I’m from Queens.

17 Feb

When Queens Was Lame — NYTimes

How could I have once been embarrassed by the borough that took on Amazon? A new day has dawned over the Throgs Neck Bridge.

By Barbara Brotman

Ms. Brotman is a former newspaper columnist.

Jamaica Avenue, Queens, in 1958.CreditWilliam E. Sauro/The New York Times
Jamaica Avenue, Queens, in 1958.CreditCreditWilliam E. Sauro/The New York Times

And so exits Amazon, pursued by the angry crowds of Queens.

As a native of Queens, I watched the battle over Amazon’s plans to build a headquarters in Long Island City with a sense of awe. Look — people not wanting Queens to change! Growing up there, I wanted Queens to change as much as possible. Preferably into Manhattan.

I just didn’t believe it could.

When I lived there in the 1960s and ’70s, Queens branded you as pure bridge-and-tunnel crowd. Queens, the embarrassment you cursed as you slunk back to Bayside after a concert at the Fillmore East. Queens, the humiliating asterisk after “I’m from New York.”

But look what it has become: Queens, the ultra-happening multicultural mecca! Queens, the darling of artists, creatives and foodies! Queens, the unrequited object of desire of a trillion-dollar tech company!

I’ve watched slack-mouthed with wonder and envy. When I was a kid there, the thought that Queens could become cool was so ridiculous that no one ever thought it. And now that it has, how I wish it had happened in time for me.

Oh, my childhood playing with friends in then-forested Bayside was idyllic. But when I became a teenager, the social disadvantages of outer-boroughhood was clear. My Queens was basically a suburb. My Queens was the place where if you wanted excitement, you had to take the bus and subway. A long way.

A multicultural wonderland proud of its status as the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world? Back then, it was the home of Archie Bunker, which for years was the first thing people said when they heard you were from Queens. Queens was whiter then, and though there were certainly different ethnic groups in the borough, most of us were too isolated in our own enclaves to know it. My own neighborhood was so homogeneous that my friends and I could have traced our families back to neighboring shtetls.

Cool people did occasionally emerge from Queens. The Ramones met in Forest Hills. Cyndi Lauper grew up in Ozone Park. Robert Mapplethorpe was born in Floral Park, of which he said, “It was a good place to come from in that it was a good place to leave.”

I also found it a good place to leave. I moved to Chicago after graduating from Queens College and over the years regularly found myself dancing the Queens-finessing quadrille.

“Oh, you’re from New York?” someone would say, clearly impressed. Then came the dreaded follow-up: “The city?”

But who was I kidding? I knew what was being asked. Was I a cool, artsy, possibly wealthy, definitely interesting, genuine New Yorker?

No, I was from Queens.

I sometimes rose to its, and my, defense: Queens hosted the 1964-65 World’s Fair and still has that neat Unisphere. Queens has a genuine Civil War fortress, Fort Totten. Queens gave me a great education, from P.S. 169 to Queens College, where, by the way, tuition then was free.

But in my heart, I knew it was still Queens.

Until, to my amazement, it wasn’t.

I have watched in disbelief as Flushing, where the big excitement used to be Alexander’s department store, became a destination for worldly foodies. As Astoria, whose streets I once used as free parking near the subway, blossomed with upscale restaurants and shops. As Long Island City, which had bizarrely seemed doomed to eternal grubbiness despite its boffo view of the skyline, got MoMA PS1, Silvercup Studios and rents of $4,000 a month.

My Bayside mind boggled. Co-working spaces in Sunnyside! Craft breweries in Ditmars! Yoga in the new Hunters Point South Park!

Then, a year ago, my millennial daughter relocated to New York. After I had spent decades of my life trying to avoid admitting I was from Queens, she proudly moved to Ridgewood.

And now the final triumph: Queens has taken on Amazon, and won.

A new day has dawned over the Throgs Neck Bridge. Sure, potshots are still lobbed at the Queens of old, which periodically gets blamed for native sons Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump. And admittedly, I’m not exactly putting the outer-borough inferiority complex notion to rest here.

But today I can step into the light and claim my now-honorable heritage, which apparently gives my daughter major street cred, and say with pride the words I once muttered under my breath:

I’m from Queens.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: