I took the Southside Stories walk down in Williamsburg. It was easy to follow the route because I walked at the pace of the audio guide, Shannon Carroll’s, footsteps. Having lived in this neighborhood in Brooklyn for the past 10 years, I was very familiar with the scenery and the many ways it’s changed over the years. Gentrification has been very obvious in this part of the city and unfortunately, I do realize that I’ve played a role by moving here. The sound walk was a trip down memory lane, however, because I happened to move to N1st and Berry with my girlfriend, now wife, to my second apartment in the area. We would always pass by the open parking lot with “Coco” and we even met Louie when he was still alive. I treasured the vibe “old’ Williamsburg had, but I know that the former neighborhood to me was not the same place as it used to be in the 80’s, 90’s, and even early 2000’s.
The tour starts at the Dunkin’ Donuts which used to be Northside Pharmacy. As we walked down Bedford Avenue, most of the locations mentioned have already been replaced by newer, more commercialized buildings. It was strange because all the places she mentioned I knew about, but they were gone and some of them replaced twice over since the recording.
The first place we stopped at, Verb Cafe, had already been replaced a few years ago. It happened to be one of the cafe’s I frequented when I first moved to the neighborhood. They mentioned the Mini Mart that has also been renovated since.
Then we walked to Metropolitan Pool. Where my roommate used to tell me stories about frequenting the gym and seeing all the Hasidic women go into the pool area.
The senior center across the street really got me reminiscing because I had no idea the parking lot with stuffed animals had anything to do with the woman living on the second floor. It was a treat to find out information about Carmen who eventually took over the lot for Louie when he died, and dressed the animals for passers by to look at.
I always wondered what happened to Louie. Now that I know he passed away, it makes sense that the amount of theatrical animal installments have boiled down to only three main actors.
The bakery the audio guide spoke of was gone and turned into an overly expensive restaurant.
The church was no longer boarded up as it had been the whole time I have lived here. It is also now an overly expensive restaurant.
I didn’t see the mailman when going to 300 Bedford Ave. but that’s probably because it was too late.
Bedford Realty happened to be one of the few buildings that was still standing – in fact, I went there to sign a lease on one of the apartments I lived in.
Building 155 used to be a drug den. The violence in the neighborhood that is described during these couple of blocks reminds me of what my mother said when I first told her I was moving to Williamsburg. She said, “Oh no you’re not.” My mother comes from a Brooklyn Italian family and knew this part of the city as a dangerous place. It reminded me of old New York City. The city I grew up in. She would also say how cheap it was to buy a building on Sealy St. or Vanderbilt Ave. and how expensive it is now just like Angel, the former drug lord of this area, spoke about.
Ironically, El Regresso, a rehabilitation center lives right down the block from 155.
The garden down the block still exists, but it wasn’t open so I couldn’t converse with anyone there.
Finally I arrived at The Caribbean Club, 244 Grand St. An unassuming place, a hidden treasure.
Where I met Maria! The lovely woman behind the last Puerto Rican Social Club in Williamsburg – and I had a $2 (it went up to $3 since the recording) corona in the back while eating home cooked, delicious rice and beans.
The audio tour was a blast from the past and a humbling experience for me. I really enjoyed the interviews and revisiting areas of the neighborhood I haven’t seen in a while. Ending up at The Caribbean Club made me realize just how different this part of Williamsburg used to be. I felt like an outsider being there, which is what I imagine they must feel like now having the area taken over by gentrification. It left me feeling guilty and respectful. I never would have found myself in that bar if not for this sound walk and for that, I’m very grateful.