Sunday, July 18, 2010

To the Bronx and back again

Friday, July 2

Much as I love the city and all it has to offer, this small town girl has to escape the hustle and bustle every so often.  This morning, I make my first foray into the outer boroughs.  Today's destination: City Island and Pelham Bay Park.  It's literally as far as the New York metro will take me on the 6 train, all the way to the northeast edge of the Bronx.  

The trip out takes over an hour, and for the first time since arriving in New York, I take a train far enough out of Manhattan for it to travel above ground.  I feel like I'm in a movie.  The Bronx is as tough-looking as Hollywood makes it out to be--and then some.  I pass block after block of worn-out old brick and concrete buildings.  Every inch of their facades within arm's reach--from the ground, rooftops, fire escapes, and windows--is covered in graffiti.  The face of this neighborhood would be nothing more than a blur of forgotten grays and browns if not for the shock of spray paint.  Falling-down chain-link fences rust and make feeble attempts at security with their tangles of razor wire and decades-old barbed wire.  This is the ghetto, and I can't imagine the lives of kids growing up here.  I can't help but feel ashamed of myself, sitting neatly on my seat in the train, all bright and optimistic in my floral sundress and mustard yellow purse.  For miles, mine is the only white face I see.  You don't realize the consequences of gentrification until you experience this kind of segregation, clearly grandfathered in and cemented for future generations by white, upper-class bureaucracy.  My frustration ties a big knot in my chest, and I try not to blame myself for being born into a life of opportunity.

After listening through Jess's 2010 mix a couple times, I arrive at my destination and catch a bus to City Island.  It's tiny.  Only about a mile and-a-half long and half a mile wide.  There is literally one main road running down the center, and all the side streets are dead ends.  It doesn't take me long to figure out that here are no public beaches here, but it's fun to walk around for a while anyway.  For a moment, I almost feel like I'm back in a small town on Puget Sound.

Along the way, I come across the City Island  Little League Anthony Ambrosini Field, "Home of Champions." It reminds me of Mitchell playing Cal Ripken little league with the Diamondbacks at the VFW field.  Those boys had the best cheerleaders ever--loud and proud moms and sisters shaking empty pop cans full of rocks.  That seems like ages ago.  I wish they could all stay little.

At the far end of the island, I discover City Islands comfort food hot-spot.  Apparently, this Johnny guy owns the entire end of the island.  No joke.  He has three different restaurants bearing his name.  All of them serve deep, DEEP fried food to the masses--well, if you can consider a population of 4,500 "the masses."  This looks like the town mecca for fish and chips, fried okra, and collard greens.  Johnny must be doing something right, because the place has been open for 40 years, and it's packed.  While I'm sure the regulars love Johnny's fare, I decide not to subject my stomach to the deep fryer.  Probably a smart choice.

On my way back from the end of the island, I pass an elderly couple taking a stroll with their walkers.  They move along at a snail's pace, side-by-side, until I walk by and the man drops back to let me by.  After passing them, I turn around and snap a picture.  Too adorable to miss.  They've probably lived here for eighty years.  If I have to resort to a walker in my old age, I hope I have someone like this who makes everything alright. :)  

I catch the bus headed for the subway station and stop off in Pelham Bay Park along the way.  It's gorgeous with all kinds of green--trees, flowers, grass, wetlands, all made even better by a fresh breeze and sunshine.  

At the far edge of the park is Orchard Beach, a popular spot for Bronx families trying to escape the heat of stuffy high-rise apartments.  Again, mine is one of a handful of white faces on a beach filled with hundreds of New Yorkers sprawled out under their umbrellas, building sand castles, and splashing in the less-than-pristine waters of Pelham Bay.

I dawdle around the beach for a little while, scrunching the sand between my toes and grinning at all the cute kids.  But before long, it's time for me to head home.  Sad as it sounds, my over-cautious self tells me I should be back in Manhattan before dark.  I wish I didn't feel this way.  But then again, I shouldn't make Mom worry.

*For more photos of today's trip, check out page 2 of my facebook album:!/album.php?id=59402424&aid=2041404&s=20&hash=90285135a8e7ee3b3bad4aff5503de32

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