Friday, March 25, 2011

Take the "A" Train

Interior of Far Rockaway "A" train, 1969

I have never understood my fascination with the New York City Subway.  I started riding the subway in the late sixties, taking a torturous route that involved a three mile walk from North Woodmere to Central Avenue in Cedarhurst, a bus trip from Cedarhurst to the last stop in front of the Queens Borough Public Library, and then walked another few blocks to the Far Rockaway subway station, the last stop on the "A" train.  I didn't ride it often, but it was always a grand adventure.  The "A" train is elevated all along the Rockaway peninsula, and over Jamaica Bay into Broad Channel and Howard Beach, and I stared out the windows the whole way.  I had grown up in a very protected, insular environment and I was beginning to see the rest of the world, or at least, the rest of the city I'd been born in.  Once the train went underground at Grant Avenue, the view was even more fascinating.  Dark, mysterious tunnels, flashing lights, the shrieking of metal on metal, and best of all, the passages through dimly lit abandoned stations.  I never tired of it, even when I started commuting to the city on a daily basis.  Working first on Sixth Avenue near Rockefeller Center, and then later on Wall Street, I had the opportunity to travel on all different lines.  With my subway map in hand and a pocketful of tokens, I was fearless.  I never drove in Manhattan; I always took the subway and then walked.  The last time I rode the subway was in 2002.  We had traveled from Florida to New Jersey for Number Three Niece's Bat Mitzvah, and then headed over to New York and Long Island for a few days.  We rode from midtown down to the IRT Wall Street Station and walked all the way back, drinking in the street sights and the architecture.The subway was as fascinating as it had always been, and I especially enjoyed sharing the ride with my then 15 year old son.  I'm hopeless, I know, but I still spend a lot of internet time perusing sites that celebrate the subway, like nycsubway, and Forgotten NY

My parents never took mass transit; it was a point of honor that they drove their own cars.  Never mind that my mother had no sense of direction and got heart palpitations when she drove.  That was after my brother, then about age six, fell out of her sky-blue Rambler onto busy Flatbush Avenue.  Even before I got my driver's license, she had severely curtailed her driving, and once I was licensed, she never drove again.

According to my Pop, he learned to drive on a two-ton Mac truck, hauling coal for his father's business.  Pop was a character, and the tale may well be apocryphal, as he claimed to have been just 14 years old.  That would have been around 1922, and driver's licenses were not too carefully regulated, so I suppose it could be true.  There is no question that he loved driving, and he loved cars.  He took meticulous care of each and every one of them, spending a relaxing Sunday listening to the radio while hand simonizing one of the 1962 cars my parents owned at the time - a lipstick-red Chevy Impala and a fawn-colored Cadillac with fins that stretch halfway down the block.  He knew his way around Brooklyn "like the back of his hand", and had a well-refined sense of direction which I fortunately inherited.  But in all our discussions about the old days in Brooklyn, he never once mentioned to me riding the subway, or a bus, or even a trolley.  Nor did he ever ride on the Long Island Railroad.  In fact, the only family member of that generation who rode the LIRR was my great-Uncle Red, and that was only when he somehow divined that his little sister, my mother, had made chopped eggplant.  It was my mother's story that he could somehow smell when she prepared it, and she stuck to it.  Since he lived in Brooklyn and we had moved to Long Island, that was a pretty good trick, but my uncle was an interesting man and my mother used very sharp white onions in her eggplant.  Uncle Red - actually his name was Irving - had been born in Russia in 1899, and came to the United States with his older brother, my great-Uncle Max, a sister Rose who died long before I was born, and their mother, Chasie, for whom I am named, sometime around 1904.  He played music by ear, and had the most wonderful sense of humor.  He always called me "Cinderelder" and although we did not see him all that often, my memories of him are sharp and happy.  When I was about seven years old, he gave me a gold Star of David, with the turquoise enamel center, and I have worn it ever since.
Pop and Mom, Uncle Red, Aunt Mildred (his wife) and my Aunt Anna (I'm guessing here). Probably taken sometime during the late forties. 

I haven't made chopped eggplant in years. Although I often think about chopped liver and chopped herring, I hadn't thought about chopped eggplant for a very long time until my cousin Cary contacted me from California, asking if I had the recipe for the chopped eggplant his mother used to make.  Since our mothers were sisters, we assume they both prepared the same recipe, or at least close enough not to matter.  I gave him the recipe, and asked if he had the requisite double blade hand chopper and wooden chopping bowl with which to prepare it.  I was never able to find those very old-fashioned items in any store, and although I faked it over the years using a single blade chopper and a metal bowl, the eggplant never came out as good as Mom's, because I couldn't get the right consistency and degree of emulsification from adding the oil at the end.

"No, I don't," he wrote back.  "I guess I'll try using the food processor." 

Genius.  My cousin is a genius.

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