When You Come to New York

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If you go to Springfield Gardens, Queens this is what you’ll see. Rows and rows of houses, on tree lined streets, dogs happily walking along with their humans, kids running wild in the street, or riding their bikes dipping in and out from the sidewalk to the street. This part of Queens is southeast of NYC. To the south you’ll find John F. Kennedy Airport. You’ll have to travel by the Long Island Railroad, or the railroad as I say, subway, bus or car. This end of Queens I close to Long Island, specifically Elmont, Floral Park and Valley Stream. I feel like I live in Long Island because of the proximity, but we don’t have nearly the same high prices in property tax as they do. Due to early settlers of European decent, this area of Queens started out as purely all white. As a tourist you will see that this area of Queens has grown into a huge population of Caribbean people from multiple islands and African-Americans that migrated from the south in the 1920’s.

Growing up in Queens in the 70’s, life was great. My parents moved us from Manhattan to Queens in 1974 to a single-family home. For my parents who grew up in the projects in Brooklyn in the 40’s and 50’s, moving to Queens was a come up. My backyard is big enough to build another house on, so it felt like I had my own park to play in. My backyard was the meeting place for all the kids to run through the water sprinkler, and on one side of the yard were two trees. One had branches low enough that we were able to climb and hang upside down on one of the branches. My mother would say “you’re going to break your neck, get down from there!” My dad never cared because he enjoyed watching us play.

Around the corner was the elementary school I went to, and my middle school was within walking distance of my house. As a kid, living in the suburbs isn’t bad. You can play in the street with very little car traffic interrupting you. You can go house to house with your friends and the neighbors know you, so there’s always someone keeping an eye out. To a tourist this may seem odd but it’s a common thing to see kids drinking from the water hose to keep from coming in and out of the house with all your friends. This was a saving grace for all parents. Summers were the best because we could play outside from sunup to sundown, literally.

The earlier you wanted to go outside the better. Once the sun set, everyone got called inside for dinner. No one ever wanted to go inside, but we were hot and sweaty from playing and we all smelled like little puppies from rolling around in the grass. Once I was old enough to leave my block without supervision, walks to the corner store was an everyday thing. The store isn’t on the corner of my block, it’s about three blocks over, on the corner. As a tourist you’ll hear people refer to corner stores and they’re not necessarily on the corner of where you live.

During the school year every morning the store would be filled with kids stopping in to get snacks before walking a block over to the elementary school. After school was the same thing, and if you visit during the summer, you’ll see kids in there everyday buying frozen ices, giant pickles, and quarter waters, which are sugar filled juices in small containers shaped like little barrels. They were the best and gave you a burst of energy that would kick in so you could play even harder.

On the main boulevard you’ll find stores, gas stations, laundromats and some small apartment buildings. Buses run on the main boulevard as well. Luckily the bus I needed to get around drove past my street. The houses along the way all looked the same on different streets. Some are small, and one level, and some are larger into two levels. As people moved in and out, land developers moved away from building single-family home to multi-family homes. There are two major parks I had access to, but I never went. Or maybe I was never allowed to. Concerts in the park is huge draw from the circus to music festivals to street fairs. People from every borough fill the parks during these events, making traffic unbearable. But what a wonderful time for a tourist to experience during the summer. To be honest, it’s pretty boring in the ‘burbs. Yes, it’s quiet, and the ‘burbs offer a better quality of life raising children. There’s a sense of freedom and security the ‘burbs give you that in the city you don’t have. Now that I’m older, and my kids are young adults and nearly on their own, I long for city living. At times the quiet is annoying, looking out the window brings no excitement because there isn’t anything going on. You must drive everywhere, and food delivery is a good 30-40 minutes away. Not exactly ideal for tourists, but that’s what you can expect.

A few years ago, after I got divorced, I lived in an apartment a few blocks from a main boulevard, called Queens Boulevard. I loved it. I was still in Queens because I’m a Queens girl and I love my borough, but this apartment gave me the feel that I was in the heart of the city. It was a cute one bedroom that I shared with my daughter and our tuxedo car Blackie. Walking distance to restaurants and transportation, and just enough noise and the quiet mixed together, it was everything I needed to feel like a City Girl. If you stood in the middle of Queens Boulevard you could see the Manhattan skyline! Like how cool is that? To see another borough while literally standing in another one, maybe lost on you as a tourist, but fun fact, right?

I miss that apartment, but we outgrew it when my youngest son decided to come back and live with me. That led to the search to get back to the ‘burbs of tree lined streets and all-day quietness. Now we live in Rosedale, also another part of Queens closest to Long Island on a street filled with trees and birds that when they are all up together it sounds like being in the middle of the jungle. I have never heard so many birds at one time. I often look up wondering where I am because they all sound so different.

Dreams of the city are still on my mind, but for now Queens is my base.