Back in the late 50s, I made my first trip to New York City, aka “The Big Apple.” To make it even more special for myself, I made the journey via my brand new, 1957, blue and white, four-door Chevrolet Bel Air.
Today, I wouldn’t dream of taking a car to New York City. It’s fair to say in those days, however, I was totally clueless about the traffic conditions I might face in the twenty-first century.
My girlfriend, let’s call her Susie, was with me. I was working then on the waterfront in South Baltimore, as a stevedore out of International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 829 on Hull Street, in Locust Point. I lived just across the street from that bastion of working-class solidarity.
I had bought my pride and joy, Bel Air, from Fox Chevrolet on Hanover Street for under $3,000. I recall picking up the New Jersey Turnpike as I headed north. The turnpike was also very new at the time. There wasn’t a lot of traffic on it.
On the radio, I recalled hearing Paul Anka belting out his popular ballad, “Diana.” It was cha cha tune. I thought to myself, “Hey Bill, it doesn’t get much better than this!”
To prove how innocent I was, I headed for Brooklyn, and its then main attraction – Coney Island! In those days, it was famous for its amusement parks, steel pier, ocean beach, and its high rise parachute jump. We couldn’t wait to try out all these attractions.
Nobody would believe you, if you said you went to Coney Island, unless you came back home and bragged about doing its fabled parachute jump. I made it our first stop. It lived up to its reputation. Mercifully, we survived.
We stayed in Brooklyn for a few nights and never made it over to Manhattan. That was okay since I made up for it on the many trips to NYC that followed.
One of my most recent sojourns to “The Big Apple,” was a 2013 trip to the renowned “Carnegie Hall.” The featured artists at that event were our own, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of its splendid musical director – Marin Alsop. The very enjoyable program was entitled, “Spring For Music.”
Also on my agenda was – Broadway. I made time, too, along with my wife, Ann, to enjoy the play, “Macbeth.” It starred that brilliant Scottish-born actor, Alan Cummings. It was Broadway at its best. We also made side trips to Greenwich Village, Rockefeller Center, the Museum of Natural History, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Bryant Park, Grand Central Terminal, the Statue of Liberty, Fifth Avenue, Radio City Hall, and of course, Times Square.
Then back in the 1970s, I had traveled to NYC with my daughter Lisa. When she was just a very young teenager, she said to me: “I want to go to New York.” I responded, “Consider it done.”
Off we went, hitting all the tourist sites there, including a visit to the office, in Battery Place, of the then-President of the ILA, “Teddy” Gleason. He was kind enough to give Lisa a special deck of cards as a souvenir. It had the insignia of the ILA printed on it! She was so thrilled she couldn’t wait to show it off back home to her girlfriends, whose dads also worked on the docks. (1)
That same night, we headed to Broadway to take in the show, “Crucifer of Blood.” It featured my cousin, Dwight Schultz, in a major role. If you’re thinking is this the same Dwight Schultz, who would later gain national TV fame on “The A-Team” program, as the zany “Howling Mad” Murdock, you would be right! Dwight was fantastic. What a special evening that was for both Lisa and me.
Enter the late South Baltimore State Senator, Harry J. “Soft Shoes” McGuirk. Thanks to his kind political patronage, I was named an Alternate Delegate, in July 1976, to the National Democratic Convention. It was held at the celebrated Madison Square Garden in the heart of the Big Apple.
This is the same legendary arena where some of the greatest heavyweight boxing champs of the last century had competed. Consider this list: Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, and Muhammad Ali. What a thrill it was for me to be there.
At that 1976 convention, the Democratic nominee for president was Jimmy Carter from Georgia. Guess what? Carter won the general election in November of that same year by beating the Republican candidate, Gerald Ford.
Next on my list was a special outing to NYC with my late grandson, Kynan Bryce Hogan. He was about thirteen then and wanted to take in the Empire State Building, a ferry ride around Manhattan and out to Staten Island and back, and a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.
Not only did we complete his to-do list, but we both enjoyed eating a meal out in Times Square with the locals as they gathered for their lunchtime. As a plus, the colorful characters who regularly call that place home were in good acting-out form. The final item was taking in a movie of Kynan’s choice before we hit the trail home.
To finish out my fondest memories of “The Big Apple,” I need to mention an earlier date – December 28, 1958 – and this venue – Yankee Stadium – and this historic overtime pro football (NFL) championship game – the Baltimore Colts vs. the New York Giants.
My memories of the day that John Unitas led the Colts to victory over the Giants in that title game by a score of 23 to 17. This is the best way I could possibly end this commentary on my most enjoyable visits over the year to New York City. (2)
More photos from my trips to “The Big Apple” can be found on my Facebook page.
1. As the fates would have it, my oldest brother, Richard P. Hughes, Jr., (1934-2013), would later serve as the eighth president of the ILA from 2007 to 2011. He was highly regarded by its officers and members, as well as the leadership of the national AFL-CIO.
2. Check out details of my memories of that day, at: https://baltimorepostexaminer.
All photos ©Bill Hughes, 2020.
Bill Hughes is an attorney, author, actor and photographer. His latest book is “Byline Baltimore.” It can be found at: https://www.amazon.com/William-Hughes/e/B00N7MGPXO/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1