Over The River & Through The Woods: Alison Rodriguez and her family’s trek from Weehawken, New Jersey to Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Issue No. 1 - Summer 2017.
When my husband, Paul, told me that we had to move to New York City, I cried. Not the tears of joy that you might be assuming would greet the announcement that we would be moving to arguably (not arguably) the greatest city in the world. Not tears of anticipation or elation, not tears of happiness or excitement. Tears, through racking sobs, of sorrow.
I was four months pregnant and proudly from New Jersey. Moving to New York City . . . yes, of course it was always a dream. But living three blocks away from the funniest, most dynamic 90-year-old Cuban grandparents was also a dream. Living in a rambling old Victorian was a dream. Living next to wonderful neighbors was a dream. And so I thought moving to New York City would be a nightmare.
We had three months to make the move. Optimistically, I thought this would be plenty of time, but little did I know of the quagmire of finding an apartment in New York City. Since my schedule was far more flexible than my husband’s, it fell to me to find our new abode. After drying my tears, I rolled up my sleeves and dug deep into that mystical website, StreetEasy. I wish I could say that I had a strategy. I wish that I could say which neighborhood I wanted to live in, but neither of those things would be true.
Instead, I started looking at apartments based on size and price. At first, I genuinely believed that I could live in a studio with my husband, our two bony labs and a newborn. It seemed reasonable. Spacious! Leaving a four-story Victorian to move into New York City didn’t have to be complicated, I thought. Surely, we could downsize and feel that much freer with reduced space. Haven’t you heard of the tiny home phenomena?
With a clock ticking on when we had to move into the city, I decided that we should buy. Now, in retrospect I realize that all of these factors combined does not make for an easy or clear-cut approach to finding a new home. But then; moving to New York was unexpected.
After going to law school later in life, Paul had been working at a law firm. While the people there could not be lovelier, the hours were grueling and weekends were nonexistent. With a little one coming, we started thinking about what our life together would look like, and what we wanted it to look like.
It was during this time that he got a call from New York City and ended up taking a lawyering position that required us to move. It turns out that if you work for the city, you need to live in the city. It’s a rule that dates back about forty years and affects hundreds of thousands of people. New York City, it turns out, is one of the largest employers in the nation.
With my writing getting done in the evenings, I started trekking into New York City during the day to see apartments. The Bronx. Queens. Manhattan. Brooklyn. Staten Island. I checked out all of the neighborhoods.
But I quickly realized that for all their charm, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island were too far away. With Paul working in downtown Manhattan, I prioritized proximity to his work over everything else. If something happened with the baby, I wanted him to be able to get home, fast.
THE GAME IS AFOOT.
Brooklyn and Manhattan became the focus of the hunt. Manhattan’s Chinatown and Lower East Side were the areas that I started to visit every day, thinking through how I could manage a pregnant belly and six flights of stairs with two dogs. Happily for everyone, the landlord assured me that he wouldn’t be considering two dogs, taking the decision away from me.
I get the appeal of Chinatown and the Lower East Side. In fact, if I were a different person at a different time in my life, I would be dying to live there. I saw other iterations of me living that life. Cooler, younger versions that wore hipster sunglasses and ironic smiles as they walked by my swollen belly. I’m sure they have fabulous jobs in fascinating industries and I would have loved to have learned more about who they were and what they were up to, but when I looked at my two hounds as they lay at my aching feet, all I could think about was finding a home for us all.
After endlessly hunting, I thought I had found our dream apartment. Two Bridges is a section of Chinatown located under two different bridges, the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Someone very witty named that section of town. The apartment I fell for had just been renovated. It had exposed brick walls and rough-hewn shelves instead of kitchen cabinets. It also had soundproof windows that I didn’t understand the reason for until a train rolled by.
Babies sleep through everything, I thought as I furiously worked on the application, ignoring family gatherings and not returning phone calls as I filled it out. In the end, we were denied.
“One dog, maybe,” they said, “but not two.”
We adopted Sasha and Samba about three years before, after working from home I realized that I needed co-workers. Having always wanted dogs and having no plans to move, I thought it was the ideal time to look for a dog. All of our pets have always been from shelters, so the dogs were no different. I found Lucky Labs Rescue that’s run out of Illinois when I accosted a man on the street to compliment him on how lovely his dog was.
“Oh, thanks,” he said easily.
“I got her through Lucky Labs -- it’s great, they ship the dogs out east after they match you with a dog based on your personality type. Like online dating,” he added with a twinkle in his eye.
Before he could continue the conversation I was on my way, the name Lucky Lab Rescue seared into my mind.
So when the time came to get a dog, I gave them a call. When one of their first questions was if we wanted bonded labs, I was only too happy to learn more.
Apparently, bonded labs are two labs who are best friends and if they are separated, they will get depressed. That sounded so sweet that I instantly agreed that yes, we should have bonded labs. I told Paul later that night that we were getting two dogs instead of one. Exhausted from his long hours at the law firm, I’m not sure he even heard me.
We asked for dogs that were housebroken, friendly, confident, good with kids, good with other dogs, and good with people. Hey -- if it’s like online dating, why not go for 1990’s Brad Pitt? Two days later, Lucky Lab Rescue called me back and said: “We’ve got them.”
Except for confident. They aren’t confident. For weeks after coming home they kept their tails tucked so far under themselves that people thought they were boys instead of girls. They jump with loud noises. They shake when there’s thunder. They are many things, these dogs of ours, but brave isn’t one of them.