Get Your Passport, Kid is a paper my daughter wrote about me for a class during the autumn 2023 semester. I am using it with her permission. I have changed nothing substantial. I added a couple of commas, and I did create some subheads. Oh, and subsequently, she HAS applied for her passport, and received it less than a month later!
I recently had a conversation with Mr. Roger Green, my father. I chose him because he has lived a long life (70 years!), he is my eldest living family member who still has a reliable memory, and because he has a blog(!), so if there’s anything he’s a bit foggy on, he can look back at his own ramblings and re-enlighten himself. Both of us, plus my mother, also tend to agree that my father and I are very similar. I hope to channel his long-time blogger energy into my writings.
We had planned an hour-and-a-half Zoom meeting one afternoon, but he ended up accidentally pocket-dialing me a few minutes early on Facebook Messenger while he walked home from the bus stop. When he finally heard me, he took out his phone and showed me his walk past my elementary school in the neighborhood I grew up in, back to the house I lived in my whole life until coming to college here. It was a nice reminder of the place I call home, and I got to talk to my cats.
My father was born in Binghamton, New York, which, like most upstate New York cities, has fairly temperate weather with hot summers and cold winters. Roger went to SUNY New Paltz for his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, having him relocated to another upstate city, New Paltz, New York with the same subtle climate. And later he moved to Albany, New York, his third upstate city and final destination, where he settled down and lived for the past 40 years since attending SUNY Albany for his Master of Library Science degree. Having lived in three similar cities his whole life, none of which had much extreme weather -hot or cold- I asked him to focus on the landscape, architecture, and his environment.
Starting off my uber-professional interview with Roger I ask him about where it all began: Binghamton’s First Ward, 1953. Roger lived with his mother and father and two younger sisters in a two-family house with his paternal grandparents living on the top floor, in a home owned by his maternal grandmother. His maternal grandmother lived a few blocks away on Prospect Hill, the home he and his sisters would walk to for lunch break during school since their mother was out working. Their neighborhood was filled with big, old, multi-family houses near the banks of both the Chenango and the Susquehanna Rivers. Roger and his sisters would often walk by the Spring Forest Cemetery, where many of their relatives were buried. The Trinity AME Zion church my father’s family attended was located on Lydia St., a name that would come up again when it was time to name his first and only child.
Being black in the hometown
I wanted to know if being a black family affected how they experienced their landscape as well. Surprisingly to me, Roger seemed to feel that even though they grew up in a predominantly white area, he and his siblings didn’t encounter significant interpersonal racist interactions, as it was a somewhat progressive neighborhood. However, their race, or more specifically, perceived race, made their family unable to buy or rent their own house. Roger’s mother, while black, was very fair-skinned and was often unintentionally white-passing, while his father was dark-skinned and unambiguously black. This reality caused Roger’s parents to be viewed as an interracial couple, and in the 1950s and ‘60s, this meant no one wanted to sell or rent to them. Homeownership is, in my opinion, one of the first steps in building generational wealth, and if they did want to move, making that happen was unattainable at the time. Knowing Roger’s family wasn’t well off, it’s fair to assume that that affected how they went about their business. He tells me their vacations were never very far away. Sometimes, he, his sister, and their father would sing as their family group at the campsites they frequented rather than having to pay.
I did want to swing back around to the weather topic, and as I predicted, he didn’t have immediate terrible weather memories, but here are some unusual weather moments he could think of:
- Albany’s worst snowstorm (in Roger’s lifetime), October 4th, 1987 – not heavy but early in the season, and with leaves still on the trees, many branches were brought down, and thousands were without power for days.
- Bad snowstorm, March 1993 – 20+ inches of snow
- May snow, May 18th, 2002 – my mother’s college graduation ceremony was moved to an indoor venue because of the unexpected spring snow
- Hot, hot, hot, early 2000s – sent home from work because of the heat, and the company didn’t want to pay for all that air conditioning.
- Valentine’s Day snowstorm, February 14th, 2007 – The buses stopped running early, and Roger barely made it home. The Albany area got 1-3 feet of snow, which froze over the next day.
Next, I asked Roger what changes he has made due to climate change. Roger is a Capital District Transit Authority (CDTA) bus rider, which of course I knew since I lived with him for 18 years, and the man can’t drive, what else would he do? But I didn’t know how much of a CDTA advocate he was. He attended CDTA town halls and responded to their surveys. He is always willing to help people figure out what route or bus stop they need, how to secure their bike to the front bike rack on the bus, how to get a Navigator (refillable bus pass), and whatever people need to feel comfortable using the CDTA. Roger has also signed petitions to create safer bike lanes in Albany.
I was somewhat excited to get to our interview’s climate change talk section. I knew some of my dad’s fundamental beliefs and that he’s left-leaning, but since I haven’t lived at home in a bit, we hadn’t had the random world/political conversations I was used to in middle and high school.
Question: What are the causes and effects of climate change?
Answer: “Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere makes hot things hotter and leads to biodiversity loss; sea animals move differently because of warmer water, and islands will disappear due to rising waters.”
Question: Who do you usually talk to about climate change?
Answer: Like-minded people, friends, political allies, liberals.
Question: Do you follow climate news?
Answer: “Yes, liberal and conservative.”
Question: Are you involved in community groups that deal with climate change?
Answer: “No, not really. (What about the church and the library?) “Well, yes, I am part of groups that support climate action but not part of groups that specifically address climate change.”
Question: When did you start hearing about climate change or global warming?
Answer: “I heard about global warming in the ‘70s. It became climate change into the ‘80s because that was ‘less offensive.’ You’d have one colder-than-usual day, and all the global warming deniers would come out. So they changed it to ‘climate change.’ But overall, if you look at the data, “the globe is getting warmer; climate change is a wussy term!”
The librarian questions
Question: You worked with SBDC and SUNY Research Foundation. People would call you, and you’d answer their questions. Did you get any global warming questions?
Answer: “Later on. I was there for 26 years (1992 – 2019). In the first 15, absolutely not. In probably the last 10 or 12 years, yes. It’d be like, ‘What are the best fuels we should use to do what we want to do?’ Or finding the energy that would have the least ecological impact. Or taking a substance, like cooking oil, and using it as fuel. I think people’s awareness of it had grown so that people realized that maybe they could do something about it. ‘We can start a business to be more carbon neutral.'”
Question: What do you think about the climate and the planet’s health?
Answer: “I think we are in desperate straits.”
Question: What are you most worried about in relation to climate change?
Answer: “Mostly denial; it makes me terribly worried. You can’t fix it if you don’t think it’s a problem.” He was the most unnerved and ranty during this section. Climate change and global warming denial is worrying and anti-Christian.
At the end of our interview, I was reading off the post-conversation questions meant for me to answer on my own. “Did anything surprise you?” I asked myself out loud to get down any notations before they slipped my mind. Roger started to respond, “Well, what did surprise me…” I cut him off, “That’s a question for me, not you,” I responded. “Well, I want to answer it.” Okay, my bad.
“What surprised me was I hadn’t really thought about how limited my geographic parameters had been when I was growing up. Growing up in Binghamton, I think my world experience was encompassed by New York and Pennsylvania. I don’t think we ever even went to New England or Ohio.” This turned into a lecture about me getting my passport renewed (again). “That’s why I really want you to get your passport and travel when you can. It’s a very enriching experience.”
Roger and I grew up in and currently live in a small region of the world with his life path is Binghamton, New Paltz, and Albany, and mine is Albany and Amherst. In a later call, I mentioned that my friend and I wanted to study abroad. He was very supportive of that, and he restated his wish for me to get my passport so that I could see more of the world than he did. This aspect has been the most meaningful part of the conversation for me.