A death in Whitestone
A mile and a half from where I live, at the same intersection where I’ve used the ATM countless times and taken my children for numerous fast food happy meals, a man was killed outside a bar after being punched in a fight.
A 35-year-old-man punched a man 20 years his senior. The older man fell to the sidewalk, striking his head; he was pronounced dead at Flushing Memorial Hospital soon afterwards.
The local news media picked it up because the assailant who has been charged with assault in the case is a New York City firefighter. Even though the person he stuck was dead, he walked out of jail a few hours later—New York City’s revolving door of justice works its magic. He claimed to be acting in self defense.
Whitestone is a more suburban area of New York City. It has a downtown area like that of a village you would find on Long Island or in Westchester County, and most neighborhoods consist of single-family homes. The affluent Malba area of well-heeled mansions is part of Whitestone.
While it does not have the cultural cache of Manhattan or the trendy panache of Brooklyn, I take heart on knowing that the Parkside Lounge a half mile away from me puts on great punk rock shows, and that Dee Dee Ramone once lived in Whitestone. It also has nice parks, good public schools walking distance from our home, and
There are many nice features of Whitestone, Queens, but it’s also a place where you will wonder how so many wretchedly stupid people manage to live in nice houses and drive expensive trucks. There is a bogus working-class posturing on the part of upper-middle class people here, a vociferous ignorance that cannot be excused by poverty combined with a shallow cultural posturing that consists of thickly pantomiming stereotypical New York mannerisms. Because they live within the boundaries of the five boroughs of New York City, they think they need to size everyone up for a fight even when they are buying groceries.
When you love something, its faults drive you all the crazier because they blemish something you cherish. That is one of the reasons why this death outside of a bar in one of the outer boroughs is more troubling besides being literally closer to home.
Though I left the drinking life more than a decade ago, I cannot deny the good times that they have given me and the central role they still play in cultural life. It was in a dive bars that I helped form punk rock bands, got ideas for poems, traded quotes from “Repo Man” with both financial journalists and bouncers. Dive bars are the respite that people have needed from their daily grind for decades, and dive bars in the outer boroughs is where you can find the soul of New York City trying to drink off its last hangover. I don’t know if they have good punk rock shows at juice bars and I’m not going to find out.
I remember being alone and living in New York City on my own for the first time and meeting a friend from work at the Wee Pub in Ozone Park one Saturday night and it was a rambling joy that made me feel like I was home. Years later, I met up with friends and toured all the dive bars we could fine in Hell’s Kitchen. I’ve spent countless hours in some of the seediest drinking holes in the city and regret not a minute of it.
So, if we’re ruining dive bars, we are ruining life. Our civilization will not function if people don’t decent, affordable places to drink.
New York City will survive and thrive again. If anything be sacred, let it be our dive bars.
Illegal fireworks are as New York as bagels
Years ago, when I lived in Inwood, I walked to the public pier at Dyckman Street on the Hudson River to see fireworks on the Fourth of July. The sightings were disappointing. Through clouds in the distance I could see the faint glow of a few shows over New Jersey and could see none of the official Macy’s fireworks happening farther downtown.
I returned to my apartment disappointed but was soon treated to shows of illegal fireworks that more than compensated. The barrage of ordnance that filled the northern Manhattan sky was a welcome sight that took me back to my childhood in Yonkers. I would emerge from our apartment in Yonkers on July 5th to a scene that resembled a war zone. The curbs and corners were filled with the spent paper from reams of firecrackers, and one time I saw a metal garbage can that had been exploded and overturned, looking like a giant metallic banana peel.
When I first returned to the city to live as an adult, I lived in Ozone Park, once the home to professional-grade illegal fireworks shows and street festivals paid for by the Gambino Crime Family boss John Gotti. Gotti had been in prison several years at that point, and the authorities worked hard to prevent the return of a large-scale illegal fireworks display. Police were all over 101st Ave. and the surrounding streets, but it made little difference. Managing to get on the roof of my building, I could see the official fireworks far away in Manhattan, but the cat-and-mouse game of cops and illicit fireworks was more entertaining.
Illegal fireworks have been a New York City staple for decades. When I was in fifth grade in the New York suburbs, I went to a neighbor’s yard where a friend’s father let me light sparklers off some candles set on the ground. I felt like the greatest outlaw on Earth. Kids waved around sparklers while adults set off bottle rockets and M-80s. When we heard police sirens in the distance, adults blew the candles out and we ran to the backyard until the danger had passed.
More recently, we have enjoyed the sights of fireworks over Whitestone and College Point. Early morning jogs through Flushing Memorial Field has found launch sites of the previous evenings fireworks displays, the tubes still smelling of gunpowder in the cool dawn, like a mortar position of a recently passed battle.
The allure of illicit explosives dates to the birth of the American nation. The first battles of the American Revolution were fought over the British Army’s attempt to seize illegal weapons.
New York, which was under the yoke of British rule for the bulk of the Revolution, was no less fervent in its commitment to the cause. One of the bloodiest battles of the war was fought in Brooklyn; the Battle of Long Island almost ended the Revolution—Washington barely escaped to regroup. The first woman known to take up arms for the United States did so in Manhattan at the Battle of Fort Washington; Americans lost that battle too and Fort Tryon park still bears the name of the British governor of New York at the time.
Our founding fathers would have been hanged as traitors to the crown had we not won. No matter our heritage, Americans are proudly descended from outlaws and outcasts. People setting off fireworks today are not would-be revolutionaries, but they are tapping into the same antiauthoritarian sentiment that is alive in spades in America today.
The city has seen an increase in setting off illegal fireworks. We hear them in every neighborhood and in some cases too late (true fireworks enthusiasts know to stop between 11 p.m. and 12 a.m., July Fourth excepted). There is a need now for people to celebrate and sending exploding stars into the night sky is best done while remaining safely distant from fellow citizens. Many bars and restaurants remain closed, large parts of the city are effectively locked down by massive protests. Fireworks are a needed respite, a needed release of our energies to celebrate something, whether that be the birth pangs of a better America or a fiery exegesis of an abiding patriotism.
Illegal fireworks are a proud New York tradition, a proud American tradition. Let it never die.
Skynet at the Stop & Shop
“Can we see the robot?” one of our daughters asked.
“Sure,” my wife answered.
We were finishing up lunch and I had mentioned I wanted to briefly visit the Stop & Shop to look for something. I had no idea this outlet near our home employed one of those grocery store robots I had seen mentioned online ubiquitously. These slim, monolith grey towers on wheels are outfitted with large googly-eyes as one would a child’s craft. I had heard they were being installed in more and more stores; friends had posted photos of them at their local supermarkets. I had yet to see one in action.
The shopping center at Linden Place and the Whitestone Expressway in Flushing is a zone of cluttered chaos and the logical effluvium of the overcrowded eyesore of the streets nearby. Forgotten New York rightfully calls this part of Flushing “Queens’ Crappiest” for its lack of aesthetics, complete disrespect of historic buildings, and utter incompetence of the design of residential buildings. The shopping center was not long ago filled with crater-like potholes. It has a check cashing establishment and was for a time frequented prostitutes that served truck drivers. I try to avoid this shopping center because of the traffic alone—it’s either accessed by a busy highway service road or a two-lane street that is often busy. My kids love the McDonald’s that is there for some reason; perhaps I have already failed as a father.
The Stop & Shop there is a last refuge of desperation when we are looking for groceries that aren’t found elsewhere. Now I also wanted to see the grocery store robot. These robots are named “Marty.” Stop & Shop supermarkets have deployed them in more them in more than 200 stores to look for spills and hazards. According to Mashable, each robots costs $35,000 and weighs 140 pounds. Also, these robots don’t clean up anything, but just alert people nearby to the fact that there is a mess.
I went looking for the one item I hoped they had: a specific popular baby food pouch that serves as a healthy snack for our youngest daughter. I headed for the baby food aisle while the rest of my family made a bee line for the back of the store where they spotted the robot.
The baby food section was the same mess it was at my last visit and was without the food pouch I was looking for. I scoured again and looked behind every box and envelope to no avail. The robot had not spent enough time in this aisle.
My excited daughters came to get me to show me the robot, which was making its way across the back of the store from where they had first met it near the deli. They ran after it and my wife and I followed.
When my children ran up on the robot again, it seemed to pause to allow us all to gawk at it. Bored shoppers accustomed to the googly-eyed rolling cyborg went about their shopping.
“Hi Marty!” my children thought this thing was great. Maybe you could put googly eyes on a giant steaming people of crap and children will find it convincingly anthropomorphized into a cute friend and want to take it home. The robot slowly moved away from us, not interacting with anyone other than moving out of our way and appearing to look at us with its false, plastic, and unblinking eyes.
New York City seems like a poor choice to send Marty. Our supermarkets are too crowded, and our people in need of work is always plentiful. Also, New Yorkers are more skeptical of gimmicks like this. While little kids got a kick out of Marty the robot, most adults are put off by it.
The supermarket robot is not the coming incarnation of Skynet, the computer system that becomes self-aware and plunges the world into a nuclear holocaust in the Terminator films. It’s pretty underwhelming by itself.
The truly troubling issue with the increasing use of robots is not that technology is marching forward and machines are doing jobs people want to do. It’s that people no longer want to act like people as much anymore.
If society functioned well, customers would report a spill to an accessible employee, who would easily see to it that the spill was cleaned up, or the store would employ enough cleaning staff to make it a pleasurable experience. Instead we’ll gawk at a machine and be on our way.
We are spurning human contact in favor of technology-driven convenience because our human interactions have plunged in quality. That’s not the fault of the machines, that’s our fault.
The joy of illegal fireworks
Growing up in Yonkers, New York, which borders the Bronx, the fourth of July was always a time for fireworks and fun. I would stay up as late as I could watching people light up firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets, and other fare. I’d jump at the fearsome boom of M-80s. On the fifth of July I’d go outside to ride my bike and step into what looked to me like a war zone. Paper from expended fire crackers lined the gutters, leftover powder from unexploded ordnance glinted in the sun. One time I saw a metal garbage can that had been split in half and turned upside down by a blast of something, looking like a sad metallic banana peel.
When I first moved to New York City as an adult, I lived on 101st Avenue in Ozone Park, Queens. A few blocks down the street was famed Gambino Crime Family boss John Gotti’s old local headquarters, the Bergin Hunt & Fish Club. Gotti had been in prison for several years by that point, and the Mafia was a shadow of what it once was, but the Teflon Don had thrown big parties in Ozone Park every Independence Day and his presence was still looming large enough to draw a large police presence. I could not look out the window of my small studio on July 4th of that year without seeing the NYPD.
When my brother was visiting the next year, we managed to get onto the roof of the building I lived in. While we could see the fireworks off in the distance happening over the East River, it was much more fun to see the illicit explosions spreading it spider light over the skies of Ozone Park. The ensuing cat-and-mouse game of the firework lighters and the police added to the intrigue.
Years later, when I lived in Inwood in Northern Manhattan, I walked down to where Dyckman Street met the Hudson River, hoping to see fireworks of some capacity over the water. I was too far away from the official celebrations to get a good view of anything and I went home. But the volume of illegal fireworks being launched in Inwood was enormous, and I got a better show from my living room window than I could have had anywhere else.
I have been back in Queens for almost seven years now, this time in Northern Queens on the Flushing-Whitestone border.
Our co-op apartment building houses two addresses that do not connect except in the basement and on the roof. The roof is normally not accessible, but one of the buildings is without its elevator, so residents can take the elevator to the top floor of our side and cross over the roof.
On the fourth of July the skies over New York City were lit with legal and illegal fireworks alike. With one girls falling asleep early, my wife and I took turns bringing our other daughters up to see what there was to see. We knew there was a lot going on in our neighborhood as the evenings leading up to the fourth had at least one or two substantial barrages of fireworks audible and in close range.
From all sides of the roof we saw fireworks in the distance. A string of lights on the roof added to the festive air. The official Macy’s show over the East River started up at 9 p.m., and other legal displays could be seen over some of the country clubs of Douglaston and other well-to-do neighborhoods. But the most compelling sights were the ones going on right over the tidy homes of Whitestone.
The fireworks would burst into a glowing flower of streaking fire and fade almost as quickly. “Where go?” asked my youngest daughter, pointing to where the colorful display had just been. Another family from the other side if the building was on the roof as well. “Happy Birthday America!” one little boy called out as the colorful bombs burst in air.
The Saturday after July 4th, our family visited friends for a celebratory party. There my older girls got to experience sparklers for the first time. They enjoyed holding the fizzing light, aware it could burn them but marveling at how pretty it was. It was what the older people and the big kids were doing, and they were glad to be involved in the tradition. I didn’t get to hold sparklers until I was in fifth or sixth grade, and my parents would not have allowed me to partake if I had asked them. I was at a neighbor’s house and the grown-ups were lighting off the bigger stuff, using a candle on the ground to help light things. When police sirens could be heard in the distance, someone would blow the candle out and we’d retreat to the dark shadows of trees near the house until the danger of being caught had passed.
Of course there are dangers to fireworks, and no shortage of stupid people who set them off dangerously and without regard to safety or consideration for others. But we can’t let stupid people ruin our good time. Just as we shouldn’t stop loving our country because stupidity is on the ascent in our leadership and public discourse, we shouldn’t stop loving the celebration because morons are in the mix. The idiots will be there until common sense or well-placed fireworks weed them out.
Colonists won their freedom with blatant opposition to oppressive laws and plenty of gunpowder. It’s that heritage of the outlaw patriot we celebrate with fireworks at this time of year. It’s a tip of the hat to our revolutionary history. May it never die.
The Benefits and Dangers of Being in a Forgotten Zone
It’s frustrating when you live someplace that’s not on the map. It is doubly frustrating when you live in one of the largest metropolises in the history of human civilization and you find your neighborhood has been dropped from the map.
This phenomenon is well-known to anyone who lives far enough out of the popular centers of New York City. Manhattan maps might end mysteriously somewhere above or below 125th Street, and many tourist-centered maps of Queens don’t venture much farther than Astoria or Long Island City—not including the airports, mapped separately. Staten Island may have this the worst, as the most popular destination of their borough for tourists is the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Staten Island wears its “forgotten borough” hat with pride; respect.
Even the “Not For Tourists” map guide that includes Flushing for Queens stops a few blocks away from the building where I live. That’s too bad for the not-tourists, since there are delicious 24-hour Korean barbecue restaurants not even half a block from where the map ends.
Living in a lesser-known area of the city has a lot of benefits. One is cost of living and small rentals, not necessarily home prices. People pay a lot of extra money to live in a neighborhood that is popular or sounds impressive or hip. That’s why realtors have developed bogus neighborhood names that reference more popular areas. A few years ago, “East Williamsburg” was realtor shorthand for Bushwick, but now even Bushwick has become a popular destination for gentrifying newcomers. Maybe East New York (a higher-crime area not blessed with any in-crowd interest thus far) will be called “South Bushwick” or “Jamaica Bay Coast” or something ridiculous.
If you’re not in easy walking distance to a subway, consider yourself in a forgotten zone. The prices will be lower but the commuting to work in Manhattan will be long and miserable unless you’re able to take an express bus or railroad and pay the extra money for the honor.
Also, being in a neighborhood that is a best kept secret is a bit thrilling. I lived in Inwood for a little more than a decade, and while it was frustrating to have to explain where I lived for that long, it was nice to experience all that the far north end of Manhattan had to offer before people found out about it. Now Inwood has all the trappings of an “up and coming” neighborhood including overpriced rents.
One drawback to living in a lesser-known neighborhood is the fight for resources. The political calculus that determines how money is allocated is determined by political power and opportunity, and if your neighborhood doesn’t have the cache to woo the powers that be in City Hall, you may be out of luck.
Local Flushing and Whitestone parents are trying to rally support to keep a Parks Department children’s program located nearby – the Parks Department wants to relocate the program to Kissena Park, about three miles south. A group has organized Families for Bowne Park and sought the help of local elected officials and is even planning a Kids Rally for Bowne Park on June 1st.
Bowne Park is definitely off the radar. It has a nice playground and pond, even some bocce courts. While in the past this may have helped the park stay a quiet gem in a local neighborhood, its success may have led enough of the wrong people to take notice and decide to move the Parks Department children’s program.
I wish this group all the success in the world, and while we may not always want to struggle for neighborhood recognition, we’ll go to the mattresses to make sure our area gets respect.
First World Problem of the Week: New York street parking wars
I was fortunate enough to be invited by some friends to join them at a restaurant on Long Island to watch some Ultimate Fighting Championship fights. There are better tributes one can pay to these great fighters than enjoying them beat each other bloody while stuffing yourself with chicken wings, but hey, we’ve got to start our own road to the octagon in our own way.
I went to where my beat-up pickup truck was parked on Willets Point Boulevard near Parsons Boulevard. I was shocked to see a sticker on the passenger’s side window.
THIS VEHICLE IS PARKED ILLEGALLY AND IS HEREBY SUBJECT TO TOWING AND IMPOUNDMENT.
YOUR LICENSE NUMBER WAS RECORDED
New York City street parking regulations can be a Byzantine labyrinth of conflicting signs and notices, particularly in some of the more popular parts of Manhattan. Owning a car in New York City is a rare privilege and I am lucky I’m able to keep a car in the five boroughs, but it comes with a mountain of problems one must negotiate. Many of my fellow New Yorkers are horrible drivers. Parking in some parts of the city impossible and just about every non-millionaire who owns a car in New York has had their car damaged in some way without any justice or compensation.
In the more residential areas of Eastern Queens, the rules are normally much simpler. There are spots that are legal except for a window of time on a given weekday morning, when in theory a street sweeper will come and clean that section of street and curb. The Sanitation Department used to affix one of their infamous neon orange stickers on your car if you violate alternate side of the street parking.
In my neighborhood of Flushing bordering Whitestone, there are also some bus stops that may be legal on the weekends but then become illegal once weekday bus service resumes.
I was parked in a choice spot that was not in an alternate side spot. I’ve parked there repeatedly for years without incident. If any part of where I was parked was illegal, I would have received a parking ticket by now. This sticker was not a Sanitation Department sticker, not an NYPD sticker, nor any other kind of official sticker. Some asshole put it on themselves because they didn’t like that my truck was parked there.
I didn’t have time to peel it off, so I drove out to Long Island with the neon orange sticker screaming my alleged moral decrepitude to all the other drives of Long Island. I was the Uncle Buck of Flushing. I parked my truck in the parking lot of the bar/restaurant where I met my friends and hoped not too many people would notice the blazing orange sticker—the scarlet letter of parking scofflaws—besmirching the good name of all there at Hooter’s of Farmingdale to watch people pummel each other on pay-per-view.
That night, after watching Conor McGregor triumph without apology in his main event fight, I drove back home and found another parking spot on that same stretch of street. I didn’t want to tempt fate but no way will I let vandals determine where I park, and it’s convenient. Since it was near where the vandalism took place, it was convenient from the standpoint of reporting this matter to the law.
The next day I called my local police precinct and reported the crime. The officer on duty took my phone number and said officers would call when they were on the scene. A few hours later I got a call from the police and went to meet them where my truck was parked.
Three of New York’s finest were there to meet me. I showed them the sticker on the passenger window and noted that the truck had been parked completely legally on a public street only a few feet away from where it was not situated.
The police said they couldn’t report the vandalism as vandalism since there was no damage to my vehicle. I told them that this was indeed a crime, though not a serious one. That someone cannot just put stickers on someone’s property without their permission.
“It’s probably one of these property owners around here that don’t like you parking here,” said one of the cops.
I certainly didn’t expect them to assign their top detectives to this case or launch a task force to find the sticker vandal, but I at least expected them to report the crime, minor though it was.
Likely it was one of the homeowners that lives on that stretch of road. My neighborhood has quite a few very entitled homeowners who think they can claim portions of the public streets as their own parking domains. Some place traffic cones in front of their homes to claim parking spaces.
Being a homeowner doesn’t entitle you to claim public land. If you want to live on a street you own, become a millionaire and live on one of the private streets in Forest Hills.
After the police left, I got two cups of boiling-hot water, some paper towels and a scraper. I held the paper towels over the sticker while slowly pouring each cup over them, letting the hot wet towels sit for several minutes over the sticker and partially melt the clue holding the sticker onto the window. After it was softened up, I scraped the sticker off without any trouble.
Whatever jackass put this sticker on my truck surely thought I’d panic and try to scratch the sticker off my window like some kind of berserker. No such luck. I won’t let my First World Problems get the better of me, I’ll let the snotty haters in my neighborhood bask in the glow of pride that I have in my beat-up pickup truck.
RAMONES and the quest for Queens’ artistic respect
The Queens Museum is a site of pilgrimage for punk rock fans from all over the area thanks to its Ramones exhibit, which is open until July 31.
I made it there not long ago one weekend after seeing friends posting photos of their visits there over social media for the last several months. It is a fine exhibit, one long overdue in the borough that gave the pioneering punk rock band to the world. I made a point to wear my Norman Bates & The Showerheads t-shirt when I visited, because one great Queens punk band deserves another.
The exhibit is colorful and brief. It’s only two modest-sized rooms and a screening room. I went there with my family, which means that a good deal of our time was spent stopping our two and half year old twin girls from banging Tommy Ramone’s snare drum. We didn’t have time to really take all of it in, maybe we should have gotten a sitter.
But as rushed as our walk through the exhibit was, it was important to be there. Queens is often overlooked in the pantheon of New York City artistic greatness. But Queens has given the world not only the Ramones but Johnny Thunders, Run-DMC, Simon & Garfunkel and more. Queens doesn’t get the respect it deserves – all the outer boroughs carry with it that basic desire to poke their finger in the eye of the city being defined as Manhattan.
One thing that the contemporary adoration of the Ramones tends to obscure is that they were grossly underappreciated when they were a functioning group, at least here in the U.S. I remember going to see them in 1989 in Connecticut and they were playing at Toad’s Place in New Haven, an admirable music club but a small venue (it was a 21+ show and I had no fake I.D.). When I finally saw them in late 1995, they were playing a larger venue, but as part of a shitty alternative radio show, headlining but sharing the bill with the unworthy likes of Better than Ezra and Silverchair (the oft-hated Silverchair were actually very good to be honest).
Queens is fully embracing its Ramones fame. Murals of the Ramones now grace Forest Hills. There are plans to rename the intersection next to Forest Hills High School Ramones Way.
The Ramones who moved to the East Village in the 1970s could not afford to live there today. While the Joey Ramone Place street sign is the most stolen in the city, the area looks nothing like it did when the Ramones first played CBGB in 1974. The refrain is a familiar one: New York is no longer affordable to the artists who made New York’s art scene famous. The artists I know don’t talk about New York, they speak of Philadelphia, Buffalo, or Berlin. New York’s East Village is a victim of its own success in a lot of ways. I’m not ready to give up on New York just yet, but it’s easy for me to say that from Flushing.
To be a punk rock fan in New York City means to constantly wrestle with nostalgia. There is a rich history to celebrate, but nostalgia can be a trap as much as a motivator.
New York continues to produce great punk bands. You may have to travel farther away from Manhattan and the trendy parts of Brooklyn to see them, but great local bands, the Ramones of tomorrow, are playing somewhere in Queens today.
The Queens ethnic supermarket shuffle
When a local supermarket closes down, people scatter like ants seeking safety. Our area of Queens is seeing two stores close down over the next few weeks. It will be interesting to see where shoppers will go before these stores are reopened.
The scene in the Waldbaum’s on 20th Avenue in College Point, Queens was a sad one. More than half the shelves were empty. Where abundant displays of vegetables once stood were now vacant. Everything was on sale. Products in the aisles were consolidated onto a few shelves. As I was checking out, a woman asked if she could have my shopping basket when I was done; she couldn’t find another one anywhere.
Local supermarkets throughout Queens are being sold or closed after the A&P, which owned several supermarket chains, declared bankruptcy earlier this year. The local ones near where I live are supposed to be reopening. The Waldbaum’s will reportedly reopen as a Shoprite later this year. The Pathmark near our home is supposed to reopen as a Stop & Shop. Both are closing down in the meantime leaving people wondering where they are going to shop.
Food shopping, like much else in New York City, is a generally ethnically segregated affair. There was a Key Food in the shopping center right behind our home. It closed and is now Good Fortune, a grocery store that mainly caters to Chinese shoppers. All the announcements on the PA are in Chinese and many of the people who work there speak no English. Some of our neighbors refuse to go but it’s not a bad store. If you’re looking for fresh fish they have a lot of it, and they even kept a real deli, but if it’s too early in the day and the deli person isn’t there, none of the multitude of Chinese workers will help you other than to tell you in the best broken English they can that you are shit out of luck.
One thing I noticed when I first visited Good Fortune is that there is no cash register #4. The cash registers skip from register #3 to register #5. The Chinese believe that #4 is bad luck. The word for the number four is similar to the word for death in Chinese, so Chinese will go through great lengths not to have the number four in their addresses or phone numbers. Similarly in western cultures there is often no 13th floor of an office building because of bad luck associated with that number.
A few blocks down the street is the H-Mart, a Korean grocery store. It’s smaller and does not have a wide selection, though on Fridays you can go through there and practically eat an entire lunch’s worth of food in the form of free samples. This supermarket also has odd sections of electronics and other things you don’t normally find in a grocery store; maybe that’s a Korean thing. Their selection of non-Asian foods is pretty dismal and we rarely go there. A few years ago supermarket union workers protested outside of this store asking people to boycott it because it had no black or white employees. I haven’t seen these protesters in a while. I don’t normally go to this store but I’ve never seen a black or white employee there to this day.
So some people are not going to shop at the Asian supermarkets and they’ll soon get the chance to shop at their old stores, renovated and under new management. Some have taken to shopping at some of the smaller stores in Whitestone and some will shop at the nearby Target.
New York’s ethnic cauldron will continue to boil and churn. Luckily I don’t mind shopping among the Chinese and will stay well fed.
Just another weekday explosion in New York City
It was a quiet Wednesday night and we had just managed to put our girls to bed when we heard and felt an explosion. Even though it had been raining, there was no way that this was thunder. The explosion was quickly followed by a burning smell. We looked out our windows but did not see anything. The burning smell persisted.
A few short minutes later a legion of emergency vehicles arrived. Fire engines and police cars with screaming sirens and lights ablaze rushed down Union Street. The fire trucks positioned themselves near our building as police cars rushed passed them to block off traffic coming in both directions. The problem seemed to be coming from across the street, but we couldn’t tell what had happened. Was there a burning vehicle? Did someone detonate a car bomb in our neighborhood? Was there a meth lab in someone’s apartment that caught fire and now toxic chemicals are in the air?
I decided to investigate, taking a basement exit in case police were blocking off the front entrance of our building. When I got to the front of my building there were many people on the street already there to bear witness to the events. I noticed smoke coming from an open manhole on the street. A firefighter was connecting a hose to the fire hydrant nearest our building. The hose led across the street.
I encountered a Spanish-speaking man who was standing near my building. I asked him what was going on. In thickly accented English he told me that he saw flames coming from a building across the street and he had called 911. He didn’t know what had happened but he saw flames and smoke coming from a manhole and a building. A South Asian woman wrapped in a traditional sari came by and spoke with us. She mentioned that she had been saying her prayers when she heard the explosion; the burning smell had driven her from her apartment to investigate.
After chatting with these neighbors I headed across the street where there more people gathered. One of the buildings was completely dark and it was towards there that the firefighters were all streaming. Police officers and fire officials talked to one another as more FDNY personnel arrived. A few more fire department vehicles showed up. A Q44 bus found itself trapped, hemmed in by first responders on both sides. Its driver stood outside the bus talking into a cell phone before signing off and standing there resignedly.
As I stood watching, a friend, J. Dip, approached me. He lives across the street. I know him through music: he plays guitar for New York hardcore stalwarts Bloodbeat. He lives in a building next to the affected one and told me that he heard and felt the blast and saw flames coming from the basement windows of the next building as well. He told his wife to be ready to move their kids out of their quickly and he went to investigate. We talked about other things: how we were doing and what our lives were up to. He and his wife are expecting a third child in November. We are both still playing music, but life slows down a bit when you have kids.
Another bystander said that it was likely an electrical fire and explosion caused by corroded wiring. He explained that with the large quantities of salt put on New York City roads during the winter months, some salt seeps underground and corrodes utility cables there. When it rains later in the year, water can touch those exposed wires and cause fires and explosions.
That seemed like the most plausible explanation, and the firemen were not evacuating any buildings, so my adventure was done. Con Ed trucks were already pulling up to start fixing things as I walked back across the street for home.
This was some excitement that one might think would make it onto the television news or merit a mention in a newspaper, but nothing doing. There were no fatalities or grisly injuries. “If it doesn’t bleed, there’s no need,” would be the appropriate adage for lack of news coverage.
So no big deal, just another explosion in New York. We live in one of the largest cities in the world and the infrastructure is always being revised. Sometimes by tragedy or accident, sometimes by design, New York always reinvents itself. As long as this metropolis stands, its story will be one of grinding, sweat and broken concrete, of taped-off work zones and slap-dash detours. We’ll face them all down, one odd weekday explosion at a time.