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The CAFÉ ANNE One-Year Anniversary Issue!
Catching up with Captain Bayonne, the Naked Cowboy, and NYC's most bonkers walkers!
Welcome to Issue #45 of CAFÉ ANNE aka the ⭐️ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY ISSUE!!!⭐️
I posted Issue #1 a year ago and emailed the link to everyone I knew, which got me my first 61 subscribers.
Now there are 4,000—enough to fill a funny small town, which is what I hope this newsletter feels like for you. It does to me!
To celebrate, I checked in with some favorite NYC characters I interviewed over the past year including the Naked Cowboy, the Guardian Angel of Queens, Captain Bayonne, and of course Jessi and Mike—New York’s most bonkers walkers.
Also to celebrate, I am offering a special ANNIVERSARY SUBSCRIPTION DEAL. For a limited time, you can get a one-year subscription to CAFÉ ANNE for just $35—a 30% discount off the regular $50 price. That means you save $15 on something you’re already reading for free! This offer is for current subscribers only, and will expire in a week.
Finally, a few MAJOR shout-outs are in order:
First, to my imaginary friend Aharon. I swear, half my ideas—and all the best ones—come from Aharon. He really should launch his own newsletter. It’s only to my benefit that he’s too busy assembling the weirdest stock portfolio in US history.
Second, to Maria R. in Williamsburg who was not only the first CAFÉ ANNE paid subscriber (very auspicious!), she asked me to interview NYC Chess Hustlers, which lead my most popular post so far. If every reader was Maria, I could retire already! Although that’s not really the point.
Finally, thanks to my two Substack accountability/support buddies, the lovely Jane Radcliffe in Michigan who writes Beyond, a newsletter featuring in-depth interviews with fellow writers, and the adorable Alex Dobrenko in LA, a comedian and actor who publishes Both are True, a newsletter which defies description so just check it out.
Regards everybody, and thank you for all your reading, ideas, fun comments and kind words this year!
PS Also to celebrate, I made a CAFÉ ANNE theme song! Scroll to the bottom to listen!
The Guardian Angel of Queens!
I interviewed Bruce for Issue #4 after I saw him patrolling a street festival in his red beret. I’d always wanted to profile a NYC Guardian Angel. Bruce met me a week later at a tiny restaurant in Queens, where he held forth at the back table, greeting hangers-on and regaling me with stories.
The Filipino-born financial advisor first joined the Angels as a teen back in the 1970s, when the citizen vigilante group was at peak notoriety. He took a few decades off and rejoined in his mid-50s—much to the relief of his girlfriend, who was happy to see him joining a squad after patrolling the streets on his own. He climbed the ranks.
By the time we met up, he was serving as 1st Command Leader for Queens, training and directing a team of 12 on vigilante patrols of Roosevelt Avenue. He was senior enough to give me my own Guardian Angels name: “Sparkles.”
Alas, things went south soon after. When we caught up last week, Bruce told me that back in January, he’d started having trouble breathing. His doctor told him to call an ambulance.
“I told him, ‘Doc, I don’t do those things,’” he said. “I’m stubborn like that—John Wayne syndrome. Then I woke up and the EMTs were there. My son was looking at me and he said, ‘I called, dad.’”
Bruce flat-lined in the hospital. I asked if he remembered the near-death experience.
“No, no white light, nothing,” he said.
“Too bad!” I said.
“I know!” he said. “It could have been another article!”
He was in the hospital for nearly two weeks and eventually diagnosed with emphysema and COPD. They sent him home with an oxygen tank. He couldn’t work or go on patrol for eight months.
But now he’s back in action!
“I patrolled last night,” he said. “Every two blocks we have to stop, but the team understands. They’re watching over me. And they’re all mad because I didn’t bring my oxygen.”
Some folks close to him are not happy he’s back on patrol. Bruce shrugs it off. “You want me to die in bed? If I die, I’d rather die for a cause!”
NYC’s Most Bonkers Walkers!
When I profiled Mike Varley and Jessi Highet in Issue #22, they had recently completed a project that had them walking 26 miles a day, five days a week, through the streets of NYC for an entire year—that’s 7,024 miles total.
Every day, they sampled a scallion-and-cream cheese bagel at a different shop along the route. When the expedition was over, Mr. Varley created a mind-blowingly elaborate website rating each bagel experience on a complicated matrix. He also took high-resolution photos of each bagel, which he offered as collectible NFTs priced at 0.1 ETH (that’s 1/10 of an Ethereum coin).
When I caught up with the couple last week, Mr. Varley was happy to report that he’d sold 152 of the 202 bagel NFTs, earning somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000—it’s hard to say, as the price of ETH keeps fluctuating.
And in August, he launched a second line of NFTs based on the walk. WeedbagsNYC features photos of 220 pot bags they found on the streets during their 12-month walking odyssey.
I thought the NFT craze was over, but Mr. Varley assured me that when it comes to high-quality projects such as WeedbagsNYC, demand is strong. He’s sold 63 NFTs for .08 ETH each, pocketing roughly $10,000. “In the context of my art-making, it’s 100,000 times what I’ve ever made before,” he said.
Ms. Highet, meanwhile, is back to managing her Bushwick fabric dying business full-time. “Still cruising along, dying whatever needs to be dyed,” she said.
And they’re still walking. They celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary in June by reprising their original 26-mile wedding walk through Brooklyn. Yes, they stopped for a bagel along the way, from Zee Deli, a favorite shop in Brighton Beach. “With scallion cream cheese!” said Mr. Varley.
The Naked Cowboy!
It takes a lot of discipline to be the Naked Cowboy. The world’s most famous street busker has performed in his underwear seven days a week in Times Square for more than two decades, rain or shine. The 50-year-old Ohio native credits his strict morning routine for providing the motivation he needs to get out and serenade the tourists, even in a snowstorm.
I love learning about daily rituals and detailed the Naked Cowboy’s morning routine last November, in Issue #5. Last week, I checked in to see if he’d made any adjustments.
Little had changed, he reported. He was still getting up at 6 am to write in his journal and review the “Naked Cowboy Dialogue,” his 100-page, self-authored motivational manifesto, followed by readings from Nietzsche, Emerson and Tony Robbins. “It makes me feel I can do anything!” he said.
Then he hits the gym, showers and stops at the 7-Eleven for breakfast—a pound of sliced turkey breast. It’s an hour-long commute in his SUV from Queens to the Times Square parking garage where he changes into his Naked Cowboy outfit.
He did make one big change this summer, however—he dropped his morning stop at the liquor store.
The vodka thing started years ago, when he discovered that the occasional shot kept him warm while performing in the winter snow. The past couple years, he continued the day drinking all year-round—it helped ease the grind. In June, he decided enough was enough. “I did 127 days in a row without one drink!” he said.
He felt better, slept better, and several friends got so inspired they quit along with him.
“I was committed,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ll never drink again.’ But then we had that freezing rain the other day and I immediately got one of those little bottles of vodka. I took a few sips and I’m back on that again.’”
He’s avoiding the folks he inspired to stop drinking: “I’m not talking to those people now. They might throw in the towel because of me. I might have to lie the rest of my life.”
In other Naked Cowboy News, our hero won a $90,000 settlement from the City of Daytona after it arrested him on panhandling charges—although his lawyer and manager took half.
He also bought a new faux fur coat that he’s excited to break out on the first frigid day. “It’s black and white—the same one Paul Stanley wears!” he said, referring to the lead singer for Kiss.
Now that the tourists are back, he’s earning as much as he did before Covid. And this week week at Comic-Con, a toymaker is unveiling a new puzzle card based on the Naked Cowboy’s likeness.
So things are basically great.
“I don’t think many people could do what you are doing,” I told him.
“Good!” he said. “I don’t need the competition!”
Captain Bayonne, Small-Town Superhero!
Captain Bayonne is superhero who is famous in just two places: Columbia University, where he’s seen on campus everyday playing a weird sport of his own invention, and 13 miles south, in Bayonne New Jersey, a blue-collar city of 65,000 where he’s known for running through the streets in his superhero garb and performing good deeds.
I profiled the Captain back in January after a reader asked me to get his backstory. Preferring to stay anonymous, he met me on campus dressed in his trademark spandex bodysuit and Mexican wrestling mask. He demonstrated his sport, “Bottle Flippin,” which involves trying to toss a water bottle into a trash can 40 feet away, using just his feet. He spends an hour or so every day, in costume, performing this stunt in front of the campus library. He won’t quit until he’s made ten baskets.
We got lunch at the diner afterward so we could talk. What struck me about Captain Bayonne was the almost aggressively steady nature of his private life. He’d worked at the same administrative job at Columbia for 30 years and was coming up on his 30-year wedding anniversary. He’d lived in the same Bayonne apartment for decades.
When we caught up by phone last week, little had changed. Same job, same apartment, still married, still bottle flippin’ on campus. I asked if he’d set any new flippin’ records.
“I still haven’t gotten past more than two in a row,” he said. “If I ever get three in a row, I’ll be like the Tom Brady of bottle flipping.”
He celebrated his 30th wedding anniversary in March by doing nothing. “We both love being home,” he said.
He hasn’t been running as much, but he’s continued his litter collection efforts around town.
The only news to report: a few week ago, he was fined $101 by the City of Bayonne for taking his trash to the curb too early. “How many years picking up litter around Bayonne?” he says. “Now I am going to be penalized for taking my own garbage out!”
What’s he looking forward to next? More of the same. His annual Bayonne toy drive is coming up. “I do what I like, what gives me happiness and joy,” he says. “I’m just open to what makes me happy and makes others happy.”
I made a theme song for CAFÉ ANNE, “Dear World.” I created it in GarageBand. Learn why I am a writer and not a singer!
CAFÉ ANNE is a free weekly newsletter created by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. Subscribe to get the latest issue every Monday!