There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Excerpt from The Beatles great song In My Life
If you looked off in one direction, you could see the Statue of Liberty raising her hand in defiance against the skyline, if you looked off in the other, you could see the majestic towers of the Verrazanno Narrows Bridge and if you stared straight ahead what you saw is a body of land called Staten Island. Once upon a time you could see these too.
Beyond that there was someplace that was known only to us locals as "Jersey".
Most people probably have a preset mental image when it comes to picturing Brooklyn, New York. I would be willing to bet that image, for the most part, includes crowded streets, run down buildings and various types of street thugs lurking on every corner just waiting to take advantage of somebody who wandered into their territory.
Maybe that image is a bit of a stereotype. After all, it’s how it’s depicted on countless movies and television shows and is described in books and magazines. I guess the seedier side of things is an easier sell to the general public. I’m not here to take issue with that. It is what it is. No, I’m here to tell you about my little slice of heaven growing up in a section of Brooklyn known as Bay Ridge and specifically a park called Shore Road.
It was my oasis…
The park itself stretches for about five miles along the Brooklyn waterfront known as “The Narrows”. It’s probably no coincidence that I grew up on Narrows Avenue and was just a stones throw from the park and all it had to offer. (If you bothered to click on the link, no, that’s not my boyhood home. It’s a local legend that is affectionately known as The Gingerbread House.)
Anyway, The Narrows is the body of water that separates Brooklyn from Staten Island and is a major entranceway for all ships making their way into the New York Harbor. The park is home to baseball diamonds in the summer, football fields in the winter, basketball courts and roller hockey rinks are open year round. There were swing sets, monkey bars, seesaws and sandboxes for the younger kids to play in. The actual street that that bordered the park was called, not unsurprisingly, Shore Road and rather than your average everyday street was lined with cobblestones along the entire route. To this day I swear I can still feel my teeth rattle as I rode my bicycle along the entranceway to the park.
Speaking of entranceways, even though they were never closed, me and my cronies often preferred to “hop the fence” to get quicker access to the park itself. This entailed climbing over some pretty mean spikes and I can still remember one of my friends getting impaled and having to be carted off in an ambulance. That was the end of that.
Along the way, there were bridges that crossed you over the Belt Parkway and gave you access to a bicycle path. From there you could ride your bike all the way to Coney Island and along the way you might see people casting their lines over the guard rail in hopes of landing a fish or just out for a picnic with the family.
In the days of my youth and if only in my imagination Shore Road Park was where I hit my first home run, scored my first touchdown, sank my first buzzer beater and rammed in that first goal.
As I got older and real life began to take over, it’s also where I landed my first kiss, copped my first feel, smoked my first cigarette, took a swig of my first beer, inhaled my first hit of pot and endured my first acid trip.
Is anything as good as it feels or tastes when you’re doing it for the first time?
For reasons unknown I haven’t been back to my old stomping grounds in close to twenty years. Maybe it’s because I’d like to leave those memories intact because when I get to thinking about it I can still feel the grass under my feet and the salty smell of the ocean on warm summer nights.
If I were to go back though I doubt I’d try and re-live any of the escapades of my past. I just hope the park is as alive today as it was back then.
These days, I’d probably be much more content to just watch the sunset and bask in the warmth and safety of my childhood.
Respectfully submitted in conjunction with Up My Street (A Quest for Local Knowledge),
Dammit, it looks like I jumped the gun in submitting this for the quest. Oh well, gotta strike while the iron is hot.