TV Club

Week 3: A Strict Constructionist Reading of The Godfather.

Dear Jeff,

Thanks for setting me straight on Long Island geography, but don’t be so sure that you’ve settled the matter of precisely where the Barzini family popped Santino Corleone in The Godfather. Clearly I was wrong that it was the Long Island Expressway. But the Meadowbrook Parkway? Fuggedaboudit. As it happens, I spent some of my childhood splashing in the surf at Jones Beach. Before my family moved to California we lived in New Rochelle, N.Y., separated from you by the Long Island Sound. The expertise I serve up here, however, is not my own—I was only 12 when we moved—but rather that of Mike Pesca, intrepid reporter for NPR’s Day to Day and an occasional Slate contributor. Pesca has just sent me an urgent e-mail about this matter. “Jeff might be from Long Island,” he begins, “but I’m from Oceanside,” i.e., closer than you were to the fateful toll plaza. Dude, he’s pulling rank.

The exact location of the tollbooths matter a lot to a half-Italian like myself. Those tollbooths are more aptly described as on what is now known as the Loop Parkway. Though Puzo’s description of the “Jones Beach Causeway” correlates to a road now known as the Wantagh State Parkway. Either way, you can see from Puzo’s description that Sonny wasn’t at the Meadowbrook yet.

Pesca takes for his text this passage from Mario Puzo’s novel:

[Sonny] had taken the Jones Beach Causeway, as always, because it was usually deserted this time of night, at this time of year, and he could speed recklessly until he hit the parkways on the other side. And even there traffic would be light. The release of driving very fast would help dissipate what he knew was a dangerous tension. He had already left his bodyguards’ car far behind.The causeway was badly lit, there was not a single car. Far ahead he saw the white cone of the manned tollbooth.There were other tollbooths beside it but they were staffed only during the day, for heavier traffic. Sonny started braking the Buick and at the same time searched his pockets for change. [Rat-a-tat-tat, etc… .]Seconds afterwards, all four men, the three actual assassins and the bogus toll collector, were in their car and speeding toward the Meadowbrook Parkway on the other side of Jones Beach. Their pursuit was blocked by Sonny’s car and body in the tollgate slot, but when Sonny’s bodyguards pulled up a few minutes later and saw his body lying there, they had no intention to pursue. They swung their car around in a huge arc and returned to Long Beach.

If Barzini’s hit men were “at the toll plaza on the Meadowbrook Parkway,” as you contend, then Puzo wouldn’t have them “speeding toward [italics mine] the Meadowbrook Parkway.” He’d have them speeding onto the Meadowbrook Parkway. What’s more, a little Google-based sleuthing confirms that Puzo did not invent the “Jones Beach Causeway,” as Pesca seems to believe. That was in fact the original name for a 5-mile stretch of the Wantagh State Parkway, completed in 1929, that runs from Wantagh to Jones Beach. The name is still used on occasion to describe that part of the parkway. My strict constructionist reading of The Godfather therefore tells me that Sonny Corleone went to his reward not on the Long Island Expressway nor the Meadowbrook Parkway, nor the Loop Parkway, but rather on what is now the Wantagh State Parkway.

Now if someone can only tell me the name of that highway just south of Gibsland, La., where Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were gunned down by Texas Ranger Frank Hamer and associates in May 1934, my education will be complete.

(Next time you’re in Las Vegas, you might consider detouring 40 miles south to the Primm Valley Resort and Casino, where Bonnie and Clyde’s bullet-ridden V-8 Ford and the bloodstained shirt that Clyde died in are preserved lovingly behind glass. If you prefer to see the “death car” replica used by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the movie, you’ll find that at the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsland, located on the former site of Ma Canfield’s Café, where the real Bonnie and Clyde purchased their last meal. The Ambush Museum also has weapons seized from the real death car and some gruesome film footage and still photographs of Parker and Barrow after they’d been pumped with 167 rounds. Children under 5 admitted free of charge!)

Love your shop-class story. Like you, I didn’t know a monkey wrench from a ball-peen hammer when I took shop. I was, however, a passionate film buff, and I owned a Super 8 camera and a tripod. (This was 1971.) What I lacked was a camera dolly to perform tracking shots—by now I was living not in New Rochelle but in Beverly Hills—so that’s what I made. I recall using the thing only once. The real appeal of the project, as you’ve no doubt deduced, was that after I screwed four wheels to the bottom of a square hunk of plywood I was more or less done. No fangul necessary. I spent the rest of the semester sanding the edges.

What was it we were talking about? Oh, The Sopranos. Let’s get back to them next week.