Thursday, April 23, 2009

Free range kids

Just got finished reading an article in Edutopia called "A Conversation with Lenore Skenazy on Free-Range Kids." You may have heard about Skenazy. She's the mother who became an unwitting international celebrity when she allowed her nine-year-old son to take the New York City Subway home from Bloomingdales in an effort to allow him to experience some independence. As I recalled the story that took place some time ago, I found myself remembering my own childhood growing up in Brooklyn and the freedom we had then.

Growing up in Clinton Hill in the late 50s and early 60s was an ideal experience. Kids at that time were allowed to travel away from the womb in increasing expanding concentric circles until the umbilicus was snapped from stretching. This was quite a feat for me considering my mother was not one to let her little darling steer too far too fast. Still, by the time I was 10, I was regularly hopping onto the Vanderbilt Ave. bus and traveling with my (slightly) older sister up to the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza.

By my mid-teen age years I had free reign of the "City that Never Sleeps" and eventually could be found taking the subways in the wee hours of the night.

My greatest feat of early-adolescent independence took place when I was about 12 or 13. At the time, my concentric circle of freedom and independence had expanded to about 3-4 blocks in all directions. Whether on foot, bicycle or roller skate, the opportunities and adventures continued to expand.

That summer, like most boys growing up in NYC, I was transfixed with everything baseball. The daily activity from March until September involved copious amounts of stickball played on Waverly Avenue, in traffic, with a stickball bat made out of an old broom handle an either a Pensy Pinky or the, quite-preferred Spalding (correctly pronounced Spaul-deen) ball. And yes, a homer was usually the result of a shot hit two sewers (aka, soo-ahs) distance; a feat that I was known to frequently accomplish. I was good.

That summer - it must have been 1965 or 66 - we had tired of stickball and longed for the real thing. You know, grass, a hardball, real bat. But alas, our little neighborhood had no such location for this kind of activity. The nearest bonafide baseball field was located at the Parade Grounds, a newly developed park just south of Prospect Park. The Parade Grounds contained a number of regulation baseball diamonds and was where the local little league teams (or school leagues like CYO) played. The distance from our neighborhood was a good three miles and required traversing through some "interesting" neighborhoods.

One day, quite spontaneously, my fellow scallywags and I decided that we should walk the distance armed with our bats, ball and gloves. I'm not sure why we chose not to take the bus which would have been a lot faster, safer and a lot less strenuous, but the likely reason was that we were all a little low on dough, and walking was free.

So off we went without a care. None of us had even bothered to tell our mothers where we were going. We just went. Ah, youth!

I seem to recall that I chose to be the the navigator and directed our posse up Vanderbilt to Grand Army Plaza. This was the way the bus would have taken us, and it was the route my father took when he drove us to The Park. Much like the scene in the movie Stand By Me, my troops and I talked up a storm and didn't seem to mind the long walk which was mostly uphill.

When we got to Grand Army Plaza we headed right into Prospect Park. I figured this was the most direct way to the Parade Grounds and I think secretly I was thinking we might find a suitable place to play much closer than the Parade Grounds which were still quite a distance away.

And indeed we did. Soon out into the middle of the meadow we caught up with another group of boys who were already playing a pick-up game of ball. Within minutes we had the Clinton Hill boys in hot pursuit of the Park Slope boys and a grand time was had by all.

I don't remember much of the game but mostly I remember walking home and how tired we all were. Despite the fact that it was all down hill, I think the extent of our exertion had taken its toll.

We got back to Clinton Hill just before supper time and most of us just peeled off and when into our respective apartment buildings.

I don't recall much of what happened after that except that I knew better than to tell my mother where I had been that day. She heard about it some time later and yelled a bit, but it was all part of the game.

I can't say that I would let my nine-year-old solo the NYC subways these days, but Ms Skenazy does have some good points to make. And perhaps the kids of today would be just a little better off if they had a chance to get out and about more often.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Portland Maine - Let's Celebrate!

I just read a story in the Friday Portland Press Herald that I would have thought should have been the headlines. " ranks Portland Maine the most livable in the U.S."

While I would not dispute the "livable" aspect of this - I was a bit surprised by the acknowledgment that the Portland "metropolitan area" is over 500,000 people; 513,102 to be exact. That seemed like a bit much. In fact, I found it hard to believe that almost half of the entire state's population lives in the Portland "metro."

As you have heard me rant in other blogs, having grown up in "the greatest city in the world" I find all references to Maine having a "metro" anything a big laugh.

But indeed, according to the US Census Bureau there are that many people in the Maine counties of Cumberland, York and Sagadahoc. In fact, Sagadahoc only accounts for a mere 36,000 of the total. Southern Maine is getting to be a big place.

Even though I have never lived in the City of Portland, I guess the years that I lived in York county makes me at least a former "metro" resident. Sanford, where I lived for about ten years, I am sure did nothing to add to the credit of this honor.

In any case, Portland, Maine clearly deserves the honor and should get more than a small article on page three of the PPH. C'mon guys!

According to the article on
, Portland beat out Bethesda, Md., and Des Moines, Iowa., Bridgeport/Stamford, Conn., and Tulsa, Okla. Of these, I have only been to Bridgeport/Stamford and I can attest we are much better than there. Sorry.

So, let's strike up the band, get out the confetti and have a party. At this dismal time of the year, in this dismal economic climate, we need something to celebrate.

WooHoo Portland Metro!


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