there used to be an oak tree here
there used to be an oak tree here
Someone once said to me that Long Island is a place that, no matter where you want to go, it's ten minutes away in any direction. Movies, food, chain stores, drive-thru fast food all within a quick drive no matter which way you turn your car.
That was a long time ago. Before the suburban population explosion, before highways and even side streets became nothing more than slow moving parking lots. Ten minute drives have turned into half hour crawls filled with exhaust fumes and thumping sub-woofers.
The sprawling expanse of the suburbs is gone. Every open space I remember from my childhood is filled to the brim with strip malls and office buildings and houses too huge to look anything but gaudy.
In the subsequent years, that main road has gone from two lanes to four and the wooded area is now crammed with split-level homes, all with the same stone face. I don't know what happened to the flasher. Maybe he moved to a less crowded place.
Even on Hempstead Turnpike, which is sort of the main drag of of Nassau County, running from Queens into Suffolk County, there used to be wide open spaces.
There was one spot that was nothing but tall green grass, back when it still looked like the suburbs around here. Now it's a string of yogurt shops and pizza parlors and video stores. I can barely remember what it looked like before the mall mentality took over.
The buildings are getting taller and wider. Huge glass structures stand where fields of flowers once thrived. Trees give way to Home Depots and mega supermarkets where you can buy 40 different flavors of cream cheese. I would give up my cream cheese with chives or or strawberries just to have one space that isn't filled with cement.
The quiet I remember as a kid is gone. Summer days used to pass by with a soundtrack of air conditioners humming, the shrill bell of the ice-cream truck and kids splashing and yelling in their backyard pools. All I hear now is the roar of traffic on the neighboring main roads. Screeching tires and angry car horns and huge semis that make the ground rumble.
Driving is a nightmare. A quick run to 7-11 means a five minute wait to try to make the left turn into traffic. Going to the post office is an exercise in frustration as I manuever around the double-parkers and the line of cars waiting at the light.
The buildings are larger. The bookstores and grocery stores more expansive. The houses are getting bigger and bigger, people buying up little ranch homes, tearing them down, and building houses that belong in some other neighborhood where all the driveways are filled with BMWs, not 10 year old pick up trucks. There are no yards, just lots packed with as much brick and cement and aluminum siding as it can handle, and the bedroom window of one breathes down the neck of the kitchen window of the next.
Doesn't anyone want a yard anymore? Do people spend all their time in their houses - or out of their houses and clogging the roadways - so that there is no need for the nice grassy backyard with a swingset and a barbecue and maybe a basketball hoop?
The homes all look the same now. Gone are the days when the neighborhood was a mixture of different facades and you could tell one friend's house from another. Whole communities pop up where fields used to be. Every house looks the same except for the number on the mailbox. Even the cars look the same, giant SUVs that are large enough to hold another small car inside of them.
My junior high school was torn down and turned into one of those Stepford towns. My father's grade school was torn down and turned into an apartment complex. The huge field where they used to set up a Christmas tree sale every November is now a Target and a coming-soon Mega Stop -n-Shop. There is a drug store on every corner, a diner every half mile, a Starbucks every ten feet. We are the land of excess.
Where did my neighborhood go? Where did all the flowers go? I miss the days of leisurely drives to the beach or the park. There is no such thing as a leisurely drive anymore. I dread turning onto the main road because I know what awaits me.
I miss the surburbs. I'm still here, but the whole idea of the suburbs is gone. This is a min-city now, and no matter where you are standing you are an hour's wait in traffic away from anything you need. Even if that place you need to get to is only a half mile away.