After a week at Canada’s centennial celebration, Expo 67, immersed in the sixties’ version of the future, I rode the Greyhound to New York City. My seatmate was a lady who said she was escaping from Montreal after a summer of tourist congestion. She also complained about the fair’s cost to the city.
The Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan was impressive with its several stories of ramps with buses arriving and departing. I found the bus to Staten Island and a couple hours later knocked on the front door of the home of my father’s World War II, fellow B-29 crewmember. His family put me up for the night. He, along with his teenage son, took me on a brief tour of the city, the highlight being Nathan’s Famous at Coney Island. A hot dog was a dime, a beer was a nickel – consumed standing up outside – and the drinking age at that time in New York was eighteen.
I met up with Vince the next day. We rented a room at the Sloane House Y.M.C.A. on 34th street, near Pennsylvania Station. A room with two beds, bath down the hall and towels included, was $5.20 a night.. We visited a saloon, sat at the bar, feeling sophisticated with our drinks and a complimentary bowl of pretzels in front of us. One visit and one drink was our financial limit. Pushcart hot dogs provided our daily sustenance.
My father’s buddy worked as a cameraman for the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He arranged tickets for Vince and me a couple days later. My one regret of that trip has stayed with me. Martha and the Vandellas were headlining at the Apollo Theater. People convinced us that two white boys would not be safe in Harlem after dark. Newark and Detroit had suffered rioting earlier that summer. Harlem had its violence three years before, in 1964. I will never know if we did the right thing; Martha and the Vandellas at the Apollo would have been memorable, though, I am sure.
We spent much of our time in Greenwich Village. Music clubs there admitted all ages, no alcohol served. Admission to a name act was $2.50 plus a one-drink minimum. A soft drink cost $1.50, an inconceivable amount. For the buck-and-a-half one was brought a vat of Coke.
The Bitter End featured a British singer who had recently left a popular band and as a solo performer had a hit record that summer: “Brown Eyed Girl.” Vince and I and maybe two-dozen others were entertained by Van Morrison, accompanying himself with guitar and backed by a bass-guitar player and a drummer. During one number with an extended “psychedelic” instrumental break, several in the audience left.
Another night we visited the Café Au Go Go, where the Blues Project gave what was announced as their final performance. The opening act was a folk duo, the Times Square Two, whose lead singer repeatedly told us he didn’t give a rat’s ass whether we liked them or not. For some reason, they never made it big. During the Blues Project’s set, they announced that a couple of its members were forming a new band, rock ‘n’ roll with horns. Al Kooper and Steve Katz went on to found Blood Sweat & Tears.
We also took the Circle Line boat tour around Manhattan Island. The tour guide addressed the perception that New York in the sixties was not safe. He opined that yes there were places best avoided at certain times, but a good rule to follow is “Stay where the people are.” That principle has served me well in the decades since.
We were given seats, not together, on our flight home with a stop in Chicago. The gate agent reminded us we were flying standby, the flights were full and do not get off the plane in Chicago; we could lose our seats. We didn’t and made it back home in time to resume college life.