Living the High Life (Line)

High Line – then

The New York Central Railroad ran its last train, three cars filled with frozen turkeys, along the lower-Manhattan West Side Line in 1980. The elevated spur line opened in 1933. For eighty-plus years prior to that, the New York Central used tracks along 10th and 11th avenues to transport commodities it the heart of New York City. Heavy rail did not mix well with street traffic. A 1910 study estimated 548 fatalities and 1,574 other injuries along what came to be known as “Death Avenue.”

The Westside Improvement Project, begun in 1929 and spearheaded by the infamous Robert Moses, included an elevated railroad spur to replace the grade-level tracks. The new line ran through the middle of blocks instead of over the streets, enabling the unloading and loading of rail cars inside warehouse and factory buildings. In true Robert Moses fashion, construction necessitated the demolition of 640 existing buildings.

High Line – now

After the railroad had abandoned the line, property owners along the route agitated for its demolition. A citizens group formed to promote its re-purposing. Thus was born the Friends of the High Line. After years of debate and red tape and searching for funding, work began in April 2006 for the new High Line Park.

The pedestrian-only park has become popular with residents and tourists alike. Visitors stroll along its mile and a half length, in some parts alongside rusted tracks left as a reminder of its history. Since the elevated park’s opening, the storied and deteriorating Chelsea neighborhood has seen a revitalization. New residential construction has risen along the High Line’s route. Rents are higher than neighboring apartment buildings and new residents are now complaining about the tourists. The Whitney Museum’s new digs recently opened at the base of the park.

The Friends of the High Line is responsible for the park’s maintenance and has done major fund raising for its support. They also are adamant that the park is for everyone’s enjoyment, as evidenced by prominently-placed signs.


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Yuletide Love

Darlene Love came on stage to sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on The David Letterman Show in 1986. She was dressed in jeans and backed by Paul Shaffer’s similarly-attired four-piece band.

A full orchestra with backup singers, all in formal dress, and a stage elaborately decorated for the season supported her final Letterman appearance in 2014. Decked out in a sparkling red gown, Ms. Love’s performance of the song had become an annual tradition on Letterman’s Christmas show.

Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” written by Brill Building songwriters Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, appeared on the 1963 album A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records. (Later issued as “from Phil Spector”) Phil Spector brought his “Wall of Sound” to the Christmas season. Darlene Love’s voice is also heard on the record in songs performed by The Crystals and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. The album is considered a classic and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” has been recorded by dozens of artists.

Phil Spector and Darlene Love

Phil Spector produced hit records by the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers, the Crystals and others. The so-called British Invasion in the mid-sixties put his success into eclipse. The Beatles and other English groups took over the pop charts. Spector faded into the background and became a recluse, working only sporadically.

Darlene Love had been working since the 1950s, mostly with her group the Blossoms, doing background vocals on numerous recordings. She came into her own with music produced by Phil Spector. By the late sixties, her star, too, was fading. While Spector was ensconced in his Los Angeles mansion, wealthy with royalty income, Darlene Love was cleaning houses in Beverly Hills. (No royalties for her.) She had been working on a comeback, singing in small clubs in the L.A. area, when she caught the attention of Letterman.

Spector is currently in prison in California, serving a nine-years-to-life sentence for second-degree murder. Al Pacino played the part of Spector in a TV movie.

Little Steven and Darlene Love

Darlene Love, meanwhile, was featured in the movie about back-up singers, “20 Feet From Stardom.” released a new album, ironically titled “Introducing Darlene Love,” produced by E-Street Band guitarist and Sopranos strip-club operator, Steven Van Zandt. Long-time fans Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Joan Jett, Linda Perry and Jimmy Webb contributed songs.

A Holiday Reminiscence

My Mother’s personal Christmas frenzy began on Christmas Eve, after a house filled with a husband and six children calmed into relative tranquility. She settled herself at the kitchen table with her cigarettes and bottle of Pepsi-Cola and wrapped presents. I suspect she was secretly pleased when the children were grown, or at had at least attained a certain level of maturity, so she could wrap presents with pristine paper, not the wrinkled, leftover scraps. (And so she could decorate the tree to her taste.)

In addition to raising children – I was one of them – Yvonne “Mike” Rothert was a journalist. She became food editor at the Portland Oregonian and was a driving force in the transition from “Women’s” news to serious food writing. She later was assistant editor of the Northwest Sunday supplement, when the newspaper still published a Sunday feature magazine.

One of her published works was a reminiscence of Christmas growing up in depression-era Iowa.

Writer Remembers Rich Memories of Christmas During Depression Days

Yvonne Rothert

Can the plethora of modern toys offered to the gadget-minded children of today possibly be treasured with the love that was lavished long ago on the cloth-bodied “mama” doll dressed by a weary mother, or give as many hours of pleasure as the “jigsaw” puzzles homemade from calendar pictures glued to cardboard and cut with painstaking care by a hard-pressed father?

Christmas in a small Midwestern city in hungry depression days is remembered with tender nostalgia and a late-developing gratitude to parents who were somehow able to create a wealth of family tradition, riches beyond counting, from the least of material things.

It was a time of delightful anticipation, of making crooked potholders from long knobby strings of “spool-knitting” or nearly impregnable pin-cushions tightly stuffed with cotton batting.

There was the glorious trip to the ten-cent store with a carefully hoarded fund of pennies and nickels, to augment a child’s homemade gifts with truly remarkable treasures.

Toys, sparkling jewels, perfumes as exotic to a child’s untutored senses as the finest from Paris; more household gadgets than mother could ever figure out how to use; glassware and figurines that rivaled the loveliest in the jewelry store down the street – a veritable treasure house of beauty almost too much for one small shopper to encompass. Miraculously, a penny or two always remained to drop in the red kettle on the corner to the tune of the reminding bell. “Christmas dinner for the needy,” the sign said. Though age brought disillusionment, for a few years at least those last pennies put turkey on the table for the red-eyed, blue-nosed Santas who stamped their freezing feet at every street corner, faded costumes sagging on gaunt frames as their hand-bells tolled the constant plea.

What magic to join the crowds of Christmas shoppers hurrying homeward in the late afternoon, the street lights already glowing against the early winter darkness, each with a halo of its own light reflected on the snowflakes in the surrounding air.

Away from the busy stores, the snow-muted street and sidewalks were eerie white canyons between the head-high walls of shoveled snow.

Home to the warmth and sweet aromas of Mother’s traditional Scandinavian Christmas goodies, the julkaka, the fattigmand bakkelse and the spritz, to plead for “just one” before they were stored away, like the jewels that they were, until Christmas Eve.

Then the night of nights, when Mother was sure to recite:

“Hang up the baby’s stocking;

Be sure you don’t forget,

For the dear little dimpled darling

Has never seen Christmas yet”

And Father would read “Twas the night before Christmas,” with the children hanging on every familiar word and joining in the most-loved parts.

Stockings were hung as recommended, by the chimney with care, not specially decorated Christmas whimsies, but freshly laundered everyday ones, those tan ribbed affairs that were pulled up each morning over the lumps and bumps of hated long underwear.

“Visions of sugarplums” really danced for small dreamers snuggled under heaps of hand-tied comforters, while Jack Frost touched up his own crystalline window decorations.

The first sound to break the stillness of Christmas morning was metallic clanking through all the warm air pipes as Father “shook down” the furnace, carefully banked the night before. Somehow he always managed to be up before the earliest stocking-seeker, to shovel in some coal and let the house begin to creak through its morning battle against the deep cold of the night.

The established rite was for everyone to pile on Mother and Father’s bed to explore the stockings’ contents, exclaiming over what Santa left in an unspoken agreement not to disillusion still-believing parents.

Lumps and bumps filled the stockings again, more grotesque and infinitely more exciting than their everyday variety. The first big bulge was the apple, the long thin space in the center the banana, and the rounded heel held the orange. In the toe, always, was a handful of shiny, never-used-before pennies. In between were the hard candies that always stuck together, peppermints and fruits mingling in a special Christmas flavor, and assorted tiny treasures. Santa must have shopped the ten-cent store, too.

Then began the interminable wait as relatives gathered for the tree itself. Santa confined himself to stuffing stockings; all other gifts were under the tree, to be peeked at but not poked until everyone was present.

Breakfast oatmeal, choked down on other winter mornings, was impossible on Christmas, a fact which Mother never seemed to grasp fully as she tried to make it festive with raisins and brown sugar.

Uncle Max and Aunt Margaret were the first to arrive, merry and round, Mr. and Mrs. Claus in mufti. Childless themselves, they spent their love on us and any other available children. In traditional red, Uncle Max was yearly the jolliest of Santas for the American Legion’s children’s party.

Grandma and Grandpa were always a little late, because they stopped to pick up Great-Aunt Cora. Each year she had a new sauce to try for the plum pudding, one that could only be made on Christmas morning. As we waited we could imagine her presiding over the saucepot, stately and imperious. She dominated the family with a steely will which could be penetrated only by children, who found the chinks in the armor without trying.

For some years Great-Grandfather Hicks was there, he of the white goatee and New England ancestors. After the confusion of the great gift-opening, he would grudgingly join in the parlor games which were part of every family celebration. “Ridiculous,” he would mutter as a child approached with the old “Button, button, who’s got the button.” When it came to “Animal, Vegetable or Mineral,” though, he sat on the edge of his chair and outdid us all.

Who will be remembered by the next generation? Will our Christmas today be recalled with the same warm feelings? The answer lies in our hearts.

Dreaming of a White Christmas

drifters-white-christmasRCA Victor records released Elvis’ Christmas Album on October 15, 1957. (Way back then, records were released; today they’re dropped.) Time magazine called the album “a crime against Christmas . . . all of which should guarantee it’ll be on the top ten overnight.” Time was right; the album spent four weeks at number one on Billboard’s LP chart. It is the largest-selling Christmas album of all time. Al Priddy, disc jockey at Portland’s KEX radio was fired on December 7th of that year for playing “White Christmas” on the air.

holidayinnonesheetIrving Berlin composed “White Christmas” for the 1942 movie “Holiday Inn.” Bing Crosby’s crooning of the song was such a hit that a movie built around it was released for the 1954 Christmas season. The story goes that Berlin called Presley’s rendition of the song a “…profane parody of his cherished yuletide standard,” and put pressure on radio stations not to play it.

Elvis’ Christmas Album begins with the King’s version of elvisxmasLeiber & Stoller’s lascivious “Santa Claus Is Back in Town.” Side A, showcasing the secular side of Christmas, also included “Blue Christmas,” which has since become a standard. Side B featured sacred songs, such as “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Elvis copied The Drifters’ interpretation of “White Christmas,” which reached number three on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues chart three years earlier. Presley was a fan of The Drifters and their lead singer Clyde McPhatter, who later went on to a solo career. He covered several Drifters’ songs. The Drifters weren’t white, so their desecration of “White Christmas” was not perceived as a threat in the white world. Their version of the song came into the mainstream when it was featured in the 1990 film “Home Alone.”



Santa Rosa Update

The Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that it had removed household hazardous waste from 5,500 properties in Napa and Sonoma counties, three-quarters of those destroyed or damaged by fire.

Sonoma County has begun process of adjusting tax assessments. The Assessor’s office was not damaged, but was closed for several days because of mandatory evacuation. Fortunately, aerial views simplify assessing properties that have been reduced to ash. Others, in rural areas or suffering partial losses, require on-site inspections and will take longer. The fires occurred the same time tax bills were being prepared. Tax revenue will obviously be lower; the real hit may come next year. The city of Santa Rosa estimates it has lost a third of its tax base.

The California Insurance Commissioner estimated insured losses will exceed $3 billion. Rebuilding costs will be high. Property owners will need to decide to rebuild exactly as what was lost, with required code upgrades, or to make changes. Shortages of contractors, construction labor and basic building materials will drive up costs. Renters, in what was already an extremely tight market, face uncertainty about what their landlords will do. Many will leave the area to find employment and housing, likely to not return.

Who is coming to Santa Rosa? Lawyers, swarms of lawyers, from all around the country. Although the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, law firms, eager to sue Pacific Gas & Electric, are invading Santa Rosa. As a former resident of Santa Rosa once said to journalists sleuthing the Watergate story, “Follow the money.” The giant utility PG&E has deep pockets and of course, is widely disliked. Sparks from power lines downed by high winds are one possible cause of the fires. The attorneys aren’t waiting; they’re advertising on billboards and TV, and setting up town-hall style meeting for prospective clients. And if PG&E lawsuits don’t work out, there’ll be plenty of other generally loathed, big-money targets to sue: insurance companies.

Report from New York Marathon

My daughter Maureen has completed her 17th marathon, this one in New York. Here is her report.

One week ago I completed the New York City Marathon. As you know, I decided to raise money for Team Fox for Parkinson’s Research, in honor of my father. I was amazed and overwhelmed by your generosity – together we raised $3,375! I want to thank you again for contributing, it means so much to me.
For those who are interested, I wanted to let you know how it went on November 5th. The NYC marathon is the largest marathon in the world; this year, 50,766 participants finished the marathon. The course starts on Staten Island and makes its way through all five boroughs, to finish 26.2 miles later in Central Park. Security is very, very tight – even more so after a man drove a rented pick up truck onto a crowded bike path in lower Manhattan on October 31, killing eight people and injuring eleven more. To get to the starting line, runners must take a bus or ferry provided by the marathon organizers. I caught my bus at 6:30 am and it took nearly two hours to get to the start village on Staten Island. I passed through a metal detector with my clear plastic bag holding my supplies – you are only allowed to take bags provided by the marathon organizers. There were police and National Guards everywhere, some holding big rifles. I was in the third wave, so I spent the next couple of hours waiting for my 10:40 am start time.
It was an overcast day, not windy, moderate temperature. We started on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and immediately crossed to Brooklyn. My plan for the run was to keep to a steady, easy pace, with hydration breaks every two miles. I know all about the pitfalls of getting caught up in the moment and starting out too fast, and I did a good job of pacing myself across the bridge. As we crossed the bridge, the only spectators were police and city employees, there for security, but they still cheered the runners as we passed; one police officer was blasting “Eye of the Tiger” from his squad car, the first of three times I would hear that song.
When we reached Brooklyn, we started seeing people lining the course, cheering, waving, holding signs, playing music, and giving high fives. This was my first glimpse of what I had heard so much about – the incredible atmosphere of the NYC Marathon, where nearly the whole city comes out to cheer and celebrate. We continued through Brooklyn into Queens, and I was doing well sticking to my plan. Because of security rules, I could not wear my hydration backpack and instead had to use a belt with a water bottle; I had my electrolyte drink in my bottle, and took water from the stations on the course, which meant I had quick walk breaks every couple of miles – I’m not coordinated enough to drink from a cup or bottle while running. But these little breaks were probably good for me.
To get to Manhattan, we crossed the Queensboro Bridge, on the lower deck. The bridge is about a mile long, with a long, steady incline for much of the way across. There are also lots of metal seams in the bridge, and you really have to watch your step; by now, it had been misting for quite a while and everything was wet. I saw a woman ahead of me slip and fall on the ramp coming off the bridge; she jumped right back up and continued running, so I hope she was all right.
I knew my sister, brother-in-law, and my husband were going to try to see me at the Queensboro Bridge, and I was right on schedule, but the crowds were so huge, I could not see them. Nor did they see me – unlike other marathons, I was always running in a pack, it never really thinned out. From there we turned up First Avenue and the crowds were tremendous. The Queensboro Bridge had taken a lot out of me, and while I felt as though I had recovered, by mile 18, things started to hurt – not that I was injured, but that my legs just started to hurt, perhaps due to lactic acid build up. By the time we reached the Willis Avenue Bridge to cross into the Bronx, I was having to take more frequent walk breaks, and my goal of finishing under 4:30 was starting to look out of reach.
We were only in the Bronx for a couple of miles before crossing the Madison Avenue Bridge back into Manhattan, making our way to Fifth Avenue, and heading towards Central Park. Even though I was now hurting pretty badly, I was still able to enjoy running through Harlem, where a woman on the sidelines, seeing I was struggling, stepped off the curb to blow her whistle and yell encouragement to me; those moments give me a lift that I can’t describe. By now, probably at least five hours after the first wave of elite/professional runners started the marathon, the crowds were still out there, cheering us on, all the way through Central Park, and across the finish line. My official time was 4:44:37 (30,414th place!).

Maureen McGovern approaching finish line

Because of security, I could not meet my family at the finish line; but they got to see me cross the line, thanks to my father getting tickets for the finish-line grandstand. Knowing that my family is waiting for me helps me to push through. I can’t say enough about how much it meant to me to have them there. And, thankfully, I eventually found them – I had to walk another half a mile to exit the park – and we all went out to celebrate.
A couple of additional thoughts:
I was pretty excited to run NYC this year in particular, because several of my running heroes would be there, including Shalane Flanagan, who lives and trains in Portland. When I finally found Kevin after exiting Central Park, one of the first things he told me was that Shalane won! She is the first American woman to win the NYC marathon in 40 years, and it was a commanding win – she finished a minute faster than the second place woman. (If you need a pick-me-up, watch her cross the finish line.)

And I have to give so much credit to the City of New York. To put on such a huge event, to keep everyone safe, to have it run so smoothly – and to do it all with such good cheer, is an amazing accomplishment. Every New Yorker we encountered seemed so proud of the marathon, so supportive, so happy to have us there. I have never experienced anything like it.
Thanks again to everyone who supported me on this journey.
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