25 Stories About Work – Brooklyn Before Gentrification

I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

Brooklyn, New York City, the ’90s…

I was assigned to do a regulatory audit of a large utility in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1990s. At the time Brooklyn was nothing like it is today. When I got off the plane at LaGuardia and hailed a cab…

Me to the Driver – I want to go to Brooklyn. The Driver – Hell no, I’m not driving to Brooklyn

After I finally convinced a cab driver to take me to Brooklyn (with much New York style yelling), when he dropped me off in front of the office building, he would whip the wheel around as fast as he could and do a U-turn right in front of the facility and high-tail it off to the highway to get out of Brooklyn. They couldn’t get out of the neighborhood fast enough.

The utility was based at what appeared to be the only newer office-type building in Brooklyn. There were NO hotels that you could stay in Brooklyn at the time. We stayed in Manhattan and took the subway to work every day. We seemed to be the only boring white accountant-type people in suits going TO Brooklyn in the morning and we were the same distinct minority returning to our hotel every evening. Our partner onsite was kind of distracted so we had to stay on him to get out of work at 5pm so we weren’t taking the subway at night because that seemed to be a dicey proposition.

Whenever there is a strike at a utility the union guys who read meters and make service calls walk off the line and management comes out to do essential tasks (along with other people that they hire). Thus the management people that we spoke with had harrowing tales of visiting completely dilapidated and burned out homes throughout the borough while they were on strike duty. Management seemed to live everywhere except Brooklyn and it made sense why – there were even a few who lived in Pennsylvania and made epic commutes to and from work daily.

One manager talked about a scam where people wrote checks to the utility to pay bills and often they used a 3 digit acronym rather than spelling the whole utility. He said one of the customer service agents took those first three digits and added a last name and opened a bank account themselves under that combined name and took the checks and deposited them, running off with the money. We laughed a lot because that seemed like a scam that was doomed to fail after a while but a bit clever.

There were no cabs in Brooklyn. You had to hire a “car service” which was usually a completely beat up Chevy Impala or the like driven by someone who spoke zero English. They usually had no idea how to get to the airport so I had to give them directions. A few times I was very scared that the car would literally fall to pieces while we were driving; they were probably old taxis that had given up the ghost and given a second, desperate life through this method

One Monday morning when I was flying in I felt dizzy and ill and when I got onsite in Brooklyn at the only standing office building I came down with the flu very badly. I kept throwing up in the stall and getting progressively weaker. I was the only person onsite from my company and didn’t know the client people well enough to count on them to take care of me so in the few minutes between throwing up I somehow got back to Manhattan (probably via the subway, I don’t remember) and arrived at my hotel early. For some reason I remember this clearly – the band Rancid was pulling up and their hair was spiked up and they had real “rock chicks” with them in miniskirts and fishnets and covered with tattoos right when I arrived. They said my room wasn’t ready yet so I told the clerk “that’s fine, I will just projectile vomit onto you” and amazingly they got me a room right away. I just sat in there and was sick for a few days and then flew back to Chicago. That was not a productive week at all, obviously.

Today Brooklyn has changed immensely and seems to be almost completely gentrified. I even have friends that I visit there and it is quite charming. It is amazing to think of all these changes that have occurred since I first went there in the early 1990s.

Cross posted at LITGM

4 thoughts on “25 Stories About Work – Brooklyn Before Gentrification”

  1. On my first visit to NYC I emerged from the bus station, and a large black gentleman shoved a newspaper in my hand. I declined his offer gratefully and returned it to him. As I turned away I realised that people were looking at me as if I had a death-wish. I suppose I was meant to pay him over the odds for whatever the rag was. Sometimes you can get off with being a holy fool.

  2. There was a great article on Brooklyn a few years ago – telling of the historic buildings that have been restored.

    On the gentrification – those first “gentries” had to have been awfully brave

  3. I lived in the borough for about a decade or so. (’95-’07) Prior to that I spent a few years during the seventies. The differences were stark. “Gentrification” has provided a quality-of-life boost but it in no way can be considered a safe place. It’s an extraordinarily difficult place for the average working person. Most of the “gentrifiers” are of the student/artist/musician type. A small percentage of that group that decide to remain and raise families are resiliently hardcore leftists. Public schools are custodial facilities/job programs and are to be avoided at all cost. Private schools, Harvard money. Taxes? guess. Insurance? you wouldn’t believe it if I told you. I could type for hours, but I’ll relate one example. (I may have posted this at CB, earlier) We knew a couple that decided to buy. Terribly difficult, borrowing heavily from their parents, family etc. In hock to the ears. A brownstone that in the sixties had been covered up with siding, and had an elaborate wrought-iron security fence out front at the curb. (The original owners had long since decamped to Long Island…now also, mostly unlivable)Long story, short. Off came the siding, out came the linoleum, down came the fence. Restored at incredible costs to it’s original 1880’s splendor, complete with a lovely gas lantern out front. Housewarming. Success. Happiness. A week or two I encounter himself on the street. A black cloud over his disheveled head. What’s up?,can’t talk. Wife talks to his wife. “They painted the front of our house” Painted I ask? “you know, spray pain” I walk over to see the work. It’s friggin’ awful, white and silver with lot’s of yellow, one of the local well know artists. A month or so later, we sit down for a beer. Terrible things come out of his mouth, decidedly un-pc. Thousands more dollars to get that paint off/out of the surface. The insurance company says they want lots more cash, told him he should put up a fence, get a vicious dog…

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