Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Photo by David Reilly
I loved the weather in New York City because, first of all, it’s predictable.  You know what to wear because there are four seasons and they pretty much meet their deadlines.  Summer gets rolling in June and fall hits in September.  Winter can drag on, but spring is long and beautiful.

There are only about four weeks that cause any suffering – two weeks in winter when it's so cold you go outside and feel the liquid in your eyeballs freezing and two weeks in the month of August when it’s hard to breathe because the air is so hot and thick.  New Yorkers call it “muggy” and it is a bit like being mugged by the weather.  I had moved to Brooklyn from Austin where 100 days of 100 degrees was not uncommon, so four weeks of hard weather...pish tosh.

Brooklynites spend a lot of time outside in the neighborhood at night in August.  Neighbors in the apartment buildings along the walk set up card tables and played dominoes after dark.  Girls skipped double rope.  People sat talking on the benches across the street in front of the park or on chairs in front of the apartments.  It was like a quiet block party.

A lot of New Yorkers take vacation in August or crowd the beach.  I shut the windows and turned on the air conditioner because all that humidity trapped the smoky air and I could see it and smell it.  And that’s not all I could smell. 

Garbage is picked up three times a week in Brooklyn and the bags sit overnight in the heat so that by morning, after the street people have opened bags and picked through them, there’s a distinct odor.  I quickly passed the dumpsters too.  I can only imagine what a garbage strike in New York would be like in August. 

Traveling by subway can be a problem in August as well.  Sometimes the air conditioning breaks down in a subway car making the trip, even a short one, feel like you're with the Donner Party.  Or an entire train is delayed because someone got arrested or had a heart attack in the train doorway two stations up. MTA isn't all that efficient about getting you that kind of news so you would know to go to another platform and train.  So there you stay, in the train station that's getting more and more crowded with hundreds people radiating like space heaters.  The stations are not air conditioned.  Dripping sweat and roasting, you might have to go outside for air and take a later train.

August in Brooklyn has the kind of weather you might feel in Austin right before a heavy summer rain.  But there's no rain.  In two or three weeks, the New York weather just breaks.  And it’s fall.  Cool, dry (drier anyway), and spectacular as the leaves begin to change.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


The subway trains I took into Manhattan  - B & Q -   ran underground from Prospect Park (my station) the rest of the way through Brooklyn until they emerged at the Manhattan Bridge.  The designer of this bridge, Leon Moisseiff, wanted to build a bridge faster and cheaper than the Brooklyn Bridge.  He did, and you can tell.  The Brooklyn Bridge is a cathedral. The Manhattan Bridge is an engineering wonder, but not so pretty.  

Still it’s my favorite bridge in New York.


Because when the train emerged from the tunnel onto the Manhattan Bridge, it was breathtaking.  Always.  Night or day, I looked out the window, standing up at the subway door if there was room

First and foremost, to the south, right next to the Manhattan Bridge is the Brooklyn Bridge and visible further in the distance is Lady Liberty.  At night they are both lit up.

And then, there’s the water – acres and acres of water of the New York Harbor.  And water traffic – tankers, the Staten Island Ferry, the Circle Line, the Water Taxi, tugboats, sailboats, cruise ships.  In the air were helicopters and planes.  There were cars and trucks on the bridges and I could see the traffic on FDR Drive running along the East River

Straight ahead and to the north was the skyline of Manhattan.  Turning clockwise, I could see Manhattan, Roosevelt Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Governors Island, Staten Island, Ellis Island, and Liberty Island

As the train reached the other side side of the Manhattan Bridge – entering Chinatown – it passed through a channel of old brick buildings, the kind with fire escapes and wooden sash windows.  The kind of buildings that used to have laundry lines strung between them.  Some now had graffiti on them, others had little billboards advertising electronics, clothing, or public storage.  They all had stories, historic tales of people of all nationalities living there.

On the return from Manhattan, the trains passed through Dumbo (Down Under Manhattan Bridge), a neighborhood of converted warehouses and old freight offices, some on narrow cobble-stone streets.  

People barely making a living used to work here.  Now, millionaires lived here.  Some of the buildings are centuries old – small red brick two-story warehouses with arched doors for horse-drawn wagons.  Others are newer, taller, lighter, maybe only a hundred years old.  Still, full of history and now converted into lofts.

This is the view from Manhattan Bridge.  

At least if you’re looking.

Post by Alana Cash

Monday, August 11, 2014


A tourist rides the subway.  A New York resident takes the train.  If you live in New York you learn that the subway system runs underground in Manhattan, but predominantly above-ground in the boroughs.  

The trains are lettered A-B-C-D-F-G-L-J-M-N-Q-R-S-W and numbered 1-2-3-4-5-6-7.with no particular rhyme or reason, and MTA occasionally changes out the routes and letters – particularly the M and J trains.  There’s usually a subway map in every station so it’s difficult to get lost  Not so difficult to get confused..

The most famous train – the A train – runs from Rockaway Beach in Brooklyn to Harlem.  Billy Strayhorn wrote Take the A Train in the time it took for him to ride from Brooklyn to Duke Ellington’s home in Harlem (Ellington added his name to the composition). You take the A train to get to Kennedy Airport and Aqueduct Racetrack. 

The F train, the one you can see in the opening of a 1970’s sitcom called Welcome Back Kotter,  runs from Queens through Manhattan then crosses under the East River to run above-ground in Brooklyn to Coney Island.  It’s a great way to see Brooklyn by train, because the F train has the highest trestle of any train in the NYC Transit system.  From that vantage you can see the rusty jungle of Brooklyn with its dozens of church spires and the infamous Gawanus Canal

My favorite train is/was the B train which is an express train (meaning it doesn’t stop at every stop along its route) and it only runs Monday thru Friday.  Its route is from Brighton Beach in Brooklyn to the Upper West Side in Manhattan.  Usually the cars are older – instead of the yellow bucket seats facing forward/backward like the newer train cars, the cars of the B train have benches along the walls, leaving a lot more standing room in the middle.

For a while I used to meet friends in Manhattan for dinner on Thursdays.  I’d leave Brooklyn around 3 o’clock in the afternoon so I could get any errands and shopping done in Chinatown before dinner.  I always caught B train.

A few times I was on the B train at that hour on Thursday, a middle-aged, somewhat beefy, nicely-dressed couple boarded the train at the 7th Avenue stop.  And they were high.  Very high.  So high that it took them until the next stop to get themselves from the train door to a bench where they stood weaving until reaching a further stop where they finally sat down with a bit of a thump.  Which I’m sure they didn’t feel.

One day I was fascinated as the woman began a slow-motion search of her purse.  Eventually, she pulled out a lipstick case.  It took a long while for her to open it and wind out the lipstick part with her eyes almost closed the entire time.  Then she brought the lipstick to her open mouth, missed her upper lip entirely, so that the lipstick came to rest on her tongue where it lay until I got off the train in Manhattan.

I was filled with the question:  Where in the world were they going in that state?   

I have to admit, I tried to find them every Thursday afternoon, but it was hit and miss.  They may have skipped some Thursdays, taken an earlier or later train, or gotten into a different car than I was riding.  Too bad.

Post by Alana Cash

Monday, August 4, 2014


Brighton Beach is a community in Brooklyn just east of Coney Island.  It was made famous and romanticized in a Woody Allen movie [Brighton Beach Memoirs]. Because of the movie I visited Brighton Beach a long time ago.  I found it to be a rundown area with lots of junky close-out and second-hand stores. 

All that changed after the USSR collapsed and Russians made a mass immigration into New York, taking this area over.  All the signs in Brighton Beach are now in English and Russian, including the post office.  Far more upscale than it used to be, the avenue is lined with produce stalls and bakeries, a few clothing stores, a furrier, and stores selling international foods.  

It’s quite interesting to wander the food stores, but it can be tricky because sometimes the labels are written entirely in Russian.  The tea selections are phenomenal.  One store has a wall of teas in different types of containers and a large table covered with loose teas in jars.  But the aisles in all the stores are very narrow - not room for two people to pass without one giving way.

The subway train is elevated in Brighton Beach, running along Brighton Beach Avenue.  This creates a very loud noise whenever a trains runs overhead, but provides nice shade in the summer.  There’s no elevator to the train, so you have to drag your shopping bags up the stairs.  I bought a little cart for shopping, but still, getting up the subway stairs was a chore.   

There’s a restaurant in Brighton Beach that makes a beautiful, 3-layered cappucino (there were probably many places in Brighton who made cappucino this way, but once I found this one, I stuck to it).  I used to go there once a week to write.  Afterwards, I shopped at the various stores, but after a while, I had to stop shopping in Bright because I found some of the populace a bit too hard to bear.

Many citizens in Brighton Beach emigrated from Russia at an advanced age.  From what I understand, they live in New York subsidized housing and received other types of government assistance, which stands to reason since they lived under Communist Russia where the government controlled so many aspects of living. They were probably used to shortages, needing to get to the head of the line quickly, or at least that’s how I excused their physical aggressiveness when shopping.

The lines in the stores were always long, although, whenever men entered the stores, they never waited in line.   They simply stepped to the front of the line and got waited on.  No one ever objected.  I was afraid to, because the few times a guy stepped in front of me, I smelled liquor.  I wasn’t going to push my luck.

The women didn’t mind being aggressive with each other and had no qualms about putting their hands on me and pushing if I didn’t move forward as  soon as someone in front of me moved forward.    One day, a very large, old woman pushed me down in order to get past me, claiming she had been in line before me.  I got the manager and made a bit of a fuss – really wishing I had a cattle prod with me – but I knew I wasn’t going to change this type of mentality.  

After that, I decided not to return to Brighton Beach to shop.

Post by Alana Cash