Dark Days: Life in Crack City.Crack killed everything.”
– Nas, 2012
It was a chilly spring night in 1984 and I was returning uptown from my cashier job at Miss Brooks, a fast food coffee shop located near Rockefeller Center. Working from four to midnight, after closing a few of the staff usually went out for drinks. By two a.m., I’d downed one more pint before walking over to Columbus Circle with the short order cook Xavier.
Although we both lived on 151 Street off Broadway, Xavier was a recent transplant from the Bronx and I had dwelled in that neighborhood since I was four. Today that nether world between Harlem and Washington Heights is now “Hamilton Heights,” but in those days, we didn’t really call it anything but home.
When I moved there in 1967, the working class neighborhood was a literal melting pot of races, religions and cultures that included southern Blacks, like my grandmother, holdover Jewish families who hadn’t migrated to Long Island, more than a few Puerto Ricans and two Asian families.
Like some kind of urban coming-of-age novel, I have fond childhood memories of 151st Street and apartment 1-E, many that include the array of friends who lived in our building at 628. Boys and girls together, we played stickball in the street, had Saturday afternoon trips to the Tapia movie theater, where we watched Blaxploitation and kung-fu flicks, and crowded into each other’s apartments where we spun the latest soul records, watched cartoons and had sleepovers.