Mama. Upon entering the scene it seemed by all accounts to be a normal funky youth hostel, cheeky memorobilia ont he walls, bright yellow and pink splotches of paint, old tennis raquets, posters, requisite big dorm style couch and table. A quaint if unremarkable tableaux.
That is of course until we headed back to where the "rooms" were located. Somehow, the owners of this bizarro funhouse had literally built out close to 150 human-sized cubby holes, little cheap plywood sukkah boxes, probbaly about 6.5 feet high 4 feet wide and maybe 6 feet deep (please keep in mind your avergae prison cell is roughly 7 x 10 or larger) packed into large open loft floors with requisite circulation around the perimiter and one lane down the center. I can't recall ever having seen living quarters arrayed quite like this (except for maybe in India where I got a glimpse of construction site work camps and got to explore, briefly, several of the raging slums in Mumbai but thats another story for another day). Of course our host, the lovely woman who worked there and acted as a desk manager/counseler/"mother hen" to the assorted multitudes, made the most poigniant comment of the trip when she noted with considerable enthusiasm that this was so much nicer than the "nasty chicken wire roofs you see in so many of those 'other places.' this is just much more generally nicer, I think"
It would be one thing if this quirky little bed farm were simply filled with the cute backpackers, travellers and lets go tourists seeking the gritty, authentic Williamsburg experience. It turned out, however to be an altogether different thing. Filling these tiny quarters (and they were filled almost to a cube) were every manner of hard luck traveller, recovering addict, teen runaway, vietnam vet, grizzled old trucker, welfare mother, migrant worker and perhaps a european tourist or two thrown in for character.
Each box contained roughly the contents of a quarter life on the go, small packages, bundles, cigarattes, scads of old clothes, the occasional guitar, towels, figurines, tarps and small cigar boxes filled with trinkets.
Many of the doors were open and walking past these cubes, one after the next was like watching a film reel of tiny disjointed lives, one spliced after the other, each face haggard, slightly surly, tired yet unphased at the parade of three gentlemen in suit coats walking past with curiosity and astonishment. The rooms each crammed so full of detritus it looked like the whole affair was about to swallow the occupants whole, as though they had each rented a tiny windowless storage locker packed it to the gills with all they could carry and packed themselves in like one more fixture in the sardinelike mis-en-scene.
After walking past 30 or so cubes a haggard although not unattractive young woman nevrously approached us asked if we were planning on moving in? We told her no and asked her a few simple questions, how long she'd been there, how she liked living there, what her plans were, was it noisy, dangerous etc? She cagily responded "bedbugs" which seemed both to her and to us about as detailed a commentary on the experience as one could hope for.