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Irving Street

EPP - 1999

I live right in middle of a city, in a residential neighborhood. A side street in a city, lined with trees, and not a main traffic area, just homes and no businesses (well, almost none... I have one but hardly anyone knows it). Most of the buildings are 2-3 stories high, many with basement apartments and little decks or yards in back and a stoop out front. Basic square buildings, many with bay windows in the front, all lined up side by side. This is a historic area so many of the buildings have signs on the front saying who owned or built them, usually in the 1800's.

I live on a very wonderful street called Irving Street. It's near to the busier parts of the city, like the downtown business district, and the Empire State Plaza, which is a big office complex designed in the 70's. But, it feels like a little oasis in the middle of city. Life on this street is very special, for some reason. It is a real community... people know each other and do things together, and are friendly and say hello. We have lots of trees on the street, and this time of year everyone makes the area around their tree pretty with flowers, and put flower boxes outside their homes. People often come to Irving and never leave. There are families here, and old married couples, who say they have been here 10, 20, even 40 years. If they leave, they often come back to visit us. Its not unusual for a minivan to pull up, with 3 generations in it, and hear them say that they lived on this street for years, raised their family here, and just had to come back and see it. The current residents gather around and welcome them, and we all chat about what it is like now; what it was like then. Sometimes they will jump out and go ring someones doorbell to discover the lady who used to give them cookies when they were children, are still there.

What is most comforting about Irving Street is that sense of home and community. For only 80-100 buildings, it has an amazingly diverse community with people from so many different cultures and races, groups and ages. We might have a ghetto on one side of us, state offices on the other, and be right in the thick of the city, but we don't tolerate a lot of baloney here - somehow, because of the sense of community, people are vigilant that the quality of life stays high and people treat each other well.

Its a small street, only one tiny block long, and one-way. So, only the police, the residents, cab drivers, and the pizza delivery guy have ever heard of it. We like that, because it means its our special street. I love this little street very much... because I work and live here, its so important to have wonderful neighbors. Very often my doorbell rings and its one of my neighbors coming to visit or say "come outside!" if I'm not already. Sometimes we take walks together, or go to the concerts at the plaza, or order up a bunch of food together. Many times we just sit outside on warm summer evenings, hanging out on the stairs, maybe drinking a beer. People support each other, look out for each other, in a way that seems almost old fashioned.

The steps in front of my apartment, centrally located in the middle of the block, are often the place to hang, and I have sometimes have parties in my apartment or in the backyard. The backyard is nice, and shady, and the result of a lot of hard work by my next door neighbors, to make a place which everyone in this building can use. Sometimes we tease about having our own little Melrose Place, but the truth is we don't have nearly enough scandal :)

Without meaning to, I became the organizer of the street party two years in a row now. We get the police to close the street, and we have a "sale" where we can get rid of stuff we don't want any more, and then in the afternoon, we have a barbecue and eat and drink and the children can play in the street because we close the street at both ends. We have chalk drawing and bubble blowing contests in the middle of the street, and usually end with a lot of guitar playing and singing. It's wonderful to bring everyone together on that day, and people are already bugging me again to see if I will do it this summer. We'll see!

The heart of Irving Street is the garden. There are a lot of community gardens in Albany... i guess there is a movement in urban areas to turn old abandoned lots into gardens for the people to use. But for some reason, ours is extra special... I think its because of where it is: Irving Street, where people are really a community. Our garden is right in the midpoint of the block, and is "terraced" which means the land goes down a hill to the next street over, and each plot is on a different "step". It's really pretty, all fenced in with a white fence. It's divided up into 18 plots. My plot is at the top, right along the fence, which, as I mentioned, means people stop at the fence to talk to me. I have a little chair in there, in bright rainbow colors, so i can sit and relax in my garden. And I have a plastic cartoon turtle laying on its back in the middle of the garden

I mostly plant flowers, and some herbs and vegetables. Its going to really be great this year...if the squirrels would just stop digging up my bulbs. I've planted wonderful things. I picked spinach tonite to add to a pasta saute with shrimp and fresh herbs. Wonderful! With all the rain lately, my peas are popping out, the gladiolas and dahlias are growing inches over night, and the tomatoes and strawberries have blossoms already. Its going to be a good year.

The garden is the center of our community. Every evening there are a couple people, mostly women, in their plots, gardening and talking, sharing the watering and trading little treasures from their gardens. Some days someone will give away peppers... or zuchini, or give flowers to their friends. Its easy to forget that we are in the middle of a concrete jungle in 1999... it sometimes feels like we are in the past, in a small village...

When I find myself tired and hating the city I live in, surrounded by the ghosts of my 12 years living in this city, I want to just roll up Irving Street and take it with me, somewhere.



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