by Barbara C. Vazquez
As far back as I can remember, 161st Street and Walton Avenue was it for me – the place I called home for 21 years. When thinking back, I have so many memories – good, bad, happy, sad, funny and not so funny – with stories for each season, year after year – I don’t even know where to begin. If I had to choose, I guess the dog days of summer and growing up in the 90’s, and how particularly fascinating these years were to my friends and me would be a great place to start. It was fun, simpler times then, and it didn’t take much to make us happy. We lived without a care in the world, and we had it all – each other, no school for 2 months each year, and the sky was the limit – which is all we needed because fun was whatever we made it to be.
If you are familiar with the area, then you know there were so many things to do and even more places to go within this one neighborhood. There was good old Joyce Kilmer Park. We would hang out there for hours each day, just sitting on the benches talking, laughing, and snapping on one another - all just to pass the time. On the hottest days, we would pry open the pump with a pair of pliers and let it rip full blast. The water was freezing, but it was so much fun and so refreshing! When cars drove by, one of the guys would come with a can and while holding it to the nozzle of the pump, would create what seemed like a huge never-ending wave of water that shot right up into the sky. The car would get a free wash, and we all stood under the cold shower with our arms wide open, enjoying every second of our crazy lives.
There was also time well-spent hanging out in the handball courts behind Yankee Stadium where we watched countless handball and paddle ball tournaments, in Macombs Dam Park at the track [where we vowed to exercise – and all we ended up doing was walking and talking and did absolutely no running and exercising!], the tennis courts, and of course, the infamous Mullaly Park, better known to the locals as Mullaly Baseball and Mullaly Basketball. Anyone who lived in the area frequented these parks on a daily basis. It was a staple in the neighborhood, and rain or shine, you could always find someone out there working on their game. There was also the gym on Anderson Avenue, the traveling carnival that annually took up residence in the parking lot at the foot of 161st and Woodycrest Avenue for at least two good weeks each summer, the many nights we spent hanging out on the court house steps just “people watching”, the visits to Concourse Village Plaza and the movie theater, and I’ll even go as far as to mention night pool – a guilty little pleasure we’ve all experienced. There is so much more, and the list can go on and on, but these are just a few of the things that were a regular part of our lives that made us genuinely happy.
I was also lucky because my bedroom windows faced Yankee Stadium, the 4 train, and the track, so I always had the coolest option of just chilling out and enjoying and partaking in things going on in my neighborhood, without even leaving my home. I did everything from shout “CHARGE!” with the fans attending the Yankee games, to watching train after train go by wondering if it would ever end, to counting the number of laps a person ran around the track at a time, to hearing Billy Joel perform live at the stadium, to even watching 4th of July fireworks take place in the stadium and track simultaneously – God Bless America! – all this by simply sitting on my fire escape? How cool is that?
It was a great time, in a great place, with great friends – and it is a place I will always call my home. My friends and I probably won’t run under an open pump or sit on a fire escape any time soon, but whenever I think of these things and more, it will always bring me back to the best, most humble years of my life growing up in the one and only Boogie Down Bronx.