Suzanne and I arrived at the Bronx Center on Memorial Day of 1980. We were something of a hot commodity at the time since we were a kid-less couple with marketable skills. We were both EMTs and I was also a construction crew guy. As such the Plenty guys had sort of gently been after us for a little while (Edward Sierra cruising by in his pickup: “They have margarine in the Bronx”) to go up there but we had been holding out. We were active in the music scene on the Farm and having a good time in Tennessee in general. Ultimately though it seemed the time was right to make the move so they hooked us up with a brown pickup truck which actually had alarms on the doors and the hood (a new technology for us) and we took the ride up north.
Adding to the general sense of heading off to the apocalypse this was shortly after the Three Mile Island reactor melted down and although New York wasn’t that close it was close enough to cause some of people with kids at the Bronx Center to temporarily head for the hills.
Needless to say, being there was remarkable in many ways. New York in the 1980s, although it had bottomed out in a big way, was also a site of tremendous creative energy. It was the birth of Hip Hop often plugged into streetlights right in our neighborhood. Punk rock and New Wave was busting out down town and the subway trains were incredible spray-painted murals.
I think the thing that really struck me when we arrived was that I had been expecting this really dark, grim, sad, burned out scene and, of course, there was that aspect of it. But when we got off the Cross Bronx expressway onto Webster Avenue the first thing we felt was this incredible energy. It was a gorgeous day and the streets were full of people and kids playing and running around.
We ended up staying until we folded up the operation relatively gracefully in the end of 1984. It didn’t turn out exactly the way we had initially planned but we did a lot of good deeds and I think helped hold things down for a good while. I think the town managed to mature to the point where it didn’t really need that operation anymore.
James Mejia took over the training program, which was good, but one more ambulance in the neighborhood wasn’t going to make that much difference anymore and the foundations wanted to put their money someplace else. It was actually all very timely because honestly we were all pretty toasted at that point and ready to move on to whatever the next thing was going to be.