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in the heights
broadway musical and baseball stories.
by gonzalo fernández

One of our daughters gave tickets to my wife and me for a presentation of the Broadway musical "In the Heights" at the Durham Arts Center in North Carolina. We liked it and I got interested in its background.

The musical is set in Washington Heights, New York, so I researched Wikipedia and found the following information:

Washington Heights is connected to Fort Lee, New Jersey across the Hudson River via the Othmar Ammann-designed George Washington Bridge. Because of their abrupt, hilly topography, pedestrian navigation is facilitated by many step streets.

In the early 1900s, Irish immigrants moved to Washington Heights. European Jews went to Washington Heights to escape Nazism during the 1930s and the 1940s. During the 1950s and 1960s, many Greeks moved to Washington Heights; the community was referred to as the "Astoria of Manhattan." By the 1980/90s, the neighborhood became mostly Dominican.

Today the majority of the neighborhood's population is still of Dominican birth or descent (the area is sometimes referred to as "Quisqueya Heights"), and Spanish is frequently heard being spoken on the streets… Bishop Gerard Walsh, former long-time pastor of St. Elizabeth's Roman Catholic Church, located in Washington Heights, said that many residents go to the neighborhood for "cheap housing," obtain jobs "downtown," receive a "good education," and "hopefully" leave the neighborhood. (As Jews, Greeks and other ethnic groups did in the past).
The theater stage had a large Washington Bridge photo in its background. There was a “barrio” street in front and two rows of buildings with businesses on the ground floor and apartments on second and third floors. The two rows of buildings were split by a step street leading to another street at a higher level.

The musical goes around a narrative rap with a lot of Spanish words and phrases and excellent “salsa” dancing and singing in a “barrio” of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans and a Cuban grandmother living by herself, but loved and cherished by all her neighbors. One of the main topics relate to a young girl that dropped-off from Stamford University, forsaking a scholarship, to get back to live with her parents at the Heights. Her Puerto Rican parents could not believe her decision that crushed their hope of having a first college graduate in the family.
The stage made me realize that I had been there.

I was on a business trip to a factory in northern New Jersey. I arrived to La Guardia and rented a car. I knew that Cuban Luis Tiant was pitching for the Yankees that night, so I headed for the Yankee Stadium. (Being Cuban myself I always root for any Cuban in sports).

As I drove alongside the Hudson River, I could see the stadium lights, but could not find a road to get there. When I got close to the Washington Bridge I made a turn downhill intending to go back to the highway. The car stalled at a poorly lighted, kind of scary neighborhood. I got off the car and walked up a step street, until I found a restaurant from where I called La Guardia Avis office. (No cell phones back then). They told me to wait, next to the car, for a tow truck they were sending. I thought, no way I'm going back there and wait for help in the dark!
I said, sorry, I am getting a taxi to go back to your rental office, and gave them the street address where the car was. I got back and they gave me another car.

I wondered whether I should try for the Yankee Stadium one more time. After all, the evening had not been auspicious so far. I thought, hey, this is your chance to see Tiant pitching, which is really something for a guy living in a city in North Carolina, with no pro baseball at driving distance.

This time I made it to the Yankee Stadium. The game was in the third inning and “El Tiante” had allowed one run. I had the privilege of seeing a dominating Tiant pitching at his best, with his impressive wind-up, to the end of the game.

In the seventh inning a Yankee player got on base. Next at bat was Reggie Jackson. With the almost all Yankee crowd chanting: Reggie, Reggie! Jackson forced the runner on second but went to first...
Next at bat was Lou Pinellas. LOU! LOU!! LOU!!!

Lou Pinellas hit it over the right field fence! It was a 2 to 1 Tiant's win.


Gonzalo is a business consultant. He is one of the coauthors of The Handbook of Financing Growth, Wiley, Second Edition, 2009, Marks, Robbins, Fernández, Funkhouser and Williams. In Cuba's Primer, Lulu, 2009, he writes with the conviction and knowledge of a personal witness.

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