Tag Archives: nostalgia

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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The Lost Art of the Mix Tape


mixtape (Photo credit: miss_rogue)

Years from now, when historians discover a time capsule from the 1980s or 1990s, they will inevitably find a homemade mix tape. Last weekend, I went to see The Perks of Being a Wallflower. What a nostalgia trip! It was pretty much a spot-on snapshot of a suburban Pennsylvania high school in 1991— from hanging out after a football game at a local pizza joint and going to the midnight showings of Rocky Horror, to of course, making tons of mix tapes.

It’s a Gen X thing.

I loved to make mix tapes. Instead of studying for final exams, I procrastinated and made mix tapes. It was kind of a problem. But, boy, did I have great mix tapes!

photo by henry…, via Flickr

Early Mix Tapes

The kids in TPOBAW had much cooler musical taste than I did in high school. In the mid-80s, when I had a single-deck boombox, I would make mix tapes by recording songs from the radio— mostly from Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 show on Sunday mornings. I would sit with my finger at the ready to hit the record button whenever a song I had been trying to get would come on. This was very low-tech and the mix tape quality wasn’t so great.

Mix Tape Golden Age

I got a double cassette boombox for my 14th birthday. With a Discman (portable CD player) plugged in, I was in total mix-tape heaven. In college, belonging to a mail-order music club, like BMG or Columbia House, was hugely popular since you could order oodles of CDs for a cheap price. In the dorms, we’d trade CDs for the day so we could dub mix tapes. If you had a great mix tape, you would record copies for your friends. You could make tapes for different moods, tapes that captured a moment in time (like in the TPOBAW) and tapes with different themes.

There was definitely an art to it, like deejaying. The book, and later the movie, High Fidelity, nailed it. You had to start with a big song that would set the mood for the whole tape. My best mix tape, by far, was one I called, “British Invasion.” The first song was The Beatles’, “Yellow Submarine” —fun and upbeat. For the second song, you wanted something that was also part of the mood  (“Hungry Like the Wolf”), but after that track, ideally, you would ease in ballads or slower jams (“West End Girls”). Then, towards the tape’s conclusion, you would reintroduce more energetic songs, building to the big finale (“Just Like Heaven”).

photo by JinxiBoo, via Flickr

For the tape art, some people would just write the songs on the front of the tape case, but I would cut out magazine pictures and create collages for my covers. Obsessed, much?

I took the most pride and care with the tapes I made for my little sister. Ten years younger, she was too young to fully appreciate the ’80s. So, I made it my mission to educate her on the great songs of the ’80s and early ’90s—through mix tapes. Her friends might not of known Duran Duran’s “Come Undone”—but she did.

photo by jinjaSi, via Flickr

The Twilight of the Mix Tape

When I bought a computer with a CD burner, I made mix CDs and designed the covers, but it wasn’t the same. I did have some good CDs that I’d make for long car trips, like an “’80s Hair Band” CD and a “Guilty Pleasures” CD (songs that you are embarrassed to admit you like). Those were fun.

But alas, I had to downsize and ditch my collection of mix tapes when I moved in with my then boyfriend (now husband) four years ago. Of course, now, my iPod has completely replaced tapes and CDs. I have various playlists that kind of mimic mix tapes, but it’s not the same. It’s just a song name scrolling across the screen and maybe a shot of the album cover. It’s not like a good ‘ol mix tape.

Sigh. I’m such an old fogey.

So, if this post were a mix tape, I’d close with this song.


P.S.  For more mix tape nostalgia, check out the site, Everyone’s Mixtape— it’s a modern, online-interpretation of a mix tape. Genius!

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