When my husband and I lived in the Washington D.C. metro area, we were in graduate school and needed to find an apartment with relatively low rent. We ended up grabbing a deal on a one bedroom, one bath with a den – plenty of closet space and the all-important extra room for my book collection, carefully shelved behind glass doors. Our rent was around $1000, which is cheap for the D.C. area, but the appliances all worked and everything was clean, so we didn’t ask too many questions.
It turns out we had moved into a somewhat notorious apartment complex – famous for the arsons that were taking place a few blocks over from us and the car thefts that were pretty run-of-the-mill. We personally experienced the car theft, in fact – twice before we moved out. (Those are actually pretty funny stories, despite the fact that the incurred repairs cost us a lot of unexpected cash… you’ll never meet a dumber set of car jackers than the teenagers who took our Plymouth for a joy ride. Except perhaps the thief who tried to steal our vehicle when it had a dead battery, then ended up leaving us his own car key on the seat. Too bad we didn’t know where he was parked.)
Let’s just say that being a little blond white girl, I didn’t really feel all that comfortable going for a walk by myself when we lived in the suburbs of D.C. Of course, I could drive over to the park in historic Greenbelt and sit reading at one of the picnic benches without fear of being harassed. But there were times when I tried to walk in my own neighborhood and a truck full of greasy, shifty-eyed men followed me, which understandably made me quite nervous.
So when we moved to Nyack eight months ago, I suddenly felt FREE. In this little river town with a cobblestone library and row after row of Victorian houses, I can wander through the neighborhoods without my husband acting as a chaperone. I can walk to the post office, the Starbucks and any number of mom-and-pop restaurants, coffee houses and gift shops. There are even a few art galleries and several antique stores. I feel a little bit guilty and un-politically correct for saying it, but I’m back in the tax bracket where I feel most comfortable and safe. It immediately felt like home, the very first time that we drove through Nyack – its quaint little shops remind us of Ann Arbor and Birmingham, which are two of my favorite places to hang out near my parents’ home in Michigan.
Beyond just the picturesque and charming setting, though, Nyack makes me happy because it is the kind of community that makes me comfortable – and even glow with pleasure. You can tell that they have the kind of neighborly attitude that we missed when we left the Midwest – in fact, they’re a little more neighborly than the residents of suburban Detroit. Nyack seems like Avonlea – like I could walk down the road and find Green Gables or the White Sands Hotel. All throughout the summer, the merchants put on street fairs featuring dozens of out-of-town art vendors. There’s a weekly Farmer’s Market that they set up in the parking lot of the bank. My husband and I haven’t become a part of the community yet – we’ve been too busy getting settled with our jobs to go out and meet people – but I love to watch as the residents put on events, invite people in to their beloved little river town, and take care of those who are a part of their community.
For example, we’ve stumbled across a couple of events in town designed to raise money for cancer survivors and local children with hefty medical bills. It was last fall when we first saw the community coming together like this – we were out for a walk in the evening and saw a procession of tiny flickering lights that began at the riverside playground and wound up the hill toward town. We asked what the rally and parade were for and learned that the event was in support of local residents battling cancer, survivors and their families. The candles were in memorial of those who had lost their fight against the disease, and you could purchase your own to help raise money for those who are still fighting.
Then today, we were out on a walk in the unseasonably warm March weather, when we came across dozens of people emerging from the park wearing beach towels. Yes, beach towels. I did a double-take, then insisted that my husband and I make a detour to explore what was going on. Down by the Hudson River, we found residents of our new home town decked out in everything from Speedos and bikinis to full scuba gear (no joke). There was a bandstand set up and several tents with refreshments – and everyone was standing around drip, drip, dripping. It turns out that this was the local Penguin Plunge, a dip in the river organized to raise money for two local children with serious medical conditions and not enough money to pay the bills.
I love that there were people of all ages jumping into the river today, just blocks from my apartment – there were even three little boys dressed in Batman raincoats and hats who looked as though they might have made the plunge in their superhero attire. And I LOVE that the residents of my new home are stepping up to raise money for other families. When we lived in the suburbs of D.C., we were surrounded by people who couldn’t make ends meet – but from what I could tell, their typical reaction was to smoke more weed (which we could smell drifting from one apartment to the next, and into our kitchen, where I had to constantly keep a Febreeze candle burning). I’m sure that there were plenty of hardworking people who lived in our apartment complex, but they kept to themselves – they were probably intimidated by all the car thieves and arsonists, too.
Here in Nyack, I almost feel like I’m back in the Midwest again – and it’s a welcome change from the East Coast mentality that we experienced (although not from everyone) in D.C. As we walked through the crowds of dripping teens and adults down at Memorial Park today, I found myself wishing that we knew someone there, someone to that would call out a hello and welcome us into a circle of bystanders. Someone who would offer me a cup of coffee and would try to convince me to participate in the Plunge next year. I found myself feeling a little bit more willing to go out and meet people soon. Maybe I need to take a plunge of my own.