“The Crater”. AKA “DeFritas Bar”

First things first.  Sorry about the lapse between posts.  I told myself that I REALLY needed to get the “Subscribe” button working on my blog.  So, I’ve done that.  PLEASE go ahead and fill that thing out for me, it’s on the right.  That will keep you getting these “wonderful” updates coming!  Feel free to share with your friends, too, if you have any.

When I was growing up on Long Beach Island, we were…  well, we were quite often needing something to do. You know the adage, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”.  Well, that’s us.  You’ve heard some of the stories, so now to this particular line of thought.  A friend recently asked:  When did I start drinking…

I’m not really sure.  I think it was maybe 6th grade.  Steve, my best friend, was living on the ocean in a rental house for the winter.  That much I remember.  We had Thanksgiving at their house.  In our house growing up, as a good Catholic family, kids had wine at dinner on occasion.  Usually Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Mom had a few small sterling wine glasses – probably cordials – that she would allow us put a splash of wine in, for dinner.

The thing that Steve and I have in common is that our fathers were both very (VERY) frugal. I mean, I’d have loved to see those 2 in a restaurant together trying to figure out how to get the other one to pay the bill.  They traveled together in their later years – that must have been fun!  Anyway, both families drank “bulk” wine.  Back then it came in a plain glass gallon bottle, 4 to a case.  It was total crap.  But we didn’t care or know any better.  Steve, Linda, Burt (Steve’s sister and brother), my brother Hugh and I sat at the “kid’s” table.  And we had our own bottle of wine.  Burt and Hugh were too young to drink (much), but Steve and I got toasted.   I mean, falling down drunk.  I didn’t puke, which is a wonder.  That was the night that we figured out you could pull the barbecue grill off of the post and light the gas coming out of the post, on fire.  It looked like a refinery flaring gas.

Wine was easy to get, we found.  Just take and hide an empty jug, and then steal a little at a time from the parent’s jug.  Save it up for the weekend.  But it was about then that we figured out that nearly all of those homes on the island that are empty all fall/winter/spring also had their own liquor cabinets.  And that when the tourists arrive in the late spring, no one remembers how full their whisky bottles were back in September.  If people locked their houses, it was just a door knob.  Easy to slide a knife blade in to pop door open.  And then we had all of the free booze we needed!

Of course, we were idiots.  Remember the “Wet Bandits” of “Home Alone” fame?  Well, back then all of the telephones were owned by Western Electric, a Bell Company. You rented your phone from the phone company.  This was around the time you could start choosing “decorator colors” rather than a simple black phone.  Also about the same time they came out with touch-tone, but that’s another story.  They were all the same, except the color.  And you could mix and match the parts.  So, people would arrive back in the late spring, and their phone would be black, the cord yellow, the handset red, the mouthpiece green and the earpiece blue.  We thought it was funny.  But we sort of gave ourselves away.  People quit leaving their booze around…

When I was 16, the drinking age was 18.  Yes, I know, it was great then. Sorry.  Sucks to have been you if your drinking age was 21.   A mile or so down the island was a liquor store.  You couldn’t (and still can’t) buy beer in anything but a liquor store in NJ.  By the way, that’s not as bad as Pennsylvania, where 2 years ago we needed a bottle of Maker’s Mark, a case of beer, and a 12 pack of Coke, and it took 3 stops. You can’t buy beer in a liquor store in PA.  What’s with THAT?  So, anyway, we had this local liquor store. They had a small bar attached to it for friends of the family that owned the store. And we found out about it.  One at a time, we ventured in, and made friends with all of the old farts in there.  “Old craters” we called them.  They were probably.  40.  Old Craters.  But we’d sit and talk with them, and listen to their old stories.  And they let us drink in their bar, and no one questioned our ages.  Beers were 4 for $1.  Pabst Blue Ribbon, in a 7oz Pilsner glass.  Life was great.

We got them to sponsor our summer softball team.  Basically, it was to pay for the T shirts.  I have one of the very few left in existence.  Maybe the only one…

We sort of sucked as a team.  I mean, we just played to have fun. We finally talked them into giving us a pony keg of beer for each game.  This was awesome, except that we started to lose by even bigger margins.  We’d barely make it to the 7th inning.  So we started inviting the team we were playing to drink too.  That helped even things out.  Then we got smart – no drinking until the 3rd inning.  The other team got shit-faced on the free beer, and we started winning!

Then we made a tragic, tragic error.  We started inviting the other team back to “our” bar after the game.  Pretty soon, we couldn’t even get into our own bar.  Ugh.

(this is the later version – not as rare)

Jan and I were dating, the summer before we got married.  She loves to tell this story.  She came for a visit, and I told her we were going out to “The Crater”.  She’d heard me talk about the bar on many occasions.  She was psyched.  FINALLY she was going to see the place.  We pulled up to the bar and she said “I thought we were going to The Crater”.  “We are.  This is it.”  “Why does it say DeFritas on the sign?”  She’s blond.  OK, it’s my fault for not explaining it better.

We went in, there were 4 of us.  We each put a dollar on the bar.  The bartender poured us 4 beers, and took a dollar from Jim.  She poured 4 more, and took a dollar from Steve.  4 more and a dollar from me.  She wouldn’t take Jan’s dollar.  We drank all night on $3!  Loved “The Crater”.

Harriet Tubman

It was fairly early in my appraisal career, maybe 12 years ago.  I was appraising a late 80s/early 90s vintage low-end tract home.  I met the homeowner, shook hands, and started the process.  For those that don’t know, we start outside of the home, measure it, take photos, and look over the condition.  Then we go inside. This particular home was a 2 story home, so when I go inside, I first go to the garage, then upstairs.  As I was walking through the home and up the stairs, it was impossible to miss the many paintings of a black woman on the walls of the home.  The homeowner was also black.

When I came downstairs, I asked the homeowner a simple question:  “Harriet Tubman?”  His answer was an emphatic “YES!”  I said “Are you related?”  An even louder “YES!!”

For those of you who might not know who Harriet was (I have readers outside of the US), she was very instrumental in the ending of slavery in the US.  So much so that she will be replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.  In other words, she’s kind of famous.  Back to the story.

I stuck out my hand and said “Hi, I’m your cousin Bill.”  The look of confusion was priceless.  So I explained:  “You, of course, know the story of Harriet Tubman.  She married a freed slave, John Tubman, where her name came from.  Tubman is a family name of ours – my mother grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  John Tubman built the family home, and was freed after the construction was completed, by my Great or Great Great grandfather Tubman.  So, I’m your cousin Bill!”

He thought it was hysterical.  He couldn’t wait to tell his family.  I’m sure the story has made many of his family reunions.

Interestingly, I was talking with my 96 year old mother a couple of months ago, and reviewing her family tree. It seems that the tree is lacking a few branches, as there are instances of the same last names cropping up quite frequently in marriages. There are lines where they really, really didn’t belong – from one side of the tree back to the other!  When I asked her about the possibility of close cousins marrying she said “Well.  Back then, there just weren’t that many choices on the Eastern Shore.  You had to marry someone!”  It seems I’m related to quite a few Tubmans.  In multiple ways.

“Arch, does your phone work?”

My first job out of college was as an inside sales rep at a steel company, in Houston. We were located on the ship channel, in a really bad part of town.  6 acre warehouse and manufacturing plant, built in the 50s.  See the “Super Rat” story for how nice it was – it wasn’t.

As everyone knows, I love to screw with people.  We had 5 inside sales reps, and we all reported to the Sales Manager, Roy.  Roy was great.  He didn’t care, as long as we – a collective we – made our numbers.  For about 30 years, Roy has run his family meat market in a small town between Houston and San Antonio.  For those that know me well, here’s a tidbit you might not have known:

One of our sales reps was a black guy named Shadid.  He had converted to Islam – this was the 80s – and he was the first Muslim I ever really knew, and certainly the first one that was a friend.  We’d joke with Shadid – he was, thankfully, good natured – about his name.  One day a piece of mail came in addressed to “Sha Dude”.  Pretty funny.  He thought so too.  But we were always asking him about what his “real” name was, before he changed it.  He’d never tell us.  So, we made one up.  Bubba.  Bubba Washington.  And we started calling him Bubba.  Instead of getting mad, he called all of us Bubba too.  So, Bubba became the office name for everyone, kind of like “Dude” is today.  “Bubba, want to grab a bite?”  “Bubba, there’s a phone call for you.”  So, now my family and office staff knows where THAT came from.

Back to Arch.  Our office staff reported to the office manager, Arch. Arch also controlled the shipping process, which meant assembling truckloads. He was a dick.  No, he was a TOTAL dick.  About once a month, the sales staff would take the office staff out to lunch.  The problem was that Arch only gave them a 30 minute lunch.  We all had an hour.  So, it was hard to get out and back in 30 minutes.  One day the ladies were about 5 minutes late.  He called one of them, Susan, into his office, and fired her.  We were pissed.  First of all, she was cute, and second of all, she was the best order entry clerk we’d ever had.  We’d been in the process of trying to get Roy to promote her to a sales position.   I went into Arch’s office and tried to lobby to keep her – I was the top inside sales rep at the time.  But he wanted to make sure we all knew that he was in charge.  So he said “no”.  Screw that, I was going to get revenge.  This was the last straw with the guy.  He lived to be a dick to his employees.  I was going to make his life miserable.

First thing we did was start an office game:  1 point if you could get Arch to say “GD”, and 2 if you could get him to say “shit” or the “f word”.  Any excuse to go into his office with bad news, was fully embraced:  “Arch, last night’s shipment to ABC was short”… “Awe, GD it!”.  “Arch, one of the loads got rained on.”  “Shit, motherf’ers”.  4 points!

We had a phone system that let us call extentions.  You didn’t know who was calling, which was cool.  Because I’d call his extension number, and then hang up.  I could see into his office, because we put a little mirror up.  His office had a private bathroom in it.  He’d get up from his desk, JUST get to the door of the toilet, and I’d call.  And hang up.  I’d do this maybe 4 or 5 times in a row, until he’d just let it ring.  Sometimes I’d tape down the buttons in the cradle of his phone, so even when he picked it up, it still rang.  He’d SLAM the phone down.  Then I’d unhook his handset from the phone.   He’d pick it up and there was no cord.  He’d throw the handset across the room.  Sometimes I’d leave the cord dangling from the handset.  He’d scramble to plug it back in, then there was no one there.  I’d leave messages on his desk saying that “Mr. Fox” called, and leave the number for the zoo.  Shit like that.  We had our Regional VP in our office – he covered about 10 branches.  One day we were bothering the crap out of him, calling his extension, and he finally got to the point where he’d just let it ring.  Then Jim, the Regional VP walked into his office and said “Arch, does your phone work?”  “Yes Mr. B____”.  “WELL THEN ANSWER IT, I’ve been calling you for 10 minutes”.  Hahaha.

When he wasn’t around, I screw with things in his office or bathroom.  I’d take a shit in his bathroom, and not flush the toilet.  He’d go apeshit.  After hours, I’d piss in his potted plants. I’d put leftovers into the drawers of his desk on Fridays. I’d steal stuff from his office and hide it.  I hated the guy.

Arch smoked in his office (this was the 80s).  When you got him a little pissed off, he’d pace back and forth, and flick his ashes towards his trash can.  Every few weeks he’d light his trash can on fire.  He’d throw the contents of his coffee cup on it.  One day I was in his office trying to score points, and the smoke started in the trash can behind him.  Pretty soon, there were flames. I just watched.  Finally, he jumped up and threw his coffee on it, running back and forth to the sink in his bathroom and yelled at me “WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY SOMETHING???”  I said “I thought you were warming up your lunch”, and walked out of his office.  Man was he pissed. What’s funny is that he drank in his office – this wasn’t uncommon back then.  His beverage of choice was vodka, because it looked like water.  One day he threw his vodka onto the fire.  Almost burned the place down.

At one point, I had a brilliant idea.  He’d come back from lunch each day, and his trash can would usually be full.  He would then smash it down with his foot, compressing the trash to the bottom.  So, I emptied out his trash can, filled it with water, and piled the trash back on top of it.  I got 16 points that afternoon when he came back from lunch.  And he walked around all afternoon with a wet leg.  Since everyone was laughing, he couldn’t tell who did it.

I got promoted to outside sales, and then to product manager.  When I became product manager I had an office next to him, and the first thing I did was to get his sorry ass moved out into the middle of the warehouse.  Actually, by then he’d mellowed a bit.  Really, a lot.  But still.

Boat Names – and Boat Re-Names

Am I the only one that sees “other” names in boat names? Must be.
My first boat, my little brother and I borrowed $400 from my father for. I was 13, he was 11. He bailed out rather quickly, and it was just mine. It was an old wooden M-16 Scow found in a garage. At this point in time (the late 60s), wooden race boats had been supplanted by fiberglass, almost completely. Except for this guy who worked for our sailmaker. He’d become one of the top M-Scow sailors in the country, in a wooden boat. So, we followed Skip’s lead. We gutted the thing, sanded off the hull down to bare wood, and varnished it. It was light – so light we had to put lead in it. Right after I got it, my Dad and Carl took it for a spin. And promptly broke the mast. My “new” boat, and they broke it. I have a general policy of not renaming boats. It’s bad luck, unless you go through a huge ceremony. Even still, it’s bad luck. The boat name was “Mistral”. A cold north wind. Some enterprising soul added an I to it. “Mistrial”. That was funny.
My Dad bought a new aluminum spar, and told me “just move all of the hardware from the old mast to it”. So I did. We raced that boat for 2 summers, and did alright with it. Rick, Jim and I did manage to break another mast. We were a good mile in front of the rest of the fleet, it was blowing in the 30s. Rick kept saying that as the mast flexed, he could see the top of the ball it mounted on. I chose to ignore it. Bam! It went. Along with my 1st place win.
The second summer I raced that boat, Skip had gone to “the dark side”, and had commissioned a new fiberglass boat for his run to win the national championship – which he did. I bought his new boat from him at the end of the summer, and traded my old one as part of the deal. Interestingly, I talked to him a couple of years ago, and “Mistral” was still in his back yard. Never touched… Ouch. The new boat was “titty pink”. Or, so my friends said. Definitely pink. The name Skip had given it? “The Gay Termite”. Perfect. It replaced a wooden boat.
About 15 years ago, my little brother bought an outboard boat, motor and trailer, basically because he wanted the trailer, and they threw in the boat. You might remember these – Glastron ski boat, avocado green, 1970s, walk thru windshield. Outboard of the same vintage. A total piece of ugly crap. But it ran. The name of the boat was “Loade”. I have no idea, what that meant, but it was on the boat when he bought it, so he kept it (didn’t want any bad luck). He kept it at Mom and Dad’s, in the back yard. I saw it sitting there, and my mind immediately went to work. I stole a roll of black electrical tape from my Dad, and got to it. The boat’s name became “I’m Loaded”. Remember, it’s a piece of crap. That name is either a brag, or an admission. With this boat, it’s not the first one. And my brother had no idea that I’d done this.
A friend of his borrowed the boat (we always swapped boats – you didn’t need to own a ski boat if you had a friend with one), and took it out. He managed to get stopped by the Coast Guard – and I’m sure the name had something to do with it – again, it was an admission. He got a ticket for not enough lifejackets, and didn’t bother to tell my brother. A few weeks later, my brother received an important looking document, Registered Mail. He opened it up, and on government paper, it announced the contents: “The United States of America vs. I’m Loaded”.
A few years ago I got back into competitive sailing up on Canyon Lake, north of San Antonio. Charles had managed to get his hands on an Olson 30. This was one of the first ultralight keelboats. It weighed only 3600 lbs, half of which was in the lead keel. It was a rocketship. He’d bought this boat “fully equipped” with about 16 sails. We raced it right away. After the first weekend, the local chandler (ships store) guy started meeting us AT THE PIER as we came in, order pad in hand. Every sail we had delaminated – this means the mylar covering on the sail came loose – like plastic wrap – and covered the entire crew. We actually got into fights with it! One day we came back and couldn’t get below there was so much peeled sail material in the cabin. Anyway, Charley would be there with his order pad in hand, and Charles would run down the list of broken items that needed replacement.
It was one of my jobs to get to the boat early on race day, and clean the bottom – the boat was stored in the water in a slip. So, using my own electrical tape, I christened the boat: “Busted”. Again 2 meanings: a broken boat, or a broke owner. Seems like #1 resulted in definition #2. It stuck – and we still refer to the boat in stories as “Busted”.
About 5 years ago, friends when through a boat upgrade, and bought a Morgan 45. They were both born on the same day, about 20 years apart. For whatever reason, they chose “Dos Libras” for the boat name – they are both Libras, I guess. But in South Texas, do you really want a boat name that also means “Two Pounds”? I mean, DEA has to think like the Coast Guard did when they busted “I’m Loaded” don’t ya think? They went through a really cool re-naming ceremony, that is supposed to avoid any bad luck.

So much for that.
I looked at the name and thought “I can do something with this”. We had friends in from Australia, and they eagerly agreed to help. We were going sailing during the week, so we knew Bruce and Tammy weren’t going to be around. And they know we aren’t on the boat during the week, because I work. Gail offered to donate a couple of garments she had, since they were her travel ones, and well worn. So, while Peter hoists on the flag halyard, I put some white paper over part of the name. When Bruce and Tammy arrive at their boat, there are 2 brightly colored Australian bras up the mast, and the boat name has gone from “Dos Libras” to “Dos Bras”. At first, she was only mildly amused. Now she thinks it’s hilarious.

The Rabbit

Every once in a while you hear someone tell a story and you think “that’s MY story…”

As an introduction, go back and see my blog on page 2 of “I double dog dare ya!”.  Frank and I hunted together for several years.  He had a couple of German Shorthair Pointers, Abby and crap I can’t remember. (edit: I remembered, “Buster”). Anyway, Abby always got into everything when you would let her “run”.  Camp was across a large wheat field from the rancher owner’s house, and down from the large, sprawling ranch house was a smaller house, that the local game warden lived in.  A bunch of the neighboring ranch owners got together and hired out Don to patrol their ranches and the roads in between. Don and his wife lived in the house with their two kids.

One night, after being out for a bit, Abby arrived at the camp house door with a “present” for us.  A rabbit.  A dead rabbit.  And not just any rabbit, a pet rabbit.  A dead pet rabbit.  We only knew of one of those, it belonged to Don’s daughter.  Uh oh.

We managed to get the rabbit from Abby, and took it into the kitchen.  It was muddy and kinda gross.  So we got out the shampoo (Head and Shoulders!) and cleaned up the rabbit.  We didn’t have a hair dryer, but we did have a fan.  We fluffed and buffed that rabbit until it looked great!  Well, it looked a lot better anyway.

We waited until after midnight, and walked down the road, risking rattlesnakes and all other sorts of critters, and hopped the low fence into Don’s yard, and placed the rabbit back in the cage in the yard.

The next morning, we went out to hunt.  We hadn’t gotten much sleep.  As we returned from the River Pasture that we leased, we had to drive by Don’s place.  As we went through the gate, we could see Don in the distance, looking at the rabbit cage.  We looked at each other thinking “here we go…” So as we passed his house on the River Pasture road, we slowed down a bit.  Then we stopped.  “’Morning Don, what’s up?”  So he walked over to us and said: “That’s really odd…”  “What Don?”  “Well, last week my daughter’s rabbit died.  We gave it a funeral, and buried in the back of the yard.  And now here it is, back in the cage.”

We both tried to hold it in, but it didn’t work.  He looked at us, and as everyone knows, you can’t fool a game warden.  He laughed his ass off at the thought of the two of us cleaning up that dead rabbit!

Easter… Better late than never!

Watching the grandkids do the obligatory “Easter Egg Hunt” at the community center reminded all of us of the days of Easter Egg Hunts with our kids.  T was wondering why she always remembered the hunts taking place outdoors.  I then reminded her that we generally went camping with Bob and Sally for Easter.  Remember, Bob’s the one that tried to burn the Christmas Tree in the fireplace?  Oh, yeah.

Our kids loved the hunt.  Always something good in a few of those plastic eggs.  Not like that when WE grew up.  Again, I was one of 8 kids.  #6.  When we lived in Puerto Rico, I was a toddler.  Like, 1.  My Mom told me (way late in life) that I had some kind of intestinal disease, and I wasn’t allowed to have anything but rice and gruel.  WTH gruel is, I don’t really know.  Like a thin porridge.  Maybe that’s why I hate oatmeal.  Anyway, I’d been pretty much cured, and then I busted into my sister Mary’s Easter basket.  Ate almost all of her chocolate bunny.  Probably why she still hates me.  No, the prickers we put in her bed had nothing to do with it (another story).  Apparently, this sent me to the hospital and I had to do the whole gruel thing all over again.  Yeah, that’s probably why I hate oatmeal.  And grits.

We always dyed hard boiled eggs for Easter.  As adults, my younger siblings and I forget how little we saw of our parents.  Our older sisters raised us.  So, my recollections of dying eggs only includes kids.  We’d do about 3 dozen eggs.  Then after mass on Easter, we’d have an Easter Egg Hunt in the house.  This event ceased when we found 37 eggs one year.  It’s probably why I hate hard boiled eggs too.

By the way, “How it’s made” had an episode on making hollow chocolate bunnies (I prefer them, Jan likes the solid ones).  It’s a 2 part mold, they pour chocolate inside it, cool the outside while shaking it.

Blowing shit up #4

As I’ve said before, my best friend Steve and I were huge pyromaniacs.  Growing up on Long Beach Island, in the off season, there was not a lot to do.  We’d burn just about anything.  Soon we graduated to accelerants. We would find an old bottle (no, not one of those with a deposits on it!) and make a Molotov cocktail. We were always trying to find the best mixture of ingredients. We would test them on the jetties on the beach. Some were quite explosive. We finally decided that a mixture of gasoline and stripeze, a gel paint remover, was best. It would burn like gasoline, but stick to anything it touched. Our own form of napalm!

One of our favorite things to do was to walk through vacant lots looking for bottles that had a deposit on them.   We would then head up the island a couple of miles to the hobby shop. $0.16 would buy us a nickel glider (it took some looking to find this, but this is the exact glider we’d buy – notice the plastic wing holder):

and a 10 pack of boxed rolled caps.

Image result for rolls of caps

We would take them back to Steve’s house, and we would carefully remove the gunpowder from those rolled caps. Each roll held 50 caps with 5 rolls in each box. 2,500 caps. With a couple of stolen double edged safety razor blades, we’d scrape those caps open and collect the gunpowder on a piece of notebook paper. Because occasionally a cap would fire and burn up the powder we had collected, we would regularly dump the powder into a Sucrets box.  Remember them?  Sore throat remedy. Probably illegal today.

Image result for sucrets box

Steve’s Mom would freak out when a whole bunch of powder would go up at once. Thank god we didn’t have smoke detectors.

Once we got all of the gunpowder out of those caps, we’d take the gunpowder and we’d make a fuse out of a small piece of paper and a little gunpowder.  Then we’d roll up the rest of gunpowder deep inside of the rolled up piece of notebook paper.  We’d have a slightly oversized firecracker when we were done.  Then we’d hollow out the fuselage of the glider, just big enough to hold the homemade firecracker.  Then it was to the beach!

With the glider assembled, we’d make about 100 test flights.  It was hard to get it just right, because of the extra weight of the “bomb” on board our airplane. Thankfully the wings were adjustable.  Once we got things JUST right, we’d flip that last penny to decide who got to throw and who got to light.  We’d practice the lighting and throwing dance together too.  Too much time invested to screw up now.  Seriously, we practiced like Navy Seals headed to kill Bin Laden.  Well, maybe not THAT much, but you know what I mean.

When we finally made a decision to “go”, we’d light the firecracker, and launch.  Sssss… BOOM!  And that was how we’d spend a Saturday.


My first car

As I’ve said before, I grew up in South Jersey.  And yes, there’s a difference between North and South.  Huge, actually.  The “Garden State” is from South Jersey – farmland.  In NJ, you have to be 17 for your driver’s license.  I had several older friends, and on Long Beach Island, lots of my friends were from Pennsylvania, where the driving age is 16.  So, I had lots of time to decide what I thought I wanted for a car.

I worked at the country’s second largest tropical fish store, starting in 8th grade. So, I had my own money. One of the guys I worked with went to college, and he drove a VW bug, and had a BMW bike.  Damn that was a beautiful bike.  One of my best friends Steve, had a bug, that he had to share with his sister.  We loved that car, but when I think back, it was a nightmare.  On the Parkway, it could only do the speed limit downhill.  50 was typically max.  The brakes were bad, so he’d downshift at stop signs or lights, and we’d open the doors, jump out and pull the car to a stop.  The windshield wipers motors didn’t work.  We tied strings to them, and pulled them back and forth in the rain.  The car came without a fuel gauge.  I’m not lying.  It had a reserve tank that you pulled a lever for, and then you found a gas station.  Steve’s sister Linda always forgot to close the reserve tank when she got gas, so when you do that, you run completely out.  We got good at hitchhiking.

We hitchhiked EVERYWHERE before licenses.  The best move we had was to go to the traffic light, and knock on car windows asking for a ride. It always worked – we were polite.  About 10 years later I saw an even better trick.  I was in a rural area in Texas, and a guy was standing on the side of the road with a gas can in his hand.  So, of course, I stopped.  He told me he didn’t even own a car.  I picked him up in front of the farmhouse he lived in.  He heard my car coming, grabbed his gas can and ran out of the house to flag me down.  He said it worked almost every time.  Got home the same way.

Anyway, the guy I worked with occasionally brought his mother’s car to work.  She had a late 50s Mercedes 300SC.  See the picture below.

Image result for mercedes 300sc

Maybe one of the most beautiful cars ever made.  I fell in love.  It was in perfect condition, and it’s a handcrafted beauty.  Today it would be worth just north of a million dollars.  One of the other guys I worked with, Billy, had a Toyota Celica.  It was a great car too.  Turns out my wife, Jan, had a Toyota Celica as her first car.  So I looked at them, and looked at new Subarus.  I didn’t know what a Subaru was, and neither did my father.  I liked it, but passed. I finally narrowed it down to a VW Bug that I was going to supercharge and add headers to (so it would get out of its own way…), or a more affordable Mercedes, a 1950s 190SL convertible.  I found a 190SL that I could afford.  I’d saved my own money for this car, but still had to borrow a bit from my Dad.  The guy brought the car to the house, and my father and brother looked over it.  My brother thought it was a piece of shit – he’d never even heard of a Mercedes, he drove an Impala.  He and my dad nixed the deal.  Ugh.  I was heartbroken.

Then a friend of my father’s from Brant Beach Yacht Club heard I was looking for a used Mercedes.  He had a 250S that was 8 years old.  A huge behemoth of a car – an S Class.  So, I bought it.  It was fantastic.  Compared to typical US cars, it wasn’t very fast, but it handled like a true sports car.  American cars were built to drive straight. German cars were built for driving.  My friends came up with a term for changing direction in it:  a “Terror turn”.  We’d be going down the highway at 60, and one of them would go “turn here!” I’d turn the wheel, and the car would willingly oblige.  All of my passengers ended up on one side of the car though.

One time, my car wouldn’t start (battery), and I had to borrow my Dad’s old worn out Coupe de Ville Cadillac for a date.  My girlfriend was beside herself,  she got to go on a date in a Caddy.  All I could think is “what the hell do I own, a Pinto?”

My friends Jim and Rick, brothers, had their mother’s old station wagon.  The car had fake wood sides and one time we drove 55 miles to the Jersey Shore in, in reverse.  The transmission had gone out, but we weren’t going to let something as simple as that wreck our weekend.  Rick drove kneeling on the front seat, the wheel beside him, while Jim worked the accelerator and brakes, and I navigated from the middle seat.

Anyway, these were our 2 “go-to” cars for the drive-in.  We’d load the station wagon up with lawn chairs and a keg, and I’d take my car and we’d load 3 or 4 kids in the trunk.  The trunk was giant.  One time Jim crawled out of my trunk complaining “Billy, you need to put some ventilation in your trunk, I couldn’t breathe.”  Steve replied “Well, it wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t smoke in the trunk!”  We’d arrive at the drive in, set up the chairs and keg, and turn the speakers up full blast.

There are times I wish I still had that car, and I search for them online, on occasion.  But about 20 years ago, I did buy that 190SL that my father and brother kept me from buying.  Still have it:

March Madness – My first boss, Digger Phelps

It’s “March Madness”.  For years we all got to hear the famous Digger Phelps, former Head Coach at Notre Dame, as an analyst on ESPN.  He was Mr. Phelps to us.  I was all of 10 years old.  10.

As you might recall from previous stories, I grew up in South Jersey, spending summers and most weekends at our family beach house on Long Beach Island.  Our house was the 4th house from the Brant Beach Yacht Club.  That summer, the club had made a decision to hire a 25 year old assistant basketball coach from the University of Pennsylvania as the club manager.  It didn’t pay all that much, but it DID include a waterfront cottage for the summer.  He and his wife – and later his small children – became part of the club for 3 summers.  He then got a head coaching job at Fordham, then Notre Dame.

My best friend Steve and I were hired by Mr. Phelps.  By the way, no one called him “Digger”.  That was a nickname that came from his father, a mortician, but I don’t think he really liked it. The adults called him Dick.  Even though he was just a few years out of college, he was “Mr. Phelps” to us.  Steve had just turned 11, and I was 10.  We made $0.50 an hour, doing whatever Mr. Phelps could dream up for us to do.  The most common, and most hated job was raking/shoveling seaweed.  It seemed that every morning there was a new batch of seaweed that had washed up on the bay beach for us to pile up into tall, stinking piles.  About once a week, we took the piles and pitchforked it up onto a floating platform, to be towed out into the bay for disposal.

We also had to get the clubhouse ready for events, usually at least once a week, for the weekend.  That involved setting up 100 or so chairs, that had to be pulled out of the men’s room where they were stored up near the ceiling.  It was tough work.  We were grade school kids.  We also had to clean the floors.  They were those old vinyl (probably asbestos) squares.  The club had a huge floor scrubber – a big round brush with a motor on top.  Steve, who’s Dad was in law school, and therefore was a legal expert on everything, insisted that the yacht club insurance only covered him for the floor scrubber.  So I had to fetch hot water, mop up the dirty water, and haul it away.  While he just ran that machine effortlessly back and forth.  Damn I was gullible.

Most evenings we could all be found playing football in the yacht club parking lot.  Bare feet, no shirts, on a gravel lot.  Mr. Phelps LOVED to play football with us.  Let’s face it, he was a pretty good athlete.  But we’d all cringe when we saw him leave the manager’s shack, and head up the beach toward the parking lot, about 200 yards away.  See, he’d show up and say “OK.  I’ll play quarterback for both teams.”  Yay.  We LIKED playing without him.  But he was good.  No running plays. You could rush him after a “5 Philadelphia” count.  It was pronounced “Fid-elf-ya”.  He had about 3 plays:  “shotgun”, “everybody go long”, and the world famous “blowfish special” play called just for Peter.  He had an arm.  You better hang on to that ball if he threw it to you, and there weren’t many interceptions. And we always went for it on 4th down…

After football, or sometimes instead of football, we’d play horseshoes. We were good.  REALLY good, because we played every day. But, he was better.  He had his own rule:  You got one step from the post towards the next post.  We were 3 feet tall.  He was 6 feet 20 inches.  Our arms were a foot long. His 4 feet long, and that much closer to the post when he let go. Seriously, he was huge!  We also had “different” rules playing horseshoes, that led to some rather dramatic games: We took turns throwing, with the leader throwing first. If you topped a ringer, you got both ringer’s points. It wasn’t unusual for there to be 4 ringers on the post, 12 points stacked up. Mr. Phelps usually threw better than 50% ringers. But he DID have a shorter throw to make than we did.

One day, he asked me to show him how to go crabbing.  He and I and his lovely wife took off in the club’s “garvey” – a workboat. We tried the typical baiting for crabs, but it was slow.  The water was pretty clear, and he had a fantastic set of eyes.  He could see them sitting in the seaweed on the bottom.  And with those huge arms, he’d take a crab net and push it to the bottom 5 feet below, and scoop them up one at a time. We filled a bushel basket in no time.  Then I got to have dinner with them, and show them how to cook and then pick crabs.  My Mom grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and my grandfather had a crab factory – we can pick crabs!

We had a fantastic youth sailing program – and Brant Beach Yacht Club still has one of the best programs in the country.  I started the summer before kindergarten, and in college, I was an instructor at another yacht club on the island.  We were in sailing classes until a good bit into high school.  At the end of the summer, there was a treasure hunt for the sailing class kids, called the “Pirate Race”.  The kids would sail to each of the 3 nearby islands in the bay, and search for treasure.  For the instructors, this was the time to get even with the brats they had to teach all summer.  The instructors would hide out on the islands waiting for the “Pirates” to arrive in their search for treasure. The kids would be pelted with water balloon, tempera paint bombs, eggs, mud, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, while the instructors loved it, the kids loved it even more.  The nastier it got, the better.  I’m sure this “hazing” would never be tolerated today, but I have great memories of it.   I mean, it washed off just by diving in the water.

This next part of the story is undisputed, never denied, but it has never been acknowledged either.  For obvious liability reasons. But the statute of limitations expired a long time ago.  Mr. Phelps got into it in a huge way. His last summer – he’d gotten a head coaching job at Fordham (from there he went to Notre Dame) – and he wanted to go out in style.  Allegedly, he’d gotten his hands on a whole bunch cherry bombs.  Fireworks are and have been illegal in New Jersey for many decades. From the google earth photo, you can see “Flat Island” at the top right.  Called “Groves Island” back then. About ½ mile long, ¼ mile wide.  Uninhabited, but a there was a pretty nice hunting shack on it.

Mr. Phelps thought a bit of extra terror might be in order for the kids. So, he lobbed cherry bombs near, but not at, the kids.  He threw them into the brush near them.  And one of them started a little fire.  Which became a bigger fire.  Then a huge fire.  Then it spread, and consumed the entire island, from one end to the other.  Burned to the ground, every bush, every tree, every weed, every structure. Gone.

2 days later at the Labor Day end of year awards, one of the club members had brought a tape recorder to the awards:  The “Mission Impossible” theme plays, then “Good afternoon, Mr. Phelps, your mission, should you choose to accept it…” Then they presented him a special award, a sealed mason jar, about 2/3 full of water, with a cherry bomb floating in it.  He was a great sport.




Spanish for Gringos

I love it when an attempt is made to use our high school Spanish.  Most of the time, it falls very, very flat.

A few years ago, we were in Uruguay – we are going there again in a year.  We were introduced to a fantastic restaurant in Montevideo, the capitol of Uruguay.  We figured the place out on the second visit:  Just order a single steak, and a nice bottle of the local wine.  The steak was a piece of filet the size of a softball, and the bottle of wine a fantastic local red. Plenty to split. The bill, including what we have been told was an obnoxious American tip of around 50%, about $11.  So, the 4 of us hopped into a taxi from our hotel downtown, and Charles said “I’ve got the directions in Spanish and I know EXACTLY how to get there!”  To the driver:  “Dos blockies righto and tres blockies lefto.”  Twenty minutes later, the cab driver returns us to our hotel, and restarts the meter.

As I’ve recalled earlier, my first job out of college was for a steel company in Houston.  It was a steel plant, right on the Houston Ship Channel.  We would regularly get visits from people looking for a job.  Our receptionist spoke no Spanish, and she had to constantly run people off looking for a job.  Let’s just face it, she didn’t get the job for her smarts.  One day a group of us headed out to lunch, and she asked Arturo if he could make her a sign for the front door, saying that we didn’t have any jobs available, in Spanish.  Arturo said “hang on guys, this will take just a minute.”  A few minutes later, Arturo joined us for lunch. By the time we got back, she had put a new sign on the front door of the office:  “No el helpo needo”.  Good one Arturo!