I was inspired to write about nostalgia while reading a review of Carl Bernstein’s latest book, in which he recalls his attraction to and love of the newspaper trade as it used to be. Nostalgia is a funny thing. It romanticizes and sanitizes what used to be but we also remember long-ago events or experiences with great enthusiasm and affection. Even I who never worked at a newspaper remember clearly being taken as part of a class in high school to a newspaper (maybe the New York Post) to show us how the news was reported and what kinds of jobs existed in the industry. I remember so clearly the smell and the sound of the printing press and the machinery that produced the physical newspaper. That differed from the hum of the newsroom with its clicking typewriters, hurried conversations, and the hustle and bustle in the room that excited me. It was my first realization that the news business might be a real career choice – one that ultimately drew me into the field, though in television rather than print. But my first husband was a newspaper man before joining one of the TV networks.
Early notions of careers are but one form of nostalgia. One of my favorite memories is my Saturday morning escapades to the big movie emporia downtown. Radio City Music Hall is still there, as are the Rockettes, but you no longer watch a double feature, coming attractions, a cartoon, and a news report, all for the price of admission. But the other beloved movie palaces are gone. The Roxy, the Capitol, the Paramount, the Rivoli, featuring first-run films and often stage shows as well. To me that was Heaven. Eating places that were special included Horn and Hardart, where you scanned the small windows to see what you wanted to eat and placed coins above your choice and the window would open for removal of the plate. Chock Full of Nuts had their nutted cheese sandwiches costing a quarter and their scrumptious fruit pies. Then there was Schrafft’s with their delicious Broadway ice cream sodas, Lindy’s and their famous cheesecake, and the Charleston Garden lunchroom at the great department store, B. Altman’s, making it a double loss. Thinking of department stores, New York City had an abundance of them. From 34th Street up to 59th on Fifth Avenue, we can look back fondly starting with B. Altman, Franklin Simon, Lord and Taylor, Peck & Peck, Best & Company (featuring the best children’s haircuts), Arnold Constable, Russeks, and Bonwit Teller, not to mention off 5th Avenue sites such as Gimbel’s, Sak’s 34th Street, Orbach’s, and Klein’s. Only Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, and the inimitable Bergdorf Goodman survive to this day.
I still smile thinking of my favorite double-decker 5th Avenue buses, some with open upper decks that cost a dime, twice what the subway and other buses cost. The Checker taxis, the trolley cars. I could keep writing about the many features that enthralled me as a child, teenager, and adult. Perhaps the saddest for Manhattanites was the loss of the New York Giants and Willie Mays, though perhaps the most iconic and famous was the loss of Ebbets Field and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
What makes nostalgia painful even if also a pleasant memory is that since the Pandemic started, we are now nostalgic for everyday events that have either disappeared or are waiting to start again. Movie theaters are open but what about theater, ballet, and concerts? So much has been lost and we remember the things that enriched our younger years. The uncertainty lies in what will reappear once this dastardly crisis subsides.
Alice Herb is a retired attorney, journalist, and bioethics consultant. Having reached the age of 85+, she’s more than ready to share her experiences and opinions with agebuzz readers. Want to comment on something she’s said? She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]
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