October 18th, 2007

Jack of Queens

I love being out in the boroughs. Manhattan is awesome, but more a place I want to visit -- regularly, mind you -- than a place I want to live. But I would cheerfully abide for a long time in Brooklyn or Queens. My preference, as you might expect, would be where I'm staying right now, in an Astoria that has barely changed since I spent a week here each summer during my elementary school years in the 1970s. To be sure, the businesses have changed hands and signs. And there is a Starbucks now at 31st St. and Ditmars. In terms of feel, however, the place is almost exactly as I remember it from my youth. I realize now just how much my fondness for tourist-poor San Francisco neighborhoods like the Richmond, Sunset and Outer Mission was rooted in happy memories of my experiences here in Queens. As fraught as the adjective "real" is, I'm impelled to deploy it in describing everyday life here in a New York City that most visitors will never get to know. There's no trace of the tendency one sees in places tourists frequent to self-consciously live up to an external stereotype. The people you see on the street here, the people who run the stores and wait tables, they aren't seeking to perform themselves as denizens of a televised fantasy of the boroughs, though All in the Family and more recent shows do provide the raw material for such theatrics. No, as clichéd as this may sound, they're just being themselves. I now understand that I do love New York, but my Milton Glaser-designed heart is here, in the city that tourism campaign of my childhood overlooked.