Hi! I'm Duane. I'm a writer & photographer living in New York City. Here are samplings of random thoughts & experiences, & things that inspire me. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, or at my Website

Written and Produced for CBS Radio News:

A controversial NYPD unit, which spied on Muslims at work, in school, and in mosques, is disbanded. CBS News Writer Duane Tollison talks to Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), about the program and what’s next:

On my way to work for an overnight shift.

15 YEARS IN NEW YORK CITY

I arrived in New York City 15 years ago, March 22nd, 1999. I was 20.

Back then the Tunnel existed, and Kurfew, and the Roxy and Limelight, epic night clubs that were wild and exhilarating, where nights truly felt like they may never end. Ruby Foos and EJ’s, and the Drip coffee shop, were still around on the Upper West Side. Tower and Virgin records still dotted the city. 

I saw “You’ve Got Mail” the year before and I was determined to find, and I did, all the places featured in the film. I went searching for the Flatiron Building, my favorite in the city, and found it by accident. 

I saw Iceman Cometh and Chicago and they made me feel like I was floating. I wanted to be an actor, but I couldn’t act. 

I slept on the floor at the foot of my best friend’s bed, in an air mattress that deflated every night. Some nights John would snore so loud I would tickle his feet to wake him up just enough for him to stop snoring so I could get some sleep.

I pounded the pavement, spending hours walking up and down Manhattan, collecting dozens of business cards, looking for a job. 

Pieces was my first bar. EJ’s was the first restaurant in NYC I was introduced to. Vynl was the first restaurant I found on my own. 

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I packed most of my things in a rigger’s bag, my sea bag, and some old MRE boxes. That Saturday morning four people who had been like my parents, Henry and Terri, and Ingrid and Gary, stood inside the Greyhound Bus Station to see me off. I cried as the bus pulled away, and I waved till it turned the corner and they were out of view. I wanted to stop and hug them all again, but tighter. The pain of leaving, in that moment, eclipsed the excitement of moving. 

It was hard leaving Billings. It was the longest I had ever lived anyway, which is saying something for a kid who grew up drifting from town to town. I went to five different Jr. Highs or middle schools, two of them twice, and two high schools, from 7th to 9th grades. I worked four years at the same radio stations in Billings, where I was once the host of the Saturday night request show “Saturday Night at the Twist and Shout” (with Duane Davis) on Cat Country. Basically, I grew up there, starting when I was 17 and leaving just before turning 21. I was able to save about $700, but my co-workers pooled together and raised another $1,000 for me to get started. Even now, I could never say thank you enough. 

The trip to New York City took two days, through Milwaukee and then Chicago, each time switching buses. Each time I schlepping bags through the station, complicating many things, including going to the bathroom.

When I was a kid I used to think that bus stations were high class, the way I think about airports and flying now. Very cosmopolitan. Buses were much preferred over hitchhiking, which is how my dad and I usually got around. I had been to the bus station in Chicago before, when I was much younger. But back then there was a strike and Trailways drivers stopped just outside of the station while security guards, in black uniforms, escorted other drivers (likely non-union?) onto the bus to finish the job. It was a trip to be back. 

I didn’t have a cellphone at the time, so at every stop I would call to give a progress report to my friend John, in whose apartment I would be crashing. He also agreed to pick me up from the bus station and take me to my new home. 

John was, and is, one of my greatest friend. He literally changed my life. While I lived in Montana I was deeply in the closet. I was profoundly confused as a teenager, but by the time I was moving I knew for sure I was gay. But, living in Montana, I was still hiding it. Before I arrived, though, John told all of his friends, and my soon-to-be friends, that I was gay. What that did was give me the freedom and security to be open, and provide an immediate support network when I arrived. I could finally be honest with and confident in myself. I will never forget that act of kindness and love. 

Early on Monday, with just a few hours left in my journey, we hit a patch of snow and ice in Pennsylvania. A bus in front of us started to slide sideways as the bus I was riding passed on the inside lane. The other bus nearly clipped us. We stopped, but when we tried to move again our bus slide sideways, too, till it hit the guardrail. People panicked and the driver screamed for us not to move. We sat there for a while before our driver left to check on the other bus. He returned to say everyone was all right on the other bus, except the driver who hurt his neck when the bus was hit in the back by a truck. The accident also left he bus without heat, but our bus was too unstable to allow for more passengers. A girl in front of me started sobbing. 

We sat on the side of the road for at least two hours, maybe more, before a convoy of emergency vehicles started appearing from around a bend. The stream of vehicles seemed endless, and they drove past us and disappeared. A long while later a small, I mean very small, truck started driving up and down the stretch of road in front of us, sanding or salting the road. Finally the passengers from the other bus were allowed on board, and after about 15 minutes our bus started moving. Cheers erupted. As we drove around the bend, we could finally see the carnage that lay behind us for all those hours. 

The back-up of cars and trucks seemed infinite. We could see the truck that hit the bus behind us. Behind the truck were a few cars, behind that a jackknifed tractor trailer, and more cars and trucks and flashing lights of the emergency vehicles. 

The bus stopped in the nearest town and I waited in line to call John. It was a while because one woman would not get off the phone with her mother. She oscillated between sobbing and yelling at other people waiting for the phone to back off. At the time John was going to AMDA, and had to miss a day to stay to pick me up. That was a big deal that I’m still thankful for.

We were back on our way, having been rescued from the snow and ice of Pennsylvania. We made it to New Jersey, another foreign and exotic place I’d only heard about on TV, when the first glimpse of her crested the horizon. In my mind, there was the same kind of telescoped characteristic as the moon sometimes has, when it takes up the entire night sky; the Manhattan skyline looked so big, and I felt it was so close I could grab it. My chest swelled and my heart pumped so hard I thought it might spray out the tears of joy I was trying to conceal. I wanted to scream. I was so happy!

Nothing anyone ever tells you about New York City—the threat of violence, the brusqueness of New Yorkers, the way the city can drain you—prepares you for the Lincoln Tunnel. I thought for sure our bus would crush and kill someone in an offending car. Bus drivers coming into New York City are ruthless. 

We disappeared into the tunnel. I saw Midtown briefly when we emerged, but we disappeared again into the Port Authority. John—my incredible friend—and my new roommate, Lee—also wonderful—were waiting to meet me as I walked off the bus. I can’t describe the feeling accurately, except to say, at that moment, a sense of destiny alighted on my shoulders. Yeah, it was that heavy.

I’ve seen pictures of this place with a very happy and smiling Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper inside. I’ve walked by the front, in Hell’s Kitchen, dozens of times wondering what lay beyond the stark facade of the Atlas Social Club. So today I ventured in. I should have gone here at night. Maybe. For the record, I like places like this, with a kind of attitude so dense it hangs in the air. Or was that the dust? 

I’ve heard this place described as a speakeasy-type bar, but it has a vibe more like a leather bar, with a few accoutrement from that other illicit era.

To me a speakeasy is suppose to be vibrant and fun. The idea, during prohibition, was to let loose, to expel some of that energy that people were repressing. That’s why they called the 20s roaring. But this place is brooding and dark, even during the day.

The sun from the front windows cut through the blackened back room of the bar like a razor. There’s another, smaller room, with a table and benches, connected at the very back of the bar, but it was also dark, illuminated slightly be another window. 

I didn’t look at the menu, or have a drink, but I plan on going back at night to see if the place captures any of that speakeasy zeal that it lacks during the day. 

Lillies has been around New York for a long time. There are two: One in Times Square and one in Union Square.  I’ve passed by location in Times Square, maybe, hundreds of times, but was always too intimidated to go in. That changed today. 

There are few places that can transport you to somewhere far away. This place is one of them. They’ve done a great job of recreating the atmosphere of something distant and fanciful while keeping it vibrant and hip. 

It really does feel like something very remarkable inside. It’s bright and refreshing with lots of great energy. That’s saying something because it could easily feel dry and stuffy in a place with such heavy, lush furnishings. The bar is long and glorious. A portrait of Oscar Wilde looks down from a well stocked back counter as if to say, “Welcome, friend.”

Lillies is proud of its decor. Their website boasts their antiques and ornate wood carvings were procured from a ballroom of an 1800s estate in Northern Ireland. Let’s give credit where it’s due: Even the bathrooms look great!

The food, or at least the menu I saw, is all right. It’s normal. I had the fish and chips; they were good, but not mind shattering. I was not in the mood for wine, tough the selection is vast. But the cappuccino was also good. The service was excellent, with servers both attentive and nice.

But, really, who goes here for the food or drink? They do the trick. But it’s the atmosphere and ambiance that brings you here, and it’s a very special thing. 

This is the SingleCut Beersmiths in Astoria.

The SingleCut Tap Room has been open since December of 2012. It’s just recently become a favorite place among my friends.

We went here last night for the second time. It’s a little far, out by the Steinway & Sons piano factory, but worth the walk. Actually, I think the distance is beneficial. Since it’s more of an industrial area, the noise from the brewery is less of an issue.

Once again I thought the bartender (not the same one as before) was a little cold, radiating a kind of indifference not usual for Astoria. But, in this case, the bartender warmed to us in the end. (Probably because we bussed our own tables.) I say, kill em’ with kindness. 

I’ll say I’m not a beer connoisseur, so I’m at a distinct disadvantage telling you about how wonderful the selection is—it is impressive in its size. (I like the zesty lemony beer.) But I can tell you the vibe is right; It’s a really chill place with lots of space to relax and hang out with a small, or big, group of friends. It’s a great place for birthday parties!

A flight of beers is just $10, and most everything on the food menu (the vegetable curry pie is very good) is $10 or less. There’s a space for live music and a private event space in the back. The brewery also hosts contests, brewing classes, and seminars. 

Ride into work this morning

I’ve been here once before and it didn’t go so well. All I wanted was a coffee and they didn’t take credit or debit cards. After a run in with the barista I left with a bad impression. So today I thought I’d give this charming place a second chance… And I’m really glad I did!

The Astor Bake Shop is cute inside, the kind of place you want to while away an afternoon, watching the world pass by from the counter at the huge windows in the front. But also, and probably more importantly, the food is really good! I recommend the lentil burger with the zesty horseradish sauce, which is both full of flavor and fulfilling.

This is Astoria Pool. This beautiful Art Deco masterpiece opened on July 4th, 1936. On the same day, the finals for the U.S. Olympic swim and diving trials began at the pool! The 1964 U.S. Olympic swim and diving trials were also held here.

The main pool reopens every summer, but the diving side stays closed. There are reports the diving pool side will be converted to an amphitheater-style performance space, while preserving the iconic diving board.

The view here is also breathtaking, with the skyline of Manhattan, the Hell Gate Bridge, and Robert F. Kennedy (Triborough) Bridge all within sight.

Front Toward Enemy is another speakeasy-themed bar in Astoria. This place is beautiful! It does take a little too long for drinks, but I’m sure that will get better. Employees are definitely in some kind of uniform (bow ties and vests) which straddles the line between cool and gimmicky. I don’t know, the jury here is still out. But, I’ll definitely be back!

Been here once before and loved it. I still do.

The Guthrie Inn is a small, very charming, place on the Upper East Side with a menu full of flavorful and complex (did I also say strong) drinks! It’s the kind of place that could foster the next generation of great writers. Bartenders have been super nice. Like I said, this place is small and can get really packed, so go on a week night.

Beautiful painting of cardinals on the side of a building in Astoria. This thing is huge.

Beautiful painting of cardinals on the side of a building in Astoria. This thing is huge.

Rainy subway ride home in Queens!

Here’s a relatively new place in Astoria called Snowdonia. Had brunch today and did a little work. It’s charming and gorgeous inside, the food is great, and the servers are very nice and efficient. I highly recommend it!

theparisreview:

Remembering, or simply remembering to notice, the arches of New York: “These structures were also marvels of artistic engineering, combining intricate brickwork with functional arrays of vaults and pillars, all leading to a kind of Mediterranean dreamworld of colonnades.”
For more of this morning’s roundup, click here.

Love this. Beautiful and romantic! 

theparisreview:

Remembering, or simply remembering to notice, the arches of New York: “These structures were also marvels of artistic engineering, combining intricate brickwork with functional arrays of vaults and pillars, all leading to a kind of Mediterranean dreamworld of colonnades.”

For more of this morning’s roundup, click here.

Love this. Beautiful and romantic!