Viewpoint

I was born and raised in New York City. Please don’t laugh, but when I was little, I thought that country referred to the vacant lot with a tree. Eventually, my mother took me to some of the larger parks in the city, and my concept of the country developed just a bit. Joining the Scouts saved me from a terminal New York focus by introducing me to the world across from Washington Heights accessible only by crossing the George Washington Bridge. I began to have dreams of leaving New York and voyaging over the map’s edge into that great unknown. I had been to camp in New Jersey and upstate New York, but by and large, my view of the world was one of a vast horizon across from the Bridge with indicator arrows stabbing down from the sky. The neon arrows marked California, the “West,” Chicago, and the Mississippi. To the North was Boston and the “North Woods.”
The illustrations of ” A New Yorker’s View of America” are close to how I imagined it.
It rested there until one late March morning when I departed from New York’s Greenwich Village for Boston. Later, I traveled north during the summer to see what was on offer elsewhere in New England. Among other things, I discovered towns with actual rural borders. You came to a place where the town ended. Snip. In town, then out of town into fields and woods. No suburbs – NYC went on for miles with nothing but the city, and then miles of suburbs. It never seemed to end, like a nightmare where the urban landscape went on forever.
When I came to the border, and there was nothing but fields and woods, I was amazed that It seemed for a second as though I had stepped into a Twilight Zone episode. Cue Rod Serling – “Imagine that you’ve stepped into a world…”
Deciding to explore this strange phenomenon, I traveled to Maine, where I took a job at the Poland Springs Hotel. From my room in the dorm for hotel workers, I could see nothing but forest. Early in the morning, rivers of fog crept up the valley to the hilltop where the hotel sat. In the evening, I watched gaudy sunsets over the Presidential Mountains to the west. None of my previous life experiences compared. Sunsets over the New Jersey Palisades were boring by comparison,
Among the friends I met were a brother and sister working at the hotel to earn college money. Each week, we’d spend time around a campfire singing songs and exchanging stories about our lives. There were lots of differences and some similarities. We were all currently as far away from home as we had ever been in our short lives, and we all had an appetite to see more of the country. The differences were substantial. They had never been as far as the state capitol in Augusta or Portland ( Maine’s largest city). They had seen those places on television, and that was the only reassurance that I wasn’t spinning a fantasy. Boston was near the end of the world.
One night around the campfire, I told them about the cartoons and illustrations of a New Yorkers view of the United States. They laughed because it was the same sort of picture they had had of the United States except their tiny island was the viewpoint, and small lights indicated everything to the westward.

When the hotel closed for the season, we went our sperate ways. They went off to college, and I moved on to other “frolicking detours.”
I don’t think I ever expected to hear from them again. But just before Christmas, I got a call from the Teahead of the August Moon (self-proclaimed chief potentate of the Folkie Palace) that a package had arrived from Maine for me. That evening we all sat at our table in the Back of the Harvard Gardens drinking beer. My friend Bill handed me the package. After carefully removing the outer paper wrapping, I removed two protective cardboard panels to find a watercolor painted on heavy paper. It was the view from the top of the hill where the hotel sat. Looking west and south from the hotel were little arrows marking places like New York, Portland, and Los Angelos.
There was one arrow that was labeled “Wes’ Folkie Palace, Grove Street, Boston.”

2 Replies to “Viewpoint”

  1. Boy do I understand this point of view. I found it entirely different in some ways and similar in others. Having moved every few months, my world was expansive physically but I was in my late 30’s before it registered that food didn’t get grown in the commissary or grocery store. Moving to California made it apparent that food came from the ground or trees. Meat! OMG I’m surprised I still eat it. What a rude awakening. Fresh fruit and vegetables!! I thought they grew in a can. Whipped cream came from a spray can. We didn’t get real milk either so how would I know where that came from. We almost all start out in tiny bubbles and then hopefully that bubble expands to let in new knowledge. Everyone should travel the world much less their own state or country. I’ve learned I can’t live without trees around me. Even my little trailer park is loaded with trees. I’ll be out there in the morning cool making sure they get water again. Loved reading this. You always make me smile with your perspective.

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  2. That’s so great!

    Here’s a good one for you: For a field trip in grade school, grade 2, we went to the franchise restaurant, Boston Pizza, to make our own pizzas. I came home and told my brothers that I had gone all the way to Boston. They howled. I had no idea why. 🙂

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