I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that landing a house sit in New York could well be every house sitter’s dream. Or at least, it has to fall into their top five. The only way this isn’t true is if the house sitter already lives there or their name is King Kong.
New York was my Holy Grail from the start, mostly because my partner lives there, but also because, well, it’s New bloody York! As a movie buff from an early age, I had spent a great deal of time hanging out vicariously in New York and dreamed of seeing all those places for myself. Grand Central Station (The Fisher King), the Hook & Ladder 8 fire station (Ghostbusters) or the Brooklyn Bridge (you name it) to illustrate but a few.
I’d never heard of Jackson Heights when I saw the house sitting ad. It was in Queens, and that I had heard of. Obviously, I didn’t think twice about applying and when I was confirmed for the appointment you could have peeled me off the ceiling. A month! One month in New York, accommodation-free. It felt like winning the lottery. I was going to be staying in a co-op apartment, taking care of one dog and one cat. I researched the area (I never do a great deal as I prefer to make my discoveries in situ), but there’s a world of difference between reading about a place and actually being there. So it was with Jackson Heights. What started out as just my base of operations for exploring New York City quickly became one of my favourite parts of the city.
NYC is a place that practically sizzles with the energy of its inhabitants. I’ve never been to a city that enjoys so symbiotic a relationship with its denizens as The Big Apple. It takes its energy from them and they from it. New York is, truly, alive. My partner had told me many times about how New York was almost a country in its own right, that New Yorkers are a species all their own, but I never really understood that until I was there, carried along through the arteries of the city by its wonderful heartbeat.
That special kind of energy is flowing in abundance through Jackson Heights. From the moment I first descended the steps of the 90th St & Elmhurst Ave subway station, into the bustle of Roosevelt Avenue, I was in love with the place. Jackson Heights clearly reflects the wonderful diversity and inclusiveness that is the greatest feature of New York, the archetypal ‘melting-pot’. It is home to a vibrant Latino community (representing countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Cuba) as well as inhabitants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Walk along Roosevelt Avenue or 37th Avenue for only a few blocks and you will feel like you’re visiting half the world on a speed date. Street vendors sell delicious looking food and the smells may drive you crazy as you walk to catch the 7 train into the city. There are bakeries of all descriptions in abundance, as well as some outstanding restaurants (Las Margaritas quickly became a personal favourite for my partner and me) and regular characters you will come to recognise if you spend enough time there.
What is also striking, especially to the pasty English guy from South London (who often felt he stood out like a sore thumb), is how accepting and unaffected the population of Jackson Heights are. If ever there was a place that proved how diversity can breed community, it’s right here. I never felt threatened, or unwelcome, at all. Quite the contrary when, having been there a few weeks, some of those regular characters began to say hello to me as I walked the dog or took to the grocery store for supplies.
There did seem to be a high turnaround of stores and restaurants during my four week stay, new ones replacing old at a striking rate. I say ‘seem’ because it’s entirely possible to walk, say, 37th avenue daily and notice something new every time, since there’s so much to take in. More than once, we couldn’t be sure if a place was new or we just hadn’t spotted it before!
As a home base, with good links into Manhattan and the other New York boroughs, Jackson Heights is highly recommended for those wanting to house sit in, and explore, New York. But, as I discovered first-hand, you might find yourself spending as much time enjoying the blocks just outside your door as you do the city beyond.
Thank you, Jackson Heights.
Las Margaritas (try the Cuban Sandwich)
Uncle Peter’s (great Italian restaurant with Spanish and French influences)
Vanilla Cafe (great for a breakfast pastry and a coffee)
Downtown Natural Market (if you’re looking to spend a little more to eat a little healthier)
Foodtown (yeah, it’s a supermarket but, in an area heaving with supermarkets, this is the best)
Rincon Criollo (fantastic Cuban food in a cozy setting)