Memories of Willets Point – QNS.com

Memories of Willets Point

This diner “made the best heroes that you would ever want to eat” and remains open today.
Photo by Michael Shain
By Vincent Tomeo

The transportation system in New York City is typically abominable.

It is in dire need of repair. The overhauling, updating, and upgrading of the city’s infrastructure would significantly improve the situation.

I was recently riding the subway on the No. 7 line going from Flushing to Grand Central Station in Manhattan. The Main Street stop in Flushing is either the first stop or the last depending on which way you are going. As usual, the No. 7 train came to a complete stop. The voice on the PA system was muffled and masked by static, so I could not understand what the MTA worker was announcing.

As it turns out, we were stalled for over 20 minutes; stuck between Main Street, and the Citi Field-Willets Point area over the smelly Flushing Creek. It was a warm spring day, so the smell of the creek wafted throughout the train.

Willets Point is between Flushing and Corona. My mind began to wonder. I was standing at the window looking out over the desolate area and began to flash back to another time.

Yes, another era of Queens passing into history. I remember as a teenager working for my uncle in the junk yards for less than minimum wage in the Sixties. I was 16 years old then, and I worked there after school, on holidays and weekends until I was 18.

We were a destitute family living in a basement below the floor level in a building on 48th Avenue and 108th Street in Corona. Mama was the only breadwinner in the household of four, including me and my two brothers.

We had no TV or air-conditioning, nor did we have a telephone, washing machine, dryer or automobile. Every time it rained heavily, our basement apartment flooded.

Looking at Willets Point today brought my memories from the past screaming back to the surface. I knew then that I had to go to school to better myself. I remember the junk yard dogs that roamed the streets, the potholes and my uncles, who owned several junk yards that collected metal and cloth. I remember working on my days off from school at my uncle’s scrap metal junk yard. I worked alongside African Americans who could not find a job anywhere else.

I also remember the diner, a rundown place that made the best heroes that you would ever want to eat — sausage and eggs, meatballs, eggplants and all sorts of sandwiches. I remember the truckers — lines and lines of trucks waiting to go into this rundown diner. Strange!

I remember the rooster running around the place like a chicken does when it loses its head. I always found it fascinating.

One particular memory I have is the Sunday when Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John F. Kennedy on national television. I remember wanting to watch TV and not unload the trucks that were coming in with tons of scrap metals. I remember my brother, Richard, and how he worked so hard. And for what?

Yes, looking back at Willets Point stirs up old memories of a different time and a different world. Some good and some bad. I knew then how important education was. I knew then that I had to get out of that place.

If I were to write my memoirs, nobody would believe me. But, oh, what a story I could tell.

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