A cool breezy day, supposed to warm up into the 50’s later, right now I’m driving to my mechanics shop. My Saturn is making lots of noise under the hood since the drive home from work last night, and if I’m right this could cost me a ton of money. I could junk it but I don’t have any money to buy a new car and I can’t take on a lease payment every month. Besides after spending $$$ on a new alternator in August 0f 08, and new front brake pads, calipers, and rotors in October of 08, and a starter and belt in November of 08, plus the new radiator, thermostat housing, fan, and fan switch I had put in late in 2007 I just can’t see junking the car right now. My credit cards are maxed out from that and two oral surgeries I had late last year so I have to borrow credit from my folks. I have to have a car to get to work so we don’t lose the house-it’s that simple. When I get to the shop I have the mechanic listen to the car and he confirms my worst fears, it’s the timing chain and guides, which could cost upwards of $700-1000! It’s a blow to my aching head but I tell em to go ahead. I’ve got no choice, and to add insult to injury…I’ll be without the car for five days.
So after dropping off the car I walk through my town in search of coffee and breakfast, it’s strange to be home from work walking around like this but I also have had pain in my left eye for days so after I eat I’ll walk to my eye doctors office and see if I can be squeezed in for a consult. In this commercial side of town I pass under the railroad to get to Broadway, our Main St where even Nixon toured during his campaign for the White House. I pass the car wash as delivery trucks of all kinds roll by in both directions, banging hard as they hit pot holes left by the snowplows this winter feeling suddenly that my small town is not so small anymore, it’s grown big and Queens-like.
I turn left at Broadway and walk along in the wind while people honk at each other then hit the gas anxious to get to work, doom on those who are late-our masters don’t allow us slaves to be late. I finally find the place I’m looking for Comida Hispana, it’s all the sign says but I think it’ll be good, a small place kinda like a trailer perched right on the corner of E.Barclay St and Broadway. This location has been a pizza joint, a palm and tarot card reader, a deli and now Spanish food.-I’ve never been here before but I’m sure I’ll find something good and simple.
I go in to find a deli counter with a tantalizing array of food. There’s lots of fried eggs, two kinds of rice, two kinds of beans re-fried and whole with garlic, potatoes with onion and veggies, and various meats swimming in brightly colored gravies. The fiftyish woman behind the counter with bleached blond hair is pleased to see me, I don’t think many white people come here to eat, especially a weird mix like me with retro longish hair, boot cut jeans, and an overcoat wearing a scarf tied like a tie and glasses. She is pleased when I order scrambled eggs with tomato, peppers and onions. On my left is serve yourself coffee, I get me some and sit down on a stool by the window, three small tables, three stools, that’s it for seating. There are a few men sitting here eating or drinking coffee and listening to a radio show and laughing occasionally. The smiling lady comes over and asks me if I want my eggs on a roll and is very happy when I ask for a platter, she is so cute. I’m also asked if I want beans and when I agree she is floored, but when I refuse the offered roll again in favor of a hand made tortilla..then she is blushing and rushing off to get the gringo his meal-total authentico for me por favor. I get another coffee and when I come back my food is there for me. My new Spanish step-mom rushes to point out that she has given me both kinds of beans to try, I thank her and start to eat. The hot eggs with crispy peppers and onions and sweet tomato’s is real good, clean food without sauce or condiments it doesn’t need any of that. The beans and tortilla are delicious, good hearty food on a bad day, I’m going to need this meal today, I’ll be on foot most of the day. I pay for my food and the owner asks me how I liked my food, I tell him it was great and his wife charges me only four dollars for a six dollar meal. I leave with a smile and nod and begin walking to my other destination, my eye doctor.
I arrive shortly at the office of Dr. Stephanie Becker, she is a class act, more than just a doctor a surgeon with a heart of gold, an upbeat personality and good looks. I call her the supermodel eye doctor, even if by industry standards she’s too petite for the runway. She has great taste in clothing and always presents to her patients smartly dressed and professional. Still I would love to see her in a pair of hip hugger retro faded bell bottoms, a worn out Rolling Stones Lips belly shirt with a ciggy in her mouth, her hair down, a glass of wine in her hand. But she’s married, and doesn’t smoke so that’ll never happen. She could rock that! “It’s just that demon wine that’s got me in it’s sway”…
I leave the office and start walking back to Broadway to get my prescription filled (another Stones reference?) after first waiting for the doors of Sears to open for a quick pit stop. I walk down Broadway past the old Baskin-Robbins location, now an Indian bakery and on the other side of the street is Utopia, a 60’s head shop that sold love beads,tie dyes and lava lamps that started out as a store in the mall is now a three level store with body piercing, smoking paraphernalia, adult novelties, fine collectibles, wiccan supplies, clothing and shoes, gifts and bric-a-brac. They cater to the tastes of hippies, goths, punks, rasta’s, the artsy and outsider types. Further down is the building that used to be the Briarcliffe Secretarial school which moved and became my Alma Mater, Briarcliffe College, an accredited college offering degrees in business, computers, criminal justice, graphic design, etc. Right next to that is Smith Pharmacy, I remember coming here as a kid and playing in the old phone booth, all wood with a seat inside. It’s still there with a new commercial phone inside but authentic, the business has been passed to Maya, the owners daughter and a mother of three. She always has a kind word and remembers to ask about your family. I get my eye drops and walk past the intersection where my mom, brother, and grandmother crashed into a steel pole (that has since been removed) back in 1979. I pass the old location of Habby’s Tavern, their faint painted advertisement can still be seen on the side of the brick building above the bar. I sometimes wish I could time travel and see it how it was, they advertised “Chicken in a basket” as their claim to fame.
I turn off Broadway and walk behind the firehouse passing Peppercorn’s Restaurant, where me and my ex-fiancee’ were taken to celebrate our engagement, how could we know promises end as the song goes but that was long ago. I stop in a bodega for a coffee, it’s getting colder now the sun has been clouded over and I’m cold. Going down E.Marie St now I begin passing through an area of the town I always loved. There were many distinct homes here with unusual architectures, beautiful hand set stone facades, Tudor style fronts, and others with fish bowl glass windows, a few remain but all the huge trees were cut down to make the street wider. Now saplings line the street and I walk in the wind as a pair of pure breed miniature Collie’s bark at me through their fence with tails wagging in the wind.
Eventually I come to what used to be Redeemer Lutheran Church, now a Korean church, as a young teen we used to hang out down in the ramp that led to the basement of the church and smoke cigarettes, talk our bull, and speculate on the mystery of girls. The old field next to the church yard used to be a farm, I remember seeing a horse, geese, ducks and kittens when I was a kid. One woman took care of a group of men who worked the farm until it was abandoned, the house was knocked down and the whole field became overgrown. Someone built up earth mounds and trails and it became a mini bike and bicycle jump ramp heaven for us and the older kids. The secluded areas became a place where young hippies used pot and got naked with each other, the police were often called in to investigate campfires and complaints over noise from mini bikes and dirt bikes.
It took years but the town finally cleared the land and built a park with lights, two playground with all the trimmings for the kids and a sports field with room for cheering parents and a small parking lot with flags and memorials to fallen soldiers from Hicksville. The place where we used to spy on the hippies from the cover of bushes is now a water district pumping station. I cross the street to see the side of my own yard, I’ve got lots of work to do this spring I think as I walk in through the side gate. It turned out to be a good day despite the expense of my car, at least we can pay for it and move forward. This was a unique opportunity to walk through my town and see it in a whole new way I hadn’t done in years.
When you walk with the ghosts of your past, some haunt you, others taunt you, then some tap you on the shoulder and say “Remember Me!”, while others walk beside you and put a reassuring arm around your shoulders. Times may be tough but I have been here before, tougher times are yesterdays hard won knowledge. It took many years and a long walk to make that point hit home.