Things That Make Us Feel At Home: Harlem

NYC can be a hard place for the transplants to feel at home (whatever that means). Nearly six years later after leaving Alabama to move to NYC I still have a confusing need to feel connected to my home -- to get my bare feet in that red dirt, even if only in my mind.

Despite the crowds, buildings, noises, lack of Milo’s, and not a damned decent football game to go to, every so often, if I’m extra quiet and really still I can catch a little glimpse of Ol’ Bammy. Don’t worry this will not be a list of “soul food“ restaurants or BBQ restaurants. 1) NYC aint really got good ones. 2) That’s not really what we are trying to talk about here. It’s the small things that make you feel at home. The just barely tangibles are what I think really ease that homesickness -- that level of comfort only achieved when you sit back down on your old couch or see an old teacher from school. It’s a rare and subtle thing, but precise and almost hard to explain.   

I’m sure y’all know New York is a pretty big town so I figured I could list these places, moments, and people who make me feel at home one neighborhood at a time. My home in New York is Harlem. My wife and I have only ever lived in this neighborhood since moving to New York, and I thank God for that. If you are from the South and live in NYC maybe this list can give you some ideas of ways to feel at home in Harlem.

5. Watkins health foods

Watkins is a Caribbean juice and smoothie shop that specializes in health/cure tonics, supplements, and skin and hair care products. I know, I know -- On the surface it doesn’t scream southern, but hear me out. Watkins is a family owned business, ran by people from rural areas. They have a slightly different accent, but the old ladies still call you “baby” and the old men are grumpy and love to talk about how “The young people nowadays don’t know anything about work...” They may not be southerners, but come on, that’s southern. I try to go in once a week to support a great family business and catch that little dose of home. It’s not much, except some days -- some days,  it’s everything.

4. The baseball fields at Marcus Garvey Park

The blocks surrounding MGP are a fairly unique spot in the city. It’s a five block square around guarded by mostly pre-war buildings. There is a feeling of seclusion around the park. Now, this is all good and well, but when spring comes around the baseball games start. It’s a beautiful thing. It starts to get hot, the crickets and cicadas start to chirpin’ and then, oh lord, then the grills come out. So, you are sweating, smelling folks grillin’, and hearing parents yell for their kids or at the umpires and lord have mercy it’s good.

3. Target

Honestly, I don’t have much to say about this one. Sometimes I just need to be in a Target.

2. Marching band on 125th

During the summer months on the corner of Lenox ave & 125th st, the drum core from some local school shows up in the morning and plays their asses off all day through the heat. When I catch the sound of the marching snares and quints from a few blocks away, that is the moment, the irresistible flash of nostalgia for late summer football season. Everytime I hear it, I feel the weight and clumsiness of my high school football pads on my shoulders, pregame nerves, and a burst of youthful hope and excitement. Now, it’s still NYC after all so, unlike the marching band I grew up with, these young people are out here working and if you are caught diggin on the unified cracking of the snare drums without dropping a dollar in the bucket, you may be politely asked to re-think your lack of contribution.  

1. Moonpies

The Rite Aide across the street from my apt has them… Roll Tide