COMMENTARY: Goin' to Long Island in my mind

After 21 years, this quintessential Long Islander is leaving...for good. The girl who speaks at the speed of light and embodies all stereotypes of New York, is packing up her life and learning to say y'all. I'm taking my unmistakable accent, and with my family, am relocating to the South.

I'm pretty standard for a New Yorker my age - third generation American whose great-grandparents came to Ellis Island and settled in New York. Grandparents and parents were raised in Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx. Once the grandchildren were born, they moved out to Long Island to give the kids a better life. Instead of apartments we grew up with houses and big backyards.

 We went to public schools - not parochial - and we never took buses to get around town. As I prepare to shift below the Mason-Dixon line, I realize there is a unique culture I leave behind, one you can't find anywhere else. It's not New York, it's not "the city", but a lifestyle specific to the suburbs stuffed between the five boroughs and the Hamptons.

Long Island is the only place I know where people go to sleepaway camp well into their 20s. First they are campers, then they become staff. All I want to know is with tuition at several thousand dollars per summer, how many years does it takes to become part owner? The sad reality: when these people graduate college, the only job on their resume is counselor at Camp Let-me-take-your-parents'-year-end-bonus.

 There are some commercial staples here that I don't know how I will live without. For example, at any one shopping center you will find one or more of the following: a bagel shop, pizza place, deli, nail shop and/or hair salon. And by some miracle of economics, they all stay in business.

We also can't forget the plethora of fast food. Within a mile on the main road in town you will find any eatery your heart desires. But fast food is pretty much the only chain food places you'll find. Pizza and bagels are not franchises here. Hence my surprise freshman year that Papa John's was just like Domino's and not just a corner shop owned by John.

Coming to Duke, I was prepared for intense athletic competition. How you ask? Two words: little league. Kids' sports get extreme here with parents heckling not only referees, but other peoples' children, from the sidelines and yes, an actual draft for teams. Between soccer, basketball and baseball, it's a year round saga during which coaches favor their own children and select teams are made by who you know, not how talented you are. And should the parents get bored making children's sports political, they always have the school board and PTA elections. This little island may seem pretty dull, but it can get better and nastier than Melrose Place.

 Nightlife on the island is exciting, and by exciting I mean boring to the point of tears. Evening options are limited to the movies, mini-golf, bowling and getting coffee, with all ending around midnight. Regardless of what you do, on Long Island you always end up at the diner. It's the only place in town where you have to wait for a table at 11 p.m.

Most weekends of high school consist of piling into booths with your friends and ordering massive amounts of cheese fries and waffles, the blessing of an all-meals, all the time eatery.

 Somewhere in the blur that is my life, this quirky place became my home, and a place on which I am proud and lucky to have grown up. Life here is not glamorous or exciting 24/7, but Long Island has its own special charm, and it will forever hold a place in my heart

. I may be leaving, but some things won't change. I will always pronounce coffee "caw-fee", as it was intended. I will root for the Mets; I will say Strong Island...and mean it.

 I will always know what real pizza and bagels taste like, and notice the change in accent as I move from borough to borough.

 I spent 21 years equidistant from Manhattan and the Hamptons and will always say "I never got out there enough." And whether the trademark accent fades, my hyper-speech slows to an understandable level, or I gain a healthy desire for grits, I will forever be a Long Islander.

Jennifer Wlach is a Trinity senior and a regular Chronicle columnist.


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