Only the Strong Survive: A Story from New York

I was born in The Bronx. I played stick ball. I hung out at the corner candy store. I bought two pretzels for 3¢.

We read comic books, which cost a dime. Once they were read, we traded them for 2¢. You could take your old comics out on the street, set them up on a wooden box, and collect your money for pretzels or an egg cream (8¢). The 50’s were pretty good for a kid. You could go anywhere in the city for a nickle subway ride, and you never thought it was dangerous.

I could tell you a million stories about growing up in the Bronx, including the time I went back in 1975, five years after I had left for California. I discovered that “my” candy store had become a Korean market. The soda fountain, comic books and telephone booths were all gone. (telephone booths were for the local bookies to take their bets and call in their bets they wanted to “lay off.”

I bought a t-shirt that stated The Bronx: Only the Strong Survive.

By the time I was 13 in 1951, I was traveling to Harlem to see the NY Giants play baseball at the Polo Grounds. One night, I remember sneaking into the Polo Grounds to see the Giants play the Cubs. I don’t remember the game at all, but I do remember what happened after the game…

It was about 11:30pm. I was waiting in the parking lot with my program for the ball players to come out of the locker rooms. Autographs were my goal. A reward for successfully sneaking into the game. It was dark, it was Harlem, it was late at night. All the cars were gone. There were no overhead street lamps to light up the parking area. But it was safe… or was it?

Where were the players? I had waited. Paid my dues, but nothing was happening as I watched the last few cars abandon me to being totally alone on a three acre unlit parking lot at midnight in Harlem. Then, a door opened and out came four players. The encounter went something like this:

#1: Hey kid, what are you doing here in the dark?

Kid: Waiting to get autographs.

#2: Where you live kid?

Kid: Palham Parkway.

#3: How you getting home?

Kid: I will walk over that bridge (138th st) to the subway and take the train home.

#4: Get in the car, we’ll take you to the subway station.

I got in the car and have no recollection of anything else. Thirty-four years later, while showing my six-year-old son my baseball card collection (the one most mothers are reputed to throw away), out popped the Giants’ 1951 program. I had not looked at it for over thirty years. Much to my surprise, it had three autographs on the cover and one inside. Who were these players who saw fit to rescue a 13 year old white boy from the long dark walk to the subway?

Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Hawk Thompson. All Hall of Famers. Inside was Don Mueller, the 1951 national league batting champion. They’re the first four guys from the left on the bottom row of the photo below.

There is a lot of the Bronx still left in me. I had my first cup of coffee in the Bronx. They said it was mountain grown and good to the last drop.

Today, 65 years later, I want you to taste a Bronx-influenced blend of coffee I proudly named for myself (THAT’S Bronx Moxie!) I am proud of this blend. It took a lot of personal coffee experience to understand, as I eventually did, how to get the flavor profile I wanted. It’s a Bronx kind of coffee! Intense, heavy, with blueberry/strawberry notes and a long finish. The coffees are from Ethiopia and Nicaragua. Two countries where only the strong survive.

Paul Katzeff, co-founder and CEO of Thanksgiving Coffee Company

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