Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I Heart My Borough

A Bronx Cheer
Mitch Keller, New York Times, Sunday 1/23/05

(Follow link for full article)

Let's face it: The Bronx, though many of us love it and are happy to live in it, though it has a greatness and even a grandeur evident to all but the unseeing, is Nowheresville to those who care about address and appearances. There is not an arriviste alive who aspires to have "Bronx, N.Y." as an official address. The folks back home in Harrisburg would not be impressed.

The Bronx is, in fact, a place that many thousands of people have aspired only to escape. It shows up in the "humble beginnings" part of the American success story, never in the "glorious arrival" part (baseball excluded). What is an essential fact that celebrity fandom knows about people like Ralph Lauren, J. Lo and Colin Powell? Sure, they started in the Bronx, but they made it out...

I'm a 10463 Riverdalian, but when people ask me where I live, I say the Bronx. Why would I want to conceal my association with a place that has the Grand Concourse, City Island, the botanical garden, the world's most famous zoo, Fordham University, the real Little Italy, Yankee Stadium and more park space than any other borough?

When I have time to kill, what am I supposed to do? Ogle the opulence on upper Independence Avenue? I'd rather take the bus to Arthur Avenue and ogle the olive oils and cheeses. You can buy an excellent cigar in the market there that they make right in front of you. Or maybe I'll stroll down to 231st Street and Broadway in Kingsbridge for a pastrami sandwich or a slice...

OCCASIONALLY, in conversation with New Yorkers who know the city well and to avoid sounding disingenuous, I do say I live in Riverdale. But most of the time it's simply "the Bronx." That is also the address I give when I travel, when I'm talking to people in a roadhouse down South or checking in at some rural motel out West. In those places the words "Bronx, New York" almost always elicit a double take, for there is not an American alive who does not recognize them and, thanks mainly to movies and television, have a strong idea of the place they stand for. Inevitably there is a remark like: "Wow. The Bronx, huh?"

I try to be on my best behavior with these people - friendly, generous, attentive. I have found that saying I'm from the Bronx gives me a sense of almost emissarial responsibility. People from "New York" are everywhere, and people everywhere are used to them. It doesn't mean much.

But the Bronx - that is a statement. That's a friendly poke in the jaw. That snaps Wyoming moteliers wide awake late at night. That makes me a representative of two separate places I like a great deal, New York City and the underappreciated, often ridiculed borough I live in. It seems important to behave accordingly.

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