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.

Add caption

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment