“Hello, I’m here to see the big waterfall,” is the thing I wanted to say to the customs agent after walking from America to Canada via the Rainbow International Bridge over the Niagara River. But, in the moment, I was stunned by the attractiveness of the Canadian border agent and how friendly he seemed as he reached out his paw to take my passport.
He was deeply interested in conservation and established the United States Forest Service and the Wildlife Refuge system and created five national parks, 18 national monuments, 51 bird reserves, four game preserves, 150 national forests and placed millions of acres under public protection, including the Grand Canyon.
He’s credited with a whole bunch of presidential firsts, too. He was the first to refer to the White House as the White House, the first to travel abroad, the first to host a black man at a White House dinner, the first to fly in an airplane and the first to appoint a Jewish person as a cabinet member. And he was also the first American to win a Nobel Prize.
To me, Teddy Roosevelt always seemed like the OG American badass. He’s the dude who hears about danger and turns around and runs right the fuck for it.
At his birthplace, in New York City, you get to see the other side of Roosevelt, the before to his badass after.
Turns out, he was super asthmatic as a kid, and that pretty much defined his childhood. He’d have super scary asthma attacks in the night that left him feeling like he was being smothered. There wasn’t a cure, but still, he was determined. He worked out, started building muscle and trying to improve his physical fitness and found that physical exertion helped to counteract his asthma.
After a scuffle with some older boys, he got a boxing coach, started participating in bare knuckle boxing matches, and thus, an American badass was born.
The house that Theodore Roosevelt grew up in was built in 1848, purchased by his family in 1854 and he lived there from the time of his birth in 1858 until the family moved uptown in 1872. The original home was actually knocked down in 1916, but when Teddy died in 1919 the lot was bought by the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association who rebuilt the house, using the row house next door as a model.
The restored home recreates the house as it was in 1865, and Teddy’s two sisters helped with refurbishing the home, along with his widow, Edith.
The Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association and the Roosevelt Memorial Association merged in 1953 to become the Theodore Roosevelt Association and in 1963, the home was donated to the National Park Service, who has cared for it ever since.
The downstairs of Teddy’s birthplace primarily serves as a museum, with various items from his childhood and later life. Upstairs, you get to tour the house as it would have been when he lived there, dim lighting and detailed fabric covered walls and all.
The house is lovely, of course, and being a bit of a history nerd, it’s always neat to see places the way they would have been, but my favorite part was definitely the anecdotes about Teddy Roosevelt, about the kind of kid he was, about how upset the maid would get about all the dead animals he had in the icebox for his taxidermy projects, about the gym he set up for himself to help combat his asthma, about his bare-knuckle boxing matches when he was just a kid.
I guess it’s like getting a glimpse behind the curtain. It’s like humanizing a legend, and I think that’s why I like it. Teddy Roosevelt is this incredible historic figure, but hearing about his antics as a kid and seeing where he grew up makes him seem like an actual person.
NICE TO KNOW
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site is located at 28 East 20th Street, in New York. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with ranger-led tours available at 10 and 11 a.m., and at 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. Since the house is pretty small, tours are limited to 15 people and that’s on a first come, first serve basis. The house is closed on Thanksgiving and on Christmas.
When I read this Buzzfeed article about tacos in the Queens, New York-neighborhood of Jackson Heights, it seemed like a legitimate adventure and, finding myself in Queens one Sunday, I figured, what the hell. Let’s get some damn tacos.
The article lists six taco spots and we managed to hit four over the course of a few hours and still, if I hadn’t wanted a nap, I probably could have stuffed a few more tacos into my face, because SERIOUSLY, just leave me alone and let me eat all the fucking tacos forever and always, thanks very much.
THE BEST: Tacos Veloz
86-10 Roosevelt Ave.
The tacos from Tacos Veloz are damn delicious. They are so good that they elicit sounds of delight the moment they hit your mouth and my philosophy is, if eating something causes you to make sex noises in public, you have found treasure.
I’m not picky when it comes to tacos, I don’t discriminate against tacos, BUT, the these are simply perfect. There’s no fancy bullshit, no extraneous taco toppings, they’re simple and they’re delicious. And if you want to jazz up your taco just a little bit, there’s self-serve guacamole, hot sauce and jalapeños on the counter.
I tried both the pollo and al pastor and both were amazing. Everything that left the little one-woman kitchen looked delicious and I think you’d be hard-pressed to go wrong at this mecca of taco goodness.
Prices range $2.50-3.50 per taco. Open 24 hours.
THE UPPER MIDDLE: Tacos Al Suadero
87-21 Roosevelt Ave
Our third stop of the day, these tacos probably would have been more impressive to me if we hadn’t just been to Tacos Veloz. There’s some seating in this place, no one spoke any English, there was mariachi music blasting from the TV and the walls were decked in sombreros, which is a bunch of words that roughly translates to A++ for atmosphere.
Here, I tried the chorizo and bistec taco. The chorizo was really well done, with a good, but not overpowering amount of spice, and the bistec was pretty tasty too.
Other than picking which taco you’d like to shove in your face, you’ll also need to pick a sauce – green or red. Or, if you’re a wild animal like me, just pick both because you’re on a taco tour in Queens, so fuck it, get all the sauces.
Prices range from $2.75-$3 per taco, with options including lengua, or beef tongue, and oreja, which is pork ear.
THE MIDDLE MIDDLE: Taqueria Coatzingo
76-05 Roosevelt Avenue
This place is huge and you can either get your tacos to go, or sit in one of their enormous dining areas. There’s chips if you sit, and beer too. This was our first stop and it seemed like beer + tacos was the right way to start a serious taco adventure.
The tacos here were definitely good, but not great. They get bonus points for a very serious helping of guacamole, which I’ll never complain about, and the presentation was definitely different, but still. They just weren’t quite there in terms of taco excellence.
All tacos are $3, except for the shrimp taco, which is $4. Open 9 a.m. – 1:30 a.m.
THE WORST: La Tia Julia Taco Truck
Parked next to a RiteAid with a steady stream of customers, we were really excited about these tacos. They looked good. They smelled good. And they weren’t bad tacos, not really, and not just because I don’t believe in such nonsense. Of the tacos we had though, they were definitely the least impressive.
We tried the carnitas and the vegetarian tacos. The meat on the carnitas was dry and didn’t have the flavor we’d come to expect after our day of taco eating. But then there’s a whole hunk of avocado, which gets them some bonus points for sure, but overall, these tacos just didn’t have the flavor we’d found at the other three places.
All that said, I think it’s entirely possible that our error was ordering tacos from this place as every single other person in the vicinity and in line after us ordered a torta.
Prices range from $2.50-$3 per taco. Open 12 p.m. – 10 p.m., closed on Thursdays.
BONUS STREET MEAT
My taco tour companion was a very brave man, and a native New Yorker, and so, when we passed these ladies grilling meats and corn on a grill made out of a shopping cart, he was all in.
We ordered one meat stick and one corn cob, which cost us a grand total of $6, which seems reasonable for New York City street meat.
I was a little bit horrified. Eating meat from a shopping cart grill on a street corner is not typically a thing that I do, but I tried it anyway, fears of food poisoning be damned.
As it turns out, New York City street meat is actually pretty delicious and neither one of us felt sick after consuming ALL THE TACOS with a side of shopping cart street meat.