I was enjoying a magnificent meal at a trendy Manhattan restaurant last week, reminiscing with friends with whom I graduated from Jericho High School some 20 years ago, when one old chum unfurled the all-too-familiar question: "Are you moving back to Long Island or heading to Westchester or New Jersey?"
Of course I was anticipating the inquiry. My wife and I have been fielding it from friends and relatives non-stop since our first child was born in December. I was just expecting it to arrive closer to dessert than the appetizer, especially since he himself had been on the firing line not too long ago.
"All of the above," I replied for fear of offending any members of our little group, most of whom had also recently resettled in one of my three predetermined options after spending post-collegiate stints in the big City.
Bomb defused (for now), I opened up the table to a debate on the pros and cons of returning to our native Long Island following years spent in diaspora.
"I can give you five reasons why I moved back to Long Island," said Jeff Blick, a star point guard for Temple Beth Torah basketball team two decades ago and now a financial advisor and father of two residing in Syosset. "Friends, family, I know the roads, Bagel Boss and, as a diehard Ranger fan, I want to be in a place where I can fight with lots of Islander fans."
Randy Diamond also chose to return to L.I. to be close to his family and friends, but "we certainly didn't choose to come back for the traffic!" Randy, a Wall Street trader, and his wife Vicki, a lawyer, waited until their second child before leaving Manhattan. As for moving north to Westchester or Rockland County, he proudly proclaimed, "We didn't even consider it. That's heresy."
Traffic was a big consideration for Eric Gray, a real estate executive living on the Upper West Side and who will soon be facing the same multiple choice question put to me, now that his wife is close to giving birth. Eric, however, had a more definitive answer. Eventually he's going to Westchester.
"We can't return to Long Island. The beaches are gorgeous and it was a great place to grow up but the traffic is just unbearable." Added Scott Levine, an accountant also still living in NYC, "There is one main artery on Long Island, the L.I.E., and day or night, you just can't trust it."
"OK. So there's traffic," I countered. "But what about the railroads?"
"The Port Washington line is great for getting into the city, but Great Neck and Port Washington houses are just too pricey. Nassau County prices are out of hand, it's hard for us to go back to where we grew up."
Mortgage executive Adam Salti solved both the traffic problem and the Nassau county dilemma. He moved his family and his business east.
"I live and work in Suffolk County and its great, lots of space and you still have access to all the best things about Long Island."
Marc Weshler, another member of our group agreed with Salti's assessment, "There is more space in Suffolk, Nassau County has gotten too crowded. They are shoving in new condos in Jericho wherever they can, and there is not much room in a tiny town like Jericho."
Both Adam and Marc now happily reside in Dix Hills, although Marc still has to fight "that damn traffic" to get to his display business in Long Island City.
Richard Greene, also in the mortgage business and currently living with his wife Darcy in Forest Hills, concurred, "Suffolk County used to be an afterthought, but it's looking better and better."
By the time the check arrived the debate had been reframed as Nassau vs. Suffolk as opposed to Long Island vs. Westchester and New Jersey. Moreover, I realized our group had totally neglected the possibility of moving west to the Garden State.
"Hey guys, what about New Jersey?" I asked as we grabbed our coats to leave.
At this suggestion, all my old friends looked at me askance.
"Come on, let's be serious."