Thee Elm City
New Haven, Connecticut is where I now find myself. When most people ask where I'm from, I usually say New Haven. I honestly have never lived within the city limits, but Ansonia (where I'm really from) is 10 miles northwest of the Elm City. Besides, how many people are going to know where Ansonia is? Hell, people who have lived within spitting distance of Ansonia still don't know where it is!
I have always liked New Haven, and though it might be cool to say the place sucks, I still like New Haven. For a city of only 125,000 it has culture, no doubt helped by its most prominent landmark Yale University (where I am now typing this--don't tell anyone!) The joke in these parts goes: New Haven would be just like Bridgeport if not for Yale. (Bridgeport, 20 miles west, is Connecticut's largest city (yet mostly unknown by those outside of the state) and a textbook case of post-Industrial burnout.)
New Haven was the place that my dad brought me to when we wanted to go to "a city". My dad (and his parents) grew up in the city, so it was natural to gravitate to here. My favorite place to go to was Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History, filled with displays of dinosaur skeletons. Come on, I was a kid! The now vacant Coliseum is where we went to see concerts (Motley Crue in '90, dude! Tommy Lee fell on his head!) and the Green always held a festival or something every weekend in the summer.
I've been immersing myself in All Things Elm City since I've been here. I've eaten quite a bit of pizza (a city specialty), hung out in the coffee shops (which are open later than in Portland), and rode my bike around this crazy town. It's always fun to visit and hang out with old friends, but I don't think I'll ever return to live here.
While New Haven has stuff going on, it always felt a bit stifling, the big fish in small pond syndrome. The music scene has never gotten much respect (though that may change since the Mates of State, yes the Mates of State are based here) We've either had the "almost made its" (Spring Heeled Jack, Miracle Legion) or the "do we really want to admit they're from heres?" (Carpenters, and ugh, Michael Bolton). Due to the city's crippling inferiority complex, many bands or artists that want to "make it" move to either Boston or New York. It doesn't help that Beantown and the Big Apple are 125 miles and 80 miles from here, respectively. And New Haven is an easy two hour train ride to Grand Central via Metro North. New Haven will always be in New York's shadow. The Elm City's pervasive cynicism and jadeness pushed me to the West Coast in order to spread my wings. And I've been thriving ever since.
But there's been signs of positive change over the 5 years that I've left the area. While some of my cherished landmarks of old are now a memory (Tune Inn, York Square Cinemas), there have been things happening that I would never have imagined back then. For one, the city has its own zine library (housed in the basement of the Free Library, no less!) A community-oriented all ages music space opened in Hamden, the town to the north. And, surprise of surprises, New Haven has a burgeoning bicycle community, with a rad bike shop, a killer listserve, and a jumping Critical Mass (which be tonight), that numbers over 100 in the summer months. 100 is great for a city this size!
Since last night, I've been crashing at my old friend Jesse's pad in West Haven, a quick 20 minute bicycle ride to downtown New Haven. (West Haven is um, west of, er, New Haven). I've known him for 10 years, when he was in Sgt. Scagnetti, the infamous ska band that I eventually became "merch guy" for. Jesse has become a local celebrity since he is the producer and a featured personality on Connecticut's number-one morning drive time radio show. It's weird because both my parents listen to the show and always talk to me about him. ("I heard on the radio that Jesse just bought a condo.")
And yep, I'm chilling at that condo right now. We took a trip down old memory lane and talked about old times, the band, the ska scene of the mid to late 90's in CT, the friends and acquaintances. Recounting old stories reminds me of why I stuck around the place for so long. The scene was hoppin' between 1995 and 2000 and I was thick in it. I made some good friends and saw plenty of great shows. It was only when everything fell apart did I finally have the cojones to leave my native lands and try out a new life. I miss some of the things from "back in the day", but that's all in the past. Memory has the tendency to retain the good and drop the bad, and believe me, there was plenty of bad to fill in the gaps. Might as well press on...