“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.
Willets Point, collection of garages, used parts suppliers, and salvage lots in a graceless corner of Queens, defines the phrase “ripe for development.” For decades, plans for the area have been floated, then failed, but the current one seems likely to stick. If it does, $3 billion worth of malls, condos, and hotels will replace the rotting stalls. Few will mourn the current conditions—understandably so.
No one lives in Willets Point; the area isn’t even connected to the New York City sewage system. But it is the workplace for several hundred men, virtually all Latino. Visitors without cars—meaning visitors who aren’t customers—aren’t appreciated. The workers don’t make strangers feel welcome. Trust is a scarce in a place where so many have troubles with the law.
For the moment, at least, the place is alive. Amidst the dirt roads and the dirt brown buildings are fantastically twisted signs, a “tree” of taillights, and other environmental sculptures. Gravity-defying pompadours are common, overalls are pressed, name tags are white and pristine. The area may be dim and crumbling but the workers radiate machismo and a twisted sort of pride.