Sunday, June 29, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #165 Start Your Day With A Smile, Walmart Supercenter, Liverpool, New York June 2014

This is another very current photo. I took it yesterday at the new Walmart Supercenter in Liverpool (or Clay, I'm not sure which it is), New York. This is a suburb of Syracuse, New York. I stayed overnight in their parking lot.

I don't feature people in my photo-of-the-week very often, but meet Kathleen. Kathleen is one of the "Greeters" who welcomes you as you enter the store. If you haven't had anyone smile at you before you encounter Kathleen you won't escape her smile. And, I can assure you, Kathleen's smile is genuine, not one of those forced "beauty queen" smiles. Even if she's engaged in a conversation, as she was with me on several occasions, she still acknowledges each person entering the store at her door. Not only do you get a smile and an upbeat, enthusiastic greeting, but she remembers the names of many of the regular patrons, knows if they had a recent medical condition or procedure, asks about their family and is responsive to everyone from infants to those in their 80's and 90's.

Kathleen, it turns out, is originally from my hometown area in New Jersey, a little town named Tenafly. The little town of about 14,000 was the birthplace and/or home of such people as Yogi Berra, NY Yankee catcher, businessman and philosopher; Jimmy Dean (yep, the country singer and breakfast meat purveyor - you probably thought he was from Virginia); Leslie Gore, the singer; Ed Harris, the actor; Glenn Miller, the band leader; Gil McDougald and several other New York Yankee players, plus a long list of others AND Kathleen.

I asked Kathleen if she was one of the supposedly typical "disgruntled" Walmart employees. Boy, did she jump on me for that one. She said she loved her job and seeing all her "friends" everyday. She said the disgruntled Walmart employees are the people who don't do their jobs very well and thing they deserve more for doing as little as possible. If I were Walmart corporate management, I'd take Kathleen and promote her to an employee trainer, especially store greeters, and have her train store greeters chain wide. Personally, I don't think she'd want the job because she has so much fun being at that door in Liverpool, New York, but what a change she could make in corporate culture and customer satisfaction.

I don't know if Kathleen has rubbed off on her co-workers at this particular store of if there is just generally a really good, enthusiastic attitude at this store, but I found others to be a bit more upbeat than most other Walmarts I've been through. I'm sure the store management is due some credit, too. But, to their credit, finding, hiring and allowing a positive person like Kathleen to stand at their front door greeting incoming customers and saying goodbye to customers leaving the store was a very good hiring decision. 

Thanks for making my time in "your" store a real pleasure and thanks for the warm hug (how many of you can say you got a hug when leaving a Walmart), Kathleen.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #164, The Mohawk River and Erie Canal, The Village of Ilion, New York, June 22, 2014

The photos don't get any more current than this one. I shot this and the second photo (a "selfie") while sitting in a small picnic shelter on the shore or the Mohawk River. This portion of the Mohawk River just happened to also be a part of the Erie Canal. About four or five miles downstream (to the east of this location) is Erie Canal Lock #18. I took photos of part of it earlier today.

This couldn't be a more perfect day. The sky is a deep blue. The clouds are crisp white. The temperature is 77 degree with a predicted high of 80. And, to top it off, there is a very pleasant gentle breeze flowing by. This all called for a day of relaxation and spending as little time driving and as much time enjoying the serenity of this bucolic setting in the Mohawk Valley of central New York.

I'm actually located at a small marina and RV park operated by the Village of Ilion and the New York State Park Service. An occasional boat passes or some hikers on what was once the towpath for the original Erie Canal. It is way too expensive for me to stay at this location with My McVansion, so I'm just a "free" day visitor. I'm not far from Utica, New York where a long ago girl friend from graduate school hailed from. Also, Hamilton, New York, home of Colgate University and Clinton, New York home of Hamilton College - both of which I produced record albums for back in 1968 or 1969 (the year is foggy at this point in time). Also not far away is Herkimer, New York where I stayed at the Walmart Supercenter last night. And a little further away is Amsterdam, New York. I remember that small town because I dated a young woman from there who I met through a very primitive computer dating service back in 1967 or '68.

So, this area holds fond memories for me. The small towns haven't changed much and the area is still a combination of rural farmland and antiquated, mostly decayed, mills served by the Erie Canal in transporting raw materials and finished goods. I did pass one very large factory complex earlier when seeking this location and it is very much still a very active and busy business. It is the Remington Firearms factory in Ilion, New York.

Now, it's back to enjoying this idyllic day next to the placid Mohawk River.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

2014 Trek #2 - Heading North - To Meet Up With My Son In New Jersey

I'm back on the road! Hooray! With many and almost all the refinements, modification and project completions accomplished, I have been anxious to get My McVansion on the road and test it out. I finally headed out about 7 PM on Monday August 9, 2014 from base camp Keyser, West Virginia. The van was pretty well packed, though there was some stuff I just threw in and figured I'd organize and stow it later.

First stop was to visit with a friend from the Vandweller Forum, Gypsy Jane, who was now too far outside Keyser at an 18th Century encampment. I managed to miss my landmarks, I got there a lot, make that a LOT, later than I planned to. It was just about dark. I did get a chance to see Jane's new Tipi, which I found quite impressive. Jane had cooked up some vittles on an open fire in a small caldron. That is probably not the correct name for the pot, but is the best way I know how to describe it. I enjoyed a delicious meal Jane had prepared. Had I not filled myself with a delicious, very large salad a few hours earlier that my friend Carolyn had prepared, I would have partaken in second and maybe third helpings.

It was well after dark when I finally left Jane's encampment and made my way to Winchester, Virginia. I spent the night in this Walmart.

This is a benchmark for me. This Walmart is about three miles from the two houses on the mountain where I lived for 13 of the 27 years I made my home in Winchester. Why is this a benchmark? Because it is the first time I've stayed in a Walmart in Winchester rather than in my own home or in the home of my long-time friend, Judy. Winchester has now changed its status for me since I stayed in A Walmart "Motor Inn" for the first time. It's now like any other place I stay during my nomadic travels.

On Tuesday morning, I headed over to a new supermarket in Winchester operated by an Amish organization. It's called Smart Shopper. Walmart has good prices, Aldi often has better prices, but Smart Shopper beats them both by a considerable margin. So, I gathered some provisions for the trek.

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I then made a quick stop at Camping World to pick up a Fan-Tastic Endless Breeze fan to provide serious air movement in the van. I took care of a couple other quick errands in Winchester then headed south to Front Royal to deliver some CD Duplication Masters to National Media Services and to have lunch with my former business partner Mike. I also filled up the gas tank on the van since Front Royal almost always has the lowest gas prices in the region - often a dime less than Winchester. Then it was back up to Winchester to stop by my mechanic's shop and say farewell as I left on this trek. But, Marty was not there and his door was locked. That was a first.

Time To Head North

So, gas tank full, oil changed and air conditioner topped off a week before, McVansion loaded lots of new improvements and refinements as noted earlier, it was time to point the "bow" northward and head for my overnight destination, the Walmart "Motor Inn" in Philipsburg, New Jersey. I've stayed at this location on several occasions and since there is a White Castle, purveyor of tiny "slider" style hamburgers for longer than I've been on this planet, I was salivating all the way looking forward to a nostalgic dinner treat. I drove I-81 to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and then took Blue Highways across the state through Gettysburg, Lancaster and Reading where I finally went slightly north and connected with I-78 just west of Allentown. I-78 took me to Philipsburg, New Jersey, about 20 miles further east, I believe, and my destination at the Wally World and my dinner at the White Castle.

After a good night's sleep, I checked emails, took care of a bit of work and then headed toward Garfield, New Jersey, the city where my father was raised and where I would meet up with my son who was taking a bus from the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal to meet me. We met at around 4 PM and it was a great time for me. It was the first time I had seen my son since I spent a couple weeks with him in Seattle, virtually, two years to the week. He flew into Hartford, Connecticut to attend a conference and then went to New York City to meet with some of the "Suits" on Madison Avenue from his new employer, Price Waterhouse Cooper. You'll see in future photos in this post that my son doesn't do the "suit" gig. He's a creative type and they weren't sure what to make of him in the Madison Avenue offices, but they love his work.

Checking Out The Old Man's Roots

My son was officially working, so he was actually playing "hooky." But, with a cell phone, texting, email, his notebook computer and either free public wifi or wireless wifi from his or my wireless phone service, he was able to stay on top of several projects he was working on.

The first order of business was to visit all the homes I lived in and schools I went to during my childhood, teen and college years. He'd seen much of this in the past, however, he was very young and I figured he didn't recall much of it. Since this is half of his roots, I wanted him to get a good feel for where his father came from and the formative years that were the foundation of who I became.

From this point on, the rest of this post is going to be a series of photos with short descriptive captions. It won't include the homes and schools since those have either already appeared in earlier posts or will appear in future posts. But, there are, what I think interesting photos of things we did during the three and a half days we had together before I had to drive him back to Hartford, Connecticut to catch his flight back to Los Angeles, his new home as of about a year and a half ago.

So, here goes . . .

After I picked Pete up in Garfield, New Jersey, about six blocks from where his grandfather grew up, I drove him past the house that my father grew up at. My father was dead long before Pete was born, so he never got to know him. I then drove him through various parts of Clifton, my hometown, that I was familiar with, but were, as a child, a world away for me. That's pretty interesting since the city has an area of only about 11.5 square miles. After that, we drove to Parsippany, New Jersey, about 15 miles from Clifton where we settled in at the Red Roof Inn where I've stayed many time and he had stayed when he was about 8 years old. We started Thursday off with a hearty breakfast at the Empire Diner. You can't beat a great diner.  

The overlook from Garrett Mountain. Garrett Mountain is a ridge at the western side of Clifton, Paterson and Montclair, New Jersey. It separated the cities that were closer in to New York City and what, during my youth was the beginning of the more rural suburbs. This overlook looked down on the old silk mills in Paterson, the cities early claim to fame. It was also a favorite "submarine race watching" location. For those not familiar with the term, it's where the teenagers went to make out in their cars. On a clear day (this day wasn't one of those) you could easily see the New York City skyline and beyond. It was also a look-out observation position for the continental army during the under George Washington during the Revolutionary War.  

Busy at work . . . Pete said he had some work to take care of for his people back in LA so he wanted to find a restaurant to settle in for a short time. Well, we weren't far from my favorite hot dog joint, Rutt's Hut, in Clifton, of course. So here he is busily working away with the remnants of some Rutt's Hut "Rippers" and good, old fashioned birch beer.

A Small Family Reunion

Two cousins, Pete and my oldest nephew, Brian after polishing off two Mario's pizzas between four of us. It had been a couple decades if Pete had ever been to Mario's, but I was surprised to learn that Brian, now about 44, had never been to Mario's even though he grew up only about six or seven miles from the iconic restaurant. I had mentioned in an earlier post that Mario's had been sold, they had changed the entire ambiance of the establishment and they didn't have any birch beer, which I bitterly complained about to our server and to the new owner. I must have made an impact, they had birch beer this time. Brian and Pete hadn't seen each other in about 20 years, so this was a nice reunion for them, though they apparently have kept in touch through social media. 

Brother and Sister - Yep, that's me, the older brother with my next youngest sister, four years my junior. There are three of us. The third and youngest sister (11 years younger than me) lives in Virginia. The last time the three of us were together was the last time Brian, Pete and the other four male cousins were together about 20 years ago. There is now a niece. The severn cousins have never been in one place at one time, ever. Can you say . . . disjointed family?

And here is the pizza satiated foursome under the new Mario's sign at the entrance to the restaurant. The new decor of Mario's is very nice, but unfortunately it's still not the same. It's funny as one ages, we don't want certain things to ever change. They are the things we cling onto from our youth that helps keep us grounded, I guess. But, alas, as I've said before, Change is the ONLY thing you can count on.

The Jersey Shore - Asbury Park

Thursday evening, Pete and I drove to Neptune, New Jersey, very close to Asbury Park, a summer beach resort. I drove through Asbury Park in 1998 with a visiting friend from New Zealand. I was disturbed at the state of decay of one of the beach resorts my parents took me to as a child. Supposedly there had been a recovery since that time and then along came Hurricane Sandy, Many boardwalk buildings were gone, the boardwalk has been restored, but it's still in, from my perspective, a sad state. Pete had never been to the Jersey Shore since he grew up in Annapolis, Maryland and Winchester, Virginia. So, this was all new to him. Sad that he couldn't see it in its "hey day."

This is the Asbury Park Convention Center. It appears to still be under restoration. I was an exhibitor at this Convention Center when I was a sophomore at Montclair State College representing the Industrial Arts Department at Montclair State College. It was also the first time I ever drank too much vodka and got drunk as a skunk. Oh well, college kids will be college kids. 

Sea Girt

Sea Girt is another beach community south of Asbury Park and north of Seaside Heights. There is a boardwalk in Sea Girt, but no businesses or amusements like Asbury Park and Seaside Heights. This is a shot of one of the many historic lighthouses along the New Jersey shoreline. Sea Girt seemed to be reasonably well restored from the fury of Hurricane Sandy, but it was evident there had been some substantial damage here. 

Seaside Heights

Here is a shot of the beach at Seaside Heights. This is the Jersey Shore town that was most often shown in news clips of the Jersey Shore damage from Hurricane Sandy. They managed to get the resort open for the summer season last year, but it has been a massive job to get this resort town back to even a part of what it was before Sandy. 

This was a common sight along the newly replaced boardwalk. Some of the boardwalk buildings had been demolished due to Sandy and left large gaps between buildings that were restorable. Remaining buildings like this one that Pete is standing in front of have lost their tenants/businesses as you can see from the closed steel doors and the blank signage.

Another building still under restoration on the beach side of the boardwalk.

Here is another sad scene of a boardwalk business that has not restored and returned. 

This is a shot of the amusement pier where my sisters and I rode the various (now, antique) rides. At the far end (the far left of the pier) was where the iconic Seaside Heights roller coaster stood. I'm sure you remember seeing the photos of the roller coaster in the water and in ruin. They finally removed the wreckage of the roller coaster. I don't know if they have a plan to ever rebuild a new roller coaster, but it's a sad sight to those, like me, who grew up riding that roller coaster.

Yet, another building undergoing restoration. You can see that the wood in the boardwalk is all new.

Another interesting sight, as Pete stands in front of some makeshift, temporary structures put up in the open gaps were permanent structure have been demolished and removed because they were not restorable. 

And the work goes on. Here we've reached the restored part of the boardwalk, but as you can see, there is more work to do and restoration continues. This end of the boardwalk was very desolate. Visiting the Jersey Shore and the natural destruction caused by a hurricane and back in 2002, visiting Ground Zero where the World Trade Towers stood, destroyed by humans, not even 100 miles apart by line of sight. It just shows how vulnerable and fragile life and everything we know actually is. Thank goodness, humans are resilient. They've rebuilt New York City and they are rebuilding the Jersey Shore.

Atlantic City - The First Gambling City In The East In Modern Times

This is one block west of the Atlantic City Boardwalk. The roads are in terrible condition. The area looks like a decrepit ghetto. The side streets look much worse. When the casino lobbyists pressed the New Jersey legislature to legalize gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey, another Jersey Shore resort community in decline, they promised to revitalize the city. I guess this is their interpretation of revitalization. It was this way when they opened the casinos, it was this way in the 80's when I came here and stayed at the Resorts International Hotel and Casino to record a conference for a client and, guess what, it's still the same, about 30 years later. I showed this photo first because this is what Atlantic City visitors see first. The rest of the photos show where all the money went and continues to go. 

So, here is one of the Donald's two Atlantic City properties. Most of the casino/hotel properties have street entrances like this and most often occupy at least two or more blocks. Interestingly, the streets still sucked and jarred your eyeteeth out as you drove down these streets. 

Glitz and Bling is apparent at all the casino/hotels while next to these property are typically decrepit, ramshackle structures and what appears to be abject poverty. 

And a Taj Mahal it is, but check out the pot holes in the street in front of this edifice.

Here's a shot from the beach side of the boardwalk, boardwalk businesses and the hotel/casinos.

Here's another shot in the other direction. It's interesting that Sandy didn't seem to cause much damage here in Atlantic City . . . of if there was damage, the casino/hotel owners made sure it was repaired in quick order. I'm sure the city officials jump at the snap of a finger when the big money casino/hotel owners tell them to jump.

The glitz, opulence and bling is present everywhere, outside and inside. But, this was the typical sight on the Friday night Pete and I visited Atlantic City. Thousands of unoccupied slot and electronic gaming machines, table games closed and, for the size of these gambling halls, a lack of humanity. I know they bus people to Atlantic City from Virginia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and, yet. no one was there. Could Atlantic City be on the decline again as a seaside resort and gambling center? Could all the legal Indian casinos and other legal gambling centers opening in Maryland, West Virginia and other locations be writing on the wall for Atlantic City?

One final shot of the boardwalk entrance to the Taj Mahal before packing it in and heading back to our inexpensive, but comfortable room in nearby Absecon, New Jersey before heading north on Saturday to our destination of Hartford, Connecticut so Pete could catch his early Sunday morning flight back to the City of Angels.

Northward Ho!

Saturday morning, after finding a nice diner and a great diner breakfast, a relatively (for the region) inexpensive gas fill-up, saw Pete and me motoring north on the New Jersey Garden State Parkway in My McVansion. It goes against my grain to drive on anything that resembles an interstate or turnpike and especially any roads that have tolls, but the GS Parkway was, in this case, the most efficient way to traverse the length of New Jersey so we could pass through a short piece of New York State and into Connecticut to get to a hotel room Pete reserved in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, the location of Bradley International Airport, the largest airport in the state near Hartford, the state capital. On the way we made a quick stop at Ship Bottom, another small, Jersey Shore community on Long Beach Island to visit an old high school buddy of mine who currently resides there. When we reached Danbury, Connecticut, Pete found a small, highly rated, Korean/Japanese restaurant where we stopped and he bought me a Father's Day dinner. It was a very small restaurant and the food was excellent. It was a fitting end to a wonderful, albeit, too short, visit with my son. 

The best thing I ever did standing next to another of the best things I've even done - that is, my son, Pete standing next to My McVansion. The visit was way too short, but probably just right in the grand scheme of things. We crammed a lot into three and a half days and it was all fun and especially enjoyable due to my ride along companion. We had just finished our free hotel breakfast and were ready to take Pete to the airport to catch his flight. It's always a bit bittersweet to say "see ya later" to my son - whether I'm departing to leave him or he's leaving from wherever I am. But, all things being equal and the creek don't rise, I'll be spending some time in California with him this winter since that's my winter destination for this year. 

Final Thoughts!

This was a great visit with my son. It was the best Father's Day I've had in close to two decades because I actually spent time with Pete. Of course, he had to leave early on the morning on Father's Day, but hey, I got three and a half days him.

Being able to take him back to my roots again, at a time when he'll be able to remember and recognize the impact this made on me as to who I became and ultimately on who he is and who he became was priceless to me.

It is and was sad to see the destruction wrought by Sandy on my childhood memories of the Jersey Shore, yet, the resilience of the people was most encouraging and inspiring. Unfortunately, I don't have much positive to say about Atlantic City. I'm a capitalist and entrepreneur through and through. But, the fact is that "not all that glitters is not gold." I am not a fan of unbridled greed and corruption. I little guilt motivated people to move forward and achieve great things for a variety of reasons, but Atlantic City, in my opinion, is an example of failed capitalism and of unbridled greed and corruption. But, it doesn't impact me. I have my memories of the Steel Pier, seeing a couple of the big name "big bands" of the time when they performed there, watching the diving horses at the end of the Steel Pier (which the Humane Society would go berserk over today) and watching Bert Parks on TV as he hosted the Miss America Pageant from the Atlantic City Convention Center. If I never drive on the horrible roads or see the stark contrast between the haves and those in poverty that is so apparent in Atlantic City, it will be fine with me.

As to my hometown or even Winchester, Virginia where I made my home in the region for about 27 years, due to the changes, while on the surface they don't look much different, under the surface, that change that is inevitable, is all too apparent to me. I could never live in Clifton or that region again. It is an alien place to me other than my memories of a time long gone. The same is becoming true of Winchester (and even Annapolis, Maryland where I lived for ten years). There is nothing wrong with any of these places, but the parts of these places that were most attractive to me are now memories of mine and I'm content to live with that.

A singer/songwriter in his mid 30's, I'd guess, came into our small recording studio in the Washington, DC suburbs about 40 years ago. He later moved to Nashville where I assume he had a successful songwriting career. One of my former recording engineers found his obituary a couple years ago and sent it to me. But, this songwriter, like so many songwriters was a philosopher of sorts. The title of the song we recorded was "Stranger in my Hometown." I found the original master tape a couple years ago and I believe I transferred it to a digital version. The words absolutely ring true to me and one day in the future I'll put his song here on the blog. I'm sure, if you're currently living free or aspire to live free, this song will be as meaningful to you as it is to me.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #163 - Hurricane Sandy Recovery, Seaside Heights, New Jersey, June 13, 2014

Seaside Heights, New Jersey is one of my childhood memories. Most people who grew up in the Garden State spent some part of their childhood and adolescence at the Jersey Shore. I had the occasion, this past Friday (Friday the 13th) to visit Seaside Heights. The photo depicts part of the destruction that was dealt by one of the worst hurricanes to strike the New Jersey coast in history.

The iconic photo of the roller coaster is now a thing of the past. The ruined amusement ride was finally removed from its watery resting place after Sandy did her deed. The boardwalk is still being rebuilt, though most of it has been restored. There are a number of spaces where buildings that were not restorable have been removed. Some vendors have brought in cargo containers and small wooden yard barns to operate their businesses from. But, there is a certain vitality there. It will probably take another couple years before it's back to anything that resembles normal.

This was a uniquely fun trip for me. The young man on the right side of the photo just happens to be my 35-year-old son who had come east from his new home in Los Angeles for some business in New York City. But, he planned some hooky playing time to hang out with his dear old dad on Father's Day weekend. It was one of the best Father's Day gifts I have had since we haven't spent the holiday together in probably well over a decade, probably close to two decades. Pete had only seen his father's roots in New Jersey once or twice before, mainly when he was too young to remember much. So, we visited all my homesteads and schools and favorite food joints from my youth. Then we went to the Jersey Shore, where he had never been before. We ultimately ended up in Atlantic City before driving back to Hartford, Connecticut passing by the Newtown/Sandy Hook area where a very mentally ill young man snuffed out so many young lives.

This morning, I dropped him off at the Hartford, Connecticut (where I am currently) airport for his flight back to Los Angeles. It was great to spend the time with him and, of course, I was sad to send him back after only about four days of hanging out, but I'm happy with that and I'll take what I can get.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #162 - Cinerama, A Dying Breed, The Cinerama Dome, Hollywood, California, May 2009

Most people from the Great Depression and World War II generation and the Baby Boomer generation will remember and may have actually seen the cinematic splendor of a 146 degree, seven channel surround sound Cinerama movie. The nearest theater to my hometown of Clifton, New Jersey was in Bloomfield, a town that bordered Clifton. Interestingly, Bloomfield had a Cinerama theater and Clifton didn't despite the fact that Bloomfield had a population only slightly more than 50% of Clifton's population.

I captured this shot while I was driving, obviously, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood in May of 2009. If you look carefully, just behind the vehicle mirror, you can see a small portion of the geodesic dome that made up the theater's auditorium. The theater was built in opened in 1963, 51 years ago. Cinerama had abandoned the 3 synchronized 35mm camera production techniques it had used since the first Cinerama film in 1952 for a single 70mm camera that produced less than the original 146 degree movies with lower resolution than the original productions by the time the Hollywood Dome opened. However, it was still constructed with the three separate projection booths.

After a renovation around 2002, the Hollywood Cinerama Dome screened some of the original three camera, three projector movies from the earlier days. It was the first time this theater actually showed a three projector Cinerama production. While the Dome is currently part of a 14-theater complex, it occasionally screens some of the original three projector Cinerama productions. The last three camera/three projector production was completed in 1962, How the West was Won. The last U.S. film production for the Cinerama wide screen format was in 1969, Krakatoa, East of Java. And the last 70mm wide screen (for the Cinerama screen) was a European production called, Run, Run, Joe!

I called this a dying breed because there are only three theaters, including the Hollywood Cinerama Dome, capable of and still screening the original three camera/three projector productions. If you were fortunate enough to see any of the original movies, although, technologically not up to 21st Century standards, you surely remember that it was quite an experience. If you have never seen a Cinerama production, I highly recommend you see at least one of them if you have an opportunity to be near one of the three venues - the Hollywood Cinerama Dome, The Seattle Cinerama and the Pictureville Cinerama, in the National Media Museum in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. I highly recommend Seven Wonders of the World, Windjammer, Space Odyssey: 2001 and How the West was Won, but not to be forgotten is This is Cinerama, the original release with the famous roller coaster scene.    

Friday, June 6, 2014

Preparing For 2014 Trek #2

I'm three days away from embarking on my next significant trek of 2014. The past three months have been spent dealing with warm, cold, cold, warm, cold, cold, cold, warm, etc. temperatures and rain, a little left over snow, a fair amount of overcast and some sunny days while planning and attempting to execute a number of modifications, refinements and the completion of some projects on My McVansion that I didn't get to before I left on the last 2 1/2 month trek.

Truth be told, I've also done some work on client projects, assisted as I could with the transfer of leadership/coordination of the Veteran Speakers Retreat I coordinated for the past twelve years, began a substantial revision of the Living Free blog site and my over all blogging philosophy and plans, done some contemplating of what I want to do when I grow up and a bit of just being LAZY.

The List of 40

During the last trek and when I got back to base camp in Keyser, I put together a list of 38 things I wanted to complete, modify or refine in/on My McVansion. I realized one thing over the past couple years of working on My McVansion . . . It's NEVER Done! It's just like having a house and a car, there is always a list of things to do and fix. One would think with only 50 sq ft of living space and a total foot print of about 102 sq ft including the "Engine Room" and the "Bridge" (or Cockpit, if you prefer) there couldn't be that much to do. Well, at least that's what I thought. Wrong!

I ended up with a list of 38 things I wanted to do to my tiny house on wheels before I took it out on the road again. Some of these are mundane, routine maintenance things. For example, getting the rear axle and bearing squared away after my breakdown in Blue Ridge, Georgia in early March. Check - Done! An oil change was on the list. Since I have been using synthetic oil for the past nearly 40 years, I only change my oil every 15,000 to 20,000 miles. I check it to make sure it's clean and filled to the proper point, but my engines run like a finely tuned racecar on synthetic oil. Check - Done! New windshield wiper blades are on the list, not done, yet, but will be before I roll. And, of course, making sure tires are rotated and at proper pressure, Done - Check. All fluids are checked and topped off. Oh yeah, and the automatic belt tensioner for the one belt on the engine that runs everything went bad as I was approaching base camp. So, new tensioner and new belt are on the engine. The radiator was replaced last year.

Beyond the mundane routine tasks are the projects I wanted to complete and refinements I wanted to make quite a number of other items have been checked off. So, on the List of 40, I have or will have completed about 28 by the time I actually embark on this new trek. I leave base camp on Monday, June 9, but will be in Winchester, Virginia stocking up and taking care of a few of the last scheduled items on the list. I'll actually head north on Tuesday, June 10. Some items will be saved for my next return to base camp, when I'm sure the 10 or 12 remaining items will have expanded with several more I come up with.

So, what are some of the things I've completed? Here are just a few:

1. New custom seat/bunk cushion/mattress covers (to replace the blanket I used to cover the mattress before.
2. Acquisition and installation of a new Sirius receiver for continuous, commercial free, uninterrupted music of MY choice, news from several outlets, talk, some old time radio and a little comedy without losing the stations as I drive from city and town to city and town.
3. Setting up a Sirius A La Carte subscription for $8/month with 50 channels (plus a few freebies Sirius throws in) I select for my own tastes. Believe me coming up with 50 was hard, I'll still probably never listen to more than the 10 I've programmed as favorites and possibly five or six more should I actually become bored with my favorite channels.
4. Installation of a smart charger for the 245 amp hour house battery.
5. Installation of a 400 watt inverter to power the 110 volt AC, compressor refrigerator while I'm traveling or parked without access to 110 volt AC shore power.
6. New block out window curtains all around plus a new block out curtain between the "cockpit" and the house part of the van.
7. Mosquito/insect/no-see-ums net covers for the two front windows in the "cockpit" and two of the fold out windows in the house part of the van.
8. An innovative idea for using LED lighting in the house section of the van. This will lead to further lighting improvements after this trek.
9. Some refinements to the cabinet containing the porta-potty - based on prior experience.
10. Construction and installation of a drop leaf keyboard shelf for the computer workstation in the back of the van.
11. Installation of a simple, yet very convenient and utilitarian console/shelf between the driver and passenger seat in the cockpit. This also provides for some storage below and an easily accessible place for the cockpit/house trash container to serve its purpose while being out of the way.
12. Installation of a small shelf to the right of the instrument complex in the cockpit and slightly over one corner of the console, yet not interfering with a passenger's comfort when I might have one on occasion (as I will next week when I pick up my son who is east from LA on some business. This shelf is the location of the 10-meter amateur radio rig I had installed on it. It's not operational, yet, but might possibly be during this trek.

I'm also rearranging the storage space under the bunk and under the workstation, installing AC wiring for 110 volt shore power, the 400 watt inverter and a, to be added in the future, 1,000 watt inverter and several other things that will make living in the 50 sq ft tiny house on wheels much more accommodating, comfortable and efficient.

Photos will follow. It's still pretty messy in My McVansion as I continue to work on these projects to have everything completed that I want done before I hit the road on Monday. I also have to work in a bit of time to vacuum the interior and wash the exterior of My McVansion to make it presentable as I travel the Blue Highways of Americana.

Trek #2 of 2014

Trek #2 will be shorter and is closed ended. I had originally planned to leave around Memorial Day or June 1st, however, I received an email from my son, who now lives and works in The City of Angels, Los Angeles, telling me he was coming to Hartford, Connecticut and New York City on business for his employer (he's actually an employee instead of a contractor for the first time in a decade), one of the Big 6 international accounting/consulting firms. And, he scheduled some time for us to get together. Hooray for me! It was two years ago that I last saw him in Seattle (where he lived for about nine years). So, we're going to meet up in northern New Jersey on Wednesday, June 11. So, we'll get to spend Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday hanging out and I have to have him at the Hartford airport on Sunday morning for a 9 AM flight to LA.

His trip east changed my trekking plans. The original plan had me going to New York State then into New England and probably bypassing New Jersey altogether on this trip. The modified plan is to pick him up, drive around Clifton and the surrounding area, visit the homes I grew up in, visit the schools I attended and Montclair State College - oops, University, my alma mater and partake in some good old New Jersey food. This will give him an opportunity to really get to know his roots from his father's side. He's well acquainted with his roots on his mother's side. Then, we may drive down to the New Jersey Shore, part of my old stomping grounds. I'd like to see how the recovery is coming along after Hurricane Sandy demolished some of my childhood memories. We might get as far south as to visit an old high school buddy I was hoping to see.

After I drop my son at the Hartford airport, I'm hoping to visit with an old high school friend and his wife in the New London, Connecticut area and the publisher of an on-line magazine for the voice-over profession who lives in Trumbull, Connecticut. From there I'll be heading to New York State with Syracuse as my primary objective where I'll visit a grad school friend (who coincidentally is also a minister and married my first wife and me) and his wife. I also want to visit my other alma mater, Syracuse University and the area around Syracuse where I spent two years of my early adult and business life.

The rest of the trip through New York State will be to explore parts of the state I've never been to before and revisit areas of the state I enjoyed when I lived there and since that time. There are also a few other friends I'm hoping to connect with up there. And, of course, I'm looking forward to connecting with and meeting up with other part-time and full-time, living free, nomadic friends I haven't met, yet.

Ultimately, I'll make my way over to Erie, Pennsylvania to visit with a friend who formerly lived in Canada, but came from and is a U.S. citizen. She became a vandweller about seven years ago and, while she has just acquired a new (to her) Class B van and is selling her red cargo van, she has become a homeowner, at least temporarily. I get the impression that she yearns, again, for the open road and the freedom it affords. She has a place for me to park overnight. By then it should be approaching the end of July and I'll begin making my way south to base camp again in West Virginia.

I want to be back to base camp on or before the beginning of August so I can get back to completing the remaining list of 40 items plus additional refinements I will have added to the list in the interim. The last weekend in August I'll travel up to Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania for the 27th annual Veteran Speakers Retreat. I'm looking forward to attending the retreat as a "civilian" this year and enjoying time with my friends without the responsibility of making sure all the details are taken care of, problems are resolved, keeping things on time and the variety of responsibilities of running an event for 50 to 60 people who have traveled from across the continent to attend.

Other than the Veteran Speakers Retreat, August and September is my preparation time for the extended 2014 Trek #3 that leads into Trek #1 of 2015. I expect this trek to extend for at least six months and, by the time I return to the east coast, I will have traveled through about 24 of the lower 48 states. But, this is a topic for a much later post. Watch for the upcoming photos and stories of my northern 2014 trek.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Photo-of-the-Week #161, Hiram's Hot Dog Stand, Fort Lee, New Jersey, September 2013

You just can't beat a great hot dog, folks, and you know me, always looking for the neat local hot dog joints. Hiram's is one of those places. Hiram's Hot Dog Stand, located on Palisade Avenue in Fort Lee, NJ (think Palisades Amusement Park - now a legend - and the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge) has been around since 1928, coincidentally, the same year my favorite hometown hot dog stand, the famous Rutt's Hut, started up in Clifton.

Not uncommon during the 1800's and through the mid 1900's, many small businesses like car service stations, hot dog stands and frozen custard stands were built as extensions of the owner's home on a busy community street. Hiram's is one of those businesses. If you look carefully at the photo, you'll see the house right behind the hotdog stand. Most of these old businesses have long ago gone the way of the dinosaurs and dodos. But, Hiram's (and Rutt's Hut) thankfully have survived the ravages of time and a changing culture. They are institutions passed on by generations of customers to succeeding generations. They are a connection with an earlier time that, while not as technically advanced and ambiance oriented, provided good, inexpensive food with simple surroundings (think about the era of the drive-in restaurants of the later 40's, 50's and early 60's).

And here is what keeps people coming back to Hiram's and the few places like it that still survive.

Two hot dogs, one a chilidog and one a kraut/mustard dog, two of my favorite ways of eating a hot dog. Along side it is a paper plate (typical of the way this food is served) of French fries with catsup. Hiram's also serves a variety of drinks including cold draft beer and soft drinks. Probably the most popular soft drink at Hiram's is Yoohoo, an un-carbonated chocolate flavored drink, again, created in New Jersey and dating back to the 1920's. I have to admit, I like Yoohoo almost as much as I like the Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer formerly served at my former favorite hometown pizza restaurant, Mario's, and still served at Rutt's Hut.

There is a small "hole in the wall" hot dog stand in Keyser, West Virginia, Marty's Hot Dogs, that I've yet to try, but I plan to. Keyser is my eastern base camp. And, if my route north to New Jersey to meet up with my son (flying in from LA on some business) takes me through Maryland, especially the Annapolis area, I plan to drive up Rt. 2 to Glen Bernie and stop in at Ann's Dari Creme for one of the righteous "Double Dogs with Everything" and a hand made chocolate shake the joint is famous for. More reports in the future on the great hot dog caper.