By Rosalie Tirella
Just texted a friend. Told her: “At The Broadway. Just had one-hour talk with my fave waitress. My age. Talked of love, men, death … home improvement. Woo at its finest.”
She texted back, some what cynically: “Any bistro chat”
I texted backa the photo I just took of the tuna on bulkie roll sandwich I was savoring and then wrote: “Nope. We talked of our late moms, our friendship with them. Just excellent. B-way waitress is very smart and wise. We woulda been best buds in college. Just exquisite … ”
She texted back: “Still time”
I texted:”No. We have separate lives. But that’s ok. We’ll always have The Broadway.”
Yes. I will always have The Broadway. A comforing thought, like knowing the sun will always come up tomorrow, or puppies will always be soft and smell … so new-born. As editor and owner of InCity Times, I realize things change. That my old Green Island neighborhood has been “revitalized” and rechristened. It is now called the Canal District. Where once was Charlie’s Surplus – the wild and topsy turvy extras/seconds warehouse on Water Street, the place where my sisters and I got our gym socks for school – there are now bars catering to the college crowd. Gone are Water Street’s ethnic markets and the old Lederman’s Bakery. To make way for more kid bars. But hey, that’s OK. I am resigned to reality. My old ‘hood rich weith immigrant history has become a watering hole for Clarkies and Holy Cross kids and anyone else young who is looking to tie one over. Heck, this issue we are running a story on the Canal District. How it is up and coming and has its own festival – Canal Fest – coming up soon.
But my final text message to my pal said it all: “Have been going to The Broadway since I was 10 years old. Iconic. To me. ICONIC. For me. Go there once a week … for the food but more important for the way it makes me feel.”
And so it can it be said for any great love in your life. You go to him or her because she/he … makes you feel most yourself … you have a shared history … you know each other’s likes/dislikes. You have a kind of emotional shorthand.
So when the tuna salad on bulkie roll is served up, I remember … The old Broadway that my late mom used to take me and my two kid sisters to – on Sundays after Mass. For hamburgers, french fires and hot fudge sundaes. She would have a Western Omlette and coffee. Upon entering the Broadway, which was where it is today – Water Street – you were greeted by the owner, Sam who always wore a suit coat and was very serious and respectful of you as you entered. Always the polite greeting from Sam, every Sunday. The host with the most. And the place was always packed from people all over the city! Young people, old people, kids … .What a treat to enter that hallowed space, where you could sit and think about what the priest told you 20 minutes ago while inhaling the aroma of burgers sizzling on the Broadway grill, fries being dipped in vats of bubbling oil, buttered warm bulkies … . No one thought twice about cholesterol or hardening arteries back then. More onion rings, please!
There they were the famous Broadway restaurant/diner booths: BIG and RED and vinyl. As a little kid, you could sit in them and just lose your self in all that cush. You had to kneel on the seat and crane your neck if you wanted to see a person who was sitting behind you or take a look out over your meal. And all around, on all the walls of the place was … the menu! Different specials written in black magic marker. In cursive penmanship. One menu item per 9 inch by 13 inch piece of white poster board: hamburger with onion rings. Cheeseburger and fries. Pineapple sundae. There it all was. Kid heaven spelled out with a flourish … penmanship that you hoped to emulate in penmanship class back at Lamartine Street School. You used to get a grade for handwriting back then. I always got Bs. Deserved Cs – my natural tendency was/is to write like an old man afflicted with arthritis.
Great Sunday breakfasts with mom, who was always very serious and respectful of everyone. Until she smiled. Then the room lit up because she had such a gorgeous smile – perfect teeth. Without any help from an orthodontist. My no account father used to say to us: I married her for her teeth! What could little kids say to that, except: OK, Daddy.
It’s a few years later. My sisters and I are in our early teens. And I am going to the Broadway with my kid sister “Mary” after school – me Providence Street Junior High, she St. Mary’s Junior High. It is winter out. We are sorta latch key kids. My dad is gone. he will be back eventually. We just don’t know when. It could be a month or two or maybe a year or two. We had given up trying to predict his peripatetic journey. He was like a strange, distant planet, orbiting my mom and us kids.
Anyways, my kid sister is about 13. She is wearing a long, maxi coat and hat. Her coat is grey and I htink quite pretty. She has a scarf on and knit hat. She is a jock. Loves to run and play basketball. She is so skinny! Yet today, she has worked up a Broadway appetite and we will have burgers and fries. And cokes, my sister’s favorite drink.
We do not think of the other kids who are having sit down dinners with their families in other neighborhoods. All we know is mom is working at the cleaners and she gets out at 6 p.m. and is too tired to make dinner when she gets home. Most of the time she does, but today is when we hit the streets of Green Island in search of food. Sometimes it’s a visit to Pete’s Dairy Bar on Millbury Street. Pete’s has good hamburgers and 3 or 4 pinball machines. Sometimes its Messiers Diner on Millbury Street. Their burgers aren’t as good as the Broadway’s but they have cool booths near big windows from which you can watch all the Millbury Street pedestrians.
I remember how one time, after church, it was the evening. My mom had no car and she took us to this hamburger Italian place on Millbury Street – owned by and run by bikers. Well! What a sight! All the bikers and their chicks in leather and head bands … and here comes Mrs. Tirella with her three girls, dressed for church. My mom’s black hair is in atight curly perm. My sisters and I are wearing are Easter dresses. We all ordered hamburgers and french fries. The food was OK, the biker chick served it to us on paper plates with plastick utensils. But what I especially remember is how warm and friendly that group of folks was to me and my mom and my kid sisters. They were all smiles and talked with my mom and so … attentive.
We left that joint feeling like queen (my mom) and princesses.
Then we would walk down Millbury Street, hit Lafayette and walk home, our bellies full. We were twice blessed at church by the priest and the burger joint by the bikers.
Now, the Canal District is something better, I guess. Something “classy.” Back in the day, my mom and my sisters and the Canal District (we called it Green Island back then) restaurants and their staff were all pretty rough hewn. None of us college graduates or students. My mom remembers the live chickens and rabbits that were sold on water Street’s outdoor markets. She even remmebers a little monkey who danced for pennies.
I dare the Canal Distrcit denizens to to top those great memories. Dare ya!