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Day One Hundred and Thirty: I dedicate this to my friends, Lillian Heckler and Helen Chao. I will miss you both!

It is never easy saying Goodbye to a close friend especially ones that you have known for thirty years. I know that the holidays are never easy but when you had to attend as many wakes, Memorial services and funerals as I did this year, it puts the holiday season into perspective.

The toughest is when you lose a friend who has seen you from everything from the beginnings of your career, to the loss of a family member and all your successes and failures in life and at the same time never judges you for it but still offers sound advice. That is what a real friend does.

I just lost two friends I have long mentioned in my blogs, Helen Chao and Lillian Heckler, who have know for thirty and twenty-five years respectively.

Helen I had met on my second day of work at R. H. Macy when our Executive Training Program class took our tour of the Herald Square store. We started at the bottom the store and worked our way up the eight floors of selling space. One of the stops was in the Visitors Center on the Mezzanine of the store. We were introduced to the people who worked there and took some time to look around.

One of my best friends was living in Singapore at the time and I wanted to get him a store directory in Chinese as a gift to show him where I was working. So on lunch hour I doubled back to the Visitors Center to find one. This is how I met Helen. I asked her where I could find one and at the time there was none in Chinese only Japanese. Since he spoke both French and English on top of Chinese, I got him the directories in English, French and Japanese as a gift.

We just got to talking and we ended up talking the whole lunch hour. Later on that week I stopped by again to say hello and that started the friendship between myself, Helen and another woman, Linda, who also worked in the Department. We just got along so well that I would stop by every once in while when I was in Training Squad classes.

That blossomed into a long friendship between the three of us that lasted until Linda left the company three years later. When I returned from a two year job experience in our New Haven store (now closed) as a manager and then was promoted back to the Herald Square store as an Assistant Buyer, Helen and I resumed our friendship. We would go out to lunch when the two of us had time and would visit the store for the Flower Show and for Christmas when we were both off from work.

Over the years, we exchanged laughs and lots of stories. Helen told me how her family had come to America after the Cultural Revolution and her father had been an educator and had to leave the county. Her mother was Japanese and I am sure that did not make it easier for the two of them in those difficult times. I always found the stories about her life fascinating. She would also give me the latest stories of her children and grandchildren and their doings.

After her retirement from Macy’s and her family’s move from Valley Stream, NY to Flushing, NY admittingly like a lot of friends the connection that bound us, Macy’s, was gone and she was not in the City as much. Still over the years we kept in touch and would meet to see the Macy’s Flower Show in the Spring and in Chinatown for Dim Sum when she was at a doctor’s appointment. As time went on though, these became less and less as work  and commitments took away our free time.

In the later years, we saw one another at least once a year and I always called her on her birthday (we were ten days apart), Chinese New Year and Christmas and I always sent cards out to her. I had seen her for the last time in 2015 when I read about a Dim Sum Palace in Flushing that was noted as the best in the City and we decided to meet there. It was nice to see her again but even I had to admit things had changed. We ended up talking about the past and she wasn’t as chatty as she used to be. We had a nice time but it did not seem the same. The sad part was one month after our lunch, Helen suffered a stroke. I found that out about four months later when I was finally able to reach her husband.

Having taken care of my own father after his stroke and being the primary caregiver (Visit my blog, ‘BergenCountyCaregiver.com’ on WordPress.com), I was Helen’s biggest cheerleader. I would call at the holidays and her birthday to encourage her, send her cards to cheer her up and just be a friend. I always got the impression she did not want me to visit her so I respected that.

The last time I talked to her was on her birthday on October 1st, 2018 and we had a nice conversation. I could tell she was tired but she was happy I called and told me she had gotten my birthday card. She thanked me for always remembering after all these years. I did not realize that she had turned 90.

My last phone to Helen was on December 22, 2018 right before Christmas. I would be visiting my mother and our family at the holidays and would not have time to make my traditional phone calls Christmas morning as I had done the previous four years. This is when her husband had told me that she had passed away the night before. We had a very heartfelt conversation that lasted almost an hour and I gave him my condolences. He said that she always appreciated all those years of phone calls and cards and how much it meant that I never forgot her at the holidays and her birthday.

As we said our goodbyes and I wished him and his family a happy holiday season in these difficult times, it was surreal to know that I would not be talking to her again after thirty years of friendship. The one impression I got was that in some small way I was cheering her up and encouraging her all those years and maybe that made a small difference in her life that a friend did not forget her. I was glad she was part of the my life.

My friendship with Lillian happened many years later when I was an Manager at FAO Schwarz Fifth Avenue, the upscale toy store on Fifth Avenue. I had worked at the store as a manager from July of 1995 to February of 1996 right before I left to attend the Culinary Institute of America. I had casually met her and talked to her when I ran the Boy’s Action Department which was right next to the Pre-School Department where she worked.

How I got to know Lillian better is when I had to leave school in 1997 to earn money for my last semester and went back to FAO for seven months to work the holiday season as a full time manager. Management placed me in the Pre-School Department as a Manager as some of the other managers in the store said it was ‘difficult to work there’ because of all the long service employees that dominated the department. I ended up blossoming in the department and it was one of the best managerial experiences I had had in years.

Lillian greeted me in the Pre-School Department with “Hi Justin, I’m Lillian but you can just call me ‘Grandma’ if you like.” I told her I preferred to keep it professional and I would just call her ‘Lillian’. I loved her energy and the fact that she was 77 at the time and she could ring circles around most of the staff in the store. She and the other long service employees in the department Barbara, Clover and Shirley I found to be a real asset to the department in that they never called in sick, knew their merchandise, knew how to merchandise and could sell up a storm. We did a lot of laughing as well.

After I finished my holiday stint at FAO, I continued to stop in the store on my weekends home when I was in the City and would visit the ladies. We would still continue our conversations and I would regale my stores of what was happening in cooking school. Later on after graduation, I would work in the store again for another four months for the holiday season and would cover the department again. It was nice to work with that staff for the holidays.

After that, I moved on to Hawaii and California after graduation but I still kept in touch with Lillian and Barbara until they both retired from the company and eventually FAO would close the Fifth Avenue store after bankruptcy. Lillian, Barbara and I would continue to meet up in the City about four times a year for lunch and dinner and I would visit Lillian in Astoria, Queens when she got into her late 80’s and early 90’s. She lived by herself until she was 95.

A broken hip that year and some time in rehab led Lillian to an assisted living facility out in North Shore of Long Island near the fork of the North and South Shore of the Hamptons. I started to visit her again to catch up with her. After my own father passed (who this blog is dedicated to), I started to visit her more often especially close to her birthday and the holidays.

The last two years I had spent Easter, her birthday in June, Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas events and at least one day during the summer to visit her. I always brought out lunch for us (she liked to have Italian and Chinese because the facility did not serve the types she liked) and baked goods from the local bakery. In the warmer months, I would take her to the courtyard or patio and we would talk and converse with other caregivers and their families. We continued to have our long talks, our heart to hearts and laugh at old stories.

People at the facility that she was living at I could sometimes see could not understand why we were friends. This was considering the fact that I had known the woman for twenty four years and we had seen each other through the ups and downs of life. I never saw Lillian as being her age, I just saw her as being Lillian. I spent her 100th birthday with her on June 6th, 2018 (See Day One Hundred and Fourteen of “MywalkinManhattan.com”)and she had just as much pep that day as she always did. I drove her around the facility with balloons on her wheelchair and the staff and residents alike wish her a Happy Birthday. I could see the lives she touched there as well.

The last time I saw her was in December for the “Family Dinner” we had on her floor at the facility. I gave Lillian a choice when I came out to visit for Christmas, I could come to the dinner or to the concert the next week. It would be hard to do both with my work schedule and we chose the dinner. We had such a nice time (See Day One Hundred & Twenty Four of “MywalkinManhattan.com”) and did a lot of laughing and talking. My visits always cheered her up.

Something struck me though on my way to the facility. As I got closer and pulled off the highway, I had the sinking feeling that this was going to be the last time I would be visiting. It had really struck me hard.

I shook it off and decided to just have a good time. After the dinner was over, I headed home because I had to work the next day. Before I left, I talked with Lillian’s roommate’s daughters who joined us for dinner and gave them my number and my email address and asked them to contact me if anything were to happen to Lillian. It was them who told me that Lillian had passed.

I went to Northport for the wake and funeral and met Lillian’s grandchild and great grandchildren. We spent the night of the wake just sitting around talking. There were no other visitors besides myself and her family. We told our ‘Lillian’ stories. After the wake and her family left, I took a ride around Northport, NY and did not realize that such a pretty shore town existed.

Since Lillian had passed during the Epiphany, the town’s Christmas tree was still up at the harbor and I could not believe how beautiful and picturesque it was that night. I though “Lillian would have loved this”. I think that was the last gift she gave to me. They had a beautiful service for her and I said my goodbyes.

It was a tough time before and after Christmas but I am the one who was blessed with two wonderful friends who saw me through the beginnings of my career, my years in school and develop into the person I am now and was glad went through all the steps along the way.

So with much love, I dedicate this blog, One Hundred and Thirty and my midpoint of the island of Manhattan of my walk at 59th Street, to two very special “Ladies” in my life, Mrs. Helen Chao and Mrs. Lillian Heckler. Ladies, thank you for your love and friendship both for over twenty-five years. You are the best and I will not forget you!

With all my love, your friend, Justin!

 

 

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Day One Hundred & Twenty Four: Thanksgiving with Lillian in Kings Park, NY November 22, 2018

(This blog is in memory of my close friend, Lillian, who passed away on January 4th, 2019. My heart goes out to her family in losing such a wonderful person. I lost a good friend of twenty-three years. She was 100 years young and will always be Lillian to me!)

I went out to celebrate Thanksgiving again with my friend, Lillian. She is my friend that just turned 100 years old in June of 2018. I can’t believe that she is still sharp after all this time but then that is Lillian.

I had to drive out the day before so that I could let her know that I was coming for dinner. Trying to call her now is next to impossible as the nurses in her ward put the phone next to her and she can’t hold it. It gets to be trying with that.

Anyway, I had a nice night on Thanksgiving eve at the local Hampton Inn, which I had stayed at before and just relaxed. I was exhausted from all the activities that have been going on in my life and the fact that working four different jobs can take a toll on you. The hotel was decorated for the Christmas holidays and the tree in the lobby was fully lit with a tray of cookies right next to it for guests.

Traveling out to Kings Park, NY seems to have gotten a little easier since I now know the route much better. I also make it easier for myself by driving on the 495 the whole way. I saved myself so much time.

There are sometimes I don’t think Lillian knows who I am at first. She just kind of looks at me but the then the more we talk, the more she comes around. It must be tough because everytime I visit the facility that she lives in all the residents are asleep which is not good for them. There is not much stimulation in watching old movies all day long.

I woke her up and gave her a big greeting and told her we had the whole day to spend together. We first started out by getting her cleaned up a bit. I hate it when they leave clothes on her that have food from breakfast.

Then it was a off to a tour of the facility before lunch. It was nice seeing the facility she lives in all decorated for Christmas. We had a nice time looking over the decorations and the tree in the lobby. Many family members were gathering their loved ones for trips home while others would be joining up in the family dining room for dinner. It was so much more personable. The facility has a private dining room they use for special meals for residents and it makes it more of a formal occasion.

Lillian and I had a nice time. Unfortunately that had just changed her diet to a ground up diet (bummer) and she had to drink thick turkey and cream soups but she managed that very well. For a little thing, she can eat! I gave her three glasses of apple cider, a glass of water, both soups and a few bites of pumpkin puree with whipped cream and she ate it with gusto. She drank half of both soups with no problems. After the meal, I swear she was a different person. She was so much more alive. She went back to being Lillian.

I wheeled Lillian’s roommate, Marie down to the dining room to join us for entertainment. With the power of  song and music, there was a keyboardist who sang all sorts of Christmas songs and music from the 70’s and 80’s that got the crowd going. It really woke them up. The transformation of went from people in wheelchairs half asleep to a loud sing a long. When the keyboardist sang “Take me out to the ballgame”, the whole room woke up. I swear it was like the movie “The Awakenings” where everyone comes back to life from ‘comatose land’.  People started to sing with such happiness as if they were remembering a better time in their lives. Lillian was so happy and was singing and clapping along. I was glad to be able to give her this.

The musician also have me a chance to relax and digest. It was a long ride home. After the entertainment was done for the afternoon, I wheeled both Marie and Lillian back to their room so that they could relax. It was a lot for both of them I could tell but they were different people when I left from who they were when I arrived and both much happier. I never saw two women more alive after a short afternoon of a good dinner and music. That’s what keeping people active and a little love does. It gives a person purpose and a sense of self. I even felt much better as well. It is nice when you can make a difference in someones life.

My ride home was the quickest ever. I got home in 55 minutes and got over the George Washington Bridge in seven minutes! How’s that for a new world record! Maybe God was watching over me.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

Day One Hundred and Nineteen: Walking the Dutchess County Fair Friday, August 24th, 2018

I took some time off from walking in the City to walking around Upstate. I read that the Dutchess County Fair was the last week of August and I had not visited it since my first summer when I was attending the Culinary Institute of America in 1996.  I wanted to see if it changed much in twenty years and it hasn’t.

From parking in the lot at the Dutchess County to the buildings that housed the animals and displays it looked to me that nothing changed in over twenty years with the exception of people taking pictures with their phones. Even then, I did not see that many phones out. The Fair was in its 173rd year and people were just having a good time with their families.

From walking to the admission booths (it was $10.00 to get into the fairgrounds) to walking the paths not much had changed. When visiting the fairgrounds means almost a step back into time when things seemed so much slower. Being just outside Rhinebeck with its galleries and high-end restaurants it seemed a world away.

My day started late as I had so many errands to run and work in the morning that I got off to a late start. I got to the Dutchess County Fair Grounds at 3:00pm and spent the rest of my afternoon exploring the Fair. It is so interesting to see how much has changed in the world but how little it really changes. A cow is a cow at the end of the day. How to take care of it and milk it have changed over the time and the philosophy of animals and their care have advanced but the cow is still in the pen, fed hay and goes Moo!

Walking the Fair is interesting in that it is broken down into many different areas to explore but when you first walk in what is there but all the food carts and booths. I have never seen so much deep-fried food in my life and I have been through the Feast of San Genaro dozens of times. There were food trucks selling fried dough, funnel cakes, Twinkies, brownies and zeppoli’s. It is hardly for the Vegan customer.

My first stop in the Fair was the Amusement section where all the kiddie rides, Ferris wheels, games of chance and thrill rides were located. In the early part of the day, the area was mildly busy but by the time I left and the lights came on the true ‘Wonderland’ came to life. The lights, the noise and all the screaming coming from the thrill rides brought the area to life. During the day though, it was little kids on the carousels, mini-rides and small track rides. To be a kid again at this Fair.

Dutchess County Fair II.jpg

Dutchess County Fair Midway

Leaving the Amusement area, I ventured next to the historical area of the Fair where the Cider Mill, Sugar Home, the One Room Schoolhouse and the Historic Train Station were located. These recreations of old Dutch farming villages showed a way of life from the turn of the last century and beyond. It is amazing to see how we have progressed in education since then but I think the times were different.

When I walked all these buildings that were created before electricity, computers and even modern light, I think there were less distractions and you had no choice but to work. Those were the days of back-breaking work loads and things were done totally by hand. Still it is interesting to see how these things were made.

The school room I have seen in many historic museums and have not much changed from their modern version except the furniture has gotten nicer and there is more light. The philosophy of learning the ‘ABC’s’ is still there and the black boards are still part of the routine. I still think it is the best way to learn.

The pathway lead me to the Animal Barns and this is where the Fair had not changed. The families stood guard at their at the different pens washing and taking care of the pets. I never saw such pampering to pigs, cows, chickens and goats. They were so well-groomed and well taken care of and their pens were so clean and if they weren’t the kids were right there to take care of it.

I saw the cow grooming show when I was visiting the Cow Barn and I have never seen such clean cows before. They were washed, brushed and combed by their owners and it reminded me of similar judging at the Dog Shows that I see on TV. When they walked their cows along the path in the ring, there was such pride in the owners faces especially to the winners. I have to say that the ribbons were very impressive.

The Llama Barn was interesting in that I usually find Llama to be friendlier but these animals really kept to themselves and stood in the corners of their pens. They seemed to want to socialize with one another and avoid the humans.

The Goat Barn was the exact opposite. I could not have met a friendlier animal with good social graces. They looked like they were so happy to see me. They all came running up to me as I stood by their pens. They are really are an observant animal. They just stare you down when you are looking at them and then they walk away.

The surprising part of the Pig Barn was that it wasn’t a pig pen. It was one of the cleanest parts of the Fair. Each of the stalls were really clean with only the smell of the pigs which probably surprised people coming up from the City. The only thing was some of these over-sized pigs didn’t fit into the pens and there was not much moving room for them. They really do oink a lot.

My favorite part of the animal barns was the Commerford’s Petting Zoo that they had between the amusement areas and the barns. I never got into petting zoos even when I was a kid but got some feed from what looked like bubble gum machines and then the goats and sheep were putty in my hands. They were so friendly and let me pet their warm fur. I have never seen so many happy faces chasing after me. The sheep had such a nice feel to them with their soft furry backs and the goats which I thought might be aggressive could not have been friendlier.

When you pet them they seem so grateful that you are scratching their backs. I ended up spending more time here than I planned feeding the animals and petting them. They seemed so happy that they got extra attention.

The Horticultural Building reminded me of my many trips to the Philadelphia Flower Show, large self-contained displays of flowers, lawn decorations and furniture each with their own them. There was a lot of creativity to their displays with water sources, planted flowers and shrubs all over the place all colorfully designed. They also used some statuary to accent the plantings. It was a nice size building made even bigger with these creative gardens.

After visiting all the barns and historic recreations, it was off for a late lunch. I headed back to the food trucks to decide between the cheese steaks, meatball sandwiches and fried desserts. I decided on a pulled pork sandwich with pickles and a Coke for lunch that was more than enough. The sweetness of the barbecue sauce with the roasted meat on a soft roll made a wonderful meal. The nice part was sitting under a tree on a picnic table to enjoy my lunch. On a nice day, there is nothing like it.

I avoided all the fried desserts and got a traditional pretzel with mustard from a vendor from Pennsylvania. The was an expensive pretzel at $8.00 but it was well worth it. The thing was huge, freshly rolled and made and was still hot. With a little mustard there is nothing like it. The softness and butteriness of the outside made every bite enjoyable.

After lunch, walked through the rest of the barns looking at rabbits, chickens and taking another peek at the Goat Barn. They are really are a beautiful animal. After leaving the barns area, I walked down to watch the Equestrians perform. There is such a grace to jumping and the ladies did a great job. Some of them are so poised on their horses.

As the afternoon wore on, my last stop was the Gift tents where they were selling handmade arts and crafts. You should see the work of these knitters, quilters and wood carvers. Some of the baby blankets and clothes were so beautifully made and colorful that I wished I had someone to give it to as a gift. The wood carvers were getting ready for the holidays with Santa’s and snowmen. It never ceases to amaze me that we are in a perpetual state of Christmas no matter what time of year it is. The surrealist look of many of these Santa’s  were done by the cut of wood that the artist had to work with when carving the piece. These men and women are very creative in their work and they will be back in October for the Craft’s Show.

Before I left for the evening, a saw a long line forming by the 4 H Exhibit Building and I found out they were selling giant homemade milkshakes with the milk and cream from the Dairy Barns. The sold these large Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry shakes for only $5.00! That was one line I did not mind being in. I ordered this Vanilla shake where you really could taste the fresh ice cream which was was loaded with several scoops. There is nothing like a fresh milkshake with real ice cream. It was the perfect way to cap off the evening.

Walking the Fair at twilight you really see it come to life with all the lights, screaming kids by the rides and hungry patrons at the food trucks. It is so funny to see these small kids gobble down cheese steaks and fried dough. They had some appetites! When you work on a farm and take care of the animals as I saw the fairgoers did they must burn off all the calories.

It was a great day and I learned a few things about Animal Husbandry and landscaping. I just wondered why on the way home it took me twenty-two years to come back.

The Dutchess County Fair is the last week of August and is well worth the trip up to Rhinebeck.

Dutchess County Fair

http://dutchessfair.com/dutchess-fair/

 

Day Eighty-Nine: Walking the Avenues of Yorkville/Carnegie Hill from Madison Avenue to East End Avenue 96th-84th Streets August 28-September 5, 2017

After a long day in the Soup Kitchen prepping vegetables for future meals, I started my day uptown at the Samuel Seabury Park on 96th Street off the 6 subway line. It is a good place for a bathroom break in the area with the other being the Samuel Isaacs Park on 96th Street and 1st Avenue. There are not too many public bathrooms in this area.

The one thing I might want to mention that I am beginning to notice and it is not just in the poorer areas is that number of empty store fronts as well as the closing of many older businesses that I had seen in the area from the 80’s and 90’s. I guess the 20 year leases are coming up and they are jacking the rents up sky-high in some areas. When Ottomanelli’s Restaurant, which had been in this neighborhood since 1902 closes, you know there is a problem ( I think they may be camping further uptown now).

The businesses again change closer to the housing complexes with smaller more reasonable restaurants around 2nd and 1st Avenues. This is not a section with lots of upscale shops and restaurants though I think some of the prices at the restaurants are due to the ongoing raise in the rents in the area.

The neighborhood is very diverse in its housing stock depending on the block and in its businesses. Being so close to Central Park gives you a sense of green though there are many nice smaller parks in the neighborhood. Though it is an expensive neighborhood I am sure it is not as expensive as its southern neighbors on this side of the park.

The number 6 subway will take you directly to Samuel Seabury Park at 96th Street, the start of many bathroom breaks. When you are walking the Avenues on the East Side, you need to know where the public bathrooms are located. This is a very active park during the school year. I would think that the city would have these bathrooms in better condition though.

The park is named after the late Judge Samuel Seabury who roots laid in Colonial Manhattan and had fought the corruption of Tammany Hall. Who knew a late Judge could still be so helpful many years later.

Madison Avenue has its unique boutique-ness to it especially further downtown. Above 85th Street, it is more localized shops and restaurants. I had discovered that many businesses from the early 90’s like Sarabeth’s Kitchen were still operating (at much higher prices than I remembered).

One of the most beautiful and unique buildings on Madison Avenue is the Hunter College building at East 94th Street, which looks like a castle. The building is now used for the Hunter College High School and Elementary School, considered one of the best public schools in the city and you need a special test to get into it. The building itself, built as the Squad A Armory in 1896, previously called the Madison Avenue Armory building, resembles a castle. It is constructed out of red bricks and was partially demolished in the 1960’s but bought by Hunter College for the expanding school. Take a good look around the grounds, there is a real beauty in this enchanted castle housing some of the brightest kids in New York City.

Madison Avenue from 96th Street to 84th Street houses lots of local boutiques and restaurants and a few smaller hotels tucked here and there. The buildings are mostly prewar apartment buildings with some new construction thrown in here and there. Its the Upper East Side without the pretension.

Park Avenue is what Park Avenue does best below 98th Street, is an elegant enclave of prewar and turn of the last century apartment buildings with very little business or retail outside of the doctors offices. The Avenue is lined with elegant, old-world buildings with the well-manicured gardens of the street ‘mall’ going from the top of the railroad tracks on 98th Street down to the border of the neighborhood on 84th Street. The mall was ablaze with red and white flowers for the late summer blooms. I don’t think this area has changed much since the 1920’s.

The Avenue was quiet that afternoon less the preppie teenagers walking with their sports gear and mom’s and nannies wheeling kids around. There is always a certain feel to this part of Park Avenue, quiet, elegant and sedate. I am sure its not that way in real life but that is the way it appears to the average person walking down the sidewalk.

One standout building on Park Avenue amongst all the elegant apartment buildings is the Lewis Gouvenour House at 85th Street. The house was named for its owner, a failed investment banker who was related to a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The house is a red brick neo-Federalist building that was completed in 1914 and it stands out amongst all the apartment buildings in the area. The latest article I read is that the house is up for sale for $8 million dollars but I swear that I saw a cook and maid looking me over when I looked over the house so I am sure it has been sold by this point. Someone was even hanging over the windows cleaning them as I passed.

After turning the corner at 84th Street, I walked over to Lexington Avenue and it is night and day to the enclaves of 5th and Park Avenues. Talk about a busy commercial street. This is where you are seeing changes in the feel of the neighborhood. Many of the retail spaces that I have remembered that were there for years when I moved back to the area in 2001 are long gone. A lot of the neighborhood has been knocked down and many new residential and office buildings have replaced them. Some of my favorite bakeries and pizzeria’s are also long gone. Still my favorite Panera on 86th Street is still there for the Asiago and Cinnamon Crunch bagels that I love to snack on while on my way to the Met.

Here and Third Avenue is where you start to see the ‘For Rent’ signs. It is sad that so many businesses that have been here for twenty years, the leases are coming up and the rise in rents is just sky high for the new owners. I have read more articles on the prices that they want in rent and there is no way the average business can handle this. Even some of the chain restaurants have left the area. If you do not own the building, forget it.

Third Avenue above 90th Street, you will start to see a lot of new construction, as a lot more buildings are going up on both sides of the street.  The Upper East Side is slowly crawling into this area and a lot of the older smaller buildings are starting to disappear. The store fronts between 90th and 93rd are starting to empty as all the older restaurants have closed their doors.

Second Avenue is changing as well in the area of 90th Street and above. This has a totally different feel then the neighborhood above in East Harlem. Slowly though, these neighborhoods are starting to merge as new construction on Second and First Avenue below 96th Street changes from housing projects to private apartment buildings. Even the brownstones are giving way to larger apartment buildings, which is starting to change the character of the neighborhood. It’s a lot of sameness.

I ended the second day in the neighborhood having a late lunch at East Garden Chinese Restaurant at 1685 First Avenue & 88th Street (See review on TripAdvisor). This little hole in the wall Chinese restaurant has lunch specials for $5.95 and a very nice variety of dishes. I had the General Tso’s chicken combination plate with fried rice and a Coke that cost $7.00 with tax and I just about finished it. The chicken was excellent. It was well cooked and the sauce had some pinch to it. The fried rice was less to be desired but overall the meal was very good for the end of this first long walk of the neighborhood.

On the second day of the walk, I revisited Second and First Avenues and covered the rest of the neighborhood that include York, Henderson and East End Avenues as well as walking around Carl Schurz Park for a second time.

I finished up Second Avenue for a second time, looking over the businesses and parks. Slowly I noticed as I looked at menu’s of restaurants and the types of stores opening up that a lot of the mom and pop stores are giving way to more chains and the restaurants are getting awfully expensive even this high up.

There are a few hold outs in way of Chinese restaurants especially closer to the Samuel Isaacs Complex on 96th and First Avenue but even around the projects there soon won’t be too many affordable places to eat. I mean come on, $16.00 for a hamburger? Its a hamburger at the end of the day. For a reasonable meal, you will have to walk up above 100th Street.

There are several little surprises as you walk around the neighborhood. Behind the Ruppert Apartment Buildings on Third Avenue is the Ruppert Park between 90th and 91st Streets, which offered a place of rest after walking around. This block long park must have been a negotiation between the city and the developer to build these huge apartment buildings and the neighborhood really benefited from it. It is a nice meeting place for residents to talk and walk their dogs. Many of the neighborhood seniors seem to like to sit on the benches and talk to their friends. The playground is nice for the kids as they were out in full force before the first day of school started a few days later.

Tucked away on a side street on 91st Street across from the park, this is a plaque dedicated to James Cagney, the actor and singer, who later played tough guys in the movies. He must have lived in this area growing up.

First Avenue is starting to give way from brownstones to apartment buildings in the 90’s and up. On the lower part, the chain stores are starting to dominate while the mom and pop stores still are holding on. There still are a few German restaurants in the neighborhood but they seem few and far between on the Avenues. Its mostly small businesses and a few small shops.

York Avenue and East End Avenue are both tucked below the Asphalt Green playground and recreational area below FDR Drive and 92nd Street. The three days that I walked around the neighborhood, Asphalt Green was crowded with kids playing all sorts of sports, basketball, soccer or even playing Frisbee. The shocking part was getting an ice from the lady selling Spanish ices. Below 96th Street, they start charging $2.00 instead of $1.00 like above 100th Street. I guess they see us coming.

York Avenue is one of those places that looks like New York City with the combination of apartment buildings that look like they are out of the 70’s, elegant but not pretentious and the area looked lived in like the residents have lived there for 40 years. There is a mix of building types that gives the Avenue some character and tucked here and there are small apartment buildings and brownstones.

East End Avenue is dominated by Carl Schurz Park where Gracie Mansion is located. Around the park, there are several beautiful brownstones especially between 86th and 87th Street that give the park that extra graciousness. These brick buildings are carefully maintained and beautifully landscaped and mirror the park across the street.

The small side streets south of the park such as the extension of 84th Street (Gracie Place) house old apartment buildings with excellent views of the park and very nosey doorman, who watched me watching them. Sometimes I wonder what impression I give these people that they stare so much at me or maybe after a year in Harlem, I am getting used to the inquisitive looks.

As I finished up the Avenues in Yorkville/Carnegie Hill, I just relaxed for the rest of the afternoon in Carl Schurz Park, looking at Randalls-Ward Island and Astoria Queens in the distance and admiring the breathtaking view of the river. This section of the park along the river walkway is so picturesque and relaxing. Labor Day had such wonderful weather and it was such a clear sunny day, that is was nice to just sit on a bench and watch the world go by.

All along the river, jet skis zoomed by and an occasional sailboat passed by as well. It was one of those afternoons you see in movies about New York City but sometimes never experience. All I could think about as I was watching the world go by is that this is what people think New York is and they are right. This location on the bend of the river on a nice day you have to experience for yourself to understand how great it is. What was a nice touch was that two people playing the cello and the violin came into the park to perform and collect money. That’s the real New York.

I ended the day eating a late lunch/dinner at a restaurant on Second Avenue named Shorty’s at 1678 First Avenue (See review on TripAdvisor), which is known for their Philly Cheesesteaks. It was pretty good for New York City, where you have to hop the Acela down to Center City for a Cheesesteak at Carmine’s in the Reading Market. Here the bartender told me that they import the hoagie rolls from Philly and cook it on the flat grill and top with Cheese Wiz (God, do I love that on a sandwich). For the $10.00 price and a side of Bay Seasoning fries, it was well-worth the money. It saved the $200.00 trip to Philly I would soon have to make and that chewy cheesy sandwich was a great way to end my trip of the Avenues of the neighborhood. Now the streets await.

Places to Visit:

Carl Shulz Park

Gracie Mansion

Places to Eat:

Shorty’s
1678 First Avenue
New York, NY

My review on TripAdvisor:

 

East Garden Chinese Restaurant
1685 First Avenue
New York, NY

My review on TripAdvisor:

My review on DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com

Day Sixty-Three: Christmas in Woodstock, NY Again: December 24th-25th, 2016

I traveled to Woodstock, NY for my third Christmas upstate to see the Christmas Parade in downtown Woodstock and go to Christmas Eve services at the Dutch Reformed Church. After that, a quiet dinner out and then a drive by the town Christmas tree. It has been my Christmas tradition since my father passed away. I like the calm and the beauty of Upstate New York. I like to relax after the hustle of the holidays.

I love the trip up to the Hudson Valley region. After going to school up here for two years, (Alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America Class of ’98, Honors and Perfect Attendance) I have never gotten over how glorious this region can be in the early winter. The leaves have already fallen but the hills and streams are still so impressive. It is also not that far from home and the area is fun to explore. Woodstock is not exactly isolated but it is further off the beaten path.

I love how the town is decorated for the holidays. The tree on the square is a classic every year with plain colorful lights with the backdrop of the lit Dutch Reformed Church, several well decorated businesses and the Village Green B & B behind it (where I stayed the year before). The whole square lit for the holidays can put any non-believer in the Christmas mood. It is classic New England Christmas.

Woodstock Christmas Eve

The Green in Downtown Woodstock, NY

The Parade in Woodstock is unusual in the way it is timed. It starts when the last bus leaves the square  for New York City at 5:15pm and must be over at 6:30pm before the Dutch Reformed Church starts its 7:00pm services. It runs like a well-oiled machine. The second that bus leaves the square, I swear I saw the police and fire department had those roads fast.

I got up early around 4:00pm knowing from past history that you will never get into town if you don’t get arrive before 5:00pm. I stayed this year at the Woodstock Inn at the Millstream (See review on TripAdvisor). What a beautiful and unique little hotel. I was talking with the manager, Karen, when I arrived and she said that it was an old motel that the owners found and fixed up. It is the most unassuming and beautiful place to stay.

Woodstock Inn at Millstream.jpg

Woodstock Inn at Millstream

It is just off the beaten path off the downtown and within walking distance of downtown. It has the picturesque location right by the Mill Stream. It must truly show itself in the summer months when you can sit under the shade trees and look at the stream.

There was a large size crowd this year for the parade but not as big as last year when the temperature was 70 degrees (the hottest in history of record keeping). The temperature was a balmy 42 degrees. Very seasonable. Still there was a lot of energy in the crowd as we all waited to see how Santa would arrive.

Santa did not disappoint and with the help of the Woodstock Fire Department, Santa made his appearance  via a Partridge in a Pear tree.  It is the most anticipated part of the parade to see how Santa will make his appearance. Last year it was via a magic hat with a snowman dancing around.

As Santa exited the fire truck and was greeted with Mrs. Claus who arrived on another float, the crowd stood in line for their turn to talk to Santa. The jazz band started to play outside the church. That was the one part of the parade I was disappointed with, in that every year that I have been up in Woodstock, Lindsay Webster and her band, had entertained everyone with her version of jazz Christmas carols. That the parade to me. It was Woodstock’s own stamp to the holidays (Ms. Webster and her band I found out later were touring in Europe for the holidays).

Here’s a clip from the parade in Downtown Woodstock, NY

For the next hour, people were milling around the square, listening to bands, eating snacks in the local restaurants (there is an place called ‘Shindig’ on the square that makes the most mind-blowing mac & cheese, See my review on TripAdvisor) and meeting up with their neighbors and friends. It really does have the small town feel about it as unlike Sinterklass in Rhinebeck a few weeks earlier that is attracting larger crowds. Woodstock attracts crowds but still keeps it small due to the restrictions of time.

I swear by 6:30pm, the crowds started to thin out and the band wrapped it up and were putting equipment away before the church doors opened by 6:45pm. I entered the church about ten to seven and most people including Santa were wrapping things up.

Christmas Eve service at the Dutch Reformed Church is always special to me. The church run such informal and welcoming service. It is so different from Catholic services, where we spend the whole service standing up and sitting down. The Church was decorated all over with garland and bows and candles. The Church was build in the 1800’s so it does have the old wooden pews that us modern folk have to squeeze into and there are two levels so you look up and see more parishioner’s.

Dutch Reformed Church Woodstock

Dutch Reformed Church on the Green in Woodstock, NY

The service started with a combo playing all sorts holiday music and then we were welcomed by members of the Church to the holiday mass. The service is lively with many Christmas songs that the audience participates in and the service I have always found very inspirational and enlighten. Reverend Josh has a real passion in making people feel comfortable in Church. His sermons actually say something and he makes it more personable.

There are those little touches that I don’t see in my local Church such as the bell choir and lighting the candles during the last part of mass. If you really want to see something its a Church fully lit with candles in the pitch black. Does that make an effect inside a Church the way the light played off the woodwork and decorations.

After Church, it was the most uninspiring visit to Cucina, an Italian restaurant in Woodstock. After two disappointing years at Joshua’s on the Green, I decided to try something different. As much as the restaurant is beautifully decorated and appointed and the service friendly and accommodating, the food is dismal. It had no flavor and its presentation was less than perfect (See review on TripAdvisor).

I went back to my room to change and then I took a walk to the Green to look at the stars. I swear you can almost touch them up here. It is also nice to have the whole Green to yourself. It is fun to just sit and look at the tree and the well light store fronts. It is so quiet and peaceful it really gives you a chance to sit back and reflect on the year. I could not believe another Christmas had come again.

I had never seen a year come and go so fast. Time does have a way of passing by quickly without you noticing it. Even so, looking up at the stars and the moon, it really does make you want to catch a glimpse for Santa’s sleight passing by. It was just one of those nights.

The next morning after an amazing nights sleep with the sound of a stream passing by and a great breakfast of homemade granola (Karen makes this and it is excellent) and fresh fruit, I made my traditional phone calls to my family and friends and play catch up beyond all the Christmas cards that I sent out earlier in the month. Everyone was happy to hear from me and I had nice conversations with my cousins who lived in different states and friends that I had not heard from in a long time.

I had visited my friend, Lillian, who lives in Assisted Living out on Long Island earlier in the week and talked with other friends earlier in the month, so it was nice just to exchange well-wishes. After sending out about eight boxes of Christmas cards, the lines of communication between myself and my friends and family are excellent.

Then I took a long drive up into the Catskill Mountains. I know why the place is so inspirational to writers and painters, it is just so beautiful and graceful of a place. The mountains are just so picturesque even with no leaves on the ground.

It is sad that many of the small town on Route 28 have gotten so depressed. Even Phoenicia that had so many nice little restaurants and shops two years earlier, things have just closed down. The further I went up Route 28, the more depressed it got. Pine Hill is run down, Fleishman is the same, in Margaretville each of the buildings could have used a good paint job and it was not until I got to Andes did I see a little spark of vibrancy. There were some nice little shops and places to eat.

I was taking this tour to visit Bovina Center, which is off Route 28 on Route 6 in the middle of a farming community to visit the Bushman Eating House, a restaurant I had read about in a magazine. I was hoping to have lunch there but unfortunately like most things on Christmas Day, it was closed. Maybe sometime in the Spring when the weather is nicer (See trip to Cornell University Day Seventy-Seven in MywalkinManhattan.com).

Brushland Eating House

Bovina Center Brushland Eating House

I made a turnaround and went down Route 10, past the SUNY campus in Delhi, which is located in the quaint little town of Delhi and through Stamford and other smaller towns and then to Tannersville to see some of the closed galleries and then back down Route 214 through Phoenicia again which really closed for the night.

I ate at Little Bear (see review on TripAdvisor) by 5:30pm and enjoyed another Chinese meal there before the crowds beseeched on the only restaurant open in a ten mile radius.  When I mean that this place gets packed for the evening, it gets packed. I finished my meal at 5:00pm and the line was already 20 deep with the phones ringing off the hook for to go orders. People can be so pushy especially here when they are hungry.

The food at Little Bear is usually very good but on Christmas Day they just can’t handle the crowds and it suffered the year before. You have to get here before the first movie lets out at 6:30pm. After that it is ciaos until 9:00pm. I had delicious Shu Mai starter followed by Mu Shu pork and a order of Dragon & the Phoenix (shrimp and chicken combo), both which were good but tepid. They need more help during the holidays (See review on TripAdvisor). They have a hard time just keeping up with the to go orders let alone seating people. Otherwise, the one time I ate here when it was quiet, the food was wonderful.

I thought about a movie after dinner but settled on another walk to the Green. It was just too beautiful of a night to sit in the movies when I could walk around town. With all the lights on at the downtown businesses and the tree lit in the Green, it just felt like Christmas Day night. Like Santa had just visited and people were just enjoying time with their families. A few people were walking their dogs or just looking at the tree in the Green with their children.

Christmas in Woodstock,NY

To me, Woodstock, New York is just such a nice place to come to celebrate Christmas. So quiet, so picturesque and serene and relaxing. It is a place that you can sit, think and reflect on the year.

Merry Christmas to you all & a Happy New Year!

Places to stay:

The Woodstock Inn at Mill Stream

48 Tannery Brook Road

Woodstock, NY  12498

(845) 679-8211

https://www.woodstock-inn-ny.com/

My TripAdvisor review:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g48915-d80289-Reviews-The_Woodstock_Inn_on_the_Millstream-Woodstock_Catskill_Region_New_York.html?m=19905

Places to eat:

Cucina

109 Mill Hill Road

Woodstock, NY  12498

(845) 679-9800

info@cucinawoodstock.com

Hours: Sunday 11:00am-9:30pm/Monday-Thursday 5:00pm-9:30pm/Saturday 11:00am-10:30pm

My Review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g48915-d1457080-Reviews-Cucina-Woodstock_Catskill_Region_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Little Bear Chinese Restaurant

295 Tinker Street, Street B

Bearsville, NY  12409

(845) 679-8849

http://littlebearchineserestaurant.com/

Open: Sunday-Thursday 12:00pm-10:00pm/Friday-Saturday 12:00pm-11:00pm

My TripAdvisor review:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g47293-d3216488-Reviews-The_Little_Bear-Bearsville_New_York.html?m=19905

Shindig

1 Tinker Street

Woodstock, NY  12498

(845) 684-7091

Open:

Sunday-9:00am-9:00pm/Tuesday-10:00am-9:00pm/Thursday 9:00am-9:00pm/Friday-Saturday 9:00am-10:00pm

shindig1Tinker@yahoo.com

My TripAdvisor review:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g48915-d7376319-Reviews-Shindig-Woodstock_Catskill_Region_New_York.html?m=19905

Places to Visit:

The Dutch Reformed Church

16 Tinker Street

Woodstock, NY  12498

(845) 679-6610

https://www.woodstockreformedchurch.org/Home/who-we-are

 

 

 

Day Fifty-Five: The Fifteenth Anniversary of the Attacks of 9/11 and the Tenth Anniversary of my novel, “Firehouse 101” September 11th, 2016

I can’t believe that it has been fifteen years since the attacks on the World Trade Center. It seems like a lifetime ago. As the site has been almost rebuilt with the new One World Trade Center (visited earlier in my walk last Thanksgiving) and two visits to the 9/11 Memorial Museum and numerous visits to the site, I think back on my eleven years on the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department and the path I have lead to this point.

I think that the department has really grounded me in many ways and made me more disciplined. I have been able to help my community in ways that baking items for bake sales and selling Christmas trees never did even though these raised a lot of money for their respective causes. I think I have become a better person and a more aware person since joining the department. I really do think you are born a fireman. It just comes out a time when you recognize it. It was like a calling for me and I found what I was looking for in my life and I would never change it for the world.

Am I the best fire fighter or the most dedicated? That is up for debate after every call. I do know one thing, I have been able to help the people in my community in so many ways and when I hear from perfect strangers in my town or surrounding towns “I remember you. You came to my house and helped so-in-so in my family. Thank you so much for that.”, it makes me feel like a better person.

When I wrote “Firehouse 101” (part of a trilogy of books that take place in New York City, the other two being “Love Triangles” and “Dinner at Midnight”), I was at a different stage of my life and honestly if I had to write the book today, I could not do it. The book helped me grapple with what I saw and heard from other guys on the department when I got home to New Jersey from the island of Guam where I was living at the time.

Firehouse 101 Picture III

How did a ‘preppie’ like me join the fire department? I was writing several articles on 9/11 for the local paper when I got home (basically because would write for free and I volunteered) and I interviewed so many fire fighters in my town on their role on 9/11 that I got sucked in. After a three hour interview with our now former chief and a long service fire fighter that had me on the edge of my seat the whole time with the stories they told me of that horrible day, the chief turned to me and said, “Have you ever considered becoming a fire fighter?”

I really thought about it when I got home and said to myself “Why would anyone think ‘Preppie Me’ would make a good fireman?” Then it really got me thinking of a lot of times I had met firemen along the way in my life and how impressed I was by them. It stayed with me for a long time and then I was helping out with the town’s tree lighting ceremony about a year later and the fireman I interviewed was standing in line behind me for a hot chocolate and I asked how he like the article I wrote. Then out of the blue I asked “Are you still looking for more firemen to join the department?” He then took me over to meet the chief I had interviewed and I asked about joining the department. Two months later I interviewed with my company and five months after that on June 12, 2005, I became a member of Engine One of the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department and eleven years later I am still going strong as an Exempt fire fighter, member of the Bergen County Fireman’s Home Association, Department Secretary, Company Secretary, Head of our company’s annual barbecue and chicken parm dinner and still writing articles on the department. I  really do think they saw something in me that day that I did not see in myself.

As much as my brothers can drive me crazy at times, there is no other place I would rather be and when push comes to shove, they are there for me. The one true time I saw the ‘Brotherhood’ shine was when my father died and on the night of the wake, they came out for me. The fireman, who I wrote the article about, Fire Fighter Tom Rubino, who will be retiring from the department this year and is our acting Fire Chaplin, read a beautiful speech about my father, whom everyone on the department had known for years at that point and had admired his bravery and hard work after his stroke to get better. It made it even more touching that it was him that read the speech after that night so many years ago. The members of not just my company but other companies as well came out to support me and my father at a very tough time in my life and I will never forget that kindness. It is really a feeling that someone who is not a fire fighter will ever experience. There really is something to being a fire fighter and being part of a community in the fire service.

So on this anniversary of 9/11, I leave you with a section of the book when Alex Livingston, a scion of the famous Livingston family of the Hudson Valley, interviews the fire chief from Firehouse 101 in Brooklyn, New York and his tale of the 9/11 attacks. It tells the story of fire fighter Ryan Callahan, who survived that attacks that day and watched his best friend die next to him.

To all the families and friends who lost loved ones that day, my heart goes out to you. It still is not easy for any of us on the fire service no matter when we joined. I hope one day you can read my novel “Firehouse 101”. It might help you grapple with your pain. If you want to read a funny but touching article on me, read The Gazette newspaper article in 2006 on my life a year later in the fire service “So, yous want to be a Fireman?”

Excerpt from the interview with Carmen Giovanni (who I wanted it to be played in the movie version by musician and actor Huey Lewis)

What exactly happened to Ryan that day?” Alex asked. “At the school or on September 11th?” Carmen replied. “Both,” Alex said now fascinated by it all. He wanted to get the story straight once and for all. “I can only tell you what the men told me. When they got the call on September 11th, this house was the second one to respond from Brooklyn. They were going over the bridge when they saw the second plane hit the towers. The house sent seven men down plus two others who were off duty. Some stayed to man the house, while the others went down to the site. We were going through a shift change, not unlike my own house at the time, so there were lots of men milling around that morning. They got the call early and being so close to lower Manhattan they went. Hilly was never one to wait. One of the men told me that on the ride down, Hilly had said, “When we put this one out, I personally want to catch those rat bastards that did this to our city.”

“What about Ryan that day?” Alex said wanting to get back on the subject. “From what I heard he barely said a word. He was in another world by that point. Others were chatting on and on about what type of plane must have hit when the second plane hit the other tower. Then they were all quiet. Those men saw too much that day,” Carmen added. He paused for a second, looked at Alex and gave him a sorrowful look like he was waiting for a reaction. Alex sat wide eyed and continued to write.

“From what the men told me, Hilly went into the Tower Two to see what they could do and where they should go first. Since there was so much chaos, Hilly took control and helped escorting people out of the building and away from danger. They say he was pretty calm. From what I knew of the guy, he would have had everyone double step and yell at them if they didn’t do it. So he and the rest of the men helped there. From what I heard, they then got a call to help on the upper floors, so Hilly took four of the men with him and told Ryan and Patrick to stay behind to help get the infirmed or injured out of the building. That’s why Ryan and Patrick were alive that day.

The picture of Ryan and Patrick was taken ten minutes before the first tower came down. It had literally knocked their helmets off. All Ryan could remember when he came out of the coma in the hospital was that he and Patrick had gone back to the lobby to help get more people out of he building. They had been helping an older man and the next thing he knew, he woke up in the hospital a few weeks later. Carmen was calm as he explained the story to Alex.

Alex could not believe what he was hearing. It was like a TV movie. So that was the story, that’s what really happened that day. No wonder Ryan wanted to forget it, what a horrifying experience. “So what happened at the hospital when he woke up?” Alex asked.

Carmen thought about this for a minute. Should he continue on? Who was this for anyway? Carmen decided to continue thinking that Alex was a concerned friend. In actuality, Alex was trying to get an idea of the magnitude of what happened that day to one person. He wanted to know what Leslie, Ryan, and Roger were not telling him. Alex felt that he had never been that nice to Ryan the whole time he lived in New York. He began to realize that he felt sorry for himself as Ryan had for himself and what concerned Ryan was much worse.

“One of the men told me that they could not believe that Ryan made it out with just a sprained ankle and a few minor cuts. It was the way he fell. The base of a fountain protected him. Even I couldn’t believe it but that’s where they found him. He and Patrick were still alive. The man they were helping was literally crushed by the beam they found on top of him,” Carmen added. “How did they find them?” Alex asked. Some firemen from a downtown house found them and got them the hell out of there,” Carmen continued, “no one could believe that they survived the first collapse. There was no help for Patrick though; he died after they got to the hospital. The impact was more severe that it appeared, he was suffering from internal bleeding. He died before his parents even knew that he had made it to the hospital. Mr. And Mrs. Callahan had to help the two of them home.” Alex had known that the two families were very close and Patrick and Ryan knew each other since they were practically born. Carmen was not sure how much Alex knew of Ryan.

“His old girlfriend told me about that,” Alex said, “it must be horrible for any parent to bury a child under any conditions but after what had happened on September 11th, it must have been even more traumatizing, especially when it seemed like there was a chance he survived. No one should have had to die such a terrible death.”

Alex had not noticed that during the interview. Carmen’s face turned red them almost to almost purple, like he was holding his breath. Alex was worried and said, “Carmen are you okay? Do you need some water or something?” Carmen looked away then looked back at Alex. He looked him straight in the eye and started a speech that Alex would not ever dream of interrupting.

“You’re right, Alex. No one should have had to die such a horrible way because no one should have had to die that day!” Carmen shouted. “We had so many good men die that day that should not have and why? I’ll tell you why. No one was watching the signs, no one shared information. Everyone letting their egos get in the way. No one had a back up plan, no one understood the big picture. We all went in blind because no one knew. And the city, Jesus Christ, I still can’t believe it. You’d think we would have learned from the bombings in ’93, but we didn’t. We got smug. We thought they couldn’t possibly do it again. They wouldn’t even try. And we warned the city government! We said we needed new equipment but did they listen, NO!!! It was too expensive, we have no money, we have to cut the budget and wait until next year. Jesus Christ, here it is nine years later and we still don’t have it! What the fuck are they waiting for to get hit next? The Brooklyn Bridge? The Empire State Building? I would like to know what the hell they are waiting for. My own brother and I can’t even talk to each other on radio. The police can’t talk to the firemen in this city and that is so fuckin’ ridiculous!” Carmen said now screaming at the top of his lungs. Carmen took a book off his desk and threw it at the wall. He was really pissed!

Then he continued, “Nothing in this god-damned city will ever change. They will spend money on parades and on memorials and then turn around and not want to buy new radios for us because it is too expensive! Well tell me this; would the person who said it would be too expensive to buy us new radios like to explain to over two thousand family members and to over a hundred and fifty widows of fire fighters that there was no money for them? I would like to meet them myself and explain it to them!” Carmen was in a near frenzy.

“I even yelled at that stupid brother of mine to knock some sense into some of his friends in the police department to get the ball rolling. This is such a load of bullshit! When did we let out egos get in the way such that departments won’t even help each other? Do you know how many firemen are former policemen? This is our wake up call to talk to one another and be better organized. If we don’t, I won’t blame the federal government because it won’t be the government’s fault but our own pride and stupidity! We don’t need anymore god damn parades praising us. We need good working conditions. Our firehouses can’t be falling apart and rat infested, we need new equipment to do our jobs and we need better salaries so our men and women can live closer to the city they serve. Do you know that some of our men have to live at home because they can’t make it on the starting salary? Christ, that’s pathetic! Our men aren’t being subsidized by Mommy and Daddy to live on the Upper East Side!” Carmen gave Alex the conclusion to his speech when he swept everything off his desk and yelled at the top of his lungs, “NO ONE HAD TO DIE THAT DAY!!!!”

 

Day Thirty-Four: Woodstock, NY Christmas Holiday-December 25th, 2015

I put my walking project in Manhattan on hold to participate in other activities that I was organizing during the month of December. Trips in the city became day trips to the museums, walking tours and many holiday events that was I was invited to or helped organize for other people.

Some of the memorable events I had was organizing my holiday party at work. I work with the disabled who are a very active bunch of people. I make sure that there is always exercising, stimulating speakers and lively engaging conversation. These are not people who will ever sit on the back of the bus if I can help it. I always want them to know you can get better and make better of any situation.

We had a lively party with exercise, music and good food. As I do every year, I have the Bamboo House 28 South Broad Street in Ridgewood, a small Chinese restaurant, cater the party (see my reviews on TripAdvisor) with wonderful lunch specials. You have to try their SubGum Wonton Soup, Mom’s Dumplings and Crystal Garlic chicken. This little hole in the wall is amazing and the owner, Mrs. Woo, has been a real friend over the years. She has been so accommodating to me over the years. She helped me out when my father and I used to eat there before our water aerobic class and my dad loved the food there. It was a lively afternoon of good food, wonderful conversation and holiday cheer. Everyone had a nice time.

All these project took their toll on me as well as getting ready for entertaining my family after the holidays. I had to prepare brunch for twelve and clean the house and touch up the lawn before the visit. Even in the beginning of the Winter, the temperature was at 60 degrees and the lawn was growing.

I was able to sneak into the city after all the work was done and before I left for Woodstock to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 1000 Fifth Avenue for a Christmas concert in the Musical Instruments Wing with a pipe organ I never knew the museum had and a brass trio from Columbia University. It was an afternoon of lively holiday favorites with a sing along and a lot of cheering. I got to see the tree in the Medieval Wing again before it would be taken down for the season. It is something you should really see when visiting New York during the holidays.

I spent my second Christmas holiday enjoying the natural beauty and spirituality of Woodstock, New York. Last year it was a place of escape but this year it was a place of relaxation and reflection. I put the holidays into perspective and took a good long look at my life. Of what I have accomplished and what I want to accomplish. It is the most quiet and peaceful place to do it in.

I came up for the Village Parade on Christmas Eve night, a tradition in the town for over 50 years. Every year they try to find a more creative way to have Santa Claus appear and the anticipation is a lot of fun to watch. Last year though it rained like crazy but this year it was warm, clear and enjoyable. It was 70 degrees that night.

It is such a lively parade and a real family orientated event. There must have been hundreds of people lining the streets of this small hamlet, that like Rhinebeck, is beautifully and creatively decorated for Christmas. There a unique store displays with colored lights around the buildings and windows, festive displays around the stores and colorfully lit Christmas tree right in the town square, something out of a postcard.

christmasinwoodstock2cny

Christmas in Woodstock, NY 2015

Well, every year they try to top the way Santa appears in the parade and they didn’t disappoint this year as Jack Frost and the Easter Bunny appeared first and then a hat inflated on the float and then there was smoke and steam and then Santa appeared in a explosion of confetti. Everyone cheered and applauded when Santa appeared and he climbed off the float and greeted everyone. He got to the square and started to meet with the local children.

Christmas Parade in Woodstock, NY 2015

Christmas Parade Woodstock, NY 2015

While the kids were taking their requests to Santa, I went over to listen to the Christmas concert by the Dutch Reformed Church performed by jazz singer, Lindsay Webster.

Lindsey Webster, a local singer and her band was singing Christmas carols on the lawn of the church. I had heard her in concert the year before and her and her band are excellent. She knows how to sing ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’. I asked her keyboard player if they cut a holiday album and note to everyone we my have to wait until next year.

Christmas Parade Woodstock, NY 2014 (My first Christmas in Woodstock, NY)

As soon as the parade starts, it is over. The whole place has to clear out by 6:45pm so that the Dutch Reformed Church can hold mass at 7:00pm. I had to run back to change clothes for mass.

The Dutch Reformed Church at 16 Tinker Street does things so differently then then the church that I go to, it is so much more lively. Their choir and bell chorus makes the mass so much better. Plus the pastor is very inspiring with his sermon on the meanings of Christmas and how it is in our lives.

After mass, it was another dinner at Joshua’s at 51 Tinker Street off the square, which was beautifully decorated with lights all over the trees in front of the restaurant and display in the windows (see the review on TripAdvisor) and then a walk around the square before I went to bed.

The square where the Christmas Tree is located was so quiet and peaceful it is a great place to wait for Santa. I just sat there and looked at the tree. No one else was in the square but me and I forgot how much I missed this spot from last year. It was quiet reflection. I really did think I would see Santa that night.

christmasinwoodstock2cny

This is what Woodstock, NY should look like in the Winter. Not the Spring Weather I had!

I almost thought that when the burglar alarm was set off at five in the morning. I had to call the owner of the Village Green B & B where I was going to reset the alarm and that he had better check it in the morning. I thought Santa was trying to get out.

After a restful wake up three hours later and a leisurely breakfast, I was on the phone with relatives and friends from nine in the morning until about one thirty in the afternoon. After long conversations with people I have not spoke with in a while and wanting to go to the movies at four, I got out of the B & B and toured around the Catskills for the afternoon. Since it was Christmas Day, it was extremely quiet.

My journey took me up Route 28 to Phoenicia and the Pine Hill area again like last year but I decided to take another turn and drive through Route 214 and go up to Tannersville and Hunter. The drive through the mountains is very inspiring. I now know why so many writers and painters live up there.

Phoenicia was extremely quiet and being 67 degrees, it gave me the energy to walk around the downtown. I could not believe how depressed the town got in just one year. So many businesses either closed or had moved to another spot. That was not a good sign. Still a picture perfect town nestled in the hills but even I could tell the tourists have stayed away.

The only life in the town that day was at the Phoenicia Fire Department as they were having their annual Christmas Party and it was still going strong long into the afternoon. Last year it broke up by one.

Even thought there were no leaves on the trees, the site of the forest was still breath taking and scenic. There were barely any cars on the road until I got to Tannersville, NY, a quirky little town on a quiet highway up in the mountains.

There was not life there either as only one restaurant was open to a small crowd of people and a deli selling coffee to a steady stream of locals. This was a very artsy town with a performing arts center and a few galleries but even I wondered how much art must these people have to sell to stay open in this location. I almost had lunch here but traveled on.

I drove through hills and gorges and came across a waterfall that I did not find too exciting but cars full of Asian tourists seem to love. The parking lot was jammed with people walking over to take pictures,

The remainder of my journey took me back to Woodstock to go to Upstate Films to the movies and dinner at Little Bear Chinese Restaurant at 295 Tinker Street in Bearsville, NY . There I saw the largest crowd of people that whole day as the restaurant was packed with hungry diners who had come after the movies for dinner. The whole place was so jammed with people trying to eat at once that the service was rushed and the food overcooked for the most part (see my review on TripAdvisor).

My last evening was spent in the square again, doing some writing by the Christmas tree. Even though it was’t the most beautiful tree it seemed to fit the town nicely with it’s artsy look and beautifully strung lights. It fit the mood of a hipster Christmas.

Leaving the next day was hard because I was so relaxed. I walked around the busy square which had come back to life with locals and tourists doing their business. Woodstock is a very special place and I will always remember my Christmas’s here fondly.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Everyone!

Places to Visit:

Metropolitan Museum of Art

1000 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY  10028

(800) 622-3397

http://www.metmuseum.org

Open: Sunday-Thursday-10:00am-5:30pm/Friday & Saturday 10:00am-9:00pm

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60763-d105125-Reviews-The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art-New_York_City_New_York.html?m=19905

Woodstock, NY: Annual Christmas Parade Christmas Eve night

Village Green B & B

12 Tinker Street

Woodstock, NY  12498

(845) 679-0313

info@VillageGreenbb.com

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g48915-d80284-Reviews-Village_Green_Bed_and_Breakfast-Woodstock_Catskill_Region_New_York.html?m=19905

Dutch Reformed Church for Christmas Eve Mass

16 Tinker Street

Woodstock, NY  12498

(845) 679-6610

 

Places to Dine:

Bamboo House

28 South Broad Street

Ridgewood, NJ  07450

(201) 447-3111

Open: Sunday 12:00pm-9:00pm/Monday Closed/Tuesday-Thursday 11:30am-9:30pm/Friday-Saturday 11:30am-10:00pm

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g46772-d3998588-Reviews-Bamboo_House-Ridgewood_New_Jersey.html?m=19905

Jousha’s

51 Tinker Street

Woodstock, NY  12498

http://www.joushaswoodstock.com

(845) 679-5533

Open: Sunday-10:00am-9:00pm/Monday-Friday-10:00am-10:00pm/Closed Wednesday/Saturday 10:00am-11:00pm

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g48915-d458534-Reviews-Joshua_s-Woodstock_Catskill_Region_New_York.html?m=19905

Little Bear Chinese Restaurant

295 Tinker Street Street B

Bearsville, NY  12409

(845) 679-8899

Open: Sunday-Thursday-12:00pm-10:00pm/Friday-Saturday-12:00pm-11:00pm

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g47293-d3216488-Reviews-The_Little_Bear-Bearsville_New_York.html?m=19905

Please watch this video of the parade. I credit the contributor of the video of the parade. It really is a magical night. I credit the contributors of YouTube for these videos.

 

 

 

This video was from my first year in Woodstock, NY when it poured like crazy.

Day Thirty-Two December 5, 2015 “Sinterklaas in Rhinebeck, NY

The Christmas holiday season was a whirlwind of activities for me that took me again away from Manhattan and up to Rhinebeck, New York for the annual ‘Sinterklaas Holiday Festival’ and activities. Sinterklaas is a Dutch holiday tradition that has been recaptured in the Hudson River Valley and is run the first Saturday in December every year. It is to celebrate the coming of ‘Sinterklaas’ or “Santa Claus” as we know it. This was my third year in helping out in the parade.

As the literature states, ‘Sinterklaas is the celebration where children are transformed into Kings and Queens and honored as the bringers of the light at the darkest time of the year.

The tradition of Sinterklaas comes all the way from the Netherlands, brought by the Dutch settlers who arrived in Rhinebeck over 300 years ago. Sinterklaas, the patron of children and sailors, finds a welcoming community in the Mid-Hudson Valley as recreated through the lens of modern day America.

The revived tradition is non-denominational and all inclusive, everyone is invited to participate. The young, the old, the in-between, absolutely everyone and anyone who wants to be part of a community of hope for a joyous and peaceful world are all welcome.’

Our coordinator for the parade, Trish, wanted me up by 10:00am and that was a treat taking a two hour drive from Northern New Jersey to Upstate New York, but it ended up being a very nice and very quick trip up as there was no traffic on the road.

Again the weather could not have been nicer as it reached 60 degrees in Rhinebeck at the height of the afternoon and even I could not believe it got that warm. It was such a nice day that when we were putting the floats together, I did not even need a jacket.

I put together the ‘Honey Bee’ puppets as my first project. The artist did a really nice job with them as they were our theme for the parade, honoring one of nature’s creatures, the Honey Bee.

‘Distinct from all other animals with the exception of those that give us milk, the Honey Bee makes more honey than they need for themselves and that’s why there is enough for us. They don’t just give us sweetness but medicine, flowers, fruits, vegetables and meat, natures beauty and bounty. They make our lives beautiful, tasty and nutritious.’

We put the puppets together in record time and later in the parade (see YouTube under ‘Sinterklaas Parade 2015), they made quite a site as it grew dark and they lit up the beginning of the parade. After my partner, Liz and I, put them all together, we worked on the knight horse costumes for the parade and then on the star puppets. We had so many people helping that we got done in record time and got to spend the afternoon enjoying the activities in the afternoon. We did not have to be back until 4:30pm for the startup of the parade.

Sinterklaas Parade

The festival was chock full of events for all age groups, from puppet shows, to book readings, musical acts on stilts, storytelling and all sorts of musicians from the local colleges from brass bands to a Capella groups to choirs performed at all the churches and at city hall. In the parking lot across from the Beekman Arms Hotel, there were high wire acts, local bands and all over town there were local groups like the Four H and the Boy Scouts selling treats at booths all over the Main Street.

There is a special show at the Church of the Messiah called “Into the Light: A holiday Spectacular”, which has become very popular every year. The lines wrapped around the building. Its the holiday story of a young girl’s journey throughout the world searching for the light. The play features giant puppets and groups of children from the church singing.

There was a giant honeycomb in the courtyard by the restaurant that makes thin-crusted pizzas and the kids got to meet the Queen Bee. The line was so long that I could not get in but later that evening I was able to see the inside and I have to say that one of the artists was creative in putting this together.

I also saw a giant polar bear walking around town and you had to sing him. It must have been a long day for the actor who had to do that in that heavy costume but it was fun to watch. Watching the kids to sing to him and watch the bear dance was a lot fun.

There was a Pocket Lady who symbolizes the generosity of Sinterklaas and in her pockets are all secret surprises for children and at the Rhinebeck Fire Department there was a Crowns & Branches workshop where kids could decorate branches and crowns that would be used in the parade and meeting the Wish Lady, who would provide a wish for your branch. Watching the Grumpus do there dance all over town was a lot of fun. They are some of Sinterklaas’s helpers and I swear are probably the same people who have been doing it for years. They dance and bang drums all over town.

Sinterklaas Parade III

The Grumpuses

The best part was visiting the Reformed Church for their bake sale. They had really good frosted cookies and I swear I went back three times much to the thankfulness of the kids running the booth. The Third Evangelical Lutheran Church has a lunch area in the basement and they made a mean grilled cheese for a small donation and the tables off to the side was laden with Christmas cookies, which were part of the cost of the lunch. When I tell you these people can bake at the Church, they can bake. Their frosted cookies and cakes were really good. For a small donation, you can eat like a king for lunch.

At dusk, when it starts getting darker, the lights on the trees come into full form and all the businesses on the Main Street light up their display windows. The town looks like a little Christmas village out of a Currier & Ives portrait. It really puts you in the Christmas mood.

I got back to the library at 5:00pm to get ready for the parade. My job like last year was lighting Sinterklaas himself. That is a lot of fun because you are at the beginning of the parade and you get to see the whole parade coming down the hill and that is quite a site.

Like the Macy’s Parade, there is such anticipation at the start of the parade and watching it come down the hill is like being at Mardi Gras. It is so well lit and so colorful with bands playing and people dancing and so full of energy. It looks like a giant party coming down the hill.

The guy who plays Sinterklaas I worked with the year before so I knew him. We did not get to talk much during the rain storm that drenched everyone last year and we just wanted to get off the parade route. This year it was still slightly warm as the parade started so it was fun to spend a lot of time with the kids. He is a naturally born ham and the kids just adored the guy. I had to chase him around the parade route with a lighting pack and a giant candle that lit him. He had all the fun and I had to make sure that he did not go dark the whole time. Work yes but it is so much fun watching how he made each one of these children’s day. Every time he passed a child to talk to them, they were so happy and they cheered.

Sinterklaas Parade II

Sinterklaas

That was the power of Sinterklaas. If you are not in the holiday spirit, the Sinterklaas parade will definitely put you in the mood. It was a spectacular night of bands, great costumes, creative puppets and festive cheer.

It didn’t end a moment too soon as it typical with Rhinebeck this time of the year that the temperature drops like ten degrees in one hour. I handed my lighting wand in and watched all the costume characters from the parade get introduced to the crowd by the parade leaders. It was a nice way to end the parade and collect all the props while keeping everyone engaged.

I spent the night in Rhinebeck and relaxed. This is one event you should not miss while in Upstate New York. The Sinterklaas Celebration is a real treat of holiday activities and good cheer!

Merry Christmas!

The Sinterklaas Parade 2015

Day One: My first day of the walk and the first day of the Summer: ‘Father’s Day’-Walking Marble Hill on the tip of Manhattan June 21st, 2015.

I started the first day of walking on Father’s Day, June 21, 2015. I thought it was coincidental that the first day of Summer was Father’s Day, so it made the start of my walk even more special. I would have spent this day with my dad doing something special as we always did.

So in the spirit of the day and in memory to him, I started this project, “MywalkinManhattan” exploring the island that we both loved so much. I took the number One subway uptown to Marble Hill, a section of Manhattan that is located on mainland side of the Bronx.

Marble Hill is the northern most neighborhood in Manhattan and has a very interesting history. Marble Hill has been occupied since the Dutch controlled the area. On August 18, 1646, Governor Willem Kieft, the Dutch Director of New Netherland, signed a land grant that comprised of the whole present community. The name Marble Hill was conceived when Darius C. Crosby came up with the name in 1891 from the local deposits of dolomite marble underlying it. Dolomite marble is a soft rock that crops out in the Inwood and Marble Hill communities, known as Inwood marble. This is the marble that was used for the federal buildings in lower Manhattan when New York was the capital of the United States in the 1780’s. (Wikipedia)

After an increase in ship traffic in the 1890’s, the United States Army Corps of Engineers determined that a canal was needed for a shipping route between the Hudson and Harlem rivers. In 1895, the construction of the Harlem River Shipp Channel rendered. Marble Hill became an island bounded by the canal to the south and the original course of the Harlem River to the north. The Greater New York Chapter of 1897 designated Marble Hill as part of the Borough of Manhattan.Effective January 1, 1914, by an act of the New York State Legislature Bronx County was created but Marble Hill remained as part of New York County. Later in 1914, the old river was filled in, physically connecting Marble Hill to the Bronx and the rest of North American Mainland. (Wikipedia)

So I took the subway to the Marble Hill-225 Station and started the walk. Who knew while it had been sunny and warm the whole trip into the city from New Jersey and on the trip up that the heavens would open up once I got the subway stop and I would have to run from the subway station to the River Plaza Mall which is around the corner from the subway station. I would spend a half hour at Target looking for a good map of the island. By the time I paid for it, it cleared and was still cloudy. I have to say for an city neighborhood, Marble Hill has the best of the suburbs with many chain stores and restaurants within reach of everyone in the community. There are two malls in the neighborhood, one inside and the other right around the corner from the public housing.

Marble Hill VI.jpg

I walked Exterior Street first, which is where the Marble Hill Houses are located. Not much to report but the street could use a good weed wacking. It was so over-grown that you have to walk in the street. The housing in this area is pretty standard with a large complex of buildings with a common yard and playground with benches. Because of the weather, there weren’t many people outside or on the streets.

Once you cross Broadway, you have an array of unique turn of the last century homes mixed in with low pre-war apartment buildings. The Victorian style homes that line Jacobus Street and Fort Charles Street have true character and beautiful urban landscaping for the space the homes have for yards. There are all sorts of secret doors and terraces that you can only see from the street and there was a lot of pride in this neighborhood.

Marble Hill VII

From the core of Marble Hill, you would never know that you were in the city. It is good to take time to walk these small streets, especially on a nice day to enjoy flowers and plantings from the sidewalks. Even by the Marble Hill Houses, someone joined in and planted a vegetable garden on raised beds by Broadway. By the middle of the summer, this will be filled with fruits and vegetables to the residents that planted it.

Broadway is the commercial strip on both sides of Marble Hill that continues around the corner of 225 Street by the subway station entrance. For a quick snack, bypass the traditional fast food places in the neighborhood and stop by Taveras Food Center at 5193 Broadway for their Pastelitos (a type of Cuban Pastry similar to empanada). They make them in both chicken and beef and at a $1.00 they make a nice quick meal while walking around.

Walk around the corner with these treats and admire the view of the river at 225th Street or the quirky street paintings by the downtown subway entrance. Even though some people might consider this a nuisance, if you have seen the recent prices for urban art, it might be easier to pull down the wall and bring it to market. You never know when one of these ‘taggers’ may become famous.

Walking down Broadway from Taveras, stop at Rosarina Bakery at 5219 Broadway for a doughnut. Their thickly iced doughnuts are a real treat for a $1.00 and they have a nice selection of other pastries as well. There are all sorts of small businesses along Broadway that cater to the residents of Marble Hill, so take time to explore some of these shops.

Marble Hill V

Marble Hill can be walked in a few hours but take time to stroll along the winding streets of the middle of the neighborhood and admire the homes and gardens and take time to walk along the river on 225th Street before taking the subway back to where you are going. The hills and parks are very pretty as the sun goes down.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad with all the love a son could send you!

To get there: take the Number One subway to Marble Hill (you can walk the whole neighborhood in two hours)

Places to eat:

Rosarina Bakery

5219 Broadway

New York, NY  10034

(718) 367-2271

Taveras Food Center

5193 Broadway

New York, NY  10034

(718) 933-2346

Things to see:

Walk along the winding streets in the middle of the neighborhood along Jacobus, Charles Place and Adrian Avenue to see the unique architecture.

Walk along the Harlem River to see the sunset.