Bars and Tracks
grew up in on Bronx Park Avenue between Tremont Avenue, 178th and Wyatt Streets. My neighborhood was very much like others in the Bronx - large apartment buildings, private homes, small stores, and empty lots. But we had two very distinguishing features to my neighborhood.
The first was that on the corner of Tremont and Bronx Park Avenues (“four corners”), there was a bar and grille on three of those corners. Each one of these bars was entirely different from the others and each one drew its own particular crowd. Being children, my friends and I were strictly observers of the passing scene, but on spring and summer evenings we would sit on the stoop of my building - 382 Bronx Park Avenue - and watch who was going into which bar.
We quickly learned which bars were frequented by our parents’ neighbors and friends, and even by our parents themselves. In those days, the late forties and fifties, the neighborhood bar was a combination meeting place, community room, and just a place where neighbors and friends could sit, have a beer, and enjoy each other’s company.
My friends and I would long to be all grown up so that we could walk into one of the bars, especially the Starlight Grille, which was the fanciest and sat right on Tremont Avenue.
We would listen to the music coming from each bar and depending on what was playing on the jukeboxes, we would get closer to the bar with the music we liked best and sit on the curb listening. During the long spring and summer evenings as we sat and did our nocturnal observing, we would discuss our futures: what did we want to be when we grew up, where did we want to work, how many children did we plan on having, and so on. I remember once, it must have been in the early 1950’s, talking about the year 2000 and how old we would all be. My gosh , we would all be in our early sixties; who could imagine such a thing.
The hours would go by, the music would be playing, the folks going in and out would stop and say hello and, once in a great while, someone would treat us all to a Bungalow Bar. Then it would be time to say goodnight – usually our mothers would be yelling our names out the kitchen window to come on home. We would stall for as long as we could and then all go in for the night, only to start the process all over again the next evening.
The second special feature in my neighborhood was the elevated train tracks that ran across 178th Street and Tremont Avenue, which was right off Bronx Park Avenue. I think these tracks eventually became part of the Conrail system, but no trains ran on these tracks at that time. They had long since ceased to function as working tracks. But, oh, what a treasure for a bunch of kids. We climbed all over those steel structures that started at ground level and went up to just below the tracks where there were secret spaces and lots of great views to be had.
Fortunately we were not able to reach the tracks in our climbs – I don’t know if they were electrified or not – but it didn’t matter since we couldn’t reach them anyway. You knew you were someone to be reckoned with if you could climb up the structure to the top, find a place to sit, and then heckle all the other kids who were too afraid to make the climb. We would spend hours climbing all over the structure and paid absolutely no attention to how dangerous this activity was. We would be a considerable distance up from the street, but who cared.
The steel beams ended in concrete blocks at the sidewalk level on 178th Street and these made great benches to sit on and relax. One of our favorite activities was to throw a rope over one of the lower steel beams, make a swing, and then kick ourselves off these concrete blocks and fly out over the ground as far as we could go. Of course, it quickly became a contest to see who flew out the furthest clinging to this rope, which quickly became an argument, and resulted in someone having to stand at the farthest point where you could possibly reach swinging on this rope to see who went the best distance.
Under the structure was also the place where we started our hide and go seek games. As the person who was “It” counted off to one hundred, we would all scatter down 178th Street to Bronx Park Avenue and if you really didn’t want to be found, go all the way to Wyatt Street and down to the lumber yard which was at the end of Wyatt.
Usually, after a couple of hours of no one finding you, it would be time to circle your way back to 178th and try not to get caught by the person who was “It” before declaring everyone “home free” before either starting all over again, or just sitting back down under the structure and relaxing.
What fun those days were and how I would love to see all those folks again. Never mind – I have my memories.