Tag Archives: Parkchester

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The storm battering New York City and much of the East Coast today is exactly the kind of snowstorm I yearned for as a kid growing up in the Bronx.

We didn’t get a lot of snow often, but when we did, it was cause for jubilation.

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The Cross-Bronx Expressway came to a standstill and motorists were stranded during a blizzard in 1978.

I had gotten a Red Flyer wooden sled with metal blades  (with a wooden arm to steer!) from my cousins when they moved from New York to Germany in the late 1960s and this thing was my beloved Rosebud.

I would go to the steepest  hill in Parkchester, which was near the playground in the East and several stairways removed from the back of Oval Drug.

I would get there early, ahead of the other kids.

Dressed in long johns, snowpants when I was younger and later jeans (or dungarees as they were known then), rubber boots pulled over shoes with Wonder Bread plastic bags over them (the bags helped make getting the shoes on easier), hat, a green scarf made by my cousin and gloves, and I would lose myself in the endless traipsing up and down the hill.

Now the trick was not to kill yourself.

Parkchester had these metal poles that connected chains to mark off grassy areas where you were not permitted. During snowstorms, Parkchester security turned a blind eye to the sledders.

But if you went tearing down the hill like I did, you wanted to make damn sure you did not go head-first into one of the poles or lift your head up and get garroted by the chains.

Yikes!

The chains in Parkchester marked off where the grass was off limits. Buses and cars got suck in this blizzard circa 1978.

I was the envy of the other kids, most of whom had the plastic “flying saucers” that were coming into vogue or relied on flattened large cardboard boxes they would get from the supermarket.

I’d leave after about three hours because the hill would be getting too crowded and icy.

I’d carry my sled home, undress just inside the doorway, my ass and legs pink and tingly from the cold and snow, and would then chow down on hot Farina mom would make.

When I had my paper route, I used the sled to deliver the papers. I’d wrap them in a bundle encased in plastic, strap them to the sled and drag it behind me to make my rounds.

As I got older, the snow was a different cause for excitement: the possibility of schools being closed! (It seldom happened in the 1970s. Maybe three times in total?)

But when it did, my friend John and I would go around, walking in the streets, which were deserted, and look for stranded drivers.

This was back in the day of rear-wheel drive cars, and John and I would listen for the telltale sound of tires spinning in the snow and go and lean into the back of the car to help push it out, getting a spray full of snow in our faces in the process!

The drivers were always appreciative and it was a fun way to spend the time in the outdoors.

Top middle photo was from East Tremont Avenue and lower right photo is John O’Connell atop a huge manmade snow mound across from St. Helena’s Church.

The snow also had a unique quieting effect on the busy cacophony that was the Bronx.

As the snow would fall, especially at night, it would muffle the noise and traffic would slow.

The quiet would be punctuated only by the ching-clang-ching sound of the chains on the tires of the sanitation trucks and police cars and in the morning, the scraping of the shovels of the porters clearing the sidewalks.

A Bank Job: My Work as a Teller in the Bronx

A recent story in The New York Times made the case for why all young people should at least work one summer as a bank teller.

It stirred memories of my years working as a part-time bank teller while going to college.

While I didn’t get those money-management skills that the article suggested would result, I do have a wealth of stories to tell!

I worked at the Independence Savings Bank branch in Parkchester in the Bronx for about four years.

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Photo courtesy of Fern Felman

The testosterone-fueled tellers (there were several college-age male tellers, present company included), would spy a pretty woman on line and try to time our transactions so that we would be the one to call “Next!” and have the fair maiden at our window.

Those strategies sometimes called for speeding up the work you were doing with your current customer or walking away briefly from your station to get the timing just right.

We got to know our customers well, many of whom were cops, firefighters, senior citizens and blue-collar working stiffs. One account holder routinely would bring us candy and slip it into the metal coin tray.

The place was populated with a lovable cast of co-workers: There was our Saturday head teller, Mike, an engineer by profession who was a huge “Star Trek” fan.

On Saturdays, he would disconnect the Muzak and pipe in a classic rock station from a radio for those working behind the thick glass windows to enjoy.

Among my colleagues was a guy named Charlie. Charlie was, um, crazy.

At night, when we were the only two tellers working, he would be in a tearing hurry to “prove” — reconcile our cash and the deposits and withdrawals and other transactions — so he could get out and spend time with his girlfriend.

Charlie was short in stature but a wiry guy with a kinetic energy. When he was counting bills, it was a blur of fingers and paper.

Since I was newbie, I was slower and more prone to errors, which would delay Charlie’s exit. (He was my senior, so he had to make sure I was reconciled. In addition, both tellers had to leave at the same time.)

This was a frequent scene:

Charlie hectoring me “Did you prove?! Did you prove?!” And I would get more flustered and prone to making mistakes, which would mean he would yell at me more and I would get more flustered.

Well, one night, not only did I prove, but I did so in record time.

I can still see and hear Charlie going excitedly: “You proved?! You proved?!”

And in a gesture of celebration (or insanity) he picked up one of the cushioned bar stools for tellers and heaved it, legs first, into a wall. The stool’s feet left four distinct puncture marks in the plaster wall.

I was aghast and convinced we would be fired.

Thankfully the next day was a Saturday, and the bank manager on duty was a mellow Irishman named Bob who spied the holes and when I told him what had happened, just chuckled, shook his head and said: “Crazy Charlie.”

The lesson?

Money might not buy you everything, but working with it sure generates some good stories!

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Oh Rats! A Subway Stare-Down That I Lost

What creature would roam underground, scurrying from point to point through an intricate network of tunnels — dank, dirty and dingy — tirelessly trudging in claustrophobic surroundings?

I know them as New Yorkers. And they rule the subways.

For a long time I was one of them. Today I fondly think back of my days underground — and over ground when on the El — from the safety and sunshine of Florida.

But there is another New York inhabitant that is the true ruler of the subway, especially its tunnels.

This New Yorker has many cousins in fields, landfills and building basements and is an abomination born of the darkest of crevices – The Subway Rat!

This monstrosity is no ordinary rat. Its above-ground cousin shares similar disgusting traits, such as its almost cat-like size, hideous teeth and fur and voracious appetite. Did I mention it’s as big as a freaking cat?!

The New York Subway Rat has all those traits and exponentially raises it a few degrees.

Many New Yorkers never get to see one of these monsters.

They are the fortunate ones.

I am a New Yorker who faced one and lived to tell the tail…um…tale.

My commute back in the late ’80s was on the No. 6 train from Parkchester in the Bronx to the Garment District near Seventh Avenue. (No self-respecting New Yorker ever called it Fashion Avenue.) But the No. 6 doesn’t go to Seventh Avenue in the Garment District.

I would get off at the 42nd Street Station and then take the Shuttle to the West Side.

I would always go to the first car, not because I wanted to watch the passage through the tunnels from the front door, though I often did.

My principal reason for taking that spot was logistical.

The 42nd Street Station back then had a supervisors’ booth that had long been abandoned.

But the structure was still there and at the mouth of the tunnel, it jutted into the platform forming an inverted “U” from the front tunnel entrance. To either side of the “U” there was a narrow walkway that went right up to the tunnel’s mouth.

Since this walkway was always empty, no one would stand there to wait for the train and I could exit from the first car onto the platform without bumping into anyone waiting to come in.

It saved me a few milliseconds, and if you know a New Yorker’s morning commute, every fraction of a second mattered.

For months I exited the car without ever looking. Until one day…

Sniffing around this secluded platform, at the height of morning rush hour, just inches away from where I was about to plant my first step was a Subway Rat.

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He was this big: I am holding my hands out at least three feet apart!

I froze mid-step.

Average rodents will typically scurry away when confronted by a human. But this is Subterraneous Verminus Rodentus we are talking about here.

This — this thing — stopped sniffing the ground, swiveled and stood on its freaking hind legs!

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I was still frozen mid-step, and five cars away there was probably a conductor watching this exchange and wondering who would win, and more important how quickly, because he needed to get the train moving and close the freaking doors!

This New York Subway Rat knew who was boss. He was!

After a brief stare-down, it lowered itself and slowly, deliberately, walked to the tunnel and out of sight.

I exited the train, turned left and got the hell out of there.

I lived to tell the tale. But often I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t froze and if I had quickly used my soccer skills to kick that bigger-than-a-football-size vermin into the subway car before the doors closed.

Oh the pandemonium that would have created!

But I’m certain the rat would have landed on its feet, killed some passengers and slowly walked off the train and into its subterranean realm.

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