Friday, June 22, 2018

The Summers of Sam’s

Today is the first full day of summer. Once upon a time that distinction meant a great deal to me. For summertime in my youth—while often incredibly hot and humid—was chock full of fun, freedom, and frivolity. It little mattered that I didn’t have air conditioning in my family’s upstairs lair and that local utility Con Edison periodically zapped neighborhoods—typically the less well-to-do ones—with brownouts. In other words, our ice cubes would half melt, refreeze, and taste pretty awful at the end of the day. A cool refreshing drink during the worst dog days of summer wasn’t always possible.

While I consumed an awful lot of pizza in the fall, winter, and spring, there was something special about summertime and a place called Sam’s Pizza—a hot dog at the ballpark sort of thing. In its Kingsbridge heyday in the 1970s, it was my preferred dining establishment as a teenager. A slice cost fifty and sixty cents then—a different era for pizza and just about everything else. On the hottest of hot days, there was nothing quite like dropping by for a couple of slices to go or, better yet, a couple of “Sicilians,” which cost a whopping ten cents more.

Forty years ago, Sam’s Pizza sole source of beating the heat was a small fan atop the front door. Suffice it to say, the contraption didn’t do much in combating the heat and humidity of the Summers of Sam’s. In fact, the fan underscored the unbearable clamminess that came with the territory of peddling pizza on a busy Bronx thoroughfare in the months of June, July, August, and September.

I can vividly recall the humming of the fan on an oppressive summer’s afternoon. While my slices of pizza warmed in the oven, I perspired in the stifling interior of Sam’s awaiting my take-out, which locals could readily detect by the grease stains on the brown paper bag. Sometimes the bags were so laden with oil, they would come apart on the street. Grease was definitely the word back then. The funny thing is that it either enhanced the fare—good grease—or took it down a peg or two. Bad grease! Bad grease and summertime weren't a good combination.

In the good old days, George—the venerable owner of Sam’s—would prepare a rack load of pizza pies in the morning before the shop opened. This modus operandi ensured that the over-the-counter slices weren’t always the freshest. And it assumed further significance when the thermometer topped ninety degrees. But even during those sultry summers, there was nothing quite like a piping-hot-out-of-the-oven Sicilian slice from Sam’s. My younger brother and I frequently hankered for one, but knew we had to apply the “petrified” test before proceeding. Typically, this could be accomplished with a glancing visual of the Sicilian pie on the countertop. If the pie was down to a precious few rectangular slices—or had been sitting around for too many hours to count—the pizza was deemed “petrified.” Regular slices were then our only recourse. For they had a knack for surviving the sands of time and could more often than not be salvaged during the reheating. Still, it amounted to casting your fate to the summer wind.

It was definitely a hot affair in those hot times. Sam’s Pizza only sold pizza, Italian ices, and soft drinks—and eventually Jamaican beef patties—in the 1970s. Regular or Sicilian slices were the be-all and end-all. The topping possibilities were limited to extra cheese, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, and anchovies. There was no such thing as lasagna pizza, salad pizza, or white pizza. In fact, it always grossed me out when someone ordered a slice with mushrooms or anchovies. I’d be forced to watch George stick his hands into big cans and smother the slice with said toppings. He would then wipe them clean with a dirty rag.

Happily, I have lived to tell. And in commemoration of the Summers of Sam’s, I ordered a couple of Sicilian slices from a local pizzeria. They were pretty good as far as contemporary Sicilians go. But I can say without exaggeration that the fresh Sicilian pizza enjoyed in the Summers of Sam’s—thick, doughy, and oozing with cheese—will never be tasted it again.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Summer Daze

(Originally published on June 23, 2017)

Once upon a time, I relished summer days and nights. The heat and humidity didn’t faze me in the least. No temperature or relative clamminess was too high to prevent a stickball game of ours. In fact, playing on searing asphalt on a scorcher—without water—was par for the course. There was no such thing as bottled water in the 1970s! Sure, we could have brought along a cooler, thermos, or canteen to our games, but it just wasn’t on our radars in those days. Looking back, we sometimes played doubleheaders in ninety-five-degree heat without liquid pick-me-ups. After game two, we were a parched lot in a mad-dash search for a non-contaminated watering hole—tap water from the kitchen sink or powdered iced tea. What American TV western didn’t feature its protagonists short of water and in a do-or-die search for it in super-dry desert climes?

Ah, but summer days just aren’t what they once were to me. It's more like summer daze. This week, the calendar officially said that it was summer with the longest days of the year upon us. As a youth in the third week of June, I was uber-active in the great outdoors until the last sliver of daylight vanished. Now, I spend well-lit summer evenings inside and do all that I can to circumvent the infamous New York City heat and humidity. Air conditioning has its place. For me, there is no more stoop sitting and chewing the fat with neighbors on poor Air Quality Index (AQI) days. I don't recall whether or not the AQI was calculated in the good old days. However, I can say that the air quality in the 1970s was considerably worse than it is today.

Bad air notwithstanding, the summers of my youth found the Good Humor man turning up every night at around the same time. Good Humor’s cola-flavored Italian ice—a favorite of mine—was a rock-solid frozen block. In attempting to sliver off pieces of the ice with the tongue-depressor spoon supplied, its paper cup would get punctured beyond recognition. Actually, the only cola taste—if you could call it that—of their watery Italian ices was found at the bottom of the paper cups, which by then would be casualties of war. But what did we expect for twenty cents? They were worth every penny.

Summertime also meant a vacation on the seashore of New Jersey or Long Island. It meant day trips to the happening hot spots incessantly advertised on the New York City metropolitan area airwaves, like the Brigantine Castle—a haunted fortress on the Atlantic in Brigantine, New Jersey. A three-hour drive trip from the Bronx to the Brigantine Castle was a memorable summertime adventure. The equivalent for my peers’ kids today—on the satisfaction front, I'd say—would be two weeks in the South of France or Swiss Alps.

A final summertime footnote and memory from forty years ago. It’s the solitary snapshot kind not associated with anything monumental. I had completed a high school final exam during my freshman year. It was an afternoon in mid-June, 1977. I was alone and on my way home via mass transit—from the East Bronx to the West Bronx. Standing at a bus stop on Jerome Avenue across the street from two of the ugliest-looking buildings in the borough—Tracey Towers—I patiently waited for the BX1, which would take me on the last leg of my journey home. It was overcast, terribly humid, and I remember seeing lightning on the distant horizon—heat lightning, I think. This far-away hot flash nonetheless signified so much to me—school’s end, summer, and a couple of months of incredible bliss.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Sex and the City

When I spied a city bus with a billboard on its front side—directly under the driver—for the Museum of Sex, it struck me as odd. When the very same advertisement appeared on bus after bus after bus, it struck me as odder still. You see, there was no further information to be gleaned from the ads about this mysterious museum. Where exactly it was located and what exactly could be found there was left to our imaginations. Of course, this is the Information Age we live in and the answers to those questions are readily accessible with a smartphone or computer. By the way, if you’re interested in discovering what all the fuss is about, the place—also known as MoSex—is located at 233 Fifth Avenue on the corner of East 27th Street.

I had in fact encountered subway promos for one and the same on recent train trips. But then came the Museum of Sex bus blitzkrieg—seemingly out of nowhere—with the billboards prominently positioned and seen by millions in what amounted to a traveling road show. I was naturally curious as to MoSex’s money source for this comprehensive advertising campaign. It had to cost the museum a pretty penny. Perhaps the establishment receives endowments from the rich and famous—endowed or otherwise—I don’t know.

Also, I couldn’t help but wonder how the billboards were playing with the populace at large and, too, Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) employees. After all, bus drivers were compelled to lord over three words and three words only: Museum of Sex. Lo and behold, local news stations reported on and answered my questions this morning. There was indeed a billboard controversy. Complaints about them were coming in fast and furious from the aforementioned bus drivers. Female drivers griped about harassing hoots and hollers from riders. Male drivers weren’t too happy, either, being in the crossfire. Putting that three-letter word on the front bumpers of buses on busy routes was destined to stir the pot of boorishness, which is quite a large melting one in New York City, and it didn’t disappoint.

The MTA actually took to heart what their employees had to say vis-à-vis the Museum of Sex billboards and promised to slowly but surely remove them. I can attest that the removal—in my neck of woods at least—has been immediate. They were on practically all the buses yesterday and not on any of them today.

An unrelated footnote here is that the MTA now has a policy of “gender neutral” announcements. No more “Ladies and Gentlemen” and that sort of exclusive thing. You are more likely to hear: “Hello, Everyone.” When I first heard that intro echoing in the subway bowels, it sounded rather awkward to me. But I didn’t know then that a new policy—not to offend someone who is neither a lady nor a gentleman—was in place. Had the MTA consulted with me beforehand, I would have recommended: “Ladies, Gentlemen, and the rest” rather than “Hello, Everyone.” It would have simultaneously accomplished its inclusive mission and paid homage to the first season opening credits of Gilligan’s Island.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Tail of One Park

It’s a U-shaped group of benches with a nicely shaped evergreen tree as its centerpiece—one that is decorated with lights at Christmastime by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The place is an island unto itself—set apart from the sprawling Van Cortlandt Park proper by the heavily trafficked W240th Street, or Van Cortlandt Park South, as it is known east of the El. This slice of earth is, nonetheless, parkland and has been officially dubbed “Van Cortlandt’s Tail.”
The reason why I snap so many pictures of the El on Broadway, subway track workers festooned in neon yellow and orange, and assorted passing vehicles is simple. It’s the view from the Tail, my catbird’s seat to occasionally interesting, but mostly non-interesting daily occurrences and recurrences. It wasn’t a planned thing, but the Tail has become a frequent stopover for me—an ideal resting spot and refuel location during my errand and exercise runs. 

Granted, I’d rather be sitting on a bench gazing out at the Atlantic Ocean, the Hudson River, or even Lake Welsh. There was nothing quite like vacationing as a boy in Manasquan, New Jersey and watching the fishing vessels navigate the Manasquan Inlet. But, believe it or not, observing Number 1 subway trains entering and exiting their ports has a certain calming effect—on me at least. The earsplitting horn blowing and screeching and scratching metal against metal isn’t exactly music to my ears, but it’s oddly reassuring. Never fail: The Tail supplies its visitors with an unceasing show of urban repetition with a special surprise every so often. And why not?

Life is full of surprises. On the western border of the Tail is Broadway traffic, which adds further color to the place’s singular ambience. Passing fire trucks and ambulances with sirens sounding are regular sightings. It’s a “Rainy Night in Georgia” kind of thing, only with a not-so-distant “moanin’ of a train.” Simply put: It’s a pretty noisy spot. And with Van Cortlandt Park a popular attraction—especially in the warm climes—there are typically ice cream and hot dog trucks in the vicinity.

While repeatedly playing the most maddening jingle—one that concludes with a particularly annoying “Hello!”—Jolly Joe’s sells everything from frankfurters to smoothies to chewing gum. Meanwhile, Mister Softee—a storied favorite in these parts—is happily still peddling his product in vintage trucks from forty and fifty years ago. That’s the way it looks to me! Mister Softee’s jingle is renowned in the five boroughs. In fact, franchisees playing the thing too loud and for far too long have inspired a city ordinance. The jingle must go silent while trucks are idle. Funny, but I had a Mister Softee truck right outside my door this past week for twenty whole minutes. The jingle played non-stop on a loop the entire time. I don’t know what’s worse: leaf blowers in autumn or the Mister Softee jingle in summer—played over and over and over. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the familiar jingle resonating through the ether attracted business that otherwise wouldn’t have known Mister Softee was on the scene. And—unbeknownst to many patrons—the jingle actually has accompanying lyrics beginning with “The creamiest, dreamiest soft ice cream, you get from Mister Softee.” Sights and sounds are all around.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Embraced by the Light

I was “embraced by the light” at 18th Street yesterday morning in a Manhattan subway station. Soon after, I made my up to street level and the bright light of day. In the hazy sun and unpleasant heat and humidity of creation, I spied a “smoke shop” that gave me pause. “It’s not your grandfather’s cigar store anymore,” I said to no one in particular. “Vaporizer, Beer, Lotto, Cigars” are a far cry from my memory of “Optimo” in the old neighborhood. A rather large “Optimo Cigars” sign hung outside the place, which is why we locals—not so originally—called it Optimo. Really, though, it was just another “candy store” that—like its competitors—sold cigars as well. Nevertheless, the name distinguished it from Bill’s Friendly Spot (formerly Paula’s) and Joe’s (later Shital’s). Joe, by the way, was a notorious cheapskate who gave sour balls back to kids instead of change. Needless to say, Shital’s had an unfortunate moniker for a candy store on Main Street—or, in this instance, W231st Street in the Bronx.

Further wandering brought me past the “Merci Market,” which prompted me to say—again to no one in particular—“Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world—have mercy on us!” I don’t exactly know why, but during Sunday Mass we would repeat that refrain followed by the grand finale: “Grant us peace!” And once the prayer was put to music, it became lodged in my brain for all eternity. A footnote: The “Lamb of God” entreaty was always appreciated because it signaled the end was near—of the Mass that is.

Finally in my travels, I resurrected the “Man-Lady”—and not for the first time. This decidedly unique personage owned and operated a neighborhood bicycle shop, “The Wheel,” in the 1960s and 1970s. Bicycle riding was commonplace back then—almost every kid in the old neighborhood had a bike. Suffice it to say, the Man-Lady was kept busy. The Wheel both sold and rented bicycles. In need of a repair—it was also the go-to place. I recall purchasing bicycle-tire tube patches there for my Stingray with its all-that-glitters-isn’t-gold banana seat.

Want a mental picture of the Man-Lady? Visualize a much more foreboding and considerably darker Pat. I hope you haven’t forgotten It’s Pat. New York City’s increasingly bicycle-friendly bells and whistles are what made me bring back to life this singular individual from my youth. Scattered all across the urban milieu now are bike racks. Lock up your bicycle with confidence, people. New York City is one of the safest big cities in the world!

A little background here: Upon The Wheel’s closure sometime in the late 1970s, I’d say, bicycle-specific shops were fast going the way of the woolly mammoth. But they’ve made a remarkable comeback in this era of snarling traffic congestion. I have little doubt the Man-Lady would be delighted at this turn of events—or, should I say, return of events.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Spring Ahead, Fall Back

It’s Memorial Day weekend 2018.  Fifty years ago on Memorial Day weekend, I can say with certainty what I did. I was a mere lad—not yet six—and attended a barbecue in “The Garden”—as it was affectionately known—across the street from my house. For its lifetime, cookouts on the warm weather holidays were the rule. Prior to said festivities, my father would venture over to “Little Italy in the Bronx”—Arthur Avenue—and harvest the requisite fare: shell steaks, hamburger meat, and hot dogs. A keg of Schaefer beer was always on hand, too, along with assorted adult beverages.

After partying in this unique environment of sights, sounds, and smells, a fair share of the attendees exited the garden confines three sheets to the wind. Fortunately, many of the revelers walked home—if not exactly in a straight line—but some got behind the wheels of their cars and hit the highways and byways decidedly over the limit. The concept of a “designated driver” was pretty foreign back then.

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine that a veritable farm existed—and a considerable one at that—on somebody else’s property in the Bronx. My grandfather and several others were originally given permission by a real estate agent to plant crops, dig a well, and erect a makeshift fence there. They had carte blanche to essentially play with fire and imbibe spirits in the space like there was no tomorrow. Sadly, though, tomorrow came. And the likes of the place will never be seen again. For more background on "Kingsbridge’s Last Victory Garden,”—as it was dubbed in the local weekly, The Riverdale Press—check out these past essays: Garden of ParadiseA Garden Grew in the Bronx, and Indisputably Simpler Times

This is a view from "the garden" of the newly built—and as yet occupied—Corlear Gardens. The year: 1968. The sunflowers tell us it was the dog days of summertime when this photo was taken.
Moving on to contemporary miscellany, I ran across this sign and wondered if a local ant population was responsible.
The first time I ordered food via GrubHub, it was pizza and delivered by a manic-eyed old geezer.
Pizza played a significant role in my youthful life and times. George, owner of Sam's Pizza, was a neighborhood icon. So what if he used the same mop on his floor as in his pizza oven. We were a heartier lot back then. This, by the way, is not Sam's Pizza.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is leaving no stone unturned these days. Now we positively know when we enter a subway car that we have three options: Turn right, turn left, or walk straight ahead.
New luxury apartments for lease with a choice view.
The Pigeon sisters.
Long sold by street vendors in New York City, Sabrett brand hot dogs are still readily available. Once upon a time, I loved these frankfurters. But that was then and this is now.
Vendor hot dogs typically give me agida, but I nonetheless crave Nathan's "famous" franks from time to time. Yesterday was such a time. Agida followed.
It's that tourist time of year again. Say cheese!
This ice cream truck parked at the southwest corner of Greenwich and Chambers Streets is just about where Lieutenant Kojak, in 1975, pulled into a sprawling Tribeca parking lot owned and operated by loan shark Joel Adrian (played by the incomparable Michael V. Gazzo). That parking lot in the environs of Wall Street is a distant memory now.
Kojak arriving at the aforementioned parking lot. Take my word for it: The area doesn't look remotely like this anymore.
A last nursing home food photo. How does one make a hamburger look this unappetizing?
Springtime in the Bronx.
Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony here in Van Cortlandt Park's Tail.
Decades ago this very man was seen—in his words—"walking it off" in the vicinity of Van Cortlandt Park. It's good to know that somethings never change.
The MTA is endeavoring to make the New York City subway system more efficient, customer-friendly, and civil. Yesterday, a train conductor made an announcement: "If you see someone who is pregnant, disabled, or elderly, stand up and give that person your seat. By doing so, you will be standing up for what's right." Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't have to be told that?

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

All Roads Lead Home

For too many people to count, all roads lead home—to a nursing home. As a frequent visitor to one particular institution in the Bronx, I am reminded of this harsh reality bite on a regular basis and in living color. It’s not quite Cinema 180, but sights and sounds are all around, including mysterious culinary concoctions, distant wailing, and television sets with the volumes on maximum. Considering the price tag of residing in the place—either temporarily or on a permanent basis—one would hope that both the service and amenities would be worth the hefty price of admission.

My nursing home model costs about $15,000 a month, which includes rehabilitation. I appreciate the fact that one is quite expensive to operate and a heavily regulated nightmare as well. However, if profit is the bottom line, patients are going to get the short end of the stick. With a minimalist staff catering to predominantly elderly and—in many instances—very ill patients, how could it be otherwise?

A couple of days ago, I thought I was witnessing the last gasps of my relation’s roommate. When I first entered the room she was calmly sitting in a wheelchair with a table on wheels in front of her—not uncommon sights in a nursing home milieu. I was pleased when she put her head down on the table—naptime, I surmised, and better than the alternative, which was staring at me from across the room.

The woman was alive and well. Well…not so well...really. I don’t know what her myriad medical issues are, but she painfully grunts and groans as a rule. Apparently, the nursing home powers-that-be took away her emergency pull string because she had a penchant for summoning help morning, noon, and night. The lady may have cried wolf one too many times, but there’s always a first for everything.

Anyway, to get back to this tale of woe: When a nurse making her rounds came in to take the woman’s blood sugar reading—it’s always in the vicinity of three hundred (so much for medical privacy)—and administer meds, she was having quite a time waking up her patient. After several shouts of the woman’s name and assorted shakes, the nurse darted off to her mobile station for a stethoscope, thermometer, and blood-pressure sleeve. Diagnosis: The lady’s heart still beat, her temperature was normal, and blood pressure in the range of the living. So, she didn’t breathe her last in my presence. Still, the poor soul seemed pretty out of it after the scare. I don’t blame the nurse for moving on. She did what she could and had a whole floor of patients in which to tend. But it seemed to me that the place should be better staffed to keep watchful eyes on men and women teetering on the brink between life and death.

While on the subject of bang for your buck, I recently surfed on over to a favorite childhood summer vacation spot of mine. It was Manasquan, New Jersey and I was interested in a certain street named after a certain fish. Once upon a time my family rented a classic railroad-style cottage there and never paid more than two hundred dollars for a week’s stay. What a difference four decades make! Most of the old, inexpensive cottages from the past are two-story homes now. And this transformation began long before Superstorm Sandy did a number on the area in 2012. The going rate for rentals—a couple of blocks from both the ocean and Manasquan Inlet—is $5,500 a week in 2018. I’ll happily take three weeks in Manasquan—the price of a month in a nursing home with its singular room service—and let that be the end of it. 

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Sunday, May 6, 2018

“A” Day in the Life

Yesterday, I rode the A…the Brooklyn-bound A express train. This is not—and has never been—my preferred mode of transportation. Occasionally, though, when the Number 1 isn’t operating in my neck of the woods—due to ubiquitous construction—the A’s the best alternative in getting into lower Manhattan. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) supplies “free” shuttle bus service to the A train along the Number 1 line and an invaluable life lesson, too: Nothing in life is free!

The proof was certainly in the pudding Saturday afternoon. With the Number 1 train in service as far north as City College—in the neighborhood where my paternal grandparents originally settled in New York City—I thought I’d give the shuttle bus route a try. After all, how bad could it be? Silly question. The bus trip took me from 137th Street to 168th Street. It didn’t cost me a penny but I soon discovered that it wasn’t free by any stretch of the imagination.

For me to complete my homeward journey, I would have to take four different shuttle buses—on, off, on, off, on, off, on, and off. That’s way too much shuttling for me. Riding New York City buses on heavily trafficked roads—with relentless stops at traffic lights—is a rather unpleasant experience in and of itself. And having a prosthetic knee is a further complication. The city has many kneeling buses, but sometimes exiting requires a drop off of two feet onto an uneven street pavement. On the other hand, the subway has a certain perverse charm to it—even the subterranean A—with more predictable starts, stops, entering, and exiting.

Interestingly, the A line has some really antiquated trains still on the job. I was surprised to see the dangling Emergency Brake that I remember so well from my youth on the Number 1 train. I presumed they had all been retired a long, long time ago. The thing just hangs there, easily accessible bait for the untold nut-job passengers that ride the New York City subway. In the newer trains, the Emergency Brake is behind a plate of glass. Accessing it is a process that includes a sounding alarm and contact with the train’s conductor.

While on my joyride on this throwback train, I spied someone standing in the vicinity of the aforementioned brake. No, the guy didn’t pull it. He was holding something unusual: a book. But even more unusual was his choice of reading: Machiavelli’s The Prince. Niccolò, I have no doubt, would have a lot to say about the current state of affairs in the land of the free and home of the brave.

Anyway, the icing on the cake of my journey into the unknown was that—after disembarking the shuttle bus—I took a car service home. The driver checked his traffic app and told me that the typical fifteen-minute ride from where we were to where I wanted to be would take at least seventy minutes. Courtesy of subway work, there was heavy traffic at the Broadway Bridge. And the Cross Bronx Expressway to the Major Deegan Expressway—option two—was a nightmare as well. The last best hope—option three—was the Henry Hudson Parkway with its toll. I gave the driver the green light to take the app’s good advice. In the big picture, the free shuttle bus cost me ten subway fares. It must be true: Nothing in life is free.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Times They Are A-Changin'

As a youth, my family and I occasionally visited friends at their apartment with windows overlooking a busy El. In fact, you could practically reach out and touch the subway trains passing to and fro. It was the Number 4 line to be precise. And the apartment dwellers in question lived in a walk-up at the intersection of Jerome Avenue and East Gun Hill Road—where west meets east. That is, where the West Bronx ends and the East Bronx begins. The address was actually not too far from where I grew up in Kingsbridge. It was only a ten-minute drive, yet it seemed like a different world altogether.

For a kid who liked both playing with and riding on trains, I considered this apartment the absolute coolest place a person could live. Watching subway traffic at all hours from a bedroom window perch was akin—from my ten-year-old perspective—to an urban paradise. Now, more than forty years later, I can better understand why people might prefer to live someplace else.

Residing in eye- and earshot of a heavily-trafficked El would typically be considered less desirable living quarters than someplace off-the-beaten trail—like a block away. But the times they are a-changin’ in New York. Recently, I stumbled upon a rather large sign at W242nd Street and Broadway that advertised luxury apartments. During its building stage, rumors swirled that the completed edifice would be dormitories for my alma mater, nearby Manhattan College. What an awful location for college kids to burn the midnight oil studying for exams, I thought then, not to mention for sleeping off a Natural Light Beer binge. With trains coming and going at that very spot all day and all night long, it’s a never-ending story of metal-on-metal screeching, earsplitting horn blowing, and—the pièce de ré·sis·tance—air-brake sighing when the Number 1 train comes home to roost. "Luxury,” it would seem, is in the eye and ear of the beholder.
If nothing else, they are "close to transportation."
And close to sprawling Van Cortlandt Park, too.
Every time there is a heavy rain, Tibbetts Brook "daylights" itself in the park.
In barbecue territory...
It's that time of year around this part of the Bronx. On weekends, buses become trains.
The luxury apartments will have a bird's-eye view of this sort of thing on a regular basis.
As a youthful passenger in my father's automobile, I remember requesting with a certain yanking hand-gesture that truck drivers blow their loud horns. The luxury apartment dwellers can mime something similar to passing train operators.
There once was a time when Dunkin' Donuts was "worth the trip." That is, pretty scarce and hard to find. Not so anymore.
An empty Natural Light beer can—a Jasper's preferred brew.
Groundbreaking at the college for its future state-of-the-art "South Campus." This locale once hosted a house on it that was owned by boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. When I attended Manhattan College, the house was still there and called Farrell Hall. For a reason that now escapes me, I visited Farrell Hall on one occasion.
Springtime on Broadway. A couple of days ago, I wore my winter jacket.
Today it's close to ninety degrees.
Tony Riverdale's haphazard building through the years would have made Ayn Rand proud.
When "The Century" building in Riverdale first opened, there was no covering on its tennis courts. For a summer or two, the woods surrounding it supplied us with bag loads of free tennis balls for our stickball games.
Stickball games that, by the way, were played down this block at John F. Kennedy High School. The school was built on land that previously housed an area we all knew as "Shanty Town."
"That's a fancy-looking apartment building over there. I wonder how much an apartment is?"
Elevated subway tracks were once the rage, even in Manhattan. Now, only the Number 1 train—and briefly at that—daylights itself in the northernmost reaches of the borough.
I grew up with the El on nearby Broadway. I waited for my "Special" bus, which took me to high school in the East Bronx, under the El. I enjoyed a snow cone at Woolworth's in the shadows of the El. It was an evocative area institution for sure. Nowadays, however, I can better appreciate the quieter and cleaner benefits of an underground railroad.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)