"I'm in an Uber. Still full from Montauk."
Standing in the humid vestibule of my apartment building, I hear Alexandra’s iMessage ding in my hand as I reach for the cold metal doorknob to Stanton Street. Immediately, I’m hit with a wall of rain and regret, realizing my umbrella resides safely on a hook five flights above me.
The envy of her dry Uber ride from Williamsburg to Manhattan sets in.
I look left toward the crosswalk as the orange flashing hand counts down: 4...3...2…
I tuck away my iPhone, slide my right backpack strap onto my shoulder, and run across Essex street.
With my backwards hat providing less than minimal protection from the rain, I dip into the closest bodega and slap down $6 dollars—$5 for an umbrella surely to fall apart before day’s end, and $1 for a pack of Starbursts.
“On my way,”
I hit send on my reply to Alexandra, pull the tag off my new umbrella and head south toward Chinatown.
My worn-in white Vans puddle hop down the Western side of Essex street. I peak out from the protection of my umbrella for a moment and can’t resist a smile as I pass Tijuana Picnic—a Mexican bar and restaurant (must go) where a little over a year ago I fittingly met Alexandra for the very first time.
“Hi! I’m Alexandra!”
I intended to reach out and shake her hand, but before my brain could even send the message to my arm, she pulled me in for a hug, her white “THANKYOUTHANKYOU” t-shirt pressed firmly against me.
As we sat down next to one and another for brunch, she pushed her long brown hair behind one shoulder, adjusted her signature red bandana around her neck, and began her narrative.
She explained her Instagram account @spurofthemoments—how it started as a DIY fashion and lifestyle blog when she was in college in Wisconsin and continued post-graduation in NYC while she worked at art gallery.
“Someone told me I needed to download Instagram,” she recalled. “I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t even have an iPhone.”
Hear the story of how Alexandra got her first iPhone:
"We're at Dimes on Canal, not the deli,"
My phone dings again, bringing me back as I reach the corner and turn right on Canal Street. My stomach suddenly reminds me that unlike Alexandra, I am not still full yesterday's trip to Montauk.
As the rain subsides and the sun peeks out, I stop at the wooden bench in front of the small restaurant to close my umbrella and quickly collect myself.
Through the restaurant’s glass door, I see the small space in front of the host stand crowded with hungry lower Manhattan residents, itching for Sunday brunch.
I look down at my watch. 12:33pm, seems about right.
I maneuver my small body through the puzzle of waiting patrons. Attempting to make eye contact with the hostess, I hear Alexandra’s voice.
“We asked for the table by the window,”
Her soft words prompt me to turn and smile, seeing her gesture toward the pale pink corner table.
She’s wearing an effortlessly cool outfit, as per usual.
Her vintage light-wash Levi’s jacket opens to reveal a black and white striped jumper. And although I’d seen her nearly 12 hours before, she hugs me. As she pulls away, she introduces me to her visiting college roommate.
“You know why I love this place so much?”
She looks around the small space, smiling.
“When I moved back to New York, I came here for the first time. And I instantly said to myself, ‘I want my Instagram to look like this.’ It was my photo inspiration for a long time.”
Dimes sits nearly hidden on Canal between Ludlow and Orchard, a vibrant but simple space nestled in that bottom right pocket of Manhattan that’s not quite Chinatown, not quite the Lower East Side.
The restaurant’s reputation carefully treads a fine line. On one side, it’s a modern day Central Perk—the beyond hip place where your ideal life’s story takes place. And on the other side, it’s simply a reminder you’ll never be that cool.
Either way, at least for me, it makes you want to be there.
Tupac’s “Keep Your Head Up” bumps softly beneath patron conversations—mostly groups of girls barely old enough to drink discussing their likely Saturday night gallivant at Pianos or Libation.
Looking down at my bright orange paper menu, my ears perk to a particular conversation unfolding between a twenty-something guy and girl behind me.
“This was...really fun…” the guy says.
“Yeah...totally…” she replies. “Hope you survive that hang over…”
They stand. She gives possibly the most uncomfortable hug in the history of relations between young people and exits the restaurant. He stands, watching her leave he waits a moment, shrugs and heads out as well.
“Bumble date,” I smirk to myself, remembering Alexandra always saying she’s against the NYC dating app scene.
"I get up at 6am to get Instagram content before work, work a shit-ton during the day, and then go to events at night," she said. "So if somehow I do have a free night, it's not going to be spent with some random guy at a restaurant."
I look up at her smiling, glad I made it onto her schedule.
The waiter pops his head between our conversation.
"You can follow me this way,"
"What did you do last night? Are you hungover?"
Alexandra asks as she pulls her arms out of her jacket's sleeves, draping it over her shoulders as we sit. She smirks softly at me and picks up her menu.
I am absolutely hungover. But before I respond, I smile remembering that Alexandra absolutely is not. She’s nearly four years sober. My mind again wanders back to our first meeting at Tijuana Picnic.
“I realized that in New York I’m surrounded by such amazing, talented people,” she said. “I just didn’t need to be intoxicating myself in that way anymore.”
Hear her story of the day she quit drinking:
I look down at my menu, realizing this would typically be the time I'd order a cocktail to combat my hangover. But remembering Alexandra's words, I change my mind.
"I'll just stick with water,"
Our hunger suddenly rolls in full swing, prompting us to place our food order right away. The handsome blonde waiter listens. He smiles as we thank him again for putting us at the restaurant's most perfectly lit table.
Out the window behind us, the previously rain filled clouds part, allowing the just right amount of sunlight to flood in—something only a table of photographers and producers fully appreciate.
“How did we end up here?”
Alexandra laughs, referencing our lives and what has lead us to this point.
For her, becoming an Associate Producer at POPSUGAR while not only maintaining but also elevating and her status as an Instagram influencer, has been a whirlwind.
She was working full-time doing account management for a tech company in the city, but spent more time Instagramming, she confesses with a smile. Then fully laughing, she remembers leaving work for hours at a time for mid-day food events or photoshoots.
“I really don’t know how I didn’t get fired,” she laughs again, just as our food arrives.
I look up between bites of my pickled salmon plate, and see her simultaneously taking both a bite of her salad and a Snapchat selfie. I smile, remembering how much she’s built her brand through her stories.
We continue eating through nearly constant laughter as Alexandra swipes through the face-altering filters. And suddenly, I look down to empty plates.
Alexandra begins editing her overhead photo of our now RIP'd meal as the waiter returns.
"We'll take the check,"
"Can we get watermelon slushies?"
Alexandra smiles, her voice echoing with a child-like purity as she looks up from signing the check.
She explains being introduced to this hidden chinatown refresher by her good friend @whatimholding, who she also credits most of her current Instagram success to.
So of course, we gather our things and head west on Canal.
On the way, I remember yet another one of Alexandra's talents: singing.
As an incredibly musical human myself, it's a skill she and I immediately bonded over during our first meeting last year. So naturally, I turn to her with a request.
"How about some music for the walk?"
Hear her incredible singing here:
We exit to the corner of Canal and Essex, laughing at everything and nothing, slowly losing track of time for just a few more moments before returning to the world. Leaning down to pet a passing dog, Alexandra takes sips of her $5 slushie, smiling with her chocolate brown eyes.
“See you this week?” she asks me with a hug as her Uber driver pulls up in a black Toyota Camri.
I smile, sipping my own slushie and turning to head back north on Essex toward home.