Abdul Said has lived in Astoria for almost 15 years, and in his current place on 23rd Street, just off 30th Avenue, for four and half years. I met him on a sunny Sunday morning sitting on his doorstep, drinking a coffee bought from the Dunkin’ Donuts by the 30th Ave subway station.
He lives in one of the neighborhood’s old detached houses. But like many of the older homes it is scheduled to be knocked down and turned into a bigger apartment building. He’ll be moving, when a friend joins him from Boston, into one of the new buildings round the corner on 21st Street.
“Everywhere there are houses going down and new buildings going up,” he says. “I don’t mind. It’s good business for the owners. They see people moving into the area and smell the money. When I first moved here from Brooklyn everything said ‘for rent’, ‘for rent’. Now it’s hard to find a place.” The new buildings, he adds, can have 14-16 apartments. The old houses on the same site housed just two or three families.
Abdul is originally from Morocco and came to the US 26 years ago. “I’m from a small town in East Morocco, a very French part of the country. The North is much more Spanish.” He returns to Morocco to see family and friends. “I like to travel once a year. I just came back recently from a trip, I was away about six weeks – four weeks in Morocco and two weeks in Spain.”
Recently there was a news story about a New York Police Department surveillance program focused on Moroccans – not because of any specific allegations against individuals but in order to build up a detailed picture of the city’s Moroccan community, in support of the government’s anti-terrorism efforts. “I read about the police stuff, yes,” says Abdul. “It’s part of what’s going on in the world, the past decade. A lot of people are getting confused. It’s part of what’s going on.”
On the current democracy movements underway in the Middle East, Abdul is optimistic. “It’s like the sky, one minute it’s all cloudy and the next minute it’s clear. They needed to get rid of those guys who had been in power for thirty, forty years. That makes no sense. You need a system like here. Every four years if you don’t like who’s in charge you vote him out. These people were there for a lifetime. Now there’s a new generation who don’t buy those things. They want change.”
Before coming to New York, Abdul lived in Florida for ten years where he worked in real estate. His two children are still there, with their mother who is originally from Brooklyn (she and Abdul are divorced). Since moving to New York Abdul has worked in the restaurant industry: currently he is a bar tender in the Marriott hotel near La Guardia airport.
When Abdul first came to New York he lived in Brooklyn. He was working in an Irish restaurant in Manhattan and the commute took a long time. Then he came to visit a friend in Astoria, saw Manhattan just across the river and learned that it only takes 20 minutes to travel between the two.
He also likes Astoria for the fact it is quiet. “Though it’s got a lot less quiet now, especially with lots of people moving here from Manhattan,” he says. “The area up near Steinway has changed a lot.” Abdul still finds quiet in Astoria Park. Often he takes car there to have breakfast overlooking the river. “Oh man, I love that place!”