Archive | December, 2011

Sid – Emergency Medical Technician with NYC Fire Department

25 Dec

An NYC Fire Department van parked outside Mount Sinai on 30th Ave

Sid is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with the New York City Fire Department.   He covers “pretty much anywhere on the West end of Queens.”  I spoke with him on a bitterly cold Sunday morning while his ambulance was parked outside Mount Sinai Hospital on 30th Ave.

Sid says that the work involves “anything from picking up drunks on the street, to cardiac arrests and severe trauma jobs.”  He enjoys helping people through his work – to the extent that as well as working the shifts of his job (each eight or sixteen hours), he also volunteers as an EMT around Suffolk County in Long Island, where he lives. 

But EMTs often don’t get the credit for their work, he says.  “With most of the stuff that we do here in NYC, we pretty much have the Fire Department in front of us.  The Fire Department get the credit and we don’t.  Pretty much we take care of the patients, they take care of the fire.  So whoever they bring to us, we take care of them.  Half-dead, we bring them back alive.  We bring them back here [to the hospital], and that’s the end of it.

“Sometimes, especially when there are family members around, about half of them they come to you and do say thank you, others they just don’t really care.”

Sid says that the sytems are different in Long Island and New York City.  “In Long Island we do everything at once.  We do fire, rescue, and ambulance first aid at the same time.  Here it’s separate.  Fire is fire, EMS [Emergency Medical Services] is EMS.   I think it works a lot better when everything is together.”  One reason he has continued volunteering in Long Island, which he has done for a long time, is because of the excitement of doing a bit of everything.

Training for being an EMT includes first aid, basic life support, and CPR.  Sid says that in New York the training is about three months and in Long Island it is six.  In the future, he hopes to go on to be a paramedic, and beyond that, a physician’s assistant or a nurse.

Of Astoria, Sid says, “the neighborhood around here is pretty good, depending on which way you look at it.  There’s a lot of diversity around here.  On one side you have Brazilians, on this side Italians, again on the other side you have Middle Easterners, and then back here there are people from Greece.”

Sid was born in Colombia and came to the US when he was young – he has been here for 27 years now.  “I’ve been back to Colombia seven or eight times,” he says.  “It’s a little expensive to go down there!   And other than some family and some of my elementary school friends I don’t know anybody there now, so it’s a little different.”

Sid says the Colombian community in Astoria is much smaller than in Jackson Heights, where many of the Colombians in NYC live.  Now, he says, many are moving out to Long Island.

Jeanne Marie Boes – Singer and songwriter

17 Dec

Jeanne Marie Boes

Jeanne Marie Boes, now 23, was born and brought up in Astoria.  She used to live on Newton Avenue and for the past 11 or 12 years has lived on 30th Avenue.  There was a Casio keyboard lying around at home when she was a child.  She liked playing about on it, and hasn’t looked back since then.

“I’ve always leaned towards music, she says.   She went to Astoria’s Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (as did Josh Ellis and Elanna White who I interviewed in October).  “It was a wonderful atmosphere there.  Lots of music, drama and art.  I would go back if I could.  Just to make it easy again.  Getting out of the real life, you know!  If I could do it over I would,” she says.

Real life for her now is working as hard as she can on her music.  She’s a singer, songwriter and musician.   “Really what I’m aiming for is making people smile.  For them to walk away happy with what they heard.  Which is ironic perhaps – a lot of my music is blues.”

Blues and jazz are her main genres but in some recent songs like “If It’s Goodbye” she has moved more into pop.  Her inspiration is other musicians, especially those she heard while she was growing up, like Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Ella FitzGerald – also the Beatles and Billy Joel.

Two words she would use to describe Astoria are “emerging” and “inspiring”.  “There are all these new businesses and restaurants.  30th Ave, Broadway, and Steinway, it seems like they are really booming.  Astoria is just gorgeous.”  She plans on staying.  Until, that is, “I move to my dream loft in the village.”

Along 30th Ave, Jeanne has played in The Quays and Shillelagh Tavern.  And she plays throughout the city.  While Queens music venues are on the increase, she says that Manhattan is still where most of the opportunities are.  “It’s more competitive.  But also there is a lot going for you and you have a lot of chances.”

Last year Jeanne was a finalist for Queens in the “Battle of the Boroughs” music contest.  She performed  “A Seasoned Heart” in WNYC’s Jerome L. Greene Space (known as the Greene Space).  She was excited to be playing right next to WNYC radio, home to one of her favorite stations WQXR.

Earlier this year she brought out her latest album, an EP called “Promising Girl.”  Now, she’s performing her songs wherever she can.  And she is carrying on with what she enjoys most about being a musician: “Coming up with a good tune.  Creating the music.”

Jeanne Marie Boes’ website

George Phillips – Astoria Music

11 Dec

George Phillips of Astoria Music, with a bouzouki

George Phillips worked as a NASA engineer for eight years, before a change of direction in 1982 when he took over Astoria Music at 35-19 30th Avenue.  The music store has been there since 1922.  George says that it is Astoria’s third oldest business, after Ronzoni  pasta company on Northern Boulevard (though that is no longer there) and the Steinway Piano factory (which is).

Astoria Music sells the whole range of instruments, does repairs, and also runs a music school.  In its early days, it was also a “straight to vinyl” recording studio.  Its website lists well-known musicians who have either recorded or bought merchandise there.

One of Astoria Music’s specialties is hand-made bouzoukis from Greece.  “I average anywhere between six to seven bouzoukis a month,” George says.   “This is the only music store in America that sells bouzoukis like this – well, the real thing.  There are lots of imitations.  This is the real thing.”

Bouzoukis are in the same family as the guitar, but tuned one step lower than a guitar so that their open strings are D-A-F-C.  As well as running the store, George, who is Greek American, plays the bouzouki professionally – he has done so for around 45 years.   “We do corporate events, shows, festivals, weddings…traditional Greek music and also top 40 American oldies, stuff like that.”

George says that the neighborhood has changed little over the years, other than the arrival of more restaurants and some changes in the stores.  “The houses are the same.  The character is the same because of the European influence around here.    There are still a lot of Greeks.  Italians, Yugoslavians, people like that, they have kept their homes here.  That’s what keeps the neighborhood halfway decent.  People clean their front yards, they care about their homes.  They’re homeowners.”

George laments the fact that the number of live music venues is on the decline.  He says it may be less pronounced in Astoria and other parts of New York than elsewhere in the US, but all the same they are “slowly, slowly fading out.”  In his view, it is because “a lot of the music written today is un-reproducible.  There’s just a lot of junk out there.  Bands don’t play that kind of music…it’s the DJ playing it.

“Even as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, in one year you would have 200 songs, brand new songs that were written by different artists.  Out of those 200 songs, about 180 of them are still being played today as standard.   Beautiful songs.  Some Sinatra songs, Billy Joel songs, or Beatles tunes from back in the ‘60s.  Still being played.  Today, you would also have 200 new songs that are out right now.   They’re considered a big hit.  But you will never hear that song again in six months.  They are dead.”

Despite changes to the music scene, Astoria Music will likely be a feature of 30th Ave many years from now.  A wide range of musicians in the neighborhood frequent it.  And George Phillips is committed.  “I love what I do.  Music in any form, music only makes life better.”

Michael Pagano – Page Real Estate

6 Dec

Michael Pagano of 30th Ave's Page Real Estate

Page Real Estate has been on 30th Avenue since 1961.  It’s now at 35-20 and used to be just a couple of blocks down the road.

Anthony Louis Pagano founded the business, then handed it to his son, Anthony J Pagano, who sadly passed away last month.  I spoke with Anthony J’s son, Michael, who has been working in the business for 25 years.  His brother and sister also work there; as the company’s website says, it’s the longest-running family operated real estate business in Astoria.  Michael says that both his grandfather and father instilled in him “a solid work ethic, strong family values, and honesty in dealing with the public.”

“You meet cross sections of all humanity,” says Michael, on what he enjoys about his work.  “And you help people find new homes, make new beginnings.”  As for the challenges, Michael says there are plenty.  One in Astoria is finding enough pet-friendly homes for dog owners.

Page Real Estate mainly deals with pre-war rent-stabilized apartment buildings.  On house prices generally in Astoria, Michael says that despite the economic downtown they have remained steady.  “That’s due to a steady demand, nearby jobs, the locality, and also now the nightlife.”

The nightlife wasn’t always a feature.  Michael says that 25 years ago “everything closed at six or seven at night.  There would be just a few places open between the subway station to Steinway – like a fruit store, and one or two coffee places.”  Of course that’s no longer the case, with restaurants and cafes on every block.  “It’s brought a nice group of young professionals.”

He adds that the neighborhood is relatively inexpensive, safe, and close to everything.  “It’s the greatest secret in New York City.”