Rand McSteffie

Steffie’s college roommate is back at school for some summer classes. Steffie thought it might be nice to bring her their shared television and some other things we’d stored here in Connecticut. So yesterday afternoon, with her friend Sam in tow, Steffie set out for Long Island.

It’s really not a difficult trip and before long they were there.

Flash forward to departure time. By this time Sam, suffering from a headache, dozes off in the front seat. Steffie hops onto the Meadowbrook and heads home.

Everything was going so well, so smoothly until she got to the Cross Island Parkway. That’s how Helaine and I get to the Throgs Neck Bridge. The problem is, just at the point you exit to the Cross Island there’s a sign beckoning you to a different exit for the Throgs Neck!

Confused, Steffie followed the sign… and so began her great adventure through the boroughs!

Instead of heading north, into the Bronx, she was heading west toward Manhattan. Somehow she got on the Long Island Expressway, driving past the apartment where I grew up, past Queens College and the New York World’s Fair site.

Her exact route isn’t certain. She doesn’t totally remember and probably had no way of knowing anyway. I am reconstructing it from a conversation we had a little after 1:00 AM.

“You know that tunnel,” Steffie asked?

“Did you go up on a very high section of roadway with a great view of Manhattan?”

Holy crap! Steffie had made her way to Long Island City and was heading into the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

“It went on forever and was really narrow,” she said.

She’s right. The twin tubes of the Midtown Tunnel run around 1¼ miles. The lanes are narrow and the tunnel does curve. Even worse, as you leave you’re faced with three choices, “Uptown, Midtown and Downtown,” none of which would make any sense to Steffie!

She remembers Lexington Avenue and seeing Times Square on her right. She was totally lost.

“You know the glass building?”

Glass building? I looked at my toes – where all answers emanate. Glass building… uh… “You mean the Javits Center?”

It was around this time in the conversation that Steffie admitted that she knew she’d drive in Manhattan at some point, but had hope she’d wait until she was around 40.

Back in the car she pulled into a parking lot, hoping to find an attendant. No dice there. She yelled across at a taxicab stopped at a light. As he explained, the light turned green.

The time between a green light and horn honk in Manhattan is measured in milliseconds.

The were signs for the Holland Tunnel. She knew she didn’t want to be there. There were also signs pointing toward the George Washington Bridge. That sounded more familiar.

She didn’t know it at the time, but she was now heading north on the West Side Highway.

On family trips, we often make a decision as we approach the George Washington Bridge. If there’s heavy traffic on the bridge heading into the Bronx, we continue north and wind our way through the Bronx and Westchester. If the coast’s clear, we take the easy way – I-95, the Cross Bronx Expressway.

Steffie looked at the bridge and decided to continue. It’s lucky for her she did, because as it turns out, she would have taken the GWB. She would have headed across the Hudson into New Jersey!

Heading north, the West Side Highway becomes the Henry Hudson Parkway. She drove through the toll, over the Henry Hudson Bridge and into the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

Now nothing looked familiar! Exits came and went, but no names she recognized… until Mosholu Parkway.

Unfortunately for Steffie, she knew the name because we’d had brunch at the Mosholu, a boat moored on the Delaware River in Philadelphia. She took the Mosholu anyway.

Even with a map, it’s tough to reconstruct her trip from here. She did panic a little when she saw signs pointing to Albany. A little after that, a sign for the Hutchinson River Parkway.

Steffie headed north on the “Hutch,” finally breathing a sigh of relief as she passed the “Entering Greenwich” sign. She was back in Connecticut.

The 100 minute trip had taken her four hours. She had visited Queens, Manhattan, The Bronx and was within a few hundred yards of Brooklyn.

Steffie probably expected Helaine or me to get angry. We didn’t.

Do I wish she would have called me at some point? Of course.

It’s a great story we’ll have forever… one of those family fables grandparents will someday tell grandchildren about their mother.

Connecticut Association of Schools Dinner

For the past 11 years I’ve been the emcee for the Connecticut Association of Schools Elementary Program Recognition Banquet. That’s a mouthful. Eleven years and I still can’t fully remember it without looking at a piece of paper.

It takes place at the Aquaturf in Southington where teachers, principals and other educators feast on prime rib. Year after year they continue to serve the largest portion of prime rib I’ve ever seen.

I’m impressed by these teachers, because they’re down there in the trenches. What they do does make a difference, though often they’re only recognized when a parent disapproves of what they’ve done to his child.

Usually I get to do the weather from the banquet hall. We actually pause the program and I leave the podium to do the weather… and pick one teacher to embarrass.

I was called on often enough by teachers when I wasn’t prepared. Turnabout is fair play!

On the way back to work I started to think about my grade school experience. I went to kindergarten and first grade at PS 201. I remember nearly nothing of that experience, except my parents were proud because in first grade I wrote a ‘book’. Sure all my ‘b’s were ‘d’s and vice versa… and it was only a few pages… but it was a book.

I remember a whole lot more about PS 163. It was housed in an old brick building in a quiet neighborhood. The chimney was wrapped with some sort of straps to keep it from disintegrating. To get there, I had to walk two blocks, cross the Long Island Expressway via an overpass and then walk a few more blocks.

I looked upon PS 163 as some sort of prison. It was a very very unpleasant time for me. I’m not sure it wasn’t also an unpleasant time for my teachers, whose lives I probably made a living hell.

Here are some brief bullet points of things I remember.

  • A boy, whose name I still remember and whom I won’t embarrass 40+ years later, somehow came to be shunned by the class. He was an overweight kid, which made his life difficult enough already. There was a rumor he had body odor, or something similar. After he drank at one of the twin water fountains, a student put up a note and we all drank from the other fountain. We were jerks. Can I apologize now?
  • In the fifth grade… maybe the fourth… my mother was called into the school. As I sat on the hard wooden bench outside the office, the principal (an old biddy who even then seemed like a throwback to the prior century) told my mother I had been telling dirty jokes. Mom later laughed it off. Thanks Mom.
  • I once won a spelling bee, possibly my only academic achievement, when I correctly spelled “government.” That it had already been misspelled by a few others made victory that much sweeter.
  • Someone from World Book Encyclopedia came to the school. Today I would look upon this as an unwarranted sales call on little kids. Back then it was OK. She said, “We never guess, we look it up.” I can’t get that phrase out of my mind to this day. I have used it as if it were part of the common lexicon. It isn’t, unless you were in PS163 with me.
  • We never had recess – not once – not ever
  • I never remember seeing a teacher leaving the classroom while it was in session. How did they go to the bathroom?
  • At one short point we played basketball outside. Most of the limited gym classes we had in the school were spent square dancing. “Heel and toe and one, two, three.” The school owned a Caliphone; a phonograph with variable speed capabilities that allowed the teachers to slow it down so even we could attempt to square dance.
  • There were only two male teachers in the entire school. They only taught the dumb kids.
  • There were only two black students: Hubert and Herbert. This was very odd as I lived directly across the street from a fully integrated city housing project. Years later, my mom said the school was purposely segregated. I didn’t know that at the time. It makes me uneasy even now.
  • The library was the size of a closet. In fact, at one time it probably was a closet.
  • We had huge classes with over 40 kids. Teachers were still able to maintain discipline and teach. I am always wary when I hear claims about class size being a paramount contributor to the quality of education.
  • When one girl in the fifth grade developed noticeable breasts, it became a big deal among the male students. It might have become a big deal with the girls too, but I had nearly zero contact with them. I definitely had zero contact with the girl with the breasts.
  • A local public library began having chaperoned afternoon dances. Our principal tried to have them stopped. I’m not sure if she was successful.
  • A dentist came and spoke at an assembly. He said the secret to good teeth was to brush and use some elbow grease. Again, I remember the name of the girl who raised her hand to ask where you could buy elbow grease. I’ll keep it my secret.
  • As far as I could tell, there had been no one in the United States prior to 1900, because everyone’s parents or grandparents or even my fellow students came from the old country… not the U.S.
  • The school had a master clock system. The minute hands moved once every minute, not gradually each fraction of a second. As we approached 3:00 PM, I would watch those clocks and they seemed to slow down.
  • During the spring and fall, ferocious thunderstorms would rattle the school. I have never heard thunder as loud, nor have I been as scared of the weather, as I was then.
  • The art teacher drove a white Cadillac
  • It was rumored the male fifth grade teacher had thrown a ring of keys at a recalcitrant student.
  • The school had tracking – grouping the kids by their academic abilities. I was with virtually the same kids from second through sixth grades. This method has lost favor over the years, but I think it worked in our school.
  • Of all the kids I went to grade school with, in the past year I have been in contact with just two of them.
  • I’m pretty sure I never did homework, nor did I ever study. I am not proud of this.