Tuesday, June 23, 2009

If I Can Make It There, I Can Make It Anywhere...

I miss New York. So many people only know what they see on tv about New York, and generally that's the grime, crime, and slime. And there is that aspect of it, but that aspect exists in any big city. Or they've heard about the food. Which is true. I'm sorry, Pizza Hut, but your New Yorker pizza doesn't even come close.

Yes, I miss the food. In other places, people try to recreate the food New York is known for, and they keep failing miserably. One reason is the microwave. If you are going to make a pastrami on rye with mustard, you do not nuke the pastrami!! If you want one of those pretzels the street vendors make, you do not spray the pretzel with water to make the rock salt stick, then put the thing in a microwave! If you're going to do these things, and you want them to taste right, you have to cook them right. Pastrami goes on a grill, the rye bread gets toasted. Pretzels, brush melted butter on them for the rock salt, and put them in a conventional oven! Speed is not of the essence here, taste is!

And the sandwich shops I have run across just don't compare to the old-fashioned Mom and Pop deli. I grew up down the road from Westbury Music Fair, whose name has since changed, and there was a fantastic mom and pop deli nearby. I always went in and ordered roast beef on a roll. No mustard or mayo, just meat and bread, because this place literally packed the meat on. The meat would be closely layered and the stack would stand nearly two inches high. And it was good quality meat! I would take it home, and make three or four sandwiches out of the one...there was just that much meat in it. And it cost me about $4. I dare you to try and get that much sandwich meat out of Subway. You're lucky if you can find the meat in those sandwiches.

But New York isn't just about the food or the crime or the city or the shopping. Television rarely shows a New York beach, unless it's Coney Island. They forget about Jones Beach, where there is...or was...a concert stage (it's been so long since I've been home I don't know if it's still there), the beach that could be reached within 45 minutes from any point on Long Island, usually less. We lived there during the summer. My dad never liked to be on the beach when it was crowded, so we would get there by about seven am. The beach would be empty, but the water was always too cold to swim in at that hour! By the time the water warmed up enough, people would be descending in droves, and Dad was ready to leave. But I loved going anyway.

Also forgotten is the beauty of upstate New York. Everyone forgets that the Catskills and Adirondacks are part of New York State. They remember Niagara Falls, of course, but forget the rest of upstate. It's so green, just covered with forest and woodland. There is actual wildlife, gasp! I remember driving up to Mount Kisko every year with my family. My brother and I were fairly young at the time, so it seemed like the drive took forever, but in reality it couldn't have been more than two or three hours. There was a company there, called Dansk, that Mom liked to get dinnerware and such from. That part of the trip bored us to tears--they didn't sell toys, and Mom and Dad never let us rope them into spending money they didn't feel necessary to spend anyway--but the views were spectacular! And this wasn't even all that far upstate!

Culturally, there is so much New York has to offer, because it's such a huge melting pot of people. Where I am now, in the southwest, there isn't much culture that isn't geared toward the Mexican or Native American cultures; the rest of us are pretty much forgotten, at least here. I miss the cultural celebrations of New York. The West Indian Day Parade, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the big San Gennaro Feast in Little Italy, Chinese New Year in Chinatown, the Thanksgiving Day Parade that the whole world watches, and yes, even dozens of pow wows during the summer. We do still have Native American tribes in New York! Shinnecock, for one, in Suffolk County on Long Island. Yes, it's on Long Island, not in Long Island.

Of course, there is the shopping that everyone knows about, but there's a lot of shopping only another New Yorker would know about. 125th Street in Harlem, back in the day...I think that stopped or moved just before I left. Canal Street in Manhattan. Graham Avenue (pronounced grah-HAM) in Brooklyn. Jamaica Avenue in Queens. My personal favorite was 125th Street. My mom used to go to art galleries to buy African masks, and would spend a fortune, until she realized that I had a couple of matching pieces that I had bought for a lot less by going to 125th Street! She would call me to find out when I was going again and give me the money to buy her some masks. The vendors used to go to Africa and bring home tons of African art, and they would set up booths on 125th to sell to their own people, ignoring the art galleries altogether, thus eliminating the middle man and the mark up.

The funny thing is, I couldn't wait to get out of New York, years ago. I hated it, was sick of snow, just wanted to go. Now all I want is to go home.

Even funnier still, I went to college with a woman who had done a study of people who left their home states and how they felt about the change. She said the results of the study were that the people who were most loyal to their home state no matter where they lived and usually wound up moving back were people from Oregon, and people from New York. The New Yorkers, she said, were pretty much fanatical. Well, I can't say that isn't true!

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