Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xii)

In April and May of 1971, I also checked out some of at least two weekend street fairs/block parties that were held within walking distance of my Bronx slum apartment, which were sponsored by some of the local Catholic churches (to honor various saints) and the local small merchants/small shopkeepers in the neighborhoods. The street fairs nearer the Grand Concourse and Kingsbridge Road neighborhood seemed to be sponsored by some churches with mostly Irish-American Catholic parishioners and were held on weekend afternoons. There was some music playing in the background. But what I remember most about these afternoon street fairs were a block or two being closed to cars and the streets being filled mostly with culturally straight, family-oriented elderly and young adults who lived in the neighborhood, their children or neighborhood high school age teenagers and a lot of food vendors selling them food. Few single people or couples who were either college age students or people in their twenties without kids who looked culturally hip seemed to attend the afternoon street fairs which were being sponsored by the churches with the Irish-American parishioners.

A few blocks south of my apartment, on East 187th Street, east of Webster Avenue, was where the street fairs sponsored by the local churches with mostly Italian-American parishioners were held on weekend nights in April and May of 1971. These Saturday night street fairs in honor of some Saints were lavish street fairs and well-attended. The streets would be closed off to traffic for a number of blocks in the Belmont neighborhood, and rides like small ferris wheels would be set up in the street, along with a stage for street performers and musicians and singers. And set up by all the local small merchants on the street would also be booths which sold food and goods to the crowds of family-oriented parents, grandparents, children and high school-age teenagers who lived in the neighborhood and who apparently looked forward to hanging out for hours at these weekend night street fairs every year. Carnival-like booths, like those one might find at Coney Island, also were in the street, and people lined up to throw darts at balloons or balls into barrels or make some wager on a spinning roulette wheel in exchange for tossing in some money that would ultimately end up in the hands of one of the local neighborhood churches.

Not having grown up in the Belmont neighborhood like most of the other single guys my age who I noticed at the weekend night street fairs--and being one of the few long-haired, bearded hippies in the crowd that attended these events--I, naturally, didn't bump into anyone who seemed on the same cultural wavelength as me in 1971 at these weekend night street fairs. But hearing the laughter and observing the fun that most of the neighborhood people seemed to be expressing at the street fair--which seemed like a throwback to 1950s urban street life community culture--reminded me again that the 1960s and early 1970s TV images that assumed that most whites in the United States just lived in suburban neighborhoods whose streets were generally as deserted on weekend nights like the neighborhoods in eastern Queen that I had grown up in or the neighborhood in Indianapolis where I had lived for awhile when I was in high school in the Midwest, were not completely accurate.(Although to be fair to Midwest cities like Indianapolis, during the summer, at least, there were state fairs and county fairs held there on week nights and on weekends in the 1960s that were much more exciting than almost anything taking place on the same night on the streets of Long Island's suburban towns--even if Midwest towns couldn't offer its residents summer recreational hangouts during the summer like Jones Beach, Fire Island, Far Rockaway or Sunken Meadow State Park that Long Island provided its suburban residents during the daytime).