Those people who talk about cities like Detroit being the worst places to live have clearly never been to Long Island. Having been a lifelong native here, I can say without any shadow of doubt that this fish-shaped extension of sewage material, located due east of Manhattan, is one of the most intolerable, despicable, grimy, disgusting, vile, evil, filthy, overpopulated mounds of fecal matter to ever bedevil the history of mankind.
After traveling to over 30 states in the past few years, I’ve come to believe that Long Island uniquely exemplifies everything that’s wrong with this country. The exorbitant costs of living, the utterly corrupt police departments, the pothole riddled streets, a populace with disturbingly schizophrenic leanings, the high taxation, the list goes on and on. In a way, you could say Long Island is the kind of place that offers all the downsides of New York City, with none of the upside.
Long Island natives have an unusual proclivity for bipolar behavior, a reality that made my time growing up here a less than pleasant one. Hot one day, cold the next. Nice one day, a stone of rudeness the next. There was no consistency to the way people acted. I thought it was just me, but my mother told me her experience had been the same when she was a child, having been a former NYC native before moving further out east to Suffolk County, and recalling how utterly bewildered she was as well by the way people behaved.
I should mention, while Brooklyn and Queens is technically a part of Long Island, they are actually boroughs of New York City, retaining a distinctive difference in culture that remains separate from the suburban sprawls of Nassau and Suffolk County. It is these two specific counties that make Long Island what it is, and to which I reserve my unrepentant, vitriolic hatred for.
It wasn’t just my mother and me who noticed the peculiar behavior of the natives. Anyone I spoke to that was from out of town made the same observations: ”Man, people are crazy here. Must be something in the water.” It didn’t matter where they came from either. I’ve met foreign exchange students, people from Europe, people from out of state, even people from nearby Manhattan, and their reactions were nearly always the same. They ALL blamed the water too.
One of the things that clued me in to why Long Island natives were such a mentally unstable psychotic bunch was a little factoid I learned back when I was taking Psychology 101 in college. My professor had mentioned in passing that Long Island had the largest percentage of mental institutions per square mile than anywhere else in the country. Literally.
Well, that certainly answered a few questions.
Over time I had to learn not to take the natives’ rude and unstable attitudes personally, but it was one of the reasons my introverted personality became even more introverted as I grew up. I had very few friends during my childhood, filtering out the typical crazies, and holding on to the rare few whose minds were still sound for as long as I could. The only thing crazier than Long Islanders are Long Islanders who are teenagers, and indeed, I met some of the strangest and most bizarre people I have ever met in my life during my high school years. I remember one in particular during my junior year, a friend of my then best friend, who once got funky with his girlfriend’s mom in the backseat of her car… while her father filmed the whole thing from the front seat.
When I discovered that (from the news no less) I decided then that I had more than enough exposure to the human race, and it was time to close ranks and isolate myself before The Crazy got me too. Being a recluse was a small price to pay in order to preserve my sanity in an insane place.
This craziness also spills over into the roads too. The irrational and inconsistent behavior of the motorists has led me to endlessly deal with traffic split up between drivers who like to go 40MPH (usually in the left lane) and those who like to go 80MPH, with nothing in between. This is why people who drive in front of me are always going too slow while those behind me are always going too fast. I get sandwiched these two extremes during my daily commute, such that I can never use cruise control even when the traffic is moving. I’m not even dealing with the worst of it either due to working odd hours, so I’m able to commute without enduring LI’s infamous rush hour traffic. Rush hour here is a whole ‘nother fresh set of hell that only drivers in Los Angeles could begin to understand.
The overwhelming population and volume of traffic on Long island is so bad that most locals (including me) plan our outings based on traffic patterns. Timing is everything, and if you miss your chance, be prepared to spend three times as much time on the roads as you originally planned to, dealing with every crazy with (and without) a driver’s license under heaven. Only those who venture out at the crack of dawn or at 3AM will be spared the worst of the agony.
It’s even more unbearable in the summer, when school lets out and unleashes a horde of terrifying teenagers flooring mommy and daddy’s car into the red zone, along with a plague of old fogies arriving here from Florida to spend the summer and clog the roads with their Cadillacs, driving just as uber-slow as the teens drive uber-fast.
Until I started traveling to other states, I was always left with the impression that Long Island traffic wasn’t really unique, that it was just a fact of life for any area of the country with a heavy population density. But now, having driven on roads in over 30 odd states, I can truthfully say traffic on Long Island is in a class of its own.
Drivers can be jerkwads no matter where you go, but what I learned from driving outside of Long Island was how more predictable and consistent motorists were. Even more intriguing, if they saw you coming, especially in the left lane, they almost always moved out of the way. On Long Island, I have to laugh at people who flashed their lights at cars ahead of them because it proved they were obviously from out of town. The net result from flashing your lights is that the guy in front of you either blithely ignores you or slows down even more out of pure spite. We have no fast lanes here, even when traffic is light, because there are always slow pokes cluttering up the roads and threatening the safety of everyone by literally driving BELOW the minimum speeds on parkways. It results in a lot of frustrated drivers cutting in and out of lanes just to get around these virtual roadblocks, and it’s also why a pleasant cruise to nowhere in particular is always an impossibility.
And even if Long Island wasn’t a traffic nightmare, there’s really no place for me to go. Long Island is just… ugly. The myriad number of towns here belie the reality that it’s all one big indiscriminate suburban sprawl of cement and congested roads. There’s very little to distinguish one town/village from the next, and because of that there’s very little sense of community too. Instead, we have micro-cliques that either have their roots in childhood or are borne out of living in the same neighborhood for many years. It’s very unlike the small towns and even cities that I’ve traveled to, many of which tend to have this “Cheers” like atmosphere, where everyone knows your name (and they’re always glad you came). Social circles outside of Long Island seem less rigid and more open-ended, at least in my experience. Rather than constantly being treated as an outsider (or where your existence isn’t even acknowledged), it’s relatively easy to seek out and become a part of new social groups, even as a newcomer. There’s no drive to maintain a caste system in the way that I’ve seen here, and I think that may be partly due to Long Island’s proclivity for being indifferent and even hostile to strangers, no matter who they are, whereas I find there’s a higher sense of civility and overt friendliness nearly everywhere else, even in New York City. It’s actually stunning to experience the sea change in behavior once you drive or take the train a mere 50 miles or so from the suburbs to downtown Manhattan, where some sense of normalcy and civility is restored.
Some people may disagree that Long island is ugly, citing its beaches, seaports and numerous parks. The problem is whatever natural beauty it does offer is ruined by swarms of humanity who pollute the scenery everywhere they go. There is no place in which you can truly feel like you can get away from it all, except possibly the Hamptons, the seat of the uber-rich and ultra-privileged. Even then, it’s telling that it requires a roughly 100 mile drive to the near edge of Long Island just to “get away” for the weekend.
Long Island’s economic climate is also a veritable cesspool of fail. It follows the national trajectory of undermining and destroying the middle class (although in many respects it’s far ahead of the game than the rest of the country), making it true to its bipolar roots ( either hot or cold, fast or slow) and economically, either rich or poor, with nothing in between. Despite heavy taxation, the counties remain in massive debt, while the population density have pushed the astounding real estate market prices well beyond the reach of many first time home buyers. I recently read a statistic that more than 55% of people ages 20-34 on Long Island STILL live with their parents. There are not enough apartments to go around, and many are actually illegal dwellings due to not being up to code. The irony is that most illegal apartments are actually habitable, but coding ordinances are designed more to bilk residents out of more money than for valid safety reasons. As a result, apartments up to code often have exorbitant leasing costs. A studio near where I work for example is currently going for $2,400 to $2,800 a month. For a studio. What it would typically cost to rent a four bedroom home in nearly any state would barely cover the expenses of living in someone’s basement here. Outside of possibly San Francisco, Long Island has the most expensive real estate market in the country.
Even more infuriating is witnessing the endless line of “Section 8″ tenants who are able to live in luxury apartments for a third of the rent, and yet bringing down the quality of living for everyone by engaging in criminal behavior and refusing to clean up after themselves. It’s one thing to live on the government dole as a result of falling on hard times, but it’s quite another to pick up a tax funded paycheck while running a drug cartel out of your living room.
And yes, I also blame Long Island for dampening my dating life as well. Having given up on the local prospects, who range from the snooty, to the bizarre, to the outright insane, I tend to look for romantic prospects outside New York, yet the cultural/economic differences have often been difficult or even impossible to overcome. Those who live in areas with costs of living at normal rates can’t seem to understand why most Long Islanders don’t already own their first homes by say, age 21. It’s especially grating when so many rely on their parents’ wealth for their quality of living (something I never had the benefit of enjoying, and whose parents had to rely on me for financial support), and hence have no concept of what it’s like to endure true financial hardship. I can’t relate to people who’s had it too easy or too good, whose concept of suffering is a barista mistakenly pouring soy milk instead of almond milk into her latte. It creates a divide that makes it difficult for any girl residing outside the Long Island bubble to understand the life I’ve lived. I might as well be living in a third world country. Actually, given what a smelly landfill Long Island is, calling it a third world country probably wouldn’t be too far off the mark.
I would have escaped this rock a long time ago, but circumstances have prevented me from doing so, year after agonizing year. But… I think a door is finally starting to open. I have assets and opportunities now that I didn’t have before, and I’ve been making the routine effort to apply for jobs in all the places and states I’d like to move to. Whereas before finances were a major issue, now it’s just a question of securing a new job out of state, which unfortunately has become more difficult considering the economic climate we live in, but I’m hopeful. I see major changes in the year ahead, and hope it will soon bring the day when I am finally released from the prison that is this hateful island.