What Happened to the NY Bagel?

I’ve been in NYC for three days and have yet to have a bagel, which is kind of remarkable. Bagels and real Italian food are usually my first stop.  I was due to leave today (am on the Acela now, Washington-bound), so this was my last chance.

The other day, heading to the 4 train, I spotted a likely spot just inside Grand Central.  It was called Bageli, or something like that, and I drew the conclusion it would have, well, bagels.

This morning, though, I discovered it had all sorts of other breads, artisanal spin-offs of traditional ethnic fare including a very tempting poppy and fig strudel-y thing.  But I wanted a bagel, so headed downstairs to the food hall.

On the way I passed fully armed guardsmen in camouflage, bullet-proof vests and enough equipment hanging off their belts to … do what?  I’m not sure, but they looked prepared. I remember how this heightened level of security became commonplace after 9/11, and I’ve certainly gotten used to see it everywhere.  But it still made me sad.

Arriving downstairs, I saw a stand for “meats and dairy” and felt I was close to a genuine New York bagel.  I approached.  Yes, they had poppy.  This is something you can’t get in Alabama.  Besides the fact that what passes as a bagel in places like Panera Bread is in reality a small loaf of bread, it also comes in bizarre flavors like Asiago and blueberry, but not in the quintessential and rather pedestrian poppy.  What is that about?

I also saw that they offered just the right selection of spreads.  No raising walnut, or strawberry cream cheese.  No.  they had plain cream cheese, cream cheese with scallions, and lox cream cheese.  I ordered a poppy with the lox spread.

His next question caught me by surprise, just like the select bus on 23rd Street yesterday.  “Lettuce and tomato?” he asked.  I must have looked at him as if he’d lost his mind, and then collected myself.  “No.”

Toasted? he asked next, another option that was never offered in my youth.  “Is it fresh?” I countered.  He nodded.  I said, “No toast.”

 

 

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The Sunday Drive and Pictures 10 & 11

While Lifelongernewyorker did not walk five miles to school — uphill both ways — she did grow up a while ago.  Things were different, as these pictures suggest.

First, the occasion: Nothing special, just a Sunday drive.  That meant that, shortly after church and breakfast (rolls and butter, as I recall), my father would say, “Who wants to go for a drive?”  The question was probably more ritual than real inquiry: of course we would go for a drive.

The cousins kept their church clothes on for the Sunday drive.

We girls kept our church clothes on for the Sunday drive.

With my two sisters and cousin (part of many such excursions before her parents left Brooklyn for Long Island soon after this photo was taken), we piled into the ’55 Pontiac. I’m not sure if I was still, at about three years old, sitting in the “child seat” — a contraption that hooked over the back of the front seat and featured a small plastic steering wheel so the kid could pretend to drive. Designed for distraction, not safety, you can think of it as the 1950s death trap for tots. If not, as the youngest and least powerful, I certainly sat in the middle, over the hump.

The destinations varied.  More often than not, we stayed close to home and went to the Prospect Park Zoo, the path along the Shore Parkway, or the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza. But my father liked to drive, so we also ventured farther afield, often to Bear Mountain or West Point.

My mother rarely came along.  As I’ve noted in earlier blogs, she had her hands full taking care of us, my grandfather and the house in general.  My father’s job was to get us out from underfoot.

The only item missing was the glovrch, or to West Point.

Why the fancy clothes?  Readers: girls wore dresses in those days, pretty much all the time. Pants were rare, and reserved for play.  You didn’t wear them to school, or to church, or to visit West Point.

So, are the differences merely ones of style? Not entirely.  Allow me to employ my teacher voice (as if I ever leave it behind), to point out the larger social, economic and political forces that have swept away the circumstances that brought us to West Point that day:

  • The women’s movement has changed what we wear, who does the driving and whether it’s mom or dad who does the cooking (or ordering out).
  • Repeal of the “blue laws,” which kept stores of all kinds closed on Sunday, gave people alternatives for Sunday activity.  Now we can shop at Home Depot in the morning and return home to work on that DIY project in the afternoon.
  • Technology, of course, means that we’d see this as a video taken on the smartphone in full color, with sound, rather than as this short still moment captured on black and white film (or fil-lem, as my father would have said).
  • OPEC and the gas crisis of the 70s pretty much killed the Sunday drive as fun family pastime.  Gas prices have never gone down, and we’ve lost the habit of heading to the car for no good reason.
  • Was there even programming on TV on Sunday afternoon besides Fulton Sheen?  So much more to do today.

I’m sure the list could go on.  What are the big forces, technological innovations and social mores that have intervened? Add a few of your own theories in comments.

And note, please: No rose-colored nostalgia, or laments about how those were better days.  Remember what’s not in the picture: my mother back home in the kitchen, cooking, ironing or maybe doing some special project like waxing all the floors. We girls got to watch the cadets, but dared not dream that we could ever be one.  Didn’t stop for a game of catch.  Got maybe nine miles to the gallon of gas. No seatbelts.  Little kids perched in deathtraps.

Things Change — Here’s Proof and Picture #4

Ice floated in the harbor and the twin towers were under construction.

Ice floated in the harbor and the twin towers were under construction. (Photo: Lifelongnewyorker)

freedom tower

The Freedom Tower today. (Photo credit: waltermonkey)

I bought my first camera — a 35mm Konica rangefinder — in the summer of 1970, between my freshman and sophomore years of high school.  It cost about $75 — pretty much what I earned in one week in my first summer job as a filing clerk in an office on 17 Battery Place.

About a year later, a friend gave me an SLR, an Edixa Prismaflex.  A German camera that posed no threat to Leica, still, it served me well for 15 years.

This photo was taken in winter 1971, from the deck of the Staten Island ferry. Ice floes in the harbor testify to the coldness of that winter; every winter seemed frigid in those days.  The buildings under construction are the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Construction workers had been out in full force during the summer I worked in lower Manhattan.  In those days, they joined guys working on the exchanges to line the streets at lunch hour, eat their hero sandwiches and leer and make lewd comments directed at the women passing by. Really.

That summer, the WTC site was a giant hole through which ran the Hudson Tubes (now the PATH trains),  supported by a combination of trusses and hangars that didn’t look all that secure. In my memory, the tunnel was more or less suspended in midair.  From the 23rd-story windows in the office, meanwhile, I could look out and watch trucks dump fill from the WTC excavation to create Battery Park City out of a sectioned-off arm of the Hudson River.

Today, of course, another tower is rising from the WTC site.  And recently the river tried to reclaim Battery Park City during Hurricane Sandy.  And when were ice floes last seen in the harbor, I wonder?