Saturday night I took a break from hacking together my next demo reel to hang out in an old horse barn downtown. While a small jazz group sounding like a chainsaw fighting a swarm of bees turned up to twelve and spun the hot night air, I climbed between rotting wooden tables over dirt floors to stacks of paintings. The canvases were everywhere, heaped and discarded like old windows pulled out of an abandoned building. A selection of these had been hung around two walls and provided a variety of views into the same moments as a nude model moved through poses. The aged glass of these particular windows was rippled and cracked by each artists’ life experience such that their hopes, lost loves and living dreams made the same model, in the same moment, appear in one view bitter and hopeless and in another sweet, innocent and full of hope.
Outside bicycles spun back and forth between old houses and warehouses that shook with metal or blues bands. In one an older woman hammered passionately at a huge old electronic keyboard as three hipsters lurked near the bar, nursing cans of Lone Star. Only blocks away sat the house my ex-fiance and I had built several years before. I think the walls are still wonderfully “classy Alice in Wonderland” stripes and the spiral staircase that took up most of the 800 square foot house still climbs to a tiny loft space. At the time the neighborhood was entirely Hispanic. I remember talking to an older guy who had grown up there who explained that the whole place was entirely Swedish before that. I was increasingly troubled by my accidental role as the flag bearer of gentrification, the sign that it was “ok” for white people to start moving in. This reached its peak when a white guy bought a house down the street and installed two aggressive dogs and a huge metal fence. He himself took on the task of snarling aggressively at anyone who walked past and treated the place as if it were a bunker in hostile territory.
The trouble I have is that I miss the old place where my neighbors would ring me up and say, “hey, I got an order for drywall, is that you? I’ll just swing by with the truck after work!” We bought a dented stove and the guy who brought it by lived in the house right across the street, where at night his father and friends used to practice with their mariachi band.
I also dig the crumbling horse barns and warehouses full of enthusiastic artists chopping at stone or slashing up scrap metal with oxy-acetylene torches. Without the income to afford cars, a lot of these people are reviving the joy of zipping through the streets on bicycles. There’s nothing like feeling the wind tossle my hair while gliding among the people out walking. Being on a bike makes stopping to babble with random passerby simple and frequent. I love that there are more people sharing this experience.
But all of this is but a brief spot on a continuum. The cycle continues and the briefest moment is this one, a time when the old neighborhood still has some of its character and artists can afford to perform and create before all of it is swept away by condo builders intent on capitalizing on the momentum. There have been attempts to stop or slow this progression, but most have met with little success. Fundamentally, the world over, we are humans and motivated by the same things. In Germany artists poured into east Berlin when it opened cheap spaces and squats, and when developers rushed in to capitalize I understand that now west Berlin has emptied out enough to become the new affordable place to be.
This leaves me realizing that my favorite place to be will forever be a moving target. If I want to stay in the sweet spot I’ll have to be willing to migrate every few years, or at least stay within cycling distance of the purple spotlight as it sweeps across a city. The mechanized guard dogs in Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash heated up so much from their internal power sources that they had to stay in constant motion to stay cool and alive. I feel you my brothers.