The familiar smell of deep fried oreos welcomes me as I emerge from the train station and in to the neighborhood known as The Bronx.
Not just Bronx like Brooklyn or Williamsburg, SoHo or Manhattan, but The Bronx.
On this gray and drizzling Sunday, I'm here to watch the Columbus Day Parade. And like every other gray, drizzling, cool, warm, sunny, tepid day I've had in New York City, there are many pleasant surprises.
I step off the train at Westchester, and I'm early. Early because I want to find a good spot to observe and to take photographs. I'm too early. The marching bands and persons of note haven't even arrived yet, their chariots, orange school buses, sit empty on the street corner.
And so I wander in the drizzle. Down the streets, past corner delis, coffee shops, sandwich shops, boxing schools, pharmacies, hair salons, a ravioli warehouse.
I'm immediately struck by the immense views of the gray sky and the dark clouds. Here, the buildings are low and sparsely spaced, so that nearly every angle offers an expanse of horizon.
John, a man I met in Chelsea, describes it perfectly "there's a lot of sky in The Bronx".
The Bronx boasts an impressive Zoo and Aquarium, but I don't visit those today. Instead, I delight in wonderful conversations with wonderful people.
Jose owns a small deli and is handing out free coffee on this blustery, Winnie the Pooh kind of day. We compare stories about cold New York winters and cold Alaska winters and mutually decide to leave it as a tie.
Two young men from Yemen hang out in the entrance of the small shop their families own. They peg me as a visitor immediately and when I ask how they know, they look at one another and laugh, telling me, "you make too good a eye contact to be a New Yorker".
Vinny and Anthony are hunched over vats of boiling oil, peched under a tarp and out of the now pouring rain. They doll out heaps of deep fried oreos and crisp battered dough. I walk by, my crisp battered dough purchased from the vendor back up the street, in hand, powdered sugar dusting the front of my jacket. Vinny and Anthony call out to me, asking why I bought from Joey and not from them.
If the red, green and white flags waving chaotically in the gathering wind didn't clue me in to this primarily Italian neighborhood, Vinny, Anthony and Joey just have.
When I smile and lament that they don't sprinkle powdered sugar on their dough, they both reach under the table at the same time, grabbing the unopened bag of sugar.
Despite his promise of a life filled with endless deep fried goodness, I turn down Anthony's marriage proposal. Unfazed, they invite me in to their makeshift street kitchen and I'm soon dolling out the dough myself.
Covered in flour and powdered sugar, the sounds of the brass band warming up beckons me and I say my Ciao's to the brothers and follow the sounds of the parade starting.
Manhattan boasts about its Columbus Day Parade and its Macy's Parade, but today, in this moment, nestled in my down jacket beneath my black umbrella, while the rain drenches both the parade participants and the unprepared spectators, I'm in The Bronx and this parade is outstanding!
Soaked and cold in the 59 degree temperature, the coolest since I
arrived less than three weeks ago, bakeries, coffee shops, storefronts and bus stops overflow,
and every inch of space beneath every covered awning along the parade route is crowded with damp but cheering
Lasting nearly two hours, the parade is a feast of high school bands and musicians, jugglers and mascots, baton twirlers, dancers on rollerblades, cheerleaders, police cruisers from the 1950's, and the who's who of The Bronx, though I never do find out just who they were.
A reporter from Channel 12 interviews me and I share my perspective on this parade, The Bronx and New York City in general. Unprepared, I think I sound silly and childish, but
I mean, come on, it's a parade!