My Favorite Local Spot
Four renowned local authors on their favorite Westchester locations. Be prepared to be moved.
Essays by Nancy Geary, Andrew Gross,
Rupert Holmes, and Jonathan Tropper
Photography by Chris Ware
A Pond in Purchase
By Andrew Gross
Writing’s nice work if you can get it. No boss peering over your shoulder, your time’s your own. Not to mention all that longed-for flexibility and balance. Maybe the pay scale’s not Wall Street, but the commute upstairs is a dream.
And while the rest of you are slamming your heads against the current, doing deals, fighting traffic, catching the 8 pm train, I have all the time and freedom in the world to discover and be part of those special little places that make our area great.
Like last week… Monday was one of those perfect, summer days, so I figured I’d break off around one, roll down the road to Doral Arrowwood, with its gorgeous, Robert Von Hagge course, grab a cheesesteak at Frank’s Franks just off the third tee, and work on the game a bit in the calm of the weekday afternoon.
When my yoga-teaching wife (how much balance can a family have?) rings in to remind me today is the day we’re switching from satellite to cable, that the dog has to be taken in for her monthly Percorten shot, and that my son has smashed his racquet at squash camp and needs a replacement ASAP. (“As long as you’re home, hon…”)
Did I mention that I’m around the house a whole lot more than the rest of you?
And Tuesday...I had executed this perfect chapter break around noon. (I start at eight.) I had a couple of errands to run. In business we used to call it MBPA (Management by Putzing Around). I was going to bring in this chipped, antique frame to Sneller’s in Mamaroneck, who’s a master at restoring anything old. Then on to Dr. Scott, our network chiropractor on the Post Road, and get a little adjustment for the old writer’s back. Then, as long as I’m there, maybe stop in at Mercurio’s and check out the olive oils and artisan pastas and cured Italian meats. That’s what balance is all about, right?
When the call comes in from my daughter, who’s in the city, with that dreaded, perfectly-paused, “Uh, Dad…” Followed by the panic of the Jeep service appointment that she’s forgotten (the one she’s put off twice before) and can I just take the car in, please…please… (“C’mon, Dad, it’s not like you’re working, right?”)
And that’s when the thought starts to creep in that maybe that chapter break wasn’t as neatly executed as I thought. And upon second reading, it was actually a horrible chapter break. (My back can wait. So can the Jeep.) And the computer goes back on…
We live in a gated community and I always had this private thought, that when my car actually approaches the entrance to leave, there’s like this underground buzz running through the neighborhood: “He’s going out! He’s going out!” Did I mention all that balance is known to give writers a slightly elevated sense of self-importance?
Wednesday, I’ve got it all planned. I’m really getting out. I’m taking the old boat out in the Sound, or I’ll check out the Neuberger at SUNY Purchase, or one of the farm stands along King Street, since one of the other things I do on a daily basis is dinner. I figure first I’ll just stop in at Reader’s Mart in Rye Ridge and see how the book is doing…“It’s doing great,” my sales clerk brightly says. “It’s No. 2, after Harry Potter.” She taps into the computer. “We’ve sold 92 copies. In two weeks.”
In the fellowship of authors, I inquire how many copies Harry Potter has sold.
She goes back into the computer. “1,217.”
I run back home.
It’s tough getting to all your favorite places. Did I mention I can no longer even go back to the bucolic bench in PepsiCo (which I mistakenly alluded to in this magazine’s “Best of Westchester” issue) because now it’s filled up with would-be writers all looking for inspiration.
You start to realize—balance is tough! Just as work seems to always expand, time conversely contracts to fit one task you want to complete. You know where my true favorite place really is? It’s on my own deck, under the green and white awning looking over our pond. It’s no different than anyone else—housewife or corporate honcho—clawing for a few, precious seconds in the day, whether to read or meditate, to call your own. Sometimes our favorite places remain so, simply because we rarely get to them.
Finally, it’s Friday. My wife informs me she made a reservation at one of our favorite restaurants—La Villetta, in Larchmont.
Larchmont! “What? Are you crazy,” I snap. “You know what the traffic is like on a Friday night.”
By seven, we’re grilling over the pond.
Andrew Gross’s most recent book, Lifeguard, co-written with James Patterson, was No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Other books co-written by Gross and Patterson include 3rd Degree, 2nd Chance, and The Jester. He lives with his wife and three kids in Purchase and rarely goes out.
By Nancy Geary
Ward pound ridge is much more than a park. It is 4,700 acres of beauty: wide open fields sloping down to streams, miles of wooded trails, myriad plant and animal life, enormous rocks, and even a Trailside museum that once housed a Native American teepee. It is by far and away my favorite place in Westchester. Where else in this county—let alone the country—can you pay an $8 entrance fee, leave the commercial world behind, and spend a day in paradise?
I had just moved to Westchester when I visited Ward Pound Ridge for the very first time. The entrance off Route 121 in Cross River is deceiving; it exposes none of the majesty of what will come. But it didn’t take more than a minute of driving along the road into the park with huge pines stretched out on either side for me to be overwhelmed by the sense of space, the joy of true quiet and anonymity, and the sensory delight of the magnificent landscape.
Spring came late that year of my first visit, and there was snow on the ground when I set out with my infant son on my back and our two dogs. The gatekeeper had offered a trail map, but I declined, figuring I could find my way. I’d survived a Manhattan childhood after all. Besides, my hands were full managing leashed Labradors, who desperately wanted to run free. But despite the color-coded markings, within moments, I was lost. To say I had no fear would be false bravado—new to the area, I might never be missed and no search party sent—but as I wandered hour after hour, I felt inspired. I realized how remarkable it was to have a place to even get lost, a place wild and undeveloped enough to allow true escape from the business, the noise, and the stress of life, all less than a 50-minute drive from the Henry Hudson tollbooth.
Since then, I’ve returned dozens of times. I’ve brought friends, colleagues, and even my ex-husband. But my favorite visits are with my son. We have spent some of our happiest days in the park. Although camping is best in the summer with campsites, lean-tos, and rock-edged fire pits available for rent, Ward Pound Ridge is a dream in all seasons. Fall brings some of the most magnificent foliage in the county, if not all of New England. I see no need to travel to New Hampshire. We wander the trails gathering brightly-colored leaves, and stop to climb on a rock, stare at the shapes of the clouds, or look for a deer camouflaged in the trees. Sometimes we rest and talk, sitting “criss-cross applesauce” style on the side of a path. Occasionally we encounter somebody—a man with a walking stick, a hiker, or a woman on horseback—but mostly we are alone to enjoy the scenery and each other’s company.
In winter, there is no better sledding anywhere. We take to the sloping meadows on our Flexible Flyer, cheering as we gain momentum and speed, our only steering challenge to avoid the other people. There are no sirens and no rap music. The air is crisp and clear and from bundles of down jackets, thick boots, and woolly hats emanates laughter. Some of my best winter exercise is pulling the sled back up the hill while my 50-pound companion rests up for the next run.
Spring marks the annual Leatherman Loop, a 10K cross-country race celebrating the life of the legendary “Leatherman,” who wandered the area centuries ago dressed in animal skins and relying on the generosity of strangers for food and shelter. The course in his honor goes through streams and stretches of mud, under several fallen trees, and over roots and rocks. I’ve run three of the last four. The spring of 2005 brought 1,000 runners to the event. The rivers were high and the water freezing, but the huge crowd plunged in without a moment’s hesitation. Many like me had saved old sneakers to wear for the occasion because virtually everything—socks, leggings, and shoes—has to be thrown away when the race is over. The thick black mud simply won’t wash out.
With each visit my love for Ward Pound Ridge grows. The devoted and friendly groundskeepers and strict rules of park conduct keep the reservation impeccable. Whether it’s a bark hut, an arrowhead, a new variety of fern, or a patch of moss, there is always something new to discover. I suspect my son and I will return again and again, until I’m so old that he’ll be carrying me.
Nancy Geary is the author of four novels including the recently released Being Mrs. Alcott, and Regrets Only, for which she received the 2005 Washington Irving Award from the Westchester Library Association. A former prosecutor with the Massachusetts Attorney General's office, she lives in
Toeing the Line in New Roc City
By Jonathan Tropper
We’ve certainly got our fair share of nature’s bounty out here in the suburbs. Forests, parks, reservoirs, and quaint villages. I live in a scenic, tree-lined neighborhood comprised of 80-year-old Tudors and Colonials, up the block from a pretty little lake, and not far from a wooded preserve. Rabbits, raccoons, and a solitary groundhog traipse through my yard every day like they own the place. Walt Whitman would have a lot to say about it.
But I’m not him.
I could name any one in a handful of pretty places and write a romantic little description of it, but that would be somewhat disingenuous of me, just telling you what you expect to hear. Instead, I’ll tell you the unvarnished truth: my favorite place in Westchester is the concession stand at the movie theater at New Roc City. Or, more specifically, the line at the concession stand. Because there’s always a line. Always. And no matter what day of the week it is, no matter what time of the day, no matter how crowded or empty the theater is, The Line will always be there. Always. Sneak into the theater for a two o’clock matinee on a Wednesday afternoon, and The Line will be there. This is something you can rely on with utmost certainty. And without fail, you will always spend precisely 26 minutes on The Line to get your soda and popcorn. I know this to be true because I’ve timed it repeatedly. I don’t know how they do it, but they do it. Every time, like clockwork. These people shouldn’t be running a multiplex, they should be running NASA.
When the weather gets too hot in New Rochelle, I wonder if Con Ed will restore power to our stifling house when they promised they would. When we pile our leaves as instructed at the front of our lawns, I wonder if the city will once again forget to collect them. When it snows, I wonder if this time we’ll get plowed out before lunchtime. But I never have to wonder about The Line at New Roc’s concession stand. It’s one of life’s rare constants, a natural phenomenon, a beacon of certainty in an uncertain world.
When I first moved into the neighborhood and started seeing movies at
Reassured that I am once again in expert hands, I let my eyes wander The Line. I observe my fellow moviegoers and try to guess their relationships: Married? Lovers? Friends? Siblings? I hear others complaining incredulously, seething over this impossibly slow process, fretting about missing their movies. I was once like you, I think, allowing myself a small, compassionate smile. I want to proselytize to them like Yoda, “Embrace The Line,” but I don’t. The Line is something we all must come to on our own. Instead, I take an informal census of my fellow citizens; stockbrokers, contractors, lawyers, drug dealers, students, and blue-haired retirees, all united in the great social equalizer that is The Line, and I feel proud to be among them. Whether we are here by choice or because of the subtle, nefarious manipulation of the media, the fact remains, we are all here together, standing as one. As long as there is The Line, the terrorists will never prevail.
From my place in The Line, I watch the ebb and flow of the crowd, in from the outside, to and from the restrooms, thronging into the halls of the multiplex, and there’s something soothing in these familiar rhythms, like the tides of the ocean. I see people of every race and religion, every age and dimension, all united in this single ritual.
Surrounded by them, I overhear snatches of conversation and am granted a small, fragmentary glimpse into their lives, and it somehow makes me feel more whole, part of a larger community. The Line is the United Nations, the Line is Town Hall, the Line is
And then, 26 minutes later, it is finally my turn. I buy my Chernobyl-sized refreshments and head into the theater, at peace, centered, and ready to be entertained. I find my way through the darkness to my wife, who helps me to unload my wares, and I feel like Early Man, returning from the hunt to the dim comfort of his cave. And then, with our heads leaning together and our hands mingling in the popcorn tub, my wife whispers softly in my ear, filling me in on everything I’ve missed.
Jonathan Tropper is the author of the novels Plan B, The Book of Joe, for which he received the 2005 Washington Irving Award from the Westchester Library Association, and Everything Changes. He teaches writing at Manhattanville College and lives with his wife and two children in New Rochelle.
By Rupert Holmes
I grew up across the river in Nanuet during the late 1950s, when Westchester was to
Oh, the lives you Westchesterites led! Adventurer’s Inn, with its innovative
unlimited condiment bar—all the pickle relish, mustard, and sauerkraut a boy would ever want, if a boy would ever want such things. The record section of E.J.Korvette’s, where the price of a $5.98 stereo or $4.98 mono LP was often slashed in half so as to undermine Sam Goody’s grip on the vinyl marketplace. Patricia Murphy’s Candlelight, a restaurant noted for its popovers and for the blossoms popping up amid its lavish hillside gardens. And Playland—the closest thing to Disneyland most East Coast kids would ever know. (Oh, we did hear of people who had actually ventured to Los Angeles by car, train, or even transcontinental airplane, but few of them ever came back.)
Favorite towns? An older residential neighborhood of New Rochelle is the setting for several scenes in both my first novel, Where the Truth Lies, and its movie adaptation. (The fact that George M. Cohan memorialized the town as being “Only Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway” is actually a clue in the book’s mystery.) I particularly revere Bonnie Meadow Road, the very real New Rochelle lane where Rob Petrie would trip over (or evade) an ottoman each week on arguably the best sitcom ever written, The Dick Van Dyke Show. And my favorite American humorist, Robert Benchley, made his home on Lynwood Road in my own Scarsdale, at least on those infrequent occasions when he was not being the quintessential man-about-Manhattan.
But these are all locations peculiar to my specific interests. Of my favorite places in Westchester that virtually anyone might enjoy, I offer you an uncushioned, straight-backed seat approximately one and a half feet wide and 35 miles long. Like lawn chairs in London parks, this Westchester perch can be rented for a few minutes or over an hour, and one savors the seat not because of its upholstery or lack thereof, but for the view it commands, a view that I first saw …
… on a most unusual day in the summer of 1959, when a well-tailored, well-positioned advertising executive hurriedly boarded the comfortable Twentieth Century Express Limited just as it departed Grand Central Station. He did so to evade the police, who with some justification believed he had earlier that day stabbed in the back (literally) one Mr. Lester Townsend of UNIPO in the ultra-modern Visitor’s Lounge of the United Nations. The advertising executive was named Roger O. Thornhill. (As with David O. Selznick, the “O” stood for nothing.) As the Chicago-bound train began its marathon run along the very edge of Westchester’s riverbank, Thornhill entered the dining car and was placed opposite a stunning blonde with well-chilled blue eyes who introduced herself as Eve Kendall. The seating arrangements were no coincidence: Miss Kendall had bribed the dining car’s maitre d’ to insure that the dashing (in both senses of the word) Thornhill would be seated across from her.
The windows by their table framed an extravagant panorama that was (again, in both senses of the word) moving. The view grew ever more poignant as the sun reluctantly descended from the sky. As they passed the shipping yard of the J.C. Turner Cypress Lumber Company of Irvington (est. 1895), Roger Thornhill self-prescribed a much-needed martini with pearl onion, known as a Gibson. Miss Kendall had already dined on the brook trout—“a bit trouty, but quite good”—and recommended the same to Thornhill, who took the offered bait.
Soon the train darted beneath the recently completed
Thornhill skipped dessert, unless of course you count Miss Kendall.
Naturally, you know that I’m describing a series of scenes from North by Northwest, possibly the most entertaining film ever made. I saw it first at Radio City Music Hall in 1959 and my jaw dropped—as if the Rockettes had synchronously kicked me in the head—when I saw that the Tappan Zee Bridge, the very same bridge my family had crossed earlier that day, was actually in the movie…and there, just beyond Thornhill and Kendall’s window aboard the train, was Westchester’s view of the Hudson River. My
Oh, sure, I’d already seen lots of movie scenes filmed in neighboring Manhattan, but we all knew New York City had been put on Earth primarily to provide a sophisticated setting for motion pictures. This was different. I knew the Hudson, had even come to take it for granted. Now, suddenly, I saw it the way people from outside New York would surely see it when they watched North by Northwest, as a breathtakingly romantic view that must have knocked the sweet air from Henry Hudson’s lungs as its widening mouth lured him upstream in search of a shortcut to China (via Albany?), one stunning landscape after another, each new vista slyly hidden behind the next graceful bend.
This stirring, heart-stopping view can be had any day of the year for the price of a seat on any train on Metro-North’s Hudson Line. It is my favorite place to be in this memorable county, excepting my own home. And whenever I find myself heading from Grand Central to the townships below the Hudson Highlands—station stops with names as atmospheric as smoke drifting up from an old Dutch Warden pipe: Greystone, Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Tarrytown, Philipse Manor—I always sit on the west side of the train.
Whatever newspaper, magazine, or book I might have with me is set aside. I know I’ll get no reading done. For the next 10 or 15 minutes, I’m seated at a window table, with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint for company, as we partake of a view that I’ve come to call “North by NorthWestchester.”
Rupert Holmes, twice an “Edgar” Award winner, is the author of the novels Swing and Where the Truth Lies, (nominated for the Nero Wolfe Award for Best American Mystery Novel) and the multiple Tony award-winning playwright and composer whose Broadway shows include The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Say Goodnight, Gracie. He also created and wrote the critically-acclaimed television series “Remember WENN.” Holmes and his wife, defense attorney Liza Holmes, have two sons and have lived in Scarsdale for 20 years. Visit www.RupertHolmes.com.