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It’s tough to get to, shaped like a kidney, and mostly forgotten in city politics. Some say it has more in common with New Jersey than New York, and for years Staten Island has been, to use a phrase popular on the Rock, the red-headed stepchild of the city. Still, nearly 500,000 people call it home, a population larger than Miami’s, or Buffalo’s, or Cleveland’s (where’s our NFL team?), so it must have something going for it.
Everything in life is a trade-off, and Richmond County is no exception. Here are some things this born and bred Staten Islander loves, and hates, about life on the Island.
And to think, most of it was supposed to be a highway. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, Robert Moses wanted two of his beloved parkways to crisscross the center of the Island, a move that would have destroyed acres of forest and the city’s only Boy Scout camp. But environmentalists stepped up, fighting the city’s aging Power Broker and saving an area now cherished by Islanders who hike its trails, swim in its fresh-water pond, and, on occasion, illegally hunt deer there.
It’s free, it’s relaxing, there’s booze, a breeze, and incredible views from all sides. Just don’t order a hamburger from the snack bar. Those are disgusting.
The Verrazano-Narrows is a sight to behold. The Bayonne reminds us of Australia, even though we rarely use it (who needs to go to Bayonne, New Jersey?) The Goethals is pronounced two different ways, depending on how long you’ve live here (Go-thals for real old-timers, Goth-als for baby boomers who moved here from Brooklyn). And the Outerbridge is a Crossing, not a bridge, because it’s named for a guy named “Outerbridge,” and Outerbridge Bridge is redundant. They all take us off the Rock, and bring us back when we come home.
I love Paulie Gee's in Greenpoint as much as the next guy. But the fact is, Staten Island had the best pies and slices in the city before places like Roberta’s brought “New American” pies to the five boroughs. For my money, you can’t get a better pie then plain at Lee’s Tavern in Dongan Hills.
Backyards with pools
Next to gasoline, chlorine is the most important “natural” resource on the Island. Anyone that can shoehorn a 15-foot-round pool in their backyard has done so to create their little piece of paradise. Don’t believe me? Take the Staten Island Railway from the ferry to Tottenville in the middle of August and look out the window. You’ll see what I mean. And those that can’t fit a pool are still welcome to have a party “out back” come Labor Day — or for Allison’s wedding.
Historic Richmond Town
Only on the Rock would they take every historically relevant house, lift them off their foundations, and haul them all to the former center of municipal government for the area.
Surprisingly, it worked. We still head over every Christmas for the candlelight walk through the filled village with Islanders dressed in colonial garb.
Most post-1964 homes were built on 40-by-100 lots with a garage and car port for a reason. Oh, and that space in front of our house. That’s ours as well, so don’t park there. Islanders love to drive, but it’s not our fault. The city never built that subway they promised.
Kill, Kills, Kills
Statistically the safest borough to live in crime-wise, Staten Island still has a lot of kills, the Dutch word for creek. There's Fresh Kills, Arthur Kill, the Kill Van Cull, and my favorite, Great Kills. Growing up in Eltingville (which the cool kids called E-Ville) it didn’t dawn on me that we lived next to a neighborhood with such an… interesting name until I was in my 20s. But we won’t go swimming in any of them. That’s living dangerously.
Who knew the could swim? Just like a lot of our smog and pollution, they come from Jersey. But like everyone that came from Brooklyn, they seem to like it here. With no natural predators besides SUVs, they will become more and more of a problem, and could end up destroying our inland forests if more isn’t done to control their out-of-control population.
No, you could never see it from space with the naked eye, but that doesn’t take away the shadow New York City’s last and largest landfill cast over the Borough of Parks. The dump made us a punchline for years when it was open, and we've never forgotten it. It still smells sometimes on a hot August night, but not nearly as bad as it did back in the day. And now it’s going to become Freshkills Park, which, at the very least, is aptly named.
The bane of our existence. Rush hour is from dawn to dusk, with back-ups worst during school drop off and pick up. Things get a little better during the summer, but you can never plan a trip without setting aside more time than you think you need to get from one part of the Island to another.
Possibly worse than traffic. Yeah, we always get a break on the Verrazano (Staten Island residents pay a reduced toll), but as far as we are concerned, it should cost a hell of lot less to get a 4,000 pound piece of machinery and a family of five across a narrow waterway. Hasn’t that bridge paid for itself already?
It is our number-one preventable disease. I’m no psychologist, but something happens to people when they get behind the wheel of a car. My guess is the mind thinks the car is an extension of the body, and any infraction against it must be met with aggression. If you come too close, drivers overreact. If you don’t move fast enough, they hit the horn and yell. And if you sneak into that parking spot at the mall I was about to take, I will kill you.
Everybody needs to relax. Maybe they should hop on the ferry. Just don’t eat the burger.
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