Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Please address all correspondence to "One Mollie Lane"

This week's New Yorker has an amusing "Talk of the Town" item by Ben McGrath about "vanity addresses" -- you know, when a building's entrance is on a cross-street, but the address misleadingly places it on the avenue around the corner. (Although in certain neighborhoods, like my future home of Hell's Kitchen -- aka midtown west, or "Clinton," while we're on the subject of vanity labels -- it's apparently more desirable to be on the cross-street. The Hearst Tower, for example, claims to be at 300 W. 57th, although the main entrance is on Eighth.) Or when an office building has a made-up address that gives you no information about where exactly it's located. Vanity addresses are just one of Manhattan's little irritations, and everybody seems to want one!

The summer before my senior year of high school, I attended a program for English-lit geeks at Pace University. It was, among other things, a good crash course in finding my way around the city; by the end of the week I was getting around on the subway like a pro. (On the last day, a couple of friends and I strayed a bit too far and, thanks to unanticipated delays getting back downtown, were at least 20 minutes late for the program's closing ceremonies, but I realize now that had very little to do with our novice status, and everything to do with typically lousy weekend subway service downtown.) When I first arrived in the city, though, I had no idea where I needed to be, and I relied on my sister to point me in the right direction. "Where is Pace?" she asked me over the phone, and I looked at the paperwork they'd sent, telling us where to report on the first morning. "Um... It says here it's at 'One Pace Plaza,'" I replied. And this was in 1998, when colleges had lousy websites (if they had websites at all), and there was no Wikipedia, and you couldn't just look up the real address on Yahoo maps. (Also, try telling a cab driver you're going to "One Pace Plaza." Just try.) I got there eventually, thanks to Amy, but I was forever soured on vanity addresses.

That experience wasn't the first that came to mind when I started reading this story, however. No, I was thinking about my very first visit to Conde Nast headquarters, and I laughed out loud when I read this paragraph:
Borelli had a map of midtown on his desk, and noted that this magazine story was likely to be written and edited in a building whose address is 4 Times Square—an honorific that predates his taking office, two years ago. “You could say that it’s across the street from 1 Times Square or 6 Times Square in order to help your friends find you,” he said, and paused before continuing. “I’m being facetious, because where are those places?”
After I survived my week at Pace, went on to get my English degree, and moved to NYC with vague plans of putting it to use, I was invited to Conde Nast for what is known as an "informational interview." Exciting, right? So I scheduled the appointment over the phone, and the person I spoke to (someone in HR, I guess) ended by saying, "You know where we are, right?" Maybe it will give you an idea of my naivete when I say I had no clue where the Conde Nast offices were located. I didn't even know I was supposed to know. In all my years of reading and writing and editing and working to become a good, educated, well-rounded person, the location of the Conde Nast building had never once come up. But this woman's tone made me suddenly embarrassed to have to admit, No, actually, I don't know where you are. "We're at 4 Times Square," she said, and because I felt I'd already started things off on the wrong foot, I pretended that was a sufficient answer. Of course! 4 Times Square! Then I hung up and signed online (via dialup, no less) to try to translate that into actual, useful information.

Anyway, on the topic of pretentious addresses this piece stops just short of being self-aware, but it was a kick to read a "Talk of the Town" story whose shape and angle was directly influenced by the interviewee, for a change. And in case you're wondering, the Conde Nast building is actually on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway. I guess my having to ask was just another sign that I'd end up where I am now: a blogger, but not a writer.


Sarah said...

Remember when Target opened in midtown and everybody seemed to have one of those pink Breast Cancer Awareness Target logo t-shirts? No? Well I do, because I tried to get one, and I stood right smack in the center of Times Square, gaping up at the buildings, wondering just how on earth all those tourists knew where "1 Times Square" was and I didn't (really Target? 1 Times Square? I didn't realize you were so important!) Needless to say, I gave up quickly, and never got a pink bull's eye shirt.

Also, speaking of fake addresses, I have two words for you: Roosevelt Island. "Yes, driver, 20 River Road, please... it's on Roosevelt Island... um, in the river... yes, over to Queens and then back again... yes, yes, I know... I'm sorry... jeez..."

Mollie said...

Ah, yes. And "River Road" is really just a driveway off of "Main Street." Which might also be called "Only Street." Or just "Street."