A bridge? To where?
My father came home from work one afternoon in the mid-1950s with big news from a usually reliable neighborhood source, probably Bachrach, the druggist, or Becker, who ran the candy story.
“They’re building a bridge,” he announced. “Over to Staten Island.”
This would be the same anonymous but almighty “they” — the Oz-force of Brooklyn — who raised the price of subway tokens, ran the clanking trolleys outside our window too late at night and warned that if you didn’t clear the sidewalk of snow soon enough, you’d get a ticket. Don’t ask questions.
More than half a century later, I have one anyway. How come “they” misspelled the name of their own bridge? More on that later.
For Dad, a Bond Bread deliveryman, and Mom, a Wall Street worker bee in the secretarial pool, the world was full of circumstances beyond their control. They got through the Depression and tough times that followed by dint of courage and hard work, and they never complained. But someone else made the big decisions. Regular people lived with the results.
“Bridge?” said Mom.
“Like the Brooklyn?” I asked.
“Bigger,” said my father. “Longer. Way across the Narrows.”
Well, wasn’t that just about the craziest thing ever?
A bridge out by Fort Hamilton with a highway through Bay Ridge just so more people could get to Staten Island? What, suddenly, was the rush?
We lived on 69th Street near Sixth Avenue. At the bottom of 69th was a ferry slip. If, unaccountably, you wanted to leave Brooklyn for the other shore, this was how you made your getaway.
The ferry carried foot passengers and cars. When we went to visit my grandparents in South Plainfield, New Jersey, it was in Dad’s 1939 Pontiac. Alongside the dock, we’d line up hoping to make it onto the boat just arriving and not get stuck waiting for the next.
Grand, it was, out for a sail — as close to an ocean cruise as Mom and Dad ever got. To the right, there was the Statue of Liberty and then the tip of Manhattan. Squint a little, and you maybe got a glimpse of the Empire State Building in midtown.
The harbor was filled with just about everything that floats — freighters, luxury liners, tugs.
Plowing between them was the broad and brawny ferry, dark green, a sort of Army tank on the water. Sometimes, there’d be a throaty toot. Watch out, coming through. At the St. George landing, the boat squeezed into its berth, the engine sighed, a ramp came down. We were on Staten Island and heading toward Jersey.
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, named for an Italian explorer who, in 1524, was the first to sail into New York harbor, opened Nov. 21, 1964. Once in a while during construction, Mom, Dad and I would drive along Shore Road to check on the progress.
“Something,” my father would say, shaking his head. “Something.”
I wonder what Dad, who died too soon to drive across, would have thought about the latest Verrazano news: “They” are changing the name.
Albany politicians agreed recently to add another “z” to road signs when the existing bunch wear out, which makes sense because it was with double z’s that Giovanni da Verrazzano spelled his name in 1524 and how it was spelled in 1964, too.
What accounts for the original mistake is subject to question. Some accounts say there was a political struggle over the matter — sound familiar? — and others that a typographical error is to blame.
In any event, it appears a great wrong is about to be made right.
So, let’s do it.
Let’s spell the name correctly and, Dad, I hope you don’t mind, let’s also admit maybe we were wrong.
The bridge was a portal to the rest of the country — a quick way to New Jersey, sure, but also everywhere else.
If you’re driving to Florida or the Far West, heading to see a son in Georgia or a daughter in D.C., it all starts with a ride over the Narrows on that big, soaring span from Bay Ridge to Staten Island.
Except for a $17 round-trip toll, the Verrazano turns out to be not such a bad idea, after all. The Verrazzano? Hey, that’s even better.