Click here for Home
GOING THE DISTANCE
"ST. MARK'S PLACE"
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
This column begins with this picture. It is a photograph I took of a man on St. Mark's Place in the East Village of New York City, a street that has long hosted bohemian-minded people since the beginning of forever. A bustling thoroughfare for the hip, it is a street where I often execute my street photography. At my photography forum, STREET PHOTOGRAPHER, one of the regulars there named Stan once asked me why an older guy like me hangs around St. Mark's Place---St. Mark's Place is a well-known hangout for the young. Stan noticed that many of my street photographs had been taken on this famed street
My answer was, I don't. Hangout there, that is. St. Mark's Place at 2nd Avenue is where my wife and I go different ways on the way to work. Patty works at an eye hospital further uptown on 2nd Avenue, while my office is toward the west on 9th Street. St. Mark's Place is simply the street where I hang a left toward my office, and is also the route I take to meet Patty on First Avenue after work. I generally take street pictures along whatever walking route I'm on at any given time. That's why I have so many street pictures from St. Mark's Place.
I also pointed out that I have a long history not only with St. Mark's Place, but with the entire Lower East Side for more than forty years. St. Mark's Place in the East Village, which is a small part of the greater Lower East Side, is as much a part of me as Northern Boulevard in Queens was, where I grew up. Perhaps moreso, since I have now lived in the Lower East Side longer, than I did in Queens since moving to the Lower East Side in 1969. I am a rooted person. No nomad, am I. I tend to become attached to places. It was so when I lived in Queens. It is so in my home, the Lower East Side of NYC. I proudly call the Lower Beast Side my house, man. MY HOUSE! It is mine, so don't screw around with it. The Lower East Side is me, man. I have absorbed the environs.
As an epicenter of the East Village, St. Mark's Place is a veritable and profound symbol of my life in Manhattan. There are many personal memories involving this storied street, for yers truly. Many of these memories are starkly vivid. There was the time when I just moved into my first apartment on East 3rd Street between Avenues B and C, when a Hell's Angel stopped me on St. Mark's Place. He was an older biker than me---I was 22 at the time. He looked at the Harley patch on my jacket and said half teasingly, "So you ride a Harley, huh?" I replied....."Yup."
There was the time when I worked for Quick Trip Messenger Service as a motorcycle messenger, when a fellow messenger at the service was a Pagans MC member named Patch--because he had an eyepatch. One day while I was walking down St. Mark's Place, Patch ran past me, sweatfilled and panic-stricken. He ducked into a tenement hallway, and slammed the door shut. I followed him in and said, "What's up?" Patch said....."The Angels are after me....." I never saw Patch again after that at work. he either left town or ended up in the hospital---or worse.
St. Mark's Place was to me, a venue where my development as a young biker took place. St Mark's place is like the old Harley-Davidson advertisement, where a Harley was touted as "more than a machine" in Madison Avenue Speak. St. Mark's Place is more than a mere street to me.
It is a mental residence in my life, where biker lore has been indelibly stamped into my brain crevices, to regale and remind forever after. There was the time when a Hell's Angel I knew named Mario stopped me on St. Mark's Place. He was agitated. I asked him what was wrong. He said, "The niggers and spics burned my bike!" The Angels had beaten up a Puerto Rican a few weeks prior to that, and the Puerto Ricans had burned Mario's Harley to the ground as revenge. There was a real turf war between bikers and Puerto Ricans. The Puerto Ricans had the neighborhood to themselves for decades, and they didn't like the interloping bikers encroaching on their turf. It was purely territorial.
Back in the late '60s, St. Mark's Place and Second Avenue was the congregating corner for bikers. On a good day, you'd see a row of parked Harleys extending halfway down the block on Second Avenue. This was in fact, how I met my first wife. At that time, my first wife hung around the biker scene quite a bit. I took my first wife for a ride on my Harley, and that sealed the deal on our beginning.
If it weren't for St. Mark's Place, my kids Mike and Tiffanie---now grownups in their own right---wouldn't be alive. Mike and Tiff owe their existences to St. Mark's Place. How's that for a history with the street? At that time, my first wife lived in a commune on 3rd Street with a bunch of other hippies. St. Mark's Place then, was the center of hippie life in the Village. Flower children with bare feet and daisies in their hair paraded the streets. I never considered myself a hippie. I was a biker, period. St. Mark's Place has been as long as I can remember, a home to counter-culture types of many stripes. After the hippies grew up, then the punk scene made St. Mark's place its home.
These days, St. Mark's Place has seen a second iteration of the punk scene--call it "Punk Lite." The scene consists of kids from the suburbs who come to St. Mark's Place to sleep on the street, and beg for money. In the late '60s though, St. Mark's was a true center of avant garde music. It was at the Electric Circus where I first saw and heard the Grateful Dead play. I recall the mellow sound of Jerry Garcia's Les Paul guitar, as he played searing solos during the song, "Alligator." In those days, the smell of grass wafting through the night air on St. Mark's Place was rampant. The presence of the biker subculture was also thick in the air, as the pungent smell of 60 weight Harley oil permeated the atmosphere of St. Mark's Place.
Today, there is a distinct absence of biker culture on St. Mark's Place. The only hint of biker life that I see there now, is when I'm blasting down St. Mark's on my Harley 74, as the sound from her pipes reverberate off of the walls of the brownstones on either side---or when some other loner Harley rider rides down the street. The Harley World has been reduced to a solo act, to be played PRN. That's okay, though. I dig it that way. So many righteous bikers have passed through the invisible portals at St. Mark's Place and Second Avenue. So many Harley pipes of those long gone bikers, have been muffled forever. I feel proud that I'm one of the selected few from that era, to keep going the distance, as I vowed to do as a young biker of 22 on St. Mark's Place. I did so silently to myself, as that older biker asked me about my Harley. Hey man, keep it real and keep it going. This column began with a picture, and ends with a picture. A picture of a man on St. Mark's Place. Later.