TWO MONTHS AFTER THE BROOKLYN DODGERS won their 1955 world championship, FRED SIMMS started working for Con Edison in a cable-pulling crew. He made $40 a week. Months after Ike took his second oath of office, in ’57, Edward Fitzgerald joined Con Edison. He didn’t much like the job, but a recession was on, so he took it for $1.15 an hour. Today, Simms and Fitz each have under their belt more than a half-century working for the utility company — Simms 53 years and Fitzgerald 51 years.
However, although they didn’t know it until recently, their shared work history actually extends into their pre-teens, when both had paper routes for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Simms started delivering the Daily Eagle at 11 years old, in 1949, not yet of legal New York working age. As the youngest kid in the office, he had the shortest route, but he delivered the paper for a year without missing a day. Some deliveries required him to run the paper up to a third- or fourth-floor apartment. Simms can still fold the paper like he would then to make it fly to the doorstep — rolled, end folded down, plumped in the center — in about three seconds.
Fitz started delivering the Daily Eagle at 12 years old, in 1951. He turned the legal working age in September, eager to begin, but had to wait until after Christmas for someone at the local Tilden office to drop a route. No one dropped a paper route before Christmas because the tips were the best of the year — a dollar per household, if lucky. (In a later year, Fitz remembers his mother waiting for him to come home from his paper route so they could go Christmas shopping.) The Tilden Eagle office was more stringent than some, so Fitz rode the train — alone — up to 475 State St. to collect his working papers. For the next four years, seven days a week, Fitz delivered the paper to his long East Flatbush route.
On Friday nights, the boys hoped to collect their delivery fee — five cents per paper — because three and a half cents of every five was to be turned over to the Eagle office on Saturday. Sometimes people paid late, sometimes very late, and that was the sticky part of the job. To augment his income, Fitz remembers fence-hopping at Holy Cross Cemetery to collect and return the laborers’ empty beer cans for deposit, in exchange for buying them more beer. Not a shy kid, he also sneaked into the St. George Hotel in the Heights to enjoy the majestic hotel pool, ducking the 75-cent admission fee. (When the pool opened in the early 1930s, it was billed as the largest salt-water pool in the world.) After the Eagle closed in 1955 after a protracted American Newspaper Guild strike, Fitz delivered the Herald-Tribune, then the World-Telegram and Sun, to the same route. Weeks after delivering his last World-Telegram, he walked through Con Edison’s doors.
Decades later, in a world where few people bend down to retrieve a dropped nickel, neither man has visions of imminent retirement. Simms is an emergency manager who leads a team of 135 in response to major crises in the city. He is often called upon by the FDNY, and was on hand immediately following the crane collapses this spring. Fitz is a chief construction inspector for ConEd, who works to non-obtrusively and asthetically integrate substations into new neighborhoods as energy demands inevitably increase.
Nonetheless, both can recall the details of their early “careers” as if they were fresh. “I always go back to that,” said Fitz. “I had my first job delivering the Daily Eagle.” “You had to talk to people,” added Simms. “You had to collect the money. You learned how to be a business person.”
TWO WILLIAMSBURGERS have conceived a neighborhood social experiment to make Bedford Avenue vehicle-free and bring together residents for shopping and coffee sipping during four consecutive Saturdays beginning July 19. Jason Jeffries, co-founder and owner of Bedford Avenue Cheese Shop, and Teresa Toro, transportation chair of Community Board 1, were instigators of Williamsburg Walk!, an “experimental reimagining of public spaces.” They followed a precedent set by successful London and Tokyo street spaces. (On a parallel plane, Montague Street inaugurated a similar program in the Heights this week.)
“This four-week experiment … is intended to be a palatable demonstration of the impact and feasibility of a street closure to the community and the city at large,” says Jeffries. “We’ll be out every Saturday surveying people and seeing what’s working and what could be better.
“This experiment on Bedford Avenue is proactive community planning at its best. It’s people asking people, ‘what do you want from your streets?’ and trying to make that happen,” says Toro.
Bedford Avenue between Metropolitan and North 9th will be open only to foot traffic between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on these special Saturdays. Williamsburg Walks! is supported by Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, the newly-revitalized Northside Merchants’ Association and Billburg.com.
(By the by, readers from Williamsburg, what’s the consensus? Williamsburgers, Williamsburgians or Williamsburgites?)
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MANHATTAN SPECIAL is a name that has faded from local lexicon, but was once the primary bottled beverage of New York Italians. The sibling duo who run the Williamsburg-based company — and have done so since their father was killed in a sensational and unsolved murder when they were teens — hope to bring the thick, fizzy espresso soda in the little glass bottle back to the mainstream, according to the New York Times. Aurora Passaro and Louis Passaro, now in their 40s, are the fourth generation of Passaros to run the Manhattan Avenue plant. Aurora recently announced that Manhattan Special is now available for sale online, to be shipped around the world. Last week, she spent three long days at the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center, handing out samples with hundreds of other foodies eager to make new connections. Their father, Albert, once said in an interview, “What celery soda is to Jews, Manhattan Special was to the Italians.”
IN OTHER NEWS:
NEW GREENPOINT GRAFFITI ART SUPPLY STORE ALPHABETA, owned by 24-year-old LEIF McILWAINE, is generating a culture clash, reported Art Info, in a story picked up from AM/New York. McIlwaine, who understands the controversy, insists he will not sell paint to minors, and that he wants to build legit clientele for a legitimate genre of artists.
Councilman Peter Vallone from Queens can’t see any good in graffiti; he has said that that any store that glorifies graffiti is the equivalent of a criminal supply shop. “How naïve does he think we are? There is not enough of any legal graffiti to support a store.”
The store has 800 square feet of retail space and a 5,000-square-foot, indoor-outdoor gallery, which will be used for shows and as a space for graffiti artists to paint.