California Dreamin’ – 1982 to 1984 Chapter 2 – On The Road

After working through the Fall after the Summer season was over, I was itching to get on with the next chapter of my life. I had stayed on at Hunt’s Pier and worked on the maintenance crew. I think they laid us off around the holidays and we all just went on Unemployment. I planned my trip and kept in touch with Frank.

Back in 1981 the best way to plan a trip was to be a member of AAA. (Automobile Association of America) You went into the office and told them where you were planning to go and they would literally map out the entire trip for you. Maps, Tour books, something they called a Trip Tik, (Which was little notebooks that blew up your route on a series of maps.) It was really thorough. Using the tools provided you couldn’t get lost. They gave you info on everything. Gas stations, hotels and motels, facts about each town you were passing through. Just a wonderful service for travelers.

So I tell them what I’m doing and give them a week or so to put it all together. I had used their services before for short trips to Baltimore and Washington D.C. Kind of like, let’s take a few trips and see how we do before we take the epic journey to the new world.

Frank tells me he’s leaving Fort Lauderdale the 1st week of February and heading up to his Aunt’s house in Atlanta. I tell him I’ll come down and meet him there. He says we can hang there for a week and then head out West from there. Sounds like a plan to me. He provides me with her address and I tell him I’ll see him then.

That’s how people communicated long distance back then. Just a couple of phone calls and usually letters. Yes, we wrote letters. I’ll write about that in another post.

____________________________________

It was a cold grey morning in February, 1982. The VW minibus was all packed, and I was saying goodbye to my parents and sisters. I remember my mother crying, and my dad giving me some extra money. I hugged and kissed everyone goodbye and I left home.

It was a tough morning and I was scared shitless. I had never done anything like this before, let alone by myself. I drive South to Cape May. I am catching the first Ferry to Lewes Delaware. It’s the shorter route. I’ve never been on a ferry before so I’m terrified of that too. I decide I’m going to stay in the car the entire trip and listen to my music. It’s freezing outside anyway. I drive in with the rest of the cars. We wait a few minutes and then the ferry moves out into the Delaware River. Everybody gets out of their cars and heads upstairs to the inside upper deck.

I’m alone in this hollow dark place in the middle of a ferry surrounded by a bunch of empty cars. It feels like everyone’s gone and I’m left behind. fear and anxiety clutch me.

I change my mind. I get out of the van and lock it up. I go upstairs. People are in there and it’s warm and people are drinking coffee and eating and chatting. I’m so alone and I’m barely out of Jersey. I decide to go outside to get some fresh air. I’m the only one dumb enough to go out of the main cabin this time of year. But I want to feel it.

I step out onto the deck. The February wind bites my cheeks. The sky is grey like my spirit. I walk to the bow of the boat and look down. The boat is literally crunching through the ice coated water. I can see ice breaking up right in front of me. I’ve never seen anything like this. I mean, I’ve seen Tookany Creek frozen in the winter but that was just a little creek that we used to play near when I was a kid back in the 1970’s in Northeast Philly.

I am terrified. I’m alone. What am I doing?  I’m so scared.

But I must go on.

The ferry lands in Lewes, Delaware and everyone embarks.  I’m in my VW minibus and off I go. I’m driving South and now it’s on. I have to push on through Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina and I’m just scared. Simply frightened.

I remember my mom had packed me a little lunch for the trip. A little sandwich, chips and a soda. I went through the Chesapeake Tunnel and came out on the other side. I had so much anxiety going through that when I got to the other side I pulled over one the side of the road and threw up. That was my life back then. I couldn’t do anything without getting sick. My whole life was sickness. Think about that. All of the fun adventures you look forward to and are excited to do paralyze me.

You’re hot for your date with a new girl? I’m dying inside. I love her just as much and took the chance to get her but when the time comes I’m dead inside. A sea of nausea and fear. I can never enjoy any of the things you love. it’s all fear and sickness,  all of the things you take for granted and have fun with, I and sitting there on the sidelines dying.

You look forward to getting into the pants of the girl before you. I’m just happy she isn’t revolted by me and when I finally drag myself forward to ask her out I am almost to sick to take her out.

But I love her so much

And I will dry heave myself away to take her on a date. why? No idea. Just something in me. A weakness. a sickness.

I end up in a hotel in South Carolina and I am drained from the drive. I call my parents and cry on the phone to them. They are sweet to me but I know I must do better tomorrow and make it to Atlanta before I perish on this journey.

I fall asleep in my hotel bed. I’m scared and alone. I am breaking the shell of my anxiety and understanding. I have to do this. I know it. I have to do this. I have to go to California, if nothing else.

I’m a loser and have nothing else left in my life to do.  I have to do this now because there is no alternative.

_____________________________________

I wake up in my hotel room in South Carolina. I can’t even tell you what it was like because I am in a daze. I just need to get back on the road and get to Atlanta. I’m close. I’m one state away and I’m still really scared. I have to push forward. I’m going to see my friend. It’ll be great. That’s all I need to do.

I fire up the VW and off I go. I drive for hours and finally hit the outskirts of Atlanta. The directions they gave me back then were so good I actually pulled up on Frank’s aunt’s street by dusk that day.

I was so relieved I got to the house It’s like I was home again. but in a stranger’s home. but frank was there and a nice old lady and they were all very Irish and beautiful. the warmth and welcoming was overwhelming that I had made my trip was magic.

I was so happy to see Frank and his aunt was so welcoming. My fear turned to safety. I knew id be okay. We catch up over dinner and a few beers. I find it hard to believe this is all happening.

I knew our adventure was just beginning and we’d go and do that but for now we would rest for a week and just let the journey happen when we wanted it to. I was still having a lot of anxiety but was happy that I had moved forward with my life and I was with my friend.

I was away from shitty Wildwood a the dead-end that it had become. I was away from Hunt’s Pier and my dad and my family completely. Gone. I loved them but that wasn’t for me any more. I was going to California to be a metal god and that was the end of it.

I tried to keep a diary on the road but life became to interesting for me to even bother.

I settled into my bed and knew there was fortune to be had.

 

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California Dreamin’ -1982 to 1984 – Chapter 1 – The Idea

Back in 1982, I left New Jersey in my ’69 Volkswagen mini bus for Los Angeles. I’ll tell the whole story of that journey at some point, but I wanted to intro a new series that tells some of my interesting dating and social interactions while out in California. I was only 19 years old when I left, so these stories come from a younger man’s life. We got up to some wild shit back then.

These stories contain a bit more sexually explosive content so beware fair readers.

We were young, in a band and living in L.A. What could happen?

It was a long time ago but some of these tales are worth telling.

I’ll kick it off with this one.

 

I was sitting in a little tavern with my friend Bill in North Wildwood back in the summer of ’81. It’s a nice little beer and shot neighborhood bar. Woody’s is located at 19th and New Jersey Ave. It took me a moment to remember the name and location. It was a good lunch spot and also cool to hang out at night if you wanted to stay away from the club scene.

I met Bill working on Hunt’s Pier. It’s an old amusement pier on the boardwalk. I worked on The Golden Nugget Mine Ride, which was an old roller coaster enclosed in what looked like a big old western type mine. People road in little mine cars through the ride and stuff popped out of the darkness to shock and surprise them. It’s been torn down for many years but I have so many wonderful memories to write about regarding this period of my life. I can still smell the grease of the chain that carried the mine cars to the roof of the building.

Bill worked one of the games at the front of the pier. I don’t remember how we met, but we became good friends because at the time he was the funniest guy I had ever met. We hung out outside work and Bill was just so funny to be around. Usually I’m supplying the laughs but he just had a quick wit and I loved that about him. Bill wanted to go to California and become “the next Robert DeNiro” at the end of the summer season.

I tell him I want to go to California and become a metal god. (guy that plays hard rock and metal in a band) I suggest we save our earnings and go out together. He agrees.

I was a young naïve teenager back then and fell hard for people I met. We talked all about how great it would be when we got to L.A. and became stars. We did this most of the summer.

At some point I remember my dad chatting with Bill about our plan. I had him over to meet my Dad because I was so taken with my funny amazing new friend. My Pop has a lot of experience with people.

My Dad later told me that it sounded like Bill, was a bit of a feather merchant. Someone who could attach himself to me to get a free ride out to L.A. He also said that the stories Bill had told him about things he did and said back home in South Philly, and my Dad felt those stories didn’t wash. He also felt that Bill wasn’t really saving any money for this trip that I had already saved a thousand dollars for.

Well I think somehow Bill caught wind of what my dad was feeling. (Just looking out for my best interest) and got pissed off.  I remember him saying how he really hated my father and the trip was off.

I was crushed. I loved Bill and it was like he was breaking up with me. But as I write this now, I know my Dad was right about him. Bill’s pride was hurt, he was kind of a blowhard, and he hadn’t saved any money all summer. This was his immature boy’s way out.

But all was not lost. There was another guy I worked with on the ride. Frank. He was from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was studying law and taking a year or two off to travel and have fun before he entered law school in London. We worked together every night on the ride and became good friends.

I remember telling Frank what had happened with Bill, and he said he’d go to California with me. He was going down to Florida with some of his mates in October and they were just going to work there for a bit. Irish people can get jobs like crazy. Great people! He said that he’d be coming up to stay with his Aunt and cousin in Atlanta after the holidays. So we started to plan for that. I was happy to be going with Frank, because I liked him and knew he was trustworthy and reliable.

I never really saw or spoke to Bill ever again. Not that I hated him or anything. We just lost touch after the incident and I guess he went back to South Philly.

But I was excited that the trip to Cali was still on!

 

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Wildwood Daze – 1980 – I’ve Had It With This Town

I love the summer. I’ve been dropped here against my will by some other person. My father. I have no control over my life. I have to go to school at a new school as a stranger. I know you have a problem with my dissatisfaction and depression.

I excel in school and start a band. I thrive in this shit hole you’ve dropped me off with no concept of how that will break your son’s spirit.

Janice is off in college so you’re good. If anything is of kilter your going to lose your shit and that is me.

What did you think was going to happen?

Let’s rip the 17-year-old son from all of his friends and his band from Philly and drop him off in Wildwood, New Jersey. A retirement and resort town the you already know is a deathtrap for young people.

You dropped out of high school to get away from this hell hole. You joined the army rather than turn to crime at 17. You fucking asshole that I love.

I get it. I worked in banking just like you for 30 years. You were making a bunch of bad loans at the Provident in Philly and got out when the getting was good.

You retreated to NJ. your little safe haven to escape, but you never thought of what that would do to the children in your life.

The little ones were fine. April and Gabby didnt;t know any better. But I was a senior in high school. I never got to graduate with my friends at Frankford in Philly. I had a band. You destroyed that for your little escape plan.

But what was that. You replicated your life in NJ as the regional manager at First Fidelity Bank. You’re a great manager and a great man. But you really have a taste for some of your employees, man.

I remember telling you about a girl I met once how I was in a relationship and I told you about how I had feelings for her.

You said, “Why don’t you just move on her”

I said: “Because that would be wrong. I’d be cheating on my girlfriend and that would betray her trust in me.”

You were pleased and happy with my answer.

I knew it.. because you could never be that. I could see it in your eyes you were relived that I wasn’t like you in that respect.

That respect.

Bitch, please.

If you’re unhappy in your liffe, divorce mom and just send the check and leave us the fuck alone. Then you can bag Jennifer Sweeten or as you call her “sweet meat” all you want until her husband finds out.

You’ll figure it out.

 

You and your brother Jack were dropped off here after your parents divorced. Nobody got divorced back then.

Why the hell would you think it was a good idea to drop me off in this shit hole?

Wildwood is a glistening sand castle of magical fun and romance in the summer… and then it turns into a bleak shroud of dark depression where there is nothing going on in the winter. It is a desolate hole of isolation that is impossible for a teenager to escape.

Here I am. I know you and there is a part of you that is me. Some great. Some awful. But you have the chore of raising the shitty you and now the shitty son you don’t understand who is too much like your brother Jack.

So if there were any questions as to why Chaz wanted to load up the ’69 Volkswagen minibus and drive across the country to go live in sunny California let’s put all of that to rest right now.

I love you, you selfish, self-serving prick.

I really do.

Thank you for teaching me to read. Thank you for all of the books. Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for teaching me to ride a bike. Thank you for teaching me how to catch a fish. Thank you for teaching me to drive a car. Thank you for teaching me about wine, art, and literature and film. Thank you for teaching me about women. (To an extent) Thank you for everything.

I’m not going to mention all of the bad stuff here.

All ready did some of that.

 

Time to load of the 69 VW minibus and head to California.

 

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Another Life – Chapter 1

This was originally going to be two separate stories, but they overlap (as you’ll see), so I decided to combine them. This story is also set in the distant past, before PCs and the internet … back when a record was something that sat on a turntable …

– “So, Joe … c-can you help me out?”

That was how it all started.

Marty was a short, paunchy nerd with a speech impediment – a stutter that came and went. He was understandably shy in social in social situations.

In Grade 9, on Initiation Day, I stepped in between Marty and two bullies who wanted to use his head to clean a toilet. I wish I could tell you that I kicked their asses – but I was the one who got my clock cleaned. Oh, I got in a couple of shots, but Marty did the most damage when he bit one of them hard enough to draw blood.

It would be nice, too, to report that the student body respected our courage, and that initiations were strictly forbidden from them on.

Yeah, right. We were suspended for 3 days, and got a reputation for being a couple of psychos. We probably weren’t going to fit in with the popular kids anyway, but that incident certainly accelerated the process.

Marty was a nerd, and I … I was never there. From the age of 13, I’d had a part-time job (and sometimes two). Right after school, I went off to work. All day Saturday, too.

It was my stepmother’s idea, really. I think that she just wanted me out of the house. Then, a few years later, she got the brilliant idea that I should pay rent, because I had money. My Dad was too whipped to object.

– “It’ll be a valuable lesson for him.” she said.

– “It’ll be a good experience for you, Joseph.” said Dad.

The fuck it was. Stacking shelves at the grocery store, pumping gas, or carrying roof tiles up a ladder all summer doesn’t teach you much, except how hard it can be to earn an honest dollar – or how much of your school’s social life you miss when you’re always at work.

That meant no sports, no clubs, no extracurriculars of any kind. Marty and I were both socially invisible. But there was always that bond between us.

In some cultures, if you save a man’s life, then you become responsible for him. I have to admit that I felt something like that towards him. And Marty … well, let’s just say that he went out of his way to pay me back.

In my senior year, I had to consider my options. I wasn’t sure that I could afford college. Dad finally spoke to his younger brother about me. Ray was a grease monkey at a downtown garage. He was a damn good mechanic, though, and when he put in a good word for me, his boss took me on part-time.

– “Don’t fuck this up, Joeseph.” said Uncle Ray. “You do, an’ you make us both look bad.”

– “I won’t.” I promised.

I cleaned up the garage, learned how to change tires, and do oil changes. I was also Joe Fetchit if anyone needed a tool, or a coffee, or a donut … and I went home dirty every night. But it paid better than most of the jobs I’d had – and I was actually learning something. Most of the guys were pretty decent to me, too.

So maybe that was how Marty and I connected – talking about cars. We started to hang out a bit. He regularly came over to pick me up, if we got up to anything. I never asked – God’s honest truth – Martin suggested it, every single time.

– “I’ll swing by and pick you up.” He must’ve said it a hundred times.

I was 18, but looked older, so I was the designated beer-buyer (Fake ID wasn’t readily available, back in the day). It was a mutually beneficial partnership, but I think I benefited more. What I’m trying to say is that I owed Marty quite a few favors, for all the times he’d driven me all over hell’s half-acre. He’d even lent me his car to go for my driver’s exam.

That was why, when Marty asked for my help, I didn’t hesitate.

– “So, Joe… c-can you help me out?”

– “Sure. What do you need?”

– “Will you … d-double date with me, Joe?”

– “WHAT?” I couldn’t have been more shocked. As far as I knew, Marty had never even come close to having a girlfriend.

– “I met her at church.” he said. Then the words came out – all in a rush. “She’s really cute. But shy. More shy than me. I think I like her, but if I ask her out alone she’ll probably say no.”

I was afraid that he was going to hyper-ventilate. “Slow down, Marty! Breathe …”

– “She lives near you. Close enough for you to walk. But I can swing by and pick you up. I already told her that my best friend lived nearby, and that we might ‘drop in’ on Sunday.”

– “Good for you, Marty. That’s great. Keep breathing. What do you need me to do?”

– “Well, she’s got sisters. Her parents will let go out, but only if her sisters go, too.”

– “Like chaperones.”

– “Something like that.”

– “So you need me to run interference? Keep the sisters busy? I can do that. Give me the bad news, then.”

– “What bad news?

– “Tell me the truth. How ugly are they? And don’t tell me they have nice personalities – that’s a dead giveaway.”

– “They’re not ugly.” It sounded like he was telling the truth, but I could have sworn that he was hiding something.

– “Come clean. Details.”

– “The older sister is 19. Her name is Samantha. I swear, she’s cute. And there’s also the younger sister – Tanya – she’s only 16.”

– “Three sisters? And you want me to keep two of them busy.”

– “C-Can you help me out, Joe?

– “Sure, Marty. What are friends for?” After all, I thought – how bad could it be?

– “Thanks, man.” he said. “This means a l-lot to me.”

 

https://lapetitemort17.wordpress.com/?p=365

 

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14 of the Weirdest, Craziest, Philly-est Stories from 2018

Greased poles, profane potholes, farm animals roaming the city. Just another year in Philadelphia.

https://billypenn.com/2018/12/27/14-of-the-weirdest-craziest-philly-est-stories-from-2018/

 

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1969 Volkswagen Minibus – 1969 to 1984 – Part 2

I think it was Christmas 1978 and Janice got a blue VW Rabbit for Christmas. Great gift. But she was the first born and the first child going off to college. She had been accepted to Franklin & Marshall. She was always a good student. So I guess Dad wanted her to have solid transportation to and from school, or to at least get around while she was away at college.

Blue was her favorite color and it was a cute little car. But all this meant was that the minibus was going to me next. Dad had discussed it with me. The age to drive in PA was 16 but in NJ it was 17. But the drinking age in PA is 21 and it was 18 in NJ. Go figure. So in 1980 I was legal for everything.

My dad would take me out for a few hours in the morning on the weekends and teach me how to drive. I really learned how to drive a van. Because Wildwood, NJ is an island, tidal flooding must always be taken into consideration. So many of the roads crown in the middle so that water will run along the sides and not the middle.

So here I am with a very patient teacher (Dad) teaching me how to do K turns on a crown in a VW minibus without stalling the vehicle. It’s a 4 speed stick. Oh, and the van has a big blind spot on the back right side. It was very challenging for a new driver. I stalled her out plenty of times until I learned how to balance the clutch and the gas. It’s all just a balanced dance with the feet. When you learn in a vehicle like that that is big, awkward, sluggish manual steering and stick, you really learn how to manage any car after that.

It took a few lessons and I studied the book you get from the DMV when they issue you your permit. I aced the test, and passed the driving test thanks to Dad.

But that was the 2nd time I took the driving test.

The first time I was nearly through it and the guy that was in the van with me when I took the test yanked on the emergency brake and broke it. The van was 12 years old by then, it just gave way because he pulled on it really hard. So he failed me not for my performance but because of the vehicle.

My dad was pissed. I remember him being angry at the guy. It’s always okay to do stuff to your own kids, but see what happens when somebody else does something to them. I remember we were walking back to the barracks and a piece of the paperwork blew out of my dad’s hand and we were both chasing it in the wind.

Well I guess we chased that slip of paper into a restricted area, and when we looked up there were two formidable soldiers with automatic weapons pointed at us. We explained that we were chasing a document and had gotten it. We walked back to the barracks and re-scheduled another test for me. My dad was still salty about the test guy, but we had a good laugh about having armed soldiers pointing their guns at us.

So now the old horse was mine. My dad said he wanted the van to be nice when he passed it to me so he took me to a stereo store and he had a cassette player installed in it. two speakers up front under the dash and three in the back. I didn’t even have a cassette player at home. I was still buying vinyl records and had some 8 tracks.

I remember I had heard a song on the radio called “Girls Got Rhythm.” I wanted that to be the first cassette I ever bought. So I drove out to the Rio Grande Mall and  picked up AC/DC’s Highway To Hell album. I cranked that shit up all the way back to the house.

Sometimes after dinner I would just get in and drive around for a while. I just loved listening to my music and driving around. If my sister April needed she and her girlfriends to be transported or picked up, I had the capabilities and the space to carry a load of them.

Having the minibus all summer back in 1981 was glorious. We could cruise around in it, carry my band gear, it was awesome.

There was an old drive in movie theater out in Rio Grande. One of my coolest memories of the van was, we’d drive out there and see double features. It was fantastic fun for a bunch of young guys. I remember the road leading in was all broken seashells. It was a dilapidated dump of a place but we loved it. We’d find a good spot and park the van at dusk. We’d have our tickets and all get out of the van and head towards the broken down fence. We’d slip through the opening and hit the liquor store on the other side on Rt. 47. I’d usually get an 8 pack of Miller ponies.

We’d slip back in and then go buy a bunch of snacks. Once it got dark the movie would start. It was always a double feature, which as awesome. I’d recognize other guy’s I knew there sometimes. I’d walk by this one dude’s car I knew and if the windows were all steamed up, I did not approach. He had a girl in there.

But for the most part it was a fun night with the guys. You would pull up along side one of the metal poles and hooked to it was a speaker. It had a clip on the back so you could hang it on your window to provide the audio. (A few years later you could just tune your car stereo to a certain station and hear the movie that way.)

Sometimes I’d pull up sideways between two of the audio station poles, and just open up the van. Some of the guys brought beach chairs and we’d all just sit outside and watch the movie. I’d leave the audio boxes on the poles and just crank them up so we could all hear.

Lovely memories.

I think it’s a shopping center now.

Now it was time to make some new memories with the Magic Bus!

 

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