A Trip on the Crosstown Stage


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March 4, 1959, Vol. IV, No. 19

A Trip on the Crosstown Stage

By John Wilcock

It is possible, I suppose, to spend all ones youth in the Village and never take a trip on the Overland Stage which connects the effete East with the rugged West. But to most of us the “8th Street Crosstown,” as it’s so whimsically called, is an essential lifeline, a lasting reminder of just how tough things could be, a route as timeless as life itself.

It is not generally known that Marco Polo (1254-1324) was the first man to cross town on the 8th Street (the shuttle hadn’t been built then) and, to quote the Columbia Encyclopedia, “Polo was wonderstruck by the splendors which he saw…” Some of those splendors remain today, but many others have derived from a more recent colonization—Babkaville, Wanamaker City, the Turkish baths along St. Mark’s Place.

Retracing the historic route one night last week, I embarked upon the Overland Stage as it emerged from the trackless prairies of West 10th Street and jolted uneasily down Seventh Avenue South.

Down Greenwich Avenue we went, past the jail — where a crudely lettered sign proclaimed that the sheriff was “Gone to Lynch” — past Prexy’s (its flapjacks are delicious), and past the busy Whelan’s Trading Post, where the recent introduction of those new-fangled credit cards has guaranteed even the poorest prospector a grubstake.

Cheek by jowl with the swinging doors of the old Jumble Shop Saloon, I could see “Prof.” Wilentz standing in the doorway of his popular book emporium. Oldtimers may recall when the Wilentz Boys first arrived in these parts. A danged pair of no-good bookslingers was how they were tagged, but folks quickly cottoned on to the value of their special brand of book-learning.

My fellow-passengers were a motley crew: a banker or two, a cowpoke from the Village Beef Ranch who’d taken his dog West to visit the vet, a handful of heavily rouged ladies of doubtful occupation, and a young student heading East to pick up an education at Cooper Union, that cultural oasis in the Bowery desert.

The strip near Fifth Avenue where ranchers’ wives love to shop was gaily lit and elegantly styled — Career and Corral, Warren Chemists with windows full of imported perfumes, and the smart Cookery (its flapjacks are delicious).

Over on the rim of Tompkins Park, a honky-tonk area filled with seedy saloons, liquor stores, hand laundries, and places to electrify sewing machines, we passed the 14th Street Crosstown, northbound along Avenue C. The driver stopped to hiss a friendly warning: “Bandits!”

All passengers took cover under the seats, but the marauders must have hit the trail, for no encounters were made and, at Broadway and 9th Street, cramped from kneeling, I disembarked to visit the Bun ‘n Burg. It’s flapjacks are delicious.

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