling snow, or maybe it was exploring a new neighborhood looking for a place that my wife and I could call our first real home together, or maybe it was running into my boss from work who invited us into her warm and cozy home for hot chocolate, or perhaps there was even a bit of the view of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade being better than any view form within Manhattan itself, but the neighborhood called to us. Yes, we answered, we could make a home here.

Still, this was New York, and apartment hunting in this city is not for the faint of heart. Come March we began the apartment search in earnest, and this time we took the hit and went with a broker. Renting in this city, as we knew, meant going prepared to sign the moment you find a place that you can imagine living in. To wait, to consider, to think on it, is to give it up to the next people who are walking in right behind you.

We saw 3 apartments that day, but there was really only one that mattered. A garden-level apartment in a wonderfully typical brick townhouse, on an unpronounceable street near the southern end of the neighborhood. Being on the ground floor meant that it had a door in the bedroom to the back yard–a yard!–where we could plant flowers, grill burgers, and have a quiet little refuge from the busy city around us. It was a perfect apartment, and yet…was it too far away? Was leaving Manhattan the right thing? Could we, even for a moment, stop to think about it?

Also, we were starving. The broker understood, and we agreed to go grab a bite to eat and meet him at his office to sign the lease in an hour. So we sat in the window seat of a take-out pizza shop on Atlantic Avenue, and talked about Brooklyn. Brooklyn, which was so beautiful, and so full of new experiences, and perhaps not so far away as we thought. (Although, notably, sitting there on Atlantic Avenue, we felt like we were on the edge of the known world. Surely, we thought, there was nothing beyond this street–heck, we’d probably never even cross it, everything we needed was on the north side anyway. How completely ridiculous that all seems today!)

Less than an hour later, we were back at the office of the broker, ready to sign the lease. He was sitting at his desk with another couple, who looked like they were in exactly the same place we were. Indeed, as we walked in, he was telling them, “yes, it is a great apartment. There’s another couple who may be coming back any minute now to sign the lease, but if they don’t come back, it’s yours. Oh, look, there they are!”

So we made the leap. And we never looked back. Though we did spend the next solid year spelling out that street name.

20 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, New York

20 Schermerhorn

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