Monday, October 28, 2013

Remembering the Amazin' Mazer and a Return to Saratoga

Bill Mazer died last week. His funeral was Sunday. He was 92. A New York, mostly radio, personality, Mazer was part of Gilda's and my large sphere of associations. Mazer and his wife Dutch, really Dora but everyone called her Dutch, were members of our temple. Before Gilda returned to full time work she often would attend functions hosted by Dutch at the Mazer home in Scarsdale.

My link to Mazer goes back to the beginning of his tenure as the dean, perhaps the originator, of sports-talk radio. A Brooklyn native, Mazer returned to New York City in 1964 to host an afternoon sports show on WNBC-AM. My friends Jerry and Stanley were smitten with his broadcast. They became obsessed with getting on the air with him to ask a question that could stump his vast knowledge of sports, which hardly ever happened and for which he would become known as the Amazin’. I suggested we ask if he knew of Eddie Giacomin, at the time a minor league goaltender but soon to become a Hall of Fame netminder for the NY Rangers. We got through the screening. I asked my question which Mazer quickly devoured. That was 50 years ago. Wow.

We could not attend Mazer’s funeral. We were in Saratoga Springs, NY, for a nurse practitioners conference for Gilda. More than 50 years ago, 56 to be exact, Gilda moved from Saratoga to Brooklyn.

We spent four days in Saratoga where Gilda was born and lived her first eight years. Back then, her family owned a three-story home (with a basement that was a stop on the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves in the mid-19th century) and two hotels at the north end of Broadway, the Empire and the Brooklyn. In the early 1970s the city obtained the home and hotels through eminent domain. It built the City Center convention and conference hall and an adjoining hotel, now a Hilton, on the property. 

The conference was at the City Center and the Hilton, so we stayed at the hotel. Inside the City Center, Gilda noticed the original Hotel Brooklyn sign hanging on a wall. Saturday night we tried to eat at the Olde Bryan Inn on Maple Street at the rear of her family's former property, but a 90 minute wait—no reservations taken—defused that idea. A well known restaurant these days, the inn served as the hotels’ laundry during Gilda's years in Saratoga.

We've been to Saratoga many times, partly because Ellie attended Skidmore College there and for several years we attended an annual conference in the town produced by one of my magazine’s business partners, David Deutsch. 

This wasn't the first time we stayed at this hotel. About 10 years ago we spent a weekend there with our friends Linda and Jacob who had never been to Saratoga. We arrived around 7 pm. The hotel was sold out, but we had guaranteed reservations. As Linda registered for her room, however, the desk clerk apologized that the only accommodation available was a smoking room. She shrugged and accepted the room.

I overheard this exchange from my spot on the adjacent line. I expected similar treatment, only to be told the last available room they could give me was the 2,000-square foot presidential suite. Would that be okay? 

You could have driven a truck through Linda’s dropped jaw when she heard that. I felt a momentary tinge of guilt, but it quickly passed.