You know that saying, “You can’t go home again”? I can’t — not to my first apartment anyway.
Yesterday afternoon, Basil and I shirked our many household responsibilities and went for a Sunday drive, back to the river towns in Westchester, NY, where I lived and worked for a time.
It was fun seeing the sites in Irvington, Dobbs Ferry and Hastings — some quite familiar, some forever changed.
The picture below is of where the offices of the Rivertowns Enterprise, the region’s weekly newspaper, used to be (the offices are now in Dobbs Ferry). I cut my teeth in journalism here, covering the bread and butter of community journalism — school board meetings, development proposals, village events. Here’s where I learned the craft that paid my way for two decades — as well as countless life lessons I lean on even today.
I ended my tenure there as editor; my office was where those three windows on the second floor are.
Wending our way past the Halloween window decorating contest that was taking place, we were surprised to see the Hastings House Restaurant shuttered.
This village institution was also the local watering hole. When the fire alarm would sound, volunteer firefighters would race from the Hastings House bar to the firehouse next door.
The scenario made me shake my head many times … as did the fact that the restaurant abutted the Hastings Funeral Home (which, we noted, is still in business).
Past the village hall and library with its celebrated art collection, then around the bend past the train station, we found the postage stamp-sized property that passes for the village’s waterfront park.
I marveled that 25 years after I first covered a controversial mixed-use development proposal for this stretch of the Hudson River waterfront, not much has happened.
Some of the abandoned warehouses, with their saw-toothed skylights, have been razed, but otherwise, it looks pretty much as it did when I won a state Press Association award for my series of articles about it.
What looked completely different was the house I lived in, just over the Yonkers border on Warburton Avenue. This once-grand abode with its stunning view of the Hudson and Palisades sits abandoned now, cordoned off by chain-link fencing along with four other houses. It seems someone wants the land to extend a development of high-rise condos.
The plans must be stalled, however, because it’s clear the house has been empty for a very long time.
Ivy has claimed the garage in back and the whole north side of the house. Weeds grow from the roof and gutters. The windows are boarded up.
I lived at 1189 Warburton for a couple of years. This first place was a 20-something’s dream. For less than $500 a month, I had the cutest little studio, with a tiny kitchen, bath and screen-in porch overlooking the river.
It didn’t matter that the wind howled through the old windows in winter or that the train’s passing obliterated the best parts of every television program. It was mine.
My neighbors were characters. The fellow who shared the second floor with me was a diabetic who was in and out of the hospital an awful lot. Quiet and painfully shy, he carved a collection of holiday decorations for me — some of my first seasonal focal points.
Above me lived a 60-something wannabe Casanova with hair dyed the color of black shoe polish. I typed his name into the police blotter for DWI more than once.
Below me were a hippie couple and their infant son. They kept a vegetable garden in the back yard, invited me to picnic on the lawn and once asked me to babysit their little guy. He cried the whole time they were gone.
And the landlady — what a hoot! She was a sun bird, spending half the year in Florida. When she was in Yonkers, she stayed in the basement apartment and kept time with the guy on the third floor. Every Christmas she sent each of us a little box of goodies from Swiss Colony.
I distinctly remember a very TMI moment when the wine she’d consumed made her think it was a good idea to share the results of her botched breast surgery — she was very obviously lopsided. At the time I was too speechless to ask, but always wondered why she didn’t have it (them?) fixed.
Standing on the sidewalk yesterday, these and many other memories flooded back.
In summer, sitting on the porch enjoying the perfume of the mimosa tree in the back yard. That winter storm that had me shut in for two days– and then spending nearly that long shoveling my navy Ford Escort out of its plowed-in cocoon.
My first attempts at “dinner parties” for friends.
Friday evenings holding my breath in line at the Grand Union in Dobbs Ferry while people read what I’d written that week as they waited to check out.
Countless Saturday mornings covering Operation Rescue staging its weekly protests outside the Dobbs Ferry women’s clinic.
Saturday afternoons people-watching in the laundromat.
That Election Night when I appeared on community access cable reporting the returns. Somewhere in this house, there is a videotape of that — me with big hair and shoulder pads to match, playing TV newscaster.
The December restaurant fire in Ardsley — later declared arson — that roused me from a dead sleep.
All those meetings, faces, deadlines. I met many fascinating people during my 10 years at that paper and yesterday I found myself wondering about them all, wishing I’d paid more attention.
It seems like a lifetime ago. Back when I was fueled by the energy and naiveté of youth, I could never have guessed what the 48-year-old me would turn out like.
Basil and I wandered back to Hastings, to the Center Restaurant — the same diner where I sometimes grabbed something to get me through a deadline.
We sat at the counter and ordered bowls of soup.
It tasted like 1989.