Roads We Remember

Home/Roads We Remember

Some roads discovered far from home reward us with a once in a lifetime driving experience. Others are old friends revisited to elevate our spirits and celebrate the joy of life behind the wheel.

Roads We Remember #11

Like a tour in a time machine through a beautiful natural yesterday, traversing the Blue Ridge Mountains and its foothills presents a calming feast for all the senses. Years back Elaine and I favored including the Blue Ridge Mountains as part of our backroad adventures. Some years later, during Covid, Elaine had the opportunity to acquire a secluded deep forest retreat in Nelson County, VA just minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway. It presented a once in a lifetime chance to stop and stay for a while rather than grabbing the fleeting glimpses captured during past drive-bys. Located on 16 wooded and isolated acres it promised a full immersion into the magnificent beauty of the Blue Ridge. Three years later we love the Blue Ridge and we are leaving. Why?

Loving but Leaving the Blue Ridge

Loading up and leaving

Rattling down, the rolling cargo door slammed shut triggering the clatter of the self latching lever. With a reassuring snap a keyed master lock secured the load. Packed to the gills the U-Haul box truck stood ready for the journey home.

Bird songs filled the air. The surrounding paulownia trees brimmed with pale violet springtime blossoms. Nestled amidst the beauty, the U-Haul truck packed with belongings presented a seeming anomaly in this bucolic wonderland destination. Counter intuitively to what one might expect, Elaine and I had opted out of this woodland adventure in paradise that resides in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

At the Blue Ridge Parkway’s northern origin the picturesque 105-mile Virginia Skyline Drive concludes at Rockfish Gap. There it tees-up the Parkway’s 485 miles of glorious natural beauty, rich vast forested expanses and breathtaking views. Situated at the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway resides America’s most visited natural destination, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Rockfish Gap overlooks the rushing Buffalo Creek that traverses the soon-to-be sold 16 acre spread. It lies no more than 10 minutes from where the Blue Ridge Parkway and Virginia Skyline meet.

View from Rockfish Gap

A great place to be a horse

Gravel crackled under the heavily laden truck as it eased forward in a slow descent from the elevated perch where the recently sold home sat. In the meadow below, the midday sun illuminated a broad field of brilliant yellow buttercups. The ever present song of the Buffalo Creek’s fast rushing waters supplied its soothing background soundtrack.

Closing would be in a week. We chose to simply look ahead. No need to look behind.

Having spent most of my life in the New York metropolitan area, land of rapacious overdevelopment, I fear for Nelson County’s survival as a place of natural beauty and agrarian character. To its credit Nelson County features a largely agrarian society with cattle and horse farms and an appreciation for what they have. I also believe the county offers the potential to be the Napa Valley of the east. Presently the region features numerous vineyards and wineries in this the heart of Virginia’s nascent viticulture efforts.

12 Ridges Vineyard off the Blue Ridge Parkway

In Nelson County a handshake means something.

Largely a family oriented community, it features individuals skilled in both trades and survival. It has been said that at its simplest, peoples’ occupations can be divided into two groups. The difference being whether you shower before work or after. Nelson County definitely features an after work shower character. Whoa there! Is this some kind of an elitist cheap shot remark? Far from it. I believe if things ever, God-forbid, went sideways, the residents of Nelson County would fare far better than members of our “shower before work” urban latte, Uber eats crowd. Build a house, fix an engine, drill a well, farm a plot, can for winter, make cheese, raise livestock, hunt for food, butcher what you catch, it is all part and parcel of life in Nelson County.

Elaine and I enjoyed the good fortune of meeting many trades people in the process of upgrading the home. As well, our volunteer work at the Rockfish Community Center together with quality time spent at the local farmers’ market and the well attended monthly Rockfish Community Pancake Breakfast afforded insights into local life about which we would otherwise have been ignorant. While being a skilled plumber, electrician, tree surgeon, well driller, etc. locals would simultaneously be raising and butchering livestock, running a saw mill or farming a plot. One heavy equipment operator shared with us the sausage that he produced on the side from his own pigs. Delicious!

A great Farmers Market

 

Pancake Breakfast with Elaine serving

While local folk seemed friendly by nature, we found most socializing limited to family and friend-based home activities. For me that explained why few local venues existed for evening entertainment gatherings. One friend, Wild Man Dan, owned a B&B&B. Yes, Dan offered a unique Bed and Breakfast and Brewery experience. A skilled brew master, beer judge and host, Wild Man Dan said that for most businesses targeted to entertainment and socializing the locals did not represent a large part of the business. Dan said, “Local folks pretty much socialize within their circle of family and friends.” Considering the tight social circles and a population of 14,700 in a 472 square mile foot print, the county did not provide a significant home market from which socializing venues could draw. This brings us to our decision to leave.

At the outset of this story I used the phrase immersion into the beauty of the Blue Ridge. Another way of saying that might be drowning in a sea of trees. Located at the dead end of a half mile dirt road, the only traffic past the house consisted of the postman’s jeep, period. One can use words like, sanctuary, retreat, hideaway and, yes, I know it did wonders for Buddha. Buddha, however, did not have to spend all his time rebuilding the banyan tree.

Burn pile seen from space

We committed to making the house the best it could be. That said to do so proved to demand our constant undivided attention. Built into a granite hillside that had been blasted out to make room for the house, the property had more connecting decks than a cruise ship. It had a separate two-story carriage house with an upstairs apartment also set into the granite hillside. Together everything took on the character of the world’s largest tree house. In so doing, its intentional integration into the surrounding environment appeared to pose a blunt challenge to Mother nature to reclaim what once had been hers alone.

Nature proved to be a possessive lover determined to prevail at every turn. We fought back. We rebuilt. We replaced. We trenched. We sanded. We stained. We repainted. We rewired. We built and burned mountainous brush piles that could be seen from space. We never stopped. Elaine is a talented interior designer with a great eye for what works. I am an engineer that needs things to work properly. With this 16-acre piece of paradise in Mother Natures backyard, we had found ourselves in a sadomasochistic home owning relationship with Mother Nature and Mother nature held the whip. Tree debris fell everywhere. I carried a chainsaw like a six gun. It seemed we only left the house for trips to the hardware store. Then an innocent comment by one of our friends drive this point home like a mule kick.

Local tradesmen Dave McGann and son Willard became good friends

In casual conversation, our friend Willard, while enumerating some of the many local natural wonders that should be seen, quizzed us as to which we had visited during our time there. The bright light of realization authored our pained response, “Few if any.” We had been buried alive in a forested work camp. Basically we had been starring in “Cool Hand Luke” surrounded by a seductive beautiful forest rather than a cruel prison camp. Clearly we had bitten off more than we could comfortably chew and found ourselves choking on it. At a time in life when we should have been stopping to smell the roses, we had unwittingly taken on maintaining a sprawling rose nursery. Thanks to our friend, his observation cured a failure to communicate. We got the message.

Frankly, personal isolation loomed as a problem as well. Elaine and I brought no family with us. Back home our dear friends were our family. However, the family-centered nature of life in Nelson County severely disrupted out social dynamics comfort level. In modern life having no neighbors is a blessing except when it is not. When new to an area, building true friendships takes time and proximity. We had no neighbors in sight of our home. Such seclusion presents no challenge when nearby places to socialize exist. However in our neighborhood, good luck going out to dinner after 6:30 pm. You would find the food truck closed.

Dining at the Wood Ridge Farm Brewery food truck

Two of the three main restaurants in the local very quiet county seat just closed. A formal night out (Translation: maybe a collared shirt) meant a trip over the mountain at Rockfish Gap to Waynesboro. I do not mean to imply that no places are open. Wineries are aplenty. Unfortunately, local laws mandate that they must close by 5:00 pm. However, even when open, few offer food other than snacks. A plenitude of cideries and breweries exist. However, if your tastes do not run to hard cider or beer you feel like a martini glass in a longneck world.

In an experience worthy of a Seinfeld episode, a recent New Year’s Eve delivered the knockout punch to any dreams we had of local opportunities to expand our social circle. In Early December, notices appeared announcing a local New Year’s Eve bash at a venue in the county seat. Excellent! Even better, it would be a roaring ‘20s themed costume affair. Game on! All in, we drove to a renowned vintage clothing store in Richmond. Elaine scored with a glorious perpetual motion flapper dress and accessories. I got what I needed. I just wanted to be period correct because no one would be looking at me anyway.

Elaine, ready for a Roarin’ 20s New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve arrived. We decided that entering at 10:00 pm would allow for a crowd to have gathered affording us the opportunity to blend into the ongoing festivities. We had correctly assumed that the crowd would have assembled by then and they had. All twelve of them. None in period costume. All smiling and friendly people but barely enough to field a softball team much less reach critical mass to ignite a rocking New Year’s Eve bash. Then with a wincing realization we suddenly felt like we had just joined the exclusive gathering of the only other people in Nelson County who lacked a family event to attend.

With no close neighbors and only a few friendships having been established, the absence of a community of friends offering meaningful social contact proved troubling. Strong family ties grew deep and strong in the area and shaped the nature of social interaction. Possessing no local history or family left our fledgling societal roots stunted.

We found so much to like in the verdant hillsides and good people of the family friendly Blue Ridge foothills. We simply had not planned for too much of the former and too little of the latter. The combined effect of choking on forest and starving for social contact put us in a U-Haul kicking up dust and heading out that dead end dirt road. For good? Can’t say. At least for now.

By |2024-05-19T14:10:19+00:00May 18th, 2024|0 Comments

Roads We Remember #10

With interstates fading in the rear view mirror and blue highways taking their place, complex pinks and oranges paint the sky as the sinking sun of the fading afternoon ushers my driving day to a close. As I descend from Virginia’s Skyline Drive, my journey comes to rest in the bucolic embrace of Nelson County, Virginia. Tomorrow promises to be sunny and unseasonably warm as I seek a taste of the car culture of the Shenandoah Valley.

 

Taking the Skyline Drive to explore the dusty attic of Virginia car culture

Exiting at the southern end of  Virginia’s Skyline Drive and proceeding down the east face of the Blue Ridge Mountains introduces a beautiful tangle of serpentine two-lanes, some paved, some gravel. Welcome to Nelson County.

Delivering a delightful shock to a bored suburban driver’s system, Nelson County possesses a wealth of wonderful roads and a dearth of stop lights. The whole of Nelson County contains exactly one (yes, 1) traffic light.

For those of us whose daily driving environment consists of thoroughfares that, for the most part, resemble a transposed graph paper grid, which is what they basically are, the whole of this region of Virginia pretty much presents itself as a Disney World for people who fantasize about driving on one grand “Tail of the dragon.” Great roads with character and curves, old barns, abandoned buildings, and, it is said, lots of nice stuff tucked away and cared for.

Recreation and agriculture in the form of logging and vineyards dominate the area. No belching factories here. Rich in history as well, historically significant Civil War sites populate the area as does the shadow of Thomas Jefferson with Monticello and the University of Virginia in close proximity.

Virginia’s Skyline Drive

For enjoying Skyline Drive, summer with its lush foliage and autumn with its spectacular colors seems the no-brainer choice for a visit. That said, should one chose to tour in winter, the roads unless closed because of snow, offer a sparse beauty unavailable in other seasons. With trees free of leaves and roads free of tourists, stunning vistas otherwise hidden in high season exist aplenty. Gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains Virginia’s Skyline Drive offers a very tasty driving appetizer to enjoy prior to the Blue Ridge Parkway entre.

Wherever you drive on these narrow mostly shoulderless country roads, folks outside their homes that dot a terrain defined by fields and forest wave and, unlike my home state, New Jersey, they wave with all the fingers on one hand. Indeed, the locals exhibit a down-home country openness that causes one to pause and wish it caught on elsewhere.

If one chooses to start the day with no itinerary, an eager curiosity and a full tank of gas or electrons, discoveries await for those in no rush to find them. On this day the blue highways did not disappoint.

While enjoying an easy cruise through a forested stretch, an opening within the trees revealed an abandoned service station. Exploring behind the “high security” torn and flapping tarp where a bay door once existed revealed a passage way to two more bays. Despite the stacked mounds of tires it did not take long to identify a heavily dust covered 60s Camaro. Old plates showed it to have been in residence for quite a while.

At a quiet intersection a rusted and dilapidated 1957 Chevy Bel Air sat askew and forlorn. Not a part remained that could be used. But there it rested, too worthless to save to precious to junk. Dust to dust.

To the side of a dirt farm road, a long forgotten early 1950s Plymouth Savoy clearly fared the worst in a face off with a falling tree. A sunny field on Rt. 151 appeared to be where, years back, 1952 two-door Fords went to die.

Earlier in the morning a glance to the right revealed an expansive meadow where an agrarian windmill towered over the rusted remains of a trio of hulks from the 1930’s and 40s. For the uninitiated, one or two of the carcasses could spark the tinder of restoration dreams. For those possessing restoration history and the skinned knuckles to prove it, wisdom would counsel to keep on driving.

However, simply looking would not satisfy the hunger for a backstory. Further investigation demanded turning onto the gravel driveway that lead to a sturdy fieldstone structure surrounded by an eclectic array of once useful items sadly past their “use by” date.

Plymouth Savoy

Gravel crackling beneath the tires drew into view from behind the open back hatch of a 2002 Ford Explorer the man who called this home. Sporting a badly weathered narrow brim cowboy hat, with a lined face worthy of a Dorothea Lange portrait and the animated presence of comedian Professor Irwin Corey, 62-year old David Matheny could not have been more welcoming. Approaching, he offered an easy grin accompanied by a firm and honest handshake.

Resident of this verdant valley his whole life, David spoke with an energetic ease about himself, friends, family and cars. When asked if those rusted hulks belonged to him he responded, “They are for sale.”

Learning that the interested expressed focused on their value as for a story, he asked, “If you are interested in cars want to see some more?” Absolutely shot back the reply.

1939 International Panel truck

Directing me inside the stone structure, he opened a door to a garage containing a very clean burgundy 1940 Ford coupe and a 1939 International panel truck in primer that had been a hearse for a local church years back. Having found common ground and

a ready listener, David held forth on stories including a family classic involving a 1931 model roadster that his father had raced over sixty years ago. It remained in the family and presently resided at his nephew’s speed shop undergoing a restoration. Time sped on and David had people to meet. The sound of gravel crunching under departing tires marked the end of a wonderful history lesson.

For some it can be disquieting to have the rapid passage of time abruptly brought to one’s attention e.g. discovering that a car you personally drove when new now merits being judged at Hershey by the AACA. Much the same can be said for forty and fifty-year old future collectibles spotted in fields and under canopies. They too can be found moldering in the verdant hills of Virginia. Interestingly, they now include a distinctively foreign flavor.

While making a steep climb in Nelson County a causal glance down to the valley below revealed a field with a decidedly European flair.  Exposed to the elements, a Type 1 VW pick-up and two faux Porsche 914s slowly oxidized. Apparently left for dead, the VW pickup generated an especially strong lingering desire to find some way down that steeped ravine.

Meandering vigilantly, can enrich a blue highway experience that others, not predisposed to savor, might blow by like a subway between stops. That said, all worthy discoveries are not the exclusive province of interesting vehicles alone. People and places greatly enrich the blue highway experience.

Cruising along through the town of Schuyler brought a Model T pickup into view and with it the home of author Earl Hamner. Strike a bell? He wrote Spencer’s Mountain which television turned into “The Waltons.” Next door to Hamner’s home and across the street from the Walton’s museum could be found a handsome Bed & Breakfast displaying a period correct 1931 Model.

Conversations with local folks always explores the names of knowledgeable car enthusiasts with whom to speak. One name, Dick Carroll, came up with regularity. Reaching out resulted in a meeting with Dick and his friend Don Vey, both retired. Dick and Don possess a real fascination for special interest automobiles. A number of years back Don pursued his passion by diving head first into full restorations.

1949 Baby Lincoln Coupe Restomod

He first focused on a  1938 Buick and subsequently moved on to 1949 Baby Lincolns which came in three models, 2 Door Coupe, 4-Door Sedan and Convertible. He has one of each. He intends to recreate each as a pristine restomod. The Coupe has been completed. Built from 1949 to 1951, Baby Lincolns shared their basic body style with the Mercury of that period. What made it a Lincoln came from the firewall forward. Dick’s plan for putting his stamp on the baby Lincolns calls for a high performance power train. All three will have Corvette LS motors.

Beyond his own cars Dick has a grander vision. He appreciates not only his vehicles but those of a wealth of classic car enthusiasts in the surrounding area. To celebrate those like-minded individuals he hosts a car show on his property that looks like a mini-Amelia Island. This will be his seventh show. Covid cancelled last year.

Car Show at Dick Carroll’s

Don Vey enjoys a vintage car history starting in the early fifties. Over the years he has owned and restore a wide array of classic cars starting with a 1957 Corvette he bought in 1959. While his years of restoring and collecting have been a source of joy, they have taken a toll as well. Working with toxic paints has left him at the age of 82 dependent on a portable oxygen supply. While this may have diminished his ability to work on cars he loves, it has had no effect on the joy he derives from driving them. He came to the meeting driving a Zeus Bronze Metallic C8 Corvette. Pushing 495 horsepower with the Z51 performance package it does 0 – 60 mph in under 3.0 seconds. “God I love great cars,” Don says.

Sitting in at the Side Bar

After the last day of exploration, I looked for a local watering hole to toast the good fortune of my experiences. Passing through Lovingston, Virginia, I found a pub called the Side Bar that on this evening invited local musicians for an Open Mic Night. Another great surprise. The musicianship on display excelled. These guys could play, mostly country. Then they moved on to the blues. I always bring my harps to relax on blue highway adventures. No harp players had come to back these guys up. The energy felt so right, I asked to sit in. They welcomed me.

Apparently, at least at the Side Bar, there are no strangers in Lovingston, only friends you had not yet met.

 

 

By |2022-03-03T13:38:29+00:00March 3rd, 2022|2 Comments

Roads We Remember #9

 “Road Trip!” when spoken like a call to arms, sets the heart a flutter. The mind races with thoughts of new horizons, awaiting adventures and the freedom of the open road. Yes, all true… however. And there always seems to be a “however.” In the case of road trips, the “however,” takes shape courtesy of the  seemingly endless miles of endless miles to be covered on the way to the new horizon, miles devoid of any type of adventure or, if left unaddressed, any mental stimulation at all as a driver teeters on the threshold of white line hypnosis.

Such sleep provoking and mind numbing monotony has served as the desperate progenitor of games, distractions and challenges designed to spare drivers of the narcoleptic terror born of endless corn fields, soulless interstates, pitch black back roads illuminated only by the eye fatiguing glare of oncoming high beams and the kind of dull roads ideal for filming commercials for hands free driving features.

Now adding to the long list of keep awake tricks comes Elon Musk’s latest Tesla accessory, the TeslaMic car karaoke microphone set.

Karaoke, Elon Musk’s new weapon to fight driving doldrums.

 

Last Friday Tesla released its new TeslaMic. Wildly popular, it sold out in less than an hour in China, the only market where the product is presently available. Offered as a set of wireless microphones, TeslaMic basically turns the car into a personal karaoke booth. Designed to function only when the car is stopped, the microphones pair with newly released Tesla in-car karaoke software that includes audio tracks and videos.

Last year, an estimated 500 million people used online karaoke services in China. Prior to Covid, individualized karaoke booths rapidly sprang up like proverbial mushrooms throughout malls, airports and other public places across China. Now, the top Musketeer with his TeslaMic looks to tap into the immense popularity of these individual karaoke booths. Using technology that transforms the Tesla owner’s car into a private karaoke booth, it allows one or two people to sing their hearts out without being heard by anyone else. It seems only a matter of time before the market savvy Musk adapts the TeslaMic as a shower accessory.

Made even more attractive considering Corona virus fears, the ability to transform an owner’s Tesla into a personal karaoke booth offers great appeal. Representative of the typical car karaoke aficionado in China, one man quoted in the press said, “It’s quite a way to alleviate boredom during a trip.”

Not surprisingly, karaoke booths can now be seen in America popping up in public places such as Mall of America and being available to rent for wedding receptions, bar/bat mitzvahs, corporate events and birthday parties. Clearly the Chinese karaoke booth concept has infected our culture with a strong likelihood of rapidly spreading. Why does that have a familiar ring to it? Anyway…

In this age of high tech hacking where some bright lad can remotely disable an automobile’s braking technology or a bank’s security system does it seem beyond belief that another bright lad could bypass the “only operates when stationary” function?

Now, instead of merely clapping hands, which are rapidly being reduced to vestigial appendages by our Tesla’s hands free self driving features, drivers can attend to the dashboard display as it guides them through a spirited personal interpretation of Jan and Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve” or Pearl Jam’s cover of “Last Kiss.”

Call me old school but 20th century remedies for drowsy driving displayed a great deal more character, individual inventiveness and personal involvement.

Cranking up Cousin Brucie and rolling down the windows, time honored efforts to keep 20th century minds alert have evolved over the ensuing years. As we progressed into the 21st century the radio as entertainment and distraction experienced a reconfiguring and to a significant degree a supplanting by digital technology. Interestingly, the point of the digital spear, the cellular phone offered both greater connectivity and greater distraction. Today, some say driving while texting or speaking on a cell phone has produced more fatalities that driving under the influence of alcohol.

With the expansion of platforms born of digital technology and the power to personalize content choice the technological beat goes no yet it cannot supplant the priceless value of a trusted driving companion willing even eager to compete, collaborate or confound all in the name of staying alert. Old school solutions existed aplenty.

While driving

Warplane – (Can be played by one or more) Best played by those with a theatrical bent, Warplane requires creative skills and relaxed neck muscles. Equally applicable for bomber or fighter scenarios, Warplane requires the driver to roll his head to the left as if looking out the side of a warplane’s canopy. Then to create a story line calls out what he or she makes believe has been observed. For example “We are passing over the enemy power plant. Yes, there it is. The dam is directly ahead. The flack will be heavy. Bouncing these bombs across the water is the only way we can destroy this dam.” The extent of the dramatic scenario with all occupants contributing can be a function of the time required to revive the driver.

Rhyme – One person picks a word and everyone has to go around saying a word that rhymes with it. The first person to be stumped or to repeat a word loses.

The Movie Game. One person says the name of an actor and the next person must name a movie that actor has been in. The next player must name another actor who starred in that same movie. The next player must say another movie that actor was in, and so on.

Name the artist – With any music source that does not display the artist, when a new song comes on the first person to name the artist or group performing it wins.

Alphabet I.D. – Starting with the letter “A” the first person to see the letter as the first letter on a sign, vehicle or building. Go up through the alphabet. The person with t he most correct answers wins.

21 question naked challenge – A high stakes, bare knuckles and more, nuclear option for staying alert, it is only for those possessing a hardy spirit of adventure accompanied by a significant other cut of the same cloth. After a coin flip the winner thinks of something or someone. The other person then has 21 questions to identify the person or thing. The first question is often “is it a person, place or thing?” If the person exhausts their 21 questions without a correct answer they must remove one piece of clothing. This can require pulling over to a stop. First person naked loses. Dark roads and desolate highways in the southwest usually have preference over the West Side Highway and toll roads.

When stopped

It is recognized that regardless of the century, the greatest response when one feels sleep overtaking consciousness will always be to pull over.

Physical activity – Exiting the comfort of the vehicle in itself can revitalize a driver. Combined with physical activity such as jumping jacks, running in place and pushups against the front fender further reenergizes the mind and body.

As an activity when pulling over, Musk’s TeslaMic in its intended use does promotes mental and physical stimulation that can benefit a drowsy driver. But it is not the only one. A losing streak in 21 questions can do the same.

 

By |2022-02-03T12:44:09+00:00February 3rd, 2022|Comments Off on Roads We Remember #9

Roads We Remember #8

After our initial stop in Nelson County Virginia, Elaine and I remain undecided about the next step in our extended south bound four-wheel winter walkabout. Will it be east to the Outer Banks or west across the Blue Ridge Mountains?

Regardless, events of January 4th in the Mid-Atlantic States reminded us of a harsh reality. WINTER CAN BE DANGEROUS! This realization came courtesy of a surprise winter storm that had frozen traffic cold, literally, for 50 miles on Route 95 in Virginia. It stranded unprepared drivers in snowbound vehicles for over 24-hours. In subsequent days new ice and snow storms as far south as the Carolinas made it clear that it did not stretch credulity that a February jaunt along the Blue Ridge Parkway or across the Carolina Piedmont could be interrupted by a powerful and unanticipated paralyzing storm. We would take the threat seriously and plan accordingly.

Tips on planning for the unexpected when winter turns ugly.

 

When blue highways turn white

The New York Times featured interviews with motorists that pretty much reflected the norm for unprepared travelers trapped and immobilized over night in the frigid grip of an unexpectedly severe winter storm. “It’s been so horrible,” said Arlin Tellez, 22 in an interview on Tuesday morning from her car stuck about 80 miles south of Washington, D.C.  Ms. Tellez explained to the New York Times that she had been trapped in her car since 5 p.m. Monday without any food or water, and was layering on clothes she had in the car.

Unlike Ms. Tellez, Elaine and I intend to be prepared. While we envision our trip as a party, we do not have in mind the Donner Party. As such I have assembled the Drivin’ News Winter Wander-land Preparedness Guide.

Some items for a winter survival kit are self evident, others not so much. Special emphasis will be given for considerations that may not be common knowledge. A list of all unmentioned items comprising a winter driving survival kit will be completed at the article’s conclusion.

 

Non-traditional winter kit items

Coffee can space heater

It is cheap and it works. It basically requires four items, an empty, clean metal (it must be metal) coffee can, candles (metal cup tea light candles are cheap and work well), matches (waterproof or wooden stick matches are easier for cold, stiff fingers to use than a match book) and a heat resistant plate.

Position the can on a flat, stable, level, fire-resistant base. Place three or four tea candles in the bottom of the can. Once lit, the tea candles will burn for up to four hours.

If alone or with one other occupant in an SUV or large sedan consider reducing the space needed to be heated by duct taping a  blanket from the headliner to the back of the front seat.

Non-lumping cat litter (5 lbs.) or carpet strips

Both provide improved traction when placed in the path of the drive wheels.

Whistle

In a blinding storm a strong whistle (120 dB and up) can alert help to your location.

Whiskey stones (Cubes of solid soapstone that when refrigerated will chill your bourbon without diluting it offer a great advantage for preventing water from freezing.)

Adding un-chilled whiskey stones to your water will help to keep it unfrozen, particularly in sub-zero temperatures. Other options include floating a ping-pong ball, a citrus peel, or another floating object that will keep the surface of your water from freezing completely over.

Bivy (Bivouac sack)

Inexpensive and rugged. Bivies pack very small, can weigh under 6 ounces and can be used as a survival blanket or sleeping bag. On the inside it has a reflective polyester coating, which can efficiently reflect up 90% of your body heat to help keep you warm even in the worst of conditions.

Cell phone walkie talkie app

Cell phone walkie talkie apps can provide the capability to turns your phone into a walkie talkie during any disaster and can help speed up rescue efforts once the storm has passed. Examples of apps: Zello, Two Way: Walkie Talkie

Newspaper

Provides great insulation when placed between skin and clothing

Crank, battery, outlet, solar power radio

Compact sized units provide AM/FM and weather bands. It includes cell phone charging jack. Contains emergency light.

LED headlight

Small high intensity light that straps around the head frees hands while providing powerful illumination.

 

When stranded snowbound or in blizzard conditions your safety, even your life may hinge not only on what you do but what you choose not to do.

Recommended DON’Ts

Do not panic.

Take a breath. You will think more clearly. Assess your situation. If you are within 75 to 100 yards of an occupied structure consider bundling up and making the trip. If not, set up camp in your vehicle. Hopefully after reading this article you will have some supplies on hand.

Three reasons to not drink alcoholic beverages

Danger #1  -Alcohol is a vasodilator.

Alcohol causes the blood vessels just below the skin’s surface to expand. This creates a false sensation of warmth while actually stealing heat from the vital organs and decreasing overall core temperature. Thus, alcohol overrides the body’s defenses against cold temperatures which is to constrict your blood vessels in order to keep your core body temperature up.

Danger #2 – Alcohol is a diuretic.

Alcohol causes you to urinate more. This speeds up dehydration and removes heat from your body.

Danger #3 – Alcohol impedes decision making abilities

Alcohol reduces the ability to make reasoned decisions. A bad decision in a life threatening situation is just that, life threatening.

Don’t drink coffee, tea or other beverages with caffeine

Coffee with caffeine may be hot but caffeine like alcohol is a diuretic. You will need to urinate more, thus, unnecessarily losing heat from the body.

Don’t go to sleep with the car running

A stranded car should never be left running for more than 10 minutes every hour. If no one is awake in a running car it can easily become a death chamber. Carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless, and deadly gas produced by the engine can build up quickly inside a vehicle, poisoning anyone inside.

Recommended DOs

Stay with the vehicle. Yes, I know about Sir Ernest Shackleton and his Antarctic heroism. Few of us are Ernest Shackleton and in this day and age no reason exists for any of us to aspire through heroic efforts to prove we are.

Unless a home or building stands close and clearly reachable, stay put. The car provides shelter and protection. It is far more visible to searchers and by your having read this article it should contain supplies to help you survive until help arrives.

Clear exhaust pipe of snow

A blocked tail pipe can result in carbon monoxide entering the stranded vehicle.

Move supplies from trunk to car

As soon as you realize your situation, set up camp. Transfer all necessary supplies to where they will be easily accessible and not require going outside.

Colorful cloth on antennae

Tying a brightly colored cloth to an antennae or roof rack enhances the visibility of the vehicle.

Crack window

Leaving the two windows open slightly will assure ventilation and a supply of fresh air

Run engine a maximum of 10-minutes per hour

Run the engine sparingly to preserve fuel while generating and conserving heat.

Keep feet off floor or put paper or cloth down for insulation

Put paper or blankets on the vehicle floor or keep feet off the floor to protect loss of heat through feet.

Put on extra clothing right away

If you see that you are stranded, layer on all the clothes you have right away. Do not wait. Staying warm is much easier than getting warm.

Loosen tight clothing

Once fully dressed, loosen clothing tight to the skin. Loose cloths retain more body heat.

Remove metal jewelry

Metal jewelry can chill quickly and leach heat from your body.

Eat a snack of high calorie food before sleeping

Consuming a snack of high calorie food before sleeping will stimulate your metabolism and increase your heat production.

Tether yourself to car if you must go out

If you must leave the vehicle in a blinding snow storm tie yourself to the car with parachute cord (Paracord) or nylon rope so that you can find your way back to the vehicle.

Drink plenty of fluids

It is just as easy to become dehydrated on a cold day in winter as a warm day in summer. Dehydration makes a person more susceptible to the potential health hazards of cold weather.

Winter emergency kit content list (additional items)

Blankets

Plug in and solar cell phone charger

Chemical hand and foot warmers

Compass

First aid kit

Fresh batteries

Gloves

High energy food (Long shelf life)

Jumper cables

LED flashlight

Paper maps

Pen & Paper

Reflective triangle

Six-pack 30-minute road flares

Snow brush/ scraper

Shovel

Toilet paper

Tool kit w/Leatherman

trash bags (Large)

Warm clothes

By |2022-02-03T12:43:12+00:00January 20th, 2022|4 Comments

Roads We Remember #7

I always possessed a bit of envy for people who had a passion since childhood that swept them into the future much like a strong wave powers a surfer towards the beach. Marv Albert always wanted to be a sportscaster. Since childhood, Neil Armstrong looked to the heavens for his future. Diving before he was a teenager, Jacques Cousteau yearned to explore the ocean’s depths. For me, no powerful plan or compelling dream drove me towards a future already being shaped in my fertile imagination. At best I relied on a process. If an idea seemed to make sense and connected enough dots, I yielded to its influence and allowed it to carry me for a time until its force dissipated. Each force urging my life into the future, rather than a powerful wave, was more like an available current that helped me drift towards a better tomorrow.

Over the years as my process matured it gave birth to a simple self test when faced with dots in need of connection. I would ask myself, “if not this, what? If not now, when?”

With the arrival of 2022, I find myself facing a constellation of dots seeking order.

Blue highways, back roads – If not now, when?

Materially I have what I need in life. Some have more. Some have less. I am blessed. What I fear lurks in the rear hall of my consciousness. Its form takes shape as a lazy sameness where my soul succumbs to the dulling inertia of mind numbing predictability. No way! Figuratively and literally connecting the dots for 2022 will begin by taking Drivin’ News on the road.

As the new year dawns, my life partner and co-conspirator Elaine and I find ourselves blessed with good health and a clear schedule. I have come to fully appreciate that my friends are my family. I derive great joy from the community that has grown around the “Collectible automobiles as a passion” class that I team teach with Bob Austin and Fred Hammond. More than anything else I hunger to keep these relationships and activities fresh and populated with the uplifting and unexpected. Over the years Elaine and I have found some of our most meaningful experiences take place as happenstance encounters along “blue highways.” For those unfamiliar with the term, “blue highways,” it represents the spider web of two-lane back roads that serve the expansive countryside bypassed by major high speed interstate traffic arteries. Unlike the hypnotically dull interstates that made blue highways obsolete for high speed transit, blue highways, with the power of an evocative piece of slower paced music, re-calibrate a driver’s mood and expectations to a rhythm more in sync with the life, energy and surroundings to which this serpentine ribbon of black top belongs. Time spent attending to the dips and curves of blue highways actually engages a driver with real life experience rather than blowing though a countryside like the blur between subway stops.

Elaine and I have come to be forever bettered when time allows us to avoid interstates by stitching together a journey on blue highways. No interstate leads to a weathered country store that stands strong, proud and alone while projecting a gritty confidence that it belongs to be exactly where it is. Such structures remind me of a bricks and mortar version of a role mastered by an aged Clint Eastwood.

Often encountering a proprietor worthy of a Norman Rockwell illustration, my first question pretty much cuts to the chase, “What’s your story? I’ll ask. If not a general store, then a gas station with a rust trimmed Dad’s Root Beer sign or a hillside of sixty and seventy-year old Cadillacs with trees the size of schooner masts sprouting from hoodless engine bays. Regardless, there always seems to await a story ready to be shared.

Drawn by the magnetism of the rough hewn authenticity of the man or woman who calls our roadside discovery his or hers, Elaine and I with palpably honest fascination tease out personal histories. Often little known tales enrich references and characters that larger histories have already introduced. The tellers at their best weave color, character and detail into the fabric of what should be proudly celebrated as true Americana.

A late 1940’s pickup truck caught my attention while heading north towards Panguitch, Utah. Panguitch is a native American word for “big fish.” Despite my best fishing efforts, I had to take their word for it. He stood in the foreground of a vast field of deteriorating Detroit iron. As I walked up, he had his attention focused on a 1963 409 Chevy that he later informed me that he had once owned in high school. On the downhill side of 60 he claimed to be Jeremiah Johnson’s fourth great grandson. With a countenance worthy of a Dorothea Lange portrait, his sun bleached saddle leather skin framed a large and proud smile. Shy, yet deliberate in manner and presentation, he wove a great story of his life and the lives of family members that came before him.

At a farm stand off the Blue Ridge Parkway, we met Bill. Genial and engaging, after introducing himself, he whisked Elaine out onto the dance floor. A terrific band of mountain musicians had just fired up their instruments and before my eyes transformed a roomful of people pleasantly chatting into a gyrating bluegrass flash mob.

Later, with band members now packing up their instruments, Bill explained how he had spent many years as a NASA engineer working on projects of some renown including Apollo 11 and a system that would later become known as GPS (Yes, that Global Positioning System). Once retired he, together with his sister, decided to buy an orchard near the Blue Ridge Parkway, make it a not-for-profit 501c3, and use it to preserve and promote the culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Bill explained how each year spring through fall the Historic Orchard at Alta Pass put on over 160 shows. Bill just smiled as the crowd that had packed the old red farm stand/dance hall filed out, many carrying with them fresh baked goods and all holding happy memories.

Blue highways are rich with delightful people possessing great stories that eagerly await discovery like diamonds in a DeBeers mine.

Interestingly sometimes a blue highway leads to a treasure trove of profoundly moving stories with the strength to stand on their own without benefit of a storyteller. Atop a sand dune poking above a sea of beach grass at the end of a two lane that terminates on a North Carolina island stands a mailbox. Written on its supporting post are the words “THE NOTEBOOK.”

Opening the mailbox reveals a stack of neat note books where people have left their stories to be shared with strangers. On these pages raw, honest, heartfelt feelings find a home. Page after hand written page reveals the depth of human emotion in stories of love lost and found, of children who passed far too young, of friends never forgotten, of joy found, of faith renewed.

Possibly the isolation and anonymity of “THE NOTEBOOK” empowers its story telling ability. Left behind by tellers who have been swept on to the future by the tide of life, each story possesses the strength to stand on its own.

I remember from geography class in grammar school (yes I know there are no more geography classes and, yes, that makes me crazy too. But I digress.) I learned that each year the Nile River would overflow its banks. In so doing it replenished the fertility of the soil and promoted a cycle of renewed vitality. And so I now seek the same for myself.

Elaine and I intend to pack light and hit the road. With faith in serendipity and happenstance, we will set out with the goal of missing every mile of interstate possible in an effort to flood our banks.

I hope you will find the time to join us as I take Drivin’ News on the road.

By |2022-01-21T21:39:06+00:00January 6th, 2022|13 Comments

Roads We Remember #6

Recently a scary event with my 1961 Corvette reminded me why some companies remain in business for decades while others do not.
So, a shout out to Hackensack Auto Spring & Wheel Alignment in Hackensack, NJ. Owned and operated since 1964 by three generations of the Zillitto family starting with founder grandfather Joe, then son Frank and now grandson Bryan, all have been called upon to service my Corvette going back to 1968.
Recently it was time for front end work. Victoria at Hackensack Spring answered my call for an appointment. I mentioned that I had always respected the work of Jimmy but that was decades ago. She responded, “Oh, Jimmy is still here.” Jimmy first worked on my Corvette in the 1970s. We booked it.
I arrive. Door rolls up. Grandson Bryan welcomes me as I pull in. I roll to a stop. Bryan looks at my car and yells, “Holy S*%t!” A puddle of gas is building under the front of my Corvette. We lift the hood to reveal gas pouring out from below the bowl of the front Carter WCFB like a high octane Mr. Coffee. Luckily puddling gas had not reached the hot exhaust manifold.
All owner Bryan said was, “Do you want to call AAA.” I told him I felt I couldn’t be in a better place than right where I was if it was okay with him. While his business focuses on suspension, Bryan made fire extinguishers available and without hesitation told his guys to take a look. Dave, a technician with extensive small block experience, pulled the front carburetor after draining the bowl. He found that a press fit rivet that sealed access to the bowl had popped out. Amazingly lucky for me, the rivet had remained on the top of the intake manifold where it had landed. Dave returned the sealing rivet to its rightful place. My Corvette would make it home where both carburetors would be removed and rebuilt.
Everyone had remained calm, professional and focused on the unexpected job at hand. Everyone accepted my problem as their problem. Disaster was averted for which I thank Hackensack Auto Spring.
…And speaking of Thanksgiving, it appears that for 2020 finding alternatives to large gatherings tops the menu.
A drive on New York Route 9D through the historic Hudson Valley offers a worthy consideration.

NY Route 9D – A sure cure for Covid boredom

 

Anthony’s Nose

Prefaced by either a great warm-up cruise north on the Palisades Interstate Parkway or a meandering journey through Harriman State Forest, NY Route 9D launches into deep woodlands at “Anthony’s Nose,” the peak at the eastern foot of the Bear Mountain Bridge. Exactly the identity of “Anthony” and why his nose has been so honored since the 1690s has been lost to history.

A well paved two-lane, Route 9D provides a willing accomplice to whatever manner of driving pleasure you desire. It explores the highlands above the Hudson River while elsewhere it dips down to hug the eastern shore of the River.

Leaving behind the thickly wooded lands of Camp Smith military base at its origin, 9D rides a wave of rolling countryside featuring a decidedly rural character where structures of both historic and contemporary lineage coexist and dot the landscape. Offering over 25 miles of history, hiking, hangouts and tons of Hudson Valley culture, 9D delivers a memorable alternative should Grandma and her turkey be subject to a lockdown.

Taking a brief diversion from 9D by way of a winding road descending to the Hudson River delivers you to Phillipstown. Bearing a sense of time-gone-by, Phillipstown retains its historic character, though now transformed, with century old buildings housing galleries and the old train station a performing arts center. Looking east across from Phillipstown, the sprawling campus of West Point dominates the bank of the western shore. Returning to 9D, the road crosses another link to the past though this one remains unchanged. It is the Appalachian Trail.

Upon entering the village of Garrison, a glance up and to the right captures a sight reminiscent of the German countryside where castles built on the high ground peer down upon the surrounding fields and villages. High above Garrison the iconic gilded age mansion, Castle Rock, sits like a monarch on a throne majestically perched above the Hudson Valley and Route 9D.

Built in 1881 as a summer home for Railroad Magnate William H. Osborne, the 10,500 sq. ft. mansion resides 620 feet above the Hudson River. It is said to have served as an inspiration for the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz.

Castle Rock overlooking Hudson Valley

Today, most of the surrounding acreage whether through donation or purchase now belongs to the State of New York. A public hiking trail of roughly a mile will bring you onto the grounds of Castle Rock which remains privately owned. For a look inside the castle you can contact a local realtor as it has recently been listed for sale. Warning, it qualifies as a fixer upper.

1961 and 2019 Corvettes at Cold Spring Plaza

Continuing along 9D and about midway through the drive brings you to the village of Cold Spring. A vintage gem on the Hudson River it features small specialty shops, quaint eateries, a marina and a handsome waterfront plaza overlooking the Hudson.

While hiking trailheads abound along 9D, none possess a more foreboding and accurate name than Breakneck Ridge. As noted in the trail guide, “Generally considered to be the most strenuous hike in the East Hudson Highlands. It involves steep climbs over rock ledges that can be very slippery. Do not attempt in wet weather.”

After passing through the Breakneck Ridge Tunnel comes the only sketchy part of the drive. In this stretch be alert, danger lurks even if you are not hiking, especially on weekends. Wandering people and poorly parked cars seemingly with no particular place to go make 9D look like the escape route on one of those impending apocalypse movies.

Bannerman Castle

Not satisfied to offer one castle, 9D offers two. Filling tiny six-acre Pollepel island located a few hundred yards off the eastern shore of the Hudson River resides Bannerman Castle.

Francis Bannerman began a military surplus business after the Civil War. By the end of the 19th century no one in the world bought more military surplus. Having purchased most of the arms captured in the Spanish American War he had a huge facility in downtown Manhattan. City fathers rankled at the thought of a massive warehouse chock full of gun powder in the city center. They strongly urged Bannerman to relocate. In 1900 he bought Pollepel Island and began construction of his castle. Just as it neared completion in 1918, Bannerman died. In 1920 the powder house with 200 tons of powder and shells blew up taking a good portion of the castle with it. The subsequent decades witnessed a steady deterioration until the 1990s when a fundraising effort stemmed the decline.

Beacon, NY

With Bannerman’s Castle ruins in the rearview mirror, the bustling town of Beacon approaches. An energized metropolitan flavored upstate village, Beacon’s rebirth has blossomed with restaurants and attractions that have sought to integrate their hipness with the character of the community. It offers a great place to explore.

For those with a continued sense of adventure, 9D concludes in the small town of Wappinger’s Falls where it connects with the route leading to the spectacular Walkway over the Hudson State Park. But that would be a story for another day, though hopefully that day will not be Christmas and Covid will not slam the door on Santa.

By |2020-11-19T13:08:01+00:00November 19th, 2020|12 Comments

Roads We Remember #5

Fresh apple cider flowed through a long pipe that ran the length of the walk-up counter. It had a dozen spigots. Each one required a simple twist to fill your cup.

Pushing through the creaky screen door to enter, mingled aromas of fresh fruit and raw wood perfumed the air inside the rough hewn farm stand. You found yourself surrounded by a profusion of color and abundance.

A great maple tree towered out front to shade you from the midday summer sun and in the fall its translucent lollipop orange leaves offered a glorious umbrella under which you could savor delicious apple cider donuts.

As a kid in New Jersey in the 1960s, Tice’s Farm in Montvale, NJ represented an irresistible destination for a backroad ride in the country. Even when stationed in the back seat of the family sedan, it promised a wonderful journey to a special somewhere else.

Today a similar drive to the Tice’s location finds a sprawling parking lot covered in asphalt, bricks and mortar, occupied by Athleta sportswear, Panera’s, Victoria’s Secret and many more familiar stores. A Hilton Hotel and an office park now occupy land once home to Tice’s orchard. But open road enthusiasts despair not. Within an easy morning’s journey new and similar memories can be born for the kid in all of us on…

The road to Sugarloaf.

Route 17 A – A sweet drive to Sugarloaf

Rocco Dairy Farm, Rt. 13 Warwick, NY

First, a shout out to Averell Harriman and the Harriman family who in 1910 donated the first 10,000 acres plus 1 million dollars to start what is now the 47,527 acre Harriman State Park in New York. Their effort made this ride worth your effort.

Heading west at the Route 17A entrance off Route 17 in Tuxedo, NY brings you into the western tip of Harriman State Park. Passing through the site of the “Renaissance Festival places you at the foot of a wonderful mountain populated with “Tail-of the-Dragon” quality switchbacks on both the ascent and steep descent through the forest. Early morning can find a bear or a deer sharing the road. It’s not Yellowstone but be aware.

 

Conclusion of your first descent puts you in the town of Greenwood Lake. Watch you speed.

Navigating though a brief patch of civilization will put you back in the woods and ascending Mt. Peter. While less circuitous than the first mountain road, 17A, here, crosses the Appalachian Trail with access parking available and offers stunning views of the Warwick Valley. One of the best locations to feast your eyes and treat your taste buds is the Bellvale Creamery. Here you can enjoy great ice cream while sitting on a grassy hill overlooking a spectacular vista. But wait there’s more, a special two for one bonus. From the same Creamery parking lot you can climb to the famous Mount Peter Hawk Watch observation station. Bring your binoculars, say hello to an eagle.

Bellvale Creamery

 

Descending Mt. Peter will bring you to a “T” intersection with NY Route 94. While Sugarloaf requires turning right, mention must be made of Pennings Farm Market located a few miles down the road if you turn left. A 100-acre farm with food, an excellent nursery, music, a bar and a great attitude, Pennings provides a worthy rest stop or destination. Across the street from Pennings can be found the Warwick Drive-in Theater.

For the trip to Sugarloaf, Turn right at the Route 94 intersection. This brings you into the very pleasant town of Warwick with its excellent shops and many fine restaurants.

Proceeding through town to Warwick Corners, an Exxon station sits at the fork. Route 94 continues to the left. Take the right leg of the fork, Route 13. Route 13 (Kings Highway) travels through mostly rural countryside as it meanders the six miles to Sugarloaf.

Sugarloaf offers a quirky assemblage of craft shops and galleries. A very comfortable environment for wandering about. For food, both the Sugarloaf Tap House with authentic rustic American fare and the Cancun Inn Restaurant offering Mexican American cuisine receive good reviews.

Sugarloaf, NY

 

For your journey home a very enjoyable two-lane through rural environs awaits  Shortly after leaving Sugarloaf and heading back to Warwick on Rt. 13 (Kings Highway) look for Bellvale Rd. on your left. Once you pass Bellvale Rd. look to your right for Ridge Rd. Blink and you can miss it. Make the right onto Ridge Rd. Follow this meandering blue highway till it “T”s at Rt. 94. Make the left onto Rt. 94. This will take you back to the center of Warwick where you can retrace your original route.

 

For the kids in your car or for the kid inside you, the “end of the ride, we are all a little tired, but we gotta stop here” farm stand experience, It’s Auntie El’s Farm Market and Country Bakery on Route 17 South in Sloatsburg.

Just as good as Tice’s apple cider donuts ever were, Auntie El’s apple cider donuts bring old memories to life with every bite. Auntie El’s delivers the goods and the goodies from which memories take shape and  traditions take root.

Auntie El’s, Rt. 17S Sloatsburg, NY

 

 

By |2020-08-06T10:33:04+00:00August 6th, 2020|6 Comments

Roads We Remember #4

Not so much a favorite road as a favorite destination, drive-in movies recall memories of family fun and fun that ended up creating families.

Peaking in the late 1950s with over 4,000 theaters across America, drive-in movies continued in their heyday until the late 1960s. From there drive-ins experienced a precipitous decline that by 2020 left but 321 drive-ins nationwide…and then came Covid-19.

Drive-in movies- back to the future

 

Popping up like mushrooms born in the dark of a world suddenly deprived of multiplexes, drive-in movies are staging a breathtaking revival. Social distancing, cabin fever, binging on bad TV, the sun finally came out in New Jersey, all this coalesced in a perfect storm of desperation and desire to get the hell out of the house.

Emerging from the mist of a life long gone by, the drive-in movie has come to the rescue. Local town pool parking lots, farm stands, malls, any place with a flat surface that can fit at least 75 cars seems to have a portable screen  and people are loving it.

Mention portable movie screens and I immediately betray my age by recalling those tripod based shaky jobs necessary when the health teacher broke out the Bell and Howell projector.

Instead, in my town of Park Ridge, NJ, a Macy’s Day parade balloon-size monolith with a 40 ft. by 30ft. screen swelled up in 15 minutes. As twilight advanced, cars filled the town pool parking lot taking positions eight feet apart with the precision of a marching band preparing for halftime. Movie audio played out through patrons’ premium Harmon Kardon, Bowers & Wilkins, and Bang & Olufsen Audio systems. Event producer Monte Entertainment provided everything except food. Rather than the dancing hot dog snack bar, movie goers ordered food from a local restaurant that delivered.

Choosing to screen “The Goonies”, Park Ridge Recreation Director Liz Falkenstern skillfully employed the three “Fs” of successful town events, family, fun and fresh air. No submarine races to watch here.

In surveying the arrayed cars and audience, a slight twinge of personal nostalgia bubbled up but slowly eroded as my mental check boxes denoting favorite memories remained unmarked. Cars not only lacked the character lines of rolling stock from the drive-in heydays, but most now faced the wrong way. Over half of the vehicles where SUVs facing away from the screen with rear hatches raised. In the 60’s my VW microbus, alone, stared defiantly in the opposite direction allowing for my uplifted hatch to afford fresh air and a fully reclined viewing position on the mattress in back.

As to be expected and for the organizers to be commended, this one-off drive-in experience projected a sanitized joyously family friendly, 4th of July parade-like, Hallmark moment. Well done.

However, my recollections, like woulda, coulda, shoulda memories defied resurrection. Today’s sanitize pop-up drive-in experience lacks the yesteryear tackiness of the neon rimmed refreshment stand, crunchy gravel sound as you positioned your vehicle on the viewing berm, car mounted speakers, 60-second dancing hot dog snack bar promo films, the chorus line of salty, sweet, greasy and crunchy treats arrayed across the screen under the “It’s intermission time” banner and of course mastery of the discrete wandering eye as, with cardboard snack tray of goodies clutched in both hands, you weaved your way back through the aisles of mid-century Detroit iron with no air conditioning and fogged windows.

By 2020 the dancing hot dog snack bar promos, car mounted speakers and double feature submarine race watching has disappeared into the mist of times gone by as the ranks of full-time drive-in theaters across the nation have withered to a paltry 321.

However, among that paltry rank exist drive-ins exhibiting a creative bold conviction that fortifies them in the face of extinction. I have two personal favorites. One is the Spud Drive-in in Driggs, Idaho, population 1,600.

Photographed by travelers from around the globe, “Old Murphy” a 1946 Chevy cab-over truck proudly displays a 15-foot long 2-ton potato on its flatbed. Welcome to the Spud Drive-in.

Opened in 1953, the Spud with a capacity of 100 cars may be the smallest remaining drive-in theater in America. With the Grand Teton Mountains in the distance and surrounded by some of the best trout fishing in the world, the Spud features a single screen and a ‘50s themed down home snack bar as colorfully unique as “Old Murphy.” Window speakers remain available for those wishing to enjoy the movie in a time capsule.

A good days drive south will get you to Escalante, Utah and the Shooting Star Drive-In. Uniquely situated along a green stretch of the breathtakingly beautiful and drivable Utah State Route 12, the Shooting Star offers a drive-in experience like no other. Surrounded by views of The Grand Staircase, Escalante Mountains and Dixie National Forest, the Shooting Star features Airstream trailers with Hollywood star dressing room themes for overnight accommodations and 1960’s era convertibles positioned before a drive-in movie screen that features vintage cartoons and films produced between 1946 and 1969.

Best movie for pop-up drive-in night? Has to be “Back to the future.”

By |2020-07-09T16:34:16+00:00July 2nd, 2020|8 Comments

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

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