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Neighborhoods New York: Floral Park and Glen Oaks, Queens

Apparently New York City’s easternmost border is very porous.  So much so that even after a full forty-five minutes of Googling this morning, I could not say with any certainty where exactly its border with Nassau County even is.  Floral Park is the easternmost neighborhood, sure, but the neighborhood actually straddles the county line.  So visiting the neighborhood would put me over the city line if I took a step too far.  …At some point.  Hard to say where.

I’m pretty sure I was in Nassau County when I got off the Long Island Railroad – oh, yeah, that’s another thing, it is so far east it made more sense to take the LIRR train there from Brooklyn.  The only other option was 90 minutes on a subway followed by another 45 on a bus.  Seven stops on a Hempstead-bound train was much  more appealing, even though I was reasonably certain that at some point the train had brought me just outside the city limits – although within only a couple blocks’ walk, I was at the Little Neck Parkway, which according to most maps was well and truly in Queens.

To be honest, though, the exact location of the border may be just a technicality.  Even when I was meandering around the train station, all the houses had the same look of suburbia; small yards, rows of identical houses, lots of minivans in driveways, kids’ bikes dumped in front of garages and political signs next to sidewalks.  At the southern end of Little Neck Parkway, almost all the lawns had been clipped with the precision of crew cuts.  Many of the houses had already started decking themselves out for Halloween – plywood pumpkins or scarecrows set up by doorways, fake cobwebbing draped over hedges or flags over doors depicting Linus watching for The Great Pumpkin.  I counted about a dozen houses that all had the same “Enter if you dare!” sign on the front door in fake “dripping” red paint.

The weird thing, though, is that my usual reaction to suburbia – usually a full-body shudder and a flashback to a small-town childhood – wasn’t happening.  I had a sense of the history of the place – there were one or two folks who’d turned their houses into larger ornate things, but most houses were the same modest single-story bungalows that were probably original to the neighborhood.  Just off Little Neck the streets were nearly deserted; I jaywalked regularly on my walk north simply because there were no cars coming, anywhere.  One of the busiest streets I crossed, Hillside Avenue, was still fairly sleepy – no more than five or six cars lined up at the stoplight waiting for me to scurry across.

I lingered a bit where I crossed Hillside, studying the businesses.  There were a couple chains – Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizza Hut – but most were locally-owned, and catered to the neighborhood’s Indian population.  I counted three different shops offering sweets like burfi and jellebi all within two blocks of each other, with the Patel Brothers supermarket nestled between them all; its shop window promising a sale on jackfruit.  The bridal shop I passed had a row of mannequins in the windows, all wearing brilliantly colored and bejeweled saris and sherwanis.  And last on the block was a bar and smoke shop with the delightful name “Off The Hookah”.

But mostly it was houses – house upon house upon house, in the long quiet walk north.  I didn’t even finally see many people until I’d crossed Union Turnpike and got into Glen Oaks, and ran into a group of friends having four-way garage sale at one of their houses; four different card tables all strategically set up alongside each other, four people flitting back and forth between them.  They seemed to be doing brisk business – one man was showing a woman a turntable as I walked up, and another was taking money from another woman for an old lamp.  A couple people were picking through their big rack of clothes.  Despite myself, I glanced at the tables – and saw some very well-kept scarves and a couple glasses cases, all folded and tucked neatly into a box labelled “most $1 each”.  One of the salespeople wandered over just as I was pulling out a richly-patterned silk scarf.  “That’s beautiful!” he gushed.

I happened to have been thinking the very same thing.  “I’ll take it, how much?” I asked, as another man wandered over.  The first man called to a woman across the yard, but the second man saw I was also holding an eyeglass case and offered two dollars for the both of them.  “Sold,” I said, digging out my wallet.

The woman came bustling over, jumping over old toys strewn on the grass.  “What is it?  Did you need something?”

“Nah, we did your work for you, Dot,” the men laughed.

“Oh, okay!” she laughed too as I handed her the money.  “Works for me!”  And then she jumped back over the toys and ran to the far side of the yard again as I walked off, stuffing the scarf in my bag.

I’d noticed a steady stream of people on the sidewalk, but didn’t see what was drawing them all until the next block.  The Queens County Farm Museum was just up ahead, and had a whole roster of extra family-friendly events.  I’d been to the farm once before, on a quiet spring day when I was able to wander past the various vegetable gardens and peek in at the pigs and cows; this time, the farm was packed with a solid wall of people, all of them clamoring to get in line for the cornfield maze and the petting zoo and the hay rides and huddling around the booths and trucks selling roast corn and soda and hot dogs and grilled cheese and crepes.  The ponies were all down by the petting zoo, where some were shanghaied into offering rides to kids.  The alpacas were all huddled at the very far end of their pen, as far as they could get from the crowd.  The hens were all hiding under the eaves of their coop.  I didn’t even see the pigs.

The “pumpkin patch” was comparatively calm; it was about a half-acre patch of land, covered with pumpkins of various sizes and filled with families, all of the kids eagerly grabbing pumpkins and dragging them to their parents.  Most kids went for the biggest ones they could find and carry.  One kid, though, was going for quantity – he was concentrating on the smaller, softball-sized ones, but he was trying to pick up about seven of them at the same time. I watched him try again and again to pile as many as he could in his arms and under his chin, reaching down again and again to get the ones that toppled off.  There were a few parents posing their babies for pictures, balancing their costumed kids against the big pumpkins or in piles of smaller ones.

….I actually ended up with three small ones myself.

The noise and chaos drove me out of the farm soon after.  Just a block away was the Glen Oaks Village apartment complex, which somehow managed to be more bucolic than the neighborhood I’d walked through already – rows of neat brick apartment buildings and clipped lawns, and knots of people strolling between them.  The path I was on lead to a traffic circle at the complex’s center, with a park at the very center – complete with a Little League ball field, a knot of kids playing a lively pickup game on it.  Here and there some older folks kept watch from chairs on their front porches or balconies.  I found myself wanting to watch, but it was nearly time for the next train back to Brookyn.  So I wandered the full way around the traffic circle, watching the autumn light filter through the leaves just starting to turn gold and listening to the laughter and shouts of the boys, before I turned to head out towards the turnpike and the walk back to the train station and home.

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