When I was about 8, my dad used to take
me into NYC every Saturday to see the sights. We would take the
subway at Bloomfield Avenue (near the old Ting-A-Ling's store) and
ride it down to Penn Station. There we would catch the #118 bus
into the big city. Dad worked for Public Service (like I do now);
and back then he rode the subway and buses for free, by just hanging
his ID badge on the hooks above the door. He worked for the old
bus company that was later sold to NJ Transit in the late 1970s.
How different the city looked to me. In Newark I was used to having
open spaces between the downtown buildings and not so crowded. On
5th Avenue it was a crush of people; and forget the Port Authority.
It seemed like everybody on Earth was going someplace through that
"Stick close to me son. You can get lost easily."
"I am on you like glue Pop!"
We had no specific plans for our Saturday morning outings, just
roaming around the Times Square area, stopping by discount and bargain
stores, and having fun gawking at the many things. Dad had a great
eye for watching people, always anticipating what was going to happen.
"If anyone offers you anything like something to buy on the
street, just politely say 'No Thank You' and keep walking."
He no sooner said that, when a well-dressed man in a suit and hat
walked slowly toward us. Upon approaching, he opened a tightly folded
newspaper very casually to display a black velvet board with nice
looking watches neatly affixed to it. Dad responded with a courteous,
"No Thank You"; and the gentlemen smiled, closed the newspaper,
tipped his hat, and went on his way. I was dumbfounded.
"There Slick was your first lesson in street smarts. See how
fast that happened. Almost nothing was said with words but a whole
story happened in a flash."
"Where did he get those watches? Why wasn't he selling them
in a store?"
"Stores cost money to rent, Son. The watches were probably
stolen, or broken ones that would run only for a brief time. Your
best bet is to never buy anything on the street."
And thus my education began about living and touring big cities.
True to his fun loving and prank-filled life, Dad taught me another
really great move to use on the streets of NY. On one of our trips
we got pan-handled by a drifter. As he pressed Dad for come coin,
Dad just looked at him a bit sideways and said.......
"What's the matter with you bud? Don't you see me here every
day working this side of the street with the kid (meaning me)? You
just pan-handled another pan-handler."
"Hey man, I am sorry. I did not recognize you. Have a good
"No sweat, good luck."
On we went without missing a beat. I was astonished. Later when
I used to take my girlfriend into the city. I used that exact move
on a pan-handler who did the same thing to me. She was as astonished
as I was so many years ago.
"Where did you learn that?" she gulped.
"From the master, my Dad?"
"I can just imagine him teaching you that."
"Don't laugh. It worked didn't it? He taught me that over
10 years ago, and it still does the trick."
[Years later I used it again on the streets of downtown Newark
near Central Avenue. Some gigs just never go out of style.]
One of the things I could not fathom was where all the people lived.
Where were the houses and stuff? All I could see were huge office
and hotel buildings. The rumble of the subways beneath our feet
helped me understand.
"Folks usually live blocks away or in the other parts of the
city Son. The subway is mostly how they get around. Here in the
center of the business district, it is very expensive to live. In
Newark, not many people live along Broad Street, Halsey or Washington
Streets; but a few blocks away, you see houses again. Here in the
city it is just bigger. Almost 8 million people live here. Newark
has much less than a million. We can easily move around. Our little
subway is very small compared to here. All of the business district
has subway lines beneath it."
I was dumbfounded then, and frankly still am today at the size
of NYC. It overwhelms me and gives me a feeling of being awfully
small; as small as I was when I was 8 years old and hanging on my
Father's pants-leg like glue. I hung on so tight to him, he used
to call me his tail-light.
"Mom would like that, don't you think?"
"Sure Dad, let's get it for her."
We always bought Mom something in the many stores we visited, and
my two younger sisters also got surprises.
Down in my basement shop is a timeworn microscope that Dad bought
for me on one of those bargain store outings. How I used that over
the years looking at anything I could stuff under it. It's a reminder
of those care-free summer mornings, and dare I say, educational
moments we spent together.
Later, when my sisters were old enough, he took them to NY just
as he did me.
As we rode the bus home, I always marveled at how small Newark
looked compared to NYC, almost like a poor stepsister. But for me
it was home then, and still is home for me now…… no
matter where I live. It is comprehensible to me, just the right
size; and I know every inch of the place. It’s comfortable.
I wasn't meant to live in a congested place like NYC--perhaps visit
every now and then, but not to stay. This is my town.