Thursday, November 27, 2014


All the images of pioneer Thanksgivings that I remember have a lot of orange in them – leaves on the ground, pumpkins, squash, bread, golden-brown roasted turkeys, and roaring fires.  That’s how I am conditioned to believe Thanksgiving should appear and that’s how it is in Brooklyn.  Sometimes there’s snow on the ground already.  Like this year.

No one I ever met in New York went to the Macy’s parade.  That was for children and tourists.  Ironically, like I had done all my life, I watched it on TV. The huge tree at Rockefeller Center would light up on Thanksgiving as well, but I never saw that event either.  In fact, not once did I ever venture into Manhattan on Thanksgiving Day.  

The people I knew who lived in Manhattan ate out for most of their meals or had meals delivered.  For Thanksgiving, they went to family or friends in Long Island or elsewhere as most restaurants were closed.  One friend had a tradition of ordering Chinese food delivered.  In Brooklyn, however, where a lot people lived in single family houses, cooking was in order.

You had to get your shopping done early in my neighborhood because the grocery stores were tiny like you might expect in some small country town in Texas, maybe 2000 or 3000 square feet.  The aisles were wide enough for only one cart – people backed their carts up all the time – so most people used the hand-held baskets.  At holiday time, these stores carried a limited number of turkeys in a freezer (about twice the size of a top-loading home freezer) and ran out of birds by Tuesday.

There was one supermarket in downtown Brooklyn that might rival a Texas HEB or Safeway in size, but the lines were horrendous.  There was also a huge Trader Joe’s in downtown Brooklyn where the checkout lines reached the back of the store during busy times. [The lines at Trader Joe’s at Union Square in Manhattan reached around three walls of the store pretty much all the time – what fun.]  

The holidays didn’t perk up the staff very much in my neighborhood stores.  I could still get checked out without eye contact, let alone a word of greeting.  Ironically, the checkout clerks had “tip jars.”  I gave one of them a tip once – “if you smile, people will be more inclined to put money in that container.”  She didn’t smile at me.  She took it as an insult apparently, not seeming remotely to understand the concept of customer service nor wanting to.

I had put most of my stuff in storage in Austin when I left for Brooklyn, but I had brought my china, crystal, flatware, and linen tablecloths.  I cooked a full turkey dinner and my son joined me.  We sat in the bay window of the kitchen, warmed by the oven and a radiator, hearing the train go by every once in a while, talking about what the neighborhood might have been like when the Navy Yard was still open and before the manufacturing was sent to the Far East.  

If we were in Austin, we'd probably had gone to a movie after dinner, but my son warned me that audiences in New York were not quiet - something I learned by personal experience later on.  Brooklynites acted like movie theaters were an extension of their own living rooms and kept up ongoing conversations about the movie.  

So, after a little rest from stuffing ourselves, we took a walk in Prospect Park and fed the swans in the lake.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


A couple of weeks into November, leaves were blowing off the trees in en masse and those that remained shivered in the wind.  Skeletal branches looked lonely, especially in the late afternoons as they were outlined against a darkening sky.  Sunset was at 4:30 and getting earlier every day.  The air was cold.  At night the temperature was in the 40s.  The high temperature during the day was maybe 58° degrees.  It was 81° when I had left Austin just a few weeks before.  Ironically, four years later, these Brooklyn temperatures would seem warm to me and I could go outside without a jacket on a 55° day.  But not that first year. 

Parking on the street in front of the house was alternate-side morning and afternoon.  That meant, if I was parked on the side of the street with traffic flowing toward Manhattan, I had to throw a coat over my pajamas and go outside at 7 a.m. and move the car.  I wasn’t alone those mornings, double parked, as I sat in my cold vehicle waiting for someone to move out of a parking space, headed for work.  There were always half a dozen other people waiting along with me to grab up a spot and get back inside our warm homes.  At 4 p.m., I had to move the car again for the traffic returning after the workday, which put a weekday curfew on my excursions away from home. 

Parking issues got old in a hurry, especially since I rarely drove the car, although I did make a couple of visits to Red Hook and drove to Coney Island once or twice – no way would I drive into Manhattan.  On Sunday mornings, the people attending the church up the block  had the right to double park on our side of the street, blocking every car from exiting until noon. 

I decided to park the car in Park Slope where I could leave it for a week at a time, moving it only for street-cleaning.  It now seems so strange to think about parking a mile from home, having to take a train or walk over to move the car, but that’s the City.  Unfortunately, because I had to drive around for a while in Park Slope looking for an open spot on streets crowded bumper to bumper with parked cars, 
I sometimes got confused about the location where I left my car.  When it was time to move it, I had to stroll the streets looking for it.  Once, I completely forgot to move the car for street cleaning and got a ticket – called a “summons” in New York.  This was one of the two summons I would receive during my tenure in Brooklyn.

The last straw for parking was the day of a blizzard in December.  It was 10º and windy.  The locks on my car froze and I couldn’t open the door.  I stood there for about an hour, trying to unlock the car.  Parking Control drove by not offering any help (or a summons either, thankfully).  Finally, a man loaned me a cigarette lighter to warm up my car key.  After about five tries with the heated key, the car door opened and I got inside where it felt like a refrigerator freezer, but not windy.  I moved the car across the street and went home.  Immediately, I put an ad online to sell the car.  I never missed it. 

But in November, something was happening in Brooklyn and the rest of the City in November. There was something in the air. Expectations.  Animation. A slightly more positive attitude.  Because the holidays were coming…

Post by Alana Cash

Monday, November 10, 2014


Soundtrack for this blog post:  

(Diana Krall – The Autumn Leaves)

(Sweet Jazz Trio – Autumn in New York)

I drove to Brooklyn at the end of October. I was leaving Austin, Texas, where the stately trees were found mainly at the University grounds and the neighborhoods nearby.  Generally I was used to seeing live oaks that shed leaves all year long on account of the endless drought, and scrubby cedars.  I hadn’t experienced the way that fall glorified other states and the drive through the avenues of trees in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, the Interstate highways was beautiful.

Reaching Brooklyn, I was really surprised.  I had read Betty Smith’s novel,  A Tree Grow in Brooklyn, and expected a barren landscape, a rusty jungle devoid of nature with maybe a tree hidden away and carefully tended in someone’s backyard or a potted plant on a fire escape.  Wrong.  Brooklyn is abundant with trees. 

There was an apple tree in our back yard and other neighbors had maples and oaks.  On our side of Ocean Avenue, there were little plots of ground breaking up the sidewalk with linden trees planted in them.  There leaves turned color slowly from green to yellow to orange to brown.  It wasn’t unusual to find linden tree leaves on the ground with rings of 3 or 4 different colors. 

Directly across the street in Prospect Park, massive trees were ripe with leaves turning red, gold, yellow, rust, and every shade of brown.  A wall of oaks lined the edge of the park – it seemed like they were 100 feet high – and filled the bay window of my apartment with color.  The park grounds were covered with a paradise of leaves in all sizes, shapes, and colors.  Kicking through them was mandatory.

My favorite tree in Brooklyn was a large tulip tree near the lake in Prospect Park.  Its leaves turned from deep green to lemon yellow.  Standing under that tree was like being under a cool sun. 

Outside of Prospect Park and Greenwood Cemetery, the old neighborhoods, the ones with the four and five story row houses – Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Bedford Stuyvesant – and even Betty Smith’s Williamsburg neighborhood have plenty of stately old trees. 

If a walk through a Brooklyn neighborhood doesn’t satisfy your appetite for foliage, the New York Water Taxi gives tours up the Hudson River to view the trees that line the river.  Once the boat travels past The Bronx, there isn’t a lot of visible architecture and you can imagine historic New York State – the explorers, farmers, and fur trappers.  It’s a nice trip.

Post by Alana Cash

4 Years in Brooklyn
Four Years in Brooklyn