Real New Yorkers are proud of their hometown, which includes not only New York City but their particular borough. From time to time this year I will look at all five boroughs through the eyes of a local.
Let’s start with what many consider the bastard child of New York City: Staten Island. Musician and artist Lou Russo has lived in the Bay Terrace section of the borough for over 20 years, and has strong opinions about its people, why it is often misunderstood and how other New Yorkers write it off.
Q. As a born and bred Brooklynite, why did you move to Staten Island, and which borough do you identify with?
My wife Terry and I moved to Staten Island 22 years ago. In addition to getting a great price on a home, we knew that Staten Island had much lower real estate taxes than the other boroughs or New Jersey. For a long time, I related more to Brooklyn, where four generations of Russos grew up. But now that I’ve connected to the creative community in Staten Island (yes, there is such a thing), I’ve developed a real pride in who we are.
Q. How do you think other New Yorkers view Staten Island, and vice versa?
I think they look down on Staten Island and its people. They often harp on the old garbage dump that was out here, the conservative politics, our supposed lack of sophistication. In addition, the city punishes us at every opportunity. Just look at the ridiculous toll ($13 each way) they put on the Verrazzano Bridge, the highest toll on the entire East Coast.
Rodney Dangerfield got more respect than we do. People born here are particularly aware of this and resent other “Yorkers”, even former Brooklynites like me. Those who moved out here from the other boroughs are an interesting group. For example, most of those who came from Brooklyn were liberals, but apparently as soon as they had enough money to buy a home, their politics moved way to the right (just check the voting records of the past 50 years). That hasn’t and will never happen to my wife and I, who will always care about social injustice.
Q. How does living in Staten Island compare to living in Brooklyn?
I understand “Brooklyn pride” as well as anyone. The borough has a unique character and history, with the moxie of the underdog, battling every day to survive (at least where I grew up in Bensonhurst) while always playing second fiddle to Manhattan. Yes, I know Brooklyn now has its own trendy cachet, but I’m talking about when and where I grew up, with real Brooklynites, not transplants.
I experienced culture shock when I moved out here. For starters, Staten Island is way more laid back. There is less crime and more parks and lakes, even wildlife. I now find it an easier, more comfortable way of life. Not only is real estate cheaper, but so is auto insurance and virtually everything else.
Q. How has living in Staten Island affected your creative career?
As a member of the Staten Island Songwriters Circle and the Staten Island Acoustic Music Society, I have the camaraderie of plenty of creative people like myself, and they keep my wife Terry and I pretty busy performing in local Staten Island venues.
The creative scene here provides an energy to feed upon, and so my creative juices have constant stimulus, whether it be writing, performing, illustrating or designing.
Q. Any other thoughts?
Just that my wife and I have found happiness in Staten Island–it’s our little, self-contained universe. A few years ago, I became Art Director of the borough’s world renowned Mandolin Brothers. Music and art, my two passions, are satisfied here–and I don’t even have to commute!