I was away for three weeks in June, and for two of those weeks I was away not only from where I live, but from the internet. In a sense, separation from the internet was the more telling separation -- I know more people available to me online than I do in New Haven, to say nothing of the people I ‘follow’ (or stalk?) on Facebook. While away, I visited all my ‘homes away from home’: including three of my four siblings’ homes in Delaware, one of which is the house we all grew up in, where my mother still lives. I also visited my stepson and his family who live a bit west of Philadelphia -- Philly is where we lived when he lived with my wife and I, and where our daughter was born. And I got over to rural New Jersey where a longtime friend (a Philly native I met in Philly) lives with his family and writes -- and where I am an honorary “Uncle Donald.” And I made it down to Rockville, MD, outside DC, where my sister-in-law lives and where my mother-in-law is now in an assisted living home, which I visited for the first time. The main reason I went away at all was to visit the shore in Ocean City, MD, where some version of my family has gone to unwind in June since we were all kids together, and where my parents spent their honeymoon, and where there was no internet connection, which helped to emphasize the feeling I have down there anyway -- that I’m in some perpetual version of my youth, either the late ‘60s when I first went there, or some memorable teen visits in the late ‘70s, or those years in the ‘80s when it was all about my daughter.
All of this is to introduce the thought which I’ve had before, when returning ‘home’ to New Haven, this town I’ve lived in for ten years (moved here from Hamden when our daughter went off to college in Baltimore), and frequented for five years before that (after moving to CT straight from grad school): I’m hard-pressed to say what makes this place my home other than the fact that I live here -- at some distance from all the people I’ve known longest. My way of life and general outlook seems a continuation of grad school, which is to say, transient, not in for the long haul, expecting to go elsewhere, someday, and only hoping ‘there’ won’t be worse. And that feeling, I think, is sustained by the fact that the population of New Haven, as I experience it, is tied to Yale and recurrently transient: students, grad students, junior faculty are here for awhile and move on.
Yet, while in this limbo (working on long term writing projects and at ‘teaching gigs’ tends to sustain a certain disconnect from my surroundings ... maybe even requires it?), I have become accustomed to New Haven, even though I consider myself barely a resident. There are places I frequent, and which I like seeing -- Willoughby’s, Yorkside, Book Trader, Labyrinth, Odd Bins, Anna Liffey’s, Cutler’s, Mamoun’s, Rudy’s, Royal India, etc. -- but I seem never to move much beyond the familiar grooves worn by making my way, mostly on foot, to the orbit of that big educational concern in town, which I refer to affectionately, or not so affectionately, as the Mighty Fortress.
When I’m back in the environs I hail from, I’m always glad to know I’m only passing through. Much as I like seeing everyone, it’s good to know I don’t really live there. And I can think of one event, a few years ago, that made me realize that I actually have a kind of relation to New Haven. It was the closing of The Rainbow Café, and at the time I wrote:
We rely on such places as providing identity for what "our town" is, and for providing us with a renewable sense of who we are as their steady patrons. You are where you eat, and where you shop? Something like that.
Realizing the place was pretty new when I first went there and that it was now gone, it seemed to matter that I'd outlasted a business.
So, a question to any long-standing or native New Haveners reading this: what do you consider to be definitive aspects of New Haven ... the kinds of things one shouldn’t miss while living here? Or: what's a change you've seen in your time here that had some effect on you?