Several little blocks of Binghamton

Valley Street park

several small blocksThis is also for you, Carla.

Here’s a map of part of Binghamton, NY. My life growing up, for the most part, was contained in several little blocks. The borders were Prospect Street to the north, Clinton Street to the south, Front Street to the east, and the end of Spring Forest Cemetery, that big green area at Prospect and Mygatt, to the west.

Let’s start at 5 Gaines Street, where I grew up. Gaines St is that one little block between Oak and Front. It is not to be confused to the more interesting block just south, which is Winding Way.

Here’s the Zillow page for 5 Gaines Street. It is brown. and has been for some decades. But when we lived there, it had a GREEN asbestos siding. (The Greenes, at 13 Gaines, had a white house with green trim.)

But looking at pictures at that property, and more so the Realtor pics 4 and 5, there are several things striking. One is that back yard is terribly small. When we would play kickball, the ball might slice over the fence to the rear of the property line.

That fence was wooden, and the property felt as though we were in the woods, going downhill, a gorge, really. Someone’s filled in that ravine and put parking spaces back there. When did THAT happen? Maybe when some of those Front Street properties were renovated in 2016. Next time I’m in town, I’ll have to see this in person.

On Front St, near the corner of Prospect, was the G and H Diner. We ate there a lot, especially during the six-year period when dad was working nights. Or so I recall. Their homemade pies were particularly fabulous.


I had to look up the name of the miniature golf course at 296 Front Street. It was called Front Street Miniature Golf and it was just south of this white behemoth of a building called Cutler Ice. We played minigolf a lot in good weather. I guess it closed around 1968 after about 35 years in business.

We used to play in Valley Street park, the small green area off Front Street. It was your standard playground near the street, but a baseball or softball field farther in. I have two specific memories there.

One was a pickup game of involved playing tackle football. Mike, on our team, caught the kickoff and was slowed by a couple of guys on the other team. But he was big and strong, not easy to bring down. When he was finally tackled, the opponents discovered he didn’t have the ball. In the scrum, he had handed the ball to me, and I scored without anyone noticing. Later that game, we did almost the same thing. This time, someone eventually saw that I had the ball, too late to catch me.

The other event was a baseball game. I was pitching to this girl named Aline, a couple of years older than I. She smashed the ball right back to me, striking me in the left temple and knocking me out cold. When I was revived, I walked home. My mom called the doctor, who said I might have a concussion. The protocol at the time was to not let me go to sleep for a time, lest I die. So my mom kept waking me up all night. And I didn’t die.

Binghamton to Albany via Detroit?

Half a day.

I have the need to travel from Binghamton to Albany, both in New York State. It’ll be sometime later this year, via some sort of transit. This is a distance of 141 miles or 227 km, traveling northeast.

Back in the last century, and even the early part of this one, one could take the bus from Binghamton, through Oneonta to Schenectady and Albany, primarily Route 7 and later I-88.

The last time I needed to make the trip from my hometown to my current residence, perhaps in 2018, was on a work trip. I had to take the bus from Binghamton to Syracuse, due north, then take another bus east to the state capital. This involved leaving the Parlor City about 3:30 a.m. and then having a 2-hour layover.

But last I checked, to make the very same trip now, I would have to leave at 2:15 am and arrive in Syracuse at 3:30 am. Then I’d have to wait eight hours to take the only eastbound bus at 11:40 am, getting into Albany at 2:45 pm. Twelve hours on the road.

What about the plane?

BinghamtonThe cheapest flight was $397, and it involved spending 7 hours and 20 minutes in Detroit, MI. The shortest, and at $892, the most expensive, involved only three hours in Detroit. The other choices involved going through both Detroit and Chicago, IL. The trips would take as “little” as 7.5 hours and as much as twice that.

Unfortunately, there is no train service at all from Binghamton, which is a shame. Currently, no train service exists on Sunday from Syracuse to Albany. Now, the latter is likely to change – or so I hope – as more people are traveling. But I like to make plans ahead of time.

The great thing about some travel these days is that some carriers are much more willing to be flexible about ticketing. The Trailways bus folks, e.g. are willing to provide refunds in case of death of an immediate family member, illness, jury duty, or military service.


Debra Johnson, nee Walker, nee Miller


Leslie.Nita.Lauren.Debra.LaurenDebra Johnson, fourth from left in the above picture, was my cousin. The photo is about 50 years old. It was taken, almost certainly, at Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church in Binghamton, NY, my church growing up. The young women appear to be in the choir loft.

Debbie was adopted by my great uncle – my paternal grandmother’s brother – Earl and his wife, Jessie. The adoption was no secret. They had already largely raised their biological family, so they were “older” parents to her. But from everything I knew, good ones.

I knew Debbie primarily from church, specifically from singing in church choirs. One group was the MAZET singers, directed by my father, which also featured my sister Leslie (left), Nita (2nd left), and Lauren H. (right). Lauren B. (in the middle) came to church slightly later.

Leslie was closer to Debbie than I was. I mean, guys of a certain age didn’t hang out with “girls,” even girl cousins. But neither of us kept in touch after I left town. I hadn’t seen her since the mid-1980s, possibly earlier. We were Facebook friends, that “the least you can do” relationship tentacle.


One of many things I didn’t know about Debra Johnson is that she continued to be in touch with one or both birth parents, surname Miller, plus her over a dozen siblings. More strange for me is that some of them live in Albany, which is where I live!

She died recently in the Binghamton area, I found out from her sister, my cousin Ruth, who also provided the photo. The first iteration of the narrative was that Debra fell down some steps.

There’s a lot of love showing on her Facebook page from some brokenhearted folks. It’s very touching, even if it’s from people most of whom I do not know.

Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church, Binghamton


O Come, All Ye Faithful. December 1959

For my request to  Ask Roger Anything, Carla, my friend from the high school choir asks:

Write more about your early memories of your church and school and your family!! I love those stories.

My, that’s tough. There are SO many tales. OK. I was baptized at my church, Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church in downtown Binghamton, NY in August 1953. No, I don’t remember this.

But my church moved when I was a kid to the corner of Oak and Lydia Streets. I took a search on “Bishop Walls…senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, will rededicate the former Plymouth Methodist Church as the new church edifice of Trinity.” This was in a story in the 8 June 1957 edition of the Binghamton Press. I vaguely remember him. 

It’s fascinating the detail given not just in this story, but all of the religious goings-on in the area. “The present Trinity Church at 35 Sherman Place recently was purchased by St. Mary’s Assumption Church as part of a site as a planned recreational center.”

Ultimately, Columbus Park was built on that site, right across the street from the Interracial Center at 45 Carroll St, where my father Les would often volunteer. Not incidentally, the park has been informally renamed for Assata Shakur.

One-tenth of a mile

The new church location was two really short blocks from our house at 5 Gaines Street. And we’d cut through the parking lot at Gaines and Oak, making the trip even faster. So we really were at church all of the time. I participated in the children’s choir, directed by Fred Goodall, who seemed to be there forever.

WNBF-TV, Channel 12 (now WBNG) used to have telethons. It was either the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon on Labor Day weekend or the March of Dimes or maybe both. In any case, our choir appeared on the station more than once. In fact, between those appearances and being on the kids’ shows, I was on local TV at least a half dozen times.

My paternal grandmother Agatha – emphasis on the second syllable, not the first – was my Sunday school teacher. She and her husband McKinley also lived upstairs from us at 5 Gaines Street. So I saw her a lot, often playing canasta at her kitchen table, until she died in May 1964. She was the first person I knew and loved who passed away.

My father Les would run off the bulletin on that mimeograph machine. I can still recollect in my mind’s nostrils that specific smell. Besides singing in the senior choir, dad also began directing the youth choir he dubbed the MAZET singers, based on the initials of the church, It included the organist’s younger daughter Lauren, my cousin Debra, my sister Leslie, and me. I recollect that we were pretty good.

OK, Carla, maybe I’ll try this again sometime.

Where do I go when it’s safe?

food and film

a-group-of-opened-cans-of-food-containing-fruits-vegetables-and-legumesKevin, who is from my home county, though I don’t think we met until college, asks what should be a simple question:

Where is the first place you are going when it’s safe to go out?

Of course, not everything will open up at the same time. The thing I miss the most, singing in the choir, is going to take a while longer than other activities. So, it’s a toss-up between going to the movies and going indoors to a sit-down restaurant.

Now there have been some cinemas open around here with a limited capacity. I’m not feeling at all comfortable with attending. Maybe by the time I take my second COVID shot, I’ll feel differently. Yet, watching movies from home is a lesser experience.

I have some HBO channels, though not MAX; Amazon Prime, and Apple TV. So I have the capacity to see films at home. I just don’t have the discipline to treat films at home as I treat movies in a place I have to sit in a dark room with strangers. And it’s been true for over 40 years.

As for restaurants, I’m not doing that indoors either. Or for that matter, outdoors. When the weather was decent, there was a row of outdoor dining options at the end of Madison Avenue, only a couple blocks from here. Not only did I never patronize them, when I needed to go to the local CVS, but I also made a point of walking on the other side of the restaurants.

Now, I did do takeout occasionally, and sometimes I’ve been anxious about buying THAT, depending on the size of the unmasked crowd I had to wade through. Besides, takeout is not sitting in a restaurant, with its ambiance. There’s a huge difference between being served by a waitperson and taking food home in metal containers.


Right before the lockdown, I was planning a trip to my hometown of Binghamton, NY in late March. I wanted to see the court transcripts of the trial involving my grandmother Agatha Walker (later, Green), who levied charges against my biological paternal grandfather, Raymond Cone. These records are only available in paper form, not electronically.