I spent a lot of time on the road, nearly 10 years of my life. I played guitar in a few underground bands. We recorded and released a bunch of albums and had a lot of great experiences. One night we’d be sleeping on a concrete floor and the next night they’d put us up in a five-star hotel. More than just about anything, it helped shape who I am today.
I was lucky enough to travel to over 50 countries across five continents with some of my best friends, meeting new people each night and talking until the sun came up about everything underneath it in places like Zagreb, Cape Town, Luxembourg and Auckland, all thanks to some original music we wrote in a cozy little basement on 71st Street between Colonial and Narrows.
I don’t think I truly fell in love with Bay Ridge until I began spending so much time away from it. I didn’t really appreciate what – and just how much – the neighborhood meant to me until I found myself spending eight out of 12 months a year touring the world.
When we first started touring, the Internet was still rubbing its eyes and waking up. Cell phones were the size of a loaf of bread and “GPS” sounded more like something related to indigestion. Sure, we had our trusty maps but once unfurled they were bigger than boat sails and a bit hard to read barreling down I-80 in the snow.
Instead of email, we licked stamps and sent postcards to let our families back home know that we were still breathing. Now I’m not gonna tell you I walked three miles to the old schoolhouse, barefoot, in the snow, but, looking back, touring during those days wasn’t easy. We had to make things up as we went along. Looking back, I’m amazed we managed to go as far as we did and survive as long as we did “on the road.” .
I got homesick from time to time. I used to send my mother postcards saying, “Put the water on.” It was my way of saying start boiling the water for the ravioli from Pastosa, I’ll be home soon. I used to stare out the window on those endless Autobahn drives. It was tough — listening to Bob Dylan singing about being stuck in Alabama with the Tennessee blues, when here I was, a struggling musician in Germany with the Brooklyn blues again.
I had to face it, chasing my dreams aside, I missed the old neighborhood. I missed the tree-lined streets, the pizza from Nino’s, the secret back alleyways I ran up and down playing Manhunt as a kid, that little patch of grass outside the apartment complex on Oliver Street that we declared our football field – it even had a v-shaped tree that made for a perfect field goal!
Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t trade a single second of it and if I had to do it all over again, I’d do it exactly the same. Being the first American band to play in Zagreb after the Croatian War of Independence is not something you get to do very often. Hearing a crowd sing along to every word of a song you and your best friends wrote in a basement on the other side of the world not too far from an R train stop, was an inexplicable experience.
Meeting kids who loved our music so much that they proudly wore our lyrics as tattoos is not something you can easily forget. Hell, even being strip-searched in Austria because a border guard mistook a green Tic Tac mint for an LSD pill makes for a great campfire story. (For the record, most of us in the band were proudly vegetarian and drug-free. We’ll get to that later.)
It’s long been taught by the book of love, but now some scientists actually believe absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. I know even though I was just a kid from Brooklyn being afforded all these wild opportunities thanks to music, I couldn’t help but long for my old routines in Bay Ridge.
I missed Bay Ridge while on the road, just as now, as an adult living in Bay Ridge, I still miss those chilly walks home on Shore Road after playing street hockey all day or the sweet smell of fresh cut grass on opening day with St. Pat’s little league.
Which all goes to prove that one thing is certain: life moves fast. Really fast. So hold onto all those good memories tightly. And, Ma, don’t forget to put the water on.
Justin Brannan is a community activist, born and raised in Bay Ridge. He and his wife Leigh own a small business on Third Avenue.