I’ve been spending a lot of time on Manhattan’s Upper West Side lately. The UWS is one of the richer neighborhoods in the city, and you can tell. It’s apparent in everything from the stately building facades to the ridiculous markups on purchases (an apple in my neighborhood costs $0.50. I bought one from a greengrocer around 84th and Amsterdam for $1.19). Central Park dwarfs Prospect Park, and you can see the attention (and budget) brought to bear on its upkeep. The UWS is safer, cleaner, nicer than Flatbush in almost every way.
That’s money. Watching its power at work never ceases to amaze me.
But the one way in which you can really observe the UWS’ wealth is in its residents. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of working people living here. People room together in small apartments. Some folks moved here when the neighborhood was still up-and-coming and either own at cheap mortgages or pay rent-control rates they locked into in years past. Some people get lucky and find “deals” (by New York City standards. By every other place on earth, these “low” rents are INSANELY high).
But remember, I’m a day person now. I am on the street when working people are at the office. When I’m heading to the coffee shop or the library to write, or to the park to run, I’m mostly seeing the *super* rich, folks so wealthy that their office days are behind them. There are exceptions, of course, but folks on the UWS (at least those rich enough to be day people like me) are amazing looking. They are, almost to an individual, incredibly fit. Their hair is gorgeous, their clothing fashionable. They lounge in the park or browse the shops at a leisurely pace, walking purebred dogs or grabbing a late brunch. They are, quite literally, beautiful people.
I’m realizing their money has purchased them something more than the upscale address. It’s bought this incredible leisure. Because staying in shape, taking the morning to stay on top of fashion, visiting a salon that will work on your hairdo for 2 hours, owning 3 beautiful dogs that you have to walk every day (if you don’t hire a dog-walker) . . . all those things require another commodity.
Thinking about it, I was briefly swamped by irony. I quit my full time job to free myself to to write. I’ve been kissing the poverty line ever since.
But my poverty and their wealth has purchased the same thing.