A meal to go, via horsepower
Central Park carriage driver Robert Rosenberg’s first and last meal of the day is a Bulgogi Korean marinated steak sandwich from Angela’s Sandwich Shop, which is like a Philly cheese steak stuffed with shredded kimchee served on white bread. It’s delivered to him nearly every night near the south end of Central Park, across the street from the Ritz Carleton. Before taking the first bite, he loads an orange syringe with insulin and injects his arm. “And finito,” he says, before pulling back the tinfoil around the bread and taking his first cheesy bite. Within a few moments, the sandwich has vanished.
“You bet your life it’s good,” says Rosenberg, 46, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 12. “Korean marinated steak sandwich, Mamma Mia!” On most days he pops a Zantac to prevent heartburn and indigestion. He says he lost about 100 pounds in the last few years by eating only one take-out meal a day. This evening he washes down his spicy sandwich with Red Zinger tea.
Dinner in the back of a carriage is a nightly ritual for this second-generation driver from the Bronx. Since he is self-employed, the night shift begins when he says it begins, sometimes at 4:30 p.m., sometimes at 6 p.m. He sits on the red velvet seat of his white carriage, with a top hat on his head. The smell of horses is permanently infused in his clothes and white horse hair sticks to his coat thanks to Prince, an 18-year-old Percheron-cross draft horse with a milky white coat speckled with grey. The horse expects Rosenberg’s undivided attention. If Rosenberg turns his back, Prince will automatically nudge his head against Rosenberg’s shoulders until he turns back around. “Look at him, the whole world is at his beck and call,” says Rosenberg. “Prince doesn’t work for you — you work for Prince.”
It’s a humid April night and business is slow, but that’s just how this industry is, according to Rosenberg — it fluctuates with the weather. Christmas is the most lucrative time of the year. On good nights, he makes a couple hundred dollars, but on bad nights, nothing. Tonight the only customers are two little girls from Long Island, who rub Prince’s nose before climbing aboard the carriage with their parents. Rosenberg takes them past the Central Park Ice skating rink, the zoo, and the vintage carousel. This is a routine inherited from his father, who started as a driver in 1969 and worked in the industry for 45 years. His brother drove a carriage. His cousin drove a carriage. Now he drives a carriage.
Rosenberg is worried that this tradition is under siege. A bill to ban the Central Park horse carriages was introduced in December and is currently working its way through the New York City council. If passed, horse-drawn carriages would only be permitted in the city for parades and on movie sets. He doesn’t know what the odds are that the bill will pass, but he says, “Pretty much every vet who has examined the horses has said the same thing: they are healthy horses doing what horses do.” If the bill goes through, he plans join a class action lawsuit with his fellow drivers.
He is not about to give up on the profession that he fell in love with as a teenager, driving carriages while attending night high school at Grace Lutheran in the Bronx. He took his first ride as a commissioned driver with a Belgian draft horse named Kevin, whom he describes as a wall of muscle with floppy ears, with feet were the size of cantaloupes. A veteran in the industry, “Kevin drove me through the park,” Rosenberg says.
A few hours into his shift, Rosenberg pops a peach lollipop into his mouth, fast sugar to regulate his glucose levels. He can also take glucose tablets, but he prefers candy, and says that half a pack of Sour Patch Kids or a Tootsie Pop will even out his blood sugar. He can feel when it’s too low, so he keeps a bag of sweets just in case. Depending on how often he eats, he takes a long-acting insulin shots two to six times a day. For his one-meal-a-day diet, he uses extended-release insulin called Lantus. “With diabetes you can have a little of certain things, but not too much,” says Rosenberg.
When it’s time for Prince to eat, the process is simpler: Rosenberg drops a red bucket of oats under his nose. He can inhale half the bucket in a few minutes, so Rosenberg often has to intervene so Prince doesn’t get a stomachache. “Alright, baby, that’s enough,” Rosenberg says, pulling away the oats. Before the night is over, the 1,300-pound animal gobbles up a few more mouthfuls of a variety of snacks. “You know the expression, ‘You eat like a horse?’ This horse is the blueprint for that,” says Rosenberg. “Prince is addicted to food.”
A passerby rips open a bag of brown sugar and Prince nibbles it out of her palm. Rosenberg holds a carrot, sticking it out of his mouth. Prince nibbles the carrot into a kiss. “If you’re willing to pay him attention, he is the ham of the year,” says Rosenberg. The duo have a 14-year friendship. Rosenberg never married and never had children, but he keeps baby photos of Prince in his phone, images of when he bought Prince fresh from Pennsylvania Amish country, when Prince had a solid blackish blue coat that turned dapple grey as he aged.
The night shift ends around midnight. Rosenberg makes it home by 2 a.m. to a mostly empty refrigerator. Sometimes he ends the night with a basket of chicken wings at a Bronx neighborhood sports bar 10 blocks from home. Sometimes he ends the night with a peach yogurt and a salad. Sometimes he wraps up the day with a shot of Hiram Walker apricot brandy before tucking himself into bed for the night. He wakes up around 11 a.m. and meets Prince or his other horse Josie at the Westside Livery Stable, for another day at the park.