1. I’m not tough enough for the Bronx.
Al Pacino once said “I don’t need bodyguards. I’m from the South Bronx.” The Bronx has long had a reputation as being a tough place to live. The poorest of New York City’s five boroughs, the Bronx has struggled to change the image it earned during the tumultuous 1960s and 70s, when the Bronx burned with arson fires, violent crime, and unchecked poverty sent middle class families into flight.
With the image of the scorched Bronx seared in my mind, I questioned how a scared, working-class white guy from Staten Island was going to survive in this unforgiving urban jungle. Was I tough enough to live in a borough that doesn’t even have a Whole Foods?
Now it’s 2014, and the fires have long since burned out. Far from being the poster child for failed cities, the Bronx is once again enjoying an economic revival. The Bronx is home to working-class people who are priced out of other boroughs. It’s home to enclaves of West Indian, Irish, Italian, and Dominican immigrants.
I had it wrong; it’s not the crime and poverty that makes people from the Bronx tough. As De Niro put it in A Bronx Tale, “It don’t take much strength to pull a trigger. But try to get up every morning day after day and work for a living. Then we’ll see who’s the real tough guy. The working man is a tough guy.” That’s what it means to be Bronx tough.
2. At least there are plenty of subway lines.
You won’t need a car! The Bronx is connected to Manhattan by six subway lines, and most lines originate in the Bronx, you think. So if you are lucky enough to be at the start of the line, you will almost always get a seat. Weekdays the trains are pretty reliable, and you can easily get where you are going — so long as your destination is in Manhattan or Brooklyn. Forget about using the subway to cross the Bronx, or to easily get from the eastside to the westside of Manhattan on one train. Also, don’t make plans on the weekend before checking to see if you train line has been shut down for the entire weekend for “scheduled maintenance.”
On second thought, keep the car. The Bronx is the only one of New York City’s five boroughs that is not an island, which makes it the easiest place to use your car to escape the zombie apocalypse.
3. My “City” friends will still come to visit me.
No, they won’t.
Most “New Yorkers” are not even really from New York, and they consider “The City” to be Manhattan, mostly below 72nd Street. Ask your friends to travel to the Bronx for a trip that does not include the Bronx Zoo or the New York Botanical Garden, and you may as well have asked them to visit you in Canada.
Although you’ve discovered that the Bronx does not live up to its scary reputation, your friends are still not going to be convinced. Tell them the subway ride from Atlantic Avenue to your house will take less than 90 minutes, and you’ve really screwed yourself out of friends. The truth is you are no more willing than they are to spend that much time on the filthy subway on your day off. So get a cute dog instead and you will make lots of new friends.
4. I’ll never find an apartment like my old one.
No, you won’t — and that’s a good thing. You’ve moved to the Bronx because you are tired of sharing a 600-square-foot apartment in Murray Hill for $2,200/month.
Unlike some of the other boroughs, you can still find affordable, good-sized, they-just-don’t-build-them-like-that-anymore apartments here. World-class examples of original art deco buildings line the a triumphant old-world boulevard known as the Gran Concourse. You can even choose to rent a house.
In the Bronx, tough, working-class people can still dream of buying a home — just maybe not one of the multi-million dollar homes in Fieldston. This is still New York City, and the housing costs are still too high, but you can at least live here and still feed yourself, and maybe even afford some furniture.
5. I’m never leaving my apartment.
You will. This is still New York City, and every corner of New York has a vibe that’s all its own. If you kept your car, you could visit City Island with its New England fishing-village feel and its numerous seafood restaurants. You will discover who makes the best jerk chicken in Wakefield. You will discover Free Saturday Mornings at Wave Hill, a small botanical garden in the heart of Riverdale with unparalleled views of the Hudson River. You will dine at a restaurant on Arthur Avenue — the real Little Italy.
There are over 7,000 acres of parkland in the Bronx, including the largest park in New York City, Pelham Bay Park. There is even a beach in the Bronx. You might even jump on your bike and join the annual Tour de Bronx, a 40-mile biking event across the borough. There are theaters, museums, green markets, cricket pitches. Hell, we even have a baseball team here.
The Bronx is dynamic, energized, and ready to be rediscovered. It’s gone through some rough patches in its life, but its wounds have given it character. The Bronx of today is a place for real New Yorkers, who to get up every morning, day after day, and work for a living.
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