Thursday, July 13, 2006

Car 63 Where Are You?

Late this afternoon we were wondering what to get for dinner. It's hot and very muggy so no one feels like cooking. The topic of pizza arose but we're getting tired of the pizza places that deliver around our area; the pizza isn't bad - but it's not terrific and I was in the mood for terrific pizza. So I thought of my favorite pizza place up on the Hill, Cosmo's Pizza. I occasionally go there for lunch when I'm in the University area but I have never taken the family there. The Hill is how the locals refer to Syracuse University because, well, it occupies a high area just east of the downtown section of the City.

I graduated from Syracuse University in 1971. Cosmo's was my hands down favorite source of pizza because he made it in a fashion that strongly reminded me of my Uncle Pat's pizza . Back in the late 1950's my uncle had an Italian restaurant in Babylon, Long Island. He had the red and white checked tablecloths and candles stuck in Chianti bottles covered with runny wax. And he had wonderful pizza.

Eating my Uncle Pat's pizza was a balancing act. As a hungry kid, I wanted to scarf it down as fast as I could but it was too hot to eat fast, so I would grab a huge bite, chew a little and swallow some soda to cool down the cheese. It was a sure recipe for burning the roof of my mouth. I knew it was a great meal when on the way home my tongue would explore the shreds of flesh hanging from the roof of my mouth. Cosmo's pizza does the same thing for me.

Most of the Hill was located in Beat 63 and was included in the Crime Control Team concept that deployed from 1968 through 1979. CCT used teams of cops to service a high crime rate beat. The team usually consisted of a sergeant and at least six or seven cops in each beat. We were divided into service and crime cars depending on training, skill and longevity. Since I was an SU grad and also worked in campus security as a student I fit right in.

Working 63 (pronounced six-three) was interesting in that it combined SU students and faculty with some rather nasty violent crime. Two of the city's biggest hospitals (Upstate Medical Center and Crouse Irving Memorial) are in 63 which means that their emergency rooms are also in 63. Take the ambulance traffic coming into the ER's (along with some craaaazy relatives and friends of the sick/injured) and throw in twelve thousand undergraduate students only two blocks away from the low income public housing projects and you get a volatile mixture that can blow up in your face very rapidly.

But the best part of 63 was Marshal Street. Marshal Street, or M Street, was the Hill's central business district. M Street was the melting pot for Towns and Gowns to eat, drink and fight together. M Street was also the scene for Syracuse Big East and Final Four sports triumphs and defeats, all usually accompaned by a general mobilization of uniformed cops who had to somehow find all that riot shit we hadn't used in years and which now lay all nasty and funky at the bottom of our lockers. That's if it was even there.

The way around it was was to steal a gas mask from someone else at the mustering point when no one was looking. Someone did that to me after the NCAA Championship game between Syracuse and Indiana in 1987. Indiana won 74 - 73 on a last second 16 footer from the baseline by Keith Smart. And it literally was a last second shot! The game ending buzzer sounded when the ball hit the basket and I remember thinking that we might be in for it when that shot went in.

I never did get that gas mask back and the armory sergeant was looking for it when I retired eleven years later. Oh well.

M Street was where I encountered one of many lunatics throughout my career. One night I stumbled across what we called a 9:41 (the section of the NYS Mental Health Law that authorizes a LEO to bring a nutjob in for psychiatric evaluation)and called it in. I asked the dispatcher for assistance in investigating, "a very large black male wearing a red plaid shirt, jeans, tin foil, hamburger grills and carrying a large axe." The tin foil and hamburger grills were wrapped around his calves. And I confronted the Master of the Moonbat BBQ right in front of Cosmos Pizza.

When I walked into Cosmo's with my wife and daughter it was like stepping back almost forty years. For crying out loud Leon was still making pizzas in the front window right by the oven! Leon is getting on in years and only works two days a week now. I asked him how long he has worked there (I first laid eyes on him in 1967). He replied "When we opened in 1959." Almost fifty years making pies. The owner, George, wasn't there but Leon said he still works most days and he is now 80.

A few of the table juke boxes still worked and some of the hits from the sixties were still listed; and they played three for a quarter! We listened to the Beach Boys, the Mamas and Papas, the Zombies, Steppin Wolf, Patsy Kline and Johnny Cash. But the best part was the pizza.

It is funny how some experiences have the power to transport us. Right now my tongue is exploring the burnt part of the roof of my mouth.

Tonight I feel like a kid.

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