‘Driving Down Amsterdam Avenue, I Got a Flat in My Right Rear Tire’

Down From Buffalo

Dear Diary:

I made my first trip to Manhattan in June 1964, driving from Buffalo in my 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air. I was 25.

My boss had sent me to the city to try to sell cigarette lighters to Macy’s and Gimbels. Our company, Flame Crest, imported lighters, cigarette cases and other items from Japan. At the time, Ronson and Colibri were the best-known brands, and we were unknown newcomers.

It took me about eight hours to make the trip via the New York State Thruway. I got off the highway at 178th Street.

Driving down Amsterdam Avenue, I got a flat in my right rear tire at around 170th Street. It was getting dark, and there wasn’t a soul around. Huge apartment buildings towered over the avenue on both sides.

I got out of the car, opened the trunk and got the jack. I had never changed a tire before. I placed the jack under the car — was that the right place for it? — and cranked the car up. I tried to unscrew the lug nuts, but the wheel kept spinning and the nuts wouldn’t move.

I was about to give up and walk. I thought maybe there was a service station somewhere nearby. But I would have had to leave my sample case and all my lighters in the car. I didn’t want to do that.

“I have to get those lug nuts to get loose,” I thought. “I need friction to keep that wheel from turning.”

It dawned on me that if I lowered the car back down, the street would provide that friction.

I lowered the car to the street, and was indeed able to unscrew the nuts. I cranked the car back up again, removed the flat tire, got the spare in place, screwed the nuts back on, lowered the car, threw the flat and all the equipment in the trunk and drove off.

The next day, I went to Macy’s. They didn’t want my lighters. Gimbels took a few on consignment.

— Joe Vles

Partied Out in N.Y.C.

Dear Diary:

Darkness silently tiptoes back
Light silently tiptoes back
Bumping into each other
They turn to face one another
They dance facing each other
Not bearing to touch one another
Amid the music of chirping birds
They circle each other
Their fingers close but not touching
Darkness heads past light
As light lingers on
Until they meet again
When twilight shall call

— Shikeb Siddiqui

In Her Prayers

Dear Diary:

I lived in New York City in the early 1980s. In those days, you could stand in line at the Main Post Office to mail your entry form for the New York City Marathon at midnight on deadline morning.

Once, after doing that and having no money to take a cab home, my roommate and I waited at the bus stop. She was reading “Tender Torment” while I danced to the latest tunes on my Walkman.

A cabby pulled up and offered us a free ride.

No way, we said. Did we look stupid? A free ride in New York City? Uh-uh.

The cabby pulled up his pants leg and showed us a gun. Then he showed us his police badge. He was undercover and worried about the two of us reading and dancing on the curb. We were scared of him, and he was worried about us.

He gave us a ride home and asked us to pray for him and for his sister, a nun.

I still do to this day. Thank you Officer Hernandez.

— Amanda Schwenke

Overcome

Dear Diary:

I was at the top of the stairs to the subway station when my phone buzzed. It was the daughter of my best friend. I answered, knowing somehow that it would be bad news.

It was terrible.

The train was coming. I could hear it. I had to catch it. It was rush hour, and the car was packed. Slipping my way through the crowd to the end where I could stand with my back against the door, I braced myself.

The tears were coming. I looked up at the ceiling, trying to force them to drain back down into my eyes. I tried calm breathing, but I couldn’t do it smoothly. My breath kept catching in my throat, threatening to burst into a sob.

Then a movement toward the other end of the car caught my eye. Through the tangle of swaying bodies stretched out before me, I saw a woman — short blond hair, blue skirt and white T-shirt, early 30s maybe — climbing through the arms and legs and backpacks. Her eyes held mine. No mistake: She was coming to me.

Her face — its expression of pure compassion — set my tears loose instantly. She made it to me just in time, grabbing me in a comforting embrace.

“There, there,” she said. “I got you. Go ahead and cry.”

— Gwen Butler

Waiting on a Star

Dear Diary:

A steady rain was making my walk on West 60th Street a real slog. Nevertheless, I was soldiering on toward Columbus Circle when I noticed a small crowd huddled near the entrance to the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

As I got closer, I noticed that everyone in the crowd was peering toward the doorway with their cellphones poised and ready to take photographs.

“Who are you waiting to see?” I asked a woman as I passed by.

She replied without missing a beat.

“Whoever comes out.”

— Bob Neuman

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Illustrations by Agnes Lee

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