Friday, May 11, 2012

Road Trip through Upstate New York

New York City is such a giant vacuum-sucking black hole of attention-seeking (for Canadian equivalent, see Toronto) that all other parts of New York state are often referred to as Upstate New York, even if it's not actually that far up the state (for an example, see my hometown in Ulster County).

We took the long way down to downstate New York, stopping off at various spots upstate. On the first night, we pulled into Syracuse to stop for the night. This was the first time we've come here for a non-shopping purpose. My dad had found a deal on a really nice hotel room in a quiet and uneventful part of town. I was dying for a beer but the only thing around here are three strip clubs, a Chucky Cheese's, and the highway. Like the last time I stayed in Syracuse, there is no other place to go.  The tuck shop does not sell beer but it does have Korean kimchi ramen noodles. I slept early.

In the morning, we hit the road and moved on. We stopped for lunch near Albany, which was unremarkable as usual.

Finally, we arrived in Highland, Ulster County, the town where we used to live, twenty years ago.

Broke into the old apartment
This is where we used to live
Broken glass, broke and hungry
Broken hearts and broken bones
This is where we used to live

Why did you paint the walls?
Why did you clean the floor?
Why did you plaster over the hole I punched in the door?
This is where we used to live

-Barenaked Ladies, "The Old Apartment"

Gloria's grade 1 class at Highland Elementary School. I'm sitting next to Michael Massetti, my first boyfriend.

September, 1991: On the other side of the country, Nirvana released the pivotal album Nevermind, with lyrics that caught the spirit of the age, like: "Here we are now, entertain us / I feel stupid and contagious / Here we are now, entertain us." Meanwhile, elementary schoolgirl Gloria wrote in her journal:

"today is the first day at school. I'm learning that it's ok if we make mistakes. I like my teacher! I want to be an artest."

Dear little Gloria, it's not okay to make mistakes - that's when you get sued. By the way, you grow up and decide that artists are hippies and you'd rather be a lawyer. But what do you know? On November 4, 1992, you wrote: "Today we have a new president. Name: Bill Clinton. How I feel: bad. What he's gona do: rase taxes." Oh, little Republican Gloria.

Highland, Ulster Country, New York, is a tiny dot on the American landscape. Its current population is 5000, who knows what it was twenty years ago. It often serves as a commuter town for people working in the big exciting city of Poughkeepsie across the Hudson River. For me, it was sweet carefree childhood years of playing with rocks by myself outside of my isolated home, hating Democrats, walking to the grocery store, borrowing Baby-Sitters Club books from the old public library, and dreaming that one day we would have neighbours.

Re-visiting my old childhood stomping grounds now, I barely recognized our old home. The old neighbourhood had finally been developed, like crazy. We finally had neighbours! Lots of them! Also, our old house had been renovated and extended.

Consider the difference:

sometime in the 90s

also sometime in the 90s: my old backyard.

May, 2012

my backyard: someone else's swingset!

What the what.

We took a drive through "downtown" Highland, which is kind of like saying "downtown" Carp. My old elementary school was still there, as my favourite library housed in an old house. We saw Madeleine's Dance School, where I'd had my very, very, very short ballet career. I'd missed the beautiful hills of Highland, having lived in flat Ottawa since. I couldn't help but think about how different my life would have been if we had stayed here instead of moving to Ottawa. I might have been one of those teenagers loitering in front of the gambling hall. Living in such a small town in the middle of nowhere, I might have felt even more like a Bruce Springsteen song (Canadian teens growing in Canadian suburbs relate to the Arcade Fire instead). I might have turned out to be Republican.

small town highland

my old school!

my favourite library

the old chinese restaurant we used to go to was still there.

this playground was NOT there when I was a kid. Back then, we had more hardcore playgrounds made out of woodplanks that kids got their limbs and heads stuck in. Now it's all about safe plastic play structures. Today's kids are wimps.

Broke into the old apartment
Tore the phone out of the wall
Only memories, fading memories
Blending into dull tableaux
I want them back

-Barenaked Ladies

Afterwards, we still had one more stop to make: Woodbury Commons. Because our family can't go a whole trip without shopping.

Woodbury Commons is a bizarre land of capitalist dreams designed to look like a quaint small American town, but instead of Ye Olde Hardware Shoppes and diners, the stores are Gucci, Burberry, and an "Armani General Store", whatever that is. All this consumerist culture felt weird coming from Africa.

The Coach store was full of Korean ajumas as usual. I felt lost. I already have a Coach wallet, clutch, purse, handbag, and scarf, so would else could I possibly need? Coach should start making Coach brand guitar cases and gig bags. Because realistically, how many Coach purses does a girl need? So I bought an Armani exchange handbag, on which I immediately spilled Yoohoo. Remember Yoohoo drinks? Of course you don't. You didn't grow up in 'Merica. Ah, the memories.