Yes I live in Tribeca but I ride a rickety bike

By Wickham Boyle

When I moved to Tribeca in 1977, I was young and so was the neighborhood. So young in fact that it had not yet solidified into the name that would be so connected to “upscale” that an SUV would be named after it. It was the Washington Market district, just Downtown as in, “oh I live Downtown.” Or it was near Chinatown, a place everyone knew. But now when I say I live in Tribeca, I cringe.

This year Forbes Magazine, in its annual quest to ferret out the richest everything, announced that alas, my funky Tribeca is “the richest zip code in NYC and the 12th richest in the country.” What a bummer. Having the most beautiful best friend does not make you a knockout. Having the fastest car does not insure that you can double clutch and take a turn at 70. When I say I live in Tribeca, immediately, people think about me differently.

No longer do they see me as a rebel, a pioneer forging new territory, riding my rickety green bike below the habitated demarcation of Canal St. into Manhattan’s hinterland. Now they see me as a yuppie, money-filled, middle-aged wannabe. My bike, my funky old clothes are all seen as affectations. Carrying my lunch, pinching my pennies, dying my own hair, turning down invitations to pricey benefits are all seen as false parsimony. In other words, they think I am cheap and stingy.

What happens when the world around you changes so radically that you are swept into its aura and painted with the moniker of “richest zip code?” Do you do what I do, constantly defray when asked, “Where do you live?”

My response, “I live Downtown, actually on North Moore St.”

Now the follow-up question is to be read with incredulity. “In Tribeca?”

My response with downcast eyes, humbled, “Yes, but I have been there since 1977.”

As if my longevity inoculates me from the caste of the nouveau riche.

I am embarrassed to have people, random new people, think that I am some rich lady who lunches, scribbles, volunteers and shops my way through the day. Now that alone is terrible prejudice on my part and I see it when it appears on the page; any assumptions based solely on superficial traits are so ugly. So what do I do?

If I sell my home, my loft where I have lived for nearly 30 years, where both my babies spent their entire lives, where will I go? True I will be paid handsomely, but there will be a huge, as they say, “tax event” and I cannot fathom giving that much money to this administration. But after the tax, there really won’t be a fortune left considering housing prices in N.Y.C.; where will we live, my family, my cats, my years of tears and giggles in this loft? Where else will I find a place to put my huge dining room table — one that once filled a nun’s refectory and was donated to me when I ran a theater Downtown — and seats 20 easily with plates piled high with pasta, the food of the not-so-rich? Where else will I know the U.P.S. man, all the store keeps, my still artist neighbors and the celebrities who lived here before it was chic — that made them accessible to we peons?

I fear — we all fear change. We fear and resist it, but I can see that soon I will have to flee my home, because my building, one settled and turned into a Co-op by artists who struggled and achieved, is slowly being bought into by those who made all the right moves in business. We now teeter at 50 percent “original” owners and 50 percent “we got bucks” owners.

What happens when the next original owner sells and we tip over to the other side and the new inhabitants of the richest zip code in Manhattan vote to put in a marble sidewalk? Laugh not, this really happened in a building on Lispenard St. to a musician friend and he was assessed a payment of $10,000. His choice, either cough up the money or have it taken from him when he sells with interest attached.

So for the moment I am staying attached with golden handcuffs to my lovely loft, my beloved home. I fight the embarrassment of living rich when we cobble together mortgage payments — small ones for others, but big for us — college payments, and continue to cook nearly every meal, both as a way to conserve and because that is what we have always done. It feels like home with a fresh tomato sauce bubbling and the belief that food calls my family Downtown to the now toney Tribeca, but for us it is just home.

Wickham Boyle is editor-in-chief of Thrive NYC, a sister publication of Downtown Express.