“This is a valley of ashes — a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. Willets
Point is said to have inspired this passage.
November 8, 2019. Vultures are circling the men of Willets Point. A $3 billion development of condos, malls, and hotels is slated to rise where body shops, salvage lots, and chop shops currently stand. While decades of redevelopment plans have been floated and failed for this graceless corner of Queens, the current scheme seems likely to stick. Already, hundreds of businesses have been shuttered and workers sent home.
High-rise buildings may be encroaching on the Iron Triangle, but conditions haven’t changed much in the 100 years since Fitzgerald was able to stand in his Long Island mansion and watch fires burn in the municipal dump that occupied these acres. The primitive toilets that were installed when the first businesses opened after World War II are still in use because the area isn’t hooked up to the New York City sewage system. Bicycles are the only way to get around the rutted, ruined streets.
By and large, the workers—not all dim and crumbling—are resigned to their fate. Virtually all of them are Spanish-speaking men of Central American heritage. They seem to take a perverse pride in the place. The more grim things get, the more they keep their hair is teased into bouffants or slicked straight back. Their coveralls are pressed and their name tags are bright, as if they stopped by on their way to a new job at AutoZone. Some faces look beaten, others are idle because blocks of boarded-up buildings doesn’t draw many customers. But others show defiance, the defiance they’ve relied on to beat back the developers for this long. Still, not even the most confident express much hope for the future. Buena suerte, mis amigos.