I’ve lived in Amsterdam for 63 years but have only been cognizant of my surroundings for about 60 of them. Over the course of those six decades, the demographics of my hometown have changed quite a bit and ditto for our society in general. As a result, so have the things people like to do in their spare time. The following list is therefore a hybrid of what folks in Amsterdam typically used to enjoy doing and what they enjoy doing now. You will note there are a few Amsterdam pastimes that have withstood the test of time. I’ve included five of the ten below:
Bowling – At one time in the not too distant past in this city along the Mohawk, the sport of bowling was king. I can still remember the Christmas when I was six years old and got my first bowling ball, a Brunswick Black Beauty. My older brother got one too and the following Saturday our Dad put us in his 57 Plymouth with the push button transmission and drove us up to Pin Haven Lanes where Danny Saullo ran the Pro Shop. He drilled both our balls and then me and my brother went out to the alleys and Mr. Riley, the husband of my first grade teacher who I believe was a co-owner of Pin Haven, let us throw a few practice frames. I was in heaven. I had my own bowling ball and Danny even gave me a resin bag. I felt like Don Carter, Dick Weber and Joe Donato all rolled into one. As soon as I finished my practice balls I asked my Dad for a quarter so I could polish my ball in the bubble-topped ball polisher that looked like it came out of a Jetson’s cartoon. I bowled pretty steadily and pretty poorly from then until probably the late eighties or early nineties, so about thirty years in all. My highest average was 182 and that Black Beauty, an AMF Three Dot and a Dick Weber Five Star were the only balls I ever owned. Amsterdam bowling establishments I can remember included Sky View, Wilton, Pin Haven, St. John’s Club and Windmill Lanes. Each of those alleys had a full slate of leagues meaning two shifts every night of the week keeping every alley busy. There were leagues just for men, just for women, just for men and women and for seniors. The kids’ and teenagers’ leagues bowled on Saturday mornings. The goal was to bowl well enough to help your team win all three games and maybe even score high enough to get to see your name in the next evening’s edition of the Amsterdam Recorder in bold black type designating you as one of the much acclaimed “Aces of the Alley”! But much like softball, winning and scoring well comprised only half of the reason you rushed home from work, wolfed down your supper, apologized to your kids for not taking them to the playground and speeded to the alley. It was your one night out with the boys or girls during the winter and it was the social camaraderie and conversation and not the strikes or spares that you must looked forward to.
Sitting on the Porch – Another great Amsterdam pastime that’s pretty much gone the way of Saturns and Pontiacs. Back in the 1950’s, 60’s and even 70’s, most homes in Amsterdam had open-air front porches. These exterior appendages truly served as another room of your house, especially during hot summer nights back when air conditioners were still considered luxury items. For the second and third generation immigrant clans who lived in the upstairs and downstairs flats of the two-families that still dominate most of the Rug City’s mature neighborhoods, the front porch was where you read your newspaper, smoked your cigarettes, ate your dessert or took a much-needed snooze. We placed our Saturday night Minnitti’s pizza boxes on the two milk boxes that used to sit on my grandmother’s large front porch and used the five steps of that same stoop as the assembly point for the eight-to-ten kids we needed to play football and baseball in the street. Every night, one neighbor or another would take a stroll and spend ten minutes chatting and gossiping at each porch on the street. Amsterdam’s front porches also served as juvenile jails for kids who were being punished for misbehaving. “You take one step of that porch and you are going to get it good mister!”
Garage Sales – Having garage sales and going to someone else’s garage sale is definitely one of Amsterdam’s favorite things to do. My Dad used to say he could never understand how anyone could spend so much time shopping for other people’s junk. As far as I’m concerned, one of the most feared proclamations that could come out of my wife’s mouth is; “It’s time to have a garage sale.” Why? Because at some point during the process of gathering what she intends to sell and establishing its sales price, I know I will make the following statements; “That chair cost me $300 and you’re selling it for $15?!?!” “When the hell did you buy this? I didn’t even know we had one of these!” “These dresses all still have the original price tags on them and so do these shoes. You never wore any of them?” “You are not selling this radio! I used to listen to Yankee games on this baby!
Shopping – I’m not referring to the act of needing something and going to a store to buy it. Nope, shopping defined as a pastime is going to a store and buying something you find instead of need. Back when I was a kid and teenager, Amsterdam’s casual, for fun shoppers headed downtown. They either took an orange and yellow city bus to the bus stop on East Main Street or got into their car and drove themselves. As I’ve already detailed in earlier top ten lists found in this collection, Amsterdam used to have plenty of stores filled with things you wanted more than you actually needed. My uncle would always stop at Trask’s to pick up the latest copy of Field & Stream while I looked for the latest Richie Rich or Archie comic book. My aunt got me my first baseball glove one night at Dungar’s. It was my reward for being patient while she browsed through three floors of Lurie’s. I loved to hit the Hobby Center to see what new toy was being featured and no visit downtown was complete without a shake or soda from Community Pharmacy. A generation later, my wife and I would put the kids in our station wagon and head to the air conditioned Amsterdam Mall for our pastime shopping. Now we head up to Route 30 and do our Fit-Bitting through Target and Kohl’s. Can anybody tell me where I can buy a Richie Rich comic book nowadays?
Visiting a Neighborhood Bar – My favorite nickname for Amsterdam, NY has always been “The city of hills, mills and grills.” It was no secret that the residents up and down every one of those hills and the workers in each one of those mills always had a favorite grill in which to partake a cold brew, sometimes served with a “touch” a.k.a. a shot of your favorite liquor. On the West End it might be Russo’s, Martuscello’s, Minnitti’s, Bob’s or later on Liber’s. Downtown had the Pink & Rock, Ralph’s and Red Carpet Lounge. Further east perhaps The Ivy Leaf, the Atlas Tavern, Walt’s Grill, Boggie’s, Rupsis, the Happy Grill and later on Ray’s Place, the Blaze Inn and Joe DeRose’s. Up on Reid Hill might be St Mike’s, Baldy’s, Skiba’s, Kuk’s or Draus’s. Going up Market hill you could catch a quick one at Sky Harbor and then sneak over to Corner Tavern. Up on Park Hill was St. John’s Club and over in Rockton were Tuman’s and Burza’s. The South Side had no shortage of watering holes including Shorty’s, Herk’s, Carl’s and Pietro’s, which later became one of my favorite stops, Scandor’s. I honestly could go on naming Amsterdam neighborhood bars from the past and present for paragraphs but hopefully you get the point and I’m suddenly getting thirsty!
I write about five more great Amsterdam pastimes in my new book; Fifty Amsterdam NY Top Ten Lists which is now on sale at Liberty Fresh Market on Route 30 in Amsterdam. You can also order copies online here. I will be doing a book signing at Liberty Fresh Market on Saturday, October 28th from 11AM to 2 PM.