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Drawing Battle Lines

By Tina Traster

March 5, 2009 -- I got stopped by police on suburban roads for registration inspections twice late last November. When I saw the phalanx of cop cars and flashing lights the first time, I grumbled. The second time, an eye-roll and a heavy-footed acceleration irked the cop, who waved me back and accused me of speeding.

"I was not speeding," I said, staring him down.

"Fine, ma'am, just make sure you don't hit anyone today," he replied.

I assume the cop didn't like his detail any more than I care for living in a police state. Call me cynical, but I believe these late-month inspection roadblocks are tactics for raising revenue, not enforcing laws.

When I got home, I dashed off a letter to my local paper saying our men in blue should be put to better use.

The day the letter ran, a slew of posts on the newspaper's online chat forum confirmed what I've suspected since relocating from the Upper West Side to suburbia nearly four years ago: My "liberal-leaning" views are not always welcome.

Using harsh words, "boxerchic" and "oldrockland" let me know that taking issue with the police department, the old guard, is not cool. They called me a whiny, spoiled brat. One responder hoped I would be ticketed one day soon; another suspected I was annoyed because the check interrupted me from getting to my nail appointment on time.

But nobody made the outsider accusation more blatant than "VCneighbor" (VC stands for Valley Cottage, my hamlet).

He wrote: "I hope the next time the Clarkstown Police Department sets up a checkpoint they do it at [the cross streets we live nearest to]. Since you don't like living in a town that behaves like a police state, why don't you and Rick sell your house and move back to the city. We already have enough tree-huggers living in our area. We don't need any more. If you don't like living here, leave."

I stared at the ugly words on my computer screen.

Move back to the city? I love it here. Tree-huggers? What's your point, VCneighbor? Naming my husband? That's low. Printing our street corner? Creepy.

I clicked "report abuse," hoping the newspaper would erase the personal attack (it did not). With basic detective work, I figured out who posted the rant. He lives around the corner.

We had gotten into a conflict before, in 2007. My husband and I had successfully crusaded against a proposed school-district bond that would have funded potentially harmful artificial turf fields. Our neighbor was a sports enthusiast who supported the bond.

VCneighbor wasn't debating the merits of my inspections argument, that roadblocks are not the best use of police resources. VCneighbor was saying my views make me ineligible to live in his town. That I'm an interloper who does not deserve to weigh in on public discourse. My views don't fit in here. Or count. VCneighbor was telling me I should quit complaining or get outta Dodge.

Back in the 1980s, I worked for a Hoboken newspaper. It was when older German and Italian families, and poor black and Hispanic communities, watched in horror as developers and yuppies gentrified the industrial city Marlon Brando immortalized in "On the Waterfront."

I reported frequently on the uneasy transition of integrating grande lattes with handmade mozzarella on Washington Street, and old row houses with gleaming condos. There was a lot of bitterness and division. Many mourned a way of life that was ending. But new blood always infuses a community.

I came to my hamlet looking for a reprieve from the grit and grime of Manhattan. I gave up my West Side co-op and rescued an old battered farmhouse.

I chose Rockland, not Westchester, because it is not as urban or crowded or even as sophisticated. I like my town because people like my neighbor Joe still remember when trappers lived on our mountain road, and because my noisy neighbor Ned welds awesome sculptures he displays on his lawn.

I thought it would be swell to live close to Nyack, so I could shop or visit the library on foot and not have to drive to a dreary shopping strip on Route whatever.

Hear me loud and clear, VCneighbor: I'm not going anywhere, because this is my home. We'll just have to agree to disagree.

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