All Roads Lead Back to Brooklyn: Travel writer Joe Brancatelli never forgets his roots
Brooklyn native and Business Travel writer Joe Brancatelli was born on East 18th Street in Brooklyn, where he lived until he was five years old. Then his family moved to East 23rd Street between avenues T and U where, as he put it, “my whole world was a five-block radius.”
In a recent interview with the Brooklyn Eagle, Brancatelli continued; “Where I grew up back in the 60s was considered the end of Brooklyn. It wasn’t trendy then, and still isn’t today. We were out there near the end of the last stop on the D Train. We were called the BMT people.” Then laughing he said; “The letters for the avenue names were even approaching the end of the alphabet. Where I lived, Brooklyn was just not cool, and Brooklyn Heights was not even on our radar.”
Brancatelli, a talkative writer, enjoys remembering the neighborhood where he grew up. “As kids we played in the streets a lot. One persistent memory is the afternoon arrival of the ice cream truck. When I told my wife, who is from California, about the ice cream truck she didn’t believe me. The ice cream man came three times a week in a truck with a Bungalow Bar. You can see images of them on the Internet. And that was also back when the knife sharpeners would come to your house. I’ll always remember the ringing bell of the knife sharpeners’ truck. Back then every little area had its own bakery, I mean, it seemed like there was a bakery every two blocks. There was one main grocery store, a family owned superette where everyone shopped. You seldom had to travel more than two blocks to get something. It was a great time, you never had to leave the neighborhood for anything.”
As one would expect from a seasoned travel writer, Brancatelli is still fascinated with the changes that have shaped his former neighborhood over the years. He jokingly said, “I don’t even recognize it.”
Then he continued: “In my neighborhood there were a lot of East European Jews, Italians and some Greeks. Today its different. The neighborhood is comprised of Chinese, Turkish and Vietnamese communities. My Brooklyn is Asian now. It’s fascinating, I’m happy to see that my part of Brooklyn has a new life for a new community. It seems to have always been Brooklyn’s role to host the next generation of immigrants.
“Of course, my old neighborhood is not part of the new Brooklyn, although it has changed it its own way. Today I feel like a tourist in Brooklyn, but I always say to myself: Judge not what it was, but what it has become. What I most admire about Brooklyn is that its always remaking itself. There are a lot of Brooklyn Eagle readers out there today who I’m sure will understand when I say how profoundly amazed I was to learn there is now a Whole Foods market on Gowanus Canal. And from where I was born and raised, when I read today about people being priced out of Brooklyn, its hard for me to comprehend that.”
Brancatelli attended grammar school at St. Edmonds on Avenue T and East 19th Street, a Catholic school just down the street from his father’s business. He had the same teacher all day. His teacher was a nun and when the young Brancatelli would misbehave during class, after school she would walk to his home and report him to his parents in person. He attended high school at Narazeth Regional High School on East 57th Street a few blocks off Kings Highway.
When I mentioned being impressed with the family and neighborhood bonding so many of our Brooklyn native interview subjects talk about, Brancatelli said, “You know, my father was a shoe retailer and his father was a shoemaker. My father walked to work every day and he not only spoke with, but he saw my grandfather every day of his life.”
Brancatelli told me the story of how he and his wife decided to move to Cold Spring, New York, north of Manhattan in the Hudson Valley.
“When we first got married we lived in Manhattan on West 21st Street. Then we moved to Manhattan Beach on West End Avenue. My wife refused to take the subway to work, she relied on the Command Bus, which was an hour and 10 minute commute.”
His wife could never resolve the long commute issue, so they kept asking themselves, “Why are we here?” It was on their first wedding anniversary when Brancatelli said; “OK, pick a community.”
They found Cold Spring to be not only a beautiful place to live away from the city, but that the more pleasurable commute on the Metro-North from 55 miles away took almost exactly the same amount of time to get to work. They still live there today.
In one of his Seat 2A travel columns for the Biz Journals titled The Thankful Traveler, Brancatelli wrote: “I am thankful that my frequent-flying wife understands the peculiar lives that business travelers live. Of course, we met on a business trip, so we are children of the road.”
Brancatelli moved into his own apartment in 1975 on Kings Highway and East 21st Street when he was 21, just five blocks from where he grew up. He received a scholarship to NYU School of Journalism. While in college he worked in an art studio, and at the old UPI (United Press International).
After graduation he left UPI and wanted to get some daily newspaper experience. He found a job working for a newspaper chain in New Jersey. He left that newspaper job to work with Fairchild Publications, located in Greenwich Village at the time. After Fairchild, respectively, he worked for Institutional Investor Magazine and for a short-lived St. Edmond’s newspaper called The Trib.
Brancatelli has a long and wide ranging career in journalism beyond his popular business travel column. He is a very successful publication consultant and has written articles and commentary for the likes of Forbes, Fortune, Esquire, GQ and Newsweek to name a few. He’s also been a contributing editor for Travel and Leisure magazine.
It was in 1983 when he started writing business travel articles while a consultant for Frequent Flyer magazine. He later became executive editor in 1990.
In his official online Bio page it says: “Joe’s one of those journalists who has spent his entire adult life on the road. All along the way he’s marveled at, laughed at and railed at almost everything the travel industry does. Why? Because the travel industry never seems to make sense to him or any other business traveler he knows.”
In researching Brancatelli’s travel column for the interview I found numerous references to his “boy from Brooklyn” background. Even now, after decades of traveling the globe and spending, as he put it, “way too many nights in mediocre hotels” and drinking “far too much bad coffee” he keeps it all in perspective against the backdrop of his unique childhood where he grew up in that “five-block radius” that defined his life in Brooklyn.
Again, from The Thankful Traveler: “I am thankful for all the places and things a kid from Brooklyn has experienced only because business travel had made it possible. Finally, I am thankful that you are here, metaphorically sitting in Seat 2A. Those of us who push a noun against a verb for a living are nothing if you don’t read what tumbles off our keyboards. I appreciate your loyalty, your passion, your comments and commitment, your tips and tirades and especially, your willingness to allow me onto your computer desktop.”
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