My home is called The Randall. It is part of the Winchester Luxury Collection. The design of the home focuses on the role of natural light. As a result, The Randall’s prized features are the two solariums and the double-story windowed living area. The warmth of the abundant natural light balances the otherwise imposingly large house.
The cherry blossoms are the most beautiful part of the neighborhood. They line the yards as property markers. We planted one in front of our garage.
Kids from neighboring communities always trick-or-treat in our neighborhood. We are infamous for only giving king size candy bars.
The local newspaper once described the neighborhood as “dazzling”. The Winchester Home catalogue also described the neighborhood as “dazzling”. Perhaps they are referring to the cherry blossoms.
The neighborhood looks best during the Christmas season. The monotonous houses are decorated, and there is a delightful display of personality. I am reminded there are actual people living behind the lifeless uniform houses.
One day, we received a letter from the homeowners association. The letter urged each family to upgrade their mailboxes. The new mailboxes were to be a dark metal instead of the previous green metal. The neighborhood initiative hoped to serve as a facelift for the community. Several months later, everyone had new mailboxes except for the Raul family. The homeowners association chastised them. Now, the Raul’s have a dark metal mailbox.
I remember the day I forgot to wave at my neighbors as I was driving out of my neighborhood. When I returned home that evening, my concerned neighbor approached me to ask if everything was ok. After that incident, I make sure to always wave and smile. Sometimes, I give a light honk; they really like that.
Perched precariously on disheveled, overgrown sandstone retaining walls, the weathered two bedroom house with its blue shutters (one missing) and awning with its coating of moss enjoys the shade of the overgrown oak trees during the spring. Each autumn the squirrels tunneled under the scattered sandstone slivers under the large shocks of grass I was unable to mow with a conventional lawnmower, and each heavy Minnesota winter brought massive icicle formations on the edge of the roof due to terrible insulation in the attic. Without fail, my little family would wake up in the middle of the colder nights of the season to the resounding crack of an ice dam falling from the roof. Sometimes I believed it was the boogeyman reminding me of his existence and I would thank God that the roof was strong. The walls were paper-thin. I heard Mr. Adler in his garage welding car parts. Or the girl I played with on Sundays across the street practicing the piano. Or my father getting in the taxi for a foreign country and leaving my mom and I behind.
I’m sure there wasn’t much we could hide from our neighbors.
I can not say I knew Mr. Adler well. I would love to say that because our neighborhood, though at first a part of the baby boomer’s promise, is the exception from the lonely disparity that is inherent in the suburban problem. But, as in every progressive American neighborhood I know my neighbors superficially. Mr. Adler had a dog at one point. I could hear it barking through the paper-thin walls of our bungalow. One day, he and I crossed paths: he on his way in and I on my way out.
“How’s Daisy?” I inquired about his dog out of politeness. My neighbor looked past me with grief stricken eyes at the mention of his dog.
“She died of a heart attack.”
I wondered what it was like to care that much.
There is no way to maintain meaningful connections through the walls of disinterest, no matter how paper-thin they may be. The media would like to tell you that anything is possible in the current day and age through social media and the internet. That social barriers are falling and increased connectivity is shrinking the world. I would like to contend walls are being constructed. Made of iron. That now, more than ever, we as a society are disinterested, out of touch, broken, a mockery of what it means to be a part of a community. At one point a symbol of home, like my house, but disheveled, broken, and missing parts. Not beyond repair, but decrepit.
My parents saw our subdivision grow around us. They remember when the street ended three houses away and the woods began. They remember when new families and new children moved in. The only trace of this wilderness that I have seen was the small (but thick) patch of woods in my back yard, which was torn down when I was sixteen. I have always known my peers.
My suburb is not like waldie's; Kunstler is guilty of suburban-conflation. waldie writes of suburbs like mine, "they don't have enough of the play between life in public and life in private that I see choreogaphed by design in my suburb." I think this is true for several reasons. The houses are grand and lots large in comparison. Cars are necessary because the firm or the practice or the hospital or (until very recently) the school has not moved closer in the twenty three years that we have been here. The public journey lasts from the house to the car. The sidewalk only stretches a few houses down. I don't know if anyone sees my father drive away in the morning. We are not a city.
When I am home I enjoy drinking, blasting the radio, and playing pool on a table a family accross the street gave to us when their children left for college. The noise from the radio never reaches across the street. I put on Garrison Keillor and my brother goes inside.
The Homeowners Association (around since the beginning) requires that houses be set back thirty or forty feet from the street. The Homeowners association requires front lawns to be mowed and free of eyesores or obstructions. The frontal exterior of each house must be of brick and of traditional color, and stucco was only recently permitted as a siding. Dad (who plays tennis with the neighbors on occasion) works at the law firm which represents the Homeowner's association.
We (residents, homeowners, dog-walkers, golfers, and runners) also do not like offensive, empty houses.
In 1964 J.T. Williams, Mallory Horne and Bill Cartee bought 3,800 acres from the Velda Dairy farm.From this they developed Tallahassee's largest suburb, and the furthest (at the time) from the city center. The website for the Home Owners Association lists nine subdivisions, each named an Irish name and landscaped to resemble the Irish country side. This is no humble fronteir vision--it is a garden to make us forget. I have asked which of the nine neighborhoods we belong to, and my parents do not know either.
I-10 developed alongside Killearn, and has expanded several times. Thomasville Road, which linked Killearn to the city center, has grown from two lanes to eight lanes. Sometime in the late seventies Killearn lost its prominence to Golden Eagle, where Jeb Bush plays Golf. Killearn is growing into other developments.
There are few sites of collective memory in my suburb. We are too new for public memorials about Korea or Vietnam (There is one in the capital, but that place is far away). We have not put up a monument for any significant event in our time, like the time our suburb helped vote George Bush into office, or the time we all watched the troops invade Iraq on television. I figure this to be because we do not yet understand our history or our place in it. There were so many young families on this block when I was growing up, and I think we are all waiting to see what will come of this place.
At six my parents restricted my travel domain to three houses on one side of the street, stretching in one direction. Our neighbors in the fourth house were building a pool, and I came home that day with a colored piece of porcelan-a relic that I have kept.
waldie's second aphorism reads: "In a suburb that is not exactly middle class, the necessary illusion is one of predictability." I don't understand why a less-than-middle class suburb requires such an illlusion or what such an illution has to do with class or ethnicity, but I have only read the book once. But it stirs my thinking none the less and leads me to wonder, on darker days, if in my middle calss suburb, the nieghborhood itself will come to be the necessary illusion.
There is a silence in this piece (and i'm sure, in every other) which hurts me very much
Hendrick Hudson High School is located on the top of a hill in Montrose, New York. The steep hill is always empty in the warm months. But, when the snow falls, little children come out in droves to sled their way down its slope. Despite the thrill, choosing to sled on this hill requires a great deal of skill. If you cannot keep control of your sledding vehicle, you can easily sled your way right into the street. What looks like a normal two-lane country road is in reality a section of route 9A, a continuation of the West Side Highway.
Before the school’s campus was closed, I would cross this street nearly every afternoon to each lunch with friends at a Mexican restaurant across the street from our high school. Though this restaurant changed hands and names numerous times over the course of my freshman year, it was always referred to as “Little Mex”.
I cross the West Side Highway almost every afternoon on my daily walk to the Hudson River Park.
When the campus was closed, we ate in the cafeteria. The selection was always the same. The cafeteria was a multi-use space – used not just for eating, but for assemblies, tutoring sessions, and anything else that required large groups of people to work together. Once a year, the student government held a Senior Citizen prom. I once played a Battle of the Bands in the cafeteria. I came in last place.
Hendrick Hudson High School is located less than a mile from Indian Point Power plant. Twice a year, the school would hold evacuation drills. After waiting for an hour in our classrooms, we would all file slowly into school buses that would drive us to the next town over and then turn around. It was never made clear what would actually happen next.
Montrose is a hamlet, not a town. Its students come from the various bedroom communities that span the woods between the larger town of Croton and Peekskill.
My favorite spot in all of Westchester is in a local park in Croton. All of the parks in my two surrogate towns are on the Hudson River. When I stand at my favorite spot, a mass of land that juts out into the river looking North – which historically has been called Croton Point – I can see all the way down to and past the Tappan Zee Bridge. When I close my eyes, there is the sound of the river and rarely anything else.
One of the more distinctive features of Croton Point Park is a large hill near its entrance. When standing at its peak you can see far into the distance to both the north and south. I only discovered recently that this is a man made mountain. Only 20 years ago, this mountain was literally a mountain of garbage. Now, there are a few inches of dirt covering it and a variety of plants. Large straw-like poles allow the gas from the garbage to escape the ground.
There is very little to do in Peekskill or Croton besides visiting their parks. Both of the towns have a coffeehouse. When I received my driver’s license, I spent much of my time driving to or between these coffeehouses. Before these coffeehouses opened in 1995 and 2003 respectively, there were only the parks. Perhaps this is why my high school used to carry the nickname Heroin High.
[image taken be me - it shows the view from croton point]
My neighborhood (I use that term loosely because I don’t live in a defined development) is composed of three long, winding streets that each connect to one common street, along which sit boarding stables and fenced-in fields for horses. This common street is the one outlet from my neighborhood to the main road. Across the main road sits a large private school with many fields, shaker-style buildings, ponds, trails, and playgrounds. I would often bike or jog around my neighborhood and then continue across the street at the school for a change of scene and terrain. During the summer I picnic on the dock at the largest pond. I learned to drive and parallel park at the school. For some inexplicable reason, I went to a different school about twenty minutes away by car.
Today the spring from which my town gets its namesake lies in the middle of cornfield surrounded by housing developments. To reach it, one must park his car by the meetinghouse, just off Route 108, and walk about a mile along a fence-lined gravel road. The spring is cordoned off by a hastily built fence and features a small plaque commemorating the location. There’s also a grassy field and a thicket of trees under which visitors sit and picnic.
In second grade we hiked to the spring in September. The corn was ripe and we picked some and snuck it home. That night my mom microwaved a husk in a brown paper bag and made popcorn. We both agreed that it was the best popcorn we’d ever eaten.
During high school, I volunteered at a community museum and learned about the town’s history. I learned that Quaker abolitionists used to house runaway slaves in secret rooms and compartments in their homes. They developed a code of sorts to communicate that their homes were safe spaces. Some homeowners would hang a quilt on a clothesline at night or place a single candle in the highest window to signal that their home was a safe haven. Hungry and shoeless Confederate forces retreating from Gettysburg raided the general store in 1863. Surprisingly, some prominent Quakers took up arms against the soldiers and exchanged fire around the general store. I don’t remember the exact outcome of the scuffle.
My next-door neighbor and I were best friends almost from birth. Her home sat on a large hill overlooking the rest of the neighborhood. From her deck I could see the back of my home and could look through the windows to determine in what room my parents were and what they were doing. I was able to see if they were still in the kitchen eating dinner, if they were upstairs getting ready for the next day, or downstairs watching television or reading in the living room. My friend moved to another state when I was 13 and I hadn’t returned to her house since. This past fall, while the neighbors who moved into her old home were away on vacation, my parents cat sat for them and I volunteered to feed the cat one night. I was able to return to the deck and look across the long yard into my home. I saw that my dad was watching television in the living room. This event was very meaningful for me.
Quakers named their houses. Some names include: Tanglewood, Brooke Manor, Woodlawn, Elmhurst, Cherry Grove, Della Brooke, and Norwood. The majority of these large estates are still standing. These homes had integrity and were built to house generations. They boast extensive porches, manicured grounds, and stately trees. Most of these homes are now sites of historical preservation and can be visited on historic house tours.
As I child I had trouble distinguishing people and places. I believed that the tall, thin short-haired blonde woman who lived at the end of the street in the formidable house behind a wrought iron and masonry fence was Princess Diana. I thought my mom’s jogging companion was Madonna because they were both fond of kimonos and had dark hair at the time. I thought the large Mormon Temple that towers over the Beltway was Disney World. I believed that the expansive garden behind my neighbor’s house was the actual Secret Garden. The world seemed a lot smaller and much less bewildering back then.
My neighborhood is surrounded by stables and horse farms. Two large boarding stables sit within the confines of the neighborhood. When I was younger I’d stand on the fence and feed the horses veggies and sugar cubes. I was convinced that they would bite my fingers off. Even though I frequently visited the horses, I winced in fear every time one ate from my hand.
My backyard ends abruptly at a deep creek and is adjacent to a large wooded area. Behind the woods (a distance of about a half-mile) sits the public middle school and high school. Sometimes cheering and music from the marching band can be heard from over the woods when the high school holds football games. Hearing these sounds through the woods tells me that winter is near.
My mom and I used to ride bikes around the neighborhood and at the campus across the large road. We’d bike as soon as it was warm and we’d do so until it became too cold. As I got older we ventured off-road to the trails surrounding my neighborhood. One year, it was warm enough to bike on Christmas. That year was extra-memorable.
One day my brother came running home for help when his friend had been jumped by some kids from the school for juvenile delinquents across the street.
On a snow day I remember finding a wallet in my backyard. The house behind ours and up the hill had been robbed and through our yard were footprints and the wallet. I was excited to talk to the policemen, excited to have my name written in their little book.
What must’ve been a few years later, a Yale student was murdered right outside a friend’s house a couple blocks away. There was almost no evidence and the case, now a cold one, remains unsolved.
A number of years after that a friend’s house up the street was broken into by a couple of young kids from one of the neighborhoods over the hill. They beat up the woman who was watching the house but were caught within a day or so.
I’ve lived in the same house all my life and I’ve always felt safe. It’s a popular neighborhood to walk through. People from around town come to enjoy its tranquility and admire all the big, old houses. In fact, it has quite a reputation
I’ve always had two big dogs, three at one point. Always a pair of Bernese Mountain Dogs. I can’t imagine them ever giving someone too hard of a time, but I guess to an outsider, they’d be seen as pretty effective watch dogs.
One night, late but not too late, a nondescript minivan pulled into our driveway. The dogs barked and ran up and down their gated run. My brother, sister and I kneeled by windowsill in my sisters room. I can’t speak for them but I was young and terrified. We watched out the window as the van just sat there, no one getting out. My mom went downstairs and dialed the police. They didn’t show up for a while, not until after the van left and we had found out it was our dog-sitter’s wife, mistakenly having showed up at the wrong house.
I’m often asked, isn’t New Haven a dangerous place? and I always answer the same way: it’s just like any other city, there are good parts and there are bad parts. To me, most parts are good and I grow more fond of it as I grow up and begin to recognize its many virtues.
Little boys and girls dream of moving here; to Los Angeles, to Hollywood. They dream about making it big and becoming a star. But to me, it is home.
Once farmland that cultivated soybeans and avocados, the area that is now Brentwood was part of a Spanish land grant sold off in pieces by the Sepulveda family after the Mexican-American war. Brentwood is now home to over 22,000 houses, high schools and colleges, stores and markets, museums and country clubs.
My house is situated on the other side of town from the tourists’ territory. At the end of a cul de sac in Brentwood you’ll find the only house I’ve ever lived in. My address is Los Angles, California though, so the post office doesn’t get confused with the Brentwood in Northern California.
The neighborhood’s safety is unparalleled, and my family often leaves windows open. Without a gate and an alarm system, my golden retriever, Amber, often wanders up and down the street and sniffs around the hill that faces us.
That being said, there was this one time in 1994 when Brentwood hit the news. When the wife and friend of O.J. Simpson were found stabbed to death outside her Bundy Drive apartment. My house is just off Bundy Drive and to this day, seventeen years later, people still come looking for that infamous driveway.
In high school, the routine was the same. Shower while admiring the Getty Museum perched on the mountain out the window, drive to Belwood Bakery for the best fresh squeezed orange juice in the world, courtesy of Peter, and continue on to drive over the notorious 405 towards school.
The only thing that’s changed now is the slow and painful building of what we call “Persian palaces” on my street. They are a special breed of the “McMansion”, specific to Los Angeles. These houses have taken years to build, and with every new column they look more and more out of place amidst the ranch styled homes.
Sometimes my friends and I will walk on San Vicente Boulevard from Brentwood to the Pacific Ocean, passing my grandparents house along the way. The street has a large coral tree and grass divider in the middle that used to be home to the Pacific Electric Railway. Now the boulevard is popular for jogging and exercise and is also the backdrop for number of movies that involve driving in Los Angeles.
Dry brush surrounds the canyons of Brentwood and in 1961 these hills burst into smoke and flames. Three hundred police officers evacuated over three thousand residents in twelve hours. More that two thousand firefighters battled the blaze that ended in destroying over five hundred structures.
Brentwood has natural and manmade boundaries of the Santa Monica Mountains, the San Diego Freeway, Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica city limits, Topanga State Park, and Mullholland Drive. The homeless man, Tim, wanders aimlessly around, but never passes these boundaries. He belongs to Brentwood. And just in case you are unfamiliar with the boundaries, there are signs to remind you. Big slabs of marble tell the naïve driver passing through when they’ve entered and left the town we call Brentwood.
This town is low crime. The local paper The Carmel Pine Cone struggles to post much of any news, especially when it comes to the crime in the Police Log. In fact the Police Log is humorous and the section has become the favorite of locals.
0915 hours: Dogs at large in beach parking lot. Taken to station. Owner contacted. Kennel fees paid.
2300 hours: After hours drinking at Lincoln Street bar. Intoxicated male drinking from rocks glass. Bartender warned.
2135 hours: Cassanova Street resident reported a teenage male outside her residence making ghostlike noises. Resident also thought the male drove her car and replaced it with an exactly identical one until her's was returned. It is still under investigation whether the woman has dementia or there was a disturbance.
1120 hours: Pebble Beach 17 Mile Drive resident with dementia wandered away from home. He was found within walking distance from home and returned. Case closed.
1945 hours: Carmel Beach Ocean Avenue male and female reported having their photo taken without permission. Photographer was contacted per demand of the couple and it was determined the picture was of the sunset with an unidentifiable silhouette of the couple. Report documented.
These aren't a joke too. However the small town with its dense collection of restaurants does lay claim to the rumored “most DUIs per capita”. You can't drive through the commercial part of town after 10 pm or you will get pulled over even if you aren't doing anything wrong. It's a trap.
The city has some odd laws too.
NO ice cream cones on the streets.
NO wearing high heels without a permit.
NO smoking cigarettes
NO cap guns
But beach fires and dogs off leashes are permitted. As well as dogs in restaurants, hotels, and shops in town. The fires however have to be out by 10 pm. The cops do a nightly combing of the beach shutting down the parties. You can stay on the beach in the cold darkness though. This is allowed.
But if you surf then chances are you know Ken, the friendly Hawaiian police chief that will call you brudda. And chances are if you know Ken you can probably get away with some of the usual teenage shenanigans: sex in the car, late night bon fire, sleeping on the beach, parking in the loading zone. In fact surfers park in the loading zones along Scenic Ave on the beach and never get towed or ticketed.
The Carmel Police's jurisdiction ends with the city limits fortunately. Outside the square mile you were in the hands of the sheriff and when you had parties it would always take them longer to get there.
I grew up in McLean, Virginia went to school in Bethesda, Maryland but it’s easier to just say I’m from DC.
My suburb is home to the CIA, many diplomats and congressmen but the most well kept secret is that they give away unlimited free bags of M&Ms in the Mars corporate offices.
There were two playgrounds I went to when I was younger: the “Monster” park and the “Boo-Boo” park. The monster park had scary drawings of aliens sketched into the equipment. I called the other “boo-boo” because when I was three I fell and scraped both knees there. My mother, in attempt to prevent the fall, pulled my arm out of the socket and had to take me to the emergency room. I still haven’t forgiven her.
Evans Mill Farm was once a communal space for Mclean residence, then a restaurant, and is now a residential community. I don’t think it was ever a farm.
The house I grew up in was a 19th century colonial. It was haunted. Not creaky floor haunted, ghost haunted. When my dad would go out of town my mom and I would have to stay in hotels because of them. The ghosts liked my dad.
My hometown was named after John Roll McLean, the former owner and publisher of The Washington Post. It was founded in 1910, when the communities of Lewinsville and Langley merged together. The CIA is still referred to as being in Langley but it’s actually McLean.
Tysons Central 7 station is expected to open as part of the first phase of the Silver Line to Wiehle Avenue in 2013. Controversy ensued over whether to build the Metro in a tunnel or on an elevated viaduct through Tysons Corner. It was eventually decided that the majority of the line would be built above ground, but the station will be built partially below ground in order to send trains through a short tunnel connecting the line's Route 7 and Route 123-paralleling sections.
In October of 2002 the Washington sniper attacks took place for three weeks in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC. Ten people were killed and three others critically injured in various locations throughout the Washington Metropolitan Area and along Interstate 95 in Virginia. On the first day of the attacks my school locked us all in the auditorium over night. We watched the Star Wars Trilogy three times.
My suburb is the quintessential suburb of today. McDonald’s and 7/11s scattered seamlessly with the mom and pop movie rental store and clothing boutiques. The Blockbuster closed down two years ago but the family owned joint remains. Its makes me feel happy every time I think about it.
The Washington Monument, Mount Vernon Estate, Iwo Jima Memorial, U.S Air Force Memorial, Manassas National Battlefield Park, National Marine Corps Museum, and Claude Moore Colonial Farms are all must sees when visiting the Washington DC area. I’ve done none of them.
(Photo taken by me from the Virginia side of the Potomac River)
I remember growing up on the darkest street in TriBeCa. It was not dark in its architecture, its inhabitants, or the activities that took place there. It did not receive a lot of light. The buildings were a few stories taller than neighboring streets. The street itself was not terribly wide. I used to shiver in the summer months when the shade would encompass me.
I lived at 55 Walker Street in a building that used to be a textile factory. The entire street had a very utilitarian feel. There was a small textile shop underneath our building. There was an entire textile building still left across the street. My parents said when they moved in, there were even more shop-fronts and buildings devoted to textile distribution. I remember seeing reams of fabric hanging in dusty windows, the buildings always dark and empty.
I used to always walk west down Walker Street when leaving our loft. We rarely went east, except when we needed the convenience of a bank or drug store. On one side of our street, we were bordered by Broadway, on the other side, by Church Street. On Broadway you found lots of small shops that carried many unimportant objects and household products. There were no recognizable store names, except for the bank of the far corner.
I used to walk with my nanny west towards the nursery. My father and I would go there on weekends. It always seemed like the perfect scenery to pass by on my way to school. There was always something going on there, even in the winter. My father said it had been there for as long as he can remember. Now it has become the site of a thriving luxury hotel.
Walking towards the heart of TriBeCa, I preferred to take a route down White Street. My nanny would always let me drag her here. My friend Jake lived on White street and the best bakery in TriBeCa was on the corner of White and West Broadway. My friend Lucca lived above the Bakery. Her parents owned it.
I always wanted to veer in the direction of Greenwich St., where my favorite park was nestled safely across one street from my play school and later on from my elementary school. My mother made sure I “never [went] past Greenwich St.” – there were too many people over there. My second birthday party was at a gazebo in the park . The white iron of the gazebo twisted and turned in crazy ways – if you weren’t careful you could get your fingers stuck in it. I returned to the park at the age of 19 and was disappointed at how small it had become. I remember spending hours getting lost there when I was much younger.
There used to be a parking lot next to my building. We would sometimes park our car there. The lot was entirely outside, and I remember it growing vertically as a child. The owners installed these huge blue car elevators that lifted cars on top of each other. As more people began to move into the neighborhood, these elevators got higher and higher. When I returned to my old building several years after leaving, I looked for the parking lot that was not found. The foundation had become a brand new, modern building of luxury apartments.
On Church Street there was usually nightlife. There was a fancy restaurant on the corner of Church and Walker that I could only go to if I “behaved”. Literally on the south corner of the same block was a topless bar. In my pre-school years I didn’t quite understand the concept; however, I still referred to it by the neon light descriptions that paraded across my eye-line on my ways home after dark. I can still see the yellow and green “Go, Go, Go, Go Girls” flashing. I think today it is a Vegan restaurant.
As the 1990’s drew closer and closer to the new millennium, so did the neighborhood towards gentrification. Warehouses became lofts, lots became hotels, and bars became clubs. Some people stayed to ride the wave, others like my family left in search of greener pastures.
Little Neck is the easternmost stop in Queens on the Port Washington branch of the Long Island Railroad. People assume a lot of things when I tell them where I grew up. These things usually involve Nas, front stoops, and housing projects.
Little Neck is famous for its Littleneck Clams. According to Wikipedia, however, Little Neck Bay was closed to clamming in 1909 because of pollution. My house is a 10-minute drive from the Bay.
My parents’ immigrant imaginations did a lot to give me what I think they thought was a suburban childhood: summer camp on Long Island’s North Shore, weekend soccer games wearing the blues and golds of old Saint Anastasia School. People in my neighborhood like their private schools and their cars. The driveways are lined with Mercedes Benzes, BMWs, big useless brand-name jeeps. Hardly ever any people, except those getting into and out of their cars.
We used to have a swingset in our wide green backyard. I used to pretend to be a three-toed sloth on the blue bars that ran above the slide, inching slowly along, east to west toward the setting sun and dinnertime. Danielle from across the street could see our swingset from her porch. She would run pigtails flailing across the street if she saw us playing hide and seek from her bedroom window. Danielle is half-Jewish.
The picture I took is of my little sister on our front porch. Danielle's all-white house is behind her.
A big wind storm came to Little Neck in the early 2000s. It knocked over our swingset, gobbled up an ancient Eastern pine tree that used to fill the yard with fragrant corn-colored pine needles every October. The city gave us money to buy a new swingset. Instead, we built a big stupid tool shed. The last time I went home, one of its doors, originally painted a very plain shade of tan, was ripped off. We do all sorts of things to fill voids.
Last summer, our lawn spent most of its time dying. Despite all of our best efforts to water and fertilize the damn thing. Our garden looks very empty without swingset and without pine tree. Even the tomatoes ripening ruby red in late summer don't change that. “Walls are a thin, cement skin over absence.” (Waldie 42)
I have no interest in trying to desentimentalize my experience of my neighborhood, because I still feel a lot toward it. I don’t know if that is coming out of a desire to “romanticize my past or set fire to it.”
The oldest living thing in New York City makes its home in my neighborhood. It is a tulip poplar tree, and we call it the Queens Giant. The Queens Giant may be as many as five hundred years old.
In December 2010, the New York Times published an interactive map called Mapping America, showing the racial and ethnic layouts of American neighborhoods. There is a key on the lower right, showing the colored dots that represent which races live where––green for white, blue for black, orange for Latino/a, red for Asian, and on and on. Neighborhoods like Northport, Long Island and Greenwich, Connecticut are suburban fields of green, while East New York and the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans are seas of deep blue. I live in Census tract 152902. There is one blue dot on my tract.
I was a strange kid. All I ever wanted for Christmases and birthdays was cooking supplies. My house is four stories tall, including the basement. Before it was renovated, our basement served mostly as my and my older brother’s land of forgotten toys. Broken Easy-Bake ovens, Italian ice makers, Pretty Pretty Princess, Mouse Trap, George Foreman grills, plastic boxes of dominoes, wooden spoons and whisks. What I wanted most when I was 10 years old was a stand mixer, so I could make cakes and pies quickly and with maximum efficiency. "Chef" was near the top of my laundry list of possible 10-year-old careers: actor, professional skateboarder, children's book author, veterinarian, poet, roller coaster engineer, and Eliza Thornberry. Now I'm in Gallatin. I think my interests are a manifestation of the often conflicting desires of my right and left brains.
According to the latest census, the tract of land I live on is 59% White, 24% Asian, 14% Hispanic, and 1% Black. When I was growing up, ours was the only black family I ever knew in the neighborhood. Today, we bisect the block––old Jewish families to our left, newly-implanted Korean families on the right.
Before they moved away, our neighbors to the right were an Ashkenazic Jewish elderly couple. Their grandchildren used to come to visit their Zadie and Bubbe every summer. There used to be these great big bushes in their front yard, and my brother and I would climb the wide-armed elm tree that shaded their back porch. The old couple moved away; the new family pruned the tree’s branches and uprooted the bushes, replacing them with an anemic-looking garden of mostly useless tulips.
“Real estate agents steered black families away from Mayfair and the newer subdivisions to neighborhoods like Compton and Willowbrook.” (Waldie 161) People are often confused or disappointed when I give them a clarifying "Yeah, I'm from Little Neck, Queens." This is often followed by a "Where?" or a "Oh, I thought that was in Long Island."
Sometimes I wonder how I ended up in Little Neck, how my parents got the chance to raise their children white, and how we got around to becoming a one percent.
1. I have a map of the village from well before it could even be called a village, from the year 1875. It denotes every standing structure and, taking up far more of the page, the owners of the vast tracts of property. The main streets are clearly visible here, but that is to be expected: one is the famous Boston Post Road, the other a significant path that dates from at least the 1830's. The bulk of the map is empty white space, broken not only by the man-made lines of property, but by the beautifully, handwritten name of that parcel's owner, sized proportionally to make it fit into the space. It makes the land seem a far more crowded, far more of a human place than this nearly empty place must have been at the time.
Not including the hut of the train station, there are only three buildings on this map, spaced fairly neatly from one another. Each is surrounded by a small lot, up to around a half acre, amongst the hundreds of acres of forest or farmlands, anticipating the town to come.
The house is one of them. It is eight years before the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, and eleven years after the close of the Civil War.
2. If there was one thing that made this village, as well as all the villages surrounding it, possible, it was the train. Between 1850 and 1920, no fewer than three mainline rail lines crisscrossed the town, all three of which were four tracks or wider by 1920.
In the middle 1880's, at the main train station for the village, a large, stone railway station was constructed far larger and with more grandeur than was necessary. In it was a Post Office for what had to have been fewer than 600 residents. There was another post office, in another village within the same town, only one mile away.
A major streetcar line ran between the cities to the East and West, running through the town. The town itself had a small, rickety, single track and single car trolley line carrying people to and from the train station and between the various villages; villages not even a mile from each other. The old fashioned trolley was run by a cantankerous, grizzled operator, a man seeming to be so old that he may have come from the very ground from which the town was wrought. Supposedly, he was a spreader of gossip and rumor, always ran well off his schedule, and his rudeness to his regulars was only outsized by his rudeness towards strangers.
The line and its operator were the inspiration for a major syndicated newspaper strip. The humor came from the collision of the worlds of the city and the country.
3. The Town is actually much older than many assume. At one point, under a colonial charter, it controlled land all the way from the southern tip of today's Bronx to miles north of its present borders. The town's namesake was an English physician and farmer. One wonders how much this man, whose farmhouse is still standing (rebuilt out of stone during the Revolution, in the 1770's), actually knew of the terrain that belonged to the organization he had formed. The farmhouse stayed in the family for well over 150 years. A mansion constructed later, occupied by another wing of the growing family, still stands in a North Bronx Park. It is now a museum.
4. Settlements of people within its borders and the town itself had seemingly little relation; the town, in practical terms, did very little. Over the course of more than a hundred years, there were various attempts to build civic structures. There were large fights over where to place them, and the compromise usually reached, to build on a road midway between the various groups of people, and therefore close to no one, ensured their failure. Slowly, most of the settlements broke away to form their own governments. Still, to this day, one sees cemeteries, squares, roads, and buildings named after the town far outside it’s present confines.
5. The man, for at the time the house was built it must have been a man, had to have had greatly contradictory emotions about his castle in the country. On the one hand, the house and it's property were a picturesque masterpiece, suitable for a postcard, though independent companies would not be allowed to print their own post cards for almost another 25 years. It must have seemed a place of heaven, a small recreation of eden to this almost certainly Christian, more than likely Protestant, man. And, more than anything, it was far from the corrupting influences of the city, the dirt and the crowding, and in particular, the ethnic, blasphemous, mongrel poor.
On the other hand, the commute to his place of business must have been a great travail. The walk to the train station, less than a quarter of a mile, was simply a continuation of eden along a handful of tree line streets. The wait for the massive steam beast was spent pleasantly in the grandeur of the stone train station. But steam power was not magic, it was dirty and slow, and the numerous stops along the southward trip must've taken time. Worse, this line ended, abruptly, at the wall that was the Harlem River. From here it was either a long ferry ride or crowding shoulder to shoulder with people of all classes and backgrounds on the Third Avenue Elevated to reach Downtown. The level of construction of the house, the price of the land, and the price of the commute meant this man had to have been one of means, and had to have had a place of business in the heart of the city.
The house was probably designed with an eye to being a summer cottage; an escape from the city in the hot months to be complemented by a townhouse the rest of the year. It was meant to be a long-term escape, not a daily one. But by the time construction was complete, there was seemingly no reason not to live there year round. After all, what was good as a country villa would be only better if experienced year round.
It was a large price to pay. Whatever he might have felt if he could have been free of the burden of expectations of his cultural milieu, he certainly must have outwardly appreciated the space. And, on weekends in the Summer, surrounded by unnaturally natural, pastoral beauty that was far greater than that of any natural pasture, it must have all been worth it. In many ways, it still is. But it was a large price to pay.
6. Growing up, the house was simply home. I had no knowledge of its history, beyond the fact that it was old. I have many memories of playing in the yards, and have such intimate knowledge of the building I could almost easily walk around it blindfolded. Normally I only played in the yards alone. I was a shy kid, I had no siblings, and there was no one else around. My imagination was more than up for the task.
The shyness continued into school. The town was small enough that we had no busses; my parents and/or a babysitter dropped and picked me up from school till I was deemed old enough to walk it on my own. I have almost no memories from those early walks to school, though I have many from later. The environment was so unchanging, why should I have a distinct memory of those particular walks?
I was shy in school and had few friends. And, once I did have friends, getting together was generally hard. I could walk to one friend's house, the others I needed rides to. On the one hand, the magic of spending hours at someone else's house, or vice versa, born out of the necessity of minimizing the car trips and thus pressure on our parents, was lovely. Of course, it would be hard to compare with actually being able to get together on our own at the same age.
We knew all our neighbors immediately surrounding our house, at least on our own street. They were nice enough, but we were never close. Except for my mother, no one in our family knew anyone in the town beyond, at least as neighbors. It was a bit of a shock later in life to learn that others in the town had a wider circle of neighborly feelings; it was an alien concept to us and our small circle.
Until I could drive, the village was less a community and more a series of disconnected spaces. Learning to drive suddenly connected those spaces, and all of the sudden make the town seem much more real. It also, with time, allowed me to discover a community of people, in various circles, around me. As I child, I was essentially confined to my small islands.
It is hard to separate if that is a function of space or of my own nature as a kid. But I still remember those hours in the yard.
7. By the early 1930's, the village was complete. Every piece of land had been filled, every yard landscaped, every church and school built. Even a new shopping center had been built at the corner of the Boston Post Road and village's main street, one that was different than almost any other that had come before. It did not come to the edge of the street, but was set back, allowing two narrow rows of cars to park at an angle. Though it was small, it must've been a great convenience, for the stores it contained could not only serve those who lived within walking distance, but all those in the town and nearby who owned a car. It would be an example for an almost uncountable number of other such centers all across America.
Further changes would come, new buildings built, old ones restored, but the architectural center of gravity of the town had been set.
8. By the mid 1960's, the village looked much the same as it had done fifty years earlier. Beautiful, well maintained houses still had well manicured, picturesque yards. The shopping center still hummed, mainly powered by local businesses. Some new buildings had been constructed, but the lack of land meant little dramatic could change.
One example was a seemingly incongruous 1960's-era concrete Catholic church, built to serve the second and third generations of former immigrant families who could now afford a middle class existence. The town was no longer an upper class enclave, but was now more mixed, blue and white collar workers living very close to one another.
Certain other things had changed. The village's trolley was long gone, not even a memory for almost all the town's residents. The same was true for the line between two cities, long since replaced by a county-operated bus line. It was ridden by a few, but most owned a car, and it generally shuttled passengers between the two cities.
Of the three train lines, only one still carried passengers. The one closest to the house had shut down first, leading as it did to seemingly nowhere. It was followed soon after by the second, a bankruptcy that had hit the company hard. A judge, believing there to be ample rail transit for the area, allowed the line to be scrapped to pay creditors. Even though the state legislator voted to save it, the budget conscious governor vetoed the action. And perhaps it seemed the right idea: the remaining railroad was still going strong, carrying hundreds of thousands of commuters into the city everyday. In addition, parkways now meant new shopping centers were close at hand by automobile, alleviating the need for residents to take the train to shop. The loss of a few noisy rail lines hardly seemed reason to panic.
9. By the early 1980's, the village looked much the same as it had done fifty years earlier. Beautiful, well maintained houses still had well manicured, picturesque yards. The shopping center still hummed, mainly powered by local businesses. In the resident's minds, however, there was anxiety.
The train line was in trouble. Some former commuters had found jobs in new office parks outside of the traditional city. But more, the railway was failing as the passenger rail companies of the United States collapsed amidst the pressures of the airplane and the car. In order to ensure it's survival, the line would be taken over by the state, ensuring the line of travel would still exists for the hundreds of thousands who still used it.
The bus still ran. It wasn't ridden by anyone in the village per se, rather is shuttled the far poorer residents between the two cities, stopping only occasionally to drop off or pick up a nanny or a worker for the corner stores.
The neighborhood was more mixed than ever. It had the rich, the middle class, the working class, even a handful on the brink of poverty. Everyone claimed they viewed this as a positive. But many, in the back of their minds, harbored doubts. For now, the town was safe. But all those poor people in the neighboring cities... and all the sudden the Bronx seemed so close... Brand new homes sparkled miles and miles farther North, with the promise of jobs in office plazas close by. Still, no one was sure that was answer; the town was still pretty, the people still pleasant.
Property values hit their lowest values since the village had been built. There was fear in the air.
10. By the year 2000, the village looked much the same as it had done seventy years earlier. Beautiful, well maintained houses still had well manicured, picturesque yards. The shopping center still hummed, and still contained local businesses, but now half the storefronts were national chains, chains which had forced many of the earlier stores, operated by owners close to retirement in any case, to close.
The train line carried more people than ever. Whereas some people still drove to a job, the majority flocked to the convenience of a one seat ride into Manhattan. Grumbles about the cost didn't seem to affect ridership; indeed, the main complaints were trains running a few minutes early or late, or that did not run frequently enough into the night and on the weekends.
The bus still ran. It wasn't ridden by anyone in the village per se, rather is shuttled the far poorer residents between the two cities, stopping only occasionally to drop off or pick up a nanny or a worker for the corner stores.
Property values had increased by approximately ten fold since the 1980's Poorer families were forced out. In their place came young families. Well off families. And nothing but families. The school district ballooned well beyond what it had contained in the years of the baby boom, in a town whose population had barely changed. Property taxes shot up as the district rushed to build new buildings to hold the new students. Even the voting power of the elderly, past enough to stop major expansion of the school district, could not overpower the new influx.
The train station itself had been meticulously restored, and a green sign with gold lettering, the kind one would expect from a country club, appeared out front. The sign had a message beyond the name of the town- it spoke to the economic class of the people who lived there. It would later be used as a set for a major motion picture about the relationship problems of the upper middle class, starring Will Smith.
The anxiety of the 1980's was gone. As was the mix of residents. Yet the village looked much the same.
[Image is my own]
When I was seventeen I was driving down a rural road outside of my neighborhood. One lane was jammed with traffic about a half a mile before the intersection. Causing the congestion were the vehicles of broadcasting stations, reporters, and photographers. They were cluttered around the outside of a property that belonged to a man named Ted Haggard, an evangelical Christianleader of a 14,000-member church called New Life. Haggard and the 14,000 people he preached to each Sunday, stood in opposition to same-sex marriage, a significant voting issue in Colorado. The traffic jam was caused after it was discovered that Haggard was participating in a methamphetamine-fueled homosexual relationship with a male masseuse. Religious hypocrisy runs rampant in Colorado Springs.
When I was a about seven, my best friend lived two houses away from mine. Sometimes, we would try to get lost while riding our bikes or skating on roller blades. But, out of fear of actually getting lost, we would never leave our four-block “boundary.” The distance we were allowed to wonder was determined based on how far away we could be and while still hearing my friend’s dad whistle, which he would blow whenever dinner was ready at either of our houses.
The neighborhood I was raised in is called Pine Creek. It boasts proximity to quality public schools, upscale shopping, and is located on a premiere golf course. Due to covenants, homeowners can only have one car parked in their driveway. If a visitor parks on the street in front of the house, or across the street along the cul-de-sac in an area that is not designated as an approved parking space, they will be fined. One year shortly after Christmas a 6-inch blanket of snow fell onto the Pine Creek neighborhood. It didn’t melt until the beginning of January. All residents who did not dig their Christmas lights out of the snow and tempt their icy roofs were fined $250 for not removing their decorations in a timely manner. When I went home last year for the holidays, I noticed that people in the neighborhood do not even bother to put Christmas lights on their houses anymore; heavy Colorado snowfall can be unpredictable.
In 2006 CNN’s Money magazine dubbed Colorado Springs the number 1 best big city for living in America. This rating is based off of the Air Force Academy’s $2.6 billion annual contribution to the local economy and companies Intel and HP as large employers.
This is a town people come to for the academics. You move here when your oldest child is in 3rd or 4th grade, and leave when the property taxes are more than you can bear (when your last child goes to college).
My Nonna had her three children in Princeton Hospital. My Nonna’s three children each had their two children in the same hospital. I attended the same high school as my mother, aunt, and uncle, in the same graduating class as my cousin. My entire extended Italian family lives within ten miles of my house, else they are still in Italy.
My house sits on an acre of land. This is about the only connection it has to the bigger, newer houses around town. Every few years as I grew up, the house cut further into the front or back yards as additions were built. First it was to accommodate my new brother, then- well I’m not quite sure why. But each time it morphed, I felt a bit more detached from its walls and the memories I kept between them.
One week in 1999 it rained so much we had off from school. My parents were at a doctor’s appointment and I was being watched by my less-favored grandparents. I put on a bathing suit and set up buckets under leaks in our aging home and outside to catch water to play in. For years I held onto a fabricated memory of having gone swimming in the retention basin across the street.
I used to think I would live here forever. I used to adamantly defend my town as the best place to raise a child. This past year, AOL NeighborhoodScout agreed with my previous insistence in naming West Windsor “The Number 1 Best Neighborhood to Raise Kids.”
My favorite childhood ice cream place was a drive-(or walk) through that was the one place I was allowed to venture alone with my best friend. Before we got to high school this shop was replaced with the seventh bank to be built on the same road.
In West Windsor there is rumor that a recession started a few years back, but most are not fooled by this joke.
Mr. M lived down the street and kept his dirty big secret on our far edge of town until he couldn’t keep it anymore and my father’s cop friends showed up to seize Mr. M’s computer and take him to a jail in Wisconsin.
I didn’t gain a sibling until I was nearly nine years old. I had been living in an odd world that had grown too pink for my liking, a princess in my parents’ eyes. I blame the long wait on my mother, as I do most things. I should blame the wait on the township, whose refusal to run its water pipes down our street resulted in my mother’s four miscarriages.
Please do not take these rants to mean I think this town is a bad place. In truth, I have not done it justice.
(image is my own)
Buck County, Pennsylvania; a county made up of several towns that are separated by forests and stretches of roads. Although the atmosphere of a farmland still exists, many of the towns have changed over the years to satisfy the middle class. Each individual town holds the same general landscape, the small original town is nestled in the middle of the surrounding developments. Random houses trickle out as the roads become more windy, and then there is a mixture of forest and farmland. Each town however is connected by main highways that connect shopping centers to the communites.
The classic suburban appeal that bucks county offers has attracted a general type of crowd. In particular, my small town Perkasie in the county is made up of mostly caucasian conservatives. The town was created in 1969, and has now grown to a community covering 15,034 acres with over 8,000 residents. The town has a very classic look to it, with its small streets and brick buildings with white trim. A large old clock is in the center of the town is surrounded by antique shops and a few restaurants. When walking on the streets you feel a sense of community, and the past memories have faded but are still present in the old buildings and familiar streets.
Growing up, I used to love visiting the oldest strip of shops in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. This is where I had my dance classes with the high ceilings and the older wood floors that creaked under the running ballet slippers. Then there was the candy store that still sold 10 cents candy, just like it did twenty years prior. The store was callled Leshers and we used to save up all the change we could find that week, just to spend it when our parents would have to buy other supplies.
There was a man who owned a small shop that sold train sets. The old man with his train collection used to be up late at night, so we could visit him on the second floor after our dance lessons were over. Every night he would turn on the most expensive set, which was a mini version of Perkasie. We would watch the miniversion and picture what Perkasie must have been like during the 1900s.
In early childhood, another joy was when the Perkasie Carousel would open. The Carousel ran only a select days over the whole summer, so the park was always hot and crowded during that time. The line for the carousel would wrap around the park, and it could take over an hour just to get to ride around the circle for a few minutes. The original organ plays the same tunes that were played when the carousel was originally made in 1851. Families still come from all over town just to hang out around the carousel and feel the sense of community that Perkasie offers.
to see more pictures go to http://www.perkasieborough.org/photo_gallery.html