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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My Summer of Love – Part 2

Port Authority Bus Station

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.