Sunday, May 31, 2009
I walked through the old neighborhood for the first time last night.
I was on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx with my aunt, sister, and girlfriend, who lives a short distance—though a world away—from the Italian enclave on Arthur Avenue.
We had spent a fabulous day at the New York Botanical Garden, wandering over through so much greenery we forget we were in New York.
It takes just under forever to get to the garden by subway from Bay Ridge, but you can get there in 20 minutes if you take Metro North from Grand Central.
Plus you get to pass through one of my all time favorite sites in New York, which provides entertainment, a history lesson, and fabulous architecture along with a transportation hub.
While waiting for our aunt to arrive, I saw a lady get on the ticket line with three huge parrots resting on her.
She was pulling a large cage on wheels, but I guess she wanted to give her crew some fresh air before packing them in the carrying case.
For a second I thought she was peddling stuffed parrots, but then two of them started gnawing her head, confirming they were the real thing.
It would be something if they took off and started flying around Grand Central. (Are you supposed to put salt on their tails to keep them from flying? Or is that for frying?) Fortunately they stayed put.
The garden is beautiful and for just six bucks you can walk over the place.(My girlfriend, being a Bronx resident, got a dollar off the entry fee.)
You have to cough up 20 dollars if you want to go into the greenhouses and take the trams that drive all over the place, but on a sunny day like Saturday, it’s much more enjoyable to walk.
I usually go to the gardens in the winter for the annual model train show at Christmas. Each time I do it, I always tell myself that I should come to the garden when it’s warm. And then I don’t.
We walked through the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden and then on the forest trail where we walked by a waterfall—remember this is still the Bronx—and down to a canoe landing area.
My aunt is a budding bird watcher, so she had brought along some binoculars for close-up views of birds and other wildlife. I could used them to watch the parrot lady in Grand Central Station.
Birdwatchers are depicted as kooks and weirdoes on TV shows, but I was rather enjoying myself. We spotted a rabbit near some bushes and I zoomed in on him with the spyglasses.
He took off just as a tram drove by us and my aunt said we never would have seen the little bugger if we’d been riding the van.
We were beat by closing time, however, and the tram driver gave us a lift back to the front gate. From there we walked down to Arthur Avenue with the intention of going to the restaurant we knew in the neighborhood.
It was too long a walk, however, so we asked a group of people-clearly several generations of one family—for a good restaurant. The old man group told us of one place a few blocks away.
“Tell them Tony the dentist’s father sent you,” he told us.
Arthur Avenue and the surrounding streets really like a little world onto itself. Like the Botanical Garden, it’s this special area with the big city. I felt like an explorer and a local at the same time—being half-Italian I sort of fit in, right?
The restaurant was very good—a nice local joint with good food and no attitude. The only drawback was a group of about 10 people making enough noise to sound like 30 people.
The biggest loudmouth of the group started to tell what I’m sure was a racist joke—I heard the line “there was this black guy...”—before he dropped his voice and continued talking. The group laughed a few moments later.
My girlfriend is from the Virgin Islands and hearing this clown made me angry. The thing is I’m pretty sure I know the joke this guy was telling. A joke is harmless unless it hurts you. Then it becomes personal.
We got out of there and walked around the neighborhood with the outdoor cafes, bars, and people all over the place. We went by Tony the dentist’s father’s house to thank him, but the house was dark. But I’m sure we’ll be back soon enough.