Growing up in New York City is an experience unlike any other. Growing up in the Bronx, in NYC, is an entirely different experience unto itself. There is the good, and there is the bad in it. You will have some amazing experiences, and some that are best forgotten.
Today I will be sharing with you 5 of the most awesome things about growing up in the Bronx, right here in New York City.
Friendships and lifelong bonds
One of the greatest and coolest things about growing up in the South Bronx, in the 90s, were the bonds and friendships that you made. There would be hundreds of kids living in the same building, across the street, up the block, down the block. We all attended the same schools, played at the same arcades, and shopped at the same bodegas for those 25 cent “little hug” flavored waters!
With that many kids in such a small radius, you were bound to encounter some really cool kids, as well as some not so cool kids. But one of the coolest aspects of growing up in that “hood” environment, was definitely the friendships that one would make.
All that being said, in no particular order, here are five awesome things that we used to do growing up in the South Bronx!
Number one: Gaming!
Yes, gaming! Before online gaming was a thing, we’d actually play together, in person! Can you believe that concept? We would all grab our game controllers, grab our games, and head over to one of buddy’s houses for hours of gaming. This is the way it was done back in the days. To this very day, this is one of the things I truly miss most about that time period. There was nothing like waking up that saturday morning, and spending the day hanging out with your friends beating each other’s butt in video games.
On a side note, I have been trying to set up a game night with some of my buddies for some time now. So far it has been postponed a few times, and has yet to happen. Isn’t that sad? So much planning and ceremony, just to get together with some friends and play a freaking video game. Yes, this is definitely one of the things I miss most from back then. It saddens me that my son will never truly experience this part of growing up in the hood. However, we had to forego this, in order to forego the negative aspects that we were protecting him from. Such is life.
Number two: Communication.
Back in those days we did not have texting, we did not have cell phones, and we weren’t allowed to use the home phone a lot. We didn’t have any computers, email, or social media, none of that existed back then. I bet that you younger people who have grown up with this technology are probably scratching your heads right now wondering how the hell did we communicate?
Well, let me tell you kids, even I have become extremely dependent on email, social media, and all of the other modern methods of communication. I love them, and I’m not sure how I would survive without them today. However, I have not forgotten the way we used to do it back then. It was quite simple, if you wanted to hang out with Stefano, you would go to your window, if it happened to face the same direction as Stefano’s, or you’d have to go downstairs by their window, and then scream their name.
STEFANO! YO STEFANO!!!! COME OUTSIDE!
Back in those days that’s how we communicated. You go to the window, and you scream for them. Then your friend would show up and you could plan your day while screaming at each from the window. In some cases the parent of your friend, or one of your other lovely neighbors from the block would stick their head out the window and tell you to shut the hell up and stop screaming like animals because they were trying to sleep. On those occasions we would try and actually use the phone, but that was extremely rare.
Number three: Hanging in front of the building.
I don’t know if this is still safe to do. When I go to my old neighborhood, I do see kids hanging outside and playing. So I do believe it still happens, but I don’t see that around here. That is strictly a hood thing. These kids in this quasi suburban neighborhood will never know this awesomeness.
There was nothing as awesome as simply just hanging out with your buddies playing tag, talking crap, watching the pretty girls walk by, snapping on each other and making jokes all day. Just having a grand ole time.
Now, hanging out in front of the building could become unpleasant when the bad kids came around. It was a dangerous place to be when shootouts would happen, and on occasion when the police felt like doing a raid, if you happened to be there you’d probably end up with your hands against the wall. However, even with all that this was definitely one of the most awesome perks of growing up in the hood. It was definitely one of the few things that I would consider a perk of the hood, hanging out with your buddies in front of the building just kicking it.
Number four: Cruising!
Basically my little group would all get together with skateboards, bikes, scooters or whatever rideable device you had at the time. We would coordinate and then we’d go riding to other neighborhoods where there was less car traffic.
A whole bunch of us would ride our bikes down the block, and across Jerome avenue. We used to go to this one place we called “Peace Land.” In hindsight, this wasn’t a very safe area for young kids, but it was sort of like an industrial space. We called the area “Peace land” because it was so desolate and seemed somewhat peaceful. The area was very quiet, there were maybe one or two houses, and the people there never really bothered us. The rest of the space was occupied by lots, factories and a few small businesses. It was a nice, quiet road where we could ride our bikes mostly uninterrupted by oncoming traffic.
(Inwood Avenue in the Bronx. Google maps shows me that this area is much, much busier now. Weak sauce!)
On the next block over we had this other spot we called “Doggie biscuit.” This side housed a bunch of mailing and what I think were garbage trucks. I think they used to go park there. The reason we call this one “Doggie biscuit,” is because every time we went there and rolled by on our bicycles we would get chased out by the local guard dogs.
I still remember the time that one of my friends lost his balance and fell of his bike. He was crazy, and stood there fighting off the dogs with his bike! That was absolutely hilarious, but it showed us all that this kid had some balls on him. I think he eventually made the dogs go away, and he walked out with his head held up high. He wasn’t scared, or at least he didn’t let on that he was scared.
(Cromwell Avenue in the Bronx. Google map shows that there is a”Cubesmart” there now. LOL. Garbage trucks still sleep there though.)
One block further in and you had what we called “Killer hill” and “Snake Mountain.” This is probably the steepest hill I had ever seen in the area at that point. Only later in life when visiting San Francisco, and even here in NYC did I find steeper hills. However, to my young mind, this was a killer hill! Anyway, we would walk our bikes to the top of the hill, get on the road and then ride down at full speed! We’d come to the bottom and then merge into the four-lane highway which we had named “Snake Mountain” because it had so many twists and turns.
Thinking back to this time, we are so very lucky that we didn’t get killed back then. (This was Edward L Grant Highway, and the hill was on West 169th Street.) Seriously, we are lucky we didn’t get killed! As a parent today, I can’t imagine my son doing this, the danger was immeasurable.
This is the top of Killer Hill.
The bottom of Killer Hill connects to a 4 lane highway. What where we thinking?
I remember this one time one of my buddies lost control of his bike and he couldn’t make the turn from killer hill into snake Mountain. So he ended up going across Snake Mountain with cars coming from the left and the right! Dude just went straight across a four lane highway! The fact that this guy did not get hit and killed by a car that day was absolutely miraculous.
The downside of Cruising.
You may be wondering how cruising can go bad? It’s quite simple, sometimes we’d get a flat tire while we were far away from home, and we’d have to walk the bike’s back. Of course at that point you now increase the risk of getting robbed for your bike. The thugs were always trying to steal our bikes, and if you couldn’t ride the bike to get away, you had a greater chance of getting caught.
The most memorable time for me was at Crotona Park. I was much younger, and naive. I was invited to hang out with a group of kids, so I joined them. Next thing I knew, I was surrounded, had a knife put to my neck, and I was getting punched and kicked. That day, they succeeded and stole my very cool bike. I still remember my family running over with cooking knives, ready to fight. LOL. They were long gone by then, those kids were bigger, faster, and apparently quite skilled at riding a bike with one hand, and carrying a stolen one with the free hand. Ahh, the future prison population!
I remember another time I was riding my bike while the Grand Concourse was closed off for bicyclists, and some guys started launching tree branches at me trying to get me to fall off my bike. By then I was a bit older, and wiser. Though the branch hurt, and I did stumble, realizing that I was in their hood, and greatly outnumbered, I didn’t stop. I kept going and I managed to get away from the punks.
Another time one of the guys from my own block was trying to steal the inner tubes from my bike! I let him borrow my bike for a “ride.” It was quite common to have someone say “Yo, let me get a ride.” He was gone for a while, which wasn’t uncommon with this particular person. He was one of the local bullies, and I figured it was best to comply rather than risk having him or his gang steal it from me. So I was going to go home for a while and come back later, when I entered the building, the freaking guy was emptying my tires attempting to switch my functional inner tubes with his broken tubes. I took my bike back and walked away, I couldn’t do anything to him, like I said, he kind of ran the block.
So all that is what we used to call “cruising.”
Number five: Going on “adventures.”
This was kind of like the movie “Stand by me,” but the ghetto version. For instance sometimes we would take the long treacherous walk from 169th St. and the Grand Concourse over to Highbridge pool in Manhattan. To get there you would have to walk on highways, and cross bridges, and we would do all that on foot. Times were so different back then!
There is a bridge called High Bridge, it was out of service back then. It seems like they are working on, or have reopened it to pedestrians now.
However, back in those days, it was closed. Now that didn’t stop some creative individuals from using supermarket carts to build a pathway in from the Bronx side of the bridge! You would cross the bridge, and then on the other side someone had tied some ropes so that we could get over the barricades and wall that they built.
Understand the magnitude of what I’m telling you. We were teens, unarmed, during a time when cell phones were unheard off. We used to cross an abandoned bridge to get to High bridge pool. This was an area where you were pretty much isolated from main society once you were in there.
When I think back to that, and consider the risk and danger that we put ourselves in, its mind-boggling to me. I can’t believe that I made it out of there unscathed! Not only did I climb the rope, I remember hanging from it upside down, and making faces! Imagine if that thing snapped and I fell! I’d be done! Not to mention that we could have gotten jumped, robbed, raped, thrown off the bridge and no one would know what happened! At least not until a fisherman found us!
Another dangerous activity that we used to take part in during our adventures was rooftop jumping. We used to go to a roof and make our way over to the other building’s roof. Sometimes they were connected and you could just climb down from one side to the other, and other times there was a gap and you’d have to jump.
I remember one time we jumped from one roof which was higher, and we dropped really hard on the other rooftop! The picture above shows the actual buildings I’m talking about, take a look. So the guy who lived on the sixth floor came upstairs with a weapon screaming and threatening us because we were messing up his chandeliers while jumping. I wonder how that fool would do with my current noisy neighbors! Back then you’d stab a motherfreaker, today we write letters to coop boards! SMH.
On a side note, apparently they are leaving this Friday, I’m counting the days! Interestingly enough, I just heard screaming in the hallway, followed by banging, guess who just walked into their apartment? Right now I’m blasting “Home” by Daughtry to drown out their incessant noise. This is an appropriate song considering I’m writing about my old home.
One of my buddies actually fell down six stories from a rooftop. Thankfully, this dude is still around today! We can laugh and joke about those days, but there was nothing funny about falling from a roof. My man is extremely lucky to be alive today. In fact, considering some of the things that we used to do, many of us are lucky to be alive today.
No awesome growing up in the Bronx column could be complete without talking about the POMPA!
The fire hydrant provided us with much needed cooling down during those hot summer days. I also recall drivers would stop in front of it to get a quick wash! Not everyone was happy with this practice though, clearly we were wasting water, and the water pressure in the buildings would become very low because of this. Many a time we had the cops and firemen called on us, and other times one of the tenants would just curse us out from the window and make us close the hydrant.
Most of these stories I’m sharing with you took place while we were still relatively young, and for the most part we were still innocent kids. Though inevitably life did become more complicated as we got older, and things started to change. Some of us moved to new neighborhoods, and though we tried to remain close, friendships are affected by distance. Thankfully I am still in touch with most of my close friends from that era, and thankfully most of us went on to lead safe and productive adult lives.
These few personal experiences that I have just shared with you are some of the awesome experiences I had growing up in the hood. This was the South Bronx back in the 90s.
If you have any memories or stories that you would like to share with us, please do so in the comments and we will share any outstanding ones in a future post.
Just a life long New Yorker sharing the journey through my lens. Please take note of a post’s date. The views I express here are subject to change and evolving as I grow and learn.