For reasons that are exceptionally personal, being born and raised in New York City (Brooklyn, specifically) means a lot. I remember growing up on East 72nd Street near Canarsie and riding my BMX bike to the end of the block, which ended unceremoniously and turned into a huge area of dirt. For a kid, it was awesome and made for a cool place to ride your bike. As the years went by, with land being as limited and expensive as it was in the area, it was paved over and turned into lots where condominiums were built. Then there was the old video store that I used to dart to on Fridays after school to play Street Fighter II, which couldn’t compete against the vastness of Blockbuster Video, which in turn eventually succumbed to the online streaming power of Netflix. Things just seem to change so much and in New York City, it seems like changes happen in more magnified and compounded ways. At least, that’s how it seems to this Brooklyn boy.
Eventually, my parents sold our house and moved to a more suitable one on Staten Island. Growing up, the only reason why I’d ever go to Staten Island was to go to the mall there (although I can’t remember why I’d go there over the much closer Kings Plaza) or to use it as a conduit to get to New Jersey. I remember when crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge cost a few bucks. Now, or as of 2013, it costs $15. That’s the price of admission if I want to drive a rental car to visit my parents. They’re worth it though. Plus, they live two blocks away from the South Shore beach, which is where I visit to get some long exposure photos of the various piers and eroded structures that sit in the shadow of the aforementioned VN Bridge.
My sister, it seems, is the last vestige of my family in Brooklyn. Living in a comfy and spacious apartment in Sheepshead Bay, I always enjoy getting to crash in her spare bedroom. Although, it does require a careful coordination between her and my parents to make sure that she has the inflatable queen-sized air mattress there. Otherwise, it’s sofa town for me. Roaming around the streets of her neighborhood only further reminds me of all that has changed. Every car seems to be adorned with heinous decals and have Bumper Bullys hanging over the rear bumpers like limp, rubber tongues. And there are so many storefronts. I always wonder how these proprietors manage to sell enough stuff to pay the bills each month. There is just so much of so many things. There is even a hybrid Mexican/Chinese takeout place in case you are feeling like an egg roll with your chicken tomatillo soup.
I had a huge burden of guilt on my shoulders for a very long time after leaving New York City back in the mid-2000s. Even though I had left it for the first time ever in 1996, at the age of 18, to attend college at Syracuse University, I still felt like like a New Yorker. I even returned back home once I graduated with my Bachelors and Masters degrees, after a short stint in Chicago. But, in the wake of everything that my home city had gone through, coupled with this being the place where I grew up, I just felt that I was betraying it by leaving again… and to Boston of all places. Little did I know at the time that I wouldn’t be returning here as a resident. As the years went by, that reality began calcifying more and more. I didn’t really pay it much mind because all it took was a 3 1/2 hour drive south from Boston to get back home. Still, I always felt really badly for leaving. It wasn’t until 2011, when I made a rather abrupt cross-country move to Portland, OR that the burden seemed to disappear entirely. It was the first time in a very long time that I truly felt like I was home. That bit was flipped and I felt ok with calling myself an Oregonian (even though I still feel the need to follow that up with ‘but I was born and raised in Brooklyn). That, in and of itself, is its own story.
So, whenever I return here, I truly feel like a tourist in my own home. While I don’t need a map and I know how to get wherever I want to go, I still feel like a visitor and I think I like it better this way. It has been over a year since I returned home. After checking into my hotel in midtown Manhattan yesterday, I roamed around the city, heading to my favorite area: the Lower East Side. Everything felt the same but different. I had a camera hanging off of my shoulder with my head on a swivel, but walked the streets with the abrupt cadence and speed of a native New Yorker. I stopped when I needed to but otherwise, I just walked. It wasn’t until this morning that it hit me, though. I was waiting for the coffee shop inside the hotel to open. To my surprise and glee, the name of the shop was called Stumptown, a Portland-based coffee roaster. I had forgotten that they had a branch out here in the Ace Hotel. I immediately felt a sense of nostalgia… but it wasn’t for the place where I grew up. It was for my home. I found myself really missing Portland and for the first time, I really was ok with it.