Matt And Geoff’s Great Brooklyn/Queens Adventure

I was born in Brooklyn and went to high school there (via a bus and two subways). I figured I’d done my time. Did I have to go back?

I asked fellow meteorologist Matt Scott if he wanted to go to the city? Helaine had business on the other side of the state and I’m drawn to New York. I know Matt is too. We just didn’t know what we’d do once we got there!

Not to make a joke of it, but even as we left Connecticut we didn’t have a clue where we’d go or what we’d do.

IMG_1552.jpg“I’ve never been to Brooklyn,” he said.

I was born in Brooklyn and went to high school there (via a bus and two subways). I figured I’d done my time. Did I have to go back?

We drove over the Throgs Neck Bridge, onto the Cross Island and then the LIE.

There are signs on the Throgs Neck stating photography is strictly prohibited. At the same time on any given Saturday and Sunday the Brooklyn Bridge is infested with thousands of tourists and locals–most with cameras. What makes the Throgs Neck so insecure? Do they really think it’s a more tantalizing target than the storied Brooklyn Bridge?

I asked Matt if he’d like to see where I grew up and went to grade school? What was he going to say? I was driving!

A few minutes later we were standing in front of PS 163. The front door was propped open. A man was outside smoking a cigarette.

“I went here 50 years ago,” I began.

Shit, that makes me sound old. Luckily, I’m immature for my age.

Before long we were in the school.

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This building is the equivalent of one of the locales for MSNBC’s prison doc block! It was a school unsuited for me run by a woman I suspect hated me. From grade two to six I suffered inside.

The only saving grace was it was an amazing school for learning–even for someone who fought learning as much as I did! PS163 was firmly grounded in “tracking.” That’s the practice of grouping students of similar abilities together. Tracking has lost favor today. I’d be surprised to hear it’s used anywhere, though it certainly benefited me. I spent five years competing in a class of overachievers.

We had no gym. We had no recess. We had little outdoor activity–ever. Imagine.

There was… there still is a large room in the front of the building where, for a few years, we did some sort of cockamamie square dancing.

I was astounded to see numbers still painted high on the walls. This was where each class lined up in the case of emergency. The numbers corresponded to room numbers. This paint job is at least fifty years old!

PS163 worked out so well I asked Matt if he wanted to see Electchester, where I grew up? Again, to my surprise he said, “Yes.”

Everything looked smaller as we wound our way through the south end of Flushing. We headed to Kissena Blvd. then the LIE’s service road and up Parsons Boulevard where I lived. I put the top up on the convertible and we got out.

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I’ve used this analogy before, but these buildings (and the ones across the street at NYCHA’s Pomonok Houses) are reminiscent of the worst of Soviet style architecture! Considering the two complexes had well over 5,000 residents we were pretty devoid of amenities and services.

Because of how our individual building was turned to the street it was always much more convenient to enter through the basement which was 100% concrete and had asbestos wrapped exposed pipes and conduits. Maybe if I’d used a more formal and ‘softer’ entrance my experience would have been different. I’ll never know.

Matt and I walked around the building as I took photos. I wasn’t about to go in an see who was living in 5E where my family moved in 1953.

Stopping at these two places was amazing even though my experiences at both were sub-optimum. I decided to give Matt his trip to Brooklyn… but would he mind if we stopped at my high school?

We drove down Jewel Avenue to the Van Wyck Expressway then westbound on the LIE to the BQE. Without a GPS the rest was dependent on instinct and luck.

“See that tall antenna?” I asked Matt, pointing at a tall radio tower atop a building. “That’s my high school.”

We took the turns I thought would get us there while Matt tried to keep the antenna in sight. When we turned onto Fulton Street we were home free.

The neighborhood has really changed for the better. The brownstones on Ft. Greene Place were decrepit and often abandoned when I went to Tech. Now the neighborhood is gentrified. Don’t think of looking at a brownstone for less than seven figures.

I remember getting off the GG (now G) train at Fulton Street and walking by three bars before turning toward the school. Even at that early morning hour I remember watching drunks stumble out as I walked down the street. The bars are gone. The new stores are nice.

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Brooklyn Tech is currently surrounded by scaffolding. There’s some sort of major renovation going on. This is, after all, a school built as a stimulus project during the Great Depression. It’s aged.

We walked three sides of the immense school building stopping at every outside door to see if it was open. At the very last door we saw three men at a car. The adjacent door to the school was slightly ajar.

“Do you work here?”

New Yorker’s aren’t usually quick and free with information, but they answered yes.

“I graduated forty years ago and haven’t been back since. Can we go in?”

The boss looked at one of his workers and told him to take us in. We couldn’t stay long. There was work to be done.

No matter how large a high school you went to mine was larger! Allow me to sing.

Tech alma mater molder of men.

Proudly we rise to salute thee again.

Loyal we stand now six thousand strong.

The rest of the song is inconsequential. Six thousand boys went to Tech. That’s the important part.

Most of the school was eight stories tall with five corridors per floor. A smaller part of the building went to eleven stories. Yes, we had elevators, but you could only use them between certain designated floors.

“What’s that up there?” Matt asked looking at a glass covered area on the highest floor.

“That’s the foundry.”

Yeah, we had a foundry. In high school I poured molten pig iron! I know what a cope and drag are and how to make a wooden pattern for pouring.

Tech was where you learned to be an engineer. Our course of study was perfectly designed to fill the needs of 1940’s America. Alas, it was a little long in the tooth upon my arrival in 1964.

We stopped for a few photos in the 3,000+ seat auditorium and a look at some of the intricate work produced by government employed WPA artisans. Remember, Tech was built both as a school and as a make-work project to employ people during a horrific economic crisis.

Again, this was a great stop. I was totally shocked we’d been let in. Thank you unknown custodial staff. I appreciate your kindness.

When Matt originally mentioned Brooklyn it was because of a weekly flea market he’d read about. It was in the neighborhood and we headed right there.

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As is the case with much of New York City this flea market was a veritable United Nations. Every possible shade of skin as well as an immense variety of accents were represented. There was enough diversity to make everyone a minority.

It’s tough to describe what was being sold because so much of it was totally off-the-wall. Yes, there were books about Hitler. Yes, there was a Jesus Christ Action Figure.

“It has wheels,” said the guy trying to sell it.

Like Tech this was a bad neighborhood at one time. Not anymore. I said to myself, “I could live here,” though I’m not really sure that’s true. Certainly on this lazy summer’s afternoon it was quite lovely and inviting.

The flea market closed at five and we were back in the car heading toward the Brooklyn Bridge. Last August I’d walked the bridge with my friend Steve. I thought Matt would enjoy it too. I had only the vaguest of guesses where the bridge was as we set out.

“There it is,” Matt blurted, but he was looking at the Manhattan Bridge.

Typical out-of-towner mistake. A bridge is a bridge–right? But knowing where the Manhattan Bridge was the same as knowing where the Brooklyn Bridge was because they’re so close to each other.

We found on-the-street parking a few blocks from the entrance to the bridge’s walkway. A whole day in New York City without paying for parking! My father is proud!

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The Brooklyn Bridge provides an incredible vista from which to view the city. Crossing the East River the bridge connects Downtown Brooklyn with Downtown Manhattan. It’s about a one mile walk.

I bought a bottle of water from a vendor and we headed over.

I cannot recommend this trek enough. Looking south you see Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. In the distance tall cranes mark the port facilities in New Jersey.

To the north is the nearby Manhattan Bridge and a glimpse into Midtown. The Empire State Building dominates most northward views.

The East River is a working river. There’s plenty of commercial traffic though not the international fleet found on the Hudson.

There were lots of interesting looking people on the bridge, but none more interesting than the couple (by her accent, French) who found a girder with hand rails which led over the auto roadway to the edge of the bridge. It looked scary. They had just begun to head back when I spotted them.

After the bridge roundtrip we were hungry and found the Water Street Restaurant and Lounge. Surprisingly it wasn’t busy. I had a Cajun Blackened Sirloin Burger with BBQ Sauce, Andouille Sausage, Crisp Onion Ring, Cheddar Cheese. Matt had the Norwegian Lox Sandwich with Avocado, Pickled Cucumbers, Lime Mayo on Black Rye.

Good choice! Dinner was tasty.

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Our last stop was the area under the two bridges. This being the weekend there were weddings taking place with the Manhattan skyline as backdrop. When you get married down by the banks of the East River you’re inviting anyone around to stop and watch. It’s really quite sweet, romantic and frugal!

We stayed near the river until the sun went down, then headed home.

We’d set out with no firm plan and yet (even Matt will admit) had a really fun day. It was nice to go back home. It was nice to see how Brooklyn’s changed. It was good for Matt to discover Brooklyn.

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