I really thought gentrification was for neighborhoods and towns that were previously decrepit, like Brooklyn, or used in locales of cheap housing, often resulting in the reshaping of ethnic and cultural makeup, like Harlem. Not Cold Spring, not white-bread, small-town-with-a-twist-America. In a quirky village of less than 2,000, you have to ask: why us?
My family had owned a cabin in Cold Spring since I was born. We were part of an eclectic mix of residents: a mixture of year-rounders who lived off of main street in the village, people attracted by the community of artists, the lack of chain stores as mandated first by conventional wisdom and now by law, families, elderly, weekenders.
It was a place to go, to get out of the city, after 9/11 a bunch of city dwellers found solace and home in the small enclave. Every weekend, you were guaranteed to watch quiet Main Street turn into a pedestrian promenade with hikers and bikers in search of a watering hole, West Point visitors who made the right wrong turn and elderly folk who came up for the day to hunt for antiques. It was just right. But as with all good things, their purity and pleasantness are to be exploited, or at least marketed strategically.
The Main Street I now know is one with the same antique stores, but now they sit between trendy Williamsburg-like boutiques, home furnishing stores that are fit to decorate a SoHo loft more than the creaky victorians of the town, farm-to-table restaurants that advertise themselves as such whereas in the past it was just assumed. And so here we go, on the rapid descent.
This first came to my attention in ninth grade: I was standing in the hallway before the first bell, listening to some of my friends talk about their weekends. Three of them had gone hiking and were talking about the adorable little town they had “discovered” an hour away from the city. I asked what town they had gone to, to which they said, “You’ve probably never heard of it, it’s called Cold Spring.” I knew it had begun and I was unsure of how far this could possibly go.
I learned that answer on the train last weekend. My mom had packed the car with my sister and her friends, our guests for the holiday weekend and stuck my dad and I on the metro north train. It would be 80 minutes of racing the Hudson River and my family’s Volvo to meet her and pile in at the other end. My dad and I were excited for a quiet ride, abreast of the chaos of three young teenagers, two dogs and a mom. We were unpleasantly surprised. For starters, the train was packed. It seemed everyone was abandoning the usual destinations: the Hamptons, Fire Island, the Jersey Shore, for the more quaint, less oceanic north. We finally found an empty three-seater and piled in. I immediately whipped out my book while my dad napped next to me.
In front of me, a baby cried, across from me a man clad in a curiously color-coordinated outfit sat in a red-rimmed straw hat, staring out of the window, admiring the scenery. But, my focus intense, I read and didn’t look up. The dings of the train and the occasional doors opening, led to people piling in. Past Harlem-125th, it was mostly just people getting off. There was room to breath. The pages turned.
Between 2 stops on the train, somewhere between Tarrytown and Cold Spring, the doors between cars opened and the giggles of two girls resounded as they stumbled through the car. There were no two seaters together but they found space in the seat next to me and the one next to the straw-hat man, only an aisle to separate the two girls about my age. I could tell as they sat down we were drastically different. I was wearing running shorts, a cut up t-shirt from college, and low-top converse. The girl next to me sat in a fedora, boyfriend jeans, a sheer long-sleeves blouse with a (visible) black bra and vans sneakers. Her partner-in-crime wore a backless, vertical striped jumpsuit, the wardrobe malfunction line would almost be crossed many times throughout the endless ride. Who the hell did they think they were?
The girls at first were talking about their friends who live glamorous lives, while they are stuck as struggling actress/models. They looked up these girls, the so-called “living the dream, it girls” who they had no idea what they did, but whatever it was, it involved lying on the beach all day looking good in a bikini and making bank. They judged these girls while talking about themselves as if they were them.
“I just want to move to Mexico, live in a bikini, paddle board and smoke weed all day,” fedora said.
“My friend works at [trendy restaurant name here] and always knows the newest ‘it’ girls, so i’ve gone out with them a few times,” Jumpsuit said, while intermittently milking the modeling job she did for a name brand.
They were being catty, they were trying so hard to rouse a laugh out of each other about things that you had to try hard to laugh about. They were judging girls in a self-serving way but from what I could tell it was deeply rooted in jealousy and outsider-dom.
And I found myself looking up from my book and crumpling the corners of the pages in anger. Who the hell were these girls? Where were they going? I swear to g-d if they get off in Cold Spring. These girls were the living manifestations of the millennials that people judged so harshly and I thought were fable, conceived notions by the older generations. Yet, they were real — straight out of Williamsburg adjacent or something.
And they were coming to my town? These were the monsters, under a fashion-forward guise. I was furiously texting my 2 closest friends. How the fuck was this happening to me?
I mean the world they lived in was so different. Everything for them was an act, or an opportunity to pose. And for g-d’s sakes, I was reading a Jeff Eugenides book — I was worried about coming across as pretentious.
Their low ambition, their fallible effort, I realized what made me, a 19-year-old with too much confidence to let anyone else’s life get in the way of my own, tick was that these girls had a horrific attitude that can only worsen their own quality of life. My big dreams, my work ethic, and these girls sat around looking and judging Instagrams waiting for a big break to fall into their laps? Give me a break please.
I had taken for granted the small towns left untouched, the facades that were never built to hide, or “enhance” the quaint underbelly of these homes and peoples. This sense of insecurity is everywhere, it haunts all of us, but it is no excuse. There is no use hating on people who or places that make you feel angry (the irony is apparent), but it should serve as motivation to be more and do more. To step back and think. To stop taking over neighborhoods and towns thinking we make them better, because if it wasn’t broke, don’t fix it. And who are we to think so in the first place? Similarly, as people, who are we to think we make ourselves better by bringing others down? People should feel that their genuine selves, with the makeup and jumpsuits toned down, or dare I say, expelled completely, are enough.
This important lesson taught me, after much contemplation, that knowing what makes you mad or sad or nostalgic is important. We should hold on to those feelings and do what we can to move on, to take these lessons and not make a Facebook status about it, but to grow. Cheesy, but true. Hold on to your towns. So, hold on to the people in your life that make you want to be your best self.
Amidst the anger, the nervous crumpling, the exclamations and the judgement, I felt a nudge from my dad. I snapped out of it. We were the next stop and we moved towards the doors. Fortunately for me, the girls looked outside, saw the Cold Spring station and said, “Oh. Beacon’s next.” I laugh, they’re right.