Monday, July 5, 2010

The Ninth Date

Friday night = date night for this busy blogger. That's how I found myself in a previously unexplored (for me) section of the Bronx at 8pm, with Michael Evans himself trying to sell me copies of his book "Son of a Snitch" and its many sequels. Cue date nine.

The Time: Friday, July 2nd, 8 15pm
The Place: Centro Cultural Rincon Criollo, Brook Ave between 156th and 157th, The Bronx
The Guy: Doug, 26, a "set up"
What Creative Time Says: Can the city come together around a single neighborhood garden?

My good friend Julia jumped on the dating bandwagon when I first began this whole project and said she had the perfect guy for me to go on a date with. "Hilarious, spontaneous, and hot!" she told me, and after a telephone conversation and numerous text messages we set the date. Doug had a choice between the community center and the Whitney and I was psyched when he chose the center, wanting a little extra adventure myself.

It was, if you can believe it, Doug's first visit into the Bronx and while I go frequently (for the court and the gardens), it was my first key site to this borough (I've now done all five, hurrah!). Of course, I was running late (future dates, I think we can say it's safe to assume I always WILL be now!) so Doug made friends with the above-mentioned author who would like me to remind you all that his books are available at Border's and And sometimes, if you're lucky, at a street corner outside the subway station of 149th street and third avenue.

The sun was beginning to set as we walked to our destination and while most of the street was lined with chain stores and discount dens, the glow of the setting sun lit up ancient architecture and side-street townhouses quite nicely. Music blasted from stoop gatherings and, when we asked a group where we could find "the gardens" they knew right away where to point us.

The "Centro" has been around for over thirty years (though the location has changed) and it's clear it's truly a community center in every sense of the word. Couples danced, children ran, and men gathered just to chat in the small yet wonderfully laid out space. A number of gardens dot the walkway in patchwork form and each keeps a meticulous display of produce from cabbage to corn, lavender to pear trees. Roosters and chickens crow (in the middle of the bronx!) and grape vines canopied the whole event. It truly was a bursting oasis of sound and color.

Yvette, whose husband owns the garden with the key, a delightful array of vegetables with an incredibly friendly scarecrow (date eleven?), and whose father started the whole center, was kind enough to give us a tour of the space, pointing out different types of vegetation and telling stories about their owners. We met her husband (they met in NYC!) and her father and a wonderfully talkative man named Tito who extolled the virtues of the neighborhood and invited Doug back for a big upcoming block party (and mother's day, father's day, and every other holiday imaginable, Doug made quite the impression!) The liveliness of the conversation (Tito punctuated his phrases with "puh puh puh") and the authentic, edged, way in which everyone spoke of their neighborhood was fantastic.

For our food quest we asked Tito where we could find the best food in the 'hood and he pointed us towards a place "on 167th, I don't know the name." He recommended we take a taxi but that's not what feet were made for so we began our mile long walk to the unnamed restaurant with delicious food. I'm not going to lie, the sights on this venture were not quite picturesque but had their own charms. We ran into the most fantastically haunted house I've ever seen in NY, witnessed trash-can sign battles over proper english and garbage delivery, made friends with a firefighter whose been in the neighborhood for decades and let us inside the station, and watched kids pop wheelies on their bikes. For conversation topics there was the fact that  Doug and I have both lived in China, he explained to me the ins and outs of business consulting (he's in law school but thinking of moving back to HK to pursue something I vaguely understood as buying companies to make them better), and the different sections of NYC (he lives in Harlem).

When we approached the intersection there was a version of KFC, dunkin donuts and the glowing Lechonera restaurant. The waitresses at first clearly were confused as to how we ended up there (I think everyone was, actually) but when I asked her to just bring us whatever was good she turned game and played along with our adventure. She brought us the most delicious steak dish I've had in a long time, not quite as tasty friend plantains, delicious chicken of which I made Doug eat the skin (it's the yummiest part!), and, the kicker, chilled red wine.

After dinner, on the way to the lower east side where Julia's boyfriend's band, The Wind Up, (shout out here to their rocking first song in the set) was playing at the legendary Arlene's Grocery, our Ipods made out on the subway. I use this term of phrase to mean that we played songs for each other from our ipods, trying to get a taste of the other's style of music. Sadly, my collection is depressingly sparse and all my "cool" tunes are from guys I've dated mix CD's, but I'd like to think I can hold my own. Doug had some awesome emo-hipster-punk-indie songs that we jammed to along the B line.

To be honest, I probably wouldn't have chosen Doug as a date on my own. I tend to go for more hipster than wall street. The truth is, however, that clearly something has gone wrong with my choices, or my matches or what have you, and thus, part of this exploration is to open myself up to guys who I may not pick for myself but who may just surprise me. Doug was everything Julia said, charming, funny, up for anything with an energy level that matched my own (especially once I got hungry, darn hypoglycemia). We had a great night together and hopefully can catch dinner again this week before I head off to CA to visit my sister for a week. It's like a rooster in the Bronx, you wouldn't go looking for it in the city because you'd never expect it to be there, but you never know, you could be delightfully surprised. Stay open, stay curious, that's my new motto! Plus, the man who runs the center had a key of his own, so I always know where to look in case I can't find my pair.




  1. I love those guys at the Centro... I have to visit them again some time soon.

  2. I love those guys in the Bronx... I should go back soon.

  3. This guy is H.O.T. - can you post his number? grrrr