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Waking Up to New York

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David Chang, restauranteur
Arrived: 1999
I was in Japan teaching English for three months, right out of college. But I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I just came to New York because that’s where my friends were. I had no plans. I stayed with my sister, who was at Columbia getting her what-the-fuck degree. I worked in a variety of desk jobs, and I got so drunk at one of them that I fell asleep under the lunch table. Food was the only thing I really wanted to do, so I finally said, “Fuck it: I’m going to start cooking.” I enrolled in cooking school. Everyone thought I was a lunatic, especially my dad, who had worked as a dishwasher in New York and had hated it.

It was a crazy time to be in school, because a lot of students had cashed out of the dot-com boom and were already millionaires. I got my first restaurant job doing hot apps at Mercer Kitchen after school, and I’d take restaurant reservations at Craft on my days off to make cash. I thought that the staff Tom Colicchio had assembled was one of the best in New York history, so answering phones was not beneath me. I did that for a month and a half, until they let me work in the kitchen for free. I wound up cutting vegetables and cleaning mushrooms. Around that time, Wylie Dufresne had opened 71 Clinton, and it was like an atomic bomb had been detonated on New York City. People still don’t even realize how much it revolutionized New York City. And the Lower East Side would never have turned out that way. I remember being totally caught off guard that he had opened a restaurant there, and in love with the whole idea: a classically trained chef who had worked with Jean-Georges in Europe was opening up a restaurant on Clinton Street. It was so contrarian!

David Rosenblatt, former CEO, DoubleClick
Arrived: 1997
After I finished business school, I got a one-bedroom third-floor walk-up on Thompson Street. I got a job at DoubleClick, whose offices were on 26th and Madison. Netscape had recently gone public, and that really heralded the beginning of the boom. We were growing so fast that after just a few months, we had to set up desks in our elevator lobby. The company was growing to 2,000 people, and the average age was 27; a third of us were paper millionaires. We had an office basketball court, a sales conference in Paris, all that. It was intoxicating. Everyone felt like we were building history and facilitating a brand-new world that would change how everyone lives. And in all this giddiness, everything made sense. It made sense that you could break the rules and succeed, made sense that we’d all get rich quick. We knew everyone in Manhattan who had an e-mail address. Unlike San Francisco, where everyone was an Internet person, we would socialize with people who were totally separate from our world. It made us feel that much more like we were radicals, this chosen race, these new prophets. There was a huge billboard near Madison Square Park that said, “DoubleClick Welcomes You to Silicon Alley.” We were this unavoidable presence.

Michel Gondry, director
Arrived: 2002
I moved here a few months after 9/11, as the city was waking up from its trauma. I stayed for two months at the Gramercy Hotel but didn’t like that area very much. You don’t have the feeling that the pressure goes down at night. I moved seven times in the next five years, looking for places where it gets absolutely quiet at night. My next two apartments were on the Golden Coast: those blocks between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and 9th and 10th Streets. The owner of one of them was a sick, crazy person. If I had a guest coming, she wanted to charge me for using more water. She sacked us because my son was a little too noisy for her taste, and I had sweet thoughts of cold revenge for her. I wanted to pour a pot of red paint on the mat at the entrance—something really sticky that takes days to dry—so people would walk through it and spread the red paint everywhere. I didn’t do it because I knew I would be caught immediately, but it made me feel good when I tried to fall asleep at night.

Now I’ve bought a house in Brooklyn. The trucks are pretty loud, but I’ve gotten used to them. And I like the idea that it is still a bit industry. I don’t like so much all the new condominiums that they are constructing. I sort of laugh inside when I realize that they are all screwed and they can’t find people to live in their buildings.

One problem with the neighborhood is that all the hipsters are very selective on their coffee. They all clutter in this tiny, trendy coffee shop, and then the other shops go out of business. So I think on one hand, the hipster should be a little bit more tolerant of his coffee, because he’s missing out on great places, and great mixture of culture. On the other hand, maybe some of the diners should buy an espresso machine.

Rachel Dratch, comedian
Arrived: 2000
The very first night I showed up to work, it was SNL’s 25th-anniversary show. I got there thinking I’d just sit in the audience for this one, but they were like, “Oh, where have you been, we need you in hair and makeup!”

I had never touched my eyebrows until I got to New York. I don’t want to make it seem like I was Chaka from Land of the Lost, but I arrived with unmanicured eyebrows. And a dorky haircut. They had this dress for me, and the hair guy gave me this crazy, amazing funky hairdo—and as I’m in hair and makeup, there’s every celebrity that’s been on the show. Lily Tomlin, Dan Aykroyd, Elvis Costello … and I was sitting there quietly, thinking, “Oh my God!” After a few weeks, I moved into my apartment on 95th and Columbus. Something had gotten screwed up with the movers from L.A., so for six weeks I would be on the show and going to parties at Siberia, and I’d get home and all I had was an AeroBed and an alarm clock. It felt badass.

As told to Molly Bennet, Rebecca Bengal, Fiona Byrne, Katie Charles, Brian Thomas Gallagher, Darrell Hartman, Helin Jung, Nina Mandell, Rebecca Milzoff, Richard Morgan, Tim Murphy, Emma Pearse, Meg Prossnitz, Diana Scholl, Joshua David Stein, Ross Urken, and Jada Yuan.


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