Monthly Archives: November 2015

Day Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six: November 15 & 16, 2015 Crossing Washington Heights from 181st to 155th Streets

Well I finally finished my tour of Washington Heights. I had spent so much time in the neighborhood that I felt like I lived there. This part of Manhattan took a long time to tour as there is so many interesting things to see and places to visit. It has also been tough with the time change and the days getting shorter. It is now getting dark at 5:00pm.

This part of  Washington Heights I started on Sunday afternoon walking from 181st Street from Broadway to Amsterdam Avenue to 167th Street just at dusk. I was also able to tour some parts of High Bridge Park.

I started the long journey at Quisqueya Playground at 180th Street. It’s a nice little part of the park for small children with a pleasant playground and a nice view of the bridge. It is also a good place for a pit stop for the  bathroom, which finding a public bathroom can be a chore off the beaten track.

Quisqueya means “cradle of life” and it was named after one of the two aboriginal names for the island of Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic). This was named by Christopher Columbus for the “la Isla Espanola”. The park was created in 1934 and was renovated in 1998. The park is very popular with local children (NYCParks.com).

I criss-crossed the streets back and forth looking at classic pre-war apartments with brownstones tucked in here and there. In some parts of the neighborhood, you might even find a lone wooden home, a through back to a time when this was a more rural area as late as the 1930’s. In the six months that I have been doing this walking project, I am amazed by the number of changes I keep seeing in such a short period of time.

So many merchants along the 180th Street and St. Nichols Avenue shopping districts have either closed or in the process of changing hands. Many of merchants along St. Nichols Avenue have been upgrading their businesses improving the look of their interiors and their selection of products. It is reflected in the way the neighborhood is changing.

All over the streets and avenues, scaffolding is going up around apartment buildings and brownstones. Much work is being done between 187th Street to 183rd Street around Yeshiva University as the school keeps expanding and more students are moving into the surrounding buildings. The area around Columbia Medical Center is going through a major change as the facility expands around Broadway to Audubon Avenue. Not just in the buildings themselves but the surrounding apartment buildings and brownstones as more people working at the hospital move in as well as the businesses that cater to them. Don’t be fooled though the area still has a rich Dominican flair with lively music being played and great restaurants and bakeries that cater to everyone.

I continued my walk to the corner of St. Nichols and 178th Street where a very busy street vendor was making fresh pastilitos, which were some of the best I had eaten so far. Her chicken pastilitos were filled with a generous portion of well-spiced chicken and beef and were still steaming hot from the fryer. She seemed surprised that I was so enthusiastic about eating them. Her version was really good!

As I munched my way down the various streets, I peeked in stores and restaurants and looked over many of the wares being sold on the street. There is such a great selection of items to buy at very reasonable prices. One woman on St. Nichols Avenue was selling dolls and doll carriages at half the price of the stores. It was the Dominican version of the Lower East Side.

Water Tower High Bridge Park

Water Tower in High Bridge Park

It was one of those unusually warm days where the temperature went up to 68 degrees making it a perfect day to walk around High Bridge Park. The park was so beautiful and relaxing on a warm day. The leaves were still on the trees with a warm yellow and gold hue to them and I walked past the empty pools by the Water Tower, which was closed off to touring. The tower was built in 1842 and used to transport over 47,000 gallons of water to Midtown from the Croton Aqueduct (NYCParks.com). The tower is currently closed off for renovation by the Parks service.

You could see the High Bridge from the top of the buff. These cliffs really prove that Manhattan is not flat. It still has its rustic look from the Ice Age. The view of the river is just spectacular.

High Bridge Park II

High Point Bridge and Tower

The best part was there were a lot of people out enjoying the day, so you could see how much the population up here uses and appreciates the park. There were a few heated soccer and baseball games going on Sunday and the playgrounds were in full swing both on the weekend and after school. Where the kids are the food vendors are as well. I had my selection of ice creams, meat pies, croquettes and soups to choose from. I made a second trip to El Manantial Bakery at 1220 St. Nichols Avenue (see review on TripAdvisor) for Guava pastries and sugary doughnuts.

I ended my Sunday tour at 167th Street touring around the Mirabel Sister’s School, which is home to a whole new school complex and apartment dwellings. This is where IS 90 is located, which was quiet on Sunday but bustling the next day after school. There are four schools in this complex which is right next to the police station, which means security is very good in this area. The kids had the playground and the park to stretch out in.

On Monday afternoon after a long day in the Soup Kitchen working on prep for the upcoming week, I started my walk on the border of Washington Heights and Harlem at 155th Street. This area is bustling with traffic that is coming in and out of the Macombs Dam Bridge.

I criss-crossed the streets between 155th to 170th Streets. The most impressive housing outside the Upper West Side is located between 157th and 163rd Streets. I have never seen such beautiful apartment buildings and brownstones that have had so much care put into them. So many of the them were still decorated for Halloween and upcoming Thanksgiving. There is so much impressive stonework on the buildings you must remember to look up and really see these buildings from both sides of the street.

halloween in Washington Heights

Halloween in Washington Heights

Still one of the most beautiful sections of this part of the neighborhood is around the Morris-Jumel Mansion and Jumel Terrace with its well-tended brownstones with potted plants and decorations around the doors of these two impressive blocks surrounding the mansion. White lights adorn some of the trees and there is even a Community Garden at 162nd Street that must be nice to plant and sit in on a Spring or Summer day. The grounds of the mansion were closed that day for a private function but I had been on them before and it is a nice place to just sit and relax and enjoy the view of the river.

Morris-Jumel Historic District

Morris-Jumel Historic District

I walked around the Sugar Hill Luminary Park which needs a good mow and some new landscaping but must have been something in its day when the Harlem elite lived in this area. Pretty much all the brownstones in this area have been snatched up and renovated.

For lunch, I had a slice of pizza at Slice Pizza of Amsterdam at around 180th Street and Amsterdam. The pizza is terrible, warmed over from the morning and no flavor in the sauce. There was no taste to it. It’s a pretty restaurant catering to the changes going on in upper Amsterdam Avenue but everything in the cases looked like it had been sitting since the early morning, so they obviously are not getting that much business in the early morning or afternoon until school lets out. Walk by the schools when they let out and eat at one of the street vendors. At least you will know the food is fresh (Yelp reviewers have said that the pizzeria has now closed down for business February 2019).

I walked the entire length of Edgecombe Avenue which lines High Bridge Park and talk about an area in transition. All the apartment buildings  that line the park are going through what I call the ‘new window complex’. It s when a building is being renovated for new residents and high rents. The entire area by the park is being refinished and sandblasted. This little gem of a neighborhood has the most spectacular view of the park and the river.

On my way back to the subway I stopped Estrella Bakery Corp. at 3861 Broadway (see reviews on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) and had the most amazing snack. A potato croquette called a ‘Renelito’, which is mashed potatoes filled with a spicy beef and then breaded and fried. These melt in your mouth and they are so flavorful. I could not believe how fresh and delicious they were to eat. I also had one of their Cinnamon roll pastry called a ‘Quesito’ which is a puff pastry rolled with lots of cinnamon sugar and then baked. Both were a bit of heaven and great way to end today’s walk. This is a bakery you should not bypass when in the neighborhood.

Estrella Bakery

5 Estrella Bakery

Places to visit:

Water Tower at High Bridge Park at 173rd Street

Washington Heights, NYC

Places to Eat:

Slice of Amsterdam Pizza (Closed)

5 Estrella Bakery

3861 Broadway

New York, NY 10032

(212) 795-5000

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d4416394-Reviews-5_Estrella_Bakery-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com:

https://wordpress.com/post/diningonashoestringinnyc.wordpress.com/407

El Manantial Bakery

1220 St. Nichols Avenue

New York, NY  10032

(212) 795-0045

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d4987781-Reviews-El_Manantial_Bakery-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

 

 

 

 

Day Twenty Four: The Friends of the Lodi Memorial Library Celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the 1980 film classic, ‘Friday the 13th’ November 13, 2015.

 

I took time out from my walk in Manhattan to run a second special event for the Friends of the Lodi Memorial Library. We celebrated this Friday the 13th with a special retrospect of showing the original uncut version of the 1980 classic film, “Friday the 13th” starring Betsy Palmer and Adrienne King. This was the second special event I ran since joining the Friends in September.

We opened the retrospect with a talk on the film, followed by the uncut original film. In today’s terms, this film is rather tame in comparison to some PG-13 films and video games which I think are much more graphic. In its day though, this was a real eye-opener in film making and introduced the 80’s to the genre along with the movie ‘Halloween’ to the slasher  film.

Friday the 13th Lodi Picture

We set up a complete concession stand with movie candy, various snacks and chips and beverages to the audience. It was a special treat to many who had never seen the film and managed to jump at the right times.

We ended the retrospect with an interview with Don Stein, a local Lodi resident who was a Scout Master at Camp No Be Bo Ca (North Bergen Boy Scout Camp) thirty five years ago. He told our YouTube audience about his time with helping prepare the camp for the filming and assisting the producers with the sets. What was interesting about the interview is how he described how the storm scenes were done with the Blairstown Fire Department shooting water all over the set and rocking the  vehicles to make them look like they were going through the storm. You can see the whole interview on YouTube.

Friday the 13th VI

We had tried to get an actor who was in the film to come out and talk to the crowd about their time on the film but Melissa Merindino (Betsy Palmer’s daughter), Marc Nelson and Peter Brouwer all turned us down. It seemed to be the consensus of the actors that they did not want to have an association to the film anymore. Some like Adrienne King embrace the film and promote it. I respected their thoughts and feelings toward the film even though we would have loved to host any or all of them.

Friday the 13th Lodi Memorial Library

We were able to interview that evening local Lodi residents, Donald and Marie Stein after the filming. Don Stein, the President of the Lodi Senior group, was a Boy Scout Master the summer of the filming of the movie and talked with us about his time helping the film crew on the set. He and others Scout leaders helped the Boonton Fire Department with some of the scenes. Although he did not meet any of the actors personally, he talked about how the film was made and his time on the set. Please see the the YouTube video ‘An interview with Don Stein at the 35th Anniversary of the film “Friday the 13th” at the Lodi Memorial Library’ on the Lodi Memorial Library Video Library.

Overall it was a big success to those who attended and I hope you access the video on YouTube “Friday the 13th” at the Lodi Memorial Library and my interview with Lodi resident Donald Stein, who worked on the film helping the Blairstown Fire Department when he was a scout master at Camp NoBeBoCo (North Bergen Boy Scout Camp) in 1979.

Justin Watrel’s introduction to the ‘Friday the 13th” 30 Anniversary Retrospect:

 

 

After the movie was over, we had the discussion with Donald Stein but the movie is what people came for. This is the introduction to the film. It is still scary after all these years.

 

Part One of the Movie “Friday the 13th”

 

I hope you enjoy our retrospect.

Articles on the Friends of the Lodi Memorial Library:

http://lodi.bccls.org/friends-of-the-library.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Twenty-Three: November 8, 2015 Walking the Hotel/Motel Show

I took time from my walk today to go to the HX 2015 Expo, formerly the International Hotel/Motel Show at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. I visit the show every year for my profession in the Hospitality field. Even though the organizers of the show said that it has changed its focus, I thought the show was smaller than it was last year and is about the third of the size it once was back in 2004 and 2005. Things have changed so much in our field since 9/11 and the financial meltdown in 2008 and are slowly picking up in our field. I spent the afternoon walking the aisles of bedding, equipment, furniture, inventory data and latest computer programs for the Hospitality field. The show has become a lot smaller when they no longer had food vendors come to the show, which at this show were the busiest vendors. I was able to see the whole show and talk to various vendors in two hours.

Two vendors that stood out to me were Sagra Specialty Equipment & Foods and Sparkling Ice Mountain Spring water drinks. Sagra had the most interesting display of a custom made chocolate fountain that looked like tiers of gravy boats descending down the flow of melted chocolate. The product was called the Cascade Fountain and the presentation was unusual and beautiful at the same time. It was also very easy to clean as all the parts come off and you put them through a wash rather than clean a whole machine in the traditional chocolate fountains.

The Cascade Fountain glittered against the lights and its presentation with the layers of gravy boats created a conversation piece to all the patrons attending the show. Everyone agreed it was an unusual product. The taste of the chocolate was excellent as well as they have their own line of flavors in dark, milk and white chocolate and a caramel sauce as well. The product is designed to work in all chocolate fountains, no oil needed, have a microwave bag and pour in or melt in the fountain basin. The product is gluten free and made in the Belgian-style with imported cocoa beans.

Two other products that Sagra was displaying was their Lollywaffle maker, which looked like a long waffle on a stick. It made a widely talked about impression on the patrons at the booth and make a great presentation to future customers. The demo person was sampling from another machine, the Lollywaffle bites, which were waffle ‘doughnut holes’. Small little round bites placed on sticks that were dipped in the chocolate and handed to us cause some pushing by the people at the stand. It really was the power of their product. Their waffle flavors come in Belgium, red velvet, chocolate, cinnamon bun, pizza on a stick and waffle dog. If the waffle dog had been sampled, there would have been a bigger line at their booth.

The other vendor that stood out was Sparking ICE, a naturally flavored sparking Mountain Spring Water. Their product was delicious. Sparkling ICE combines mountain spring water, natural flavors, fruit juice, vitamins and antioxidants to create a great tasting, zero calorie to make a refreshing sparkling beverage. The two flavors that I sampled were the Orange Mango and the Pink Grapefruit, which were both refreshing and flavorful. The product is currently only available in supermarkets but the company wants to expand into the hotel industry. It is a drink worth trying.

I still think that the show should bring back more food related merchants that are trying to crack into the hotel industry. It might bring a bigger crowd back to the show.

Day Twenty Two: October 31, 2015 The Halloween Parade NYC

I postponed my walk today and got all my errands done early so I could get to the parade route downtown on Dominick Street. It was my second year as a volunteer Marshal for the Annual Halloween Parade in New York City. This parade has gone in leaps and bounds in the twenty-five years that I have lived in the New York area.

Being in a parade can be exciting if you are the one marching in it. For those of us who work the parade, it can be a fun but trying evening. I got there at 4:00pm and it was nice because I worked with the same group of people that I did last year and we really get along well. It is also a very organized group of volunteers lead by our supervisor, Marc, who has been in the parade for years. Nothing gets past Marc including all the bullshit that people say when they are trying to sneak their way past the Marshaling area. I swear I heard some whoppers that even I didn’t know to believe.

Photographers arriving after the parade has already started looking for press passes, spectators who keep claiming that their friends are inside the Marshaling area, costumed people who would not walk down to Canal Street and walk through with the entertainers. Then the entertainers friends sneaking in with their friends not realizing that there is serious organization going into the parade from the launch area for the entertainers. I swear, we had more people yell at us as the parade was about to begin then all my years in retail. They all thought this is a spectator spot.

By six thirty, it was all out craziness considering many of the participants who were with musical groups and the floats were so late, it was a rush to get in. This is when everyone else tried to sneak in as well. So many people arrived late that by seven, some of the floats and bands had already left the staging area and were on route up Sixth Avenue. I saw more than one musician and costumed float marcher get annoyed when we told them their group left twenty minutes earlier. This is considering the parade was on a Saturday and there was not the usual traffic that day.

By 7:45pm, the parade had already long started and our duties were all done so we got to leave the post for the evening and I got to go inside the launch area and watch the parade from where the press stood, which is the best place to see everything at Spring Street and Sixth Avenue. There was so much going on getting the floats, bands and thousands of costumed marchers into their spots, I give my fellow Marshals for this part of the parade a lot of credit.

The parade from what I saw for the last hour of it was a lot of fun. People on the floats were preparing for their time slot, dancing around their creations, bands were putting the final touches on their costumes before the long walk up Sixth Avenue and then there were the thousands of people in costume corralled behind ropes ready to ‘walk the walk’ to show off their costumes to a huge crowd of New Yorkers, who were enjoying their version of Mardi Gras.

I had seen the parade as a spectator for years but to be part of the parade and see it from behind the scenes of how it is created for the pleasure for the spectators is amazing. The work that goes into planning this parade not just in getting sponsors and performers to perform but the building of the puppets upstate and the time and effort people put into their costumes for the parade is a true love of the holiday. I wish I could have seen the parade growing up instead of the lame trick or treating in the suburbs I was subjected to every Halloween. For over a decade I worked in the city and it became a tradition with my friends and I or coming in with my father we would go to Chinatown for dinner and then go watch the parade. The last time I came to see the parade was in 2003 with my father and after dinner we settled in at 14th Street only to go almost mowed down by people trying to film the ‘Thriller Dance’ for the twenty anniversary of the video. After that, he refused to come in for the parade.

Thriller Dance

Thriller Dance The Village Halloween Parade

Towards the end of the parade after all the bands and floats had left to head uptown there will still over a thousand people ready to make the march. The alternate routes from Canal Street to Spring Street had people still coming up until about 9:30pm when the last of the marchers walked past us. Then started the clean up and break down by the police.

I walked down Spring Street after the parade to see massive amounts of people flood the bars and restaurants of SoHo, NoHo, Tribeca, Little Italy and Chinatown. The smart restaurants remained opened and were packed with patrons from the parade some braving the cooling evening and eating outside. It was still nice out by 9:30pm but temperature was dropping by the half hour. I ending up at 456 Chinese Restaurant on Mott Street for the most delicious late night summer. They make a delicious shredded pork with plum sauce and the best crab and pork soup dumplings. I still consider this one of the best Chinese restaurants in Chinatown and the place stayed open to midnight the night of the parade. After dinner, I walked through Little Italy and their restaurants were still going strong at 11:00pm.

By the time I back to parade site to take the subway uptown, the police had really cleaned up a lot. Most of the barricades were down and the garbage was being picked up. Another Halloween over and a another parade to look forward to in the future. It is something you should experience once  visiting the city.

I credit ktodoma for this video of my second time in the parade as a marshal.

 

 

Places to Eat:

456 Chinese Restaurant

65 Mott Street A

New York, NY  10013

(212) 964-0003

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60763-d2362361-Reviews-456_Shanghai_Cuisine-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

Day Twenty One: October 30, 2015 Walking the Avenues in Washington Heights

On a beautiful sunny day in Washington Heights,  I finally finished my travels up Amsterdam Avenue from 181st Street to the corner of Fort George Avenue. My first stop was McNally Plaza as I crossed the street to start the walk up Amsterdam Avenue. The park and its fall foliage was beckoning. McNally is a small park right by the Washington Bridge leading to the Bronx.

McNally Plaza Park is named after World War I Corporal Richard J. McNally, who lived in the neighborhood and was killed at the end of the war in September of 1918 (NYCParks.com).

McNally Plaza Park.jpg

McNally Plaza Park

I don’t recommend taking a walk on this busy bridge but for a short distance it offers the most amazing views of the East River and of the foliage in High Bridge Park below. You can see the few joggers and bicyclists below that had finished their day at work. The rolling hills remind me of my travels in Inwood.

As I walked up Amsterdam Avenue, I passed by the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (Wheels), that was letting out for the day. There is the most amazing street vendor just out side the school who makes freshly fried pastilitos  and croquet’s filled with beef, cheese or chicken. She is located just outside the door to the school at 182nd Street and try to catch her before she leaves the school area. You can pick up a nice lunch for about $3.00 and her beef pastilitos are the best.

As the kids were leaving for the day, there was a superhero performance that some outside vendor was putting on for the kids and they were truly engaged by the performance. They had the kids singing and dancing right on the street to the amusement of all the parents who looked happy for the distraction. I forgot what is was like to be in elementary school and have time to just relax and have fun. It may not have been the best performance but the actors  knew how to relate to the kids and it was fun to watch.

The George Washington School at the tip of Amsterdam Avenue was letting out for the day, so when I reached the top of the avenue there was a swirl of activity. The students swarmed all the local businesses to socialize with their friends and have snacks. When school let out for the day, this is a very busy area. Their are about five public and three private schools in the area and after school the kids keep themselves occupied with hanging out at the local parks or outside popular businesses in the neighborhood.

My first stop in the neighborhood was an ice cream parlor that is a popular hangout Rincocito Ice Cream at 1650 St. Nicolas Avenue that I had passed many times in this part of the neighborhood. It is located by the convergence of all the avenues starting points to the north. I had a delicious ice cream named ‘Perry’s Birthday’ which you have to try when you visit this neat little shop. I had it in a fresh waffle cone and it is a combination of birthday cake and cotton candy ice creams. For $2.50 for two large scoops, it was quite the deal and hit the spot on this unusually hot day.

After my snack started my long day of walking down the streets, starting at 193rd Street, one of the shortest streets in the walk to all the way down to 181st Street. It was walking on both sides of the streets criss-crossing the avenues. There was quite a view of High Bridge Park from Laurel Hill Terrance that abuts Yeshiva University. The fall foliage is in full glory in the park at this time and try to get into the park before the array colors is gone. Many of the students from Yeshiva and the local schools were using the park and the playgrounds in droves, enjoying the last warm days of the summer that crept into fall. Lauren Hill Terrace gives you such a nice view of the park.

High Bridge Park III

High Bridge Park

As I criss-crossed most of the streets, they are lined with beautiful pre-war buildings with less activity then in the past. As the weather has cooled, I don’t see as many people on the street either playing dominoes or conversing in fold-up chairs. Still there were lots of kids milling around talking to their friends.

On 182nd Street, there was a small grouping of brownstones that were out of place with the rest of the block. The residents had them beautifully decorated for Halloween with all sorts of spider webs, skeletons and hay/corn stalk displays. They did a good job putting me into the Halloween spirit. They were entertaining a group of people who were dressed like they were getting ready for a party.

By the time I reached my goal of 181st Street, it was nightfall with the bustle of a street teaming with activity. Since this is a major shopping block, the stores were bustling with activity. There are loads of interesting street vendors to choose from selling all sorts of hot snacks, from roasted pork, hot soup, pastilitos, croquettes, ices and soft tacos there is a never ending choice of freshly cooked food that is made right in front of you. These vendors line 181st Street between Amsterdam and Broadway.

My day ended at the Morgan Library at 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street for a screening of ‘Nosferatu’, the silent German version of ‘Dracula’ made back in 1922. The screening was packed on this pre-Halloween night with patrons who enjoyed the musical performance during the film. Between the foliage in the park, the decorations around the city and the movie, it put me into the spirit of Halloween.

Places to Visit:

High Bridge Park

Washington Heights, NYC

Places to Eat:

Rincocito Ice Cream

1650 Saint Nichols Avenue

New York, NY  10033