I Would Rather Not Go, Back To the Old House
It’s just as well we’re happy in our new lives Upstate. On Saturday morning we drove back to the block where we lived for ten years, where I quickly discovered that, in the few months since I was last around, not only has the Sip Fine Wine store finally opened round the corner from our old house, but the troubled Bubble Tea Lounge has been converted into the Black Sheep Pub, specializing in live British football of all much-missed things, and a Vegan café – The V Spot – was opening all of two blocks from home that very day. It’s hard to think of three other establishments I would sooner have within walking distance.
We parked up at the top of the block, near 5th Avenue, and no sooner opened the car door than we saw the person who bought our house, pushing his baby down the block in a stroller. The coincidence was a little unnerving. We felt we’d sold our house honestly and fairly, but still, you never know. Was the roof falling down and nobody knew about it? Did the tenants turn out to be disasters? Have the next door neighbours declared war? Nothing of the sort, it would seem by the hug he gave Posie – and the fact that, appropriately enough, he and his wife were about to host their first ever garden party. We were invited in to see which walls they had knocked down and where they were about to move the kitchen, but you know, being outside on the street seemed quite close enough. I believe I’m not alone in this experience; despite having owned and lived in the property for ten years, I feel no compunction to ever step inside it again.
Hanging on the block seemed to make us a little too magnetic a draw for old neighbors (almost all of whom we love and miss dearly) so, after my brief detour to Sip Fine Wine and Posie and Campbell’s trip down Mexican memory lane with rice and beans from Calexico, we reconvened round the corner at Gorilla Coffee, where I stocked up on the local rocket fuel and enjoyed the reassuring sight of so many Saturday-morning screenwriters and novelists at their laptops.
Sitting outside Gorilla, we felt a little like a married couple receiving guests on their wedding day: everybody and their dog seemed to be out for a stroll and many of them were friends who stopped to say hello. Our former upstairs neighbor came by on, as ever, her bike; then the tenants from the top floor; Maurice Bernstein from Giant Step walked down the street pushing his two babies in a double stroller and it reminded me just how many people were still moving into the area even as were moving out. The woman who worked the Puerto Rican deli at top of our block (before it was replaced by a Yoga center two years ago) came by with her granddaughter, marveling at Campbell’s growth (we’d moved in when he was but one year old) and the unexpected sight of our baby (coincidentally, one year old), and then our dearly departed and much-missed next door neighbour’s best friend caught up with me on the street, keen to hear about our country lifestyle. She pointed out what I had chosen to cast to the back of the mind these last few enjoyable minutes: the traffic, the noise and the untold amount of litter. She blamed the storefronts for the latter but I had to sympathize: it was only lunchtime, and the trash cans on the corners were already overflowing; short of the garbage trucks showing up and adding to the midday traffic madness, that there would likely be rubbish strewn over 5th Avenue within hours.
Pointedly enough, when we finally headed out of the Slope, it took us a solid fifteen minutes to drive two Brooklyn blocks. The car horns, the bus fumes, the shouting, the jackhammers, the urban energy that’s as often negative as it is positive, all of it was taking its tool and propelling us back up the New York State Thruway to the Catskills as fast as our car could carry us.
There’s no doubt that it’s a trade off. Living in our old neighborhood had, especially by the time we left, provided us with untold conveniences: live music venues, wine bars, excellent food stores, scores of restaurants, a cool record store and a dozen or more pubs all within walking distance. It also had untold inconveniences: a lack of personal space, constant noise from the street, the increasing traffic, lack of parking, the encroaching malls, the occasional mugging, the odd gun shot, the infrequent murder and the frequent traffic victim, not to mention the specter of Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project a few hundred yards away, and the endless hassles caused by any dozens of smaller ongoing urban developments.
In our current Upstate environment the tables are, just as you would expect, turned upside down. We don’t lack for arts and entertainment, good food and fine wine: we just have to spend time in the car to find them. In turn, we have more space, less noise, an almost complete lack of traffic, easy parking, no malls unless we decide to visit them, just about zero crime, the only gunshots are hunters tracking down their own dinners, and what developments we see going on are usually nothing more daunting than a new house being erected on newly purchased land, or the spring-time repairs to winter-damaged roads.
The choice between City and Country then, is not one of right versus wrong, or good versus evil. It’s about which side of the trade-off one feels most comfortable on. For many years, I chose walking distance, cheap taxis, late night bars and instant access to everything NYC had to offer. Hitting 40, expecting a second kid, tired of clubbing and gigging – and with a steadily dwindling coterie of friends who could be counted on for as much as a single midweek beer – I switched sides and voted for peace and quiet, a bigger garden, a smaller school and, quite consciously, a lack of night time opportunities to tempt me. One of the most interesting aspects about my move is how, knowing that I’m unlikely to drive 250 miles on a whim for ANY band, I’ve simply stopped looking at the gig lists. I’m working long hours and I’m still very involved in music – more so, in fact, than for years. But when the day time’s work is done, I’m happy to head home for dinner, some play time with the kids and the hope of having the lights out before the new day officially starts at the top of the clock. In that sense, I realize, I’m like billions of people who came before me. It’s called something like maturity, and to fight it is to lose out on one of life’s sweetest developments: the satisfaction that comes with slowing down one’s social life and widening one’s personal space.
Still, if I had to own a home and raise a kid for ten years in New York City, I’m thrilled it was in that part of Park Slope. I don’t miss it, but I’m so glad we lived it.