NYT Best-Seller Sloane Crosley On White Plains’ Unique Personality
With a little help from Hollywood, Sloane Crosley appreciates her hometown.
The first time I was conscious that anyone outside of New York had heard of White Plains was in 1987. The movie SpaceCamp had just been released on video and I was watching it in our living room (my parents have lived in the same house near Ridgeway Elementary School for 40 years). The plot of the movie is essentially as follows: An unlikely band of teenage misfits attend Space Camp in Florida. During a routine practice run, they are launched into outer space by an overzealous robot. As they attempt to master NASA technology and puberty, they form unbreakable bonds, learn life lessons, and land the spacecraft. (It’s a very realistic film.)
Towards the end of the movie, one of the teenagers recalls that there is an emergency NASA landing field in White Plains, somewhere “in the middle of New York.” Within seconds of dialogue, another character corrects this error: The field is actually in White Sands, which is in the middle of New Mexico. But that five seconds of movie magic was enough for me—someone in Hollywood actually knew of my hometown.
Prior to that, I had little to no associations with White Plains—or Westchester in general, for that matter. I assumed that any kid who wasn’t living in a major city or on a farm grew up in the same environment as I did. I had yet to read John Cheever or Richard Yates. I was 9.
It was only when I stepped outside the city lines—for summers in New Hampshire, college in Connecticut, and a move to Scotland—that I realized White Plains had a personality all its own. Beyond being defined by its proximity to the City, it was an entity in its own right, separate from its neighboring suburbs. The pizza on Mamaroneck Avenue, the castle-like middle school, the Irish pubs, the strange mix of housing projects and massive private homes, the multiple malls, the golf courses we used to sneak onto, the student parking lots we used to sneak out of…it was all specific to us.
Perhaps the greatest gift of growing up in White Plains is this: For so long, I didn’t know I was a product of Westchester. As an adult, I am conscious that my native county has certain associations, most of them pretty rarified. And I have a choice of answers to the question of “Where are you from?” I can say “Westchester” and watch as flashes of Tudor mansions, presidential residences, diet-doctor scandals, and Range Rovers flash across the other person’s mind. Or I can say “White Plains” and watch for a slightly different response, one less glamorous and more closely tied with Yonkers and Mount Vernon, downtown courthouses and office parks, and fruit sold off the back of trucks on Lexington Avenue. The reality is, naturally, somewhere in between. And either way, Hollywood had it right all long: When I want to come home, White Plains will always be the first place I think to land.