Thursday, 20 September 2012

1971 Autumn in New York City

listen to WABC's Top 100 for 1971:

Myself in Times Square on 20th November 1971... they say the neon lights are bright on Broadway...

Billboard's Top 5 on 23 October 1971

1.  Maggie May  - Rod Stewart
2.  Superstar - Carpenters
3. Gypsys, tramps and thieves - Cher
4.  The night they drove Old Dixie down - Joan Baez
5.  Do you know what I mean? - Lee Michaels

That's me wearing a yellow pom-pom hat holding a cigarette on my lips. The brown velvet jacket I had brought along from Brazil, so I had to wear a red cardigan under it to brace to New York autumn. I used to smoke mentholated Salem! I became a fan of Black people's fashion and colour-coordination and tried to adopt their attittude somehow. 

The Allied Chemical Tower in the background was originally built by the New York Times and completed in 1904 to serve as its new headquarters. The paper's owner, Adolph Ochs, successfully persuaded the City to rename the surrounding area (then known as Longacre Square) after the newspaper, becoming Times Square

In 1913, only 8 years after, the Times moved its corporate headquarters to West 43rd Street which served as its home until 2007. On 6 November 1928, an electronic news ticker known as 'zipper' was introduced near the base of the building. The zipper originally consisted of 14,800 light bulbs. 

Look at me, Mum, on 42nd Street. As one can see 42nd Street was already degenerating into a shabby section where people with little money could go and watch double-featured sessions and spend the whole day there doing nothing. I used to love watching those Hammer-horror movies... 42nd Street was heaven for me!!! Remember Jim Brown? He was big then.
Jim Brown just being sexy and good looking. 
1971-1972 winter in New York City... with the statue of Liberty far away...

Billboard's Top 5 on 20 November 1971

1.  Theme from 'Shaft' - Isaac Hayes
2.  Gypsys, tramps & thieves - Cher
3.  Imagine - John Lennon
4.  Baby I'm-a want you - Bread
5.  Have you seen her? - Chi-Lites

Battery Park with its ugly buildings in the background... note a patch of snow on the ground...
Arthur is the author of the photos on this page. He worked at Peter Pan Records' office where I used to work as a machine-operator in the night-shift. Arthur lived next-door to us on Wilson Avenue. He was born of Portuguese parents who migrated to the USA.
Statue of José Bonifacio de Andrada at Bryant Park at the back of New York City Library where I used to sit and wonder in the Winter of 1971-1972. 
Blacula was big... and sleazy.

Billboard's Top 5 on 25 December 1971.

1. Brand new key - Melanie
2.  American pie - Don McLean
3.  All I ever need is you - Sonny & Cher
4.  Anticipation - Carly Simon
5.  George Jackson - Bob Dylan

I arrived in New York City on 2nd October 1971, having flown overnight from Rio de Janeiro. The trip took about 9 hours and as I slept through most of it I arrived at JFK Airport quite refreshed to start a brand new day... in the Northern Hemisphere.

After having gone through immigration and customs I had my first little surprise in the new land: when I tried to open the glass door in front of me it actually opened by itself before I could reach it. It was one of those automatic doors equipped with infrared beams. If someone or something blocks the beam the door is triggered open. Wow! So much for advanced technology. I could not help but laugh at my naiveté and went ahead to look for a bus to take me to Manhattan. I had been told at the plane that there was such a service. It didn't take long for the bus driver to set out on my first ride on American soil. I would not take my eyes off the window trying to absorb  as much of the landscape as possible from the avenues the bus rode.

It was early Saturday morning. I cannot recall how but all of a sudden I realized the bus was in Manhattan. Even though I did not recognize any of the land-mark buildings I already knew from magazines I knew it was Manhattan because the street - probably some avenue on the East Side - was wide and long. I reckon the bus entered Manhattan downtown through some tunnel and all of a sudden I was in the island. The first thing I noticed was spurts of white smoked steam coming out of holes down the long avenues. Later I was told the steam came from furnaces and boilers installed at the basement of buildings... for it is a mamoth job to keep a city like New York warm during autumn and winter.

Soon after we entered Manhattan I noticed passengers would signal the bus driver and he would stop a certain places to let them off. For some silly reason I started fretting after the 3rd such stop and thought I'd better get off somewhere soon. I didn't have enough English to ask the driver the bus final destination so I decided to get off the next time someone asked him to stop. I got hold of my guitar and suitcase - just like Paul Simon's 'Homeward bound' - and stepped on the sidewalk. There was a public phone next to the corner and I thought I'd ring that Cuban friend of Bernardo's who lived in Queens. I don't remember his name anymore. I told him I had just arrived from Brazil. He was nice and invited me to visit him whenever I was 'settled'. I thanked him, said goodbye and was back at square one.

While I was talking in Spanish with him a big yellow taxi pulled up near the phone booth. A Black driver got out of his seat and leaned against his car. After I hung up the phone he started talking to me. That would be my first cultural shock. I couldn't understand a single word he said. The only word I picked up was 'Dallas' or 'dalla'. It could not be Dallas... we were not in Texas! After some time I suspected 'dalla' would mean 'dollar'... bingo! I was right on! The fellow probably talked 'jive' to me but I felt he was very friendly. Little did I know I had been really lucky to find a polite New Yorker the very first time I had to interact with them... in that heartless city. Later on I would find out that most New Yorkers are really agro and uncivil most of the time.

I showed the driver my address-book with a Newark address written on it and he said something I did not understand. I showed him some money I had received as change from a 100 note at JFK. He picked out a 20-dollar bill and said it would be enough. He told me to get into the cab and drove to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 8th Avenue next to 41st Street. When he stopped the cab I inferred I had arrived somewhere I could get a bus to Newark, New Jersey. He had driven no more than 5 minutes. I gave him a 20-dollar bill and he gave me a lot of change.

As you can see in the picture above - that's the entrance of the mamoth New York-New Jersey Port Authority Bus Terminal on 8th Avenue between 40th & 41st Streets.

I descended from the taxi and went straight through those doors you see in the photo above into the lobby. There in the centre there was an information desk with some Black female officers wearing uniforms. I went to one of them and showed her the address-book. She looked at me and said something that could be either six, sixteen, sixty or sixty-one. I was not sure about numbers in English, they sounded so much alike. Even so I gathered I had to go upstairs two more stories to the platform . When I got to the top of some narrow stairs I entered a huge dark garage floor with many bus bays. I saw the one that would leave for Newark in a few minutes and mounted on it. I felt a good feeling inside the dark stationary coach. Soon the driver got onto his seat and started the bus descending a circling ramp that would takes us straight underground into the Lincoln Tunnel built under the Hudson River bed between New York and New Jersey. Wow! So much excitement for one morning.

When I least expected I was flying high on the New Jersey Turnpike - a highway suspended by the tallest possible pylons over swamp land on a vast waste land. I could've not supposed when I first heart 'America' with Simon & Garfunkel singing about 'counting the cars of the New Jersey Turnpike, they all come to for America... all come to look for America).

In the very first few  hours in America, there was I.. counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike just like Paul Simon had profesized in 'Bookends'. I couldn't believe my dreams were being fulfilled with every passing moment. I looked back and saw the Manhattan skyline getting smaller with the Empire State and all.

'Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnkipe we all come to look for America...' Paul Simon's America in 'Bookends'. Newark Bay Bridge near North Bayone Park. Look at Newark skyline line in the background.

While we were still riding on the highway I wouldn't have to worry. When the bus left it I braced myself and kept a close eye where it led. Now I know the bus entered south Newark and was heading towards Pennsylvania Station through Raymond Boulevard and Market Street.

Just like I had done in the Airport shuttle-bus in Manhattan I decided it was about time for me to get off and that's what I did when it stopped next. This time I was even luckier. I got off the bus at Ironbound Station Place. I saw a bench near a statue of some nun - that I later on found out it was Madre Cabrini's - and thought I might as well sit down and have a smoke. I used to smoke Salem mentholated cigarettes then. So much had already happened since my plane had touched down at the break of dawn. It must have been close to 9:00 AM.  After smoking I looked at my left and saw there was a sign bearing the name of the street that joined the square. I crossed the street to have a close inspection and to my real surprise it said: Ferry Street... the very street I was about to search for. It's funny that I just took it as naturally as possible.

I got hold of guitar & suitcase and started walking up the street. I would have to look for a certain dona Eugênia, who owned a newsagency at 112 Ferry Street. Used to the decimal system in Brazilian culture I thought 112 would be found on the next block. But that was not the case. Americans use a different system of street numbering. I had to walk up 4 blocks, crossing Union Street, Prospect St., Congress St. and then Jefferson Street before I arrived at #112. Dona Eugênia's newsagency was located in the block between Jefferson and Madison streets. It's an easy way to remember past American presidents' names.

Licia had told me Tia was a nice woman and there she was in front of me behind the counter on 112 Ferry Street. It was hard to tell her age. She was probably my Mother's age between 50 and 55. Well, she had two adult children, a male and a female - both worked at the Newark Airport that employed many documented Brazilians who were a 'caste' among the Ironbound community. Tia was one of those Brazilian women that you trust as soon as you lay eyes on her. When I entered her shop carrying a guitar case and a suitcase she knew right away where I had come from and what my intentions were. I told her I had been sent by Licia and gave her a chocolate box. She just smiled and said I could leave my stuff behind the counter and 'stick around' because that being a Saturday she expected a lot of customers coming in and out of her store.

Tia - it means 'aunt' in Portuguese - had a loud laugh that could turn into a guffaw depending on  her mood. She talked to anyone and seemed to know each and every person that came in. She was slightly portly but not fat. She reminded me of Aunt Anna, my grandmother Albina's younger sister. Having a de-facto prominent role in the Brazilian community at Ironbound she knew secrets from every corner but her lips were sealed. She never bad-mouthed anyone but if you read between the lines you'd know who she was talking about.

There was a cardboard box containing mail in a corner and that's where most of the Brazilian men went as soon as they entered. They went through the letters to see if they had mail. 112 Ferry Street was a notorious address within the Brazilian community at Ironbound. Most turist-over-stayers or illegal immigrants were afraid to give their real address to their employers so Tia allowed everyone to use her shop's address as their own. I would soon be added to that select list too.

I noticed that the first thing Brazilians asked when they met me was: 'Where are you from in Brazil?'. Most of Brazilians who lived in the Newark area were Mineiros, young males from Minas Gerais,  a land-locked state west of Rio de Janeiro and north of Sao Paulo. When I answered them I was from S.Paulo, most Mineiros would lose interest in the conversation. Young and not-so-young males came from near-by places like Paterson, Passaic and Kearny just across the Passaic River 4 blocks away.

After having been addressed by a few guys who came in and went out, Tia must have noticed that I wasn't going anywhere so the next time she saw a fellow my age she asked him to help me fill out an application to get myself a Social Security number. Tia had the form somewhere. I sat down and filled in the blanks. Thank God I had enough notions of the English language to be able to fill it in without having to ask too many questions. I bought a local stamp and went up to the Post Office on Merchant Street to mail it out before it closed at 12 noon.

Here was I in the United States of America in 1971 being benefited by the the Social Security Act introduced by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt 36 years before. Modern U.S.A. was a product of those hectic years.

A Paulista fellow who called himself Frank and looked a bit like darkies do today after knowing I was from S.Paulo said he could help me find work. He knew a small factory where they needed hands. He took me all the way to the sweatshop which was not too far from Ferry Street and I promised I would be back there at 10:00 PM when I was supposed to start working... on my first day in the USA.

At length I was invited by a Portuguese man I had met earlier at Tia's to have lunch with him at a Portuguese restaurand called 'Sol e Mar', two blocks away. Rodrigo was a middle-aged man who had arrived from São Paulo just a few days before - probably the Thursday (30 September 1971) flight from Rio. He had at first migrated to Brazil in the 1950s, bought himself a bar on Rua Brigadeiro Tobias and after a few years in this business, he was unhappy with something concerning his partner and decided to leave it all behind and start all over again elsewhere. Rodrigo's bar was located in  the same street where Licia had her travel agency, so I guess he too must have arrived in the USA through her services.

Although I wasn't actully hungry I went along for the ride. I had some cod fish. Rodrigo was in his element. He knew and appreciated Portuguese cuisine and ordered a bottle of wine from which I partook just a sip. Even though Rodrigo sounded upbeat I knew he was anxious about his situation. I think he had regrets of having left his wife and everything behind to be stuck in this place where he did not understande the language. He was a bit lost. He had got used to Brazil's slow way of life and now he was a bit scared of this hard environment where his own countrymen were at least indiferent of his plight.

Portuguese men living in the USA were usually illiterate, selfish and self-centered. They shunned the society of Brazilians and considered them 'second-class citizens'. This is a self-defeating expression on account of most Brazilian men were not even citizens to start with. There was an understanding that most Brazilian guys were illegal immigrants (undocumented migrants) which was true... and most Portuguese people were documented due to bi-lateral agreements the USA had had with the Portuguese government since the end of WWII. That was actually true.

Rodrigo had found accomodation and lived in a room on the 2nd floor of a building which boasted a go-go bar owned by a Brazilian man called Alberto who worked at Newark airport too. Rodrigo was worried he could not find work because he wasn't as young as the rest of us. Besides he was Portuguese and Brazilians were biased negatively towards them. Newark's Ironbound was practically a Portuguese enclave but they were biased negatively towards Brazilians and There were Portuguese nationals  Before we parted, Rodrigo promised he would ask his landlord about providing a place for myself.

I went back to Tia's shop to see if I could find someone who knew where I could find accomodation - a room where I could leave my luggage and rest a little but to no avail. Tia said she closed at 5:00 PM so I still had a few hours left but I was getting anxious. On that Saturday morning I had had a lot of fun lingering at Tia's shop but now I was getting a little weary of the wait and uncertainty.

The morning period had been fraught with excitement. There was always someone new saying something I had not known about or taking me along to visit a grocery-mini-market where one could open the fridge and choose from a great variety of Tropicana juices. Tomato juice of many brands. I loved tomato juice with lemon since the first time I tasted on the Varig DC-10 the night before. I also fell in love with the taste of Apple juice. Exquisite! I could no stop drinking can after can. In the Puertorican grocery store there were also Guava and peach nectar and other fruit from Latin America. Ferry Street was fun. There was a record bar on the other side of the street where they played Puerto Rican hits. They had a Sarita Montiel album cover on their window. I think it was there I saw a poster announcing Italian pop sensation Rita Pavone in a .... at Newark Theatre.

Three blocks up Ferry Street, on the same side, there was a coffee shop owned by a Brazilian man. I was taken there to have a coffee or a guaraná which was bottled somewhere in Canada and imported to the USA. It had a juke box where I heard Joan Baez's 'The night they drove Old Dixie down' for the 1st time... I also heard John Lennon's 'Imagine' there for the 1st time.

Half hour before Tia's closing time Rodrigo (finally) returned with good news. He had spoken to his landlord who said I could share his room. I would pay 16 dollars a week. Earlier, Tia had hinted that place was not the best for a 'good-boy' like me. She even mentioned the landlord's nick name as 'Alberto-Deus-me-livre' (Albert-God-forbid) and gave her now familiar laughter. Rodrigo got hold of my guitar case, I took my suitcase and up we went Ferry Street crossing seven streets namely: 1. Madison St., 2. Monroe St., 3. Adams St., 4. Jackson St., 5. Van Buren St., 6. Polk St., 7. Merchant St, where there was a Post Office and Ferry Street turns left and Wilson Avenue starts right up at Saint Stephen's went up to Saint Stephen's where it forks out into Wilson Avenue and then we walked another 9 blocks namely: 1. Patterson, 2. Hensler, 3. Laffayette, 4. Ann, 5. Darcy, 6. Marne, 7. Garrison, 8. Komorn and finally 9. Barbara Street. This would be my neighbourhood for the next year or so.

As we entered the building from Barbara Street the first thing I noticed as we climbed up the narrow stairs to the 1st floor was a peculiar smell that emanates from those old frame-houses built from synthetic material like fiber glass to insulate them from the bitter winter cold. As they get older they give off a peculiar smell laced with the heating-oil fumes let out from boilers in their basements (aka cellars). This peculiar smell would become familiar to me from then on. I was happy when I finally entered Rodrigo's room and I had the chance to sit down on the bed that would be mine for the next few months. Home sweet home very far away from home.

My single bed was on a corner next to the window that looked out on Wilson Avenue and I could see the reflections of the go-go bar neon lights. Even though I was really tired I knew I could not really relax since I was supposed to start working at 10:00 PM at that small factory Frank had taken me along in the afternoon. I wasn't hungry for I had cod fish for lunch and a lot of apple and tomato juice during the day. At about 9;00 PM I went out in search of the sweatshop but no matter what street I turned I could not remember where it was located. I was dismayed when I was back at Rodrigo's room on top of the go-go bar. I told him I just couldn't remember the place anymore. At the same time I was glad I could finally lie me down to rest at the end of the longest day of my entire life. That was October 2nd, 1971. Being a Saturday night the go-go bar was packed with patrons and the juke box blared half the night. There was some fellow who kept on playing 'Ain't no mountain high enough' repeatedly. Diana Ross had taken 'Ain't no mountain' to #1 at Billboard on 19 September 1970, for 3 weeks. The song was more than 1 year old but still a favourite with this particular guy who was a regular at the bar. I can't help but remember those early days in Newark's Ironbound any time I hear it.

I awoke early on the Sunday, 3 October 1971, the first time I had slept on American soil. I could hardly wait to go out. I had planned to go back to Manhattan! I bid Rodrigo so long and walked down the 7 blocks to Wilson Avenue and the 12 blocks to Newark Pennsylvania Station where I knew I could take the bus to 41st Street. I didn't know then I could take the PATH tube train that was much cheaper than the bus and probably quicker too.

As the Manhattan bus stopped on Market Street under Penn Station I noticed an ad on its side announcing Yvonne De Carlo in Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies'. Miss De Carlo had been a favourite of mine since I was a boy living in Marilia-SP. The Broadway production had opened on 4 April 1971 at the Winter Garden located at 1634 Broadway between 50th & 51st Streets. I looked at the poster and felt a happy feeling to know that Yvonne De Carlo was living next to me... in the same town. But I never actually thought about the chance of buying a ticket and watch the show. My one and only concern then was to find a job as soon as I could.

was in a stew because he didn't have much of a clue concerning English and he was utterly dependant on the much younger Brazilian folks.

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