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.

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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.

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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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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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1969 Volkswagen Minibus – 1969 to 1984 – Part 1

Back in 1969 my family was growing with my sister April arriving in 1966 and now another baby was on the way. It looked like our family was growing out of our little black Volkswagen beetle.  So my dad went out and bought a white VW minibus.

We loved it! We went everywhere in that thing. Everybody picked their favorite seat.

Dad always drove. Mom rode shotgun because she never learned to drive. We all traveled without seat belts back then. I don’t even think the car had them. Crazy by today’s standards. I sat on a little square stool behind my parents and between them so I could be near them and see all of the oncoming action through the windshield.

Janice sat in a seat facing backwards behind my dad the driver. Behind her seat between she and dad was a an elliptical storage hole that held maps and what not.

there was a retractable table that was usually up and April sat back there in the back left corner. I think baby Grace was held in my mothers arms most of the trip. There were no baby seats back then. If we had gotten into a crash the only survivors would have been Janice and April because they stood a remote chance. Me, Mom, Dad, and baby Grace would have all been splattered through the windshield and probably killed.

The Sixties for families back then was like the wild west. But we had no fear. Just laughter and fun trips to the shore and even camping in our cool new family van.

I remember my dad driving down the highway at 70 miles and hour and I would stand up in the back on the floor and act like I was surfing. How crazy is this by today’s standards?

Under Janice’s seat was a portable toilet if we ever needed one for long trips or camping or for whatever else my dad was using the van for. Me sitting on the stool, or as he called it the jump seat, to my right was a cabinet that had a little foldable counter with a sink where you could pump fresh water from! Science Fiction! Under that was a fridge where you could store drinks and whatever else you wanted to keep cold.

This was the perfect family vehicle. And we utilized it to its absolute fullest. Thank you Dad. Perfect choice.

Sure there were the times we’d all be singing 29 bottles of beer on the wall and my baby sister Grace would spew her breakfast into an old cookie can my mom brought for just that reason. Motion sickness. April was usually back there with her to man the can.

“I told you not to give her the godddamn orange juice!” My father would exclaim every time somebody barfed.

“She’s fine.”

“It’s the citric acid!”

I knew full well about puking. I was the king of anxiety, depression, fear and motion sickness. I was just happy it wasn’t me, but I knew it was just the motion. Poor baby Grace.

I remember now driving my own little girl Lorelei to her grandmothers one day and there was some flooding and we were in the car for a long time one morning and she puked all over me when we got there and I had to go to my bank job in Philly and I didn’t even care because I was so familiar with being young and being sick in cars as a kid. I wiped up and was just happy my little girl was okay, but sad I had to leave her. But I knew she was safe in the able hands of her grandmother.

But we had so much fun in that van. As a kid I never realized how a vehicle coud become a fixture in and almost a family member in the family. I’m sure my sisters don’t feel this but if they’re reading this now they will.

The 69 VW was our family chariot. Men get the vehicle thing. Men love cars and think hey can impress girls with great cars. Huge mistake. Girls don’t give a shit about what you drive. That shit stays outside in the car park. You need to be the man to her. If she cares about what you drive she’s a shallow fool. That’s a depreciating asset.

Look at who the man is, who his female friends are, and how he lives his life. Cars don’t mean shit.  Just toys that men get off on.

Our VW minibus took us everywhere and comfortably. Air cooled rear engine, plenty of amenities and you could even make the seat in the back pull our into a bed. The German’s that designed this lovely transport thought of everything.

I remember my father told me a story about how he had lunch with a colleague in the van one day. They had picked up some sandwiches and just decided to go stop and have a lunch in a park somewhere. ( I’m sure he was banging her)  But today they were just having lunch and a bee had gotten into the van and was buzzing around. There were other cars parked near them and all the other people heard was this:

(Van rocking)

“Oh my god! get that away from me!”

“Don’t worry, I’ll get it, dear!”

“Ahhh It’s huge! No stop! Get it away from me!”

“Wait! you’re fine!”

“Nooo! get it away!”

This story was actually told to me by my dad and I got the meaning even at a young age but I knew what he was eluding too and thought it was cool and funny, his bumblebee/penis reference.

I can almost see the faces of the other people parked in their cars eating their lunches and hearing this crazy commotion.

This VW bus was a durable friend. He had installed an 8 track player in the glove compartment. Which I thought was absolutely amazing, because there was no radio in the car. I was astounded how he had this big metal player jammed into the glove box. It was like an added magic aspect to the van.

All we had was vinyl back then but 8 tracks got invented and and somehow music was in the minibus. we had Tommy: The Who, In A Gadda Vida by Iron Butterfly, and best of all a yellow 8 track from the soundtrack from the film; Easy Rider.

I remember my Dad driving the van and me in the passenger seat. No seatbelt, bouncing on the seat and hearing the motorcycles rev after the song The Pusher, and it would go into Born to be Wild and I would just lose my shit.

That music inspired me to become a musician and my love of hard rock music. Born to be Wild is to this day is my go to karaoke song!

There was always music in my house growing up. My Uncle Jack was a music Producer an my dad loved music and my mom came from a family of musicians.

I remember hearing Born to Be Wild for the first time and just knowing I loved furious music that was hardeer and angrier than the lovely Beatles and the psychedelic drone of Iron Butterfly. That was the moment I knew that was the music I need to love and make.

There was a certain fury to that song that I couldn’t get enough of and and it happened with my dad while driving down the road in our 69 camper van.

Euphoria. That music was me.

I remember he took me to the shore in the winter just to probably get me away from my mom because I was such a fuck up.

We were going to hang out at the shore house and go fishing and father son stuff. I didn’t want to do it but when you’re a kid you’re basically a hostage to your parents.

We hung out and fished and his friend Steve was down with his daughter Stacy. Steve was a crazy guy who owned a restaurant with his hot wife and wanted to hang with my dad.

I remember being in the minibus with my dad on the beach. We had a permit to fish. It was cold as hell. I was casting a huge rod and reel trying to catch bluefish. They are fighters of the sea who will straighten our your hooks and chew to shit your steel leaders.

We would use a teaser which is a tiny lure up on the line and then a plug which is the real lure. But what it looks like to a big real fish is a little fish chasing a little fish and sometimes the real fish would hit them both and you’d pull up a bluefish on the plug and a striped bass on the teaser. Insane. That shit really happened.

I was out fishing and catching blues and I was damn cold. We went back to the VW van and it was a warm moment from the cold wind of the vacant North Wildwood beach.

My dad sipped a shot of Remy Martin cognac because he was classy like that but I wouldn’t taste that brandy until years later.  He asked me to dig out our permit for fishing.

I’m around 12 or 13 in this moment.

I’m sitting there, wet and shivering and dig through the glove the glove compartment. The 8 track player is already showing signs of salty corrosion.

I come across and envelope and open it and instead of finding our permit, I find naked pictures of his secretary that I know who is his co-worker and friend of our family. She is smiling sweetly with a kerchief on her head an is naked in a bathtub. She’s beautiful.

“Dad”

“Put that way.”

He knows I know from stuff he’s told me. In that moment I kind of wonder why he told me. Why was he always so open with me about his infidelities with mom?

Maybe he always wanted to be honest with me about everything because his father was such a wise bullshiter. His dad was an absent parent that didn’t give a fuck about my dad that loved him so much for no good reason. He just wanted to tell me what was what. I carried that responsibility with me. I couldn’t mention my secret to my sister Janice. She adored my dad. She can’t know he’s a womanizing adulterer.

He went crazy in the 60’s and 70’s and even the 80’s. I met them all. It’s cool. I know my mom knew and he never rubbed her nose in it in proper English fashion.

She was done with him anyway. It had been over in the 70’s and they being Depression babies just didn’t want their kids to be a statistic.

We lived in Philly and we grew up as my parents grew apart but grew together in their agreement to keep the corporation of our family solid.

They did that.

I’m grateful for that to both of them for making that sacrifice for me and my sisters.

The VW Minibus went to Janice in 1978 when my dad got a company car at his new job as a regional manager at a bank in Jersey.

So my parents were basically separated but still together.

He would work at his bank job at the shore and come home on the weekends and give us all greatest hits.

Janice had the minibus. That meant rides to school and runs to Roger Wilco’s in Jersey for 6 packs of Heineken for us. Drinking age back then was 18 in NJ.

The game was changing but my dad’s game was staying the same.

 

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