“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.
Vultures are circling the men of Willets Point. A $3 billion development of condos, malls, and hotels is slated to rise where a ramshackle village of garages, salvage lots, and chop shops currently stands. 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 the workers sent home.
Conditions in the Iron Triangle, as the area is known, haven’t changed much since Fitzgerald’s day. The primitive toilets installed by the first arrivals are still being used; Willets Point isn’t hooked up to the New York City sewage system. Bicycle is the only way to get around the “potholes,” a euphemism for the unmarked craters of unknown depth that litter the 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 descent. They take a perverse pride in the place. The more grim things get, the more they slick their hair back or tease it into bouffants. Their overalls are pressed and their name tags are shiny. Many of the people you see around the place have already lost their jobs. They just like hanging around a hellhole. After all, it’s their hellhole.
A dedicated group carry on the legal and bureaucratic battle, even though it long ago became a war of attrition and the other side has resources they can’t hope to match. You can’t help but pull for them, like you would for the allies at Anzio. At the same time, as the wind blows grit into your mouth and the owner of a used windshield wiper assembly shop emerges from a Porta Potty, you can’t help but wonder about what they’re fighting for. But I guess that home is where you find it. Buena suerte, mis amigos.