Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Misty in New York

Rainy days in New York are beautiful, especially on the Upper West Side. Here Verdi Park and the West 72nd St. train station in mist and a lovely bit of gloom.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mornings Go to The Dogs in Central Park

Every morning from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., Central Park goes to the dogs...and it's delightful to watch. Every dog enjoys a good romp but New York City canines, who spend so much of their day padding around apartments and napping, take to the open spaces of Central Park with special gusto.

For three hours each morning, and five each night (from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.), dogs rule...and they seem to know it!
On a recent morning, one stood above the rest, inspired by Central Park's famous statue of Balto The Sled Dog no doubt.
Others met new friends...

while others joined old pals at Bethesda Fountain for a morning gab fest.

Not all areas of the park welcome unleashed dogs - the Bridle Path, Shakespeare Garden and Strawberry Fields for example - but these playful pups don't seem to mind a bit.

On this morning, a woman crossed the Bow Bridge surrounded by dogs. She carried herself so regally that I wondered if she might be the queen of Off-Leash Mornings. She stopped to watch me take pictures. "You know, off-leash hours used to be a courtesy...then dog haters tried to get rid of them. We fought back." With mischief she added," Now it's the LAW." She continued her stroll across the bridge, leash in hand, a commanding presence in a doggy domain.

She may have been Central Park royalty afterall or perhaps she was one of the thousands of New Yorkers who make their way to Central Park each week to delight in seeing it go to the dogs each morning. Either way it seems that our dogs' rights to frolic are well-assured.

You can review off-leash rules, find useful numbers for dog-related issues and join Central Park Paws, a program of the Central Park Conservancy for dog owners, by clicking here: http://www.centralparknyc.org/visit/general-info/dogs-in-the-park/

Monday, November 14, 2011

An Autumn Walk on the Upper West Side

Manhattan is beautiful year-round but it seems at its best in Autumn, especially on the Upper West Side.   

The morning sun gilds these Upper West Side brownstones.  

It's misty and peaceful only along West 73rd Street. The roar of Columbus Avenue nearby seems muted.

Autumn colors are at their peak along Central Park West.

A lovely morning or splendor in the park? Daniel Webster seems lost for just the right words. 

 Signs of hurricaine damage but it's more fun to think this tree, in delight, eased down its limbs to touch the dew.

A pedi-cab driver commutes accompanied only by the rustle of leaves and a gentle whirr of wheels.

An Autumn in New York view through a canopy of color.

The Last Candy Store

If you grew up on the Upper West Side between 1950 and 1980 in the West 70s near Columbus Avenue you belong to a small tribe. You also recognize the following name as a trigger for memories of a neighborhood long gone: Joe's Candy Store.

A Verizon store now stands at the corner of West 75th Street and Columbus Avenue where Joe's commanded the block for almost three decades. Peel back the years, tear up the floors and strip away the many coats of paint, wallboard and fixtures and you might see what this little storefront was like thirty years ago.

Everyone made a stop at Joe Leibowitz's candy store at least once a day and everyone left with a lot more than just a sweet snack. It was the place to rush into for a newspaper then linger around the stacks of Daily News editions and New York Posts to catch up on neighborhood gossip with Joe and Mrs. Leibowitz. You might get updates about who died, news about a rent-controlled apartment being sublet for cheap, hear a joke, learn about someone's graduation, someone else's promotion. If you bought a new car, this was the corner to park and let regulars at Joe's, "The Neighborhood," ooh and ahh and maybe tease you a little bit: "A Jaguar, look at the big shot. Can I borrow a few dollars." "A Fiat! You mean a fix-it-again-Tony. Good luck!"

If it was a hot day it was the place to cool off at the magazine racks while getting yelled at - "What is this, a library." Egg creams were sipped at the formica counter lined with battered red stools. On rainy days neighbors would duck in, complaining about the weather, while shaking out umbrellas on the chipped tile floor. Damp newsprint filled the air on those days along with the scent of bubble gum, violet candies, rubber bands and everything else that made an old candy store feel so familiar.

In one way the corner of West 75th Street hasn't changed - it's still about communication. Today's version involves Verizon employees addressing your cell phone issues. A few decades ago it was Joe helping neighbors stay connected. Neighbors would leave messages for each other at the store and Joe made sure those messages were picked up. The old wooden phone booths in the back were filled with yellowed phone books and received a steady stream of crank calls but they also helped store patrons stay in touch. Someone might call to see if a friend was in the store. When Joe answered the caller would get a straightforward answer. If one of the neighborhood teens that made Joe's their hangout answered between rounds of playing street hockey, the caller would get an earful of silliness. Those boys - Joe, Louie, Jose, Meatball, Kenny, Jocko and more - loved, argued with, joked with and protected Joe Leibowitz and the old man returned it all with gusto.

The bartering system was alive and well along that strip of Columbus Avenue when Joe's Candy Store was around, a fact I discovered while helping my high school sweetheart fill in for Joe and Mrs. Leibowitz on occasional weekends. Simple things, like holding keys, providing change for laundry or holding that special parking space on the corner for a neighbor would be returned generously. Cheescakes from Miss Grimbles arrived with frequency as did gourmet sandwiches from the cheese shop a few doors down, pints of ice cream from the first Haagen Dazs in NYC, free t-shirts from a boutique on Columbus Avenue and an open invitation to borrow rollerskates any time from a sliver of a storefront next door.

Joe's Candy Store couldn't survive the commercial rent increases that gentrification brought to the Upper West Side in the 1980s. Efforts by Ruth Messinger, councilwoman for the Upper West Side at the time, were furiously backed by neighbors and fans of the Leibowitz's but in the end the store's rent jumped 300%. The Upper West Side lost it's last candy store and a neighborhood lost the simple little store that held its heart.