It was 1988 when I returned home to introduce my mother-in-law to my home-town of Tottenville. It was her first trip to N.Y.C. It was her first trip to America! Sheís from a tiny farm village in Germany, (pop. 400) where the animals outnumber the people by a LARGE margin. Driving home from JFK, dodging potholes on the Belt Parkway, I was in my element, just happy to be home again. My mother-in-law wasnít very impressed about what she saw on the B.P. Abandoned, torched cars and trash. After about 10 minutes, first thing she said was, "This is New York? We have better roads in Germany!" Not wanting to appear that I agreed with her, (I mean sheíd only been there for 10 minutes!) I came back with, "Are you kidding? NY is famous for itís potholes! It doesnít get any better than this!" That got me a confused and somewhat dirty look from my wife. (She knew what I was up to.) It didnít bother me though, I had ĎPLJ on the radio, and after 2 years, the reunion with my family was within the hour. When we got to the Brooklyn side of the VZ, she looked around in awe at the inter-twining under and overpasses and all dem BIG buildings you can see as we topped the bridge ramp. From a distance, the place looked just like all those picturesque NYC posters you can buy! That was the NY I wanted to show her. I showed her around the island and went to all the popular tourist sites in Manhattan. It was sad to see just how much the city had deteriorated since I left. I too noticed the foul smelling, trashy parking lots and residential streets. I was almost embarrassed because I couldnít answer my mother-in-laws seemingly simple question. "Why donít the people sweep the street in front of their homes? If everybody did that, the whole street would be clean, every street would be clean!" "That just isnít done here," I said. "Thatís obvious!" she countered, "but why?" "I donít know" I said. I quickly had to admit that this was not the way it was when I grew up there. Oh, SI had itís problems, but it wasnít THIS bad! That instance was just the tip of the iceberg. Now I had seen some pretty weird stuff while growing up in NY, but I wasnít prepared for what I saw in mid-town and lower Manhattan. It was gonna be really difficult explaining to my mother-in-law and wife what all those card-board boxes were used for in the playgrounds, on park benches and on the sidewalks! We saw them while riding the bus up to mid-town. (There were dozens of Ďem!) I didnít have to explain anything though, it became quite obvious in no time at all. We came across a few boxes that werenít empty. I thought for a moment, "Even our dog has a house. Why are so MANY people sleeping on the street?" I always remembered seeing an occasional hobo or bag lady, most of Ďem hung around the ferry terminals, but there werenít many. One corner of the South Ferry was crammed with people wrapped up in sleeping bags and blankets in the middle of the afternoon! I just wondered what my mother-in-law thought, but didnít dare ask. I wasnít too proud of what my home town had become. Well, we saw all the sites and had a nice time and all that fun stuff, but I knew I could never go back to the city to live. Not when you couldnít tell the dump apart from the rest of the city! In Ď90 we all heard about the young man from Utah, killed while defending his mom from muggers in a subway station. Statistically speaking, the cityís crime rate may not have been at an all time high, but it was never more obvious! One of the major national news mags showed an apple rotted to the core on itís front cover. That picture was certainly worth a thousand words, and truer words were never spoken.
Itís 1998. I was home last in 96, and the improvements were very noticeable. Many of the streets are cleaner, the police are walking a beat (at least in Tottenville!) (I thought they only did that in da movies!), entire neighborhoods that were once crime ridden, have been reclaimed! News reports speak of the astounding improvements made in NYC, and I hear the same from family and friends who are still there. (Now here comes the really unbelievable part!) I even renewed my drivers license at DMV in only 20 minutes!!!! (Thatís no typo folks, I mean TWENTY minutes!) (and the clerk was actually friendly! Ok, ok... I know thatís pushing it a little... but he wasnít unfriendly! He was, more like... a robot. Not friendly, not unfriendly, but p-o-l-i-t-e. (I guess if they can build a 50 mile bike trail on a 14 mile rock, nothing is impossible right?) I mean... I had dedicated an entire day to renew my license, and was outtaí there by 9:30AM! Whoís responsible for all this change? The people of NY, probably. The politicians? Wellll, Iím sure they all played some role, and some deserve more credit than others, but the bottom line is that it has become quite obvious to everyone that NYC is a much better place now than it was just 10 years ago! I hope to go back there again next year on vacation... and Iím even thinking about inviting my mother-in-law. (Ugggghhhhh...:)
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