“Have you been to Dumbo yet?” my mother asked me over the phone last week.
I certainly had, and was eager to show her around, so we made plans to spend Sunday afternoon perusing the sights down underneath the Manhattan Bridge overpass and in nearby Fort Greene. “I guess I have to get to know Brooklyn,” she sighed, her surrender flag finally raised.
Mom is new to Brooklyn. She has been a Manhattanite for close to four decades, and while both of her kids have lived in Brooklyn for the past four years, she rarely comes out to experience the borough. Lately though, she’s shown far more interest.
She picked me up early Sunday afternoon and we drove over to Dumbo.
“Look at this view! It’s like discovering New York!” she said as we turned the corner at Washington and Plymouth streets to enter Brooklyn Bridge Park. Mom loves discovering new things about New York; she explained how sometimes she switches up routes to work because all the side streets change so frequently. She is like an amateur New York historian – she likes to know what’s going on.
After Mom got a chance to soak up the view of Manhattan and hit the nearby farmer’s market for some voluptuous — and salmonella-free! — tomatoes, we rounded a corner and stumbled upon the Brooklyn outpost of Bubby’s Pie Co., a tried-and-true Tribeca favorite. A co-worker had given her a great review of it. “So you have everything here, you never have to go anywhere!”
Mom ducked into Journey Home, a cute antique shop on Water Street between Pearl and Jay streets. “Oh, look at this stuff, it’s so cute! This is where I should be,” she crooned, excited about the little gems that, as she had previously noted, wouldn’t be found at places like West Elm, over on Front Street.
We deposited our farmstand veggies in the car and made our way over to Fort Greene.
“Look at all this space!” she said as we passed empty lots filled with debris. “Are these warehouses functioning?” she wondered. I navigated her a bit out of the way, toward Evans and Little streets in Vinegar Hill to see the admiral’s mansion at the southern tip of the Navy Yard. A vintage Studebacher car sat in the driveway.
Driving up Navy Street we got a great view of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower and I noted how convenient it would be to have an apartment there. Among other perks, like the access to transportation, the Target is right across the street. “That Target is just brutal, it’s like ‘Day of the Locusts’ in there,” she said. “They must have an army to fill up those shelves, ’cause they can’t do it fast enough.”
She continued to ignore my hints at the greatness of Brooklyn.
We rolled into Fort Greene discussing the zoning issues and architectural disparity between new and old buildings. “See, here’s a nice rowhouse street – watch them put a big clunker in there,” she noted, not unlike a Brooklyn blog commenter, as we passed an empty lot framed by brownstones at either end of Clinton Avenue between Willoughby and DeKalb avenues.
We arrived at the Brooklyn Flea, a market held every Sunday at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. Twenty-something guys with serious muttonchops perused racks of plaid button-down shirts while families with small children waited on line for scoops of ice cream. A light sprinkling of rain spurted out of the sunny blue sky. Nothing could have made this retro Brooklyn scene more perfect than a rainbow cast above all the antique modern furniture, records, vintage dresses and handmade household fabrics.
Mom inquired about a row of vintage seltzer bottles. “They’re very old and they say Brooklyn on them!” said the saleswoman, a middle-aged woman sporting a sleeveless polo shirt and baseball cap. They were $35 a piece. “The thing about that,” Mom noted, “is that you have to buy at least two, and who has room for that?”
Brooklyn brownstoners, I noted.
Brooklyn Flea seems to be dedicated to re-creating a historic Brooklyn that may not have actually existed. The wares are perfect matches to the interior design porn that New Yorkers, especially Brooklynites, love. You’ll find a bunch of stuff to decorate your big brownstone, and can fill your big closet with vintage dresses to wear to your hip
local watering hole. For the less affluent, stoop sales surround the fenced-in flea, trying to take advantage of the foot traffic it garners.
We hopped in the car and headed back to Prospect Heights for a late lunch. We parked and made our way down Vanderbilt Avenue—where churchgoers loitered, all dolled up in their Sunday best—to Soda.
As we munched on our sandwiches, the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” came on, like an homage for Fathers Day. Mom looked around. “I’m like a senior citizen in here,” she remarked. “It’s like a dorm – all these kids are drinking beer waiting for their lives to happen.”
Brooklyn is akin to the New York of her youth. Only the beer they drank, waiting for life to start, wasn’t as expensive. Though she had many cons about moving to Brooklyn – feeling old around all the young people, having to take the train no matter what, feeling far away from the action of the city, etc. – she actually seemed charmed by the borough and all of it’s nooks and crannies.
She dropped me off at my apartment after what I considered to be a full Brooklyn experience. “So are we going to be neighbors someday,” I asked.
“We could be,” she said. “We could be.”