By Dean Stattmann
I recently did a walking tour of SoHo. Except instead of using a tour guide – a.k.a. walking encyclopedia – I opted for a tour of the self-guided persuasion. I thought that this would provide me with a more personal experience; I imagined that it would allow me to discover my SoHo.
After plans were abandoned for the construction of the Lower Manhattan Expressway in the mid 1960s, an elevated highway that would have passed right through SoHo, the neighborhood consisted of many historic, yet visually unappealing non-residential buildings. The upper floors, however, which became known as lofts, soon caught the eyes of artists. The spaces were used officially as studios, but due to the deteriorating economic conditions of the time, artists soon began residing in these lofts which fast began increasing in value due to their large open spaces and radiant natural light. Today, SoHo is the art and fashion capital of New York City, luring in tourists from all over the world with its high fashion retailers and off-beat art galleries.
I began my tour, as the New York Times suggested, on Broadway and Houston. Armed with a wealth of information obtained on the internet the night before, I was ready to venture into what I imagined would be an intriguing world of historical anecdotes and interesting facts.
Twenty minutes later, after knocking out the Singer Building and the rest of the “must-sees,” I decided that this tour sucked. Despite my best efforts, there was nothing personal about it. The facts were still the same, the buildings looked the same to me as they did to everyone else and quite honestly – despite my history major – I have an extremely limited interest in the subject.
I put my two-dimensional guide back in my pocket and started walking. I went where I wanted to go; creating my own tour if you will.
After taking a turn onto Wooster St, I was stopped by an elderly man with white hair, wearing a grey coat that extended to the floor. “Lovely lighting today!” he said.
“Excuse me?” I replied
“For taking photographs,” he said, gesturing towards the camera slung over my shoulder. “You can get some great photos today.”
I’m not going to lie. I thought this man was crazy. He seemed way too excited about the absence of clouds in the sky. He also had a peculiar growth on his forehead that resembled an M&M trying to escape from the inside of an inflated balloon.
His next comment threw me off even more.
“You should wear more colors!”
“I’m sorry… what?”
“Colors. You look depressed,” he said. “Are you depressed?”
“I don’t think so. No, I’m not depressed.”
Granted, I was wearing blue jeans and a grey hoodie. But in my defense, I was wearing a pair of extremely bright red shoes, a point that I made to him, hoping to convince him that I wasn’t depressed. Besides, he was wearing a grey frikkin’ coat!
When I asked him about his “adventurous” wardrobe choice, he looked at me, and began slowly undoing the top button of his coat. Then the next one. Then the next one.
By the time he had undone the last button, I had nothing left to say. If someone ever went back in time, stole Joseph’s technicolored dreamcoat and fashioned it into a three piece suit, this man was wearing it.
“Ok, you win,” I said
He just smiled
“Where did you get that?”
“I made it.” he replied
Following a brief exchange about his desire to appear out of the ordinary at all times, it was soon revealed to me that this man was a photographer, a painter, a musician and a poet. However, with technology as his arch nemesis, he assured me that I would not find a word about him online. He didn’t even give me his name.
“There’s some great light today,” he said again as if he hadn’t just said the exact same thing moments earlier.
“Yes there is,” I replied. And with that, we walked our separate ways.
I had discovered my SoHo.
Photo by Dean Stattmann