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Saturday, July 30, 2011

In My Hometown

Sometimes, in order to go forward, you have to go back. Even though I live 2,000 miles away, I can’t ever forget where I came from.  After seeing how many memories people I didn’t even know had of growing up in Bayonne,  I compiled a list of the top 10 things that are the sure signs you grew up in Bayonne (or knew someone that did).

"Childhood is the most beautiful of all life's seasons."  ~Author Unknown

B# 1.           Broadway, and all its Glory:
             Sidewalks have changed, in that Bayonne no longer holds their annual ‘Sidewalk Sale’ on Broadway. Styles have come and gone from the ‘Skaters’ with their wide legged (sometimes homemade) pants to the baggy jeans issue that over time has gotten better, but will probably never completely disappear.  There were cheerleaders and there were those who marched to a beat of his or her own drummer.  We transformed from a town where people would wear their Sunday’s best to go to Uncle Milty’s to a place where the youth would rush to the local carnival, meet up with their friends, grab a zeppole and a ride on the Bullet. Whatever the case may be, Bayonne fills me with a nostalgia of a time when people only shopped at locally owned stores. The stores were owned by people we grew up with, and saw every year when it was time to back to school and you needed a new pair of shoes.  When you wanted a slice, you would go to the pizza place and after, it was on to Carvel.  When you got older, it was time to drive up and down all 52 blocks of Broadway. Then, it was off to Global .

2.      # 2.                   The Parking Situation/Snowstorm Situations
Everyone knows that there was not, nor will there ever be, parking anywhere near where you have to go. And when Bayonne gets hit with the brutal snowstorm of the year, (which it almost always does, parking gets even worse. For months, the topic of conversation between any Bayonne residents at any given time will be the putrid aesthetic of the "black snow" and how there is absolutely nowhere in town to park.

3.       # 3.            The Parks:
               As kids, we all hung out at our local park.  Whether it was hanging at 16th st. to play ball, Hudson County to go to the playground, 1st Street to go see or play a Little League game, or Vets Stadium; we all had the chance to enjoy a park in one way or another,  and were better because of it.

4.       #4.          Local Activities:
             There are many things to do in Bayonne. If you ever played basketball at the P.A.L. or worked there, like me), you’re not alone.  If the bulk of your childhood consisted of hanging out on street corners and playing manhunt and touch football until your Mom stuck her head out of the window to call you in, you grew up in Bayonne.  Broadway served as the one-stop shopping center for everything from clothes to comics and today, every time I visit, I notice that while the shops have changed hands, the people are still there, crowding up the streets.
While activities have changed over the years, some things can be counted on to stay the same.  

Where most people are these days:
1.       The Gym
2.       Tanning
3.       Eating
            4.       Working

5.       #5.         Growing up;  Bayonne Style

  St. Vinnie’s Dances
 Where you could spend the night getting all dressed up to go to a basement in a church,  and then hope that someone will ask you to dance to the one slow song at the end before the lights started to come up as the music was still playing.
                White Rock
For some it was the spot for their first kiss. Others, it was the place they recall when they remember smoking their first cigarette.  Located behind the Senior Citizens buildings on Ave. A., most pre-teens and adolescents reached this destination via the back entrance of the Hudson Bay.
              16th St. Pool
Whether you swam in it, took your kids there, or just passed by, the Pool has been a staple of the Bayonne community for a while.

Other places you might be:
-Your friend’s house
-The Bay
-The Park
-The Diner (either Uptown or Downtown. Uptown will always be my favorite!

6.      # 6.         Community:
             If I could say anything about my time there, it would be that everyone really knew everyone. What I mean by that is, if your friend took a fall on 48th St., you’d know about it on 3rd st. in just under 10 minutes. This could be both a comfort, and a curse. Now, of course, it’s still like that. It’s almost as if after childhood, the bars kept everyone glued together.  Is it possible in every town to walk into your local bar and be able to see at a minimum of 5 people you either grew up with, dated, or at least knew of? I highly doubt it.  There really was a time when the Cops, Teachers and Firefighters all resided in Bayonne and vowed to keep us safe. They did a damn good job of it too. Now, Bayonne isn’t as safe as it was and people have moved because of it.  While property taxes and Real Estate go up, the quality of people seem to dissipate. Sad, but true.
Through its gentrification, Bayonne has morphed into a place that has both changed drastically and yet somehow, remains the same.
7.       #7.         Bayonne Geography:
People live very close together in Bayonne.  Whether it’s one block, or 10, you’re not ever so far away that you can’t walk. And, that was always one of the things I adored.  Everyone was divided in grammar school, but when it came to High School, if you went to B.H.S., you, like me, were astonished by how massively intimidating the school appeared when you first saw it. And, then later, you were surprised at how small it seemed years after you left.  Besides the constant influx of nail salons, tanning salons, Liquor Stores, and Gyms located on almost every square inch of a Bayonne city block, there were  churches, parks, schools and people that helped impress upon your morals and values, (at one point or another), for every  Bayonne  Resident.  Bayonne is located less than 30 minutes from Manhattan, and about 10 minutes from Staten Island, and most residents, take total advantage of that luxury. This is why it’s expensive to live there, even if you may not think it’s “worth” it (and get pissed when you can't find a parking spot to save your life). When I needed to get somewhere quick, and I was too young to drive, the preferred method of transportation was a cab. You knew every cab number in Bayonne and for $3.25, you knew when they said "30 minutes", they really meant about an hour. Either that, or they'd tell you it would be "a while", and then they'd be outside honking like a madman while you scrambled to get your shoes on because you thought.

8.       #8.              Are you Hungry?

                 Bayonne has some of the best cuisine in the United States. Sure, I may be bias, but that doesn’t  mean I’m wrong.  From the dozens of pizza places, these are among the Top 5:

1.       Pompei Pizza: I don’t think this place has ever changed owners, and it never, ever should. This was the spot to go when I was growing up. You could go there with $5 and sit for an hour with your friend while you played their jukebox, ate a slice and had an RC Cola.
2.       Pizza Masters
3.       Tony’s
4.       Fontanas
5.       Joe’s: The only place that was open when you needed a slice  after 11pm.

Let’s not forget the joy of a sandwich from Benanti’s, Carvel, Magic Fountain, and the countless Bakeries that add to the melting pot of ethnicities that reside in that town and make it what it is.

9.       #9.               The People from Bayonne:
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say that they “can’t wait to move out of Bayonne!”, I’d be rich. Mostly, I'd probably have to pay them back considering 80% of the people that say that return at some point.  Still, there are those residents that have been there since birth and will remain there till they die. We call these people “Bayonne-ies’ “.  The drama, the gossip, the friendships, the history…it’s all what makes Bayonne what it is. An experience worth recalling .   I used to be somewhat annoyed by the fact that when I came to visit, I couldn’t go to the A&P, Shop Rite, or really anywhere in town, without bumping in to someone I know.  Now, I take comfort in that hard to find, small hometown spirit that just isn’t present in every town.  

1#10.                                    “Yeah, I’m from Bayonne. Born and raised.”  And proud of it!
       I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said this. No matter what kind of question it was, I always had the same response. In my Freshman year of College, a guy from out of town asked me if I was embarrassed to be from a town with the slogan “If it’s from Bayonne, leave it alone”.  While others may have their perceptions of what it was like to grow up in Bayonne, I have my memories. They are backed up by all the people that have shared them with me or have made their own. Either way, loyalty was ingrained in me because of where I am from, and it’s a trait that makes you want to defend your hometown, and all of the glory you know exists there. No matter how long you've been absent from it…