“I think there’s something about this place being a final step before suburbia,” said Jeff Roda from his musty armchair at the Fall Café, the aptly named coffee shop that was arguably the first hipster establishment on Brooklyn’s Smith Street.
“There’s still a lot of urbanites here-a lot of writers, professionals,” he continued. “But as real-life neighborhoods go, it’s as close to …. ” Here he trailed off and looked confused. “I dunno.”
The 34-year-old writer got his 15 minutes of fame when he was commissioned to deliver a pilot for a CBS sitcom tentatively titled Cobble Hill. Whether he gets to stretch Warhol’s time limit is up to that notoriously fickle beast known generically to New York screen hopefuls as Hollywood, a continent away from the leafy neighborhood that Mr. Roda hopes to make into the new household word for that oft-recycled television bromide, the young, urban professional at play in the city. But when the New York Post ran a short item on the deal in October, Mr. Roda’s fame soon turned into infamy.
“I hadn’t even started writing and there were all these blogs expressing outrage,” he recalled, mumbling over his black coffee as if not wanting to draw attention to himself among the young hipster crowd. “I think it’s this feign of outrage. There’s a certain amount of irony that exists here among all of us-you know, if I heard that someone was making a show called Cobble Hill, I’d roll my eyes and make fun of it too, because I think that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
The fact that Mr. Roda had moved to the neighborhood-specifically, to the leafy brownstone block of Congress Street-only two years ago, after years of subletting and sharing apartments across Manhattan, made him that much more of an outcast among the junior media elite that has settled in along the Smith and Court street corridors of F-train Brooklyn.
“I really wanted to look at the thirtysomething generation, the Gen-X’s. I thought, ‘Where could it take place?’-and sitting in Cobble Hill, I thought, ‘Here is as good a place as any.’ That’s really the only reason.”
Indeed, Cobble Hill is already too expensive for Ross and Rachel and Chandler and Monica et al., the characters that ostensibly lived on Grove Street in the West Village when Friends first hit the air in 1994. But for Hollywood, finding the next bankable yuppie neighborhood in New York has become as much a part of a winning formula as finding the next hip neighborhood is for young New Yorkers. Maybe that’s why everyone was so pissed off: If Hollywood catches on that quickly to your little discovery of a neighborhood, you know you never really discovered it at all.
Mr. Roda has no such pretensions. “When you move to New York, that first six-or-seven-year blur is very exciting,” he said. “You ignore how uncomfortable you’re feeling; you pay huge amounts of money for crap. But after a while, the smell, the sounds are not acceptable any more. You get into your 30′s, and you can’t live the way you used to live. My rent increased when I moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn, but my quality of life jumped way up. It’s just more manageable.
“I was having dinner with a friend at this restaurant on Court Street, and a couple walked in,” Mr. Roda continued, as if pitching a scene from his pilot. “Very sorta neat, very neat-not even J-Crew, more like Burberry. My friend was looking at them and said, ‘This neighborhood is dying.’ But my friend is like this power attorney. It was kind of funny. We like to fancy ourselves as having something a little extra; the Burberry couple are probably saying the same thing about the next person that comes in.”
So is there any hope?
“Someone was talking about how Williamsburg had gone to shit and gotten commercialized,” Mr. Roda said, referring to what was actually a satire piece in New York magazine. “And this guy-I think he was a poet-slash- ashtray-maker-quoted Vincent Gallo saying something about how the neighborhood used to be pure, and now it’s like a dorm.” Mr. Roda smirked. “When a caricature of hip says a neighborhood’s not hip, it kinda makes it hip again.”
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