Monthly Archives: June 2020


Roads We Remember #3

As cultural icons, certain local roadside features past and present possess a mythic life of their own. Over the course of our lives they become universal reference points integrated into our personal story.

The “Evil Clown” of Middletown, NJ and the Red Apple Rest in Tuxedo,  NY are two. Without doubt, high on that list resides the Indian Motorcycle sign of Palisades, NY.


Mystery of the vanishing

Indian Motorcycle sign

Hugging Route 9W North on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, the 9W Market offers a  gourmet food oasis that has become a magnet for bicyclists from all over the Tri-state area. It is doubtful that anyone enjoying their pan fried organic egg sandwich has a clue about the structure’s first life and its starring role in one of the boldest automobilia thefts in local history.

Even from my early boyhood viewpoint in the back seat of my family’s 1948 Chevy Fleetline Aerosedan, our Sunday drives north on Route 9W never failed to entertain. Craning my neck like a hungry hatchling to peer out the small teardrop rear window, I loved the old roadhouse bars that seemed to defy gravity as they clung to the steep face of the great Palisades. For me though,  I derived special delight from the old homey gas stations as they appeared through my back seat porthole.

Of all the wonders of roadside Americana that my family Sunday drives afforded, none gave me greater joy than a weathered white Gulf station with a snack bar. Like the little engine that could, it stood proud and alone in its diminutive glory each time we motored by, and we always motored by because my father only used Sunoco gas.

Years later I learned that the little Gulf station enjoyed another admirer in the person of iconic American artist Edward Hopper. Born and raised in nearby Nyack, New York, Hopper is said to have drawn inspiration from the little station for his iconic 1940 work “Gas”.

The little Gulf station began life in 1939, when a towering rawboned motorcycle enthusiast named Henry Kennell built it as a sales point for Indian Motorcycles.

Time passed in decades. The world around Henry’s Gulf morphed into the frenetic Tri-state area. However, Henry’s Gulf remained a constant and his section of 9W seemed content to linger in 1939. One part of Henry’s Gulf though, while remaining unchanged, did steadily grow as an object of desire. Firmly affixed to the ridge of Henry’s station sat perched the crown jewel of Henry’s Gulf. There reigned the king of all signs, a roughly five foot by three foot glorious two-sided neon masterpiece that in 1939 proclaimed that beneath it could be found a genuine Indian Motorcycle dealership.

I met Henry in 1989 when I negotiated with him to film a Volvo Finance commercial set in 1961 at his, then, still active Gulf station.

Henry Kennel in spite of his 92 years maintained a gentle giant countenance. Warmly greeting you by extending a massive hand, the firm handshake seemed to extend past your hand and carry up to your elbow. His kind and affable manner like his Gulf station made you feel welcome.

From time to time during filming of the commercial Henry would saunter over from his house across Route 9W. During the breaks he would respond to my urgings to share some history of his station. He knew his Indian sign was special and he loved it.

Henry’s sign constantly generated inquiries.

Interest would often come from members of a motorcycle group called “The Sons of Danger.” A gregarious and fun loving collection of serious motorcycle enthusiasts, “The Sons of Danger” originated in the 1970’s as a creation of two pillars of the automobile advertising community. Its membership included executives of numerous automobile companies, journalists, and drivers. Names like Dan Gurney, Brock Yates and Paul Newman populated its roster.

Since the North American headquarters of Volvo resided barely a few miles away, “Sons of Danger” members including one of the two founders were keenly aware of Henry’s glorious sign. Many offers were made. Henry would not budge. Years turned to decades all the while the great Indian sign proudly anchored the present to the past from its position on high.

In 1991 Henry Kennell passed away. In a fitting continuation of ownership by kindred spirits, Henry’s Gulf station would be purchased by a legendary local vintage car owner and supplier of vehicles to the film industry, Jerry McSpirit. Owner of Cars of Yesterday Sales and Rentals, McSpirit’s involvement in supplying vintage vehicles to the film industry dates back to 1970. He provided a vehicle for my film shoot in 1989.

During McSpirit’s ownership much stayed the same. Certainly the Indian sign maintained its exalted and coveted status.

“An ill wind blows no good” goes the adage. For Jerry McSpirit Tropical Storm Floyd in 1999 fits the bill.

Beginning as a Category 4 hurricane in the Bahamas,  Floyd was a tropical storm by the time it reached northern New Jersey. The tropical storm packed punishing  torrents of rain. September 16th 1999 witnessed record flooding and Dams bursting across New Jersey. It also marked the last time Henry Kennell’s Indian Motorcycle sign was ever seen.

When McSpirit went to assess the storms impact on his little station, the only damage to be seen was where the Indian Motorcycle sign had been carefully removed. During one of the worst storms in New Jersey history and after 60 years in place, Henry Kennell’s treasured Indian sign disappeared.

Jerry McSpirit sold the little Gulf station shortly thereafter.

Despite the offer of a generous reward, the last 21 years has not produced one word as to the fate of Henry Kennell’s Indian Motorcycle sign.

By |2020-07-09T16:34:44+00:00June 25th, 2020|15 Comments

Cars We Love & Who We Are #5

If only cars possessing historic significance could talk. What stories they would tell. However, though beautiful, they remain sadly mute leaving it up to us to find their voice.

For the owner of a Sebring-raced XK120 it took 48 years for history to speak up.

Dagavar’s Jaguar, The truth at last

Since buying the 1954 XK120MC in 1971, Dr. Dick Santucci appreciated that by its very nature this Jaguar was special. It would take a phone call 48-years later for him to find out just how special.

Throughout Dick Santucci’s childhood, Fred Dagavar’s 1954 XK120 roadster filled the young boy’s dreams thanks to Papa Santucci’s prolific storytelling abilities and great friendship with Dagavar. Rich with grit, bravado, exotic cars and famous drivers, stories about Dagavar racing his Jaguar filled the Santucci’s Bronx kitchen and gave substance to a child’s dreams of adventure.

Years later, Dagavar, now in his ‘70s, considered selling his long retired and battered Jaguar. Santucci jumped at the chance to own the British sports car that had starred in his childhood reveries. However, with little spare time available or money remaining, Santucci knew that the severely distressed sports car would have to wait years for resurrection. College and chiropractic school would come first.

By 1978 Santucci had established his chiropractic practice. By 1981 the Jaguar returned to the road, reborn.

Having dueled against a pantheon of driving legends such as Briggs Cunningham, Stirling Moss, Luigi Chinetti, Phil Hill, Carroll Shelby and Mike Hawthorne; it was only fitting that Dagavar’s Jaguar, in an age of trailer queens, would benefit from Santucci’s passionate desire for the Jaguar to run strong and free.

Decades of driving pleasure and a total restoration, thanks to a deer that did not look both ways, culminated in 2019 with Santucci’s Jaguar being invited to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Santucci took great pleasure in witnessing what he believed would be the Dagavar Jaguar’s pinnacle achievement and confirmation of its special qualities. He had no way of knowing the secrets Dagavar’s Jaguar had yet to divulge until, back home, his phone rang.

“Do you know what you have,” asked the caller. “I am pretty sure I do,” Santucci replied. The voice of vintage Jaguar owner John Strader of Colorado spoke with confidence and conviction about the few XK120 Jaguars that went back to the factory for special attention. Strader explained that he had seen Santucci’s car on the Amelia Island website and that very few of these cars were ever produced. Actually Strader said he owned what he believed was the only other one of its kind in existence.

In the course of multiple exchanges, Strader, put Santucci in touch with Roger Payne of Perth, Australia. Payne a retired engineer and Jaguar historian was a fountain of Jaguar information.

Learning of the Dagavar Jaguar’s existence, Payne displayed a ravenous appetite for serial numbers and photographs. Like an Egyptologist in a newly discovered pyramid chamber, Payne immersed himself in researching his discovery.

Coming up for air, Payne awarded Santucci with the knowledge that only a handful of 1954 Xk120s returned to the factory to be custom equipped and factory-tuned with one of the spare second generation C-Type heads meant for the LeMans racing team.

It appeared Dagavar, who was a founding member of NASCAR and good friend of Bill France, met Jaguar’s legendary LeMans racing team manager Lofty England through Bill France at Sebring. At that time England promised to arrange a factory upgrade that included a spare C-Type head from the racing team. Santucci, Payne announced, owned one of two matching number examples in existence. Special indeed.

Associating this extraordinary provenance to the already stunningly restored vehicle proved to be the special sauce that enticed the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance to invite the Dagavar Jaguar to display on Sunday June 2nd 2019.

That Sunday at Greenwich, the Dagavar Jaguar, received the Chief Judge’s Award – International. In accepting the award from historians Ken Gross and David Schultz, Santucci smiled acknowledging that Dagavar had planted the XK into a sand bank at Sebring in 1955. Thus, this was the first win for the Jaguar since Dagavar bought the car in 1954.


Dick Santucci has entered his XK120 in the American Collectors Insurance virtual car how. It is in the “Foreign” category. If you would like to vote for Dagavar’s Jaguar the link is:

By |2020-07-09T16:35:09+00:00June 18th, 2020|4 Comments

Conversations With People We Value #3

Belted out with vigor and a smile, the words “Let’s go for a ride” have launched many a wonderful open road adventure, one which often concludes with dinner at a favorite restaurant. Such an afternoon escape, not long ago ranked in the higher echelon of simple pleasures. Who could have foreseen that restaurants, especially “your” favorite restaurant would be an endangered species. It appears that the pandemic has placed many favorite eateries in the cross hairs of potential extinction before the new normal arrives.


We took the Drivin’ News 1972 VW Westfalia out to get dinner and answers at some of our favorite local restaurants. What we found revealed the strong bond between communities and their restaurants and the profound impact that that relationship would have in shaping the character of our communities when the new normal arrives.


TAKE-OUT – A lifeline to the future

With the present pandemic restrictions, our VW Westfalia affords what can only be described as the pinnacle of present day dining out experiences. Supplementing the fold-out table, refrigerator (cooler with a door), sink (yes, running water) and pop-up top to allow for standing, our dining experience featured VW themed designer cutlery and place settings. Proper social distancing is no problem. There is only room for two.

All the restaurants visited functioned with an almost military precision. Cell phones alerted customers to pull up as the food came from the kitchen. Payment was either done by card in advance or with mobile hand units at pickup.

Many restaurants had canopied seating, some with music for patrons who wished to dine out on site. All food does have to be served in take out containers.

Survival stories on the road to the “new normal”

It has become painfully clear that many fine and favorite eateries which have delighted our palates before the pandemic could well be gone when better days return.

For the many quality restaurants not mentioned in this story it can be accepted that all share similar challenges and concerns as expressed by the restaurateurs quoted here.

With a shared voice they all spoke to the critical importance of TAKE-OUT as the lifeline that will bridge this crisis and allow for a future in the “new normal.”

While facing this uncertain and difficult time, all proprietors made a point of expressing their profound gratitude for the support of the surrounding community that has risen to sustain them. The quality of their words reflected those of a farmer whose neighbors rallied to sandbag a river to save his crops from being lost.


Click on the Restaurant’s name to go to their website.

Chris D’Eletto (Jack’s Café – Westwood)

I have owned Jack’s Café for almost 14 years. Presently TAKE-OUT is everything. We are at a fraction of our normal business but we are holding on. I miss the people. I am so thankful that I am going to be allowed to have some seating on June 15th though it will only be half capacity. Before Covid-19 It was already hard to make a living in the restaurant business so TAKE OUT will remain critical to our survival.

This community is awesome. I love Westwood. I live in Westwood. I am proud of my community. The people have been incredibly faithful. We have people who order every week. Sometimes twice a week. They are great.

I am going to make it. Absolutely. This is my life.


Malissa Wright (Peppercorn’s – Park Ridge)

I have owned Peppercorn’s for a year. I never saw this coming. They say tough times make you tougher. So be it. Right now if it wasn’t for TAKE-OUT I would have my doors shut.

Peppercorn’s has been around a long time. I am humbled by how Peppercorn’s customers have responded to our situation with their support and loyalty. They are making a concerted effort to support us. It’s been very, very humbling.

We have started our outside seating which will make a great difference. Still TAKE-OUT remains so important.

Peppercorn’s will survive.


Thomas Davey (Davey’s Locker – Montvale)

Davey’s Locker has been in my family for 46 years. My dad bought it in 1974.

TAKE-OUT is all we have. It isn’t a long term solution but it is sustaining us as we bridge to the future “new normal.” Opening up outside is going to help. We are planning for inside where  we will have socially distanced seating. If we are lucky we will be doing maybe half of what we used to do. TAKE-OUT will remain fundamental to our continued existence.

I can’t say enough about the community. Incredible. After St. Patrick’s Day we shut down. Everyone was locked down. After about 4 weeks I set up a little tent outside and sold Davey’s digital gift cards. People came in to say hello and buy gift cards. Talk about faith. People didn’t know if Davey’s was ever going to open up again. We sold thousands of dollars in gift cards. What can I say? We opened up.


Ralph Colantuono (Granita Grille – Westwood)

I’ve owned the Granita Grill for 22 years. TAKE-OUT is everything. I do not have a lot of space for outside seating so until people can come indoors, TAKE-OUT is my lifeline to the future.

I cannot express my gratitude to the community for their support. Our traditional regulars as well as surrounding community members have made all of the difference in the world.


Frank Hernandez (Cornerstone – Hillsdale)

Cornerstone has been in business 14 years, Frank Hernandez has been manager for one year.

TAKE-OUT is the lifeblood of our business. That is all we have going at this point. Thankfully the community has been fantastic in supporting us from the day this all started.

Clearly we are eager to welcome people back inside in a reconfigured socially distanced layout. We hope people appreciate that the restaurant business is in the best position to do things properly as constant Health Department oversight ensures that proper procedures are in place.


Randy Carson (Park Steakhouse – Park Ridge)

I have owned Park Steakhouse for 15 years.

It is only because of the tremendous support from the people of Park Ridge and the surrounding community for our TAKE-OUT business that we can stay afloat until we get the new normal sorted out. Right now we are creating a sheltered outdoor dining area.

Park Ridge has been wonderful to us. Everybody has really pulled together to help us through this. In having the community there for us now will allow us to be there for them in the future.


What then can each of us do to ensure that we don’t find ourselves yearning for that favorite entree with no recourse but a taunting and flavorless memory? Clearly, to the Covid-19 mantra of “wear a mask” and “wash your hands” we must add ORDER TAKE-OUT!

Share with us your favorite restaurant after a drive. Give them some recognition in the comments section. It just may make the difference.


By |2020-07-09T16:35:32+00:00June 11th, 2020|11 Comments

Roads We Remember #2

In difficult times appreciating the difference between an escape and running away often determines how we make it through. Running away is abdication. An escape is a respite that strengthens our resolve to re-engage.

In this challenging time I would like to recommend a small jewel of an escape, Henry Hudson Drive.

Henry Hudson Drive

Hugging the Hudson River while offering spectacular views of the George Washington Bridge and the New York City skyline, Henry Hudson Drive offers a startlingly rural gem within minutes of Manhattan.

Lower all windows or even better, if possible, put the top down. It’s best to cruise in a lower gear. Once finding that low gear  RPM sweet spot, the engine‘s throaty exhaust note will be enriched and reverberated by the sheer stone face of the Palisades that flanks the road. This rumbling symphony enhances the sensory delight courtesy of the Henry Hudson Drive, a narrow serpentine road clinging to the towering Palisades. Driven at night only makes it better.

This seven miles of slender two lane “motor path” weave through an extraordinary stretch of real estate filled with echoes of the past.

Many are amazed that this greenway exists considering its value as prime real estate. Credit for its preservation resides with the generosity of the Rockefeller Family. Much of this land was originally purchased in the early 1930s by the Rockefeller family and donated to the park commission to ensure that the viewshed from the Cloisters, another Rockefeller project, on the east bank of the Hudson River would be preserved.

Interestingly when people think of fjords their thoughts normally go to Norway, however, the Hudson Valley is actually the southernmost fjord in the northern hemisphere.

Exit 2 off the Palisades Interstate Parkway leads to the Alpine, New Jersey headquarters of the PIP Police and the Henry Hudson Drive’s northern entrance. Immediately greeted by a well paved meandering road shielded beneath a canopy of trees, the narrow motorway twists down towards the Hudson River. Be mindful that weekends and afternoons will find hikers and bikers aplenty with which to share the road. Ideally, visit at early morning or after sunset when there are far fewer hikers and bicyclists. That said, be warned that the PIP officials have a habit of randomly closing sections of the drive, especially in this age of Covid-19.

Property and paths surrounding the Henry Hudson Drive have been a part of American history since the Revolutionary War. The northern leg of Henry Hudson Drive played a pivotal role in American history as this is where in 1776 General Charles Cornwallis brought his troops ashore after the British Victory in the Battle of Fort Washington to Pursue General George Washington and his rag tag band of soldiers. Washington’s escape  would culminate in the famous retreat to Valley Forge.

One hundred and sixty two years later the forest above the north entrance provided sanctuary for a number of local residents who fled in panic based on the news of attacking Martians reported in the now infamous 1938 Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast.

Heading south, drivers will encounter the bridge that spans the tallest waterfalls in New Jersey, Greenbrook Falls, with a cumulative drop of 250 ft.

A narrow string of endless twists and turns will lead to the first section of Henry Hudson Drive to be built. Construction of the steep descent from Palisades Avenue in Englewood Cliffs,  New Jersey to the Englewood boat basin started in 1912. Tall grey stone walls form a two lane chute that snakes down to the Hudson River.

High above the southern leg of the drive, was once the home of America’s first “Hollywood.” From 1910 to 1920 most of the major film studios could be found in and around Fort Lee, NJ. Here Pauline faced her perils, D.W. Griffith shot over 100 films, Rudolph Valentino could be seen on the street and Mary Pickford made her film debut. It would last but a decade as bitter winters and cheap land in balmy southern California put a quick end to New Jersey’s silver screen dreams.

Heading south the George Washington Bridge looms high above the slim bucolic country road. Soon ending after passing beneath the bridge, Henry Hudson Drive concludes at River Road in Edgewater where North Jersey’s signature frenetic pace quickly reintroduces itself.

By |2020-06-04T01:50:11+00:00June 4th, 2020|4 Comments