When you look around the city of Yonkers for mainstays that never change, places that were there when we were kids and now we bring our kids to, generally speaking, it’s a restaurant, a building, an ice skating rink, a train station on the Hudson or any number of places we like to label as landmarks.
Life-long Yonkers resident Bill Borelli is a landmark in his own right, not even for the years he has lived near Sacred Heart and the love he has for the city but for the five decades of service he has provided at Edward J. Murray Memorial Skating Center, or “Murray’s” as locals call it.
If you have ever skated at Murray’s…as in ever…since the day it opened on January 16th 1960, and rented skates, chances are you’ve met Bill or his father who started the Varsity Skate Shop back on the day when the rink opened for business. 54 Years later, you can still find Bill in the same place, performing the same labor of love for kids and adults of all ages and at age 78, plans of retirement are as distant to him as the day he started.
Just like you, I have memories of years of going to Murray’s on a Friday or Saturday night to skate, meet girls, have food, meet girls, rent skates, meet girls and if I was lucky, meet girls. And whether it’s the early to mid nineties or the early to mid sixties, Bill was there to see it all in one form or another and to ask you the all important question, “what size skate do you need?”
When I caught up with him on a Friday at Murray’s, he had just finished servicing two bus loads full of students from a school in Mt.Vernon, happily dealing with their impatience, the volume of their voices and eagerly wanting to make sure that each and every skater received the best pair of skates they could rent.
That in a nutshell is Bill Borelli. He is simply, irreplaceable and a throw back to what many would agree is a bygone era, where quality trumps quantity, where work is valued upon the quality of service given and where little things matter just as much as big things.
Little things like making sure each pair of skates are wiped down clean and looking as good as new for the next renter. That the skates are sharpened to the highest quality, using a machine that could be considered outdated to say the least, made not too far away by a Long Island man and you would probably have to drive to 100 other skating rinks before seeing it again.
Little things such as writing down the skate number for the 8 year-old girl who is learning to figure skate that way every time she comes back to rent her skates, she can learn and practice on the same exact pair each time.
Sitting down to interview him, he told me about the litany of memories he has collected from behind the counter over the years and I was quick to remind him of the memories he has provided for all of us on the other side of the counter as well.
One of the things I miss the most from childhood is how it felt being 13,14,15 years-old and going to Murray’s on a Friday night, something that can never be re-created in adulthood and certainly something that was taken for granted at the time.
So if you’re like me and can still hear the music, feel the ice and want to take a trip down memory lane via Murray’s Skating Rink, here’s the MyYonkers Conversation with Varsity Skate Shop owner Bill Borelli.
MyYonkers: So I have to ask, did you ever meet Edward J. Murray?
Bill Borelli: No, he died before the rink was built but was a guy that did an awful lot for the city of Yonkers as a contractor and politician.
MyYonkers: Have you lived in Yonkers all your life?
Bill Borelli: Born and raised, growing up down by Sullivan’s Oval. I remember when they were selling lots on Central Ave. for homes and businesses and many other things people wouldn’t even believe. Here’s one, there was a lake where Spruce St. meets Rumsey Rd. called “Devil’s Lake” and I learned to ice skate on it. Now it’s all homes.
MyYonkers: So what was here before they built the rink?
Bill Borelli: St. Nick’s Oval, it was a ball field and a nice place to have a picnic or cook out on a Sunday and at the bottom of the hill was a florist, a driving range and a bakery from the Troznick Family that you can buy homemade pies for literally $1.25.
MyYonkers: Why did your Father decide to open the skate shop?
Bill Borelli: He got a job in the Mills working for a man named John Flynn who eventually became Mayor of the city of Yonkers. After serving in WWII, Flynn was one of the guys who pushed to make the skating rink happen since the Oval wasn’t used as much due to the construction of the Thruway and such. Once the Mill closed, Flynn asked my father if he would bid on the skate shop in the new rink and he got it and we’ve had it in the family ever since.
MyYonkers: What was opening day like back in January of 1960?
Bill Borelli: There were 7,000 people in attendance! Needless to say we were a bit unprepared. It was an all-day session and we only had about 300 pairs of skates on hand for rentals. The lines stretched around the rink and from then on, the rink always made money. Despite recessions or whatnot, every year Murray’s has been profitable and there’s a reason for that. Back then the rental was $0.25 and even the Parks commissioner came down and said to us at the end of the day that “I never want to hear that you don’t have enough skates again.” Now we have about 2,000 pairs of skates or so on hand.
MyYonkers: How have the crowds changed over the years?
Bill Borelli: Well we had more public sessions in the 60′s and 70′s. In the 80′s and so on, the rink began cutting back on the sessions and more and more just privately renting out the ice to groups and teams. There are about 14 sessions per week now and double that years ago.
MyYonkers: What sets Murray’s apart and even more importantly, Varsity Skate Shop?
Bill Borelli: I’m always buying skates, always trying to find the kind of skates people seem to like but also that the skates are kept in as good a condition as possible. Some places mix skates up, two rights, two lefts, and that’s something that doesn’t happen here. Each pair we rent lasts about a year and a half on average.
MyYonkers: Has this always been a side job for you?
Bill Borelli: My Dad passed away in 1999 and my “day job” was working for NASA, working in aerospace but I always worked part-time here and when he passed, I decided to take the business over full-time. My wife and family always just simply put up with me working the two jobs and you know I missed a good deal of things with my kids growing up. But one thing I have noticed over the years is that there is a relationship between the customers and the staff here, a special kind of family style relationship. Having been through 6 managers here, I’ve seen many many people come and go but the staff and even the customers create their own family atmosphere here.
MyYonkers: Do people remember you from their time as a kid skating at Murray’s?
Bill Borelli: Every week that happens, people can’t believe I’m still here but nothing has changed at Murray’s, nothing and people who now come here as adults with their own kids get a kick out of how everything is the same.
MyYonkers: Do you still get the same joy out of servicing the 8 year-old girl’s skates now as you did perhaps when you started over five decades ago? Is it still enjoyable?
Bill Borelli: Still love doing this and always trying to improve each year. I have a system for the new skaters in the lesson program where they get the same pair of skates each time to learn on. I’ll even come out and measure a skater’s foot for a public session nowadays because you want people to have a good session and have skates that fit well.
MyYonkers: Any future plans on retirement or another endeavor?
Bill Borelli: No plans…no plans. You know as long as I can keep my health I love doing this and I’ll simply keep doing it.
For more information on public skating sessions at Murray’s, click here and remember to say “hi” to Bill next time you rent your skates from Varsity Skate Shop!
Last week saw the re-establishment of the Yonkers emblem of meat in tube-form as Nathan’s Hot Dogs on Central Ave. reopened their new doors, this time on the north facing side of a complex of stores consisting of a CVS and 2 stores to be named later.
What can I say?
The new Nathan’s as expected, leaves much to be desired, no arcade games and no history of any kind, I don’t care how often they post signage of the year “1916″ around the inside and outside of the place.
No stained glass mirrors, no fun chicken, nothing really of the Nathan’s of my youth.
Here’s a quick tour:
The drive thru is still around and I’ll give them points for improving things in this regard although it’s really six of one, half a dozen of the other.
The same green and red neon lights still greet customers as they enter but obviously nothing close to the original signage.
The inside is well…what can you say. If you traded a few hot dogs and crinkle cut fries for some golden arches and the Cheeseburglar, you’d pretty much have a mickey D’s.
One of the nicer or cooler parts though are the giant murals of Nathan’s Coney Island past and kuddos to the details of food, rides and people.
They also have framed pictures of the good times at the Coney Island landmark…
Still though, despite Nathan’s being a universe unto itself, I think the place should have paid some homage to the old Nathan’s of Central Ave., even if it was just a mural or portrait of the bright lights guiding the way for the cars that passed by along Central Ave.
While I rarely advocate things of this nature, my suggestion is to extend the extra effort and time and catch a D Train, make your way out to Coney Island, and fulfill your craving with the real thing. The remodel and renovation of the original Nathan’s has been complete for some time now and it’s just as good and packed as always out on Coney Island.
I hate to not patronize a Yonkers business and give into my nostalgic obstinance but it may take another 100 years before Nathan’s on Central Ave. gives me the satisfaction that its predecessor gave me time and time again. Your Thoughts?
As with many locations around the country, Two Guns Arizona, a place that once occupied a spot on the map, has seen better days, abandoned and forgotten, it sits in isolation, just off Interstate 40 or more accurately, the old Route 66 in Arizona.
If you go there however, be sure to bring a your own supplies and don’t expect services of any kind. Simply put, the town is completely abandoned, its buildings lay in ruin and it’s roadways are quickly being swallowed up by the Arizona high desert floor.
Two Guns was home to many Native American tribes over the years and was even the site of contentious battles between the Navajos and the Apaches.
But in more modern times, it served as a bustling pit stop and tourist trap for the millions of Americans who sought refuge on the mother road of America, Route 66 between the 1940′s to the 1960′s.
The name itself stems from the proprietor who set up businesses in the area when the highway was built, Henry Miller. Originally called Canyon Lodge, Miller renamed the town after himself, “Two Guns”, which from what I read was apparently his nickname as people came to call him “Two Guns Miller”.
This is about the dumbest “legendary” account of history I have ever heard of but since multiple sources cited this account, I guess it’s all we have to go on.
In any event, the town became a hit, with restaurants, lodgings and even a Zoo, which you can see here.
Sadly, this is mostly all that is left…
The place is eerie to say the least and I was there at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
Once Interstate-40 came in, as with many towns, even Radiator Springs in the Pixar movie Cars, the town went under rather quickly.
Despite numerous grass-roots campaigns to revive the town and even a vivacious caretaker who legend has it in the 1980′s and 1990′s, would chase people away with a shotgun in his attempt to protect the abandoned town from vandals, Two Guns is now completely abandoned.
This stone wall is all that’s left of a restaurant that used to serve Route 66′s hungry motorists.
The sad remains of one of the many lodgings where people could shut down for the night.
Haven’t figured out what this was but the Route 66 signage is beautiful.
More views of the remains of Two Guns…
This gas station supposedly was in use as recently as 2003 but other reports bring it back to the 1990′s. Regardless, it’s long gone now.
The roadway itself, while intact, is beginning to be overtaken by the desert in some spots and if enough time passes and a few powerful Summer monsoon storms blow through, all of Two Guns AZ will disappear.
Here’s to another forgotten place in America. A once thriving town teeming with life and currently a location that has permanently lost its place on the map.
In 2014 or sooner, I will begin a series of Posts titled “MyYonkers Conversations”, where I will be spotlighting members of the Yonkers community either through video or transcription and showcasing some of the more amazing and inspiring life stories that exist in our great city.
I have a few conversations lined up later this fall and will be running them by the end of the year but was curious if you knew someone in Yonkers who you would like to see spotlighted on here? Some examples may include but are not limited to:
- A 50, 60. 70 or even 80 year resident of Yonkers (The Yonkers Leprechaun)
- School teachers (Mr. Brown)
- Public Works/ Law Enforcement/ Fire/ EMS
- Perhaps someone who has served the community for generations as a business owner, or simply a worker. ( R.I.P. Jimmy Reagan)
My goal is to utilize the following that we have garnered on MyYonkers.org to give light and deserving recognition to those individuals that help do their part to make Yonkers a place that not only is still a vibrant city but also those who forever live in our minds as staples and familiar faces of our childhood growing up in the city.
One can only imagine the litany of individuals who could have been spotlighted on here but sadly have passed away so this may be an excellent way to recognize some amazing Yonkers residents in the living years.
If you have someone in mind, please feel free to email me at MyYonkers@gmail.com and let me know the details. Thanks guys!
Who doesn’t love the Twilight Zone and Rod Serling and in this particular case, the episode titled “What’s in the Box?” that aired in Season 5 of the series and immortalized our beloved city into the perils of the Twilight Zone.
Actress Joan Blondell gives a stirring and shivering recurrence of the name “Yonkers”, taunting her cheating husband with the geographic location of his alleged mistress; giving our city a distinct character and designating us as the official cheating side of town.
As she confronts her husband Joe about his affairs and grows increasingly suspicious about his late night cab runs up from Harlem to Yonkers, she begins to taunt him and with a maniacal laugh repeating over and over…”Gotta go up to Yonkers for a fare Joe?” “Need to take someone to Yonkers Joe?” “Why don’t you head up to Yonkers…Yonkers Yonkers Yonkers Yonkers Yonkers Yonk….”
The very next moment, Joe snaps and pushes his wife out the window of their apartment building where she falls to her death.
This whole exchange was of course witnessed by Joe a few minutes earlier when his television set takes on a paranormal quality and instead of Ed Sullivan or other programming of 1964, it begins broadcasting Joe’s life, his future life and events he can expect to experience in a matter of minutes.
This apparently has been the handy work of the creepy TV repairman played by Sterling Holloway and boy did the casting director do an excellent job for this episode!
Surprisingly, this episode was not written or directed by Serling, but by a guy named Martin Goldsmith, who had produced other Twilight Zone’s in the past and by Season 5, Serling was not writing many of his episodes, but still having major input in regard to storylines and ideas.
Many a few have travelled across the 5 boroughs and tri-state area to slip off into the night with their alleged lovers and perhaps there is some poetic imagery to be drawn from a no-good cabby named Joe who high-tails it to Yonkers in the evenings to be with his mistress.
Maybe they sought the romance and peacefulness of an evening by the Hudson as they held each other tightly.
Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure…Yonkers without a doubt, is a city of many many secrets.
A quaint and simple notion still exists throughout America, that if children ran the government instead of adults, many of the modern-day issues associated with government leaders would disappear overnight, creating a utopian environment in which the country could finally thrive on for generations to come.
This of course begs the question of why? Are children smarter than adults; adults who seemingly are more qualified than the average adult, adults who are well-educated, accomplished, and elected into positions of power over the masses?
The basic assumption is that children are inherently honest, unflappable and possess the ability to want for a greater good and not just for themselves.
These character traits among others, would have served the leaders of AOL and Patch tremendously well in the five-year run of what was considered upon its conception, as the most cutting edge and game-changing idea in the 21st Century of journalism.
Imagine this…your town, village, hamlet or city has a news website where you can find breaking news, current events, a calendar of events, business listings and perhaps most importantly, a spotlight on the everyday local things that matter to you.
You could come to your local Patch site and see your friends, your friend’s child, your own child, your teacher from 25 years ago.
If you have moved away or were retired, you can keep tabs on the daily happenings of your hometown, regaled and in some cases entranced, by the images of snowstorms you no longer had to deal with, summer scenes you longed for in your heart and familiar places and faces of a community you spent time in, raising a family and having a life.
Patch’s reach into the local community was never just local, thanks in large part to the projective power of social media and Patch’s ability to garner people and ideas from across the country to create a self-contained ecosystem of local content with far-reaching appeal.
Having spent over 2 years in “Patchlandia” as the locals call it, I spent my first year as a freelance writer, helping launch the New Rochelle Patch site in August of 2010 and then over time, contributing to 10 different Patch sites on a semi-regular basis.
Using my abilities as a writer and my photographic eye, I learned how to combine those two things into becoming a professional online journalist, a title I became quite proud of but in the end, never truly fit what my true passions were to be in life.
In October of 2011, I took over the Bronxville-Eastchester Patch site as Editor, well “guest editor” since it took AOL 6 months to sign me on officially but either way, I took ownership of the site immediately and enjoyed getting to know the communities in which I was tasked to objectively cover the news and everyday happenings in for Tuckahoe, Eastchester and Bronxville, with Yonkers thrown into the mix at times.
Looking back, I certainly was a little fish in a large pond of consummate professional journalist who not only were more talented than I was, but understood their roles in their respective communities much more than I ever did.
At the time however, I did the best I could, I worked late just like they did, I hustled just like they did and I did my best to showcase the communities on my Patch site in a way that created a compulsion for people to make the Bronxville-Eastchester Patch a part of their daily lives.
In the end however, my co-workers were often head and shoulders above me when it came to reporting the news, getting the facts and putting information out into the community in a timely fashion. This is not to say that I never did this, but more often than not, my information had holes in it or in some cases, was way off base and prompted a revision.
By November of 2012, I knew that my time with Patch was nearing its end, the flame of passion for what I was doing was shrinking by the day and it not only would manifest itself in the content on the site, but in the interactions with my co-workers, many of which I had written for as a freelancer two years earlier.
Only in hindsight would I realize all of the amazing lessons I gained working with Patch, working with a group of people who cared deeply about what they were doing, wanted to get it right and whose passion never seemed to wane, even on the busiest of days and or the longest of nights.
In my mind, these were all the over-achievers I went to high school with. The ones who always got the A’s, always had their assignments in on time, never had compulsive problems such as cutting class and always found a way to “show up” no matter what. Surely the antithesis of everything my high school days were.
I did manage though to have fun and get a few things right in my time with Patch, like the time I showed up to Main Street Pediatric Dentistry in Tuckahoe to cover an event and found two gals making balloon animals, in which I promptly requested that they make me a Patch balloon logo.
Or the time the Patch RV…a news headquarters on wheels rolled into New Rochelle as part of a campaign to cover the 2012 Presidential election Primaries. Posing with one of my many mentors Michael Woyton, editor extraordinaire of the New Rochelle Patch.
This guy single-handedly gave me a 4-year education in journalism in less than 6 months and while I do think some of my antics may have taken a few years off of his life, it was his professionalism and vast understanding of how to communicate with people and tell a story that I’ll always take with me for the rest of my professional career.
In the end of course, it was the residents themselves, the readership of Patch that made my time as a journalist the most rewarding and fulfilling. Whether I literally was tasked with writing down people’s thoughts and reactions to daily life, or as I much more preferred to do, capturing the daily dramas unfold through photo journalism in the idyllic suburban sprawl that is Westchester County NY.
Scenes like this one from Bronxville on a Sunday morning made working on a Sunday, a treat.
Capturing the rush of rush hour…
A man taking in the warmth of a winter day…
Perfectly laid leaves on a busy street…
Children doing what children do…
Or…the Kardashians appearing at the mall you grew up across the street from…
No two days were alike at Patch and I guess that’s the crux of journalism. Over time however, the mood at Patch changed and not for the better in my opinion. That cutesy notion I laid out earlier in this article, about the news website that would give almost any resident of the community a viable reason to visit the site on a daily basis…well yea that notion all but died.
Doing what corporations do best, shareholders and profit margins began to take precedent over the customer base and in the end, the customers went elsewhere for their news and information. A defiant declaration of the indispensability of modern-day digital media,
Patch readers quickly decided that if they could no longer get relevant information about their community through Patch, they would simply resume their perpetual search for local news elsewhere.
My former Regional Editor said it best to me in one of our many heart-felt conversations we had while he attempted to mold me into a budding journalist during my time as Editor.
“People should find things on Patch that they themselves just saw that day and wondered about,” Bill would say, continuing that, “Patch has the capability to make readers feel as if we are everywhere by utilizing our resources and giving the appearance that we are always the first ones on top of a story.”
Of all the people I worked with, Bill’s passion for informing the community and establishing Patch as the official place for all news and information that people not only wanted to know, but needed to know was inspiring to say the least.
Of all the thousands of people Patch employed, Bill perhaps saw with greater clarity than anyone else the potential and place that Patch could have in the lives of its community.
After all that was why it was called Patch, the company was envisioned as a community’s own “patch” of news and information that would exclusively cater to their needs and their needs only. Need info on White Plains, go to the White Plains Patch. What’s happening in Rye this weekend? Go to the Rye Patch. So on and so forth.
And now with the latest round of layoff’s, which are slated to cut the company easily by a third in terms of its work force and the very Patch sites that drive profits in the first place, the dream of Patch and all that it could have been, seemingly is dead.
I guess this post was somewhat of an obituary to a lost dream of Corporate Hyper-Local News and how the best laid plans went sour. I have no doubt that when AOL CEO Tim Armstrong was driving in his town in Connecticut one Saturday afternoon and wished his town had a place to go for local news so that the community could be more informed and connected that his intentions were good.
This is the story of how Patch was conceived in a nutshell. A member of a community realizing the void and need of its people. So for that, I guess I do need to tip my hat to him and say thanks for what started as an innocent notion in his head and manifested into an opportunity for me to gain professional experience and further accentuate my talents and abilities.
By the way, there is a Yonkers version…a knock off version of Patch that does attempt to cover things that people in Yonkers should know and need to know about their daily lives. The name escapes me though at the moment…gosh darn it the heck, what is that fancy semi-news website called…
Normally, Yonkers DPW would be all over this one like a mountain lion on a baby Javelina but I suppose the stop sign at the corner of Ardell Rd. and Wildway Rd. in Yonkers was overlooked.
Walking past this overgrown shrub, I thought about calling someone…someone perhaps at DPW to alert them of the issue but to be honest, I did not want to throw off their schedule as the guys do have to perform their required 20 hours a week of overtime along with hourly breaks and other contractual obligations regarding scheduling.
Or perhaps Yonkers police, giving the boys at the 2nd precinct something to do in the middle of a beautiful summer afternoon.
Or of course, there’s always the Mayor’s office too.
In the end, I left it alone, but I must say that if you were ever cited for running this stop sign, the judge would certainly be hard-pressed to uphold the charge as from any angle, this thing is pretty obstructed to say the least.
So the lesson of the day…Yonkers…only in Yonkers will you find such a contrast in good and evil, morality and corruption, and in this case, road signs that are clearly visible and ones that are being swallowed up by giant bushes.
Many hidden entities disguise themselves in malls across America, such as the Indian at the Westchester Mall and in Scottsdale, AZ, where the tender sight of a mother and daughter spending a day shopping at the mall is permanently affixed to a fountain near the food court, encased in bronze and frozen in time.
As far as I know, the statue has been there since the early 1990′s when the Scottsdale Fashion Mall opened up, giving residents a wider and more modern variety of stores and sadly, defuncting in the process the older Los Arcos Mall located just down the street and made famous by such movies as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
While in the food court with its massive atrium and natural lighting, many passersby probably have never taken the time to appreciate the life-like statue, with its beautiful detailing of a mother dressed in a business suit, a child holding her teddy bear and a bundle of gifts, perhaps the end of a long day of holiday shopping for the two of them.
Even the mother’s purse is depicted with amazing and beautiful detail.
These moments suspend time in my opinion, as we all probably have statues in our minds such as this one of ourselves with our parents.
Shopping at Cross County, Getty Square, The Galleria in White Plains or wherever, spending the day with our Mothers, carrying around countless numbers of shopping bags with us and not thinking about prices or logistics or anything of an adult nature is something special to say the least.
For me, living across the street from Cross County as a kid and also trekking not only to White Plains but into the big city itself, memories of train rides home, cab rides home, walking home as the snow just begins to fall in the evening; they are all as clear and detailed in my mind as the statue represents.
Riding the Metro North train home from Grand Central, sandwiched between the train window and about a dozen Macy’s bags, the dark sky on the outside and the warmth of the train inside, my Mom nodding off and having to remind her that Fleetwood is the next stop; all of these were my accoutrements of a perfect day and just as with the statue, are forever frozen in time for me to enjoy.
If you ever find yourself at the Scottsdale Mall, take time out to sit beside this bronze family and marvel at the beauty, the wonder and love of a mother and daughter and an intimate invitation into their world, after a long day of shopping and creating life-long memories.
It all starts for us somewhere. Our first day of school. Where we leave behind everything familiar and enter a world that at times, can be challenging, cruel, fun, exciting, annoying, heartbreaking and every other emotion mixed in between.
Looking back on my 7 years at Public School # 30 in Yonkers, it was probably the most fun I ever had in school, as is probably the case in most people’s lives when looking back to Elementary School.
The stakes were low, girls did not even enter the picture until perhaps the 5th grade in Ms. Beberman’s class but who knows and most importantly, it was a time for me in my education when nothing in life ever seemed to get in the way.
None of the usual life distractions ever held me back. So what if I couldn’t sleep the night before, so what if I had not had my coffee, so what if there was traffic, if my Mom was mad at me, if the heat went out the night before, if the guy at the deli forgot to put cheese on my bacon and egg…nothing seemed to faze me.
Thinking back to my first few days in Ms. Lega’s Kindergarten class, I honestly don’t remember much other than a few awkward moments in class and my father being my father.
On most children’s first day of school, parents can be seen parading their young charges to class, some eager to experience the adventure of school and others clinging to their parent’s pant legs like Whitney Houston to a crack pipe.
I spent the final moments in my house being encouraged to “have a great day”, “knock em’ dead” and one of the more inspirational messages of my childhood, “dare to fail”!
Mind you however that all of these messages from my Dad were heartfelt, passionate and being communicated through a small opening in the bathroom door while my Dad was, how can I put this…”dropping the kids off at the pool”, “baking brownies”, or the timeless saying of, “indisposed”
Obviously in no shape to make the 10 minute trek, my Mom escorted me to PS 30 and once there, I was met by a bewildering array of kids, all of which were just like me in some ways and in other ways, very different. This routine would continue for the next 6 years pretty much and each year, while socially I began to be more and more familiar with my classmates, I also felt as though I was a real part of a community among my peers.
Twenty years later, the place doesn’t seem all that different, perhaps only smaller, probably because I got bigger. While I was studying to become a teacher, I got to intern a few times here which was a whole lot of fun and I’ve always taken time out of my schedule to visit the campus when possible, to make sure the old place is still holding up, that the foundation looks good, the gutters are clean and the windows are intact.
Who the hell I am kidding? I go for the nostalgia.
One of the largest changes to the campus cosmetically are the giant portable classrooms that they plopped down between the school and the school yard. Who knew you could fit a classroom there as it used to simply be a walkway, but I guess that’s Yonkers Public School for you, leave it to them to come up with the really great ideas.
Some signage has seen better days. I mean can we please replace the rusted out no parking anytime signs with new ones? I’ll pay!
Same goes for the sorry excuse for a basketball rim in the upper school yard. Children in Bedford Stuyvesant probably have better equipment.
Also, while I’m complaining, can we please update or take down the “rules” sign on the upper playground since it was probably authored back in the 1970′s when 6th grade teacher of legend Mr. Brown began his tenure at PS 30? More about him later…
There are some fun changes to the landscape as well, like this giant map of the U.S. created in the early 2000′s.
Sure the state of Louisiana has some prime waterfront property based on this map that would make the City of New Orleans even more susceptible I suppose to completely flooding out.
And one final observation…Texas…what’s up with the scribbles and even more alarming, much of it on this map resides in Mexican territory.
Despite the markings on the black top, many memories were created on top of it, both during school and for me, after school as well. Late Afternoons like this one, playing baseball, basketball, football the occasional soccer game and much more.
When you’re in grades Pre-K thru 1st, your recess time is spent here, on the lower playground where a rubberized surface has intelligently replaced the old, black top/gravel playground that existed when I was playing here. Man that surface made for some skinned knees and deep bruises.
I like this picture because it’s like a dividing line of time. This fence was a new addition that kind of cut the playground in half for the kids, since we were allowed to play all the way to where you would find the rusted out No Parking Anytime signs on the fence that lines the walkway.
Another really cool feature of the building is the bat cave entrance to your kindergarten classroom. Kind of like a back porch door to the classroom, I always liked using it as often as possible as while the rest of the kids were squirming their way through the other 2 main door ways, we civilized kindergarteners could stroll out comfortably into our parent’s loving arms.
To end this post though, I wanted to pay homage to one of the best teachers I ever had in my long and storied scholastic career, 6th Grade Teacher Mr. Paul Brown. And just as a side note, ALL of my teachers were excellent at PS 30. Call me the luckiest kid in the world but ALL of them were creative, passionate and really left me with fond memories from our time together.
Whether it was the booming voice of 1st Grade teacher Mrs. Goldstein and the way she would never let you off the hook for anything, but at the same rate, she never let you fail either.
Mrs. Burke in 3rd grade, who really for the first time taught me how to write, so much so that I won an essay contest that year and got my picture in the paper, nice job on the butchering of my last name Herald Statesman…
Everything from spending whole days of school with my desk outside of the classroom in the hallway, where I could really get some thinking done and definitely, oh definitely, could not disrupt the learning of other students.
I believe that my disruptions may have literally taken a few years off of 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Powers’ life and in 5th Grade, I probably racked up more “homework notes” from Ms. Beberman than any other student before or since.
Still though, there can only be one #1 and in my book and the books of many former students, that #1 hands down was 6th grade teacher Mr. Brown, the consummate professional who wore western ties, had a goofy smile and like all great men, spoke softly but carried a big stick.
You knew school was in session from the very first moment you walked into his classroom and even more than that, you also knew that this year was going to be different from all the rest. You just knew it.
From book reports and quotes that we were challenged to memorize each week to enrichment activities and lesson extensions, the likes of which we had never seen before, those 180 days spent in his class were treasures that sadly some of us, would never experience again inside of a traditional classroom.
The man hated wasting time and even worse, hated it when you wasted his time. He was a treasure trove of information, google before there was google and like all great philosophers and men of enlightenment, he never ever ever ever ever gave us the answers.
“Those”, he would softly say, “are for you to find out”.
Sadly, Mr. Brown passed away a few years ago.
I guess nothing lasts forever, despite how much we would like them to. To me, he was like the Sphinx or Stonehenge or whatever other object you can think of that has been on the earth for thousands of years and when he died, well try to imagine the Grand Canyon disappearing and you’ll understand the loss that I genuinely felt.
This was a man who demanded execution out of his students and got it.
This was a guy who quite often, would dismiss us for recess one by one, rather than as a class, so you literally, either through behavior or otherwise, had to earn the right to go to recess. Kind of like in life. Which unbeknownst to all of us, was what his greatest lessons were all about.
One time he said to me,
“you know Josh, life is a scale of privileges and responsibilities and you have to keep them balanced…you want all the privileges, but you can’t handle the responsibilities”.
Another time together, this time when I was in college studying to be a teacher, he talked about what makes a great educator.
“Josh, I know I was never the best teacher in the world, I know that many students did not enjoy their time in my classroom, but I was always fair. You have to be fair as an educator. If you are disciplining a student, is it deserved and does it serve a purpose for learning? If you give a student an A, is that deserved and truly earned based on the assignment and objectives?”
As with Mr. Brown, my time at PS 30 came and went. Fast.
Not too fast because I had plenty more roads to travel and good times to be had but you know what I mean. While many people look back in anger at all the things they did not get from their education, I only look at the things I did get.
Mostly because I’ve never been at a loss for the things I still take with me to this day on my journey through life and that alone is proof, that everything I ever needed to know, I learned at PS 30.
Pardon the play on the Greek Alphabet but after toiling for over an hour over a cool and creative title for this post, my sense of humor got the better of me.
Sure, other appropriate titles could have included but were not limited to:
- 1975 Called and They Want Their Donuts Back
- Alpha Donuts in Omega Queens
- Excuse Me Sir but my French Cruller Has a Fly on It!
I felt I was hitting my stride with that last one but opted for the title you see above.
Well this place in Queens is simply a treasure and one that needs to be patronized 24/7, which happens to be their hours so if you find yourself in the five boroughs and it’s late and you say, “hmmm…where can I go at this hour for a donut, or an omelette, or a sandwich, or something that must be cooked on a greasy griddle?”
Look no further than Alpha Donuts in Woodside Queens!
A quick trip on the 7 Train from midtown Manhattan, this place has not changed in 40 years and upon my research, I was unable to even nail down a date as to when it opened.
Known for their French Crullers and greasy menu options, this place is certainly a throw back and for those of us who were not around to see the gritty, Taxi Driver days of New York, Alpha offers a rare glimpse into the city’s checkered past.
You even may have recently seen this place in a movie Robert De Niro shot here titled Being Flynn, an artistic tale of a relationship between father and son and two lives that are seemingly headed in opposite directions. De Niro’s character has a major fall from grace to say the least and finds refuge on cold nights here, sitting at the counter, having a good ol fashioned cup of Joe and a sandwich!
One of my favorite parts of the place, besides the fact that my sister and I would frequent the donut shop for breakfast, are the signature S-shaped counters, a thing of the past in New York and in most places as 21st Century diners enjoy having their own personal space. At Alpha, you have to make friends and you definitely will encounter some characters at the counter from the wall street banker to the roaming hobo.
The old-school menu still exists and while the prices have changed…they haven’t changed all that much…One of my personal faves is your standard Grilled Cheese and Fries, which only sets you back about $6.00 plus tip.
You can get Breakfast anytime and I highly recommend the potatoes, with or without peppers and onions, depending on your preference and psychosomatic anxiety, an immaculate alignment of the planets occurs with the potatoes having just enough grease, salt, pepper, and whatever else may have found its way into the heaping pile of potatoes, to satisfy even the pickiest of appetites.
One of the best parts of the place is of course, watching your food and the food of the other patrons being prepared by the master chef himself. It may not meet the standards of the Culinary Institute of America, but it does meet the standard of greasy goodness, lumped together on the same griddle with everyone else’s greasy goodness.
So what if your omelette taste like a cheeseburger and who cares if your tuna melt some how got a little pastrami mixed in? At Alpha, everything on the grill is family.
The only real suspect thing I ever saw at the place was their CPR kit…or lack thereof. I’m not a medical doctor but this thing looks like it was used back during Mayor Abe Beame’s administration. You’re telling me no one has passed out in this place in 40 years? Not too shabby a track record if you ask me!
Even still, Alpha is a place with a heart and if your heart lies in the gritty 70′s of New York, you really should take a trip out here before it is too late and Alpha Donuts becomes another Dunkin Donut/Baskin Robbins combo. When did they decide that Ice Cream and Donuts go together and did anyone tell the American Heart Association about this?
Simply take the 7 Train to the 40th St. Station and head down the platform to the south side of Queens Boulevard and you’ll see Alpha’s giant yellow sign. Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner, packed or empty, De Niro or no De Niro, Alpha does not disappoint.