stephen shore

Image Source: Stephen Shore

Ain’t nothin’ here on the outskirts. The gold rush done left, if it ever even got here. Times are hard, an’ the town is beat. I’m hopin’ for a comeback, but…

I’m hangin’ on here, chargin’ half a buck a cut. That new place next county over, the one that’s chargin’ two bucks for a razor cut, they’ve taken some of my business, but I got my loyal customers. They just want a good, honest trim and a good honest price. Don’t know where I’d be without them. I’m lucky enough to own my buildin’, so I don’t gotta worry about rent and all. And it’s just me, so I ain’t gotta pay any salary. But still, with maintenance an’ upkeep, it ain’t easy.

But we all help each other out around here, as much as we can. That’s the nice thing about this town. Got a real sense of community here. Course most of us is just as hard up as the other. It’s been bad since the factory shut down. Lot of good people got thrown out of work, and it’s been a hard go of it since. But we’re proud. We take care of each other.

I do what I can. Sometimes someone in town is a little hard up, I only charge two bits. Sometimes I don’t charge nothin’. It’s a little bit I can do, an’ it all comes out in the wash. Maybe one day I’m the one that’s a little hard up, an’ where would I be then? So it all evens out, an’ it makes me feel good and Christmas-like to be able to help a little.

Lot of outsiders stop in while passing through, an’ that helps. Sometimes it’s suits, an’ you think maybe, just maybe, they might be talkin’ about opening up the factory again. Gee, that would be a big thing. Mostly it ain’t, though. Mostly just folks passing through.

But again, I know all my neighbors, and we’ve got it nice ‘round here. It’s a good, nice community, an’ you just don’t get that in the big city. An’ I wouldn’t trade it. Times are hard, but we’re proud. We take care of each other.



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We had the Plymouth then, and it was full of AM magic as we set out on golden cold Thanksgiving mornings. The Beatles The Long And Winding Road, Carly Simon Nobody Does It Better (a song I always associate for some reason with the NFL and Alcoa – “We Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow!” commercials), Nicolette Larson Lotta Love, Peaches & Herb Reunited and, as we got closer to New York, the perfect disco funk of Herb Alpert Rise. This is the sonic cloth of memory, always associated with Thanksgiving and drives to visit my grandmother in Brooklyn.

My brother and I were good travelers, content to listen to the radio, color and sight-see. Nothing was ever more thrilling than the little things: the Portland skyline, looking just slightly like New York; the pilgrim-hat-with-arrow logo on the Massachusetts Turnpike signs; reading the grids on the turnpike toll tickets; a water tower, a factory smokestack…all captivating.

I was always fascinated by the minutiae of travel. The McDonalds signs in Massachusetts were different from the ones in Maine. There were no billboards in Maine, so I had plenty of reading material starting in New Hampshire. The style of the road signs and streetlamps was different from state to state. The traffic lights in New York City were yellow, unlike in Maine. I am still enthralled by these regional differences, and it all started on the road to grandmother’s apartment.

Mom and dad had a red and black plaid Thermos full of steaming coffee, and they always had a Wash ‘n Dri towelette ready. They appeased us with Happy Meals, and the miles passed by uneventfully. 95 through Maine and New Hampshire, 495 to the Mass Pike, 84 to Hartford. Then, finally, one of the highlights of the trip: the West Rock Tunnel, just outside of New Haven.

The sign instructed motorists to remove their sunglasses for the tunnel, so my mom always did, never mind that she was always a passenger. And then we’d be in the tube, and it seemed like it lasted for hours. The tunnel itself was and is beautiful: the granite wall and arches, the soft red glow from taillights and the streetlamps on the ceiling. And the tunnel meant almost there… Almost New York.

Finally we would arrive. My grandmother lived in a building called The Bay Shore in the Bay Ridge neighborhood (yes, Saturday Night Fever was filmed there). I’ll never be able to articulate the smell in the lobby of that building, but whatever it was, it smelled like home. The tile in the lobby was black and white octagon, and it was always dark. Grandmother’s apartment had huge French doors, glass doorknobs, pre-war wooden frame windows with yellowed shades and cloth pulls. I remember waiting for the tubes in her TV set to warm up, and vintage radios and her paintings, many of which hang in our house to this day.

From our bedroom window, we could see laundry hanging on clotheslines with pulleys, and the apartments across the courtyard had keystone arches. And hovering above it all, close enough to touch, was the Verrazano. I knew the bridge from Saturday Night Fever, but I really knew it from watching the lights dance across the unimaginable span right before my eyes.

I don’t remember Thanksgiving dinner. I remember the etched gold of grandmother’s Manhattan glass, and little else. But I remember the drives, the sounds and the feelings. I remember the air smelling different than Maine, full of more and different kinds of foods, car exhaust, the piles of garbage and the smoke of buildings abandoned to arson at the height of the financial crisis, and the tides of the Narrows. And I remember being thankful, even then, for the sensory snapshots that have lasted a lifetime.

Photo Sources:
West Rock Tunnel: Bridge and Tunnel Club (I encourage you to check this page for the full tunnel approach experience!)

Brooklyn Queens Expressway: Danny Lyon

Bay Ridge: Dinanda Nooney

Verrazano Narrows Bridge: