Are You Better Off Than You Were in 1974?

Things have changed a lot in the past eight years.

In October, 2004, I stood in front of my class of sixth graders at Channel View School for Research to teach a lesson on the skill of persuasive speaking–the literacy “genre of the month” as selected by regional office curriculum planners.   I remember that I began the class by reading aloud an excerpt of a political speech delivered during the summer 2004 Democratic convention by a relatively obscure legislator from Illinois named Barack Obama.  I will never forget how those cynical urban youngsters rolled their eyes skeptically at me when I stated with confidence that the speaker would, some day, become the first African-American President of the United States.

I’m trying to decide whether I’d rather be living in 2004.

Channel View Sixth Graders, Teachers and Chaperones at Beach Clean-up, Fall 2006

The pay phone is still there! I wonder how much it is used nowadays. Thanks to Kiski Area student Hannah Milheim for snapping this photo for me.

Then, over Columbus Day weekend, I thought hard about whether I’d rather be living in 1974.  I walked through the vastly changed halls of my high school alma mater in Western Pennsylvania, at an open house commemorating the 50th  anniversary of the school’s founding.  It was comforting that the pay telephone outside of the yearbook office, where I called home regularly to check on my college acceptance letters, was still there.   I vividly remember the day in 1974 when I got the good news that I was accepted to Northwestern University (which was known to some as the “Harvard of the Midwest,” and to others as the Big Ten school with the longest losing streak in college football history).  The scream of joy I emitted, standing at that pay phone, is fixed in my memory.

Northwestern Marching Band Performs Post-Game Show at Citrus Bowl, January 1997. The football team lost to Tennessee by an embarrassing margin that year, but the band was always a top competitor!

However, it was discomforting that the school’s legendary principal, William K. Miller, did not remember me when I said hello at the gala dinner later that evening.   I had never played on our school’s championship football team (or in any other sport, for that matter), and hence was ineligible for the “Kiski Area Hall of Fame.”   Perhaps Miller unconsciously blanked out any memory of that rare Kiski student who had chosen to attend a university with such a notoriously poor football team.  Miller must have felt an awkward need to say something, so he just gazed at my freshly coiffed head of hair and chirped: “love those blondes!”

At this point, I felt like I WAS in 1974.

But the facts tell me otherwise.  I see three framed diplomas on my wall.  I’m the mother of two college-bound teenagers, with a box full of color brochures to show for it.  I’ve been the owner of three automobiles and four residential properties over the past two decades, and more insurance policies than I care to count.  Fifteen years of tax returns show a nice steady progression from my first full-time summer job at S. Klein Department Store, through a Wall Street stint in the late 1980’s.  I adhered to the social contract and did my part to fill my home with the trappings of the American Dream, even earning nicely as a temporary part-timer through marriage, pregnancy, family crises, 9/11/01 and the crash of Flight 587.  I have been an upstanding citizen—really.

The question is—do I count anymore, now that I’ve received my first senior discount at Waldbaum’s?  If so, how much?  Do I count as just one vote to be cast among the vast numbers in the electorate?  I don’t own Toys R’ Us, The New York Giants, or Barclay’s Arena.  Perhaps I’d count more if I made a million dollars or owned a sports team or conglomerate.  Instead, I’m just a passionate volunteer community activist and writer.

Debate on October 11, 2012, between City Councilman Eric Ulrich (seated, left) and State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr. (seated, center), sponsored by Rockaway Civic Association (Rick Horan, Rock Civic Vice-President, is at podium).

I will go to the polls in November, and decide whether to vote for the red, blue, or green team.  I know both of the New York State Senate candidates (Joseph Addabbo, Jr. and Eric Ulrich) personally, and believe both are very fit to serve. Having said that, they both favor introduction of gaming tables at the already successful Resorts World Casino, yet fail to support restoration of the Whitepot Junction train line from Ozone Park to Rego Park, which would provide us with a quicker commute to Manhattan and jobs in other parts of Queens.  Believe me, Woodhaven Boulevard is going to get a lot more congested,

New York State Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (shown here at the Rockaway Civic meeting prior to the debate in October 2012) is to be commended for leading the charge to restore the Whitepot Junction Line.

so we need that train line!

I ask all of our elected officials–when will the people of Queens, who welcomed this casino, get something in return, besides a passel of minimum wage jobs?  And when will you, who step forward to lead, show more respect for the remaining ecosystems we have here along the bay and the coast?  I think it takes enormous courage these days to defend what is wild, natural and beautiful, particularly where there is money to be made.  On this subject, it should be mentioned that Addabbo has opposed fracking for natural gas, but Ulrich, disappointingly, has not.  Fracking is a dangerous and greedy sport whose playing field is the fresh underground aquifers of the State of New York.

I wish this were just a football game. And sometimes, I wish it were 1974.

Text copyright Vivian R. Carter 2012.  Photos copyright Vivian R. Carter 2012, or used with permission of owners.

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About rockviv

You've entered the cyber-locale of Vivian Rattay Carter, a writer, teacher, advertising representative, and licensed sightseeing guide. I've lived and worked in the New York metro area since 1979, in diverse places like Astoria and Rockaway Beach (Queens), Kensington and Windsor Terrace (Brooklyn), Grand Street and Tribeca (Manhattan), and Norwood, Riverdale and Woodlawn (The Bronx). I treasure the amazing parks, civic architecture, and cultural institutions of our city, and love the inspiring stories of the outer borough pioneers. What an interesting apple this is!
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2 Responses to Are You Better Off Than You Were in 1974?

  1. James E. says:

    Thank you for your blog! I came across this while doing a random google search on blogs about Rockaway. Although I was born and raised in Manhattan, I descend from the old bungalow summer colony going back several generations in my family. Regrettably, the times of the bungalows were pretty much gone for my generation. (i am in my late 30s.)My grandparents and my mother even decided to live in the Rockaways during the 1960s when further year round developments were made. They said they had high hopes for this new era of the Rockaways but the services and hassle of daily inconveniences made them to eventually return to Manhattan. I have spent many summer days and even the coldest days of winter coming down to escape the madness of Manhattan and take in the natural beauty, ocean air, breezes and breathtaking sunsets that you can only experience in rockaway. Also, I have been also impressed with the fortitude and resiliency of this community that you have all endured over the years. Regrettably when both my grandmother and my mother returned for their day trips over the years they often noted with surprise and disappointment how even further neglected the Rockaways have become since when they were year round residents in the 1960s. as I get older, Rockaway seems to lure me more and perhaps one day I will be seduced to decide to make the Rockaways my home. Would i give up my convenient life in Manhattan for the long commutes and inconveniences of the Rockaways? They say that love is blind, but also as my grandmother says “once you get that sand in your shoes…….”

    • rockviv says:

      Hi, James!
      Sorry for the delay in responding to your thoughtful comment. I had some technical issues with my blog for a few months. All is well now, I believe. I think my webpage may have been the very first blog produced by someone who actually resided on the peninsula. It certainly was the first to focus on the future of the Rock, rather than just the past. There are other older, very successful pages, like farrockaway.com, and rockawaymemories.com, but those are nostalgia pieces produced by former residents. I agree that the times of the summers-only bungalows truly passed. There are, of course, still a few sections of intact bungalows with year-round residents, and they quite love living there. In fact, the group of bungalows from Beach 110-108th experienced very little flooding, I was told. The question is–could summer bungalows be revived again? I think it could work, in the right location, and with the right operator. But, in my opinion, the issues preventing progress in the Rockaways are difficult for two reasons: (1) Because they involve neglect at all levels of government (city, state and federal); and (2) Changes are needed in diverse areas of federal, state and city policy, which have been strangling viable home-grown local tourism initiatives since the 1940’s. Only the sophisticated outsiders who come in with political contacts and big bucks to spend seem able to succeed in these trying conditions. I am glad you enjoy visiting, and hope you return often. Rock Viv

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