08 April 2010
Like most kids who grow up in Riverside, Rhode Island, my family wasn’t what you would call “wealthy” during my childhood years. We weren’t poor, I never went hungry or had to wear dirty clothes and I always had fantastic Christmas holidays and birthdays, but money was tight and my parents did well to teach us the value of a dollar.
In 1989, we moved out of a three-decker on Bullocks Point Avenue (next to an empty lot formerly home to Barry’s Pizza) to a spot on the Barrington/Riverside line near Haines Park where we’ve been ever since. Our new home was a small place that like most Riverside homes still had the feeling of a summertime beach house. I was five-years-old at the time and for the first few years, me and my sister shared a room. We were young, we had bunk beds and though we didn’t have a lot of room, the whole family had plenty of fun in our little house near the bike path.
About the time I hit fourth grade, the old bedroom went to my sister and my “bedroom” became a room on the front of the house that had been converted from a porch years earlier. There was a doorway about three-feet wide between my room and the living room and I didn’t have space for anything more than the bottom half of the old bunk bed set and a cabinet-style TV from the 1970s.
I may not have needed it at the time, but privacy was a luxury I would have to go without. At least until I was 14.
I don’t remember where the idea first came from, but sometime before the summer of ‘98 I approached my parents about building a room in the basement. Unlike most of my childhood requests that came with answers like “Maybe” and “We’ll See,” my parents signed off on the deal almost immediately and within a month a contractor we knew through Little League was hard at work putting together my room in the basement.
And let me tell you, it was awesome. Until my senior year of high school, the basement became my own kind of mini-apartment. By the time we threw a second floor onto the house my senior year of high school, my basement room was covered in posters reminiscent of my entire youth, I had worn out my stereo from blasting so much loud music and I had even found a spot for my dad’s old Penguin mini-fridge.
At first, however, all I had for the gigantic room was the old cabinet TV and the bottom half of the old bunk beds. Not that it mattered. I had more privacy than ever before (something that becomes an increasingly big deal through those adolescent years) and I also had my trusty N64 complete with a copy of Cruisin’ USA.
If you happened to miss the Cruisin’ USA boat, the title is a classic racing game more cartoonish than realistic. It features easy to play mechanics with a surprising amount of difficulty on some of the more challenging courses.
Being 14, having a room in the basement, it was also the perfect game to mute while opening up my speakers to Metallica and the Smashing Pumpkins. At an age when so many of us just want to be left alone, I had a miniature universe all to myself.
Today, I still live at home and I have a great room on the front side of our house. I have a decent view of the bike path and plenty of clear shots into my neighbors homes for that “Rear Window” kind of voyeur inside all of us. Since I moved on up, the basement has been turned into an office. The ceiling that used to seem so high is only a few inches above my head.
I’ve never really been into racing games since that first summer, probably because I played Cruisin’ USA until my eyes bled but no matter how many years have passed, it’s hard not to get that feeling of being 14 whenever I venture down there.
By George Morse