“AMERICA’S HOT ROD ON THE 4TH OF JULY”

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MY STINGRAY “MARY”: Red, right and true blue.

“SHUT DOWN” by The Beach Boys (1963)

Tach it up, tach it up
Buddy going to shut you down

It happened on the strip where the road is wide
Two cool shorts standing side by side
Yeah, my fuel injected Stingray and a four-thirteen
Revving up our engines and it sounds real mean

Declining numbers at an even rate
At the count of one we both accelerate
My Stingray is light the slicks are starting to spin
But the four-thirteen’s really digging in
Got to be cool now power shift here we go

Superstock Dart is winding out in low
But my fuel injected Stingray’s really starting to go
To get the traction I’m riding the clutch
My pressure plate’s burning that machine’s too much
Pedal’s to the floor hear the dual quads drink

And now the four-thirteen’s lead is starting to shrink
He’s hot with ram induction but it’s understood
I got a fuel injected engine sitting under my hood

Shut it off, shut it off buddy now I shut you down
Shut it off, shut it off buddy now I shut you down
Shut it off, shut it off buddy now I shut you down
Shut it off, shut it off buddy now I shut you down
Shut it off, shut it off buddy now I shut you down

Today is the 4th of July when we’re celebrating America’s birthday. So, it is wholly appropriate that I’m writing about old Corvettes of 50 years ago. There was a time 50 years ago, when the Chevy Stingray was “America’s Hot Rod.” This was during the famed “muscle car era,” when the Vette was one of the 800 pound gorilla hot rods of the day. It was brash, rash, loud and fast. If you were a hot rodder drag racing at Connecting Highway in Queens, you wanted a Vette Stingray. The word “brutal” comes to mind. You might liken it to the 1960s Harley Sportster, when the Sportster XLCH was considered the king of the streets.

Since then, the Harley Sportster has undergone a transformation in terms of it’s public image. Instead of being perceived as the king of the streets and the drag strip, the Sporty is now seen as a tame shadow of its former self. And in this day of 200 horsepower japbikes, that’s understandable. However, that is not true of the Chevy Vette. The newer Vettes have become even more powerful and dominant in speed. The stats don’t lie. A 2019 Corvette ZR1 puts out 755 horses, does zero to 60 in 2.68 seconds and tops out at 212 mph. So, why can’t I get into the new Vettes?

First of all, I can’t stand all the electronics on the new Vettes. Man, all I ever wanted was a stout Chevy mill with a Holley quad. Screw all that computer noise. The only nod I gave to electronics on “Mary” my ’72 Stingray, was a Mallory electronic ignition to replace the points set-up (I did the same for my ’71 Shovelhead “Mabel”—had electronic ignition replace the Blue Streak points I’d used for years). Hey, I have the same disdain for the electronics on the new Harleys. Do ya know that new Harleys have fuel pumps, which is necessitated by the Harleys’ fuel injection? I hadn’t kept up with what was happenin’ with newer Harleys, and I was surprised to learn that.

Second of all, another reason the newer Vettes’ persona has changed and I can’t get into ’em, is the millionaire’s price. Check this out: the price of a new Corvette ZR1, is $120,900! Hell, when I bought my first Vette (“Unnamed Vette”) used in 1966 when she was a little over two years old, she was only slightly over three grand. I paid less for Mary, my ’72 Stingray used, than a new piece of shit Ford Focus costs! It’s hard to call a $120,900 Vette “America’s Hot Rod” when she costs more than a three bedroom house in Florida, man. It is for the reasons I cited, that the Vette is no longer seen as “Everyman’s Hot Rod.” Newer Vettes belong in the four car garages of millionaires, next to their Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Rolls Royces.

That’s why I love my old Vette so much, man. She will always be “America’ Hot Rod” to me, representing an era of muscle cars that we’ll never see again. Sure, we’re seeing cars today with fantastic performance, but the image of these cars are of machines that only rich people can own. In their own way, they’re too refined for my taste. I like my Vettes rough and original. And that’s what my Stingray is: America’s Hot Rod on this 4th of July.

FINITO

“SPLIT LOYALTY?”

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MARY: An old love.

1968
I had my righteous ’64 Sting Ray. I was happy with her. That was “Unnamed Vette” as you know. But—I wanted a Harley. The wanting of that Harley was burning a hole in my mind, and I couldn’t take the pain anymore. Yet, I could not afford both. I was a broke college student. So, I sold my Vette that I loved so much, taking a gamble that the love I would have for the 1968 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLCH, would more than compensate for the loss of my Chevy Sting Ray.

1999
I had my 1971 Shovelhead “Mabel,” whom I loved so much. Yet, I wanted a generation 3 Chevy Corvette Stingray (spelled as one word, as opposed to the ’64 Vettes that were spelled with two words—“Sting Ray”). I’d been without a Vette since I sold “Unnamed Vette” in 1968 so I could get my first Harley. This time around though, 31 years later, I had some extra bread so that I could keep my beloved Mabel and still have that Vette I wanted so much. The wanting of the “new” Vette in my life, burned a hole in my mind. But I hadda do it! The hidden question whispering in the back of my mind was, would dual ownership of the machines I loved, Mabel and a Vette affect my love for one or both of those machines? I was willing to risk that, because I couldn’t take the pain of not having a Stingray anymore.

I sometimes wondered if I’m an anomaly among bikers. To my recollection, I may have been the most open biker to have written so honestly about my love for my motorcycles. That’s “love” as if my bikes had a soul and feelings, which they did. I know that by being so open about the emotional side of being a biker, I was trying to get other bikers to open up a little about their love for their Harleys. I know that that love was there, if not self-acknowledged very much by bikers. Except for this guy, a Hells Angel from the 1960s, trying to define “love”:

“Love is the feeling ya get when ya think of your motorcycle.”

I know, a true “Hallmark Moment,” but hey! At least the guy was being honest! I imagine that that quote of the Hells Angel which appeared in Hunter S. Thompson’s book, may have invited some snickering in some corners of the biker subculture. Not that those snickers would ever have been aired in public, or it would have demanded some ball peen hammer work by an expert.

More questions arose in 2018, when I decided it was time to hang up my drag bars on glide risers. Keep in mind that I’d had those same drag bars since the early ’70s, when I bought them from Brooklyn Harley-Davidson. Those drag bars first graced my ’68 XLCH “Sally The Bitch” on 5 inch glide risers, before they migrated to Mabel’s 8 inch glide risers in 1985. After I self-pried those drag bars from my warm, live hands—the questions that arose were these: “Would there be a hole in my heart from losing my Harley, and how would my overall loyalty react? Would I love “Mary” my Vette more, be “redistributed” so to speak?”

FROM ARISTOTLE’S “PHYSICS”–330 B.C.
“Nature abhors a vacuum.”

Gotta tell ya, there was one helluva hole in my heart—a “vacuum” if you will—after I gave up riding and my beloved Shovelhead. I’m here to tell ya that there has been a redefining of my feelings of loyalty–along with my feelings of love for my Vette “Mary.” More on this later.

But first, some of ya may remember that I took a lot of incoming at Iron Horse, when I flatly stated that I saw my Harleys as “recreational” in nature. Lots of bikers took out their torches and pitchforks in their irate letters to IH’s “Back Talk” letters to the ed section. Hey, I was merely pointing out that in my specific case, living here in NYC, that I didn’t need a motorcycle for transportation. There are many bikers who do need their bikes for basic transport, but I wasn’t one of ’em.

So what did that mean? It simply meant that I “needed” my Harleys emotionally, to have and to love–therefore rendering ’em “recreational” in nature. So sue me if ya don’t dig my choice of language, okay? But it is accurate.

Here’s sumpin’ else: I didn’t “need” my ’64 Vette in the 1960s, and I don’t “need” my Vette Mary now. I only need to have her and love her, and to love driving her. That’s a fact. Nobody within the confines of NYC needs a car. People own cars and motorcycles here, because they love ’em.

Now to the meat of the matter. After I got over the shock of losing my beloved Harley, and the loss of riding in my life–which was a monumental shock—I’ve adjusted to this reality. With that reality, has been a shift in my overall feelings toward Mary, my Stingray.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

That vacuum, that hole in my heart, has been compensated for, filled in by an increased love for Mary. I will go as far as saying that the exuberant feeling I have about my Stingray, is like a resurgence to the level of enthusiasm I had about my first Vette—when I got “Unnamed Vette” in 1966. Now, that is saying a lot. So yes, my loyalty has shifted.

FINITO

“SHE LIKES IT HARD AND FAST”

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“Mary” has a soul.

Excerpt from “Transcendent Motoring” by Ost Neer
I often encounter this statement, that cars have souls. Socrates, one of the biggest philosophers in history, argued that the soul reflected itself in the “human” ability to think. Avicenna (Ibn Sina) defined the soul through the prism of self-consciousness and self-awareness. In a couple of centuries Descartes would return to this argument and arrive at his famous “I think therefore I exist”

Coming back to cars. They’re product of our technology, they can’t have souls a priori. But, as I see it, a car can “emulate” soul. It can become the “integral” part of the driver and deliver feelings of the “spiritual” symbiosis. Some drivers speak to their cars. Some are trying to “grasp from the air” all “vibes” of car’s mood before firing it up. Albeit the car stands motionless, dedicated drivers know it boils with emotions.

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JUNE 18, 2019
As I walked to Mary’s garage, I muttered into the air as if, and I knew she can hear me even from a distance—“I’m coming, Mary. I’ll be there soon.” Mary is my 1972 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. I talk to Mary because she is a living entity, with a soul and has feelings. This will be the first time I’ve seen Mary in eleven months because I had some major surgery. I know my car. She will be like a spiteful cat that was left alone for days in someone else’s care, while one is on vacation. I definitely picked up on those vibes from her. I stepped on the gas pedal six times, to set set the choke and get some gas into Mary’s Holley quad. “Whir-whir-whir-whir…” Again, “Whir-whir-whir-whir-whir..” On the fourth repetition, Mary’s motor reluctantly coughed into rough and arrhythmic life, like an obstinate child forced to eat her spinach.

JUNE 22, 2019
It was time to give Mary some good exercise. I got to Mary’s garage nice and early, at 5:45 this morning. Mary started up quickly and easily today, “Whir…whirr…varooooomm,” just like that! It was because Mary was happier today. She is a living thing and does have a soul and feelings. She settled into an unambiguously eager gallop at idle on choke, unlike four days ago, when she cantankerously forced herself into a uncertain, uneven idle. She was eager to go! I could tell! I wheeled her out into the sunshine. After one block of driving her on choke, she settled down into a nice, smooth idle, not at all rough like a few days ago!

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Quite a contrast between how Mary behaved four days ago, and this morning. Four days ago I predicted that Mary would be pissed off about being left alone for a year. Today she was a happy camper because I started ‘er up four days ago, and took her out in the driving rain—or as the Brits say, “the rain was tipping down”—and Mary’s hurt feelings were assuaged. In other words, she forgave me my year’s absence from her cockpit.

Sure, I talk to my car. Doesn’t everyone who has a true connection with their car? People that have a true connection with their car (or motorcycle) have formed this symbiosis with the machine that the author spoke of. This very connection confers a “soul” upon the machine, this “emulation” of a soul.

Based on this knowledge that my Vette Mary has a soul and feelings, I knew that she would very reluctantly start four days ago, just as I “knew” that she would start without a hitch this morning. To be “connected” with your car, is to know your car. There is a predictability to one’s car based on one’s knowledge of her personal likes, dislikes and quirks.

This is knowing one’s car as an individual.

Another thing that I know about Mary as an “individual,” is her personal preferences with respect to how she is driven. In other words, what makes her “happy.” Happiness is a quality that refers to living beings with emotions, and Mary definitely has feelings. What she likes, is to be driven hard and fast.

I’ve learned over the years that a drive in Mary must include bouts of hard acceleration. I usually perform these from a rolling start to protect her drivetrain. Maximum acceleration from a standing start is very stressful on the drivetrain. I find that Mary is the most “content” in demeanor, when she is driven in parts, in anger. She digs it when I drive her like I stole her.

When she is driven hard and fast intermittently, in between periods of being pampered during a drive, her motor purrs like a contented kitten. The mill runs smooth, happy and with great mechanical confidence. She feel both muscular and forward leaning. When she feels like this, I can sense the unimpeded travel of appropriately heated oil through her arteries and veins.

I feel her breath being inhaled with gusto through her 4 barrel Holley, and the effortless expelling of breath through her straight-through glass packs. I feel her lungs expand and push out gaseous waste. She is at her absolute best, when driven hard and fast in every outing. Does Mary have a soul? Hell, yeah!

FINITO

“PERSONAL MEMOIR PART EIGHT”

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Mary in her garage in the Lower Beast Side of NYC

JUNE 18, 2019
Shelli Sonstein of the NYC classic rock radio station Q104.3, was announcing the weather in her nasal Queens-accented voice, reminiscent of Fran Drescher as “The Nanny,” but not quite as severe or exaggerated as Drescher’s.

“It’s a monsoon out theah, folks. With these storms and torrential downpours, ya can fuggedabowt yaw umbrellas.”

Yet, I had to go. I had to get to Mary’s garage on Delancey Street in the Lower Beast Side of NYC. “Mary” is my blood-red ’72 Vette Stingray. This was the moment I’d been obsessing about for ten months! It was a slice of normalcy in my life that I felt desperate to claw back and hug close to me, after ten months of abnormal living.

JUNE 4, 2018
I woke up a little after 3:00 AM, feeling that familiar itch, that compulsion to ride Mabel, my ’71 Harley Shovelhead stroker. I’d been afflicted with this compulsion for 50 years, ever since I got my first Harley “Sally The Bitch,” my 1968 Sportster XLCH. Funny, after all these years I still felt uncomfortable not following this urge to ride. It made me crazy, not to climb aboard my Harley.

The urgency of this compulsion had not changed, but I had. I had aches and pains of the sort that one ignores, simply because they are always there, sometimes better, sometimes worse. It’s an acceptance of pain that only one who has lived with it for the duration, understands. It is not really stoicism. It simply is the mind’s uncanny ability to adjust. Or maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit. Perhaps it is because I am stoic, that I can live with and ignore pain.

The pain in my lower back and hip though, seemed particularly pronounced on my walk to the parking lot. I found that I had to stop and rest halfway to the parking lot, to let the pain subside before continuing. I said to myself, “I gotta do a full stretch when I get to Mabel.” Stretching I’d found, helped to alleviate the pain to some degree.

That wasn’t the only pain I had. I also had chronic pain in my left shoulder, ever since I tore something in it in 2016. It was probably the rotator cuff, but I never sought medical attention for it. I guess I’m peculiar that way. I hate going to doctors. I did the same thing when I tore a ligament in my right knee in 1969, when kickstarting Sally The Bitch. In that case, Sally’s kickstarter did not “catch” and it slipped right through with no resistance. Wow, was that painful! Yet, I limped around for weeks, not seeing a doctor for it. Oh well, easy come easy go!

I did my stretch by Mabel in the parking lot. Then I felt ready to go. I started the Mabes up, just the usual business. After warming up, I kicked ‘er into first gear, fed in the clutch and stretched out my legs, feet resting easily on the highway pegs. Mabel faced the back of the lot, so I made the tight u-turn that this little island acted as a divider to. After rounding the island, we abruptly turned sharp right and Mable’s front 21 hit the island, and we went down.

There I was trapped under Mabel’s right side, something protruding from her right side impaling my right calf. Mabel was still running, and I smelled gas as it ran from Mabel’s S & S Super B carb. I was able to free myself, from under her, and picked her up and put her on her kickstand. Then I shut her motor off. I was okay, but shaken. There was a hole in my jeans of my right leg, and there was blood seeping from through the fabric. “What the hell just happened,” I muttered to myself. I had no idea. But I felt a shift in the Universe.

I restarted Mabel up, saw that she was running okay, then went out to gas up. After gassing up at the BP Station at 23rd Street next to the East River, I pulled out of the station, then noticed a peculiar thing. I noticed that in trying to make a tight right turn, that we were running wide of where I wanted us to go. That was strange and unsettling. I seemed to note subconsciously, that the end of riding motorcycles was near for me—even though I could not admit or voice it outright yet.

Yes, I did suffer a wound on my right calf when I dumped Mabel that day. But a scab had formed and I wasn’t too worried, despite the fact that my lower leg had become very swollen for weeks. I thought that was normal. About a month after dropping Mabel, the scab fell off–and I noticed that there was a profuse leakage of pus from the wound. That was not normal! Long story short, I went to the emergency room of Beth Israel Medical Center (where I had by the way, worked in the early ’70s). It was confirmed that I had an infection, and was admitted to stay overnight on a regimen of intravenous antibiotics. I was deemed well enough to go home the next day.

About a month after that, I developed a sharp, piercing pain in my hip, that even I could not ignore. The reason? The pain was so severe, I couldn’t walk. I ended up calling “911” and the paramedics arrived and assessed my condition. I was convinced that I had injured a hip flexor muscle, but boy, was I wrong. The EMT guys took me by ambulance to Beekman Downtown Hospital’s emergency room in Lower Manhattan. Hey man, this emergency room thing was gettin’ tedious!

I had x-rays done at the ER, and an ER doctor said to me, “It’s a good thing you came in Mr. Wong. You have a fractured hip. In fact, it looks like you had it for months. When did you first notice pain in that area?” Ah, the disadvantages of being able to withstand and ignore pain! That was the beginning of my real medical adventure. The wound in my calf seemed insignificant by comparison.

I was admitted to the hospital, and the ball got rolling for a left hip replacement surgery. In the course of this prep work, a cardiologist came to me and said, “Mr. Wong, I can’t approve you for the surgery, because your heartbeat is too slow–this is called bradycardia. It’s a risk we can’t take.” I actually knew about the slow heartbeat for years, but ignored it. The bottom line was, I had to be transferred to New York Hospital where they did pace maker implantation, which was was not done at Beekman Downtown Hospital. So, I was transferred to New York Hospital, where I had the pace maker and left hip replacement done on the same day, on August 6, 2018.

I won’t bore you with the tedium that was months of home rehab and working diligently to get back physically. I will say that recently, I’ve noted marked improvement in my cardiovascular condition and hip strength. I’ve gotten to the point where I have gotten back to where I was–more or less, it is hard to absolutely quantify–where I can walk to Mary’s garage nonstop without having to stop and rest the hip. I can feel that there is even greater room for improvement, which is good. And that leaves us at this point yesterday….

JUNE 18, 2019
It was raining cats, dogs, iguanas and piranha. In other words, it was rain so heavy it contained everything but the kitchen sink. When I walked into the garage on Delancey Street where I kept Mary, with rivulets of water running profusely from my person, Charley from the Ludlow Garage was already there waiting for me. The Ludlow Garage may be the last bastion of honest and competent mechanics left in Manhattan. Think of Jerome the owner and his guys, as the “Andrew Rosa” and “Rosa’s Cycles” of cars. That’s how highly I think of Jerome and his shop. There have been times when Jerome has done work for me, and didn’t even charge me for it.

I met Jerome 20 years ago, when I was hunting around for a wrench who had experience with old Vettes. When I inquired at Worth Auto Parts (now defunct) at 5th Street and the Bowery, they told me about Jerome. The guy said, “Jerome at Ludlow has worked on everything under the sun, but you’ll have to make an appointment. That’s how in demand they are there.” When I finally spoke to Jerome, I was impressed. The guy was a true motorhead himself, having owned hot old Vettes himself.

At this point, Mary was sitting in her garage with a dead battery since last September. I hadn’t seen her since July of last year, when I last drove her. My medical adventure really put a crimp in my motorvatin’ life, man. But here was Charley from the Ludlow Garage, with a fresh new battery in hand. Charley then installed Mary’s new battery, and I started Mary up for the first time, since before my surgeries of last August. I then took Mary out for a drive in the pouring rain. Think of the rain as “Nature’s Car Wash.” Check it out man, I truly started to feel whole again.

FINITO

“THE ENIGMA OF DAVID SNOW”

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If David knew I was writing this, he’d be pissed off, embarrassed or both. For such a talented guy, David has a streak of modesty a mile wide. Obviously from what I’ve written so far, you can tell that what I’m going to say about David will be complimentary. To that, I will paraphrase what Marv Levy’s Buffalo Bills said to America, when the Bills made it to the Super Bowl four times, but failed to win any of the four games….

“Live with it, David!”

Very simply, I consider David to be one of the most transformative figures of the biker subculture. I think he’s right up there with Hunter S. Thompson. Now, you might be confused about why I chose HST to compare David to, say, as opposed to Sonny Barger. Sonny Barger was also a transformative leader, leading to the world wide spread of 81.

But, ask yourself this: Without Hunter S. Thompson’s glorification of the Hells Angels in his book, would the Hells Angels have come this far in proliferation as the most dominant MC in history? If HST had thrown in with and followed the Gypsy Jokers around and centered his “gonzo journalism” on the Jokers, would the Jokers now enjoy the notoriety that the HA do? Think about it.

It could be argued that David Snow’s Iron Horse magazine had as much if not more influence on bikers, than Hunter S. Thompson’s book. There is one essential difference between Thompson and David Snow. Thompson was not writing from a position of idealism. Although he did hang with the HA to gather information for his book and did ultimately end up with a Britbike to ride around on—he never was the true biker that David is. Herein lies the essence of why David is such a transformative person in the culture:

David believes in everything he does and writes, to a fault.

Here is a perfect example of this perfect idealism that David lives by. I recently posted a photo of the NYC Hells Angels’ clubhouse in the 1970s, long before the facade of the clubhouse acquired that polished painted door at 77 East 3rd Street in NYC. The place looked like a ramshackle garbage dump, with HA related graffiti all over the place, done crudely with spray cans. It reminded of the Bowery during the Great Depression.

Yet, David’s comment was simply, “So brilliantly hardcore.” David’s mind is so steeped in idealism, that he could not see this scene any other way but the way that he did—as the “way it should have looked,” devoid of polish and the “touch of the artiste” about it. In other words, “hardcore.” That struck me, and I doubt if anybody else but me perceived the significance of what David said. It was a true clue to his personality.

When the suits at Iron Horse tried to pressure David to ditch Fritz, or else lose Iron Horse—David took the only step his integrity and idealism would allow him to do. He walked away from Iron Horse. I’ll never forget the day in 1997, when David showed up at my office in the West Village to deliver me the news. It was indeed, a sad day, but a day that I could have predicted because I know of David’s Idealism.

David has never sold out.

Frankly, I consider David a genius, but he would no doubt dispute this, because of his great modesty. I said to him after he left IH, “Hey David, with your talent and drive you could lead any magazine you wanted.” But to him, if he could not do it his way, all the success in the world with any amount of compensation and perks, would be in his eyes, lowering himself. This is the key to David Snow.

So true to his roots as a true hardcore in any facet of life, he returned to Arkansas and took up what he considered an honorable and artistically rewarding profession—as one of the top talented tattoo artists of his time. He could have done anything here in NYC, the publishing capitol of the world, but he stayed true to himself, and his unerring nose for being and staying hardcore.

FINITO

“OLD VETTES”

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Mary in her garage in the Lower Beast Side of NYC.

It’s funny how my views on older Vettes and older cars of the sixties and seventies, parallel how I feel about Harleys. Just as I have zero interest in newer Harleys, newer Corvettes do nuthin’ for me. They just leave me cold. Except for a joyless appreciation of the eye popping numbers of the new 755 horse Vette, nothing about new Vettes moves me. My views of the new 755 horsepower Corvette, represents a sterile interest devoid of emotion.

My view on old Harleys, those from the Shovelhead era last made in 1984, on back to the Knucklehead made in the 1930s—is emotionally based. Traditional bikers love old Harleys based on their emotional response to them, and not on logic. The same can be said about the love of old cars. My love for old Vettes, from the early 1970s on back to the C1 Corvettes of the late 1950s–is entirely driven by my emotional reaction to ’em

The “C1” generation of Vettes ranged from 1953 when the first Vettes were introduced to the world, to 1962. However, I didn’t love all C1 Vettes. The styling of the first C1 Vettes, never moved me emotionally. My love for the Vette really begins with the 1957 Vette, when the more classic and hardcore style along with the 283 cubic inch displacement Chevy V-8 was introduced. That year the 283 mill with fuel injection produced 290 horses, surpassing the time-honored “one horsepower per cubic inch” golden performance measurement.


The ’57 Vette with the 290 horse 283—righteous!

My interest in and love of old Vettes was signed, sealed and delivered by the time I got my first Vette, a used 1964 Corvette Sting Ray in 1966. Man, was I head over heels in love! This car had the 327 cubic inch 365 horse mill, and 4-speed. I got her mag wheels and exhaust dumpers, which made her three times as loud as a straight piped Shovelhead! That essentially straight piped dual exhaust would ultimately get me into trouble. Not surprising, since you could hear this Vette from miles away!


1964 Vette Sting Ray with mag wheels.

I enjoyed the hell outta this baby. I was Speed Crazy with her, reveling in her performance. The clatter of her solid lifters gave me a high. This car was my infamous “Unnamed Vette” (see “Personal Memoir Part Seven”). The cops in Queens, New York were on the lookout for me and Unnamed Vette. They knew us and it was only a matter of time until I started getting speeding tickets.

In a matter of months, I had accrued three speeding tickets, which in New York State is the “red line” that signals the loss of license. It’s been too long ago for me to remember where I got the first two, but the third and final citation is memorable. It occurred on a 6:00 AM early saturday morning jaunt on the Triboro Bridge in NYC, when a cop caught me doing 110 miles per hour on the bridge. At that hour of a weekend, the bridge was almost entirely deserted of traffic. When I got on the Bridge on the Astoria, Queens end of the bridge, I floored Unnamed Vette as I went through the gears. In fourth gear near the end of the bridge, we were doin’ 110. Problem was, there was a NYPD cop car forming a roadblock there, waiting for me.


The Triboro Bridge was almost deserted when I floored Unnamed Vette.

What a racket Unnamed Vette made, as I braked and her motor backed off….“RRRRAAAACK-A-A-A-A….” Uh oh. We stopped as the cop came over. “License and registration, please” the cop said, as he looked us over. As he looked my license and reggie over, he said….

“Mr. Wong, do you know that my radar showed you doing 110 miles an hour?”

What could I say? Apparently it was “I took my stupid pills time” as I responded, “Umm no officer. I didn’t realize it.” DOH! Then the cop started writing out my third speeding ticket received within a six month period. After he did that, he began looking under Unnamed Vette. He said, do you have mufflers? Stupidly I said, “I think so.” Then he spotted the exhaust dumpers near the headers. He said, “Did you know about these?” I said, “No, this is the way the car was when I bought it used.” With that, he released me. To his credit, he was polite throughout.

That third speeding ticket caused New York State to revoke my drivers license. After a probationary period, I had to take a mandatory drivers safety course, before I could apply for and be tested for a new license. I was so grateful when I got all of that done. A change I made in Unnamed Vette, was I closed off her exhaust cutouts and installed glass pack mufflers. Glass packs are a nice compromise, as they are not as blatantly police-attracting as open pipes, yet are still “straight-through.”

I love the sound of the Small Block Chevy mill with glass packs. Which is why I had glass packs installed on my current Vette, “Mary.” It is a deep throated, robust sound pretty much up there in the decibel range without sounding like a full race open exhaust.


CHEVY THUNDER: Mary with her glass packs.

FROM A SCIENTIFIC PAPER ABOUT HUMAN RESPONSE TO SOUND
“When waves and ripples are emitted, energy vibrating at a certain frequency will become waveform and sound. Only now we are discovering this extraordinary world through the lens of quantum observation. Likewise, water is an uncanny transformative storer of information, and as the human body is composed of some 90% of water, it is recording everything—our environment, our emotional state and our bio-rhythm…..”

I experience a powerful and visceral response, every time I start my Vette up. I get this undeniably irresistible love-like emotion, when I hear her Chevy Heartbeat. There is a symbiotic joining of my heartbeat and that of my Chevy motor, a bonding of souls across the abyss. You might say a synaptic jump between species (I believe machines like old Vettes and Harleys are alive and have a soul). Sounds crazy, but it’s true. My sound and Mary’s sounds “mate” to form a holy union of sorts.

I love glass packs. They provide a straight-through, throaty and lusty roar from the Small Block Chevy when the gas pedal’s mashed balls to the wall, that says, “I own the street,” and a rumbly and authoritative idle, that can’t be matched in the automotive world. A pretty girl is like a melody, and a righteous sounding Chevy is like a completed song. I feel emotional when I hear my Stingray’s beautiful bellowing exhaust notes with glass packs, the sound of an unchained Chevy V-8 is one that connotes power and poise, at the same time.

The lusty sound announces to one and all in the vicinity, that lying within the confines of that V-8, is a power to be unleashed according to the discretion of my throttle foot. I get the feeling that the world is my oyster to be eaten with as much Louisiana hot sauce as I want. The hot sauce component of course, consists of the sound of my Vette. It tells the world, “I own the world, as long my our master is piloting me.” The sounds of my Vette with glass packs, is a Declaration of War on the mundane.

The sound of my Vette with glass packs, is a statement.

The sound of an angry Small Block Chevy is unforgettable, etching lines of memory on the surface of one’s brain. It is the sound of instant torque and limitless joy. Fuggeddabowt the high-winding whine of a Ferrari V-12, man! Nothing sounds as good in the car world as the All-American muscular sound of a Small Block Chevy V-8 when mated to straight-through glass packs. It is a visceral scream with balls attached to it.

I had glass packs on my ’64 Sting Ray “Unnamed Vette” back in the ’60s, so I decided to get ’em for my current Vette, “Mary.” Note—the original Sting Rays of the ’60s, were spelled as two words, “Sting” and “Ray.” The later Stingrays of the early ’70s combined the two words to form “Stingray.” For Mary, I chose JEGS’ well-made “Flowpack Bullet” glass packs.



JEGS’ “FLOWPACK BULLET:” Stainless steel construction with long strand glass fibers

I chose JEGS’ Flowpack Bullets for their rugged construction, and the use of long strand, high-temperature glass fibers that resist compression. I loved glass packs ever since I had ’em on Unnamed Vette. It was with Unnamed Vette (who by the way, even though unnamed, was a female—as all vehicles are) that I learned what a beautiful compromise glass packs are.

Glass packs are in between the untamed cacophany of an open piped Vette, and the insignificant quietude of a Vette with stock mufflers. The former with Unnamed Vette was too loud, attracting police attention like the sound of World War Three. The latter, stock mufflers, relegated the magnificent sound of a Vette’s V-8 to the Like All The Rest silent majority on the street—totally unacceptable to the auditorily appreciative.

GLASS PACKS: Essentially a straight-through design.

Glass packs are virtually as effective as totally open exhaust systems, because glass pack mufflers utilize a core pipe that is of a straight-through configuration. This core pipe however, has openings in it for some of the exhaust gases to pass through to the glass fibers where some of the sound energy is be absorbed, making what is a deafening racket, into a measured roar.

This gives a Small Block Chevy a throatier and mellower sound than a totally open system. Glass packs are the perfect compromise for a car that should sound like it means business, but without sounding like a nuke just went off. As it is, glass packs might be too loud for some, but not for me. To me, it is music to my ears—and stimuli for the pleasure centers of my hungry brain.

Let me tell ya, the way that Mary sounds with her glass packs, gives me goosebumps. If ever there was any evidence that the sound frequencies emitted by my Vette are causing waveforms in the 90% water content of my body, and that these water-borne waveforms are giving me the pleasurable emotional responses that I get—then my dermatological response is that evidence. Hey man, goosebumps don’t lie. Whoever knew that a righteous sounding Vette could cause such a new agey, feel-good response in humans?

So you can keep your 755 horse new Vette that does 0-60 in less three seconds, what moves me are righteous old Vettes. The old style Vettes with their classic styling, get my blood heating up. They sure beat the sterile looks of later gen Vettes.

Old Vettes Rule!

FINITO

“PERSONAL MEMOIR PART SEVEN”

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“MARY”: My current Vette.

For some bizarre reason, I don’t have a single photo of my old ’64 Vette that I owned in the late 1960s.

Starting with my 1968 Harley Sportster that I bought new that year, I’ve always named my vehicles. Because of the cantankerous nature of that ’68 Sportster, I named her “Sally The Bitch.” However, I was still so underdeveloped as a Motorvatin’ Maven before then, that I never named my ’64 Vette that I bought used in 1966. I firmly believe that all vehicles are of the female persuasion, and they all have distinct personalities. What’s more, I believe that all righteous vehicles have souls, and therefore warrant a name. Since my ’64 Sting Ray went unnamed, I hereby retroactively christen her, “Unnamed Vette.”

I’ll never forget buying my ’64 Sting Ray. On the day I went to make the purchase of my Dream Car, my father drove me to the used car lot on Queens Boulevard, in his ’64 Chevelle Malibu SS. This little beauty of a convertible was powered by the 220 horse 283, a ramrod little motor with a quad carb, dual exhausts and was painted this great color called “Goldwood Yellow.” This wasn’t your typical bright taxi cab yellow that screamed like an irate banshee, but a subtle yellow that could’ve been the inspiration for Donovan’s 1966 song, “Mellow Yellow.”

“MELLOW YELLOW”
I’m just mad about Saffron
Saffron’s mad about me
I’m just mad about Saffron
She’s just mad about me
They call me mellow yellow
They call me mellow yellow
They call me mellow yellow


It took a fair amount of persuasion on my part to convince Dad to buy this Malibu SS, because he was a Buick Man before that, but that is a story for another time. Queens Boulevard is a hectic and bustling thoroughfare, that traverses the entire length of Queens. It begins at the mouth of the 59th Street Bridge from Manhattan, and at more than 7 miles long, is one of the longest roads in Queens. It is a twelve lane road for the most part, expanding to sixteen lanes in some sections.

It is infamous for the number of pedestrian deaths resulting from cars hitting older people who can’t cross the ultra-wide boulevard fast enough, before the traffic lights turn from green to red for these unfortunate elders. The dangerous nature of Queens Boulevard has earned it the nicknames of “The Boulevard Of Death” and “The Boulevard Of Broken Bones” over the years. This forced the city to post signs saying, “A Pedestrian Was Killed Crossing Here” at various intervals of this killer street.

Queens Boulevard is also known as a vast commercial strip, hosting businesses of all kinds including rug stores, furniture outlets, department stores, car washes, gas stations, car dealerships, car accessory shops, speed shops and used car lots. It was at one of these used car lots that I found my ’64 Corvette.

Preceding the day that Dad brought me to finalize the purchase of my Vette, I saw her in all of her arrest-me-red and black glory: A pristine convertible, she was a 1964 Sting Ray with a red body and black interior, with a black soft top. It did not have the detachable hardtop. The paint was flawless, like new. The cockpit reminded of an airplane’s operating center, with bucket seats and a dashboard that featured dual matching alcoves, one on the driver’s side and one on the passenger side. Both alcoves had flared archway hoods, resembling more subtly angled McDonald’s golden arches, but in black.

The dash alcove in front of the passenger seat housed a glove compartment, with a large brushed aluminum cover with “Sting Ray” embossed on it. The driver’s side alcove held a complement of gauges, that resembled a plane’s gauge set, including tach, speedo and all the concomitant gauges associated with a serious sports car. No idiots lights fer this baby. A clock and radio sat between the two alcoves. Behind the clock and radio sat proudly, the chromed stick shift with a large round knob as its crown. A t-bar control sat midway, which allowed the four speed trannny to be shifted into reverse.

This beautiful Vette was equipped with the 327 cubic inch, 365 horsepower mill, with finned aluminum valves covers that read “Corvette” in a flowing, handwritten script. They featured highly pronounced raised lines of aluminum on each side of the words. This was the second most powerful of the engines available for the Vette that year. In 1964, the base motor was the 250 hp version. The optioned motors were rated at 300 hp, 365 hp and 375 hp. The 365 and 375 horse mills had solid lifters, while the base mill and the 300 horse mill had hydraulic lifters. The extra ten horses of the 375 horse version, was attributable to fuel injection.

This Vette had a four-barrel Holley carburetor. The first thing I noticed besides the substantial exhaust note of the motor when I first went to see this car, was the loping idle and loud clatter of the solid lifters. I admit it, the mysteriously loping idle resulting from the hotter cam, and the clickety-clack of the solid lifters, got me excited. After the salesman took me for a thrilling test ride down quiet Queens side streets, with the mechanical sounds of the car reverberating in contrast, I put down a deposit of this beauty.

On the day my father took me to pick up my Unnamed Vette, I drove the Malibu SS home, while my father drove the Vette. This was because I didn’t yet know how to drive a stick shift. I’d learned on a Buick Super with an automatic. At this point of my life, I was still a college kid and lived at home with Mom and Pop.

My father had a garage in an alleyway one block over from our house for his Chevelle. Alleyways in Jackson Heights are highly unusual. If you think of blocks in Jackson Heights as rectangles, then picture the alleyways extended down almost the entire length of these rectangular blocks, running through the middle of these rectangles. The alleyway where my father’s one car garage was, was between the side streets of 86th and 87th Streets, and between Northern Boulevard and the next avenue over, along the length of the block’s rectangle. The alley’s entrance was actually on the side street of 87th Street, then made a sharp right turn and then ran the entire rest of the block until it terminated at another entrance on 32nd Avenue.

An aerial view would’ve shown a giant letter “L” bisecting almost the entire block. It didn’t begin on Northern Boulevard proper, because the buildings that faced Northern Boulevard occupied this space and got in the way. The front of these apartment houses faced Northern Boulevard, and the back of these buildings faced the alleyway. The entrance from the side street ran parallel to the backyards of these apartment buildings before it turned right. Like all buildings in Jackson Heights, these are limited by zoning laws to three stories.

Pop’s garage was rented from the owner of the house right across from the garage. Here’s the deal: On one side of the alleyway sat the row of garages. On the other side of the alley, sat a row of houses. The back of each house sat facing it’s companion garage across the alley. Some of these garages owned by these homeowners, were available for rent if the homeowners didn’t use them.

I rented a one car garage a few garage doors away from the Chevelle’s garage, and it was rented to me by the family of a friend of mine, the McCaffreys. I called my friend “McCaffrey,” dispensing with his first name, which was Pat. I don’t know why, but I’d known this kid since elementary school, but never called him by his first name. Just “McCaffrey.” McCaffrey wouldn’t make it much farther than that in life. He died from a freak accident when he fell from his sixteen speed Peugeot bike and hit his head on the ground, when he was in his early 20s. R.I.P. McCaffrey. McCaffrey was one of the first in Jackson Heights to have long hair, and he sold small quantities of pot and LSD to people (including me).

Unnamed Vette had so much torque, that I could release the clutch into first gear without stepping on the gas pedal with a cold engine on full choke in the alleyway, and the engine would not stall. Unnamed Vette would then peppily glide down the length of the alley to 32nd Avenue without me touching the gas pedal. This was a stout motor.

It took me a couple of lessons from my father for me to learn to smoothly coordinate the release the clutch with the feeding in of gas on takeoffs. One of my father’s jobs before he opened his own businesses, was to drive a truck, and this gave him experience with manual transmissions. Also, two cars that he owned before the Malibu SS, were a 1930s Caddy and a 1938 Buick, which had manual trannies. I believe that he also owned a Packard in this era, but I’m not sure how accurate this memory is.

Because the Vette had non-power steering, non-power brakes and the stick, my father announced to me about my Unnamed Vette, “This drives like a truck!” Pop was impressed with her acceleration and cornering, though. One of my fondest memories was when using one of my stick shifting lessons as an excuse, Pop took my Unnamed Vette into a slow 25 mph curve on the transition road from the Whitestone Expressway to the Cross Island Parkway, at a screaming (and it almost made me scream) 50 miles per hour, with the tires squealing, but the car sticking like she was on rails. Pop was having fun. Ah Pop, we weren’t so different, after all. Pop could barely contain his glee, with a grin a mile wide as he floored Unnamed Vette as the slow curve straightened out onto the parkway proper.

I made some body modifications to Unnamed Vette. I molded an air scoop onto her hood, after cutting an opening in the hood above the carb’s air filter, to increase the intake of fresh air to the engine compartment. This was a large teardrop shaped hood scoop that was popular back in the day, with two oblong openings at the round end of the scoop.

This hood scoop was meant to be mounted with the tapered end facing forward, and the rounded end with the oblong vents facing the windshield. However, I mounted it backwards, with the openings facing forward, so that whatever air that was received with the car moving forward, got rammed into the engine compartment. This wasn’t engineering based on scientific acumen, but what the hell did I know? This was an imposing hood scoop, being five inches high. After molding it flush with bondo, I took the hood to Williams Chevrolet on Northern Boulevard and 93rd Street, and had the body guy there repaint the hood. This guy by the way, rode a Harley Sportster.

Some of my favorite race cars of the day were the Corvette Grand Sports, which were also known as the “Lightweight Corvettes.” These were total race cars built in a limited number by Chevrolet. They only weighed 2,000 pounds as compared to the 3,200 plus pounds of street Corvettes. Grand Sports had open vents just in back of the front wheel wells, for better venting of engine gases and brake heat. The stock ’64 Vette had fake vents at these places. I emulated the real vents found on the Lightweight Vettes, by cutting identical openings on Unnamed Vette. Hey, she was halfway to being a Grand Sport. All that was left to do was for her to lose 1,200 pounds and gain a 600 horsepower motor! Ha!

I had a speed shop weld dumpers on the exhausts about a yard aft of the headers, which made Unnamed Vette audible from a mile away. After deciding later on that this unmuffled exhaust was gettin’ me too much police attention, I closed ’em off and installed straight-through glass packs, which was a nice compromise.

I also put Mickey Thompson mag wheels on her. With her mods making her look and sound fiercely righteous, I have pleasant memories of driving Unnamed Vette to New York’s National Speedway in Center Moriches, Long Island, to watch the drags, and to the Bridgehampton race circuit in Sag Harbor, New York (outer Long Island) to watch the sports car races. Once one got past the congested NYC portions of the Long Island Expressway, the drive became enjoyable, with plenty of country greenery to look at, and a righteously musical exhaust song to settle the savage beast within. This has the same salving effect as listening to a thrumming Harley motor doing its thing at 70 on the highway.

All things change with time. National Speedway is no more ( it closed in 1980), and the historic Bridgehampton racetrack, is now a fancy golf course for the well-to-do. This was a track that featured terrific topography with sand dunes. The Bridgehampton track closed permanently in 1998, after affluent locals complained incessantly about the loud noise from race cars (or maybe they heard Unnamed Vette). Town laws were passed that limited noise, and the site was turned into a giant sand trap for the docile. I got see the Lightweight Corvettes and Jim Hall’s famous Chevy Chaparral race cars at Bridgehampton. Chevies rule, baby!

OCTOBER 1, 1967:

I’m driving to Watkins Glen, for the United States Grand Prix. I’m excited, because I’ll get to see my all-time (even now) favorite driver, of any racing series, Jimmy Clark drive in person. This was the Formula One World Champion, who became my hero when he brought his spindly little rear-engine Lotus F1 car to Indianapolis, and beat all the front-engine dinosaur roadsters in the 1965 Indianapolis 500. Clark’s Formula One car heralded the beginning of the era of rear-engine Indycars, after Jimmy proved the vast superiority of these smaller and faster race cars. Man, I was stoked.

On April 7, 1968, the racing world lost one of its greatest drivers when Jimmy Clark died when he crashed in an insignificant Formula Two race. Like all great drivers of that era (another example: Mario Andretti), Clark just loved to drive and he competed in any race of any series when he had the chance.

This was going to an exciting day. It would be a four and a half hour drive to “The Glen.” October 1, 1967 was a gloriously sunny day, with blue skies clear as a bell and feeling twice as good. The first four hours were a breeze and a real pleasure to drive, with no traffic tie-ups and nice roads on the way up. As I approached the Glen though, the nice highways narrowed to what I remember as a two lane, one lane each way twisty mountain road that led to the track.

Here’s where it became difficult, and driving joy became driving chore. I have a crystal clear memory of approaching and then passing through some toll booths in Unnamed Vette, before the drive became narrowed. The toll stations were like a borderline separating ease and difficulty. Starting at the toll booths, the road became a narrow two-way mountain road, with just one lane going each way. I encountered a series of slow moving cars on this twisty road. I had to keep shifting Unnamed Vette from first to second gear, and from second to first gear because the cars ahead of us were going at a snail’s pace. It was also difficult to pass, as there were blind turns with a considerable amount of traffic going in the opposite direction, in the other lane.

As soon as I passed one Old Lady From Pasadena, another materialized at slow speed to take her place. This became an ordeal. There was an abundance of gear shifting on this twisty road, as the speeds varied between slow and slower. Here’s what made this so hard—Unnamed Vette at that time had a heavy-duty racing clutch, with an unbelievable amount of spring pressure conveyed to the pedal. Man, my clutch left leg was gettin’ a workout, with cramps on the horizon. It was like doing one-legged squats, for a one legged-man training for an ass-kicking contest! This trip convinced me to put the stock clutch back in, and what a pleasure that lighter clutch was to use by comparison.

I actually remember this part of the day better than the race, because it was grueling to get past this portion of the trip before getting to the racetrack. What was supposed to be a four and a half hour trip, was uglified into a six hour drive. When I got to the race track , I limped in. The Struggle On The Twisty Road Mountain Road was the most memorable event of the day for me, overshadowing the race itself.

I do recall that Jimmy Clark won the race in his Lotus (which I was happy about—but I don’t remember much of anything else about the race), and that the trip back to Queens wasn’t as arduous. But The Struggle bummed me out, and made me tired when I reached The Glen On the plus side, Unnamed Vette ran like a top, and I did enjoy driving her powerful and beauteous self, when the traffic wasn’t bad. Isn’t that all we can ask from our vehicles?

FINITO

“PERSONAL MEMOIR PART SIX”

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Photo by Genghis

An eye with choroidermia.

(This memoir was written in 2011)

In a few days, I’ll be headed to Orlando, Florida to give my lecture, “Problem-Solving in Fundus Photography & Fluorescein Angiography” for the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO), a group that is ancillary to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). When the AAO holds its annual meetings at different cities every year, ancillary groups like JCAHPO present their courses for its members.

Another ancillary group is the Ophthalmic Photographers’ Society (OPS) which my brother Don Wong, co-founded in 1969 along other illustrious medical photographers of the day. Since Don’s untimely passing a few years ago, I’ve opened my lectures with a dedication to my brother with good reason: Don was the guiding professional, as well as intensely personal force in my life with regard to photography.

I’m not abashed to admit that I suffered from a serious condition early in life, known as “Big Brother Hero Worship Syndrome.” Everything my “big brother” was and did when I was a child, I wanted to be and do–only better. This last point is most germaine to our complex relationship over the years, that was infused with intense and conflicting elements of love, respect, and yes—sibling rivalry. It was sibling rivalry that decided the course of my teaching activities in ophthalmology, and undermined to some extent, my relationship with Don.

I am convinced that sibling rivalry is one of the most compelling human emotions, sparking both great achievement at times, and personal destruction in some instances. It is a true compulsion to follow the dictates of sibling rivlary, bringing to mind the mantra of the Borg: Resistance is futile. More on this later.

Because of Don’s all-pervasive influence in my life, I’ve loved photography since my preadolescent years. There was a rebellious facet to all of this, as I will explain. You see, my parents’ fondest wish for my brother was for him to become a doctor. With this in mind, they sent Don to Columbia University for his undergraduate work and premed studies. My parents were devastated, when Don marched into our Chinese laundry to proudly announce, “I’ve changed my mind about becoming a doctor. I want to be a photographer instead.”

My parents never forgave this act of rebellion. No matter. Don went on to become a freelance photographer. The way that I, a young and impressionable boy, viewed this ultimate act of rejection of parental control, cannot be underestimated: I was in total awe of Don and his decision. A photographer? How cool is that, I thought and more importantly, felt in my young bones. Who could a young kid admire more, a staid doctor, or a cool photographer? The answer was clear, not even close, man.

This is an introspective article, meant to describe my 40 years historically in retinal photography, as well as to elucidate my complex relationship with Don, whom I loved and respected very much. Sad to say, Don and I were quasi-estranged toward the end of his life, and I do miss him. Truth to tell, there are quiet times of solitude, when I wish I could still talk to Don, to repair the rent in our relationship.

I believe that this type of familial adversity, and post-mortem regret, is commonplace with people. I am not alone in this. I feel that I owe Don so much, without the opportunity to properly thank him, deprived by the whimsical circumstances of life and then death. Death is the final arbiter of opportunity. I am stunted with frustration, at the impossibility of reconciliation.

Don taught me the rudiments of photography starting when I was about 12 years. old. He gave me an old Alpa SLR, which he trained me to use. I’d lug this thing around and practice my photography.

By the time I reached 15, I graduated to a Nikon F and a Gossen Luna Pro hand-held exposure meter. I bought this Nikon F in 1962 at Willoughby’s Camera Store at 31st Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Willoughby’s is still there, and believe it or not, I still have this Nikon F and it is in perfect and functional condition!

By this time, I had a darkroom at home, equipped with a Durst enlarger, with which I specialized in black and white printing. Dektol, hypo and Kodabromide paper were the tools of the day. My expertise in photography, with Don as my tutor, was the preparation for my entry into photography professionally, although this thought was too amorphous when I attended Queens College.

Some college-aged kids only have a vague idea of what they’ll end up doing for a living, and I was one of these. When the opportunity arose to become a professional photographer, I jumped at it faster than a starving man mugging an opportune and helpless pizza with mushrooms and pepperoni.

Here was the deal: Early in his career, Don worked as the staff medical photographer at the Pack Medical Foundation, a medical group of head and neck cancer specialists. Don heard that Arnie, the photographer who held this position at Pack, was leaving his job. This was in 1969. Don got me hired in his place.

The surgeons at Pack performed complex cancer surgeries, but also performed more mundane procedures such as breast (as they called it in those days) “augmentation” and breast reductions. I must admit that the most gratifying part of my job at Pack, was the pre and post photography of women who underwent breast procedures. I’m sure you understand why.

The Pack Medical Foundation was located on a serenely elegant tree-lined street in the East 30s in Manhattan, near Lexington Avenue, where I had my own studio and darkroom on the ground floor. An ironic fact is that Arnie’s fiancee Carol Shander, who also worked at Pack as a lab tech , ended up as our secretary in my current practice where I’m now the practice manager.

Unfortunately for me, the sometimes raucous ride at Pack ended with the bankruptcy of the foundation a year and a half after I started there. This led to unemployment, and a scrambling for a salary, any salary to support my young family, which consisted of my ex-wife Nancie and our infant son, Mike.

To this pragmatic end, I became a motorcycle messenger with the Quick Trip Messenger Service, using my beloved Harley-Davidson to put food on the family table and maintain the roof over our East Village apartment on East 3rd Street. I made numerous trips on my bike for the company out of state, including forays to Philadelphia and parts of Jersey. One of my regular runs was to carry computer tapes to IBM in upstate New York.

The majority of my jobs took place within the confines of Manhattan, for customers such as ABC, CBS and NBC. During my many trips in the Big Apple, there were opportunities to seek another photography job. One of these interviews took place at Edstan Studios.

Edstan Studios was a commercial lab that specialized in both commercial work, as well as salon black and white printing for artistic pros, who were either too lazy or inept to make their own prints. This became my job. My experience at Edstan Studios mirrored Don’s experience at Modern Age, where he worked sporadically to earn a living when he was a struggling freelance photographer. Modern Age was a similar pro lab.

Don has stated that he learned more at Modern Age about efficient print processing, than at any other professional venue. Looks like I was following the Don Wong Template for succeeding in professional photography.

My stint at Edstan was similar. It was at Edstan where I learned to make twenty prints at a time in a tray of developer, greatly enhancing the volume of my production. In addition to doing commercial work at Edstan for clients like TV Guide, ABC and NBC, I made salon prints for professionals who either didn’t have the time to do this themselves, or were too ignorant about darkroom technique to make good prints.

The beauty of many of their prints hanging in art galleries, may have been attributable equally, to their aesthetic sense, and my darkroom skills. To them, “dodge” and “burn” might’ve connoted their choice of automobile, and what that car did with gasoline. My time at Edstan lasted until 1971, when I finally broke into ophthalmology.

In 1971, Don was once again instrumental in inserting me into a job. This was my first job in ophthalmology, when I became the ophthalmic photographer for the department of ophthalmology, at the Beth Israel Medical Center in Mahanattan. Don was acquainted with the department chief who he knew from his time at Mt Sinai Medical Center. Keep in mind that I had at this time, no work experience in retinal photography with the exception of one rushed lesson from Don on his Zeiss fundus camera.

Don at this time had run ophthalmic photography departments at Mt. Sinai Medical Center and Flower & Fifth Avenue Hospital. On the day he found the five minutes to give me what might be charitably called a “barebones” lesson, Don had fifteen patients in his waiting room, impatiently awating their turns for fluorescein angiography. I had never performed a fluorescein angiogram in my life, and I entered the job at Beth Israel with the chief’s understanding that I was proficient at angiography, from my brother’s glowing recommendation!

After I did my first angiogram at Beth Israel, which was wildly successful, I showed the results to Don. I was so proud. It was perfect, with every frame artifact-free. Don quizzed me on how I performed the angiogram . I proudly said that I looked around the camera and lined up the camera’s light on the patient’s eye, and shot the entire sequence that way–by looking at the eye around the camera. Don couldn’t believe it. He said, “Scott, you’re supposed to be looking through the eyepiece while you’re shooting the study!” Live and learn.

Beth Israel’s opthalmology department was in its developmental stages in 1971, an impression of mine that was confirmed when the department chief led me to my photography room: It was a converted men’s room. This is not an exaggeration. It still had the diamond-patterned tile floor typical of men’s rooms. The plumbing fixtures from the urinals that had been removed , were left protruding from the walls, silent witnesses to the fluidinous excesses of years past. A better imagination than mine might’ve smelled the sweet fragrance of urinal cakes.

The toilets and stall walls had been removed, but you could still tell where the toilet stalls once stood loud and proud. The holes in the ground where the toilets once drained, were still extant, unfilled and with no purpose. Couldn’t they at least have put some fern planters there?

Along the wall where the sinks were, was a large stainless steel darkroom sink. Can you imagine an anxiety filled patient who was facing the specter of undergoing retinal angiography for the first time, entering this dark and dank dungeon for his or her test? Reassurance wasn’t this environment’s most important product.

At the time I worked at Beth Israel, I began to become involved with the Ophthalmic Photographers’ Society (OPS), which Don saw as “his baby” since he was a society co-founder. The OPS consumed a large percentage of Don’s life, and Don was happy that I was becoming enmeshed with the OPS. Don saw me as his protoge’, and wanted to badly guide my professional life the right way. The right way meant being as betrothed to the OPS as he was. Sibling rivalry was to divert “The Course As Plotted By Don,” but not yet.

By 1973, I had become as proficient at retinal photography and fluorescein angiography, as Don advertised me to be when he got me the Beth Israel job. Don’s great passion back then, was to coordinate hands-on fundus photography workshops, and I participated as in an instructor in his local courses. These were sporadic meetings of the New York Chapter of the OPS.

An opportunity presented itself for job advancement, when I learned that the Director of The Retina Service at the Edward S. Harkness Eye Institute of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, was looking for a retinal photographer for his private practice. The doctor was Dr. Harold F. Spalter, an renown authority on retinal detachment surgery, diabetic retinopathy and central serous retinopathy.

It was an attractive opportunity, because the duties involved becoming his assistant in the practice. This was a chance to broaden my knowledge base in ophthalmology, since Dr. Spalter intended to teach his assistant about retinal pathology, as he would an ophthalmology resident. I interviewed with Dr. Spalter and got the job, a position I would hold for 18 years.

I enjoyed working at Columbia-Presbyterian very much. Columbia-Presbyterian was large medical center, where numerous specialty buildings were separate satellites to the main hospital, revolving around the main hospital like planets around the sun. The Eye Institute was separated from the main hospital, by a large garden, which engendered a campus-like feel to it. Columbia-Presbyterian had a comprehensive tunnel system, connecting the satellite specialty buildings to the main hospital. like underground tributaries flowing from a primary body of water. I often took a shortcut from the main hospital through the tunnel to the Eye Institute, exiting at the eye clinic on the basement level, feeling like James Bond in that covert way, evading onlookers in the garden above ground. Could “Spy Versus Spy” from Mad magazine be far behind?

The Harkness Eye Institute itself, was a large eight floor art deco buiding, consisting of two halves. One half was the clincal part where doctors’ offices were, and the other half was the research wing, with the eye clinic in the basement, and research labs above. Our office, where we saw patients (and I performed angiography) was on the second floor of the clinical side. In addition to this though, I had my own lab on the research side, which consisted of an office and a darkroom. We qualified for a lab because we had grants to study diabetic retinopathy and central serous retinopathy.

The doctors’ offices on he clinical side were laid out like residential apartments, which I understand they were at one time. Our office consisted of a reception area, my room and then Dr. Spalter’s room. Both of our rooms had windows facing 165th Street, with adjustable black out shades. Next to our office was Jack Coleman’s office. Dr. D. Jackson Coleman is the noted ultrasound authority.

I learned a great deal regarding pathology while with Dr. Spalter. He was a great teacher, and true to his word, he taught me like a resident. My duties in the practice expanded as my base of knowledge grew. After fluorescein injections, after early and late phases of angiograms, Dr. Spalter and I collectively examined these patients using angioscopy. With an excitor filter on his American Optical indirect ophthalmoscope and a “teaching lens” attached, he and I were able to see the fluoresecin patterns develop in these eyes, that were later confirmed on the angiographic prints.

I learned how to interpret angiograms this way. Besides photography, my expanded knowledge allowed me to “triage” our patients as they presented, and I made decisions before each patient saw Dr. Spalter, regarding whose pupils to dilate, depending on patient history and symptoms. This facilitated patient flow, as Dr. Spalter now had someone—me—who was able to perceive patients’ diseases and exam needs as he did, and acted accordingly. This type of broad based knowledge is something that a pure retinal photographer doesn’t have access to, because of the narrowly focused way that retinal photographers interact with patients.

For a year while at the Eye Institute, I had the opportunity to be an instructor in the Ophthalmology Residents’ Basic Science Course at Columbia’s College of Physicians & Surgeons. This consisted of hands-on instruction of the third year residents, and a lecture on technique. It was well received and appreciated by the residents, but was halted by the departmengt chief, Dr. Charles Campbell, when he discovered that I didn’t have the academic credentials to warrant this teaching position.

At this time, I became more involved with the OPS when I attended my first American Academy of Ophthalmology & Otolaryngology (this was before the eye and ear groups went their separate ways) in 1974. I believe this was in Dallas. At this meeting, I taught in my brother’s hands-on OPS fundus photography workshops. It was also in this era at Columbia-Presbyterian, when I gave my first lecture.

I gave my first lecture in 1976, and it was a lecture to three hundred ophthalmologists. To say that I was nervous, given the demographic nature of my audience, would be a gross understatement. It’s like a rookie NFL quarterback, getting his first start under center. The occasion was the annual meeting of Columbia-Presbyterian’s Ophthalmology Courses, and the venue was the staid and tradition-bound Alumni Auditorium at the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Columbia University. I seem to remember that the names of alumni were emblazoned on plaques attached to each seat back.

There was an ophthalmic photographer in the audience, and this was Tom Van Cader. My first taste of lecturing hooked me but good. My lecture was titled, “Techniques of Fundus Photography,” sort of generic, but it was successful. To Dr, Spalter’s chagrin, I actually asked him for a raise (as a joke) during my lecture, which drew howls from the normally reserved ophthalmologists in the audience.

My lecturing career continued in 1978 when I gave a talk at a meeting at the Cullen Eye Institute at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, coordinated by Johnny Justice Jr. At this time, I was OPS compliant, but this was soon to change. This was perhaps the turning point where my schism with my bother Don, was beginning to show cracks on the ground. Tsunami to come?

For some reason in the late 1970s, I became extremely disillusioned with the Ophthalmic Photographers’ Society’s failure to provide a journal. I felt that as professionals in the field, we OPS members deserved more than a mere newsletter, which I perceived as a gossip organ. I became so passionate about the issue, that I threatened to create the “Retinal Angiographers’ Association.” The “RAA” would publish a journal for retinal photographers, I vowed, but this would be its sole function: To publish a journal. It wouldn’t sponsor meetings. Nevertheless, some in the OPS felt threatened.

I guarantee you, that you will never read about this in the history archives of the OPS, but older members will remember this blip of an historic episode. It was I believe, significant, because it did provide the impetus for the OPS’ creation of The Journal of Ophthalmic Photography, as a direct result of the unrest and anxiety my RAA threat presented at that time. In fact, Don was the direct beneficiary of this movement toward an OPS journal, as he was charged with being it’s first editor, after a journal was approved by the OPS’ movers and shakers.

The reaction to my RAA actions, were seismic and volatile within the OPS. I received a letter from Johnny Justice Jr. condemning my “behavior,” for….“using the OPS mailing lists for your own devious purposes!” I still have this letter somewhere. Johnny and I are good friends now, but at that juncture, he was livid with me. He wasn’t alone.

My brother Don felt embarassed and betrayed, that his own brother would work in a counteractive way to his baby, the OPS. It was only after the dust settled, and the OPS finally agreed to publish a periodical journal, that I relinquished my plans for the Retinal Angiographers’ Association.

All was forgotten, and OPS members came out ahead, with an ophthalmic photography journal forged in the fire of threats and coercion. Not that you’ll read any of this specific history in the OPS annals. The only source where you’ll read the lurid details, is right here. I did by the way, have an article in the inaugural issue of the journal, as well as additional articles in subsequent issues.

At this point, my relationship with the OPS was calmed down, but tenuous. The final schism with the OPS and by extension my bother Don, took place starting in 1982. Doris Gaston of the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) approached me in 1981 about possibly taking over their retinal photography course. Doris invited me to scout the course as it was given in 1981.

This “hands-on” course consisted of two photographers sitting at a dais where a fundus camera was parked, answering questions from students about technique. The two photographers were Bill Ludwick and Tom Van Cader. At no time during the course, were any students allowed to touch or function with the camera. After seeing this sad display, I agreed to displace Bill and Tom the following year. This was my chance to compete with my brother in the arena that he loved: Coordinating and teaching hands-on retinal photography workshops.

Sibling rivalry lives.

Here’s where it got tricky with the OPS the next year. In 1982, I made it my business to obtain the use of manufacturers’ retinal cameras for my course ahead of the OPS. The OPS would’ve had to use the same equipment for their fundus photography workshops. You see, each camera manufacturer only transported enough equipment to the annual meeting, for use at one venue at a time. My coopting the cameras before the OPS had two effects.

Number one, they had to wait until we were done at JCAHPO, before they could use the same equipment. Secondly, my JCAHPO hands-on workshops, diluted the number of students that atended the OPS workshops. Previously, many of the students that attended the OPS workshops for JCAHPO accreditation, were JCAHPO students, who now obviously would be going to my JCAHPO workshops instead.

The convenience of JCAHPO students attending the JCAHPO workshops in the JCAHPO hotel, was a huge factor in drawing students there, instead of the OPS workshops at a distant hotel. My workshops drained the student pool for the OPS workshops, leaving only OPS members to attend their courses. The OPS wasn’t happy about the diminished numbers at their workshops.

The eruption within the OPS over my workshops, was predictable and palpable, even across the distance between our meeting hotels. I ran these JCAHPO workshops from 1982 to 1986, and each year I made it my business to contract the cameras for my courses, ahead of the OPS. It also meant that the OPS had to schedule their courses later in the week, after I was done with the equipment–an inconvenience they didn’t suffer when they were the only game in town.

As a salve, I agreed to personally transport the cameras to the OPS site. I rented a truck to do this, which JCAHPO reimbursed me for. I did this with the help of the instructors I drafted for my workshops. Try to picture this in your mind: Future presidents of the OPS, such as Jamie Nicholl and Larry Merin, helping me to lug fundus cameras into a Hertz cargo van, all of us sweating and huffing and puffing, in an attempt to assuage the anxiety of the Ophthalmic Photographers’ Society!

It was quite an illustrious group of instructors I enlisted for the first set of workshops in 1982. These took place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco, and it repeated once during the day. My instructors were Kenneth E. Fong, Frank G. Flanagin, Philip K. Chin, Dorothy A. Fong, Doris Cubillas, Nancy K. Hathaway, Dennis J. Makes, Deborah Ross, Lawrence M. Merin (former President of the OPS), Michael Sobel,the late Jamie Nicholl (former Presifdent of the OPS), Sadao Kanagami and the late Dr. Harold F. Spalter.

Each three hour workshop was preceded by my slide lecture on technique. My JCAHPO workshops included a teaching technique never used before, which was my brainchild. This was simulating fluorescein angiographic studies, complete with false injection, and the shooting of the early phase with motorized bodies. This, from the course description from the 1982 program:

“….Special emphasis will be placed on the simulation of angiography. Each participant will have the opportunity to repeatedly ‘perform’ angiography in a simulation of a clinical setting, with particular attention to the timing of the angiographic squence after ‘injection.’……”

Because the performance of angiography had never been simulated in workshops before, camera vendors were puzzled about why I insisted that their cameras come equipped with camera backs with motor drives. Hey, ya can’t simulate angiographic timing without firing off those motorized cameras, man. Of course, in 2011, this simulated angiography, termed “mock angiography” since by the OPS, is familiar territory.

However, in 1982, it wasn’t at all “SOP” (standard operating procedure). SOP before my workshops, was to concentrate on single image achievement, neglecting the most dynamic and taxing element of a retinal photographers job: Proficiency at performing fluorescein angiography.

Students at my workshops were required to bring one twin pack of Polaroid film. This eliminated the problem of film procurement for me. Students were also requested to agree to have their non-dominant eye dilated (barring any medical contraindications) for practice purposes. Previously, other workshops depended on either a few scant volunteers to be dilated, or model eyes–not good enough. This way, we had an equal number of dilated eyes for the same number of students.

This year, I will have taught for JCAHPO for 30 years. I’ve given lectures on technique, as well on fluorescein interpretation. It was sibling rivalry that drove me to JCAHPO. The divisive feelings that resulted from my intense competition with OPS in the ’80s, kept me from feeling a comfort level with fully participating in the OPS. It’s a chemistry thing.

Of course, the current OPS is unaware of me, and of my past competitive struggles with the society. A whole new generation of retinal photographers has come of age, since the 1980s.

Once I took refuge away from the OPS, it became difficult to identify with the OPS, even though I’m still a member in good standing. In the intervening years that directly followed my workshops in the ’80s, my relationship with Don cooled and eventually fractured, exacerbated by familial problems that arose regarding our mother in the 1990s.

This year, as I get ready to fly to Orlando for the annual meeting, I’ve been engaged in retinal photography for 40 years. I work as the practice manager for a private practice in Greenwich Village, where I’ve worked for the past 20 years. In my expanded role, paperwork and surgical coordination have rivaled retinal photography in my schedule. My role with patients has grown, as well.

Over the years, my interaction and relationships with patients have grown more expansive, becoming more empathetic and personal in both directions, in ways that would not have been possible if my activities were to be restricted to fundus camera work. I have continued to lecture.

I’ve given courses every year for 30 consecutive years, that must be some kind of record. I have taught at least nine thousand photographers and techs techniques of retinal photography. From this, I get great satisfaction. Do I sometimes wish that I’d expended this time and energy in my bother’s “baby,” the OPS? Perhaps. I had a complex relationship with Don, with the urge to gain his approval counterbalanced by our sibling rivalry. I was extremely conscious of the tug in both directions. The course of my teaching career was dictated by, and sustained by sibling rivalry. It is what it is. Later.

FINITO

“PERSONAL MEMOIR PART FIVE”

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STEVE BIONDO: My mentor and my big brother.

SUMMER 1954:

I was seven years old at the time. I stood by my Ross bicycle that my parents gave me, in front of my parents building in Jackson Heights in Queens, New York. This building was in the middle of the block on Northern Boulevard between 87th and 88th Streets. Northern Boulevard is a main thoroughfare that runs the entire length of Long Island, as Route 25A. Northern Boulevard begins at the Queens side of the 59th Street Bridge, where the mouth of the bridge empties traffic leaving Manhattan, onto the halcyon streets of Queens.

The boulevard first wends it way sequentially through Long Island City, then Astoria and Woodside, before hittin’ the neighborhood of Jackson Heights where I lived. The wide four-lane road then winds its sinuous way through the other Queens neighborhoods of Corona, Flushing and Bayside before it reaches the border of Nassau County. Nassau County is Long Island proper. Northern Boulevard then enters the farthest county of Long Island, Suffolk County—where it ends its tortuous trip at the very eastern tip of Long Island.

I was standing in front of my parents building with my Ross bicycle, but there was something wrong. The rear tire of my bike was flat. Steve Biondo came along, and read the distress in my guileless child’s face. Steve was quite a few years older than me, being in his teens. I must have looked obviously forlorn to him, because he said, “What’s the matter Scottie?” I pointed to my bike’s flat. He then came over and put an arm around my skinny, little shoulders, gave me a hug and a big smile and told me, “Don’t worry, Scottie, we’ll take care of that.” I’ll always have a memory of this.

He walked me over to the corner of 87th Street where Feldherr’s Hardware Store stood, and we went in. He asked Mrs. Feldherr for a tire patch kit. Mrs. Feldherr knew exactly what we needed. These patch kits came in a cylindrical container with a cheese-grater like top. It contained various sizes of rubber patches, and cement. The top of the container (the “cheese-grater” part) was used to roughen up a tire tube at the site of the puncture, so that the tire patch applied there with cement, would have a grippier surface for the patch to adhere to. Once the seal was made secure, this effectively fixed the flat.

Steve and I then went up to his family’s apartment, which was in the building right next to my family’s, and we retrieved the tools for the job. Stevie then took his time and disassembled my bike tire, showing me how to extract the tube from beneath the tire, for the patch repair. We then went through the steps necessary to fix the flat, before inserting the tube back onto the rim, and re-mounting the tire. This my earliest memory of Stevie showing me something or teaching me something, and he did this with the utmost patience.

MAY 1968:

I was standing in front of my parents’ building on Northern Boulevard, between 87th and 88th Streets in Jackson Heights. I was still living at home, as I was a 21 year college student. I was standing next to my recently purchased, 1968 Harley-Davidson Sportster XLCH motorcycle. It was my first motorcycle. I’d just picked up my bike at Harley-Davidson of Manhattan a few days ago. I was a complete novice at operating a motorcycle. Before I picked up my motorcycle, I had a quick lesson from another Harley-Davidson of Manhattan customer, on how to work the controls of the bike. That was it.

On this fine summer day, I stood by my motorcycle, somewhat perplexed. I had just spent the last half-hour trying to kickstart (my bike came with kickstart only, no electric start) the beast. I was sweating a fine sweat, without the final payoff of my motorcycle actually starting. Steve Biondo walked by, and noticed my consternation. I guess that my guileless face hadn’t yet hardened into a poker face, at the age of 21.

Stevie said to me, “Hey Scottie, what’s the matter?” I told him that the motorcycle wasn’t starting. I told him that I was kicking the kickstarter as hard as I could, but all I could manage was the occasional cough from the motor. The motor was teasing me.

Steve then asked me to try again, so he could watch me. I straddled the bike, made sure that the ignition was turned on—and began kicking down on the kickstart lever with everything I had. My sweat was flying fast and furiously, yet, nothing. Stevie smiled his big brother smile at me said, “Don’t worry Scottie. I’ll show you the best way of starting the bike.”

Stevie demonstrated for me. Instead of straddling my new Harley, he stayed on the right side of the bike and gently placed his left knee on the bike’s seat, which allowed him to place his right foot delicately on the kickstart lever, while remaining elevated. Stevie looked as cool as the proverbial cucumber.

He said, “Scottie, what you want to do is stay relaxed through the whole technique.” He then pushed down gently on the kickstarter with his right foot, until he felt a resistance. He had all of his weight resting on his left knee on the seat. He said, “You see that? What I did was rotate the engine until one of the pistons hit top-dead center. You can tell you’re there when you feel that resistance. That way, when you really want to kick ‘er through, you’ll get a full compression stroke. Now, watch this.”

Stevie then let the kickstart lever up all the way with his right foot, letting the return spring of the lever do the work. Then he said, “You see, by letting the lever all the up again, you’re giving yourself the full range of motion and more leverage, when you kick through to start her.”

Then he said, “Now, watch. I’m staying relaxed, and bringing my full body weight down on the kickstarter. I’m not trying to muscle it through, I’m just lifting my body off of the seat, raising my body, and coming straight down with the kick. I’m letting gravity and leverage do the work for me.”

In one fluid motion, he pushed off of the handlebars with his arms to hoist himself up in the air, and then he kicked through by dropping his body weight directly down on the kickstarter and the bike started! Once again, he taught me something valuable in my life. This was a a lesson that has impressed me with it’s value to me as a biker, from an older biker to a younger biker. The circle was completed.

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This article is ostensibly about the biker subculture, and the role of an older biker, in my life as a biker. It is however, more than that. It is an article regarding how much Steve Biondo has influenced me, starting at the very young age of seven. It is an article revealing how he has helped to form my life as a biker, and in other ways as well. Stevie did this for me by teaching me directly (such as the two examples cited), or indirectly, by example. Steve Biondo has always treated me with respect and affection.

It is because of his emotional largesse, that I’ve always respected and treated him as an elder in the culture. This article is also a celebration of my affection for the man. The terms “brother” and “brotherhood” are often cheap, verbal throwaways in the biker subculture. Not with Steve Biondo and me. Steve has been my mentor in the biker subculture, and it is no secret that I have always viewed him as an older brother. I’ve certainly stated that often enough in my writing.

Steve Biondo.

This name is one that readers are familiar with in my writing, first in my columns in David Snow’s Iron Horse magazine in the 1990s, and then online on my websites. I’d lost track of Stevie, since he moved several years ago. The last time I saw Stevie, was about, I’m guesstimating, about twenty years ago. I ran into him, as he was coming out of an Italian bakery on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, with a bagful of pastry.

Through the years up until that point, I would run into Steve, or I would call him on the phone to catch up. He would always excitedly talk about his motorcycle, or ask me about mine. It always made me feel gratified, to exchange words about our respective bikes, with my motorcycle mentor.

The Biondos lived in a second floor apartment, that actually abutted my family’s second floor apartment, even though the apartments were in different buildings. The two apartments were conjoined like Siamese twins, because the sides of the two buildings where our apartments met, were contiguous with each other. Our respective railroad apartments in these two buildings, mimicked each other, and were identical in layout, but in mirror-image order. There was a place common to the two apartments however, where the buildings widened.

These long, three bedroom apartments had a large air shaft at the midpoints of the apartments, where the apartments opened up to each other. This air shaft was twenty feet long and ten feet wide. There were windows of the two apartments that faced each other in this air shaft, like two neighboring houses in the suburbs a few feet apart, but minus the picket fence. One could climb out of a window from my apartment in this air shaft, walk the few feet to the Biondos’ windows, and climb into their house. We could also talk across the air shaft at these windows, which we did.

The Biondo family consisted of Steve’s father, who I called Charlie (his real name was Salvatore), his wife, who I always called Mrs. Biondo (she was the only member of the family who I didn’t address with a first name), and then there were the sons. There was Stevie, the oldest. His given name was Steven. On our block, there were two “Steves.” One was my father (his name was Stephen), and the other was Steve Biondo.

Next was Patty-Boy, whose given name was Pasquale. Patty-Boy passed away many years ago. When I saw Stevie at the Italian bakery over 20 years ago, he sadly told me of Patty-Boy’s passing. Next was Charles, who I always called Charlie, as I called his dad—but his mom always called him “Charlesie.” Charlie passed away not so long ago. Next and last, was Nicky, whose given name was Nicholas, and who was the youngest.

Mrs. Biondo was a true saint, and quite possibly the sweetest woman I’ve ever met. When I was in the Biondos’ house, Mrs. Biondo made me feel like I was a relative visiting, greeting me with open arms and likely as not—a plateful of food. Not surprisingly, many of my associations with the Biondos, and Mrs. Biondo in particular, revolve around food—typical for an Italian family.

Mrs. Biondo always wanted to feed me when I was in her house. I confess to a weakness for her fantastic manigot. If she wasn’t feeding me delicious Italian dishes, then she would treat me to White Castle. After awhile, I began to feel Italian, if you can imagine. I might have had to change my last name to “Wonginelli” at this rate.

An interesting fact about Mrs. Biondo, who had an identical twin sister who I confused her with all the time, incidentally—was that in her youth, Mrs. Biondo had won a local beauty pageant. She was crowned Miss Something Or Other, having to do with a Queens locality somewhere—although the name of the place escapes my memory now.

I was friends with all the Biondo boys, although it was with Steve that I felt the most special bond. The way he acted toward me, his compassion and his innate urge to nurture me in a brotherly way, all these attributes cannot be understated as the reason I feel as if Stevie is an older brother of sorts.

Steve was my prototypical elder biker brother, understanding and patient. Stevie also has an unerringly accurate moral compass. He always seemed to intuit what was right and what was wrong. This is one of the most impressive things about the man. Stevie Biondo is a true gentleman.

It is sometimes hard to define why people feel like brothers, but not in our case. With Steve and me, there were countless examples of why I feel like he’s an older brother to me. That sort of bond between mentor and the mentored, was established early in my life, and the pattern of mentorship, especially when it came to being a biker, came through loud and clear to me from Stevie.

The traditions and history of the biker subculture have been important to me in my life, and Steve Biondo was one of the early enablers of my participation in the culture. For this, I am ever grateful. Bikers often reminisce about older bikers who’ve brought them up, and along the two-wheeled path. For me, that was Stevie. Almost every true biker has a Stevie Biondo, a biker elder who gave them guidance, when they needed it.

Would Steve be like an older brother to me, if we weren’t bikers? I’m convinced that would be so, because of Stevie’s inherent generosity and expansive nature. I would have great affection for the man, even if we were stamp collectors, instead of bikers.

Steve has been an inspirational entrepreneur, all his life. To illustrate how motivated and dedicated an individual he is, all one has to do is to look at what he undertook as a teenager. When other teens were goofing off, Steve had projects like organizing a Christmas tree selling business at Christmastime. He procured the requisite trees, set up shop on the corner of 87th Street and Northern Boulevard, in front of Mr. and Mrs. Shapiro’s candy store, and did a healthy business. I’s been said among our friends, that Stevie could have run General Motors, if given the chance.

Admittedly, Steve made the greatest impression on me as my mentor, because he preceded me as a biker, and passed on traditions and techniques peculiar to the biker subculture to me. He taught me about the venerableness of Harleys in the culture, and how to treat these unique machines with respect and love. We share a love of motorcycles, a love that for both us, has withstood the test of time.

The 90 year old biker subculture, has always enjoyed an informal familial structure, where one generation of biker would hand off the secrets of the life to a younger generation of biker. This is the way that I’ve felt about my relationship with Steve.

As I got older, Steve came to perceive me as a mature biker like him, more of an equal rather than a younger brother in the culture. That however, hasn’t altered my perception of him. I’ll tell you what. Steve Biondo to me, will always be like an older brother. The relationship might have been set in stone, that day when he tutored a seven year old boy, on how to deal with a bicycle’s flat tire.

Whenever I think of Steve, I’ll perhaps always feel like the little kid watching a big brother blasting down the street on his righteous Harley Panhead! He is my mentor and my friend. Steve, with respect and affection, I salute you. Later.

FINITO

“PERSONAL MEMOIR PART FOUR”

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1974: My niece Denise (right) with her brother (center) and me.

Seven years ago, I was the Admin of my friend Camille Speca’s “Did You Grow Up In Jackson Heights, Astoria, Woodside” Facebook group. During my tenure there as Admin, I had a chance meeting with one of the members, Denise Biondo-Kees, a member I knew from the time she was a child. In the subsequent years, I’d lost contact with Denise. My reconnecting with her began when she realized who I was. Her father Steve Biondo, was like my big brother when I was growing up in Jackson Heights in Queens, NY. When Denise realized who I was, she sent me the following private message:

“Hi Uncle Scott….I remember you so well….helping you to wash your bike, you letting me sit on it, letting me try to start it! Ha! You always seemed to be there for me in the Biondo house. You were such a vivid memory, such a big part of my growing up. Scott, you brought happy tears to my eyes. I feel blessed to have reconnected with you, truly like family….and I’ll always have you to thank for my love of loud, old-school Harley-Davidsons. You, and my Dad, of course.”

AUGUST 1974: JACKSON HEIGHTS, QUEENS, NEW YORK

I had my 1968 Harley Sportster, “Sally The Bitch” parked in front of the Kentucky Fried Chicken’s parking lot, on Northern Boulevard and 88th Street in Jackson Heights. On the extreme northwest corner of the KFC parking lot—which happens to be contiguous with the building my parents owned and in which I grew up—there were a series of four metal posts cemented into the ground, leading to a break in the posts where the entrance to the parking lot was. Linking these metal posts, were links of thick chain.

I had the bike parked across the sidewalk, almost like a roadblock daring pedestrians to pass. On this day, I was photographing my bike. Six year old Denise—cute as a button—and her brother, were keeping me company as I walked around Sally to take different-angled shots of her. I used a tripod to take a pic of myself with Sally, with the camera set on self-timer. Just for fun, I also took a shot of little Denise and her brother, as they dangled on the chains linking these metal posts.

When you’re 6 years old, the whole world is your playground, and even the chains on fences of a fast food restaurant’s parking lot, can be your jungle gym. When you’re six, you can sample the universe around you as the proverbial oyster on a half-shell, spiced-up with the newness of life. I had this picture of Denise and her brother playing near my old Harley, somewhere in my house. I just found it…..

Is it any wonder that I refer to Denise as my niece? I think of Denise’s dad, Stevie Biondo, as an older brother. In the long-ago days when Denise sat on my Harley Sportster’s contour seat, and comically pushed her little foot on my Sportster’s kickstarter, I felt like Denise was my niece. I’ll never forget the way that the kickstarter wouldn’t budge, and the determined look on Denise’s cute-as-a-button face, in her effort.

These are treasured memories for me too. These memories resurfaced after Denise found me on Facebook, and opened up a whole slew of warm recollections about Denise, and deep introspection regarding her perception of not only me—but the biker subculture too. When Denise contacted me through Facebook, I felt an instant paternal affection for her. Look at her now! Denise is now a lovely young lady, loving mom to her sons, Alex and Matthew. Time sure does fly.


Denise with her son Matthew.

I began thinking about why this reconnecting with my adoptive niece after decades of not seeing her, seemed so profound to me—aside from the obvious reunion with a loved one. I’ve concluded that it has to do with the ritualistic manner in which the love of Harleys and the biker culture, is passed on from generation to generation in the culture.

Because the subculture is so pervasive in my life, Denise, as a living reminder of how “family traditions” are passed on, lend to our reconnecting, a very special significance for me. As elders to Denise in the biker subculture, Denise’s dad and I have passed on something very important and rare in our society: A love and respect for the traditions inherent to the biker subculture. There’s no doubt in my mind that this can be construed as the passing down of a family tradition, in the purest sense of the term.

This is frankly, the very first time that I’ve experienced a generational emotion such as this in the context of the motorcycle culture, for neither of my children have any interest in the culture. As a biker who is deeply steeped in the history and tradition of the biker subculture, I found Denise’s exclamation of her love for Harleys, profoundly touching. It was a familial-type of experience for me, heretofore not enjoyed before.

I especially enjoy her calling me Uncle Scott—I consider it a special honor and privilege. I admit that I’ll always think of her as that little girl who hung around when I washed my bike, sitting on the bike—and trying to start Sally. Listen, even at the age of 6, she had better technique than a lot of bikers I’ve observed!

Oh sure, I’ve heard from younger bikers who read my articles in Iron Horse magazine, who have told me that I had inspired ’em to ride Harleys. I’ve heard this many times from younger bikers, who’ve attributed their entrance into Harleyhood because they were motivated by my writing. That doesn’t compare, however, to the quasi-paternal experience of having passed on the feelings for a culture, like I have with Denise in person.

There’s a big difference between a magazine reader vicariously picking up on Harleys, and someone you knew as a child who has been imbued with this love and respect for Harley-Davidsons due to your personal influence on him or her in the formative stages of that child’s life. There’s a special poignancy in hearing from a family member, about her, “…love of loud, old-school Harley-Davidsons…”

The biker subculture is rife with stories of fathers and mothers passing on the love of motorcycle culture, to their progeny. In my life as a biker, Denise is that progeny by proxy. This experience of feeling like a true “uncle” in the life of my adoptive niece, has been rewarding in ways I can’t properly put into words.

Like the feeling when one hears the “Clickety-clickety-clickety..” horse-hooves idle of a righteous Harley, or the thunderous roar when I hit 80 on the highway with my stroker Shovel—it has to be experienced for it to be fully understood. The passing on of traditions within the biker subculture, is a form of passing down family tradition from one generation to the next. This is pointed out in this excerpt from an internet paper on family traditions:


“The continuation of family traditions amidst great technological advances and fast paced lives, is very much important. This is true whether a family is created by biology or choice. From a generational perspective, family traditions are practices or beliefs which are passed down from generation to generation. It is important to pass the torch of family traditions; this imparts a sense of continuity, bonding. Each family tradition creates warmth and closeness….it is a special tie that bonds them all.”

It is no surprise to learn that Denise and her husband Alexander, are motorheads. Considering their heritage, it is also no surprise to know that their sons are engaged in the motor culture, too. This is proof positive that the passing down of traditions is alive and well in Denise’s household.

I’m just happy and grateful that her father and I were able to pass on traditions of the biker subculture to her. If after reading this, you can’t comprehend why it was so emotionally rewarding for me when Denise found me on Facebook, then you truly wouldn’t understand.

In the final analysis, Steve Biondo passed on biker traditions to me. I, in turn helped Denise’s dad to pass them on to her. She and her husband then passed on the love of motor culture to her progeny. Everything comes full circle in life, and the circle is completed. Later.

FINITO