Finally back on terra firma for the summer. Traveled to Atlanta and Seattle since we last spoke. Hadn’t been to either of those cities in quite some time. Both have radically changed since last time I dropped by. Same as New York City, I suppose. Friends talking about being priced out of the neighborhoods they either grew up in or have lived in for the past few decades.
I learned metro Atlanta is apparently now one of the fastest growing areas in the country, expected to grow by another three million people over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, according to some other study, Seattle, the undisputed metropolis of the Pacific Northwest unless you’re asking someone from Portland, was identified as second most drastically gentrified city in the United States over the past decade.
Oddly enough, 25 years ago, “gentrification” was hardly the household term it is today. These days, good luck talking about cities, rent, race and $5 bougie coffee without it.
I was always dubious about Billy Joel’s claim that he’d sooner hop on a Greyhound to Poughkeepsie than catch a flight to Miami but as I was heading home from Albany on the Maple Leaf along the Hudson River I started thinking about summer in Bay Ridge.
As a kid, growing up, summer was never a verb. We never “summered” anywhere except maybe a Sunday jaunt to Coney Island. We lived in an apartment overlooking the Verrazzano (with two z’s) so Shore Road Park was my backyard and I was the luckiest kid in the world. We made the occasional trip to Long Beach or Montauk which was my favorite. Driving out east in the back of my dad’s RCA-issued Ford Tempo. CBS-FM 101.1 oldies the whole way there. Al Meredith, Ron Lundy, Cousin Brucie, Bobby Jay and Daaaaan Ingram!
These days, some of my good friends summer in Breezy, the Hamptons, the Jersey Shore… but for me, I still summer on bucolic Marine Avenue. And I’ll tell ya, Bay Ridge, walking along Third Avenue on those slow Sunday summer mornings, it’s hard not to imagine when you were just a sleepy little beach town tucked tight into Brooklyn’s southwest corner. Back when Brooklyn still felt like its own city, or more like a little town in the shadow of the Manhattan skyscrapers. The Belt Parkway was still a beach and all there was to see from Shore Road was sea and sand.
Still, on some mornings, when I close my eyes real tight, from beyond the sun-kissed red tiled Spanish roofs, I swear I can almost hear the cubed ice chime in Lillian Russell’s chilled cocktail glass and smell the bittersweet cigar smoke twisting from “Diamond” Jim Brady’s gold ashtray as they summered in Bay Ridge.
They called you the “Gold Coast” in the Gilded Age when the rich came in droves to escape the pressures that came along with being robber barons or their nine performances a week (including matinees on Wednesday and Saturday) and while away their summers soaking in the sun at your bay breeze resorts.
You were something like a private island at the edge of Brooklyn. And as I’m walking to Paneantico for a strong cup of black gold on those early summer mornings, I think of you fondly, lost in the mists of time.
For that matter, I remember when Paneantico was an ice cream parlor called Zipz, where mom and dad hosted many a birthday party for yours truly. Our parties were wild but with endless soft-serve, fists full of Swedish Fish and a baker’s dozen of second graders from P.S. 185, what did you expect!?
As Brannan family lore has it, one year the owners of Zipz sweetly pulled my parents aside and artfully suggested that maybe next year we take the circus elsewhere. They were right. We complied.
When I was a kid, summer in Bay Ridge smelled like leaky toy water guns and Wiffle ball. Manhunt on Oliver Street was a popular pastime followed by more ice cream from Sid who drove the Good Humor truck.
It’s hard not to reflect upon simpler times when the world feels off its axis. But then again everyone is wistful for the simpler times or rather for the days we assume surely must have been much less complicated than life as we know it now.
What can you do – life changes and time marches on. For that matter, one could certainly make the argument that many of the world’s problems seem to stem from those longing for a past that never even existed in the first place.
Remember, it’s the present that matters. Nobody is promised tomorrow. This summer, keep your friends and family close. If you love someone, tell them. If you’re sorry, reach out. Let the grudges go. Try to enjoy every ice cream cone. You can always close your eyes and wrap yourself in yesterday but someday tomorrow will be too late.
Justin Brannan is a community activist, born and raised in Bay Ridge. He and his wife Leigh own a small business on Third Avenue.