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It was a big day in New York City on Sept. 24, 1970.

Of course, I guess it’s always a big day in New York City. But if you were able to walk through walls, ghost-style, and also able to park in front of any building you wanted, Theo Kojak-style, you could have seen the following eminences that day in the five boroughs:

Muhammad Ali met with boxing officials and underwent a physical examination at the offices of the New York State Athletic Commission, about a month before his comeback fight against Jerry Quarry. The New York Times described him as “subdued,” showing a “quiet demeanor and disinclination to boast.”

Sophia Loren and her husband, director Carlo Ponti, were in town to promote Loren’s latest movie, “Sunflower.” (According to Wiki, it was the first Western movie filmed in the U.S.S.R.)

-Director Otto Preminger was in town too, though not to shoot or promote a film. According to the Times (which will be my source for info henceforth unless otherwise credited), he attended a fundraiser at Sardi’s restaurant for U.S. Sen. Charles Goodell.

-Canadian actor Christopher Plummer stopped in town briefly, en route back home to be installed as a Companion of the Order of Canada. The Times reported him speaking enthusiastically about his next role as Frederick the Great, in between sips of a Bloody Mary in the Algonquin Hotel lobby.

-Other performers in town included comedians Bob and Ray, performing at the Golden Theater; gypsy violinist Sandor Lakatos; and Cleavon Little and Melba Moore in “Purlie” at the Broadway Theatre.

-Photographer Bruce Davidson was back in Harlem, showing copies of his book East 100th Street to some of the people he’d photographed for it two or three years prior.

-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller was in town to pick up a re-election endorsement from the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association. (Mayor John Lindsay was in town too, of course, breaking ground on a new police station in the Bronx.)

-The Mets were on the road and the Yankees idle, but Joe Namath and the New York Jets were practicing at Rikers Island ahead of their Sunday, Sept. 27, game against the Boston Patriots.

(This roundup doesn’t include Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, who were in New York in character though maybe not in person. Their Manhattan-set The Odd Couple made its network TV debut the night of September 24.)

The usual bustle of life in New York went on that day despite a serious power shortage caused by unseasonably warm weather. Con Ed imposed voltage cuts for the third straight day, causing shrunken images on TV sets, while the New York Telephone Co. fired up auxiliary generators for the second day to power its offices and network.

And, amid all that, my dad was in New York City too.

092470

No one seems to remember what led him there, except that it must have been work-related, as he wouldn’t have just gone to New York by himself.

(The note “Stuff to Jac. Penfield” probably means that my grandparents dropped off some things with my other grandparents in Stamford, the Jacobellises, so they could bring it to my parents in Penfield, N.Y. That further suggests that my dad was in New York City on work duties: He would have stopped off in nearby Stamford and picked up the stuff himself, if he’d been able to.)

Inevitably, there is a record of this exchange, as there was for every long-distance call my grandparents were involved in. I wonder when they started that practice and why: Did they get hit with false charges at some point?

My parents have never much enjoyed going to New York City, so it doesn’t surprise me that a brief work trip would be forgotten all these years later. I don’t remember every single place my employers have ever sent me, either.

If anything, then, this calendar entry serves as a reminder of how fast things fade.

Work meetings and projects seem so important when you’re doing them — and if you’re getting sent out of town, that must be even more important.

But try remembering what you were working on five years later — much less 47 years later — and unless it was really major, like a corporate takeover or something, you’re bound to have forgotten.

Work stuff drives us gray, and gives us heart attacks and ulcers and restless nights … but it doesn’t take long for those super-important tasks to vanish into the dustbin and never get seen again.

(If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go apply to be a lighthouse keeper or a tree farmer or something.)

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Time to get in the car. Grab a seat by the window, and settle in. This is going to be a long, long blog post.

The good news? You don’t have to buckle up if you want. This is 1975, you see.

Specifically, it’s Friday, May 23, 1975. My grandparents and great-grandma are about to spend (almost) 10 hours (mostly) in a car, driving from the southwestern edge of Connecticut to (almost) the shores of Lake Ontario.

And we’re all going to ride with them, as I re-create the sights and sounds of an all-day interstate car trip with the Blumenau family elders as faithfully as I can.

Don’t worry — you’ll get a chance to pee.

May 23, 1975.

May 23, 1975. Yanks and Mets win.

Your vehicle for the trip will be a 1969 Ford Fairlane 500, somewhere between cream and pale green in color. It was extensively described in this earlier post, if you want to go have a look at it. It’s reliable and well-kept, though the vinyl upholstery might get a little squirmworthy after seven or eight hours on a sunny day. There is, of course, no air conditioning.

(My grandpa — he’ll do all the driving — has one of those plastic seat inserts that cab drivers use to get just the tiniest bit of airspace between one’s arse and the vinyl. Being The Man has its perks.)

Your fellow passengers will be my grandmother, Corine, in the front seat and my great-grandma, Pauline (known in the family as Grossee, short for the German Grossmutter) in the back. There’s plenty of room; you can stretch your legs.

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step on the gas pedal.

And this journey starts on the back roads — specifically, on Long Ridge Road (a.k.a. Connecticut Route 104), which my grandfather takes across the Rippowam and Mianus rivers and over the state line, roughly 13 miles to the little town of Bedford, New York.

Once in wealthy Westchester County, the roads gradually start to get bigger. State Route 172 westbound from Bedford feeds into Route 684 northbound, which connects in turn to Interstate 84.

I-84 wends westbound through the quiet southern chunk of New York state between Westchester County and Woodstock, occasionally watched over by wary staties in ungainly yellow-and-blue Dodge Monacos. The Fairlane does nothing to attract their attention, and they take no notice of it.

Doing a responsible 60 mph or so, the Fairlane crosses the north-south Taconic Parkway in the company of Ramblers and Mercurys, then sits in a bottleneck until it finally gets a chance to  soar over the Hudson River on the 12-year-old but already overcrowded Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.

Around this time, you start to notice that the ride lacks for interpersonal stimulation.

My grandfather is largely content to focus on his duties as driver. My great-grandma — while ordinarily affable — clams up during car trips, reluctant to do anything that might distract the driver. And my grandmother’s bursts of chattiness are hindered by her deafness and the engine noise, which conspire to turn any conversation into an adventure.

For a time, the putative conversation turns to the Blumenaus’ beloved grandchildren — one four-and-a-half, the other not yet two — who are waiting for them in western New York. The kids are still at ages when life consists of one big discovery after another, and the members of the traveling party look forward to hearing about the latest.

At the otherwise unremarkable downstate town of Middletown, N.Y., my grandpa turns onto New York State Route 17.

Route 17 carries the big cream-colored car north through Catskills towns like Wurtsboro, Monticello and Liberty. Even at this late date, it is possible to see both billboards for Borscht Belt resorts and the fading resorts themselves from the highway. Billboards for Monticello Raceway are also frequent, some of which feature neon horses waiting for nightfall to come out and trot.

Route 17 flirts with the Pennsylvania state line in the towns of Hancock and Deposit, where my father was stranded for a night in April 1972 by an unseasonally heavy storm en route to Stamford to play organ at my Uncle T.J.’s wedding. No doubt that story comes up among the travelers.

Route 17 meets Route 81 North near the city of Binghamton, and my grandpa turns onto still another major interstate. Traffic is again heavy in spots: It’s Memorial Day weekend, and even in the early afternoon, people are trying to get somewhere else.

By this time, you and your fellow occupants of the Fairlane are hungry and need a break. Once back on a big highway, you start looking for an opportunity to get off the road. (Being frugal Yankees, my grandparents and great-grandmother have packed their own lunches, so the enticements of McDonald’s hold no appeal to them.)

Unfortunately, the nearest rest stop on northbound I-81 is several miles behind you, just north of the New York-Pennsylvania line. You have to wait 30-odd miles until the town of Homer, near the colleges-and-farms burg of Cortland, for a proper rest area.

Once there, you hit the bathroom, claim a shady picnic table and settle down to your delayed repast — ham sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise, apples, and a thermos full of lemonade. The family chats and eats without hurry, oblivious to the cars and trucks grinding past to their own destinations. You make a note to pack some sriracha for the return trip, to lend your sammich something resembling flavor.

At some length, everyone bundles themselves back into the waiting Fairlane. The windows have been closed, and the air has become hot and thick inside, and scented with vinyl. Fighting the urge to drowse, the family sets off again.

But only for a short time. This is 1975, after all, and you’re riding in an American car with at least a V6 engine in stop-start traffic. So my grandfather grabs the first opportunity to pull off the highway again and refill his tank at some small-town gas station, perhaps in a town like Homer, Tully or Preble. He pays cash.

The Fairlane creeps north gradually toward Syracuse. It is roughly 5:15 p.m. by the time you reach the Salt City, and Memorial Day traffic combines with the regular Friday-afternoon drive-time exodus to choke the roads.

The worst of it is leaving the city — not coming into it, as the Fairlane is — but as my grandpa hangs his final left turn onto the New York State Thruway westbound, the pace of traffic slows a bit.

From Syracuse it is a straight shot westbound to Rochester, the last real leg of the trip, roughly an hour-and-a-half in regular traffic. My grandfather, his right foot perhaps getting heavier, manages to make it in more or less that time. (Perhaps there is another bathroom break, quicker this time, somewhere along the Thruway.)

At 7 p.m. or so, as the skies hint at their eventual darkening, you get off at Thruway Exit 45, Route 490, Rochester.

And about 15 minutes later, my grandpa’s Fairlane  is in the driveway of his son’s suburban home at 50 Timberbrook Lane, Penfield. A late dinner and family comforts await. The trip is over.

Get out. Stretch your legs. Relax and enjoy.

In three days or so, you’ll be doing it again, the other way.

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“Me and my stupidity, sittin’ on a fence
Digging what I thought was New York City.”
Ian Hunter

This is another post in which my grandfather does not figure.

My aunt’s in it, near the end, but it’s not really about her either.

It’s about New York City. Two New York Cities, actually … as different from each other as Mona Lisas and mad hatters, but equally fabled, and equally real.

Climb the grimy stairs from the subway to the sidewalk, turn your shoulder into the wind, and I’ll tell you about them.

# # # # #

From cultural scraps and second-hand narratives, half-hour scripted dramas and faded ads on the sides of brick buildings, I have constructed a mental narrative of two sharply different worlds occupying the same scattered geographic footprint.

We’ll call the first one “Golden New York,” and presume it existed from the end of World War II until sometime in the 1960s.

In my imagination, Golden New York is a place of cool confidence … a city where well-barbered men in crisply pressed business shirts make lots of money during the day and drink bourbon on the rocks in conservatively decorated penthouses at night.

You know this city as Sinatra’s New York, and Don Draper’s as well.

It is Holly Golightly’s playground, and Murray the K’s, and Harriet the Spy’s — a metropolis benevolent enough to protect tomboys who peer into skylights and squeeze into dumbwaiters.

This city of promise and adventure is also home to the Yankees, who roll to championship after championship with the same unruffled confidence shown by the bourbon-drinking business magnates; and the football Giants, who are not quite as dominant but capable of beating any team in the league with points and personality to spare.

Life in Golden New York is burnished and radiant and early-autumnal.

And it will not last.

# # # # #

We’ll call its replacement “Tarnished New York,” though you might know it by its sardonic early-’70s nickname, “Fun City.”

It’s the squalid, bankrupt, grime-tattooed city Sinatra bequeathed to Lou Reed and Johnny Thunders when he pulled up stakes and moved to Palm Springs.

No one knows what happened to Don Draper and Holly Golightly — death? The suburbs? A quiet life somewhere upstate? — but they don’t walk the streets of this New York.

(Most people don’t, if they don’t have to. Even Theo Kojak tends to stay behind the wheel until he gets where he’s going.)

It’s no place for inquisitive schoolgirls with spy-notebooks. Life is cheap in Tarnished New York, and even getting onto a commuter train is a matter of taking your life into your hands. Never mind who you might meet if you step into a cab … or, hell, if you simply try to cross the street.

The Yankees? They’re struggling to win more games than they lose. And the football Giants? They’re in New Haven.

Tarnished New York, like Golden New York, will pass away with time. But it will leave its own counterbalancing impression, a burnt taste shadowing the autumnal crispness of its predecessor.

# # # # #

If you buy the vision of two New Yorks, an inevitable parlor game follows: Where was the tipping point? Is there a single central moment of transition, or does it depend on the beholder?

(Exceptions and outliers can be found on both sides of the divide. The brutal murder of Kitty Genovese belongs to Sinatra’s New York, while the joyous, improbable victory of the ’69 Miracle Mets belongs to Ratso Rizzo’s.)

For my Aunt Elaine — who has been patiently riding the train in from Stamford during this entire rambling exposition, and is about to disembark in Manhattan — Dec. 31, 1966, might well have been a personal tipping point.

New Year's Eve, 1966.

New Year’s Eve, 1966.

What was supposed to be a fun trip to watch the ball drop turned out to be something disillusioning. In my aunt’s words:

 I went  to Times Square on New Years Eve 1966 to watch the ball drop. It was the only time I did that because at that time I thought I was going to be trampled to death!  I traveled into NYC w/a male friend from Stamford, as I was home from college for  Christmas break.

We took the train to avoid drunken drivers. It seemed like a fun idea, but soon became apparent that the people in the larger area surrounding the ball were bombed and stomping around without regard for those under their feet!
I tried to get a drink at a bar, because I was 18, and it was legal in NY to serve liquor to 18 year olds, but they would not serve me. Then I tried to hide in doorways of stores to avoid serious injury and my friend tried to shield me, but that didn’t work very well either. So I watched the ball drop from this vantage point, but it was not nearly as exciting as it looks on TV!  

Perhaps if we had arrived in mid-afternoon to get a front row spot and had brought our own flask, this endeavor would have been more successful!

# # # # #

Which New York will the ball drop on tonight?

A decade after its lowest low, the city appears to be riding high — maybe not as high as it did in Sinatra’s day, but successful and spirited nonetheless. (In fact, the well-being of New York City seems to be outpacing the well-being of the country as a whole, fraught as it is with shootings and fiscal cliffs and government gridlock.)

The city is closely connected to its suburbs, as it has always been. Perhaps tonight will be a night to remember, one way or another, for some 18-year-old taking the train in from Stamford.

That will be someone else’s myth to create.

For now, Golden New York and Tarnished New York are growing hazy and disappearing before my eyes like steam from a manhole … and a salaryman going on 40 in eastern Pennsylvania will take to his bed well before midnight tonight.

Happy New Year.

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There will not be much of my grandfather in this week’s edition; we’re back to the self-centered blabber.

Here we are, then, at the end of the third week of November, 1971. What’s new?

The fourth Led Zeppelin album, for one thing. The microprocessor, for another. Mars orbit, for a third, as the Mariner 9 spacecraft becomes the first to reach that destination.

Oh, and a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home at 50 Timberbrook Lane, Penfield, New York.

The house itself was not literally new that week. It had been built about five years earlier by Seeler Homes, the seemingly indefatigable development company that threw up neighborhood after neighborhood full of split-levels, ranches and colonials in suburban Penfield in the 1960s and ’70s.

But it had new owners that week — a young couple and their year-old son moving in from elsewhere in town, with an intent to someday add at least one more kid to fill up another of those four bedrooms.

November 20, 1971.

I do not have a good record of when my grandparents and great-grandma first visited the new house. My grandpa, having had a heart attack earlier in the year, might still not have felt in shape to drive long distances. Eventually, as his strength and outlook improved, he made any number of trips to Timberbrook Lane.

I lived at 50 Timberbrook for the first 14 years of my life, until my folks decided they wanted a more distinctive place to live and we moved to another house in Penfield.

(The “more distinctive” thing was pretty valid, by the way. Seeler used the same basic five or six layouts for all its homes, and it was not rare to visit someone’s house for the first time and realize that you’d been there before. I no longer remember who else in ’80s Penfield youth society had the same house I did, but I know some people did.)

It also happened that we convinced both sets of grandparents to move to the Rochester area around the 1986-87 time frame.

This must have been a titanic sell job by my folks (I only overheard parts of it), to convince both sets of grandparents to leave their established friends and routines and move to a cloudy gray city in the Rust Belt. But it worked.

And one of the consequences was that we no longer needed a spare bedroom, since the people who most commonly filled it now had homes of their own a short drive away. That cleared the way for us to break out of the standard big-houses-for-growing-families mold and move to a slightly smaller place.

Me in front of 50 Timberbrook, 1979.

My memories of 50 Timberbrook are … well, “bittersweet” sounds far too melodramatic; let’s go with “mixed.”

I lived there at an age when I didn’t really have to think about the broader world. I went to school and liked it there; and I played in the snow and rode my bike around the neighborhood and threw tennis balls against the garage door and liked that too. It was a good quiet childhood cocoon to be in.

That said, our move to a new house coincided with a fair amount of personal growth. I started my freshman year in high school just after we moved, and started playing in my first band around the same time. And it was around then that I gained some perspective, and started figuring out that a lot of things in life really aren’t important enough to sweat about.

Don’t get me wrong — I was still an immature dweeb when I woke up on my first morning after moving. But I was starting down the path of getting more clued-in, and that was a positive development.

(How far down that path I’ve gotten is open to debate.)

So, in my mind, 50 Timberbrook is my childhood home, with the shelter and comfort that entails. Other places were (and are) my teenage and adult homes, with the growth, exploration and responsibility that entails.

I would rather be an adult than a child, so I suppose 50 Timberbrook suffers in comparison with other times and places.  But it served my family about as well as we could have hoped on the day we moved in.

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“… and no fare to anybody.
— The Firesign Theatre

As a special addition to yesterday’s post, we offer a special multimedia post related to the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.

My dad was kind enough to scan in a dozen or so pictures taken by my grandfather at the fair on July 21, 1964. If you’d like to see ’em, click here to go to my Flickr photoset. I’ll also post one or two of my favorites here:

A wide-angle view of the fair, with the Unisphere at the center (and Shea Stadium in the background at left.)

My aunt and grandmother in front of a fountain. I love the blues in this shot.

As a thirtysomething pop geek, I am also required to post a link to They Might Be Giants’ “Ana Ng,” undoubtedly the finest song ever to mention the ’64 World’s Fair.

The promotional video is profoundly annoying (TMBG at their nerdiest); I suggest letting the music play while you look at something else, like paint drying or beef stewing. But the song is still worth listening to. Truly, pop music has never birthed a question more haunting or poignant than: “Who was at the DuPont Pavilion? Why was the bench still warm? Who had been there?”


My multimedia capabilities do not extend to scratch-and-sniff, much less tasting. But if you’re looking to capture the ’64 World’s Fair vibe at home, you might want to check out what purports to be the original Belgian waffle recipe that was all the rave at the fair.

Sangria was reportedly introduced to mainstream America there as well, and this is allegedly the original recipe as served in Flushing Meadow.

(Ahhhhh. Waffles and sangria. The breakfast of champions.)

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