Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Home sweet home

I was thinking the other day — it's something I try to do every so often, though not so often that I strain something — and it occurred to me that I've lived in just five places in my life, and that it might be fun to get the Google Earth images of the houses and say a few words about each. Why not? It seems like reasonable blog fodder when I don't feel like saying something about Ingmar Bergman or Ted “Tubes” Stevens or John Roberts, and am not in the mood to laugh at one of the few things Dick Cheney's done that's to laugh at. As usual, click on an image to see it in its full glory.

Brooklyn, NY

BrooklynHere's where I started, an apartment near Prospect Park. I used to sled and ice skate in the park in the winter, and on hot summer evenings the kids would play ball in front of the building while the adults stood around and talked and smoked. We left when I was five, so my memories from that time are scattered and vague. I remember that we lived on the sixth floor. I don't remember our phone number now, but I remember that I had so committed it to memory that when we moved to Florida and hadn't a telephone there yet, I was reciting the New York number when asked.

I visited the building some 23 years later, and it looked at the same time familiar and different. I recalled the façade of the building and the areas where we used to play, as well as the walkway over the road, off the northeast corner of the building. But there was graffiti there in 1985, where there'd been none before, and bars on the lower windows. The front door, freely open when I'd been there, could later only be opened by key. A resident arrived with groceries while I was looking around, and we had a chat about how things had changed, a popular conversation topic in New York.

Miami Beach, FL

Miami BeachWe lived in this apartment for about two and a half years, while I was in second and third grades. The green on the right of the image is a canal that separates our little island from the rest of the island of Miami Beach — a barrier island at the mouth of the Intracoastal Waterway. Collins Avenue and the beach are a short walk farther to the right, but more often I would use the public pool that you can see along the canal.

I went to school a little more than half a mile away (the map programs say it's 6 tenths of a mile), a 15-minute walk at a leisurely child's pace. And I did walk it, alone or with my friends, something that we don't allow kids to do today. That's sad, that we have to be afraid like that. I had many fun times stopping and playing with my friends along the way home, taking my time and enjoying the Florida afternoon sun.

Miramar, FL

MiramarDespite the name, the sea is not visible from here; it's a 20-minute drive away. I decided to show a big chunk to convey the real character — or lack thereof — of the section of Miramar where we lived. The area was developed by a single builder, who built all the houses as one of three models. Our was the “Monte Carlo”, the low-end model. I can't remember what they called the middle model. The high-end was called the “Saigon” (the house with the blue roof across the street is one of those, not that you could tell anything from the image, really, even if I gave you a closer zoom). The neighbourhood was very much made with a cookie cutter, with but minor variations in things. And the houses are, indeed, as close as they look: 10 feet (3 meters) apart.

The house was built for us, which means that my parents got to make a few minor changes to the standard plans and that we visited the developing shell frequently over the course of the months that it took. It's not that it really took many months to build the house (years, it seemed to me at that age), but that progress was slow: many houses were being built at the same time, and it seemed that things moved best on your house if you checked on it and complained frequently about the pace. Dad was good at that.

The row of apartments and parking lots along the main road, at the top of the image, weren't there when I lived there. Instead there was a long, grassy field and a row of trees — nice trees to climb and to build tree-forts in, and that's what we did. Another activity that I think we wouldn't allow kids to engage in unsupervised, today.

We moved here in the summer of 1965 (paying something like $16,500 for the house, which seemed a fortune at the time), and this is where I lived for the next nine years, and during breaks from college after that.

Gaithersburg, MD

GaithersburgAfter college I started my job at IBM, in 1977, and I moved to Gaithersburg. I lived in an apartment for a while, and bought this house in the early 1980s. It was ten minutes from the office, convenient to the Metro system when the Shady Grove station opened, and, well, just a nice neighbourhood. I liked the people who lived nearby.

I bought the house from a nice, retired couple, who decided to move to North Carolina. They were the first owners, having lived there for some 25 years. They'd planted asparagus and grapevines (concords, alas), and there was a great, old cherry tree that yielded quarts of sour cherries in June.

The area got so congested, though. Nearby farms were replaced by houses and strip-malls as the area grew, and the main highway toward DC, I-270, eventually (after I left) was widened from six lanes to twelve. I like the DC area a lot, but I really don't like the density, the congestion, the overdevelopment.

Peekskill, NY

PeekskillBut all that isn't why I left: I had an opportunity to transfer to IBM's Research Division, and I took it. That brought me here, just outside Peekskill, in 1988. And here I've been since, the longest time by far that I've lived anywhere. The image is clearly on a snowless winter's day, the deciduous trees — the vast majority — being devoid of foliage. My neighbours are hidden from me now, at this time of year, with the trees fully in leaf. It's a quiet area, and I like it.

Our perceptions of things are all relative, and that often amuses me. I think of this area not as rural, but as suburban. It used to be a place where denizens of The City would come out to their summer homes, but those are now farther afield, up in the Berkshires, perhaps, and this is now an area from which people commute to work in New York City. It's not the same suburban look as Nassau County, or Connecticut, or New Jersey, each of which has its own character. I like that it's very green and feels less crowded than it might, given the population density.

But I got a book about cheeses of the world, some ten years ago, and in its “American” section it talked about a Peekskill cheesemaker that was around then, an operation called Egg Farm Dairy. Steven Jenkins described the place as being “nestled in the verdant farming community of Peekskill, New York.” Well, perhaps from the perspective of someone who lives in Manhattan this is verdant, but Peekskill is a small city and I don't think anyone here would think of it as a farming community. The Egg Farm Dairy shop used to be across the street from the burn plant, not a particularly verdant setting.

I've written about New York's Hudson Valley before. It's a good place to live, with rolling hills and a great river, with plenty of hiking and outdoor things to do, but with New York City nearby, and all it has to offer. I won't be moving to North Carolina nor Florida nor Arizona when I retire. I don't know, I might go somewhere else... but I'll likely stay here.

And so I've come back, an hour's drive from where I started. Maybe it's true that life goes in cycles.

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