What ultimately separates my living situation from those of the characters on Sesame Street is its impermanence. Television shows are often accused of simplifying life, creating problems that will all be solved within a half-hour or hour. But the beauty of Sesame Street is its permanence, even in the midst of constant, incremental change. Gordon the schoolteacher has been played by three actors, but he's always lived on the first floor of 123 Sesame Street. Hooper's Store isn't run by Mr. Hooper anymore, since the actor who played him died, and the store itself has changed from a soda fountain into more of a bodega, but it's still called Hooper's Store, and it's still just down the street from 123.
My own private Sesame Street won't last. My life, and that of my friends, is deracinated. We don't live near our families, we're ready to move at any time for reasons of business or pleasure, and we're unlikely to build up the dense weave of long-term neighborhood relationships over decades. I may end up moving temporarily to New York. When, and if, I come back, someone else will most likely be living in my apartment. Pamela and Taj, who run the building and are mostly responsible for its current atmosphere, are moving to Charlotte, North Carolina when Taj's employer leaves Seattle. The stores may all change their names and wares at any time.
I hold out hope that, since I've found it once, I can find Sesame Street again, here or elsewhere. I'd still like to live in a place where a brownstone like 123 is affordable (which becomes harder to find all the time). But I'm learning not to require perfection of form, not to think that finding Sesame Street relies on finding its exact architectural equivalent. More important is the web of uses people find for a specific neighborhood; the people in it and what they do.
To find Sesame Street again, I've taken a lesson from the note that precedes the text of Jane Jacobs' sprawling defense of the messy vitality of real urbanism, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Her book has no illustrations; the explanatory note reads, "The scenes that illustrate this book are all about us. For illustrations, please look closely at real cities. While you are looking, you might as well also listen, linger, and think about what you see."
Sesame Street suffuses her book, even though it was published in 1961, almost a decade before the TV show's debut. And like the illustrations to Death and Life, the program's manifestations are all about us, but not in any literal sense. The Sesame Street of the real American city is built from small details -- my stoop, the connections among my building's tenants, the guy who runs the neighborhood restaurant and waves when I walk by, the paths I take to walk to work, the things we notice as we walk through the neighborhood.
On the eternal search for Sesame Street. Great, deeply true piece. Many people my age could have written this.