Where were you in August of 1993? My wife and I, and our eldest son, age 21 months and climbing, were sweating it out on the third floor of a three-story walk-up apartment in glorious Flushing, New York. Flushing, for those of you who are not familiar, is the home of the New York Mets, and former home of the New York Jets, as well as the 1964 World’s Fair. In fact, you could see Shea Stadium, the one-time playing field of the very same Mets and Jets from our back window. We lived less than a half of a mile from Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, residence of the aforementioned ’64 World’s Fair. (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I myself attended the “1964 World’s Fair,” but in a baby carriage, and thus I have no recollection of the wonders of the world that were displayed at that fine gathering. I understand that they predicted that there would be touch-tone phones, personal computers, and colonies on the moon. Yeah right!)
While Flushing encompasses a vast swath of Queens, it is an area that varies greatly in both culture, as well as its socio-economic diversity. There are areas that allow one to feel as if they are living in suburbia, while other sections of Flushing have more of an urban texture. Many neighborhoods look a lot like the lower East Side of Manhattan might have appeared approximately 120 years ago, teeming with immigrants, and bustling with activity. The Main Street Station for the #7 train for example has as many residents of Chinese dissent as Manhattan’s famous Chinatown district.
However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I would be less than honest if I didn’t state categorically that there were certain sections of Flushing that were lacking in both romanticism and/or nostalgia. The neighborhood my wife and I lived in for example was sorely devoid of charm. A certain gentleman whose name escapes me at the moment described our particular neighborhood in Flushing thusly; “It possesses the worst aspects of both suburban and urban life.” Somewhere, Robert Moses was weeping, because this description regarding where we lived for roughly six years was remarkably spot-on.
Life in Flushing as it is with anywhere else, had its ups and downs, and as the downs began to supersede the ups, we made the decision that perhaps downstate living wasn’t for us. There were several issues that brought us to this conclusion. Summer in the City may be a catchy tune, but it’s not a recipe for enjoyment. In fact, summer in Flushing was one of the main reasons we decided to make our eventual move to the Capital Region.
The heat during the summer in any city south of Stockholm can be quite uncomfortable, and New York City is no exception. While we were fortunate enough to have an air-conditioner in our bedroom, the rest of the apartment could not accommodate air-conditioning, so we were forced to either sweat it out in the family room, or live like shut-ins within the confines of our bedroom. Sometimes on a really hot night we would bring in the “Pack ‘n’ Play,” and have our newborn son sleep in our room along with our two cockatiels. (I’m not sure why my wife insisted on this since I always thought cockatiels were tropical birds.)
Our decision to abandon New York City and its surrounding suburbs went beyond the heat. My wife is from a small town in Western, New York called Lakewood, which is kind of a suburb of Jamestown. (Calling Lakewood a suburb of Jamestown is the equivalent of calling Latham a suburb of Cohoes.) The crowds, traffic, and cost of living in the New York City metropolitan area was a bit more than she was looking for, and quite frankly, I felt the same way. I’m originally from North Massapequa on Long Island, but the lack of affordable housing on the island, coupled with the taxes made me consider that there may be alternatives to this lifestyle.
While cost and my wife’s background were major factors, there were other issues that were driving us out of the Downstate region. I was a teacher, and although I will always be grateful to J.H.S. 204, Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High School for giving me a chance when I had no experience, it wasn’t an easy gig to be sure, and I feared that a career spent teaching in the New York City public school system would lead to a case of burnout. But where should we relocate to? It’s a big state, and since New Jersey was out of the question, because it’s New Jersey, and Connecticut and Massachusetts are also expensive, it meant we were destined for Upstate, New York. (Which to me meant somewhere north of 214th street in the Inwood section of upper Manhattan.
My wife and I emanate from the two most distant geographical points in New York State, Long Island, and Jamestown. In fact, when she told me she was from Jamestown, I thought she meant Virginia. We met as students at SUNY Oswego, and once I had visited her home town, I realized that job opportunities there were few and far between, so we settled in Queens. Once we realized this lifestyle wasn’t for us, we decided to explore a more centralized location somewhere in between where our two families were located. Since Binghamton was geographically the midway point, we quickly ruled it out since it was after all, Binghamton.
This left us with Albany, Syracuse, or the Rochester area. Once I decided to become a teacher, it gave us much more flexibility on where we could settle, and since my wife was in human resources, she was also very relocatable professionally. I felt that Rochester was a little far from my family, and our friends, and Syracuse winters, like Oswego winters are pretty brutal, and as a non-skier, I didn’t really see the point in dedicating my life to snow removal, so it meant that the Capital Region of New York state was starting to look like the place to be. Would this area of New York state provide for us the fung shui we so desperately sought?
As somebody who grew up on Long Island, I confess that my knowledge of the Albany region, as it was with most places in Upstate, New York, pretty much consisted of rest areas along the New York State Thruway. Fortunately, a very good friend of mine from college had decided to give up the charms of his home city of Utica, and settle in Albany. We would frequently take the drive north from Flushing to visit him in the late 1980s, and what we found began to intrigue us. The housing was affordable, the taxes were reasonable, (Except for Niskayuna, which literally translates to “high taxes,” heh, heh. heh.) there were good school districts, and a nice combination of urban culture and diversity, as well as suburbs to raise a family, and large areas of rural and wooded enclaves. It was a little closer to my wife’s end of the state, and still close enough to New York City/Long Island should we desire to visit.
We began to consider seriously relocating to the Capital Region, and so we started to investigate suitable places to live. We checked out Guilderland, Latham, Niskayuna, and Clifton Park. There was something about Clifton Park that resonated with us. I liked that it had stores and restaurants that reminded me a little of North Massapequa where I grew up, but if you drove two minutes, you were in farm country. (Definitely not like North Massapequa.) In addition to all of these positive features, there were several nice apartment complexes that would constitute a huge improvement upon our three-story walk-up, located just off the runway at LaGuardia Airport. (We literally had to watch television with our finger on the remote volume button due to the frequency of the jets landing. For years, every minute or so, I would involuntarily raise my voice out of habit of having to shout over the planes flying directly over our roof. My therapist says that I’m doing much BETTER THESE DAYS.)
We decided that we would leave as soon as one of us received a decent job offer. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a burgeoning market for social studies teachers in the early ’90s in the Albany area, but fortunately, my wife was able to snag a job with Montgomery Ward, the old department store chain. (If you’re not familiar with “Montgomery Ward,” then you most likely were born after “The Beatles” broke up. If you’re not familiar with “The Beatles,” then please stop reading and go soak your head.) They not only gave her a generous offer, but they moved us for free, and gave her extra money on top of that. Plus she now had the honor of working in Northway Mall. They even packed for us. We moved into Hollandale Apartments in Clifton Park, where we now had a balcony, central air-conditioning, a washer/dryer in our building, a dishwasher, and were actually closer to retail stores than we were living in Flushing. Happiness, thy name is Clifton Park?
At any rate, despite our overall contentment with our new situation, there were still adjustments to be made. As a life-long resident of Long Island/New York City, I was going to have to figure a few things out. For example….
- Sports – Where was I going to get ’round the clock coverage of my beloved Mets and Jets? Was there a way to follow New York sports in the Capital Region?
- Pizza – I was leaving a place where literally there was an excellent pizza establishment on every corner, to live in a land of Pizza Hut. How was I going to fill the void?
- Chinese Food – Again, Chinese food restaurants of above-average quality lined the streets of New York City and Long Island like snow in Oswego, where do I now turn? Papa wants an egg-roll!
- Jewish Deli – It would have been easier to find a “Let’s Go Israel” flag in downtown Tehran than a kosher deli in the Capital Region.
- High School Sports – Sure, as a high school teacher, I was going to fully support and even get excited for the teams where I work. As a parent, I certainly would be invested in any team my own children played for. However, that is a far different cry from having to sit through 10 minutes of high school sports coverage on the local news waiting to find out if the Mets won. (Spoiler alert, they usually didn’t.)
- News – I grew up in an area with four major newspapers, and was an unabashed lover of Newsday, the newspaper of Long Island. Could the Times Union constitute a suitable substitute? (I will say that since December of 2014, their blog page which features “The Hoffman Files” certainly has people buzzing.)
- Museums – New York City has the best and most diverse collection of museums in the world. Albany has the New York State Museum. Every family member from my side as well as my wife’s has been taken there by us. I think we need a new museum.
- Howard Stern – I had been a Stern devotee since 1982, what would I do without him in the mornings? Oh wait, he’s being simulcast up here on 103.9, yeah baby!
- The Ocean – I practically grew up on Jones Beach on Long Island, now I’m over 180 miles away. Will Lake George satiate my needs?
- Friends and Family – Moving away from home meant finding new friends and learning to live with the idea that your family isn’t just a few minutes away. This was going to be an adjustment.
Certainly there have been bumps along the way, and there were obviously adjustments to make, but overall, my wife and I have never regretted our decision to make the move from downstate to upstate 25 years ago this August. Yes, living in the Capital Region after growing up on Long Island meant that there were some things that I was going to have to get used to, just as there were certain beloved aspects of Long Island and New York City I was going to have to learn to do without, at least on a regular basis, but overall, the Albany area has been good to the Hoffmans.
I look forward to writing and detailing my “View From The Middle” regarding all things Capital Region, as well as all of Upstate, New York, and even my old stomping grounds down on Long Island and New York City. We will compare, contrast, and revel in all that is New York here on Albany.com. I hope you enjoy.