On Our Way

Greetings from Gate 6 at Bradley International Airport. Our plane is listed ‘on time’, though there’s no plane at Gate 6 right now. We fly to Baltimore, stop for dinner, then board another flight to Albuquerque.

The Albuquerque airport is called the “Sunport.” A little too cute for an airport.

I pulled up at the curb, took the bags out of the car and milled around, hoping no policeman would ask me to move along. The idea was to get the bags checked, then drop off the car at long term parking. It worked.

We passed security unscathed. If I would have removed any more clothing, I could have been arrested for indecent exposure.

Some folks were being sent through a ‘puffer.’ I don’t know what it does, but I feel no more secure knowing it’s there. I’m sure GE, whose large logo is festooned on the side, is thrilled.

As we removed our sneakers, a steady beep came from a line of passengers nearby. A fierce looking 80 year old woman was being given the once over. Something she brought through the X-Ray machine wasn’t making the screeners happy.

Considering my feelings about the screening process, you might think I’m making this up. I am not.

As we continued through the screening area, I flashed back to the first real estate closing I ever had – the one for our condo when Helaine and I moved to Connecticut. That morning I looked at all the people sitting at the table and thought, “I’m paying for all these people. Why?”

The TSA’s secure area is now plastered with signs printed on 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper. Take off your shoes. Are your gels in small see-through plastic bags? Are you packing fireworks? It’s beginning to resemble the DMV with its institutionalized surliness.

Where are the good old days when the only signs you saw warned you about Murtala Mohammed Airport?

Oh, there’s one more thing about the airport. At least at this gate, the PA system is set at stun level.

At last check, the weather forecast for our Saturday morning balloon ride was still iffy. I’m hoping for better news.

See you from New Mexico.

My Grandfather

My grandfather, Sol Drelich at work in his Brooklyn lunchenonette

My folks are doing some minor redecorating down in Florida. They had a closet rebuilt with shelves.

Of course rebuilding a closet also means cleaning a closet. Everything came out and my folks started to sift through things they hadn’t seen in years. That’s what takes the most time, because you really want to savor every bit of history you find.

As is so often the case, my mom kept a lot of memorabilia┬╣. I’m glad she did. The picture attached to this entry is part of the haul. It’s my grandfather, Sol Drelich, taken in the restaurant he owned, probably sometime in the pre-war 1940s.

The prices jump out first. Imagine paying that today!

What’s not so obvious is my grandfather. He came here from Poland. He chose to leave Poland rather than serve in the army.

When he came to the United States he had nothing. He spoke no English, only Polish and Yiddish. In New York City, that was OK. There were thriving communities where Polish or Yiddish were all you needed.

He worked hard as a waiter, learned English, met my grandmother, Rose, and started a family – my mother, Betty, and her sister, Norma.

As time went on, Grandpa bought his own restaurants. With his partner Nat (always referred to simply as “Spiegel” – his last name), he owned a series of luncheonettes. By the time I was old enough to know what was going on, they owned a little place right at the foot of the stairs of the Rutland Road Station of the IRT.

I loved that little restaurant. When I’d go, taking the subway all the way from Queens, Grandpa would show me off like a trophy. I didn’t realize that at the time – though I do now.

He also let me work behind the counter, where I’d pour coffee, get Cokes and generally slow things down. From time-to-time I also worked the register.

I remember being at the cash register, at the front of the store, when a policeman came to pay his bill. There were always policemen there. Grandpa ran to move me out of the way.

It was only later I found out, police officers ate for half price. Captains, lieutenants and other supervisors ate free. Coffee was always free for anyone in uniform, police or fire.

Was that illegal? I’m sure it was.

I know why Grandpa did that. Having cops in his restaurant in this very tough neighborhood was good for business. If it were my business, I might do the same thing.

There’s a lot of me that comes from Grandpa. My quick temper – unfortunately – is one part.

He always talked to me as if he knew I would be a success, even though he didn’t know at what. There was never any doubt that I’d go to college and make something of myself. He wanted me to be more successful than he was.

As a little kid Grandpa took me aside more than once to tell me about the Nazis and their concentration camps. That’s where his entire family was killed. He knew his stories scared me, but that was the point.

I can close my eyes right now and see him, in front of his little Cape Cod in Laurelton, Queens, telling me. We stood face-to-face as he went through it piece-by-piece; how the Nazis would herd the Jews and send them to “take a shower.”

Grandpa has been gone a long time now. He never got to see me on TV. I wish he had. I know he would have been very proud, even though he would have preferred me becoming a doctor.

I wish you could have met my grandfather. You would have liked him.

┬╣ – As long as I’m mentioning my parents memories, I should give a plug to the little video I produced about how my parents met.

Born On The First Of July

Maybe I’m spoiled, being born in New York City? With millions of people there were economies of scale. The Fourth of July was actually celebrated on the Fourth of July! Here in the ‘burbs, things don’t run quite as according to that plan.

My town, Hamden, had their big fireworks show last night – June 30th. I was working.

Tonight, with my friend Harold in tow, I drove a few towns over to Wallingford for their big First of July celebration.

My expectations were low. Wallingford is a small town. A nice town, no doubt, but the number of people paying for the fireworks show is small.

We drove toward the high school where the display would be mounted, only to find a roadblock. The high school was full. A policeman told us there was a plaza where we could park and then hike. That’s what we decided to do.

A few blocks later, we pulled into the parking lot at the Yalesville School. The lot was already half full and some people were hoofing it toward the fireworks. Surprisingly, more were sitting at Yalesville in folding chairs.

I walked over to a woman sitting a few feet from my car. “Could the show be seen from here?” The answer was, “Yes.”

The Eagle has landed. We stayed at Yalesville.

As far as I can tell, we saw 90% of the show. There were ground displays whose glow we sensed, but whose artistry was hidden behind trees and homes. Just about all the aerial fireworks were high enough to see nicely.

Even better, we parked next to a giant pickup truck with Sirius satellite radio. The driver had the broadcast of the Grand Old Opry&#185 on, and it was loud enough to be heard where we stood.

Seriously, this was the perfect soundtrack for the evening, including Jim Ed Brown (he must be 1,000 by now) singing Three Bells – a song I played a zillion times as a disk jockey!

The show was much more than I could have ever anticipated. I didn’t check carefully, but there must have been 30 minutes of fireworks. They weren’t holding back either. This was an excellent show with plenty of action.

I clicked away like crazy. There was really no way to know whether I was striking pay dirt or not. I don’t have much in the way of fireworks experience with this camera.

I did read an article yesterday and slavishly set my ‘film’ speed at ISO 100, my aperture at F16 and plugged in a shutter release cable.

These shots of are a sample of my better catches.

The good thing about seeing fireworks on the first is, I can probably run out and see more on the second!

&#185 – Holy cow! The Grand Old Opry sounds like it’s been plunked directly from the last century. There were live acts, live announcers, a live audience and live commercials (spoken and sung) for such mainstays as Martha White Flour. It was interesting to hear these 1940s type commercials make reference to Martha White’s website!


Flag Day in Hudson, NY

All the photos on this page, and lots of parade pictures, can be seen in my photo gallery.

Back in 1969, when I got my first paid on-air radio job in Fall River, Massachusetts at WSAR (Ahoy there matey, it’s 14-80) I met Skippy Ross – a fellow disk jockey. He was older, wiser, married, and the station’s music director. We became friends.

Later, in 1971, I went to WBT in Charlotte, NC. Skippy was already there… he just wasn’t Skippy anymore. In Worcester, MA he had become Skip Tyler and now he was Bob Lacey.

For nearly 35 years he has been Bob Lacey, working at the radio and television stations at 1 Julian Price Place, and becoming a Charlotte institution. He and his partner, Sheri Lynch run a woman friendly&#185 morning drive radio show, syndicated across the country.

Bob and I have remained friends through all this time. When my life was falling apart in the mid-70s, Bob took time off and drove with me through the Western United States. We have shared good times and bad longer than most married couples – and with a better relationship.

On-the-air Bob refers to me as his ‘gold best friend.’ It’s an honor I treasure.

We are two very different people. I think the difference can be best explained in a little story. The year was 1973 and I was leaving Charlotte, moving to Cleveland (based, as it turns out, on bad information from someone who wanted me to leave). It was my last day there and I was getting a new tire put on my car. Bob joined me at the tire store on Independence Boulevard, a busy Charlotte business district back then.

We went to the Coke machine. Bob went first. His soda plopped from the slot, he put the bottle into the opened, pushed down and was ready to drink. I got my bottle, went to the opener, pushed down and… soda all over me. It was as if a midget was in the machine, waiting for me to shake the bottle.

To me, Bob has always seems suave and in control. I have always seemed like an unmade bed – scattered and kinetic.

We are both lucky, because in spite of setbacks in our lives, we’ve done well – both with our careers and families. And, for two old guys (and he is much older and very, very short… make that very, very, very short) we’ve aged well.

I was on the phone with Bob late last week. It was the usual chit chat. I asked him what he was doing over the weekend and he told me he and Sheri (his radio partner) were flying to Hudson, NY for Flag Day. There’s a parade, which they ride in, the emcee from the reviewing stand.

Hudson is a few hours from here – a nice drive if it’s a nice day. There’s some highway to take you away from the urban areas and then it’s small, sparsely traveled 2-lane roads through rolling hills. The trip goes up through Northwest Connecticut, cuts through the Southwest corner of Massachusetts and then west into New York and the Hudson River.

I decided to go.

Since I knew neither Helaine nor Stefanie would want to take this road trip, I prepared a geek’s journey. My camera was ready with two sets of batteries and two flash memory cards (I could have taken 350 high resolution photos, but only took 273). I put my old Dell laptop on the passenger’s seat, plugged an inverter into the cigarette lighter and threw a GPS antenna onto the armrest between the seats. This trip would be well documented.

The trip up was uneventful. The weather superb – truly perfect. Though I had printed directions before leaving the house, the GPS receiver was really helpful, showing me my turns before I got to them.

With the top down, on a sunny day, there are lots of sensations. The warmth of the sun (I was worried about the warmth of the sun on my laptop, which I removed from the seat and put on the floor while still in Connecticut), the breeze, the aroma.

Springtime has good aromas. There weren’t many restaurants to pass at this time of day on this route. I did smell freshly cut grass (a watermelon-like smell), freshly cut lumber (as I passed a mill) and a dairy farm. They were all distinct, but the dairy farm was certainly the most pungent.

I have a radar detector mounted in the convertible. When I first bought the car, I had electricity brought from an interior light directly to the unit. It only went off once on the trip, and then because a police car was going the opposite direction and must have had his transmitter on.

By the time I got to Hudson, the streets downtown were closed off for the parade. This was a bigger deal than I thought – and as I’d later find out the longest parade I’d ever seen.

The main street of Hudson, Warren Street, was lined with happy people. For some reason I expected this to be a lily white town. That was not the case. There was just about every shade of person imaginable, and they were all out on the street together ready for the parade.

It seems like Hudson is a town that was, and possibly still is, down on its luck. I walked on cracked sidewalks with tall weeds growing through them. There were small houses with chipped paint. On Warren Street itself the homes were old but freshly painted. It had the aura of gentrification – a two edged sword which rebuilds and displaces.

I moved toward the river, where the reviewing stand had been erected, and waited for Bob and Sheri. They arrived, first in the parade, sitting in a convertible. It is only now, looking at the photo, that I realize it is a used car, for sale, with the price tag nicely affixed to the windshield. Still, it looked great rolling down Warren Street, and Bob and Sheri were enjoying every second of it.

We chatted for a few seconds and then they made their way to the microphone and the parade began. It was a bad day to have a fire in the Hudson Valley, because I believe every piece of fire equipment for a hundred miles was rolling down Warren Street – even a blue fire truck from Philmont, NY! Along with the fire equipment there were policemen and soldiers and and organizations, plus kid from schools and sports leagues.

This was the longest parade I had ever seen. As we approached the 3 hour mark, I turned to a policeman standing near me and asked, “Are they going around for a second time?”

There was a sad moment. A float in memory of a local soldier who had been killed in Iraq. The base of the float was full of American flags – one for each death in this war. In a glass case, the soldier’s uniform was displayed. Very, very sad.

The parade ended and Bob, Sheri and I hopped onto a golf cart to head down to the riverside where the festivities would continue. The scene was very much like those beeping carts that careen through the terminals at airports, taking people with more pull than us to the next gate.

It was getting late. I had a drive ahead of me. They had autographs and then a plane ride back to Charlotte. We’d all get home around the same time.

I wish I could have spent more time with Bob, and with Sheri who I like a lot. Bob and I are already trying to figure out a time for next summer. But maybe there will be time sooner.

The good thing about gold friends is, their friendship will wait.

&#185 – When I say woman friendly, I mean a show which is not based on sex, bodily functions and stretching the vocabulary envelope. Stern, Imus and Bubba the Love Sponge don’t qualify for this genre.

All the photos on this page, and lots of parade pictures, can be seen in my photo gallery.

My Day of Kayaking

As anticipated, 8:30 AM came very quickly. Hey, to me that’s the middle of the night. A little procrastination with the bedroom TV, and then I was in the shower getting ready. I was actually running on time!

The plan was to meet at my friend Kevin’s house, in Cheshire at 10:00 AM. Kevin had invited me, his boss Scott and his daughter, plus a friend, Jeff.

It was beautiful. A little on the humid side, but with a pure blue sky. I had the top down and the radio up. As I turned from N. Brooksvale to Mountain Rd, a bicyclist came the other way. He was dressed in a loud, skin tight biking suit. But, he had the best advice of the day, “Cops ahead.”

The speed limit on Mountain is 25 mph – an unattainable goal, even if you know there are police lurking. I did about 30. As I passed the patrol car, the policeman turned his head and looked at me. No one does 30 without being tipped off! I’m sure he knew.

Kevin has a small trailer. He lashed the kayaks to it, and we were off. We went up I-84 to Waterbury and then north on Route 8 into the Southern Litchfield Hills. It didn’t take long to get to the White Memorial Foundation – hundreds of acres of nature preserve.

If the White Memorial Foundation sounds familiar, it should. It’s where Connecticut’s Governor Rowland has a small cottage, which had a hot tub, which is all swirled within the specter of corruption charges.

Scott checked the water temperature as we brought the boats down to the Bantam River. His thermometer read 70&#176, though we would later all agree it was probably in the 60’s farther from shore.

If I had been in a kayak before, it was a long time ago. I rocked a little from side to side as I set out. Last night, at the station, our director Tracey had admonished me to push, not pull when paddling. Otherwise, she said, I’d get very sore.

Easier said than done, but I tried.

The Bantam River is small and gently flowing in this part of Litchfield County. We headed to the right, against the minuscule current. A light breeze was at our back.

You actually wouldn’t know there was a current on this river except for the beaver dams. I had heard and read about beaver dams for years, but had never really experienced them. From bank to bank, a pile of twigs, branches and mud choked the flow. We found weak spots and paddled over… though I got caught a little more than once.

The kayak handled really easily and it didn’t take me long to get into the rhythm. Inertia is an important part of kayaking. When you stop paddling, the kayak continues… in my case it often kept going until it hit another kayak!

The White Memorial Foundation land is a protected habitat for all sorts of wildlife. We saw birds, including a few hawks and beautiful red winged blackbirds. A duck, probably protecting a nearby nest, let me get pretty close without flinching. I turned back, not wanting to upset him. There were turtles too, including one who seemed to be stretching out as if he were sunning himself on a Caribbean vacation.

After a mile or so (Kevin had a GPS receiver capable of plotting our course) we came to some beaver dams too high to paddle over. So, we just turned around and went back down river.

The river wasn’t crowded, but it wasn’t empty either. A while later we ran into an older husband and wife, and their dog Coco. The dog was sitting comfortably in a wicker basket lashed to the front of one of their kayaks. Coco started kayaking at 3 months and wouldn’t even think of staying on shore now.

My five hours of sleep and the gentle rocking of the kayak was starting to catch up with me. I asked if it would be OK for us to end it here – and we did.

I hadn’t flipped the kayak. I hadn’t really gotten sick. I hadn’t put anyone else in mortal danger by doing something stupid. The trip was a success.

I’m hoping to go with Kevin again. Next time, with a little Dramamine, I’d like to try the Thimble Islands, off the Branford coast, in Long Island Sound.

I’m Feeling a Little Guilty

I just took a look. We’ve barely crossed into the new day and temperatures (7 hours before sunrise) already range from 0&#176 to -8&#176 at the ‘official’ reporting stations in Connecticut. I’m positive there are outlying areas already below -15&#176 – and temps will continue to plunge.

So, where am I? Am I dripping water in the kitchen sink? Am I throwing an extra blanket on the bed? Hell no, I’m in Florida with my folks. And, I’m feeling a little bit guilty.

It would be easy to claim I knew it was going to be this bad and planned my vacation accordingly – which would be a lie. It was just dumb luck.

Normally, I visit a place and the newspapers run banner headlines, “COLDEST SOUTH FLORIDA TEMPERATURES EVER” or “LAS VEGAS DELUGE – FLOODING AT RECORD LEVELS.”

I’m like the character William H. Macy plays in the new movie “The Cooler.” Invite me for rain on your parade.

On the other hand, I have lived through my fair share of Northeast winters. I remember the winter of 1968/69. I was a freshman at Emerson College in the Back Bay section of Boston. From my dorm it was a short walk across Storrow Drive to the Charles River.

The winter of 68/69 was brutal. The Charles River froze up early. I was young and a little crazy.

One day, fellow freshman Ed Symkus and I decided to walk to Cambridge… over the frozen river. From Storrow Drive, Cambridge doesn’t look that far away. Trust me, it is.

What you don’t think about as you set out to cross a frozen river is you’re about to walk on a very big ice cube. Your feet are going to get really cold. And, by the time you find out, you’ll be really far away!

We were around halfway across when we heard the voice. It was an MDC (Massachusetts District Commission) policeman, sitting in his warm patrol car, on his P.A. system.

“You two, on the river (he actually said ‘rivah’). Turn around NOW and return to the Boston side.”

It was about that time we realized we might actually fall in… and, we were probably going to get arrested (though in retrospect what would we have been charged with? First Degree Stupid?). We headed back to Boston.

By the time we got back onshore, the policeman had disappeared.

I guess it’s cold enough now, and has been for a long enough time, that the Charles is frozen again. If you know anyone who is thinking about walking to Cambridge, please tell them it’s already been done… and we recommend really warm shoes.

Convicted Killers I’ve Known

I don’t think of myself as traveling in a rowdy or criminal crowd, yet there are two killers I’ve known in my life.

One was a friend from college, George. I lost touch with him only to receive a letter years later after I had appeared on Good Morning America. He was watching from prison.

George did his wife in and then buried her under a freshly poured cement basement floor. Considering the crime, and considering he was convicted of manslaughter and not murder, there must have been extenuating circumstances.

This seemed very out of character for George. I had never known him to be threatening or violent – ever.

The other killer in my life is a little more notorious, Mumia Abu Jamal.

I knew Mumia on the late ’70s when he was a newsman and I was a disk jockey at WPEN in Philadelphia. I remember him as being very soft spoken with a beautiful deep voice. His copy was very well written. He was lacked any knowledge of sports. For heaven’s sake, he was asking me for sports pronunciations and background.

Because of the station’s format and our “naming convention”, Mumia was forced to have a more Anglo first, middle and last name and became “William Wellington Cole.”

You can’t make this stuff up! In retrospect, that was embarrassing.

I have no idea whether he killed the policeman he was convicted of shooting, but my guess is, he did. He had become more radical over the years and, I suppose, angry.

This is all brought to mind since he was made an honorary citizen of Paris today.

I believe the French have really honed their revulsion toward us and our society to a fine, sharp point. This is just another way to tweak us.

It must be sad for them to live in a country that is no longer an important member of the international community. I’m not saying we have foreign policy geniuses running the show, because we don’t, but our opinion, muscle, and money still count for something. France, on the other hand, is a marginal player at best.

C’est la vie.

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