The rule is: write what you know. Years ago, I worked in a retail software store in lower Manhattan in the financial district. I had regular contact with the locals, the NYSE market makers, the stock brokers, the office workers and the early finance types who orked in the area. When the idea for The Taste Makers came to me, I developed it into a story about Wall Street and the environment. Most recently, the school where I work moved to the same neighborhood. After walking my old beat for a few weeks, I can say that things now are not exactly how they were in 1989, but the basics haven’t changed much, either. I think I managed to catch the tone of the neighborhood in my writing.
One thing that doesn’t always come across in descriptions of lower Manhattan (including my own) is just how closely knit everything is. It’s a twenty minute walk from City Hall Park down Broadway to South Ferry, with tourists and natives alike packing every sidewalk and street corner. Traffic moves at a snail’s pace, while red lights, stop signs, and traffic cops represent strong suggestions rather than hard and fast rules of the road as far as pedestrians are concerned. And while I can’t bring any of you closer to this part of the city, I can bring a few choice bits of the city closer to you.
So. A brief tour…
Julie Meyer works at Ponzick, Fitch, Schuster, and Schiff, a fictional firm that lives at 40 rector street…a completely real location. The irony here is that 40 Rector is also the home of a number of NYC government offices (City of New York, Office of Labor Relations Health Benefits Program has the most impressive title). Look at the spotless lobby. The elevators, however, are dimly lit murder boxes. If there is any portal from normalcy to a horrible, horrible, apocalypse, it’s those elevators.
Meanwhile across the street we have the Clinton beer garden. No, I haven’t actually spent any time there, but plans are in the works for an after-work get together some Friday night. I want to stress that I had no clue this place even existed when I started writing over a year ago. I had the memories of my time in the dim past and had made a few excursions down to the area (my wife works further up Broadway). Had I known this place existed, I’d have written a very different book.And probably had way too many samples of the local brews (So. Many. Bottles)
Leaving the building, we head up Rector street. Notice how how the buildings seem to rise out of the ground, choking off your light and threatening to so the same to your body? That’s most of lower Manhattan. It’s one of the few neighborhoods in the city where you can look out your window to see a glass and steel tower from a few years ago bumping up against a tenement from 1919. Narrow streets, kamikaze pedestrians, and construction awnings are all part of life down here.
At the end of Rector street–where it joins with Broadway in a T-intersection–the brown stone spire of trinity Church rises on the left. In The Taste Makers, Julie and her stalwart crew take refuge a few blocks further up Broadway, in St. Paul’s Chapel, a church in the Trinity family with a similar but distinctly different architecture. St Paul’s also at the moment has half a block of construction barriers in front of it. Trinity church makes the better photo, at least, today.
In real life, it’s a ten minute walk uphill, even while dodging traffic and other people. Imagine doing it while blind and with armed guards rushing down the street to secure the neighborhood, who are shooting at you.
The perfect place for an Expocalypse…