Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ray's

The "Day of Ray" will be on February 6th, this Saturday. I heard it was in Tompkins Square Park, although more recently it has been pushed out over the web that it will be at the Sidewalk Cafe, 6th Street and Avenue A, at noon. Details are here at EV Grieve

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My stories-

This is Ray's, or Ray's Candy Store. No idea why it has that name, I suppose he once sold candies, now it's all coffee and fries, ice creams, and egg creams, etc...

Ray's is kind of like a general store, selling whatever it is that the contemporary neighborhood patron would want, open 24 hours a day, and Ray himself works there, and has been working at his store, all night long, everyday.

Why I'm writing about Ray is because it is an icon of the East Village, just north of the corner of East 7th Street and Avenue A, where the blog 'Neither More Nor Less'- neithermorenorless.blogspot.com/ is usually reported from.

Lately I've been getting my 1st coffee of my shift from Ray. That started because I wanted to support the guy who was once the local place around the corner from where I grew up. I remember buying Car And Driver magazines from there. My dad would buy his cigarettes.

When I visited friends in the neighborhood I'd try his belgian fries which are a relatively recent product of Ray's. And now I find that he's one of the cheapest places for coffee, a large coffee is only a dollar.

That 1st time I came back to Ray while I was on duty, a few guys were in there that seemed like regulars, and they all asked him how he was doing, what the story is with his lease. It all seemed like it was intentionally brought up for me to hear. The word had to get out, Ray was likely to loose his store, a place that for 30 years was a staple of the village, while every other establishment on the block had either changed owners or gone through big changes, Ray was there remembering every face, and always giving a fare price. Recently an article was written up in The 'New York Times'- www.nytimes.com/2010/01/18/nyregion/18candy.html

Without knowing that I had started making a habit of getting my coffee at Ray's, my dad sent me that article in an email. Ray's has a place in all our hearts. He's been around long enough to be placed into stories asserting it's place in our oral histories:

One day my dad came back from "getting a coffee at Ray's" only to tell us that the whole neighborhood had broken out in a fight with the police in the park, they were throwing bottles and everything. It was only later that this moment was clearer to me as a vital turning point of the East Village, when the police had begun a huge crack down on the removal of homeless and drunks and druggies squatting in the park. The neighborhood didn't take too kindly to it. Ray's stayed open during the whole thing.

My dad also told me the story of how the founder of the Guardian Angels, a man who at the time was pretty respected, though now that the city has been cleaned up, he appears to be a bit of a righty political bobble-head, was almost killed, but he somehow miraculously survived. It was Ray's Candy store that the man walked out from when he hailed a cab. The cab was actually driven by a mafia hit-man and he shot him several times. And yet that hero of the more gritty New York walks and talks today without any signs to show for it.

And to add to the myth of Ray, I walked in the other day and the same guy was in there who was there talking to Ray who was in there a month ago or so when I started to come in for my coffees. He told Ray that he should take it easy with the stabbing of his customers. He was in enough trouble as it was with the rent, and the insuring regulations, he didn't want to find himself in jail. Evidently Ray had been stiffed by a customer for a hot dog, he was probably rude or he came to just expect a hot dog for free. Trust me weather it did or didn't happen, Ray is a class act, making all the salty and sugary foods and drinks you desire and handing them over for the below market prices with a shaking hand, one that has operated that cash register for a relative life-time in comparison with the fleeting life span of most establishments around the city. Go to any place around for this long and you will find two things: an individual who is there to hear everyone who comes in and talks, and also an individual who doesn't take crap from anybody. to be here for this long you have to really care about your town, to the point that you'd die for it.

Please join Ray in his fight to keep his store alive. His rent is being paid only through the care of his customers.

3 comments:

John M said...

It's wild that those Ray-centered events happened so long ago. I remember them. Like yesterday, so to speak. That 'cleaning out the park' event was actually a police riot. They were hitting people for no reason, and some cops had black tape over their names so you couldn't report them. I knew a guy walking more than half a block away on Ninth St. who was charged by a cop. He (white) and his girlfriend (black) were smacked around and hit with the baton. When they objected and wanted to know what was going on, the copy called the gf a 'nigger bitch'.

Yeah, the park was a disaster and it did need cleaning out, and some protesters were jerks who threw a couple bottles at the cops. But the planned overreaction was frightening and made a lot of us much more scared of the cops than the junkies and homeless in the park.

Also back then, I remember my girlfriend getting verbally (sexually) harassed by a cop patrolling the park. And I also overheard one cop telling another, 'Who the hell would live down here? They're all animals.'

Then you have Mr. Sliwa, borderline vigilante but his red beret guys made quite a few people feel safer at one time. Over time, I heard they, too, got out of line and people because afraid of them.

So why do I find those days so much more interesting than today's city? Well, because they were, I guess. If you were a kid back then, you must have a few good stories to tell besides the ones your father told. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

G.S. said...

Very interesting report. I hadn't been familiar with Ray's, now I will stop in there sometime. I had Mr. Red Beret in my cab twice, years ago, and both times gave him a free ride as my way of contributing to his organization. Since then, having listened ad nauseum to his egotistical diatribes on talk radio, I can barely stand the sound of his voice and I have come to regret my generosity.

NYC taxi photo said...

yeah, so I've heard about that guy. A little annoying that he's sending his brand of protection out like an identity, throughout the country to towns that are already safe. God knows what he's really trying to clean up.