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Sesame Street Mount Pleasant Street Redux

I used to take my kids to Heller's and then we’d sit in Lamont Park and watch the pigeons fly in formation from one building to another. Then the kids would finish their cookies and start running around on the stage and I’d think about why I love Mount Pleasant street so much.

A lot of people are irked by the moniker “a Village in the City” but I really get it. I love the way the main street is situated not as a pass-through from one place to another, but as a destination for people to go about the business of life. “I’m going to the high street,” my husband says on Sunday mornings. I love how people live out their daily lives and ordinary routines on the street. They go get their hair cut. They go to the dentist. They do their laundry and grocery shopping. They wire money and ship packages home. They buy cakes and balloons for their celebrations. They sit on stoops. They run into their friends, their teachers, kids they taught in elementary school. Oh and now they can go to open mic nights and see their friends bands play at Haydees! It’s like an edgy version of Mayberry – or better yet, Sesame Street – the 1970s pre-Elmo Sesame Street.

My favorite scenes in Sesame Street were the ones on the street – Mr. Hooper’s store, Oscar grousing, kids sitting on the stoop with Gordon. I was entranced by this world – the world of “the street” constructed as a safe and accepting place. I could tell that a lot of the kids depicted on the show had less stuff than me, that their homes were smaller, that their streets were dirtier and that their days were populated by odd and sometimes rather unpleasant characters. But there was a sense of acceptance and ease totally absent in my world, on my tree lined street, in my tiny private school. And unlike me, none of these kids seemed afraid. They were allowed to walk their urban streets, to sit on stoops, to go to Mr. Hooper’s store alone.

This image of being a liberated kid in the city lodged into my consciousness and counteracted all the other 1970s media imagery bombarding me that constructed urban life as something fearful and violent and uncaring.

And now, raising my own children here, I try not to get too nostalgic for my own idealized longings or too overtaken by urban platitudes about street smart kids. I love that they want to walk to the corner store by themselves but I walk behind them at a distance, let them feel that sense of liberation I so longed for but with me close behind. "Pretend not to know me," I say and they race off ahead of me laughing and proud to a store where the shopkeeper knows them.

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