Central Park in a Rumble Seat

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By Thomas Pryor

“I used to ride in my father"s rumble seat, Dad told me while we sat at the bar in Loftus Tavern.

As Dad drank a short beer and I sipped a Coke, I wondered what"s a rumble seat? He said, “It was a seat that hinged out of the back of the car; it felt like you were riding in mid air. We mulled over our drinks and I thought someday, I was going to ride in a rumble seat.

Thomas E. Pryor, the author"s grandfather, in front of a 1922 Ford Model T. Probably on a joy ride, he worked in a garage in the East 60s.

One afternoon in the Old Timer"s Tavern, I was lying on the floor watching the fan spin and I overheard my Uncle Mickey say to my father, “Bob, when we were young I remember you driving us to Rockaway's why don"t you have a car?

“Because I knew I was going to drink and didn"t want to hurt anybody.

The Pryors didn"t have a car and depended on the kindness of strangers and relatives. My Uncle George took us to beaches and lakes, my grandfather Rode took us to buy wool for my grandmother on Grand Street. I spent an inordinate amount of time in Checker cabs heading for Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden. That gave me access to the pull-up seat on the floor of the cab.

My mother"s father, Pop Ryan, did not have a car. In 1961 he bought his first one, a Falcon in mint condition. This made my grandmother very unhappy since my grandfather had a reputation for taking the laws of self-preservation lightly.

Pop put plastic over the seats and washed the car every Saturday in front of the house on York Avenue (He was the building"s super). Nan wouldn"t let Pop take me for the first few weeks because he had just gotten his license by the skin of his teeth.

Week six, after relentless whining and begging, Nan finally let me go for a ride with Pop. I started off in the back seat but climbed into the front seat when we were out of sight of Nan. We turned left on 86th Street and went straight over to 5th Avenue passing my favorites places: Loews, Orpheum, Woolworths, RKO, Horn & Hardart, Prexy"s, Singer"s, and many more.

We drove down 5th Avenue past the museums and mansions; I took it all in on my knees with my head out the window catching air in my mouth. At 72nd Street we turned into Central Park and veered right past Pilgrim Hill. Going north we passed the boathouse doing 30 miles an hour.

At Cherry Hill, I said, “Pop, do 40! Pop hit the accelerator and we did 40.

Near the Engineer"s Gate I saw a hawk swoop down and said, “Pop, 50! The speedometer moved up. As we started down the hill pass the 102nd Street transverse, I yelled, “60, 60, 60! Pop gave me a wicked smile and there we went. Past the Harlem Meer at the north end of the park taking the curves down the hill at 60 miles an hour with no one on the road but us.

We rode the curb facing Cathedral Parkway and nearly hit a trashcan. Pop backed down to 50, then 40, and we stayed there until we turned east at Columbus Circle heading back to Yorkville.

Luckily, there was a spot in front of the house. Pop parked, I jumped out, ran up the stoop and busted into the apartment, screaming, “Nan, it was great; we did 60 miles an hour in Central Park!

The next day Pop sold the car.
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Thomas Pryor is a resident of Upper Manhattan. His blog can be found at www.yorkvillestoopstonuts.blogspot.com.

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