Current affairs

My Hometown: Thoughts on Sandy


 “People would rather live in homes regardless of its grayness. There is no place like home.”

― L. Frank BaumThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz

I’ve been thinking all week whether there was anything I could write about Sandy and its devastation to the east coast.  Was there something I could say that hasn’t been said this week (not really) or that I just wanted to get off my chest?  I sat down on Friday to write something about the meaning of the word selfish and how it applied to all of those involved in the NYC marathon – I opened up my laptop and saw breaking news that Mayor Bloomberg canceled the race and didn’t think I could therefore add anything.  As a PR guy I only wish he had come out and said something like, “I made an incredibly bad decision to try to hold the marathon this weekend and put many people – including the runners – in a terribly difficult position.  I’m really sorry that I didn’t cancel the race earlier which was a fairly obvious thing to do.  I’m now substituting that bad decision with a good one and canceling the race.”

View of the Verrazano Bridge from Midland Beach hit very hard by Sandy

View of the Verrazano Bridge from Midland Beach hit very hard by Sandy

I also thought of writing something on my love/hate relationship with social media and how it’s an amazing source of news from friends/family and officials, but at the same time, I have issues that my twitter feed last week was filled with requests from news outlets to “send us your photos of others people misfortune.  Go out into the hurricane so we can post your Instagram photo but remember be safe.”  I’m sorry, but if news outlets have no problem sending photographers to Bagdad, they can figure out a way to get photos of the devastation without asking citizens to do it for them.  I have no issue with people taking photos, I have a problem with the request (perhaps more on that at a later date).

I thought about writing about climate change, but I really know very little about the subject except that it’s pretty obvious something’s going on.  Perhaps 5-10 other topics came into my head, such as why hurricanes have names – are they trying to humanize them?  Tornadoes and earthquakes don’t have names.  And why people names? I think we’d all be fine if the hurricane was a number.  By the way, you can read this if you’re interested in the history of hurricane names.http://www.history.com/news/why-do-hurricanes-have-names

This says it all.  Taken in New Dorp Staten Island

This says it all. Taken in New Dorp Staten Island

As the week went on, it became obvious that my hometown of Staten Island was hit incredibly hard by the hurricane.  While my family is ok and just dealing with loss of power and long gas lines, many families on Staten Island are not nearly as fortunate.  Seeing your hometown – which is mostly considered the step-child of New York City – on CNN is actually quite scary.  It means something bad is happening.  The only other time I can remember seeing Staten Island on TV this much is following September 11 since so many firemen and police who went up the buildings were from SI.

I’ve never been particularly proud of being from Staten Island.  For me, it was a hometown that as soon as you could, you would leave, whether to New Jersey, Manhattan or in my case San Francisco – and, you know, try something grand.  I’m not sure what it was really: the lack of diversity, that it was oh so close to New York City, but just too far way to commute every day?  Was it because it was home to the largest garbage dump known to man?  Or maybe, it was none of the above and that kids just leave their hometowns – that’s what we do.  I know that when I visit “home”, I don’t go to Staten Island where my parents still live, but instead prefer to spend my time in New York City.

A scene only a few minutes from where I grew up

A scene only a few minutes from where I grew up

But, this week gave me a chance to think hard about my hometown.  Of the five boroughs, Staten Island is the one you would pick last for a kickball game. Manhattan is well, Manhattan – like comparing Modesto to San Francisco; Brooklyn is hip, the Bronx is tough and has the Yankees, and Queens, well I have no idea what Queens has, but most people think it’s more than Staten Island.  I regret that when a meet someone new, I tell them I’m from Brooklyn (technically correct) since it just sounds, well, cooler.  I’m sure I’m not the only one.  But, the thing is, you can never erase where you’re from, and I don’t want to.  Sure, I didn’t grow up on the upper West Side, but as I watch on TV the devastation of places I’ve been to so many times, it makes me realize just how much where I’m from means to me and how it shaped who I am.  It’s the moments in time that I shared with so many people that can’t be replaced even if the actual locations are washed away.  The countless baseball games at Great Kills Park, going for a run at Gateway, driving up and down Hylan Blvd to all the movie theaters, going with my mom to the kiddie amusement park by Father Capadano Blvd and playing skee-ball until my arms hurt, watching my brother fly his do-it-yourself rockets at Miller Field and running for cover as they inevitably went horizontal, bowling at Bowling on the Green and eating french fries, and perhaps, even, sitting on a life guard chair (not by myself) at Gateway beach on a Friday night listening to the waves, small as they were, come in.

Staten Islanders show their resiliency and get back up on their feet

Staten Islanders show their resiliency and get back up on their feet

My hometown is where I grew up.  My hometown shaped who I am and what I believe in.  My hometown is family and friends and Nunzio’s pizza on Midland Avenue.  My hometown is Staten Island.

Sandy can take away many of those places, but she can’t have the memories, only time has that kind of power.

Neil

P.S. A special “Man on Third” shout out to some of my friends on Staten Island, Long Island and New Jersey who are doing amazing, inspiring (and I don’t throw that word around lightly) work to help those who really need it.  You all define the word community.

Photos 1 and 3  courtesy of Flickr/Rob Gross
Photos 2 and 4 courtesy of Flickr/Denise Arroyo

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