Wednesday, February 13, 2019

From the days when New York was really cold.

When I was a kid it seemed to me that winters were much colder than they are today. Some of this can be verified through data. I think the last five years have had the four warmest winters on record, or something like that.

But that's just a statistic. Better is my memory of what winter was like back 40 or even 50 years ago.

I remember putting on big black rubber galoshes with heavy metal buckles and tramping to school in snow that buried us up to our knees. I remember making atomic snowballs for the marathon battles we would have before school and after school. Freezing snowballs in slushy water or embedding small pebbles inside them to inflict maximum damage to friends who were temporarily our enemies.

Dangerous as that horsing-about sounds, no one ever got hurt. No one's eye ever got put out. Our arms were too weak, our aim too erratic, and our winter clothes' padding too thick for anything to wound us.

We'd hide behind snow forts or drifts of snow and accumulate 50 snowballs, and then we'd pelt passing cars or garbage trucks plowing the streets. On occasion, an angry driver would stop his vehicle and run after us, calling us "hoods," or "delinquents," or worse. But we always made it deep down the street before we were ever grabbed and caught.

When I was in college on the Upper West Side, we had a terrible cold snap. It must have been below zero or in the single digits for a week or more.

In those dark days, New York was torn by crime. Burglaries and muggings and car thefts and hold-ups were the rule, not the exception.

The news spread around my neighborhood that two kids had robbed a little fruit and vegetable stand that was located on Broadway.

The store-owner gave pursuit, but the kids ran west, across Riverside and into Riverside Park. In short order, they were being chased by a police car which made its way through the park and over the snowy hills like a Soviet T-37 tank.

The cops were getting closer and the kids hopped a fence, ran across the West Side Highway, hopped another wrought-iron fence, tumbled down a small hill and onto the frozen-over Hudson River.

A crowd had gathered to watch the imbroglio. Half were rooting for the kids, as people always root for kids to get away from the cops, in our best-societal Jimmy Cagney manner. But half were rooting for the cops. The kids had attacked, in effect, the very neighborhood in which we lived. They had attacked our safety and our security and we were angry. 

The cop car stopped before the highway, and the burly police just watched the lithe kids make their escape. There was nothing the cops could do to chase them down.

When the kids got about half-way across to the Jersey-side, the ice in the shipping channel gave way and the boys fell into the murk. They struggled to get out, but they could get no hold on the ice and were stuck. In moments a Police tug chugged their way breaking ice as it went. Two more burly cops grabbed a boy each and hauled them into their boat. The boys were quickly wrapped in blankets and that was the end of that. Whatever they had lifted from the store--whether it was a package of tomatoes or $47 in small bills--had either sunk to the bottom or was left out in the water to eventually wash ashore when a thaw came.

I don't know what happened to the boys--if as cops might say in flat-foot patois, they caught "ammonia" from the frigid brack, or if they got 72-hours in the Tombs, the old municipal jail down on White Street. They might have been given dry clothing, been cuffed around a bit by the cops and then turned over to their parents for more knocking around. I've tried looking the story up in the Times, but there was so much crime 40 years ago that unless someone famous was mugged, or someone was killed, not much made the papers.

So that's that. 

But for one more small point. Whenever someone starts telling me how cold it is, how rough the weather is, I say, did I ever tell you about the kids who robbed a store then tried to run across the iced-over Hudson to get away from the fuzz?

They say, "the Hudson iced-over?"

I nod the nod of an old-timer.

And that usually shuts them up. 

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