A Year In New York

A Daily Bite of the Big Apple

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Day 24: Flattened in Staten Island

July 20th · 1 Comment

Scrambling around on the asphalt with an airhose, trying to fill the tires of an old borrowed Camry, I got that deflated feeling of getting nowhere. No matter how much I pumped the tires seemed to sag a little more.

Joo and I were on our first visit to Staten Island, waiting for a woman named Rita to sell us a bookshelf, and we were kind of lost. This Gulf gas station had swum up out of the dark and we pulled in before we knew what a chaotic scene it was. A man in a Buick drove through and shouted at a guy filling up, and he shouted back. A red Camaro burst through, raising a cloud of dust, jerked to a halt next to two girls in skin-tight jeans standing under the only streetlamp, and screeched off.

“Where do you go if you have an hour to kill in Staten Island?” I asked across the pumps to an olive-skinned man with a shaved head and wearing a wife-beater.

He looked me over. “White?” He wasn’t asking about my ethnicity, since that is blindingly obvious.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Don’t go 10 blocks that way. It’s black,” he said. “Try going to the Kills,” he said, waving toward a neighborhood on the other side of the island. “Good places there for someone like you.”

By the time we realized that the air pump was broken and that I was, in fact, flattening our tires with every application of the airhose, the bald man and all the other customers had driven off, the Indian gas attendant had gotten on a passing bus with the two girls, and, on a Saturday night in the nation’s most populous city, we were completely alone.

We didn’t go to the Kills but instead pointed our low-rider toward Richmond Terrace, which skirts the water. The only storefronts we saw were auto-glass installers, janitorial-supply companies, and in-and-out stores with names like Stop!, while my nostrils tingled with the chemical smell from the refineries across the channel in Bayonne. We passed the blazing lights of a stadium where a Staten Island Yankees game had just let out and the song “Hey Baby” blared from the speakers, and ended up in a bar called Karl’s Klipper where the Miller Lite kegs were dry but the Coors was still pouring. We drove through neighborhoods where shadowy figures conversed on stoops to the house of Rita, a soft-spoken brunette in a cocktail dress whose three-year-old daughter, Talia, cried while we strapped the family’s bookshelf to our roof.

We drove down Clove Road, past a bank display that informed us the temperature, at midnight, was 80 degrees. I grabbed a few sweaty bills from my back pocket and drove across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to our sanctuary on Manhattan, New York’s other, more self-inflated island.

Tags: Personalities · Sights & Scenes · The Rat Race · Urban Survival

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Kimberly Winston // Jul 22, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Darling. He was asking about your race.

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