What Were You Doing in 1998?

“Sex and the City” debuted on HBO in 1998

This week Vulture is running a series on pop-culture and fame in New York City in 1998. So far it’s been pretty comprehensive—from Leonardo DiCaprio ruling the club scene with his posse, to Monica and Chandler hooking up on Friends.

I couldn’t help but wonder how 1998 was also a pivotal year for me. I graduated from college and more importantly, I moved to New York three months later. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

1998 Working in the City

After a bit of hustling, I landed my first job as a production assistant at popular women’s magazine. I couldn’t believe my good luck. When I started at the glossy, it was still magazine publishing’s heyday and everyone from sales reps to editors looked super slick. In those first few months, I looked like Laura Ashley in a sea of Carrie Bradshaws. At the weekly sales meetings, the young sales reps would be poring over the New York Times and Time Out NY restaurant reviews, deciding which posh places they’d take their clients to next. It was all about the expense account, baby.

I cannot stress enough how Sex and the City was THE show to watch. Each week, one of the assistants would tape the show and we’d watch it during lunch in one of the conference rooms while eating our salads.

My boss scared the living crap out of some of the sales reps. More than a couple would leave her office in tears. She had lungs too—especially when she was singing and headbanging to Collective Soul in her office. Luckily for me, I liked Collective Soul too. I didn’t have to answer her phone much, but I do remember fielding calls from her astrologer, Andi (“it’s A-N-D-I”), on occasion. For fun, my boss would map out co-workers’ astrological charts and teach them how to knit. I have never had a boss like her since, but I think I learned the most about magazines in that first year.

1998 Living in the City

Before I got the job, I had been researching neighborhoods all summer and randomly, in a book called, The Newcomers Guide to New York, I found a list of temporary residences. Immediately, my parents and I made a trip to the city to take tours. Most were pretty depressing, but our last stop was at the Webster Apartments, a Barbizon-type, women-only residence on West 34th Street. The founder, Charles Webster, opened the building in 1923 as housing for unmarried working women. Back then, this was particularly advantageous for the shop girls working at Macy’s, just two blocks away.  Did I mention that Webster was also Roland H. Macy’s first cousin??

I put my name on the waiting list and as luck would have it, within days of getting my job offer, the Webster notified me that they had a room available. Perfect timing!

For that time in my life, the Webster Apartments was perfect–it was a smooth transition from college dorm living to being on my own. I had a room so tiny that if I stretched my leg, I could touch the wall opposite my twin bed with my toe. But, rent was reasonable (it was based on income) and included breakfast and dinner in the cafeteria. For my parents, they loved it because of the no-boys above the ground floor policy (boo!) and the permanent security guard by the front door. Their oldest girl would be safe in the big, bad city.

The Webster, or what I called it then, The Convent, had quite the cast of characters.  It was mostly made up of seasonal interns, usually European, girls new to the city, like me, and old ladies. While there, I met made many friendships, but they always temporary, since most girls only lived there a couple of months.

Many of the Europeans, especially the German girls, would form cliques and cling together for dear life, but occasionally some would stray from the pack—especially those that wanted to improve their English. It wasn’t too long before I had my own social group of German, Austrian, French, Canadian and American girls that I could pal around the city with.

1998 Nightlife in the City

Clubbing was the thing to do on the weekends in the late 90s. If you knew a promoter, you were set. My first attempt at getting into a club was a total failure. Of course, it was at Spy Bar, one of the toughest clubs to get into, and the front door was manned by a snooty, Euro-trashy man with a clipboard who sneered at the group of us, “Are you on the leeeest?” Truth be told though, we had been schlepping around the city all day and hardly looked like the kind of gals who got past the velvet rope. Not long after that, I got the lay of the land and came up a list of rules to live by when going out.

  • Wardrobe for going out—slim-cut black pants (no jeans!) or skirt with a cute top
  • Do not wear a scrunchie
  • To get into the major clubs, leave a message on promoter Baird Jones’s answering machine to get on the list with a discounted cover charge
  • Save money on drinks by pre-gaming at dive bars before hitting the clubs
  • If there are drag queens, then you are at an awesome club
  • Read Time Out NY every week – it’s the nightlife bible
  • Regular club rotation: Webster Hall, The Limelight,  Culture Club

Looking back, 1998 seems so quaint. Part of it was also because I was living it as a 22-year old and everything felt so new. Annnnd 15 years later I probably romanticize that time a little. Oh well. OK, enough navel gazing and back to our regularly scheduled programming.

P.S. The New York Times ran a feature on the Webster Apartments a few years ago. You can read it here.

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