Sunday, September 22, 2013

Day #2 of the My McVansion Shakedown Cruise -er- Road Trip, September 20, 2013

Day #2 began as I woke up at the Phillipsburg, New Jersey "Walmart Motor Inn" (bring your own accommodations). It was a brisk night, but I was warm and comfy in my "turtle shell" on wheels. I might add, as a side note, that the conversion van that I've transformed (and continue to transform) into My McVansion was built by a company named "Turtle Top." So, there is some significance with my analogy of it being a turtle shell on wheels (which happens to Turtle Top's logo).

It was a beautiful bright morning. I felt exhilarated and, after getting dressed and taking care of the necessary grooming requirements to present myself as a civilized and socialized member of the human species, I grabbed my "carry all" travel vest and THE HAT to head into the store to make a few purchases. First, I took a stroll around the parking lot to find a vantage point to take this photo.

This is, in my opinion, probably the largest Walmart I've ever seen and been in. It is huge and the parking lot could probably host four or five football games simultaneously, if not more. But, inside, it was laid out like the typical Walmart and everything was relatively easy to locate. I probably spent more time looking at the array of merchandise than I did actually locating and purchasing what I needed.

Here are two photos of My McVansion aaalllll the way across the parking lot where the Walmart prefers for RV's and trucks to park for the night. The first is a long shot from the same location I shot the front of the store. The second is a zoomed in photo.

 While I was in the Walmart I noted I had received an email from one of my New Jersey professional speaker friends about getting together. I sent a brief reply indicating I'd call him later in the morning. I gathered my purchases, paid for them and made my way back to the van. On the way, I decided to take this slightly different "selfie" photo. Please take note of the presence of THE HAT.

Back in the van, I went to work installing the two bungee cords to secure the drawers on the newly installed plastic storage units.  Drat! I should have taken a photo to include here, but I'll take one and include it in another post. They did the job exactly as intended and are easy to secure and release as needed. Handy devices, these bungee cords are.

 After enjoying a relaxing breakfast of Greek yogurt I had in my cooler along with some hard boiled eggs I bought in the deli section of Walmart and some cold refreshing water to wash it all down, I set about to start downloading video from the drive on Day#1 and some photos. I also began to write the post about the new galley/storage unit I had completed building and installed just prior to leaving on this shakedown road trip. I called my friend Gil Eagles back and we began making arrangements to get together later in the day. It would be a group of five of us, Gil and his wife, Esther and Annette, one of the people assuming the reins of coordination of the Veteran Speakers Retreat, one of the people assuming the reins of coordination of the Veteran Speakers Retreat that I just relinquished after a dozen years, and her husband Charlie. The arrangement was to meet at a family-style, Italian eatery in Boonton, NJ. A town I'm not unfamiliar with, but it's been, at least, over two decades since I've been to Boonton.

It was getting to around noon and I was still parked at the "Walmart Motor Inn" and hadn't quite completed the post about the new galley/storage unit, but I was getting antsy about making my way the rest of the way to northern New Jersey and beginning my tour of places I hadn't been in more years than I wish to remember. So, I secured everything in My McVansion for travel, set the GPS for Clifton, NJ and headed off. This time, I made sure that the dash cam was not set to the Macro mode and, viola, the video was crisp and clear as it always had been in the past.

It took very little time to make that final several miles and I found myself on Rt. 46 in Parsippany, New Jersey, staring at the beautiful Sheraton Tara Parsippany Hotel, modeled after an Irish or Scottish castle. I had stayed at that hotel on a few occasions and have fond memories of it, including being caught there with a group of friends during a northern New Jersey snow event. We had a great time, despite the snow. Then I found myself at the turn to go to Lake Hiawatha, the town where my maternal grandfather and grandmother had lived (and where she had died of a massive heart attack when I was around 9 years old). It's also where my grandfather and step grandmother lived (until his death several years later) and where I learned from him of my father's death (at age 42, a story for another time). I easily located 40 Calumet Drive. It amazed me that I remembered that address. The house looked somewhat rundown from my memory of some nearly 60 years earlier. I stopped and took a few photos form my archival files. Unfortunately, I couldn't locate the other home he lived in when he told me of my father's death. Maybe I just didn't want to remember. I'm sure I drove past it, it just didn't jump out at me.

From Lake Hiawatha, I made my way to the intersection of Rt. 46, a U.S. highway and state Rt. 23. I passed a number of familiar landmarks along the way, like the place (no longer in business) where they sold the Clark Cortez motor homes back in the late 60's. While they weren't much bigger than My McVansion, I was enamored with them and wanted one in the worst way. Even back then I had the dream of living a nomadic lifestyle. I passed a large building housing a Burlington Coat Factory outlet. I recognized it as the old O'Dowd's Dairy building where my grandfather took me for ice cream and ice cream sodas with their homemade ice cream. I also passed the small industrial area where I started to learn about and cut my teeth on the tape duplication industry, which later became a major part of my career in the recording industry. Then I reached Willowbrook. It's now a huge (and has been for decades) shopping center complex. But, when I was a kid growing up, it's where my parents took us kids for pony rides during the summer and where I went ice skating with my cousin and friends on Friday evenings at the Willowbrook (outdoor) ice skating rink.

It's amazing how our memory works. Things we haven't thought about in years just instantly come to life when you pass landmarks you took for granted so long ago. Mostly they are pleasant memories, the warm, fuzzy kind. But, some are not so pleasant, unfortunately. The Rt. 23/Rt. 46 traffic circle at Willowbrook is no longer. Now, it's a small spaghetti junction. I went through the gyrations to get on Rt. 23 north to head toward the small, rural (in my recollection) town of Bloomingdale, New Jersey. Along the way I spotted the former location of a favorite Swedish smorgasbord restaurant my family would go to once in a while. We passed by the area where another old home made ice cream bar was located, that we would, infrequently,  patronize. And finally I made my way to Riverdale, New Jersey and then Bloomingdale, New Jersey.

Downtown Bloomingdale looked much like I remembered it when we lived there when I was about 11 or 12 years old and in the sixth grade. I immediately drove to the elementary school I attended and took a few photos, then I found my way to Hillside Drive at the top of which was Hillcrest Terrace and drove to #38, the home my parents had built in the country. I loved it there. This was my first taste of living in a more rural area, away from the noise and congestion of the urbanized area I had known for the first decade of my life. Little did I know that as an adult, I would be drawn to this kind of lifestyle. Unfortunately, my mother didn't like the country life. She felt like she was isolated from the world. We were only 16 miles, a paltry distance to me, as an adult, but not to her. So, after only six or seven months, the house was sold and we moved back to Clifton, New Jersey to 40 Manor Drive.

My next stop was Clifton passing even more familiar sights along the route. When I reached Clifton and due to the traffic patterns where I exited from Rt. 46, I chose to go the 40 Manor Drive house that we moved to when we left Bloomingdale. It's interesting how those houses that I thought were much larger when I lived there are actually much smaller to me now. Perhaps that's because we live in a time  of McMansions. The house was pretty much just as it was when we lived there. The exterior color was different and probably the landscaping, but it was unmistakable. I drove through the community that I knew so well because of the newspaper route I had at age 12, the commencement of my entrepreneurial life was based right there at 40 Manor Drive. It was also the house I lived in during my junior high school years. And, it was the house where I earned my first and second amateur radio licenses. I may have also earned my third license while I lived there, too. I'm not sure. I'll have to review the timing. My father built me a darkroom in the laundry room for my interests in photography. And then he built me a radio room in the basement for  my ham radio station. That house was a very important and pivotal point in my early developmental life.

I left Manor Drive after driving around my old newspaper route. I didn't recall all the 110 houses I delivered papers to, however, I did remember specific houses - typically because there were cute girls who lived in them and I was of that age when I was also beginning to notice girls.

Next stop was 34 Stanley Street. This was the first home my parents owned. It looked just like it did when we left it in 1954. Many of the houses on the street had significant additions built on, but our house looked like it did all those years ago. I could still recall a number of the neighbors who lived with us, by name and by house. That really surprised me. I took a number of photos there, before moving on to 7 Mountainside Terrace. So, I went from the first home my parents owned to the last home they owned, the home my father died in and the home I left New Jersey from at the beginning of 1967, never to return to live in New Jersey again. I was 22 when I left for graduate school at Syracuse University in the very cold and snowy city of Syracuse, New York. Once again, the Mountainside house looked exactly like it did when I lived there. Unfortunately, while the 34 Stanley Street house had very pleasant memories of a young boy and the 40 Manor Drive house was, in many ways, a coming of age, pivotal part of my life house, the Mountainside Terrace house, only about 8 blocks from the Stanley Street house, have my worst memories. Like the Bloomingdale house, we only lived there a short time. For me, it was about a year, my mother and sisters moved out of the house in the beginning of January of 1967, the day my father died. That was, perhaps five or six months at the most after moving in. I can pretty much still visualize January 5, 1967. I guess I could also call that a very pivotal day in my life since my family disintegrated that day. I was 21, just about three months shy of 22 and I abruptly became an adult and was on my own to complete my last semester of college and launch my future.

I left Clifton after a quick visit to School 5, the school I attended until 4th grade. I, again, took some photos and had some pretty good memories of some parts of my early elementary school days. School 5 was only about five or six blocks from the 7 Mountainside Terrace house, but the front of the school was on Valley Avenue, the main street (very narrow) through that area. I then went up onto Garrett Mountain to stop at the overlook and take some photos of the vast cityscape that extended from there to New York City and on a clear day provided a fantastic panorama. It was a clear enough day, but there was some kind of multi-school athletic competition taking up the entire park reservation, the overlook was blocked off by a police car and the traffic was abysmal. I'll have to return there another day for some photo ops.

By this time, closing in on 5:00PM I figured I should start making my way out towards Boonton, New Jersey (near Lake Hiawatha, again) to meet up with my speaker friends, Gil and Esther and Annette and Charlie at the Italian restaurant they had picked out. And that's where I'll end this chapter of the shakedown road trip. In the next installment I'll pick up with my fun and food filled evening with friends. 


Johnnomads said...

Hi Ed,
I love Turtle Top vans, I drove a Turtle Top transit van for many years, and found that their coaches are well constructed and durable.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Yep! So far, this Turtle Top has been good. Of course, a few days after this photo, when I got to my old college (university to do the radio interview, The only visitor parking I could find was in a parking garage (that didn't exist when I attended, lo those 46+ years ago). I got through the first hanging bar at 7'2" with the bar riding over the van (it was on chains) but the next bar at 7'2" was fixed and I inched toward it slowly, but stopped when I heard the "thunk" right over my head. As I backed out with lots of students flipping me the bird, I found some even lower pipes. But, I managed to (apparently) do little or no damage. I found an illegal parking space right by the entry gate and parked it there and figured, with my SD license plates, they'd have to search the country to find me if they gave me a ticket. No ticket, though, when I got back. You're right the coach is well-constructed - and durable.