A few weeks ago, I got an email from a gentleman I didn’t know. His name is Tom Kranz, and he’s an author and has his own podcast called Type. Tune. Tint. He asked me if I would be a guest on his show, and of course I agreed!
We talked about my latest book, LAWNDALE and how we’re from the same part of the city and some of our collective history. It was a great experience and I’m really grateful that Tom reached out to me.
I decided that I should share it with you all and hope you enjoy listening to this short piece as much as I did making it with Tom. It’s entitled: Creativity Born in a Philadelphia Row home.
Star Wars has always been a love of mine. Since it came out in 1977, I’ve been a fan. It was such a huge part of my teenage life just like the band, Aerosmith. We loved Star Wars and everything about the whole mythology for years. But then something occurred in the 90s. George Lucas decided to produce the prequels. If you’re a fan you know how badly that went.
Then there were the sequels in the last few years. Not as bad as the prequels but they just felt like a nostalgic retread to please all the Star Wars fanboys. Just updated versions of the original gems. Sad knock offs for any true fan of the original trilogy.
But a couple of years ago something wonderful happened. They made Rogue One which is a new prequel to the events leading up to the 1977 original, A New Hope. It was a really good and unique story. I liked it and so did my friends. But the sequels were still happening and they just didn’t feel right.
Then they came out with the series The Mandalorian. I watched it and LOVED it. It looked and felt like the original Star Wars from my youth. That’s pretty hard to do, but it’s been done. This is how it all should have gone down after Return of the Jedi, but didn’t. But now here we are exploring these new characters and it has the look and feel of the classic originals. I’m very pleased.
Then last year they came out with the Book of Boba Fett. I didn’t know how that was going to be but my fingers were crossed. I LOVED that too!
I think after 20 years the guys who were teenagers like me when we first encountered Star Wars are now making the new movies and shows. If that’s what it took, then so be it. I’m happy and it’s nice to see that there’s a group of artists that know what they’re doing and are expanding the Star Wars universe the right way.
So to my friends and me there really are only a few true Star Wars projects:
Rogue One – A New Hope – The Empire Strikes Back – Return of the Jedi – The Mandalorian – The Book of Boba Fett.
That’s it so far. If there is anything else after Boba then I haven’t seen it yet at the time of this writing. But we’re headed in the right direction and I think the true fans will agree!
Thank you, Jon Favreau!!!!
Update: The next Star Wars show that is coming out will be on Disney+ and is called Andor, dropping on September 21st. So… YAY!
Check out my new book on Amazon!
Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly.
I’m going to have to say, Queen’s song, Sheer Heart Attack from their LP News of the World does it for me. It’s a mix of punk and metal played at breakneck speed. It is an absolutely furious song that I used to jam out to in my bedroom on my guitar.
The Wildwood Twin Drive-In owned by Fox theaters of Philadelphia opened on July 28, 1950, as a single-screen drive-in. In 1976 a second screen was added. This drive-in had a capacity of 470 cars.
The Wildwood Twin Drive-In closed after the 1986 season. The original address was Wildwood Boulevard (Route 47) at exit 4A of the Garden State Parkway.
The drive-in theater was the idea of Richard M. Hollingshead who opened the very first drive-in theater in Camden, New Jersey on June 6, 1933. It wouldn’t be until 1950 that Cape May County would have its own drive-in movie theater. Mel Fox, of Fox Theaters from Philadelphia opened the Wildwood Drive-In theater on a 13.5-acre lot on Wildwood Blvd., in Rio Grande. With space for 470 cars, a Simplex X-L projector and a sound system with Simplex in-car speakers, the drive-in was ready for its grand opening, Friday, July 28, 1950, with the showing of “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now.” The box office opened at 7:30 pm with a 60-cent admission per car. Free popcorn was given to everyone on opening night. They ran two shows each night during the week and three shows nightly on weekends. The property was sprayed with DDT every week. Sometimes every night! (Darn mosquitos!)
In the Fall and Winter of 1981, my father taught me how to drive. We would go out each morning and I would practice driving our 1969 Volkswagenminibus. It was a four-speed manual transmission and had a blind spot on the back right quadrant of the vehicle. So it was fun to try to parallel park that sucker. Especially fun was learning how to K-turn the van. Each street had a crown for water drainage in Wildwood, so the vehicle would roll and stall out all the time as I struggled with the gas, clutch, and brake. But in time I figured it out, (with my father’s patience) and soon I could hold the van on a hill and even roll it back and forth on the incline using only the clutch and brake.
I passed my driving test and my dad gave the van to me. You can read all about the history of that family vehicle in the links in the above paragraph.
The Summer came around and I now had possession of the van. One of the first things I wanted to do was take my friends to the drive-in movie out in Rio Grande off the island. I always loved movies and especially horror movies so it was a natural progression for me to want to hang out there.
We’d drive out Rio Grande Avenue which turned into route 47. Delsea Drive as it’s better known. The reason route 47 was called Delsea Drive is that it runs from the Delaware River to the Atlantic Ocean. (Get it? Delaware to the Sea. Del-Sea!) When you passed the bay and the grassy sound and you’d arrive out in Rio Grande on the mainland. There were shops and roadside vendors and even a little mall out there. (It was more like a small enclosed shopping center) There were a few old motels out there and maybe a trailer park or two but what stood out was on the right was a drive-in movie theater.
I had heard of them as a kid and thought it was a cool idea. Just sit in the comfort of your car and watch a movie. You could eat drink and talk and nobody would bother you. When I was a kid I would sometimes see the big screen of a drive in while we passed it at night in the car. I just thought I had to experience that one day. So once I had the van, I was going to make that happen.
We pulled the van off the road and into the entrance through a grove of trees. Sort of like a little tunnel of trees that you had to drive through to get to the box office. The path was littered with broken seashells that crunched under your wheels as you rolled up to buy your tickets. It didn’t cost that much and people were always sneaking their friends inside the trunks of their cars. But we had the van and all they had to do was look inside and see who was in the car. As I said, it was cheap and we didn’t mind paying for whoever was in our crew.
We’d get there at dusk just to get a good spot and hang out a bit. It was cool. the surface of the lot had these humps of dirt built up that you’d pull your vehicle onto just to raise the nose of your car to point the car toward the big screen. You’d pull your car up to one of the speakers that hung on poles that were stuck in the ground all over the lot.
They were these big metal waterproof portable speakers that you unhooked from the pole and then hooked them on the edge of your driver’s side window. It had a volume control on it and that was it. Many of them didn’t work or were badly oxidized from being outside for years. But for the most part, they did their job. You don’t go to the drive-in for a rich film experience and superb audio quality. You go to the drive-in for the fun of it.
A lot of people back then would bring their kids with them. The parents got a night out and didn’t need a babysitter because most of the time the children would pass out and sleep in the backseat of their car or station wagon by the second feature. But for the most part, it was young people and teenagers like us just looking to do something different on a summer night. (You can only have so many nights on the boardwalk and in the nightclubs before you need a break!)
By the time we arrived at this drive-in, it was already 30 years old and its best days were behind it. The screen was a little banged up and so was the old wooden plank fence around the lot. But here’s the cool thing about that. Once night fell, you could walk over to the fence toward Delsea Drive and slip through a hole in the fence behind whatever stores aligned the fence. So we’d go over there and zip through the fence and no one would see us. Once outside the lot, we’d walk about 30 yards to a roadside liquor store and grab a few 8 packs of Miller ponies. We didn’t drink much back then and those mini beers were enough for us, and they were small enough to stay bubbly and cold on the floor of my van. We’d sneak back under the cloak of darkness and have our beer and snacks for the show. I wonder now why we didn’t just buy the beer in Wildwood, hide it in a cooler in the van and then go to the drive-in. Maybe we thought they would check the car and I know there was a “no alcoholic beverage rule” in place at that theater. So maybe that was it. But it was actually more exciting to pull a caper and sneak through the fence and get our beer.
We’d hit the snack bar and try not to get devoured by the hordes of mosquitos that ruled the place at night. I remember keeping a can of OFF behind the seat of the van just for that reason. We’d buy popcorn, nachos, soft pretzels, and whatever other kind of junk food they sold there. We’d load up and head back to the van.
I found this great video of intermission shorts on Youtube. I love how it takes me back to being at that beat-up old drive in theater. The campy voiceover, the crap animation, the photos of the “delicious” food which was terrible and even looks bad in the photos! Such great memories!
Once it was dark, usually just before 8 pm, the first feature would begin. As I said, the place had already been there for 30 years and all they normally showed at that theater during the week was horror movies. Mostly slasher films from the late 70s which were all the rage since the inception of John Carpenter’s Halloween. (I remember one evening we laughed through Bucket of Blood and Demonoid!)
We loved it. Most of the films were bad but made in earnest by the filmmakers. We didn’t care. We’d watch them and eat, sip cold beer, and smoke cigarettes, and were in our teenage glory.
One night I recognized my friend Joe’s (Best bassist on the island) car a few yards ahead of mine. I thought I’d walk over and say hello. I tried to peek in the window, but they were all steamed up. I tapped on the glass and the back window rolled down. Then I saw my pal Joe with his shirt off and beneath him lying on her back was some pretty girl. I quickly backed away from his vehicle and apologized for interrupting his movie experience. (Which neither of them were watching!) So I realized that the drive-in was a cheap, mobile hotel for amorous couples!
One of my most enduring memories of that place was in 1984 when I took my girlfriend Betty Ann to the drive-in. She had never been to a drive-in movie so it was all new fun to her. We pulled up in her blue BMW 5 series and had a grand old time. We drank beer, smoked pot and saw Footloose and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which was a fantastic night. She loved it and I found out first hand that the windows really do steam up pretty quickly! (I’ll be covering the full Betty Ann saga in a series this fall, so stay tuned!)
Once a group of us went to the drive-in and I pulled the van up on the hill sideways. I opened the sliding door on the right side and the passenger door next to me. I passed around the can of OFF spray and everybody grabbed a beach chair I had brought and sat outside the van. I went over to the two speaker poles that were at each end of the car and left them on their poles and just cranked up the volume on each one. So we had four speakers going. We all camped outside around the van and could hear the show. They played the film Purple Rain and everybody went wild over that. It was a spectacular night of music and laughter. (After that, who didn’t want to cleanse their soul with Appolonia Kotero in the waters of Lake Minnetonka?)
Years later they tore it down and put up a shopping center and if you went out there now you’d never know the place ever existed. The advent of home video rentals killed the drive-in movies.
It now lives only in my memories.
I’d love to hear your comments on what your experiences were at this amazing place!
Check out my new book, LAWNDALE on Amazon. It’s packed with stories from my youth growing up in Northeast Philadelphia!
My next book,DOWN THE SHORE,a collection of stories from my summers in Wildwood in the 70s will be released inMay of 2023!
Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly.
I just wanted to take a moment and thank everyone who bought my book. It was a stressful time leading up to the release but it all turned out well and made for a great 60th birthday!
I was surprised how many copies sold and hope everybody got their orders promptly. I’ve been down this road six times before and it’s never an easy process.
If anyone out there is thinking of writing and publishing some sort of book I’d be happy to help in any way I can. It’s tough to do it independently because there’s no roadmap to guide you through the journey. But if anybody needs help I can assist you.
I’ve also loved all of the outpourings of love from the community. It really means a lot to me. I don’t write these books to make money and get rich and famous. I do it because I have to create. Whether it’s a picture, a story, or a song, I have to make things. It brings me a lot of joy knowing I put something there that wasn’t there before. It’s nice to be able to create for people so they can feel something. I’m not a great writer or a musician. I have zero formal training. I just like to make things and take it from there.
I know some really great writers and musicians. Many of them have great technical training to do what they do. But I’ve found it’s not really about that. We’ve all seen movies that looked great visually, but the story sucked or the characters or dialogue were weak. The greatest movies ever made have been about the STORY and the PEOPLE in those stories. Tales that make us feel something, or take us back to happier, simpler times in our lives.
Think about your favorite song. You don’t love and rock out to that song because it’s technically proficient or well produced. The greatest songs make you feel something. That’s what I strive for in my art.
If you got my book and liked it, I’d love it if you’d write a short review on Amazon to let people know what you thought about the work.
Also… I would love it if you could take a photo of yourself with the book. It can be anything. You holding it. Reading it. Your kid holding it. Your dog chewing on it. Anything fun. Be creative! I’d love to put those photos on social media to show that people have the book and are enjoying it. You can post your pic on your own page and tag me or post it to my page. (Or send it to me in messenger)
How about this… I’ll put all of the names of the folks who took photos and put them in a hat. I’ll pick one out at random and whoever I pull out wins a FREE signed copy of my book!
Here’s another idea…
My sister Jane and I have been chatting about maybe putting something together where we could all meet up in the near future. We’re all getting older and it would be great to see all the familiar faces from our youth again. She thought maybe some sort of a book signing and that would be fine, but I’d be happy just to see you all again, and meet some new people I didn’t know from the old neighborhood.
I’d like to hear from you all with some suggestions as to some good spots that would be convenient for us to all meet up. Maybe two different events? I have no idea. But I’m sure we could come up with some viable options and dates that would work for everybody. Let me know! We can chat on messenger or you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you again for making my birthday amazing. I wasn’t expecting the book to do as well as it has. Hope to hear from you all soon!
Tell your friends!
There will be a book about my summers in Wildwood in the 1970s!
Coming… Memorial Day – 2023!
Thank you for reading my blog. Please like, comment, and most of all Follow Phicklephilly. I publish every week on Tuesday.
The LAWNDALE book has been on sale on Amazon since August 9th. Happily, it’s been selling really well. And for that, I’m very grateful. There’ll be a special blog post about that this Thursday.
But in the meantime, here’s a little bonus story for you all to enjoy.
“Relics may be the literal remains of holy people or objects that the holy people have used or touched. Examples of relics include teeth, bones, hair, and fragments of objects such as fabrics or wood. … Relics are believed to have special powers to heal, grant favors, or exorcise spirits.”
Philadelphia, PA – Lawndale – Late 60s Early 70s
When I was a kid the cool place to hang out at night was down the basement. It was a little chilly down there, so my mom always made us wear our sweaters. There was a nice built-in bar with an old-time working telephone, a pool table, a comfortable old sofa, a chair, and my dad’s desk. My dad would hang out down there and listen to his music and read after dinner.
My dad liked to smoke the occasional cigar and had a nice wooden humidor where he kept them. I remember he would open it and pull out the little metal screen in the lid and ask me to run it under the faucet in the bathroom. He would shake the excess water out of it and replace it back into the box. The screen kept the cigars moist and fresh.
On my dad’s desk, he had his papers and reports for work or anything else he was attending to. A couple of his hobbies were writing and filmmaking so he always had something he was working on down there.
One of the things that he had that I always liked was this old cast iron ashtray from the 1930s. It was specifically designed for cigars because it had two large grooves in the edges of the tray that would accommodate a couple of stogies.
I have no idea where he got it and maybe it belonged to his father, but its origin never came up. I just thought it was cool because on the tray it had a little man clinging to a lamp post. He wore a yellow vest and a derby hat. He was painted and his eyes were little Xs. I remember asking my dad why his eyes looked that way, and he said that the little guy had too much to drink and was clinging to the pole to steady himself. I always thought he was just holding on because he was in a wind storm, but my dad said he was three sheets to the wind.
It was just a cool, old artifact that was always around and my dad used it to ash his cigars in it when he was down there. Years later in 2016, when my father passed away, the object once again appeared. I wasn’t interested in getting anything out of his house when he passed, but one of the members of my family got in there and started taking stuff. I thought this was wrong because technically the property was left to two other members of the family and this person was trespassing and stealing. (looting!)
I asked if the little ashtray was still around. It was the only thing I wanted. Back then I still smoked and thought it would be a cool nostalgic addition to my desk. I put the word out and the little guy was mailed to me.
I was happy to have him. I cleaned it up, and because it was made from cast iron, it looked exactly as it did when I was a boy. It sits today on my desk in my place in Rittenhouse.
Here he is. (Looks a bit like Andy Capp!)
Philadelphia, PA – 2021
I was working at the counter at the hardware store and an older gentleman was there picking up some string and nails. He handed me the postcard pictured at the beginning of this post. I asked him what it was about and he told me that there are people who collect old postcards from around the world. I thought this was cool and never knew that people did that. But people collect everything so why not postcards?
I took the postcard and told the man I would probably stop over and check it out and say hello.
October 29, 2021
The day arrived and I decided to walk over and take a look. I was just looking for something to do on my day off. It was at the First Unitarian Church over at 22nd and Chestnut next to the Mutter Museum. The First Unitarian Church is cool because it’s open to everyone and has a vision and mission of love and values. But in the basement, they’ve hosted hardcore metal shows in the past, so I was down.
I get there and a guy was sitting outside at a table accepting $5 donations and signing people in. I paid my fee and carefully walked down the stone steps to the basement beneath the old church. I went inside and the postcard show was a very small affair. They only had a handful of tables set up with boxes of postcards from all over the world. One of the coolest aspects of this show was that many of the old postcards had writing on the backs of them. These were real postcards from real people from the past!
I read the words from long-dead people saying what a wonderful time they were having wherever they were, and how they didn’t want to come home. It touched a part of me who came from a time when people wrote cards and letters to each other. This was something I did as a youth in Wildwood. I would meet these girls and go on dates and then we’d correspond all winter until the following summer. It was a cheap, fun way to stay in touch with people you cared about. Calling them on the phone was too expensive and getting a nice letter and photos in the mail was so much more fun.
I found an old postcard from the 30s and it was a picture of the post office out next to 30th street station here in Philly. I read the caption on the back and it stated that it was the only building in the country that you could land a small plane on. The building is a block long and they must have landed the little propeller planes carrying the mail on the roof back then. Amazing!
I noticed one of the tables had a few old typewriters set up and they would let the guests buy a postcard, and type who they wanted it to go to on the back. They even had a list of prominent people’s names and addresses you could send them to. So cool!
I watched as people struggled to use this ancient technology to communicate. It almost seemed alien to them because they can now text and send photos in seconds with today’s technology. I like that technology is so stunning now late in my life, but I’m glad I come from an age when people wrote letters and cards to each other. It’s so much more intimate and romantic.
I happened upon one of the tables and was looking at some old postcards from the 70s from places I knew. I figured I should pick up a couple just for the sake of nostalgia. I also wanted to support the people that took the time to share their collections with the general public.
But then I saw something that caught my attention.
A little cast iron figurine clinging to a pole. But he didn’t look like my drunk ashtray guy. He wore a top hat, tails, and spats. He looked like he’d just come from a classy night out at the theater but maybe had one too many martinis that evening. This object looked to have been manufactured by the same people that made my old ashtray.
I had to have it.
I asked the man behind the table how much he wanted for it and he said $5. I couldn’t get my cash out fast enough. I handed over the money and he placed the little guy in a bag for me. I told him the story about the ashtray and he told me that one of this guy’s tails from his jacket curls off to the right. It’s a bottle opener!
Now I have a cute set and a companion for my ashtray guy. They’re also a reminder of how I don’t smoke and rarely drink anymore. I’m sure there must be plenty of these types of things all over the country, but I was just so surprised that I ended up at this unique show and found this little guy.
Here he is!
All in all, I think my favorite part of attending this little event was, chatting with the vendors about the past. I can see myself doing this sort of thing when I’m retired. Just go to old antique and collector shows to look at cool stuff from the past, and chat with the people who love them. It just felt good to reminisce with people from my generation about our memories from a forgotten time.
Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every week.
My new book, LAWNDALE is available’60s,Drthroughout for sale on Amazon!
There was a little unique shop on the boardwalk called The Button Master. My friend, Wolfie who was in a band with me at the time used to call the place, The Button Bastard. (I don’t know why, but why not?)
The shop was nothing but buttons. This was a trend in the mid to late 70s. They had all kinds of cool phrases on them and they could even make custom buttons for you if you brought them an image.
I always had a few buttons stuck to my green army jacket, which had the logo of my band on the back, The Union Jacks. I also had several buttons on the black guitar strap for my guitar. They were one of Alex from A Clockwork Orange, (Read the book by Anthony Burgess in 12th grade in American Lit class and loved it but hadn’t seen the Kubrick movie yet because it was no longer out in theaters and they would never show something like that on TV back then!) I had a button that said; I Want It All, Total Control, and a custom button I had made of Farrah Fawcett. (Because I LOVED her back then)
The owner was never there and I only met him once. But there was a guy who was in his 20s from New York named Tom Duke who worked there. He was a nice guy and would always let me hang out there and talk about rock music. Which I loved. I would sometimes just go up there on my day off and just browse the buttons and chat with him. They were all super cheap. Maybe a buck apiece.
I think Tom lived there, because there was a mattress on the floor in the back room, and I assumed he crashed there all summer. He was skinny and sort of gaunt, so he may have been a random drug user who didn’t seem like a person of means. But he had vast musical knowledge and I loved talking about rock with anybody who knew what they were talking about back then.
He was a big, YES and Genesis fan, and told me he knew some of the guys in those bands which I thought was super cool. (Could have been a lie, but who’s checking?) He liked that the latest Genesis album was entitled, Duke, because that was his last name. Just a weird coincidence I suppose.
Sometimes he had beer and we’d drink and chat and make it a fun night laughing it up in the store. Alcohol was new to me back then and I could get a nice buzz from 2 bottles of Bud. I remember Tom going out the back door of the store once and peeing right off the edge of the boardwalk into the parking lot below. Somebody yelled at him to stop, but he just laughed and shouted, “What? It’s my F*cking parking spot!”
I thought that was hilarious.
One night I was hanging out in the store and it was getting late. I knew he’d be closing soon and I’d be going home. I was just hanging in the store and talking rock with him, and helping customers find different buttons. I had spent so much time in that store I sort of knew where everything was. Just sheets hung up around the room and thousands of colorful buttons pinned all over them. Pretty simple setup and cheap inventory with low overhead.
This couple came in and they sort of looked like hybrid hippies. In their late 30s or early 40s. Like, maybe they used to be hippies but cut their hair but still had that hippie vibe to them.
I noticed the guy had an iron-on of Wile E Coyote on his yellow T-shirt. But I’m pretty sure this wasn’t an image licensed by Warner Brothers. It was Wile E, in a diving position with his mouth open and the message said: Muff Diver.
I’d seen that image before, but it just seemed kind of creepy even back then. We only wore fun images and rock band names on our shirts, and here was this old guy with this weird awkward shirt on.
I pointed to the wall of buttons and asked him if there was anything he was interested in. His response was:
“Other than f*cking?”
Okay, that’s weird.
So then, what I’m assuming was wife starts flirting with me right in the store. I’m getting nervous because her husband is right there on the other side of the store. She’s touching me and rubbing my back and stuff. I’m 17 years old and still pretty naive. I’ve been dating girls since I was 14 years old, but this was some new adult ground for me back in 1980. But I have a couple of beers in me, so I’m not having an anxiety attack.
She says she wants me to come back to their motel room for some fun. She was kind of hot and I was debating whether I should do it, but something was telling me I shouldn’t. I was experiencing some classic stranger danger. I didn’t know these people. What if they took me back to their room and killed me? I liked horror movies and my mind went right to that image.
Her husband was sort of just standing off in the distance watching all of this. He was smiling and nodding his head. I’m thinking, is this something these people do? Hunt young teen guys for their kinky debauchery? I wasn’t stupid and I’d heard of people who were swingers but I hadn’t encountered anything like this before.
So, Tom Duke says, “Why don’t you two just go into the back room and have at it. I felt a little better about that idea because he was there and if anything weird went down he could come and save me.
But, here’s the thing, they were in agreeance only if her husband could join in. I was like… No way. No three-way with an old dude. His wife continued to stay close to me and rub my back like I was some sort of pet.
I told them I appreciated their offer, but I just wasn’t into that sort of thing. They were nice about it and just laughed. She turns to her husband and says: “I think it’s just a lack of experience.”
I protested that I was hip to all things like that but just wasn’t into that particular thing. But they knew. I did lack experience. But in all honesty, there was no way I was fooling around with a lady and a man in some sort of sexy tryst.
They smiled, said goodbye, and left the store to go hunt down some other hapless teen. I hope they didn’t find anybody.
The next day I went and told my boss Louie on the Golden Nugget the whole lurid story. He told me I did the right thing by declining their offer. I’ll never forget what Louie yelled to me over the noise of the ride.
“You could have been screwing the lady and then all of a sudden, you feel some guy getting you from behind!” (add expletives and profanity from your imagination)
Just another crazy summer night in Wildwood.
Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly.
Here’s my latest book. There will be a book about my summers in Wildwood coming Memorial Day 2023!
For those of you who don’t want to listen to my long-winded speech… You can get it here!
Just in time for my birthday, my new book is finally on sale! It’s hard to believe, but I’m 60 years old today! I think my brain still thinks I’m 18, but I’m definitely getting older.
When I worked as a Branch Manager at the 10th and Snyder Branch of First Union in South Philly in the 90s, I had a customer who I became friends with who lived right across the street. That customer was Jean Bruno, daughter of the late Angelo Bruno. Jean was a lovely woman who became a friend of mine. (I’ll save those stories for future blog posts) She used to say to me that she never wanted presents for her birthday. She would give presents to other people on her birthday to let herself know that she was still around to give and help other people. I never forgot those words and wished I could be like that.
So, today for my birthday, I’m presenting the Lawndale book to you all to enjoy on my birthday! It’s my gift to you all!
Anyway… on to the business at hand!
It’s been a long time coming, but the Lawndale book is finally available on Amazon!
Let me start with another quick story. The book was supposed to come out on the first day of summer, just like all of my previous books. I was born in the summer and I’ve always felt like June 21st was always important. School was out or ending and it was the first day of summer. That meant going down the seashore and having a great time in Wildwood, NJ. So there’s the tie-in for me wanting to release my books when I do.
But the Lawndale book was stalled. I wasn’t finished editing it and writing some of the stories that I wanted to include. I was busy cranking out freelance writing assignments and it looked like the Lawndale book may be delayed. This would be the first time a book I ever wrote was late.
I hate being late. I used to get grounded by my father for being late. He would say, “It’s not that you were late getting home… It’s that we agreed on 10 o’clock and you broke your word. Your word means nothing if you don’t keep it.”
That is some heavy stuff right there. But I’ve always been punctual for the rest of my life and see the importance of being on time. Especially now that everyone’s connected by the internet and phones and navigation and time. There’s almost no reason to be late. Except if the person simply can’t manage their clock or the calendar.
So it bothered me that I might be late on this book.
But then it struck me. Why does it have to be the first day of summer? It doesn’t matter, and most of my readers may not even be expecting it. I decided I need to ease up and just release it sometime this summer.
But then it hits me. A realistic deadline for this book is August 9th. My 60th birthday. Who knows if I’ll even make 70, so let’s get this sucker out for the 60th!
So that’s how that happened. It makes sense and next year’s Wildwood book needs to drop Memorial Day weekend. Because that’s when the summer really kicks off in this country.
So I do all the things I’m supposed to do to make this book happen. Last week I decide to send my sister Jane a postcard that says, “Greetings from Philly” and is a picure of our skyline. Who sends postcards anymore?
Just like I wrote letters to people in the 70s.
I’m gonna send my sister a postcard and write a note to her about how the book Lawndale is now LIVE on Amazon.
But when I sent that postcard it wasn’t yet. It was still in post production and review at Amazon. At that point it may not be available for another 72 hours and if there’s a problem or two… it may not publish on August 9th.
But I thought back to an old friend of mine. Chris Yurkow, the president of the school and champion quarterback at Frankford High School in 1979. I was standing in the school store with him after lunch one day. He would work there after lunch a few days a week. I told him how amazing it was that he had led Frankford High’s football team to victory and became city champs. I complimented him on the jacket that he was wearing that signified that accomplishment. Heres what he said to me….
“I actually ordered the jackets that said we were city champs before we even played the game.”
“Why, Chris. What if you lost?”
“I knew we couldn’t lose.”
Right. Don’t worry about failure or delays. Believe in the work and it’ll come out. I created this book and there won’t be anything that can stop this from coming out on August 9th.
So I mailed her the postcard and told her it was live. (I knew it may take a few days to get to her so that bought me some time) I just crossed my fingers and dropped the card in the mailbox.
But low and behold I heard from her Saturday and she told me that she got the postcard and was surprised.
But here’s the weird part. She texted me the day before and told be she looked on Amazon under my name and saw that Lawndale was live. I didn’t even know it was live yet! I was busy working and hadn’t checked any of the updates from Amazon. So my sister Jane is the one who told me my book went live… BEFORE she had ever gotten the postcard from me telling her the book went live. When I sent the card to her it was still in post production!
A wonderful psychic moment between me and my closest blood relative on the planet.
Anyway… Let’s move on.
I’m sure there are more stories to tell about the old neighborhood, but I’ve done the best I can to remember and collect as many as I could for this book. I was surprised how much everybody loved some of the stories I told on my blog Phicklephilly last year.
Due to the pandemic, what began as a lack of content became something wonderful. I never thought I’d be able to remember enough stories to fill a whole book! But here we are and it’s yours to own on Amazon.
I want to thank everybody from the old neighborhood for all of their comments and likes when a few stories were published last year on some of the great Facebook Groups about Philly! I’m really grateful to the administrators of those groups for allowing me to share my stories on their platforms.
I appreciate all the support, and your words really kept me going to keep writing and generating new fun stories about our collective past for this book.
Even though the stories are from my perspective and many of these events happened to me, I think we can all see ourselves in some of these situations.
When I write on my blog, I use the whole language and tell my stories, warts and all. Normally, when I publish a book I want it to represent what I saw and what I felt during any of these situations. But I decided for this book, I needed to clean it up a bit. I didn’t want to sound as though I had a bad childhood or anything. I decided to tread lightly on some of the more personal memories.
Several people I spoke with about this said they’d prefer to read a book that contains all the gory details. But as I edited the final draft for this work I just didn’t feel that it was that kind of a book. Our minds normally cleanse all the bad aspects of our lives and retain the good ones. Who wants to read a book about endless suffering? Nobody!
Putting together a book like this is new to me. My first book, Phicklephilly was just a collection of stories from my blog. It was just an attempt to collect a bunch of loose stories from a medium I knew little about. But I felt that as much as I needed to write the blog it all seemed fleeting and disposable. I would write a story and tomorrow it’s replaced by a new one or the next chapter.
I wanted to have it somehow preserved forever. My thoughts, words and experiences captured. Because I knew my own life was fleeting and I was getting older. The blog could go away, but a book was forever, right?
Nothing is forever. But I thought if I could publish then at least my words and memories would be left behind for someone to read it and maybe know and understand me.
I kept writing the blog with all of its dating and relationship advice, and stories from my own adventures. But it always felt like something was missing. If I could just get to a point where enough people would read and follow my blog maybe I could write about the things I wanted to write about. I felt like the recording artist that has to record and play the songs the management and the record company want him to play because that’s what the fans want.
But at some point if he gets enough people to listen to him maybe he can make the records he wants to make. Write the songs he wants to play if for no one else but himself just to get some peace of mind.
I hit that point during the pandemic, with over 350,000 page views and 2,400 subscribers all vieing for my voice.
It was time to make Phicklephilly what I had always wanted it to be. A weekly forum where I could just create stories about anything I wanted. To write for myself and anyone else who cared to listen. Not clickbait to get more page views, subscribers, or advertising revenue for the site.
I decided this summer to not renew my premium plan on the blog. I was paying $300 a year to have 24-hour customer service, advertising on the site, Google Adsense, and all of the other bells and whistles that come with the premium plan.
What I realized last summer when there was an outpouring of love from Philly and Wildwood about stories I wrote from my memories. I realized what I do has nothing to do with how good the plan I have at WordPress or Google.
It was about the content. It was about the words I was writing that was bringing people from my generation a little joy and solace. Moments of nostaglia from our collective past. Stories we could all relate to from the same place and time in the world.
A place long ago where we all came from. That response from you all meant more than subscribers, page views, or ad revenue. I decided to let my premium plan lapse and just let the site go back to its orginal version as a free site.
I realized the best part of Phicklphilly was the stories that actually touched people. And for that, I’m grateful to you all. Thanks for the clarity 40 years after all of the things in the Lawndale book happened. You helped me identify my purpose and my need to create and to leave something of value behind in this world.
Building a book is a chore. First of all, you have to write the darn thing. But that can be a beautiful transformative experience, so that’s the fun part. It’s hard to do or everybody would do it. But there are so many aspects when planning a new book. This is my 7th trip into the publishing world, and it gets easier and the rush of making something that never existed is exquisite.
Do I do a Dedication? Who do I dedicate the Lawndale book to? Who is the most significant person I met in Lawndale? Who should my book about my childhood be dedicated to? Is there any one person who touched my life in such a profound way in Lawndale that I should dedicate the whole book to them?
Then I had to write the Introduction. Non-fiction books require that. You have to get the reader into the world you’re creating with your book. I had to set the stage for all the stories. So if a person that had no idea about the 60s or 70s, or Northeast Philly, might get what this book was about. So that became another important aspect of the book. I also wanted to have a moment to speak with everybody from the old neighborhood in the introduction. Just to say… “hey, remember this guys? This all happened when we were kids. We were there! We lived through all of this!”
The Acknowledgements had to happen. I wanted to thank everyone that reached out, liked, commented, and followed my work, and heard my voice during the pandemic. I reached inward and pulled out some stories and people listened and responded. I realized I’d touched a nerve. I was shocked and overjoyed when I got so many texts, messages, and phone calls from people I hadn’t spoken to or seen in over 40 years. I hope I haven’t missed anyone!
I cobbled this book together between work, writing freelance articles, and everything else that life tosses my way. But I was determined to get it created and out to the people who wanted to read it. To maybe recapture a few of those lost moments from childhood when life was so much simpler but seemed so much harder.
The funny thing is… the best part of all of this is the time leading up to the release of the book. The anticipation. Remember the song by Carly Simon they used to play over the Heinz ketchup commercial?
Anticipation is the best part. I’ve done all of the work. The book is done. It’s in post-production at Amazon. Everybody’s waiting for it and so am I. It’s those moments and days before the book comes out that are the best. Knowing everyone is out there waiting for it. I’m just waiting for the US Library of Commerce to assign me an ISBN number for my book. Will it publish on time? Will something go wrong? A million things could go wrong.
But I quell my anxiety with the warm thoughts of what the book is about and how much everybody’s been waiting for it.
I made this. I’m about to put something there that wasn’t there before. Ever since I was a kid I liked making things. I like to create. That’s my favorite thing to do. But that moment before you show your work to somebody is the best. That rush of excitement that something you made is coming. It’s perfect because it hasn’t happened yet, but you know it’s on the way, like Christmas morning.
I made this and it touched a lot of people. It’s simple stories from my average childhood in a little suburb of Philadelphia. But it meant a lot to all of us that lived it.
Sure, growing up is a challenge for any kid, but we all had pretty nice childhoods back then. Our parents did the best they could with what they knew and what they could provide for us.
We played outside, hung out back the railroad tracks, built forts, explored nature, played games in the street, and knew everybody in the neighborhood. It was a wonderful time to be a kid!
I wanted this book to be something anybody could read and not be offended or sad. Just a nice collection of stories from my childhood and adolecence that everybody could relate to on some level.
I’m pleased with the finished product and I hope you are too. Because all we really possess are our memories… and our childhoods were pretty sweet growing up in Lawndale.
The Lawndale book is just one week away from being published!
While writing the Lawndale book I started to think about all of the music we listened to growing up in the house on 312 Magee.
There was always some sort of music playing somewhere in the house at any given time. Whether it was my mom listening to Andy Williams on the record player in the dining room while she did her housework, or us kids listening to our records.
My father always loved music and would listen to classical and operas in the basement while he worked or read his books.
We had the jukebox on the porch that had been loaned to us by a couple that my dad was friends with and we loved that thing!
There was the the 8-track player in the 1969 VW minibus that we all rocked out to on trips on the road with dad.
We listened to the radio in the kitchen and would hear all the new popular songs of the day.
I would sometimes bring a little record player to the dinner table and sit it on the seat next to me. My dad wasn’t home, and it would be just my mom and my sisters. I would put little 45 rpm records on and we would all sing to them. It was a riot!
I got into listening to some of my favorite songs and bands recently on Spotify and thought about creating a playlist of all the music we heard in our house growing up as kids. Not just the music we owned, but all the theme songs from our favorite shows that were on TV in the 60s and 70s.
At first I thought it would be cool to share it with my sisters for nostalgic reasons. But then I thought, wouldn’t it be great to share it with all of the people who might remember some of these songs from their past as well.
So I’ve decided to add to the anticipation of the Lawndale book coming out next week and share it with everybody as a soundtrack to the book.
Some of the songs you may not recognize but some will make you smile and take you back to a simpler time. This is an eclectic mix of music and themes from the 60s and 70s that were alive in our house at 312 Magee growing up.
I hope you enjoy it, and maybe you’ll listen to it in the background while reading my book! (Don’t worry if you don’t have a Spotify account. It’s free and you can just go on and check it out!)
One of our favorite hangouts growing up at the shore was the beloved Botto’s Arcade at 10th and Surf Avenue. It was 2 blocks from our house and was a meeting place for the local kids.
In the first half of the decade, it was a small market full of food staples, sundries, and beach stuff. It’s where we used to go to buy our kites and string. But because Russo’s Market at 9th and Ocean was such a juggernaut and go-to spot they sort of ran Joe Botto out of business. Just geographic competition. Botto, a retired Philly cop, was never happy about that, but shifted gears and turned it into an arcade much to the joy of the neighborhood youth.
Botto’s had everything we needed for an enjoyable afternoon or evening as an alternative to the beach and boardwalk. A phonebooth outside in case you had to drop a dime and make a call, and a soda machine full of ice-cold beverages stood out front. Joe’s wife normally worked during the day, giving out change for the machines inside and operating the bike rental part of the business.
The place was small, but just the right size for us kids. A regulation-sized, slate pool table in the center of the room, and a thunderous jukebox packed with 45’s of all the hits of the day parked against the front wall near the entrance. (It played A and B sides! This way, I could listen to Walk this Way and Uncle Salty!)
All around the perimeter of the room were pinball machines and video games. My favorite pinball machine, Flash was where I spent most of my time and quarters. They had some of the greats… Eight Ball Deluxe, Gorgar, Wizard, Playboy, El Dorado, and Joker Poker, to name a few.
But, they had all the classic video games of the day in there too. Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Super Breakout, and Asteroids.
Botto’s was a place where teenagers could hang out, play games, chat, flirt, shoot pool, drink soda and smoke cigarettes. The owners were cool, and there was never any trouble there. I’ve spent many a rainy day or health night in that arcade. The phrase “health night” came from my mother. She used to say to me, “You’re out every night! Take a health night!”
You never knew who you might run into while you were there, but it was always a solid meeting spot to hang and make plans for where you may be heading afterward. It was surrounded by motels so even though its core audience was kids from the neighborhood, they always got a few tourists in there as well.
Across the street was a place called Golf City. It was pretty much a waste of valuable real estate that was home to a miniature gold course. Fun for the little kids and they had a small arcade as well, but overall it was lame.
Botto’s was the cool kid’s place. I spent many wonderful times in Botto’s in my youth, but sadly it’s now long gone. What stands in its place now is an ice cream stand.
All that’s left to remind me of the original Botto’s in the brick face and the door and windows. So picture this place without the A-roof, the awning, the sign, the benches, the lights, and the rest of anything pink.
What’s left would be a pretty boring-looking spot. But, none of that was important. Botto’s was about what was inside. The people, the music, the games, and the laughter.
That’s not what it was called. It was a little game room on the third floor of The Flying Dutchman Motel.
Right there on the southwest corner of the 3rd floor!
The photo I used at the beginning of this post is the motel before they added the 3rd floor. But that’s what The Flying Dutchman looked like in the 70s.
We knew the owners and they were cool with us going up there to smoke cigarettes and spend our quarters on their vending machines in their game room.
The reason we called this little spot The Office, is because we used it not only as a place to hang out and play but to have meetings. If there was some local drama going down or some stories to be told, this was the place it all took place.
I remember trying to tell my older sister some convoluted story about some things that had gone down on Morey’s Pier or some other crazy news from the neighborhood one day. She was trying to understand what we planned to do about this matter and I simply said: “Office…now.”
We liked it because it was high up off the street. We had a view and also liked the games they had in there. Just two pinball machines and an old 1972 Pong machine. There’s a link I provided, but it was so basic it may have been the first video game ever invented. But a fun game! Pinball was still king, but video games were getting better with every coming season.
The biggest difference between this place and Botto’s was, this spot was quieter and more private. You could hang up there, sit at the card table they had set up in there, and just chat. It didn’t have the number of games and music that Botto’s had, but this was our spot. Most of all, it was unsupervised.
This is probably one of the most important aspects of this little game room.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Pinball machines are designed so that you can’t rock them around too much or they’ll “Tilt.” What that means is, if you shake the machine too much or lift it up to slow the ball down or anything else to upset the machine while the ball is in play, it’ll light up, TILT, and the unit goes off and your ball drains down the hole. You’re done for being too rough with the unit and most of all trying to cheat.
But kids are creative, cunning, learning machines. You know that if the adults come up with some solution to thwart our fun or sustained play, we’ll probably work to come up with a solution to beat it.
So while the machine was on, we’d have one kid gently lift the lower front up off its legs and stack quarters under the legs, one or two at a time. This would flatten the play area on the board but not enough to TILT the machine. We’d get that baby up as high as possible. This would slow down the gameplay and go virtually unnoticed if someone walked in.
By applying this simple remedy, the game would be easier, you’d get a higher score and rack up more free games. That was the main goal. Free games!
This also assisted with the legendary, “Back from the Dead.” What this meant was if you were in the middle of a game and the ball somehow got past your flippers, and towards the hole… if it was moving fast enough to bounce back out of the hole and back into play, it was always deemed a miracle, which was met with cheers from any onlookers. The ball literally came back from th dead!
So, we did that all the time up there.
Sometimes I would just go up there on my own and play pinball. I just wanted a little time alone to think and reflect on my life living at the seashore all summer. It was a brilliant and unforgettable few chapters from my young life.
Braces off, skin clear, and finally emerging from puberty!
Here’s a pic of me in 1978 on the 3rd-floor sun deck of The Flying Dutchman. The Office wasn’t just for pinball. It was also a great opportunity for me to meet the vacationing talent.
Pictured: Me with Ann and Gina Dougherty on the roof deck of the Flying Dutchman Motel -1978
Yea… tough times for Chaz in Wildwood!
If you liked this story, you’ll love my next book, Down The Shore, coming to a bookstore near you Memorial Day, 2023!
Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly.