This week we had a fascinating talk with educator/entrepreneur, Jordyn Lexton. You might remember your high school years being tough, but as Jordyn explains, attending class in prison is whole different ball of wax. You see, Jordyn’s niche was teaching kids within the New York City criminal justice system and after an eye-opening stint at Riker’s, Jordyn was inspired to invent a business from the ground up called Drive Change. Drive Change addresses the persistent issue of recidivism and it’s an outstanding concept. It builds and operates state-of-the-art, locally sourced food trucks that hire and train kids returning to the community from prison. Drive Change provides real, transferable and life-changing skills for these young adults… as well as delectable pork buns for your lunch hour. It’s billed as food with a side of social justice, and we love it. It’s impossible to not root for Jordyn Lexton! We dare you to try.
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Portrait of Jordyn Lexton by Craig LaCourt for On The Real.
Happy Election Day! The mere mention of city politics these days is enough to elicit a chorus of groans. But here’s the thing: our politicians today are total wimps when it comes to serious graft and scandal. You want to go back to the glory days of corruption? Hop in the DeLorean, set the clock to 1929 and pay a visit to Tammany Hall.Tammany Hall was a New York City political organization founded in 1786 and very quickly became the dominant political machine in New York City. Sensing an opportunity in the unending waves of immigration, they created a brand as the “working man’s party” which enabled them to draw strength from the city’s newest arrivals. Back then, if you were a fat cat in the Machine, you lived damn well. Quite literally no one was ever appointed, no building was ever built, and no law was ever passed without the proper cash kickbacks to the Tammany politicos. And top Tammany guys like Boss Tweed made millions of dollars this way. Just think about several million dollars… in 1875. And their grass roots party members did more than hand out bumper stickers, too: they hired street toughs tasked with cracking skulls and making sure the popular vote always “went Tammany’s way.” Now that’s some serious political persuasion.The final home of the organization was eventually built at 100 East 17th Street. This Colonial Revival building, finished in 1929 at 100 E. 17th St, housed the party machine at the height of its power. Jimmy Walker was mayor of the city at the time - though within a few years, he was forced out of office over corruption charges, paving the way for the election of “Anti-Machine Man” Fiorello LaGuardia in 1933 and Tammany’s fall from grace.You probably pass by mighty Tammany Hall everyday but now you only know it as the New York Film Academy, or La Soiree, or a pretty crappy liquor store and deli. It was finally landmarked by the city last week, ensuring that its fascinating legacy of patronage and corruption will remain for generations. Will Mayor Mike’s fountain soda bans and luxury condo legacy stand the test of time as well? We will have to wait and see.
A year ago this evening, I was with my family playing a board game at our apartment at the corner of East 8th and C. We had been mentally and physically prepping for Hurricane Sandy to make landfall. Irene had hit us the year before and we basically came through unscathed, so expectations for Sandy were low. How naïve were we until one of us got up off the floor to look out the window. Avenue C was underwater and getting deeper. We walked downstairs to get a closer look and this was the scene.As the water crept up the sides of the parked cars, the cacophony of car alarms was astounding and then slowly, they faded under the water and then ceased entirely. It was dead quiet, but eerily lit by the emergency lights on top of the police precinct across the street. I stood on our stoop with my wife and daughter in complete disbelief that Mother Nature was in the middle of dealing such a devastating blow so peacefully. The family went to bed around midnight, when we were sure the water was on its way out. I stayed up as late as I could to make sure our building wasn’t going to float away, burn down…or both.The next morning, we woke up to a cold and quiet house. Thankfully, one of our neighbors was kind enough to share an extension cord hooked up to a small generator with enough juice to keep the fridge moderately cool and our phones charged. The first order of business for the day would be to procure gasoline. We were in Mad Max mode. We got on our bikes and headed north. What we saw was devastating. Cars turned and toppled upside-down and inside-out. Splintered and scattered lumber and trees piled high onto the Jersey wall and into the FDR. Homeowners, business owners, people on the street standing in utter disbelief.It was too cold for the bikes and still a little damp, so we parked them in Midtown and got a car service. We had to go all the way to 117th and First to wait in line for a gallon of gas. I ended up paying a guy $20 for the privilege of cutting in, so we could start our long journey home. The traffic was awful and we were hungry. After an hour or so, we found ourselves sitting in traffic on 49th Street in front of Wollensky’s Grill. Perfect. We paid our driver and went in. Here we are in Midtown… a beat to shit Carhart, a ratty little blond, a gorgeous yet un-showered mane of red and a gallon of gas. A sight to these faces who didn’t seem to realize that half of their city was under water just 12 hours before. Precious. The food was terrible, but it did the trick and so began our routine for the next couple of weeks with no gas to cook or heat our hot water.Wake up. Walk around. Talk to neighbors. Help where you can. Bike somewhere uptown and ignorant. Meal. Grocery store. Back home. Build a fire. Spaghetti, hot dogs, burgers. A warm reposado. Bed.The two weeks that began one year ago today were rough ones. We saw friends leave, business struggle and nerves fray. But during those two weeks, I was once again shown what it is to be a New Yorker. To participate as a New Yorker. To trust as a New Yorker. In my twenty years here, I have witnessed several events that should have taken this town down. That should have killed the spirit of its motley porridge of beings who choose to call this place home. But the events never win. The people do.
Coming up on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, we thought it was a perfect time to revisit our conversation with our pal, St. John Frizell. If you missed this the first time around, it was one of our earliest Radio on the Real podcasts (recorded guerilla-style in a kid’s bedroom with a USB mic) but remains one of our favorite talks.
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For the uninitiated, St. John is the owner and proprietor of Red Hook’s homey mainstay, Fort Defiance.
Aptly named, Fort Defiance began life as a widely enjoyed café/bar/restaurant on Van Brunt Street, but in the devastation following Hurricane Sandy, it became something even bigger…a leader and champion of the Restore Red Hook movement. A fantastic storyteller with a great life story, St. John raps with us about the restaurant business, why the Third Place matters, and the bright future of Red Hook.Photo courtesy of Red Hook’s other favorite son, Craig LaCourt.
This really happened today. A random guy set up a boxing ring (with duct tape) at Union Square, provided gloves and (optional) headgear, and then loudly challenged all comers to a fight. White Tanktop decided to exercise extremely poor judgment and step into this makeshift ring. Ding, ding. Round One. No headgear against this Pitbull? Are you fucking kidding me? 20 seconds in and White Tanktop is down. A few sips of water, a minute or two later and he’s back up and ready to keep fighting…but, this time with the headgear literally pounded on to his huge noggin. Ding! Round Two.Right about now, the crowd is on fire and seriously debating White Tanktop’s wisdom in making the decision to fight this unknown man built like Bruce Lee. It was like a cock fight on oysters in muddy New Amsterdam. White Tanktop is (I’m sure) shitting himself about now. Let me out! Too late, chum. Fight!Stick and move! Pitbull lets White Tanktop get a lick or two. You know, so he’s got a good story to tell his kids when he wakes up from his coma a week from now. Because sure enough, it’s the old rope-a-dope and Pitbull proceeds to beat the deep fried shrimp salad out of White Tanktop up against the ropes.Except they’re not ropes at all, but a giant granite wall…in Union Square. Only in New York City can you suddenly have a front row seat at a title match when you were just out walking to get a falafel.
Our days are filled with running all over the city, dealing with clients, meeting with vendors, putting out fires and occasionally acting as marriage counselors. And because of this, we often forget to have lunch between the generally accepted hours of noon and three. As a result, we’re rewarded with options of junk. A dirty-water hot dog. A limp doughy slice. Good old-fashioned American fast food. Blech! We live in New York City, folks! There have to be some better options for worker bees who eat outside the generally accepted feeding times.Thankfully, we found one solution for “dunch” or “linner” and it’s at Back Forty West on the corner of Crosby and Prince. Between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00, BFW offers up a slightly abbreviated menu that beats the pants off of most other gray-area offerings in a 20 block radius. Currently, they have some admirable sandwiches on the menu…roast pork, smoked blue fish and a fantastically bloody grass-fed burger served up with hand-cut fries. Grab a seat at the bar, order up an afternoon cocktail (sometimes it’s required) and one of their locally sourced yummies, but you can also go in for a coffee and pastry at that time. Decisions, decisions. And with winter coming, you won’t want to miss that roaring fire they’ve got going on the 2nd floor. So go ahead and skip lunch today. You’ve got a standing reservation at Back Forty West.
In honor of old Columbus, we present an excerpt from the great and silly Ogden Nash:
Columbus said, Somebody show me the sunset and somebody did and he set sail for it,
And he discovered America and they put him in jail for it,
And the fetters gave him welts,
And they named America after somebody else,
So the sad fate of Columbus ought to be pointed out to every child and every voter,
Because it has a very important moral, which is,
Don’t be a discoverer, be a promoter.