In the Years of Days in which I have lived in New York City, there is of course nothing significant to others about my time here. I am one of the eight and a half million stories now. Nevertheless, here is the First Day of the second part of my life, when I was no longer just a visitor to New York and I became a resident, in August 1978.
by Marc P. Anderson
I had only my green army jacket, a green army duffel bag and my camera in a small canvas bag when I arrived in Manhattan from LaGuardia Airport as a truly relocated young man. I had come to the city a few weeks before to seek and successfully obtain employment at a small company on Broadway on the Upper West Side. But when I arrived that first day, I actually had no place to spend the night. I knew there were “hotels” on Broadway where I could rent a room. Making a reservation hadn’t seemed possible for some of them (I was right). Instead, I had a certain naïve faith that before the sunset I would find an affordable solution.
After inquiring at a couple of locations, I found a hotel where the desk clerk said they might have a room later that day. It was at a price I could manage. I would pay by the night for the first week, then get a weekly rate. This was similar to the way it worked when getting a room in a YMCA. But first I would have to come back after a few hours had passed to see if anything was available. I had time to kill and I walked around, roof-less, for a long while. At some point, I went into a deli and bought something inexpensive, probably a sandwich. New York food styles and stores were different and food was never in my budget anyway. I had survived most often on peanut butter and jam mated with a loaf of bread or crackers. On this day my money was met with lazy, deliberate indifference, if not actual hostility, by the man behind the counter (something I would experience again in the future) because of who I was and what it meant to merchants: a young black man (at the time, with an Afro) in the city, with negative potential. I was obviously a reason for their attitude and wariness, a customer they could do without.
Back on the street, I continued to sense the suspicion with which I was viewed by those who passed by me since I was hanging out with apparently no place to go. They’d notice me in that New York way, with awareness that pretends to be unaware, or with the briefest eye contact. People had been trained through past encounters with strangers that anything else was risky. I’d learn the same thing, firsthand, in the coming years. New York was being its cold, normal self, ensuring that a newcomer with no money or status didn’t ever think they should actually stay.
After a while, with no place else to go, I sat down on my duffel bag next to a building on the east side of Broadway, down the street from the hotel on the opposite side, waiting for dusk and another opportunity to check room availability. What was memorable about that oddly cool August evening, among many scenes, was the warm, fading light in the western sky, silhouetting the buildings that I faced. On that sidewalk on that day, I had the feeling that I had finally transplanted myself with seriousness and a greater chance for permanence than my earlier attempt a few years before. The city was still anything other than embracing. Yet it was during that time alone under a store awning, with a brief rain followed by that beautiful light, with cars, buses, taxis and unsympathetic people passing by, where I bravely and determinedly faced the future in this big, tough, enthralling city. It was really happening.
After a while, I got up and walked across Broadway. They had a room. I paid the skeptical, unfriendly desk clerk who scrutinized me, I knew, for future opportunities to cheat me. I left the dingy lobby and made my way to the musty elevator which I took to the top floor where my room was located. I passed by residents who were a cross-section of the city’s rejects: hustlers, drug sellers, old bums and several other kinds of outcasts.
My roach infested, miniature-sized room had a small, stain-filled, odor-ridden mattress, a bare overhead light, a beat-up chest of drawers and a tiny corner sink. The nightly roach fight required a whole can of roach spray but sometimes I would still wake up with them around me, or worse, on me. I got my first look at the grimy toilet facilities down the hall that I would share with numerous neighbors (most rooms did not have any bathrooms of their own). I thought I could handle it. I knew clearly what my money wouldn’t buy. Each floor had roughly 20 rooms but more residents than that, all sharing one shower stall which was the filthiest such space I have ever experienced before or since (even though it was not the last of such challenges). The only redeeming aspect was that I had access to the roof which provided a view up and down Broadway.
But it was there, in that hotel on that night, where I began my NYC Years of Days.
Copyright © 2016 Marc P. Anderson.
Marc P. Anderson has had a dual career in publishing and as a freelance photojournalist.