Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

“I’m not racist”

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says the exclusionists in Bellerose when faced with people who don’t look like them.

Actually, yes you are.

The joke about the American dream is the immigrant who, fresh off Ellis Island, stamped in and on American soil for the first time, immediately turns around to his compatriots, “now get the hell off my land!”

It’s amazing how Archie Bunker is alive and well in Queens. I forgot my bag at a house party I went to recently in Woodside and, as I work in Prospect Heights, I decided to bike the distance to pick it up before continuing on to Park Slope for drinks.

It’s not that hard a slog – most of Brooklyn is flat and Queens, apart from Queens Blvd, is relatively sedate – but the trip brought me through Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, BedStuy, Bushwick, Ridgewood, Maspeth, Woodside, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Boerum Hill and finally Park Slope. It’s quite the cross-section, especially since the divisions in the neighborhoods were so stark.

Riding up Flushing Ave felt like skirting a demilitarized zone between Hasidic Jews and Blacks. Ridgewood seemed to have this five block borderland of warehouses separating Deepest Darkest Brooklyn and Working Whiteman’s Queens, straight from gated windows to POW flags. Maspeth was Archie Bunkerville, down to the suspicious looks I got for riding through.

Woodside was most evidently the very first neighborhood I hit that didn’t immediately feel depressed: New construction, no closed stores in daylight, people walking with purpose. ‘Course, there wasn’t a white face to be seen, hinting that for all of Queens’ total heterogeny, each individual neighborhood was jealously guarded from all others – or abandoned at the hint of incursion. Returning to Brooklyn, the neighborhoods of northern and central Brooklyn were fought over on a block-by-block basis, with miniature fiefdoms held by urban homesteaders.

Brooklyn is a city. Queens is a collection of small towns, and for all the ghettos of Brooklyn, there are neighborhoods in Queens that are, by far, the more close-minded and insular. Even if they do have cleaner sidewalks.

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