When in the early 1960s I met my former husband, Bobby, his driver’s license gave an address of Cambria Heights, Queens, New York City, a relatively placid neighborhood a mere stone’s throw from the Nassau County, Long Island line. It was his parent’s address, a place to which they had moved soon after Bobby’s senior year in high school. Born in Manhattan, and as a toddler had moved with his parents and older brother to the Bronx, New York City’s northernmost borough where they remained until his pre-adolescence, again the family moved, that time to Flushing, Queens. It was there that Bobby did most of his schooling. It is the place he considers home.
It wasn’t that the little family was unstable…they were upwardly mobile. They were always looking for a better life than had been available to them in Harlem, and before that in Ponce, Puerto Rico, the place from which Bobby’s beautiful Spanish/Puerto Rican mother, Paquita had immigrated, and Barcelona, Spain, the homeland of his movie-star-handsome father, Eusebio (Americanized as Frank). A seamstress in a “boiler room,” as she called it, Paquita commuted every weekday by train to the garment district between 5th and 9th Avenues to 34th and 42nd Streets in Manhattan, as did Frank, to his job as a kitchen worker at the Chase Building in midtown Manhattan. I knew that I was really a part of the family the day that Frank carted home to me a special disk-like pan from that famous kitchen, a pan with the name of Chase Manhattan engraved on its bottom, a piece of equipment that I use to this day, and each time I do, I recall my long-deceased father-in-law with affection.
At the time that Bobby and I met, he was the saxophonist, clarinetist and comedian for a five-piece combo that traveled cross-country on one-night to eight-week-long gigs at every type of venue imaginable, and I was a dance instructor at an Arthur Murray’s Dance Studio in Columbus, Ohio. Fate brought us together at a nightclub, the infamous Club Rubu, in Columbus where his group was appearing and where my dance-instructor buddies and I often headed after the studio closed in the evenings. Subsequent to some stops and starts in our relationship, I finally went on the road with him, and absent the benefit of having met each other’s families, we married in Palo Alto, California in the spring following the year we met.
Bobby’s biographical background is germane to my story, especially as it relates to the geographical and cultural aspects of it for it points out differences between us that were always sources of humorous situations, as this one demonstrates. Before I proceed, I will list just a few of our dissimilarities: To Bobby, white castles are repeaters; pop is soda; lunch meat is cold cuts; mayonnaise is Hellmann’s; gingerale is Vernors; and Houston Street in Manhattan is pronounced like “house” with “ton” tagged to its tail-end. As multi-dimensional as was his upbringing within the borders of the five boroughs of New York City, as well as his cross-country travels, at the same time, he remained oddly unsophisticated in many ways. It was an innocence that theretofore I wouldn’t have associated with a “jaded” New Yorker, and it allowed him a refreshing capacity to be captivated by new experiences. For instance, never in his life had he seen, or much less experienced, a drive-in restaurant, an enormously popular and visible American phenomenon from sea to shining sea in the 1950s and 1960s, other than those spots that had been Bobby’s turf, apparently.
St. Louis was the home-base of the other four boys in the band, and when our work in California dried up, we headed east with them, camping out in the home of the parents of the leader of the group for a week or so, a week or so until some work materialized and we would be on the road again. But nostalgia for home bit all of us fatally instead, which was the death knell of the organization. The only choice available to Bobby and me was packing up our electric skillet, our ironing board, our iron, and our clothes (our only worldly possessions at the time, other than his horns) and to head to Columbus in our old Chevrolet. It was time for Bobby to meet my family and friends for the first time.
The introductions went swimmingly…everybody loved Bobby and Bobby loved everybody in return. I called my friend, Carol Richardson, who was Carol Treadway by then, and she and her husband, Dick, and Bobby and I planned an evening together. Dick picked us up in whatever boat-of-a-car he owned at the time (Dick always owns a boat-of-a-car), and Bobby and I climbed in the roomy back seat. The early part of our evening is a blur to me, but we ended up at Green Gables Drive-in Restaurant, the favorite haunt of all of the teenagers and twenty-somethings of our area of Columbus when we were growing up, and judging by the steady flow of traffic in and out of the place that evening, it was still going strong.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the drill of such places, you would park your car, roll down your windows, and a carhop would walk, or in some cases, skate up to the driver’s side window and take your order. Presently she would return with your food delicately balanced on a tray that she would attach to the driver’s side door and window, and she would fade away until it was time for her to return to fetch the tray at meal’s end. Well, that was the purpose of such places for the older folks, but not for the younger crowds that frequented them. The real function for them was for the young motor heads to show off their automobiles, their 1950s concept cars, classic cars of today, and for the girls to hang out of the windows of the cars and wave and shout to all of their friends. Around and around like a carousel the cars would circle in the place, passing up open parking spaces with abandon.
My husband was fascinated! While the other three of us in our car chatted away, Bobby was so caught up in, and befuddled by, the parade that was unfolding before his eyes that he failed to contribute a word to our discourse. You must take into account that this is a person from New York City where a parking space is golden, and never remains empty for more than a second or two. Street fights, turf wars break out over parking spaces in New York. There happened to be an empty spot right next to our car, the side where Bobby sat, actually, a spot that had been passed up by the same cars several times.
Finally, Bobby just couldn’t take it any longer. Pushing his entire torso out of his window, and his free arm gesturing like a traffic cop’s, he shouted to the driver of a particular car on which he had kept his eye, “Hey Buddy, right heuh? There’s a pahkin’ spot RIGHT HEUH!”
Many thanks to my fellow Franklin Heights High School alumnus Don McCarty for permission to use the drawing of Green Gables in this posting.
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