Visit to my Old Stomping Ground – 30 Years Later!

This past Sunday, a friend and I decided to visit the Smorgasburg food market which is held weekly in multiple locations throughout New York City.  It is held in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn on Saturdays and in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) on Sundays.  During the Winter it moves to an indoor venue at the old Williamsburg Bank clock tower.  I had heard about Smorgasburg for a while through newspaper articles, food magazines, TV shows and once even on the gondola at Stratton Ski Resort in Vermont, but my attempts to get there had not been successful till now.  I find it’s much better to not make plans too far in advance and just go on the spur of the moment.

Manhattan Bridge

I was excited to finally get there.  Not only was I looking forward to trying all the food from the various vendors but I was also excited to be going back to a neighborhood I grew up in.  Now technically, I did not grow up in Brooklyn, but I went to college there for four years in the mid 80s.  I consider those years a sort of coming of age for me.  To this day I believe I got a better education there than I could have gotten at any Ivy League college.  Some may find that a ridiculous statement and may argue the point however, there are many different kinds of education in my opinion.  I had always been raised to be book smart but when it came to street smarts I was a complete failure.  I lacked confidence, was too shy to speak to boys or anyone else for that matter, wouldn’t stand up for anything and just accepted authority without questioning it.  Downtown Brooklyn changed all of that for me.

Brooklyn in the 80s was not a pretty place.  If you remember the show Welcome Back Kotter, you get somewhat of an idea.  The six block walk to and from the LIRR station to the campus was always one to make me nervous on the days I had to make it alone.  My first experience on the Subway took me, with my freshman honors program classmates, to the Cloisters on the A train through Harlem.  Right at 125th street, a shady gentleman got on the train and started harrassing us.  The rest of my classmates had grown up in the city and didn’t think much of it, but I had been fairly sheltered up until that and pretty much freaked out.  Over the four years, I experienced being followed on the street, a close call with a driveby shooting on Flatbush Ave, and being stalked on my college campus by some crazy graduate student.  I was definitely not in Kansas anymore!!

But when I think about my years in Brooklyn I only have fond memories.  Memories of the friends I made from so many different parts of the world, the cheesecake & coffee at Juniors, cutting classes to go shopping at Macy’s in Herald Square or to Chinatown for great food, and most of all the introduction to cuisines from around the world that my new found friends shared with me.  All of these experiences, good and bad, were a whole different kind of education that one does not get on all college campuses.  I came out of Brooklyn a completely different person – a better, more confident person.

Fast forward 30 years and I am blown away by the changes that have taken place in my Brooklyn.  The Smorgasburg market was a fun place to get some great food.  It is located in the old abandoned power plant along the East River near the carousel and not far from The River Cafe.  There is now a great park behind it with benches to sit on with your food and people watch.  One could likely spend the entire day there and sample foods from all the vendors.  With 3 hours on our time clock, we opted to have some Spicy Tuna Ramen, bite sized sandwiches in fluffy pancakes (I had the spicy Thai chicken & my friend had the duck) and we split a merguez sandwich.  All the food was delicious, but our favorite was the bowl of Ramen. It just had the right balance of heat, acidity, and flavor.

Feeling quite full, we decided to walk around the area and found a foot bridge that has recently been built to take you from the river through a park to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.  If you’ve never been there, you must put it on your list.  The view from the Promenade is beautiful, particularly on the right kind of day.  It looks out onto downtown Manhattan and it’s absolutely breathtaking!! From there, I suggested we walk down Montague street and check out some of the fun cafes and restaurants there, stopping at one for a Brooklyn Summer to soothe the heat of the 90 degree day.  We continued toward the courthouse and onto Flatbush Ave past my old campus, which by the way looks quite nice now, and over to the new home of the Nets, the Barclay Center.  Standing at the corner, I felt like I was in a strange and yet familiar place all at the same time.  I didn’t recognize the surroundings and yet, pieces of it were still the same.  The LIRR station is completely renovated and yet, the flight down the stairs I took so often to rush for my train is still very familiar.

The Barclay Center is an interesting edifice made of steel that is allowed to rust naturally.  It is certainly a very modern and futuristic sight that is in complete contrast to its location.  And yet the old clock tower stands to its other side to remind us that we have not left the past behind.  The whole day had left me with mixed feelings – a bit sad to have lost the Brooklyn I remembered and yet excited for the wonderful changes that had taken place and continue to take place in an effort to improve the area.  I found myself wondering if I would have “grown up” quite as much had I attended the LIU of today.

We took the 2 train back to the car and drove back over the Brooklyn Bridge towards home.  I know I will go back to Smorgasburg again and will take my son next time.  And maybe I can take him down memory lane with me.

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