Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Call of the Ride

Len Klein
February 9, 2001

Sometimes, when we were at home doing whatever, listening to the radio, doing homework, washing dishes, we’d hear that promising sound from outside, three floors down below on the street, several honks of a car horn. We’d run to the bedroom windows, which looked out onto Bristol Street. There below would be Ethel and Irving Kramer, waving to us from the street. “Come on, lets go riding.” An excited anticipation would come over us as we scurried to get dressed and get downstairs. “Where were we going to go tonight?” Into the car we loaded ourselves, becoming a family of eight, and off we went. The little ones, Arnie and Norman, had to sit on someone’s lap; Danny and I usually had our own sitting spaces, and occasionally we even got a window seat. Sometimes it’s good to be big.

There were nights when we only went out for a ride together, just to get out of the house, but other times we had a destination. The most delightful place to go was not the carousel, or the kiddy amusement park; it was Coney Island and Nathan’s. Nathan’s was a magical place, always alive with people. They were either coming from their cars to buy food at the sidewalk counters, or going to their cars with the hot food they just bought, or standing by the curb, balancing their food while eagerly eating it. To have Nathan’s Hot Dogs and Fries while staying up late was a really special treat. There was nothing like it in the whole world. The food was deliciously tasty, and my brother, Arnie, and I were happy to be with Danny and Norman. We’d be all smiles and laughing together, aside from the usual conflicts between children and parents that often interrupt good times.

There were usually several policemen around, some on horseback, without whom the traffic on Stillwell Avenue would become impassible; it would be turned into a parking lot for Nathan’s customers. If we were lucky we’d find a parking spot on Stillwell right in front of Nathan’s, but when we didn’t, the side street, between Nathan’s and the Boardwalk provided a large number of parking spots. When the crowds were too large, or it was raining, we’d stay in the car while the adults went for the anticipated delights: hot dogs, French fries, and hot corn. The adults sometimes bought hamburgers, but we kids liked hot dogs better. Of course, for reasons unknown, ketchup was always put on the French fries and the hamburgers, but mustard was dedicated to hot dogs. All huddled up in the car we’d munch on our food in the midst of the most delectable aromas imaginable. We were all one family and the livin' was good.

This was the time before air conditioning; not in homes, not in cars, was there any cool relief from the humid heat of the city. Summers in Brooklyn could be brutal, and there were many nights spent lying still in bed and perspiring anyway. I remember one sweltering night, impossible to sleep, when the Kramers honked us to the window, and off we went to Riess Park Beach to sleep on blankets in the open sea air. We stayed there most of the night as it was the only way to get some rest.

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