Deb’s Psychedelic Saturdays – On Becoming a Hippie (Chapter 34) – Moving to the South End of Albany

Written by on October 31, 2020

Finally, in 1983, Paul and I had enough money to get an inexpensive apartment in the South End of Albany. It was on Green Street, in “The Pastures” area. The city had just finished putting up a new development with two- and three-story buildings made to look like brownstones for “section 8” housing. We were eligible for one of these which meant that we would pay a percentage of our combined income each month rather than a pre-determined rent. The city was trying to spruce up the ghetto and also provide alternative housing. It was a good deal for us, so we moved in June. The city later built new homes for sale to low-income families which was a good idea in theory. Absentee landlords are always a problem in low-income neighborhoods. When people own their own homes, they care for them more responsibly and don’t have to depend on someone else who may or may not care much. In practice though, the contractors for this project used shoddy materials, and unfortunately those family-owned homes deteriorated fast. I remember walking by after only a year or two and see the façade peeling off. It was sad to see that broken promise. However, our buildings were made to last.

We lived on the second floor in an apartment with three bedrooms, a long living room/dining area, a small but workable kitchen and a bathroom with a tub. There were parking lots for all of the residents and a small playground in the central yard. After too many months of living in my parents’ basement, we were excited to settle in. Each of the kids had their own room for the first time. We were in a real neighborhood, close to downtown, in the State Capital with so much to do and lots of exploration ahead. Yes! This was the adrenaline rush I love.

Homes on Green St. in The Pastures neighborhood on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018 in Albany, N.Y. (Lori Van Buren/Times Union)

Very soon after moving in, Jessie came running up the stairs crying that some kid had stolen her bike. He came up and asked if he could have a turn riding it, and she agreed. Then he rode off laughing. We knew nothing about this new city we were in, not the demographics or the different neighborhoods. Paul and I both grew up in the suburbs and knew how to get by on the road but living in the ghetto would be a change for all of us. Paul immediately called the police who immediately came and laughed at us. Then, seeing that we needed to adjust, they gave us some advice. Always lock your doors and bikes or keep your bikes inside. Don’t trust the kids in the neighborhood to tell the truth. Don’t really trust anyone and “Don’t go over to Morton Avenue because that’s where all the drug dealers are.” We thanked them for their wisdom, waited an appropriate amount of time, then Paul headed over to Morton Avenue to replenish our stash. It had taken a lot of smoking to get by at Mom and Dad’s! Now, thanks to the helpful police, we knew right where to go.

We met a few neighbors, but most of them were cautious. The kids in the neighborhood didn’t know what to make of our kids. Justin had been raised in the country for the most part and was totally comfortable with peeing on a tree. These city kids were horrified, so I had to break him of that habit. Our immediate downstairs neighbors were hard-livers and very personable. We got along well. They had a daughter Jessie’s age which was nice for both of them. We also met a couple of Deadheads who lived a block away. They had a baby, and Annette was home with her, so we became fast friends. Before long, Jessie started taking piano lessons from Annette and met one of their neighbors who had a daughter a couple of years older than her. They hit it off immediately. Even before school started back up in the fall, Jessie had made friends and seemed to be fitting in. Then we’d see what happened once school started.

When I knew that we were moving to Albany, I started looking into the local public school. After the issues I’d had with the school in Beaver, Oregon with their paddling rule, I wanted to know ahead of time what we were getting into. When I spoke with the principal of this public school and told him that we had recently relocated from Oregon, he assured me that security had been tightened up that year. They checked every child for weapons before they entered the school. I asked him to repeat himself, thinking I must have misunderstood. I even drove by one morning to see for myself. There was no way I was going to send my child there. She would be mortified and eaten alive or turned in a direction I wasn’t prepared for. I remembered that my friend from the East Greenbush town beach, Linda, had told me about The Free School. It was an alternative school located only a few blocks away from our new apartment. Not long after that, I met one of the founder’s sons who also mentioned it. We didn’t have any money for an extra expense like tuition, but after meeting her son, I decided to go visit. I immediately loved the vibe of the place. It was filled with hippies of various ages and lots of laughing, playing children. Jessie, Justin and I had visited for a week before the end of the school year, negotiated a very generous sliding-scale tuition and signed her up for the following September.

That summer was a whirlwind of activity. We were back in a city with music, art and theater everywhere. We went to outdoor festivals and street festivals. And we started making new friends. One of the first events we attended was a Rok Against Reaganomix concert held in Washington Park. It was an all-day affair with bands, solo artists and speakers. Paul and I had written a song called “No Free Lunch” about Reaganomics and approached the organizers about the possibility of performing it onstage. At first, they said no because the roster was so full which was understandable. They didn’t know who us. Then one of them asked to hear a little bit of it then managed to squeeze us on the schedule. That song became so locally popular that it was requested all the time, but we got sick of it. Eventually, we started including a coupon for “No Free Lunch” on the bottom of our posters that could be redeemed for the song. We met a lot of people that day including the bands and musicians who played, Glenn Weiser, Terry Phelan, The Stomplistics, Fear of Strangers, Begonia, The Units and more. We also met many local activists. We had finally found our tribe.

One of the most fun during that day was meeting LoAnne (with WolfJaw) and Yuma. Paul and I usually wandered our separate ways at events, especially when in a new town. As I wandered, keeping my kids in sight, I met a woman and her big dog. I’ve always loved dogs, grew up with them and often owned them as an adult. This dog was special. We started talking, realizing how much we liked each other and decided to go look for our partners and bring them in on this meeting. I found Paul and almost simultaneously, we both said, “I just met the coolest person. You have to meet her/him. I know we’re going to be great friends.” Apparently, the same thing was happening with LoAnne and Yuma. We were all amazed at the synchronicity of that meeting. And we did in fact become good friends.

We also joined the Rok Against Reaganomix Committee which kept us busy organizing fundraising concerts at the local clubs and the big summer concert each year. We all became close, an extended family, having potlucks and parties, with our children playing together, and some of us have remained friends for many years.

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