Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Picture Book to Remember Her By, Second Edition

An eclectic hodgepodge of October to October snapshots, Part II:
Ordering home fries is akin to ordering minestrone soup. You just never know what's coming.

Old meets new on the New York City subway.
There are Sicilians like Don Corleone and Sicilians like Broadway Joe's.
One of the better behaved passengers that I have encountered in my underground travels.
I've dined with a man who actually puts salt on his corned beef hash.
Hope typically springs eternal, but didn't this year.
Skimping on the sausage...
No review forthcoming: pizza from a street vendor.
A two-seater...
Forty years ago, "Vanny" was the place to "hit some out."
I see these "Foodliner" trucks all the time and wonder what they're carrying and where they're headed.
Life metaphor: It's one way to the end of the line.
This station was completely under water in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
"Diffrent" strokes for the "Any Time is The Food time" crowd.
The breakfast of high blood pressure champions.
Give me Liberty Halal Food or give me death...not.
Police story...
Go South, young flagman...
My eyes first thought they saw a car leaking gas and not a fire hydrant spewing water.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Picture Book to Remember Her By

On the shelves of my local Rite Aid drug store were Christmas items. This sighting got me thinking how time is accelerating. And so, I reached into my treasure trove of photos and compiled an eclectic hodgepodge of October to October snapshots. What follows is Part I:

A pizza flag that is no more points the way to a pizza shop that is no more. Actually, there is a pizza and deli combo joint in its stead.
Dugi's: Rest in Pizza. The place served a quality slice!
Autumn in Van Cortlandt Park. This particular spot was a badly-in-need-of-repair asphalt softball field in my youth. And for good measure, strewn with lots of broken glass.
What could be more American than McDonald's and McDonald's apple pie...
Pigeon catbird seat with a bird's-eye view of the comings and goings of the Number 1 train.
A long time ago, an aunt took me on field trips to this very perch overlooking the Number 1 train service yard. The cars were graffiti-laden in those days.
"And he waved goodbye saying: 'Don't you cry. I'll be back again someday.'" And I suspect he will.
Christmas 2016 weather was rather mundane, but a whole lot better than the seventy degrees of the previous year.
In early 2017, I discovered GrubHub and never looked back.
Who said Lucille Ball was dead...
Wintertime on Broadway. This particular Burger King has somehow managed to survive in the Smoothie Age.
How these many expired Metro Cards got here, I cannot say.
If waiter-extraordinaire Pete is wearing his pea jacket, it's wintertime on Riverdale Avenue.
Jerry Seinfeld savored a cup of coffee here and now it's in the history books.
A sixty-degree no service day for the Number 1 train...in February.
Sadly, there are all too many slobs where I call home.
No service with a smile.
How exactly did this happen?
Recipe for trouble: a texting track worker.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

George Washington and Crossing the Delaware

A week ago today, I crossed the Delaware—twice as a matter of fact. Despite being an automobile passenger, I couldn’t help but think of General George Washington. The first time I replicated the Father of Our Country’s feat was on the last leg of a Bronx, New York-to-Bangor, Pennsylvania expedition. I traversed the Delaware over the Portland-Columbia toll bridge. Eureka: one minute I was in Columbia, New Jersey and the next, Portland, Pennsylvania. One doesn’t have to travel very far from New York City to be in what amounts to another world entirely. On the trip’s flip side, I crossed the Delaware once more, traveling over a short two-lane span—the Riverton-Belvidere Bridge—in thirty seconds. The Delaware River is quite narrow there.

The Bronx-to-Bangor journey was completed in an hour-and-a-half. It necessitated crossing a decidedly grander and more heavily traveled bridge than the previously mentioned. I’m speaking of the George Washington Bridge, a.k.a the GWB, which spans the Hudson River. It was a Sunday and the traffic leaving the city moved right along. There are no tollbooths on the New York to New Jersey route. However, the piper is paid in full on the return.

Fortunately, the Chris Christie administration wasn’t conducting a traffic study across the bridge in Fort Lee. But one isn’t needed to create an ugly logjam on its tollbooth approach. It was smooth sailing on the return from Bangor to the Bronx. That is, until all roads pointed to the George Washington Bridge. The several miles leading up to the GWB added two hours to the—sans traffic—hour-and-a-half trip. Something to keep in mind: Sunday night isn’t a good time to be coming into New York. Saturday night isn’t too good, either. And, of course, weekdays have their rush hours.

The George Washington Bridge nonetheless played a memorable role in my youth. It was an imposing portal leading to the promised land of summer vacations on the Jersey Shore and visits with the grandparents in bucolic Bangor. It was also the road home, which when crossed to the Manhattan side meant that I was ever-so-close—fifteen minutes from my front door—to home. Vacations and good times ending with the crossing of the GWB were invariably melancholic, because “be it ever so crumble, there’s no place like home.” Major Charles Emerson Winchester actually said that when he came upon the friendly confines of the M*A*S*H 4077 after being hopelessly lost—or so he thought—in the dangerous wilds of war-torn Korea.

While the congestion at the bridge is nothing new, it’s definitely worse than ever. I wonder what George Washington would think if he found himself in contemporary Fort Lee, New Jersey. The town, after all, was an American war fort, directly across the Hudson from Fort Washington. It is home now to a lengthy toll plaza and a perpetual stream of gas-guzzling cars, belching trucks, and jockeying buses. Being a toll taker there has got to take a toll on the taker’s health. Fortunately, most of the lanes are non-cash E-Zpass lanes. I can’t imagine what the traffic would be like without them.

The George Washington Bridge as a gateway toys with one’s emotions—it always has. Looking heavenward, it’s a majestic sight—and the view from the bridge in every direction is spectacular. Still, when one draws near the GWB and lands smack dab in the middle of a recurrent traffic nightmare, it gives one pause. Thoughts of moving far, far away—once and for all—from the George Washington Bridge and its perpetual gridlock take center stage. Horace Greeley once said, “Go West, young man, go West.” Map Quest informs me that crossing the GWB is the best way to get there.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro) 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Bangor: Full of Baloney

It has been said that one cannot go home again. Well, since Bangor, Pennsylvania wasn’t my home—but my home away from home—I could and did return. It’s my mother’s hometown and where my maternal grandparents lived. My family visited Bangor on countless occasions during the four seasons. We spent weeks there in the summertime, which was a big deal because we got to frolic in an architectural marvel, the Bangor Park elevated swimming pool—girls’ locker room to the left; boys’ locker room to the right. Back home in the Bronx, a city-operated pool opened with great fanfare in the early 1970s in nearby Van Cortlandt Park. However, the chlorine adventure there wasn’t quite like the one at Bangor’s pool. The after-business hours mob scaling the Van Cortlandt Park pool’s fence to swim—and God knows what else—spoke volumes. It clued us in, too, on what the place was like in the daytime.

The return to Bangor—my Mayberry—was a pleasant stroll down memory lane. I am happy to report no seismic changes in the town and the surrounding area. Granted, there were more parked cars on the streets than I remember. Also, the locals were mesmerized—like everyone else in the wider world—by hand-held devices. And the old Colonial Hotel was now the Broadway Pub and serving pumpkin beer. Bangor has definitely become hipper. Broadway itself was an uninspiring hodgepodge of businesses, but this has been the case for a long time now.

Hipness aside, Heard’s Meat Market was still around and making what we always called “Bangor baloney.” It looked and tasted exactly as it did decades ago. I wish I could say the same for Devil Dogs and Carvel ice cream! And just as it’s impossible to eat only one potato chip, it’s likewise impossible to stop at one slice of Bangor baloney. Not too far from Heard’s is the Second Ward Company firehouse, which was just around the corner from where my grandparents lived. It borders a gravel alleyway where my younger brother and I visited Spot, a neighbor’s dog, in his outdoor doghouse. When we were young, we weren’t permitted to have a canine companion, so the opportunity to call on and pet the agreeable Spot was huge and further added to the Bangor aura.

Living all my life in the Bronx—in New York City—I have been witness to unrelenting and dramatic changes. There were still some empty lots when I was a kid, but gradually they’ve all been developed. Once upon a time, I could cross the street in front of my house and descend into a sizeable “victory garden,” the last of its kind in the neighborhood. Now, the smallest patches of city earth are prized pieces of property. This is why I was pleased to see so much farmland still farmland in Bangor and the nearby towns. I would have hated to come upon rows and rows of condominiums where corn and apples once grew. I’m sure condos have popped up in a lot of places, but the back-road journey on the twisting and turning Richmond Road, with more curves than could be found at the junction, was like time travel. Even a couple of farm ponds, which intrigued me so much as a boy, remained. Okay, a little diving board on one of them was no longer there, but I’m not complaining. What would it have been like to dive into that pond with all the mud, algae, and dragonflies? I guess I’ll have to keep wondering.

After passing the aforementioned ponds, Richmond Road intersected with Koehler Road where there stood a solitary house painted yellow. It was exactly as I remembered it—still yellow, but in dire need of a paint job. What this yellow house signified—then as well as now—was that Gulick’s fruit farm was in the vicinity with a bird’s eye-view of a spewing power plant on the opposite horizon in a place called Martins Creek.

It took me all these years to put names on some of these back roads, like Koehler Road and then the Belvidere-Martins Creek Highway, which led us to the Riverton-Belvidere Bridge. The bridge is where a deceased Bangor resident from the past worked. To me, it will always be “Dutch’s Bridge.” Anyway, Hot Dog Johnny was still going strong and the package store on a sharp curve in Route 46 in New Jersey, which used to have the words “Eat” and “Liquor” on its rooftop, was still there. But whose bright idea was it to do away with the roof’s “Eat” and “Liquor?” 

(Photographs from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Fifty Feet Underground

While a passenger on the Number 1 train yesterday morning, a man got on carrying a small American flag. I logically assumed the flag was a prop for an impending subway car performance. However, life is full of surprises, especially on a New York City subway. The fellow walked right past me and entered the adjoining car without so much as a peep. This transpired on my downtown ride. On the return trip home, the same man appeared, but this time he didn’t disappoint and promptly launched into his act. In good voice, he sang “God Bless America” while waving his little flag.

After the last verse, “God bless America, my home, sweet home,” the subway songster announced that he was not “homeless, hungry, harmful, or pregnant.” He then got to the business at-hand. “If you like what you hear,” he said, “I’d appreciate a donation.” To prove that his act was multi-dimensional—and included ample doses of comedy—he added, “If you do not hear what you like, I will take a bribe to shut up!”

This rather unique subway show was far from over as the man performed for the Spanish-speaking riders. He belted out the familiar folk song “La Cucaracha” and then supplied us with some blue biographical information. He referenced his previous night’s roll in the hay with his randy third wife. By the blank looks on their faces, I don’t think too many of my fellow passengers appreciated the width and breadth of this guy's talents. After mentioning the enchanted evening with his wife, he pretended that he was reliving it—on the morning after—and became breathless and temporarily lost in space. When he returned to earth—and the subway car—from this heavenly recollection, he thanked all of us for being “a captive audience fifty feet underground.”

I typically give to panhandlers on the subway—homeless or otherwise—but didn’t make the effort to bequeath anything to the man of song. I don’t exactly know why. For one, it’s not easy to get money out of your pocket when you’re crammed next to somebody on a subway seat. Perhaps I was thrown off my usual routine by his unusual routine, which was hardly run-of-the-mill subway entertainment.

Interestingly, just as the songster-comedian exited the subway car, another chap entered. He, however, said he was homeless, had experienced a run of bad luck, and was in dire straits. This time, I made the effort to unearth a dollar bill from my pocket. But I should have also given the “God Bless America” guy a “donation.” After all, his parting salvo noted the many payments that he accepted, including “credit cards” and “gift cards.” If there is a next time, he’ll get a well-earned couple of bucks from me.

(Photographs from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)