Are you sticking with New York?

The gravitational pull of the place is strong -- from bialys to Broadway -- but wander out of town and you start wondering, gee, what would life be like in the Poconos? Or Delaware or North Carolina or Arizona or, of course, Florida, though you'd want to be careful of any spot the kids consider a prime destination since, depending on circumstances, they may be why you're contemplating a move in the first place.

Gazing at house and condo photos in the windows of far-flung real estate offices is a form of self-torment New Yorkers cannot resist. Yes, the charming cottage on a half-acre would cost six times as much on Long Island, and we pay as much property tax in a month as they do in a year. The driveway is wide as Jericho Turnpike, there's more parking than at Citi Field and closing costs will not demand a loan from organized crime.

True, all of it.

We were on the road for a while this summer, roaring through the Midwest on a marathon mission to see old friends. It's a great country, really, despite regular reports of doom and decline. In general, people are decent and friendly and not nearly as angry as call-in radio might indicate. If you had to, you could live just about anywhere and be OK.

Too late for dinner one night in Youngstown, Ohio, we settled for a Mexican joint near the interstate -- empty but with a staff that treated us like regulars, despite our closing-hour arrival. The chatty, post-teen waitress said she was completing beauty school -- you could tell she was a serious student because her hair was several experimental colors -- and adulthood awaited and, well, she didn't know exactly what to expect.

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"You should take a look at New York," we said.

"New York?" gasped the waitress. "I haven't been to Pittsburgh!"

Westward, we pressed. In River Forest, Illinois, just outside Chicago, a Long Island friend found a terrific house at a great price in a beautiful neighborhood -- Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway once lived nearby -- and on a street paved with bricks. The bricks looked just fine to me, no cracks and with a nice, ruddy complexion, but our friend said officials soon would replace them with new bricks to make sure things were absolutely perfect. Highway superintendents of Nassau and Suffolk, please take note.

We visited other New York expatriates in Minneapolis, so tidy and civilized a metropolis it could be Canadian; spent a night in Ottumwa, Iowa, where John Deere makes the bright green balers and harvesters you see all over the country, and then on to Columbia, Missouri.

My wife, Wink, and I went to school at the University of Missouri, and still feel grateful to the big State U. -- Mizzou -- in the middle of the country that welcomed a couple of kids from New Jersey and Brooklyn.

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Columbia has gone prime time, and how. No more 99-cent Sunday brunches at the lunchroom downtown but plenty of boutiques and big city-style bistros, snazzy apartments and more than one tattoo and body piercing parlor. It is a high-energy heartland oasis, Columbia, smack between St. Louis and Kansas City. Life would a dream there -- wouldn't it?

In Webster Groves, near St. Louis, we had dinner with friends from college days. It was easy to see why they stayed put. Quiet streets, century-old houses, a new sculpture garden, farmers market in Gazebo Park, home of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis -- nice place, Webster Groves. Elites may dismiss this part of the country as "flyover" territory but not the un-elite Wink and me.

Last stop was Granville, Ohio, east of Columbus. We rolled into town late, but pals held dinner and welcomed us back after many years. We laughed, six of us, recalled old times, drank to longevity and good luck. Outside, it was an abundant world -- alive with jittery night sounds and the lazy yawn of a dairy herd in the distance and stars blinking like fireflies. Tempting, a pretty town like Granville -- little shops on East Broadway, Denison University up on the hill. America unplugged.

Home again, we stowed the suitcases, re-entered orbit.

"Nice trip," we said, even if 3,000 miles in a week was asking a lot of the lower back.

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A couple days later, Wink left her wallet at the drugstore and a nice manager, honest as Ottumwa, called to say come pick it up, and, of course, wouldn't consider a reward. We had a mushroom pizza downtown so perfect it might have sailed, Frisbee style, from heaven. The Mets went on a win streak, we got our annual beach stickers for the car and -- what do you know? -- they paved our street.

We looked around, took stock. These post-journey debriefings are always the same. Other places may make more sense, but New York is home, special -- bialys, Broadway and everything in between. Probably, we'll keep looking in real estate windows here and there and sigh, yes, life might be swell in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, or Ashville, North Carolina, but, let's get real, we're not budging, are we?

Then again you never know. I haven't been to Pittsburgh, either.

 

GOODBYE, LONG ISLAND?

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Are you saying goodbye to Long Island for good? Where and when are you going? How did you decide where to go? What makes your new home better than the one you’re leaving? Share your story for possible publication. Email act2@newsday.com, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, N.Y. 11747-4226. Include your name, address and phone numbers.