Those Were The Days: Growing Up In NYC In The Ed Koch Era

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The Good Old Days

To say Ed Koch was the quintessential New Yorker would be a huge understatement. Everything about Koch was New York, his accent, his brashness and his combative style all New York. Sadly those of us of certain age see that kind of New Yorker fading away.

The New York of the Koch era was one of the most exciting times the city ever witnessed, good and bad. I was 20 years old when Koch took office, working for Salomon Brothers a pretty big financial institution at the time, headed by a flashy trader named Mike Bloomberg, in fact I worked in the computer room at 1 NY Plaza. On some weekends I’d come in to do an overtime shift where I’d stay out all night, mostly in the East Village at Max’s Kansas City, and head to work and grab a two hour nap on some big executives leather couch until one of my shift mates would wake me up, but I digress. The Koch Era was the last of the gritty, nasty days of New York. I’m just glad I grew up then.

I laugh when I see folks get on the subway and anoint themselves with loads of hand sanitizer, I think of the days of subway trains decked out in graffiti and who knows what else. With all the uproar over gun control and curbing of violence, how about growing up in an age where 2,000 murders were the norm and riding the subway after 10PM meant you had better be armed with some sort of weapon to survive the trip. I get a real kick out of going to Time Square with my kids to go to the theater and look around at the Disney-facation of the area. It’s kind of hard to articulate this without sounding like a complete asshole, but I do miss a lot of the nastiness and out right debauchery of the old 40 Duce.

 

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I guess it’s because there were no big wave of tourists coming to see the sites and the neighborhoods were still full of neighborhood people. I grew up on a block in Brooklyn where everyone on the block knew everyone. During the summer you could hear the TV’s blasting Mets games and Highlander games on to the streets with the familiar cry of “Yo Whad’s da Score??? “ . The moms and grandmas would take their folding chairs outside to sit in front of the house or under a tree after the chores of the day were done. Kids played in the street all day and night. That was New York. That was the New York that Ed Koch governed and governed so well because he was one of us. Koch would tell a heckler to “shut the hell up” and it was fine because hey that’s what we do, when Bloomberg does it, we say, “look at this little pampered prick, who does he think he is”? It’s not just the fact that Bloomy is out of touch with his constituents because he’s a rich guy, it’s also because he’s not one of us, he wasn’t born here didn’t grow up here and that makes all the difference.

I think about all the hot dogs and orangeades I devoured as kid at the stand at the 42 St Subway station while transferring  from the Sea Beach line (N train) to the IRT Flushing Line (7 train) to  get to Wiilets Pt/Shea Stadium. I doubt that stand would have gotten an “A” rating back then. Same with Dave’s Luncheonette that was on Canal and Broadway where you could get a hot dog in a natural casing (great crunch) a knish and a chocolate egg cream at 3 in the morning. That’s all gone and sadly a whole generation has missed out on what gives New Yorkers such a hard shell.

Sorry for the old guy trip down memory lane but with Ed Koch passing away yesterday it just conjured up so many memories of the era where this city was unruly and imaginative, filthy and cutting edge, menacing and remarkable. Just like Ed Koch I am and always will be a proud New Yorker.

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Comments

  1. Bobster855 says:

    Great column! I agree with everything you say. Speaking of the subways, one day in the early 70s I was going up to City College on the 7th Avenue line. I swear, the subway car must have been from the 1920s or even earlier – it had wicker seats! I reached up to hold onto the strap, and when I pulled it a little a sprinkle of soot rained down on the head of the guy sitting underneath. Unreal. Newcomers to NYC have no idea how awful the subway system was back then…subway cars filthy, covered in graffiti, and always breaking down. I think Shea Stadium was kind of emblematic of that era in New York – scuzzy and not beautiful, but it belonged to us.

  2. Fantastic job here. We are of a similar age and upbringing and I understand every word. Thanks for writing them today.

  3. On point. My memories of ’80′s New York. Koch=mayor for all New Yorkers. Of all five boroughs, and the world. Mets on channel 9, Yankees on channel 11. Mayor’s Trophy Games. RC Cola. The afternoon edition of the NY Post, and you made sure it was the late edition, as the news dealers would try and sell you the morning edition. And yes it was all a bit whacko. From the Summer of Sam through Bernhard Goetz, the Highlanders in their old/new ballpark and of course the 1984-88 Mets of Nelson Doubleday.

  4. For some reason the word debauchery strikes a chord with me.

  5. I was on the other coast when the Mets won in 1986…I dream of the day that I take the day off to go to the Mets’ ticker tape parade. I was lucky enough to be at SB XXI, I have never had a chance to see fellow Mets’ fans reach the pinnacle. I hope I am young enough to enjoy it as I deserve.

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