It was August of 1981. The top shows on TV were Dallas, Dukes of Hazard, the never-ending M*A*S*H, and the Love Boat. If you tuned in on the FM stereo of your compact stereo and played WPLJ, you probably would be hearing songs like The Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up", Joan Jett's "I Love Rock and Roll", Foreigner's "Waiting for a Girl Like You" (for which later on that summer would be my "ode" to Becky Soto, my soon-to-be-soon-not-to-be girlfriend, and "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey, which would also become an ode to my all-time girlfriend of the past, Tricia Lang.
I was living in Laurelton at the time, and outside of rubbing legs under the desk with one Ellen Corker at St. Francis Prep, I basically was an utter nerd. My moments of "cool" were limited to when I went over to Jimmy Quinn's house down the block from me, and listened to his AC/DC albums, like Powerage, and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. And now, "Black In Black" was a big staple of ours as well.
I swear that the movie Fast Times At Ridgemont High, was a dead ringer for Jimmy and I. Jimmy was Jeff Spicoli, and I, unfortunately was Mark 'Rat' Ratner. And if you don't believe me....
How is this for an uncanny resemblence?
Jimmy, like me, lived in a connected tudor. Except, unlike me, he was the corner house, so he had a little more prop than I did. The street behind us was a driveway to all of our backyards. Backyards for which served many fond, and painful memories for me. The neighborhood was largely African-American, and when I mean largely, I mean like there were 17 white people in an area of 3,000 or more. Besides my family and Jimmy's, who incidentally had a black Stepfather, the only other caucasians in the neighborhood were Manny and Connie across the street from us, and Jack and Reba right next door to us. Jack was like 150 years old, but was active. Unfortunately, he also thought his IQ was the same as well. He was very pompous.
Jimmy and I bonded right away. He actually found me. Came right to my door one day in the Spring of 1980, and asked if I wanted to play or do something together one day. My relationship with my best friend from OLQM in Forest Hills, Doug, was unfortunately not as great as it once had been, and this was due to the fact that I no longer lived in Rego Park, so the commute between Laurelton and Flushing was reserved for the weekends at best.
Jimmy and I would chew the shit about everything. One day, while I was playing wiffle ball on my front stoop (perfect 5 brick steps up for the strike zone), he was talking about how he likes it when we would do those walks to the Sunrise Multiplex Movie Theatre. Perhaps, I concluded, it was because we used to find different colored ticket stubs (each theatre had a different color) littered all around outside the theatre. We used to collect as many as we could. I came up with this elaborate plan that we would pay to see one movie, but then after the movie was over, use ticket stubs from another theatre and get in. We could see 2, 3, even once 4 movies in one day for the matinee price of 1. It was glorious. And, since there were no computers yet spitting out the movie info, or anything that would result in this stopping us, it was flawless too.
That's the wonderful thing about being a kid. Summer vacation. Talk about feeling free. Working now for the last 28 years, I can tell you that not a moment goes by where I don't long for those kind of days. I felt like a king back then. Wake up when I want, and living in the basement, I basically went to bed when I wanted to too.
We agreed that we needed to rest, and as Jimmy was telling his mom, Ann, about this exciting jaunt we were about to embark on, I was heading home to 130-38 229th Street to do the same. Despite how much I may have complained about how strict or unfair my father and stepmother might have
seemed to me, there were other times that they were liberal, too liberal. True, I was 16 years old, but I don't think that if my son told me that he was going to walk dozens of miles through the streets of God-awful neighborhoods, that I would have permitted it. Then again, things were different back then...Yes, they were. It was a more violent place! Perhaps, I was afforded the luxury to do what I'm about to tell you, simply because I did a good job at concealing the truth, even at the young tender age of 16.
The next morning, I woke up at 5am. The sun wasn't even out yet, and it was already warm. Typical for an August morning. As I was finishing my Pathmark no-frills brand corn flakes, I could already see a shadow approaching the front door from our stained glass windows in the living room just off the front door. It was Jimmy.
I didn't want him to ring the bell, because as it was, I already felt I was getting away with murder, and didn't need to draw any additional attention to what I was going to do. All I know, is that I was excited, enough to wake up at 5am. Jesus, I don't even get up that early when I would get up to go to school, and as it was I had to walk several blocks and take 2 buses just to get to Prep!
I gingerly high-footed my way to the front door, and let him in, shushing him before he could make a peep. He wanted to laugh, because he knew he was just as crazy as me. A few minutes later, after I had remembered to take the maps and my keys with me, we left the house.
We started up 229th street towards Merrick Boulevard. This was the way I would walk to get the 1st of 2 buses enroute to High School. Only, when we got to Merrick, we made a right turn and proceeded to follow its straight path northwest.
|Singing--"The Q5, backing into the suuuuwahhhhh!!!"|
Merrick Boulevard is not a place where one would want to walk thru if you were white. At least back then, anyway. But even as a master tactician, I had figured we would only go through here once, in the early morning, to ensure that we would be safe. Hence, I was right. The stores were all closed that Sunday morning, and the streets utterly bare and void of any life.
By the time, we finished talking about the Boston Red Sox (Jimmy's favorite team), our parents, our siblings, girls, Rubix Cube, and Rush and the Marshall Tucker Band, we were already 4 miles into our jaunt and making a left onto Hillside Avenue.
|The tall behind dead ahead? 175-20 Wexford Terrace. My home from 1970 until 1975.|
Hillside Avenue already held a plethora of memories for me, for when I was 5, my mother Salud and stepfather, George Seims, had moved us into the Camelot at 175-20 Wexford Drive, Jamaica Estates, NY. It was right up the road from where we were walking through. Just a look to our right and one could easily see the big yellow building, prominently displayed at the fork ahead. It was also near Immaculate School, the first school that I went to in my life. The school where my grandmother, Rosario Rodriguez would walk me by the hand to the Dalny Road entrance. Memories, memories and more memories. Memories already had. Memories still being forged, and more memories to come for sure, especially the ones with a girl who had gone to Mary Louis Academy school for girls directly across the street from the Camelot.
Jimmy and I made a left on Hillside instead however and went into a direction that I was much more familiar with. Fresher memories of those in Forest Hills, a great place to live and grow up. When we approached the "Ideal" motors sign, which BTW, is still there, we made a right hand turn and headed up for what seemed forever up Queens Boulevard.
It was a sunny day with a warm, but dry wind. The weather conditions were perfect for this walk. Of course, when one is a sixteen year old boy, the last thing on your mind is sunscreen, or back then sun tan lotion. I did pay for it dearly the next day for sure. I felt like the 'extra crispy' recipe at the Church's Fried Chicken on Merrick in St. Albans, Queens.
|Dawn Kane, 1st true crush. lol!|
|Carmen & Lexi in front of Alexanders|
As impressed as we already were with how far we had traveled, I didn't even want to think of how much more we still needed to go, so we pressed onward. Next came L.I.E., then the Macy's rotunda along with the little house that refused to move that was tucked between it and the Citibank. Next was the Elmwood Theatre, the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway), and on and on it went. One landmark at a time, one memory at a time, and all good things going on throughout.
Before long, the "7" el was alongisde us, as we marched down Sunnyside. On the otherside of the el would be White Castle's. It was of no significance to me then, but years later when I would make movies about my family, I would come to learn that this exact location was where my father got his first job ever while in the United States back in 1961.
Another reason for doing this trek on a Sunday morning, was because we had to make sure that the pedestrian footpath on the Queensboro-59th Street bridge would be available to us at that time. Crossing that bridge seemed like it took forever for Jimmy and I, the wind howling, and making a mess of our long hair.
Anyhow, including that jaunt when I was 12, the only other time I remember going to Manhattan since then was when my Dad took me to Benihana's in the city when I graduated OLQM, and one time later, when Jimmy's dad and his girlfriend took us to the Museum of Art on the Upper East Side. I was really itching to go back to Central Park and explore everything.
Oh, to be young!
madness that he had to endure during those years.
Little did Jimmy and I know that by the time we reached Jackson Heights, we had completed what was essentially a marathon. 26.2 Miles. We were a little tired but nothing to get concerned over. Back then, I don't even know if I knew what a marathon was, let alone the distance behind it. All I knew is that we needed to keep going. And so, we did.
Still while on Northern (Blvd). we passed Shea Stadium and not long after that we came up to the RKO Keith's theatre on Northern and Main. I mentioned to Jimmy about potentially roping Doug in. It was already about 1:30 in the afternoon, and we had already walked 30 miles by now. So, we went down Main Street, passing by the McDonald's where I would inevitable wind up just a year later in October, and made it to Blossom Avenue.
I buzzed from downstairs, and after a few, we got buzzed in. Doug opened the door. It was dark inside. He looked like he was sleeping, or perhaps listening to his music. Whatever the case was, the lights were all off, and the shades drawn. Normally, I would've instantly recognized this as the Universal Sign for "Leave Me Be", lol. Growing up dissolutioned quite a bit, I too had several 'dark' days myself, where I just wanted to be left alone.
My testosterone, adrenaline, what have you, disregarded these 'signs' and in my 'gung-ho' behavior, tried to get Doug to come with us. Funny as I look back now, for where was he going to go? Walk to my house and go back in the middle of the night? Though, I'm sure my Dad would have let him sleep over, so it wouldn't have been a problem.
Doug wasn't up to it, however. Jimmy threw his hat in the ring trying to convince him that it was so sunny outside, and that it's too late in the day to be in such darkness. Big mistake, lol! In one of the many famous phrases that he and I have coined over our 34 years of friendship, Doug uttered, "I like the dark." And with that contribution having finally seeping through our gung-ho-take-no-for-an-answer attitude, we finally realized that he wasn't coming. Perhaps if I had been a better friend, and had told him in advance or our insanity, he might have opted to come. Then again, since when do teenagers plan anything correctly? I was a typical teen, I guess.
I remember Jimmy and I leaving feeling bummed, and talking about Doug for a while there while we headed back north on Main, and continued east on Northern Boulevard. It was already 3 in the afternoon. But we still had a loooong way to go....
Foodwise, I don't remember much at all about this journey, except for some reason, the thought of White Castle on Bell & Northern seems to ring a bell to me. Two miles later, after we had left Bayside, we were passed the Cross Island Parkway, and in Douglaston. It also had meant, that soon we would be heading south, and heading home.
We made a right turn onto Little Neck Parkway and were now heading south, and crossing the 36 mile mark. By now physiology finally stepped in. I could feel my legs were sore, and even my arms too. Jimmy was also hurting a bit. Both of us were sunburned from lack of proper planning, and our pace was getting slower (no longer the 13-15 minute per mile pace, it seemed, though what did I know? I don't even think I had a watch on!!!!)
We crossed under the Grand Central and then the LIE highways finally coming up to Union Turnpike in the Bellerose section of Queens. We had gone 38 miles by now, our bodies holding up, but barely. Still, I was amazed at what we had done thus far, as we kept conjecturing how many miles we had traveled. 40? 50 miles? Nah, just 38. JUST 38. LOL.
My legs were getting worse, and we would stop from time to time to collect our thoughts, and energy. I remember being low on cash, thus, yes, we did spend money for snacks along the way. And no, we didn't eat PowerBars to maintain our output. There was nothing like that at the time. Twix Bars and Snickers were about as much energy as one could get back then. Oh yes, and Hostess Cupcakes, Snowballs and Dolly Madison Zingers too. :-)
We were walking in a strange neighbohood now, and on a strange road (Plainfield Avenue), and while we weren't walking through such a bad neighborhood, like Cambria Heights (as it was bad back then-and maybe now still), it was getting unnerving. It was already 6pm in the early evening, and it took us 3 hours to go 10 miles, meaning we were only averaging slightly under 20 minutes per mile.
When all was said and done, we got back to our home nearly at 8pm. We had left the house at 6am, and 14 hours and 46 miles later, our mission was complete. For many years, I had thought I had done 60 miles but 46 miles is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, I wonder if I could ever do that much mileage again running OR walking!
Home Sweet Home or Hole Sweet Hole? (after all I was a basement dweller...)
I was sore and burnt from the walking and the sun. And the next day, I could hardly move, but I think I accomplished something for which very few New Yorker, heck, humans, could muster to accomplish. What a day!!!