The Origin of Mr.Unremarkable

Some days unremarkable is the best you get.

I was born they told me, in 1960, to the surprise of no one. There was no foretelling of the coming of a new force in the universe, up until that point the only superpower I displayed was the ability to Out-Swim all around me. Hardly the skill of someone of whom much was expected. It must have been a great accomplishment however, because I often heard my father mumble, “I can’t believe you were the one in a million.”

As the years went by, I developed the skill to Un-Inspire those around me, and to Annoy not just the females in my family, but those who were sent to teach me as well. As I grew into my teens, I thought I once developed the power of Invisibility since I was able to walk past most females without any sort of recognition I was there. I soon learned it wasn’t Invisibility, it was just another display of my skills to Un-Inspire and Annoy females.

The super power to Hide, and it’s sub-set of skills, Duck and Dodge, were developed in my early years. Household chores were beneath someone of my self-importance, how was I to develop all of my skills if I was running a vacuum or cleaning a closet? I soon mastered how to Duck and Dodge my father, especially on Saturday mornings when the grass needed to be cut. Unfortunately, my father had mastered the Power of Patience and he knew all he had to do was keep an eye on the kitchen and the refrigerator, I would show up soon enough.

My sisters were a key part in my development into someone Unremarkable. Not only had they worked on their development of the power to Annoy, but Irritate and Tease, were strong powers in their arsenal as well. And because they were older than I was, their powers were far better than any I possessed. Each and every day could have been a lesson in “Why didn’t I keep my mouth shut?”

After leaving behind my sub-par world of high school, I advanced into the world of blue collar labor. It was this world where I developed and drew on the superpower of Dumb As I Wanna Be. Now here, finally, was something I was good at. How could I have repressed this ability for so long? Combined with my ability to Hide, I was soon on nobody’s go-to list, and clearly Un-Inspiring everyone.

But then she came. She had the power of See Right Through Me. I had never encountered another female with a such strong ability. The short-lived and weak power of Dumb As I Wanna Be no longer served me. She learned the places I went to Hide, and soon Duck and Dodge also became just useless memories. She had the powers Smart and Inspired where I had only Annoying and Un-Inspired. She Inspired me to transform my super powers Annoying and Un-Inspired into Mostly Responsible and Somewhat Reliable. 

And after 28 years of marriage and facing The Trials and The Tribulations of raising two of our own one-in-a-million little swimmers, not to mention a Beagle possessing the superpowers of Always Loyal and Forever Hungry, we can’t wait for the day when they have their little swimmers, who we can teach the super power called Spoiled Rotten…

Some Super Hero stories have only a Mostly Responsible ending…

 Origin Story

That Guy Has No…

I always thought I knew-not everything-but more than enough to succeed. It started…as it always does, with a day busier than most days…

I needed to stay close to people who might need my so-called expertise. Since I arrived late today, I thought I would take a walk and let people know I was around.

“Come to me when you have questions. I’ll know how to answer”, I somewhat boasted. And more times than not, I did. But unlike other mornings, I thought I needed to announce this out loud to anyone who would listen.

This morning things seemed different. Instead of the pleasant “Good morning” reply I received most mornings, this morning I got head nods, awkward stares, and quiet whispers when I turned to leave. “They’re hiding something“, I said to only myself.

No matter how long it takes, I knew I would find the answer for all of this. And then all at once I felt it too. I suddenly became very uncomfortable “in my skin” as they say. “What the hell…”, I asked myself rhetorically. And it suddenly dawns on me, the “so-called expert” is naked. Not even a pair of socks for my suddenly cold feet.

But instead of hiding, I choose to walk among the people, cold feet and all, almost challenging anyone to call me on my level of self-preparedness on this day. But nobody does, and instead I walk around, hearing the whispers now, and seeing the shaking heads of condemnation. “What do they know?”, I reasoned. “I must be right, because who would ever doubt my level of expertise?”

And then, one of the few people, capable of making me look very un-expert-like appears, as if from nowhere…making me now feel… extremely uncomfortable. Fran, from Inventory Control. All I heard was…

Blah, blah, blah, you have no clothes on. Go get dressed, your embarrassing yourself!”

But nothing else mattered after “go get dressed”. Because now people-my people-were openly laughing at me, at my lack of self preparedness, and for some reason, the most important thing, my suddenly challenged, lack of expertise.

And then mercifully, my alarm goes off, and I wake up from my version of, “The Emperor  Has No Clothes” dream…

I still miss that job…

 Embarrassing

 

People Acting Douchey…

I was trying to come up with an adjective to describe some of the people and their behaviors we encounter each day. Here, presented absolutely tongue-in-cheek and in the Second Person viewpoint is my interpretation of people acting douchey…

 Most people who know me would say I’m more of a glass-half-empty person, a drain, not a fountain. I don’t always look on the bright side of life, and I won’t make lemonade out of lemons. Sometimes, I think we need to return-serve some of the lemons aimed our way every day.

Not surprisingly, the word douchey was one of the first words I came up with. Surprisingly, it is in the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary and is defined as obnoxiously annoying, offensive, or dislikable <a douchey guy> or <douchey behavior>. There are also some who when asked about me would tell you “takes one to know one.”

With all of that being said, “Let’s pull the pin on this grenade”

You’re stuck in slow traffic during your morning commute. You’ve been waiting in a long left-hand turn lane. Finally…it’s your turn. You slowly inch into the intersection, knowing the only chance you will get is when the opposing traffic stops. The light changes to yellow (okay, amber), the last car clears, it’s now or never, you start your turn…WAIT! The first shout-out goes to that guy who leaves you hanging in the middle of the intersection, as he, (could it have been a she?) blows through the intersection on a red light. In fact, not only did Mr. Red Light Runner leave you hanging, but he sped up to do it, while talking on his cell phone!” Well, isn’t that special?

“Let’s see if there is a pony under this pile of manure.”

After an irritating, thanks to Mr. Red Light Runner, but mostly uneventful drive, you arrive at your Wawa or some other convenience store of choice. You figure a quick top-off on the gas tank, buy some food for the rest of your commute, and you’re out of there, except every single gas aisle is full. So you choose an aisle and you wait. The customer at the pump decides it’s time to wash his windshield, and every other window on his car! And then you hear it, that click of the pump that says his tank is full. Yet, he continues to wash the most useless of windows, the rear passenger side window. Patience you say to yourself. And then Mr. Clean Windows out-douches even Mr. Red-Light Runner. After putting the pump back and replacing his gas cap…he smiles at you on his way into the store. Without moving his car. What a douchey thing to do!

“Let’s not try to run and tie our shoes at the same time.”

Clean Windows finally returns with a bag of groceries and a small bottle of water, waves, and gives you a warm, “Have a nice day!” Finally, after filling your tank, you move your car to a parking spot, and play the parking lot version of the game Frogger as you make your way into the Wawa or other convenience store of your choice, still seething over your run-ins with Mr. Clean Windows and Mr. Red Light Runner. You get your breakfast sandwich, or your 3 donuts for $2.00. You pour your large cup of 100% Columbian coffee, grab a handful of creamers and sugar packets, and race to get in a line 8 people deep. You’re patient, you bide your time making it all the way to third in line…they open up another register…and the employee announces, “I’ll take the next customer in line.”  You do the polite thing and offer it to the person in front of you, who looks at you…mockingly…knowing full well…you don’t stand a chance. You gather your purchases, sprint around the counter in what feels like near-world record time, only to find that customers who were at the end of your former line were able to out-race you to the head of your new line. You’ve gone from almost second in-line to dropping back once again to a disappointing 5th in-line. And Ms. Store Clerk, who called for you, the next person in-line, won’t even acknowledge your existence. Will the douchey behavior ever end?

“We’ve got ’em by the short and curlies.”

Still in line at the convenience store of your choice, you wait patiently as a good and loyal  customer and responsible member of the human race should. But then, a few places ahead of you in line, you see it. Two customers, getting chummy. No, not that kind of chummy. Take your minds out of the gutter, please? Did they come into the store together? You’re not sure, but your spidey-senses tell you, something stinks here. They weren’t always in-line together. Customer 2 just walked up and placed his stuff next to his friends, or as you would describe him to the police, his co-conspirator. Should you say something, do you make a stink about it, what are you going to do? You say nothing, you ASS-U-ME they will check out at the register as one customer. But then it happens. They split their purchases. Or, to put it bluntly, Customer 2 just slapped you in the back of your head on the way to cutting to the front of the line. Still making lemonade are we? Or is it almost time to start returning-serve on those lemons?

I don’t want to put a ceiling on your blue sky, but…”

You put in your 8 hours in the old salt mines, or the place where you also call work. Today you’ve decided it’s now time to finally get that helmet you call your hair, cut. You no longer go to the barber with the spinning barber pole outside, they’re all gone. Much to your dismay, you now have to go to one of those uni-sex hair cutting establishments. So you suck it up, and you usually try to get there right after work. Entering the shop, you look around, only one customer waiting staring stupidly at his cell phone, with 4 cutters working. You check-in, where they tell you your 5th in-line. “Say again, I’m what?” Four other customers checked in on-line, they’re just not here yet is the reason. Like everything else on this day, you decide to take your chances and wait it out, spending your time obsessing over Mr. Red Light Runner, Mr. Clean Windows, Ms. Store Clerk, and Checkout Line Co-Conspirators. And now, for some reason, Mr. Cell Phone, begins to annoy you as well.

“It’s a sh*t sandwich, but we all have to take a bite.”

  • Customer #1 arrives. Young male teen with what looks to be a case of permanent bed head. “I checked in on my cell phone.”, he thinks everyone wants to know. After several suggestions from his “stylist”, he decides he wants to look at a book they have of different haircuts. Really, with that hair?
  • Customer #2 arrives. Female, guessing mid-40’s. She would like her hair colored and styled like Lady Gaga had at this year’s Oscars. Since nobody knows what that looked like, three cheers for Bed-Head Teen  for taking the time to find a picture on instyle.com using his cell phone.

“It’s also how I checked in!”, he reminds everyone.

Barber #4 uses this opportunity to call it a day, exhausted from a long 4-hour shift.

  • Customers #3 & #4 arrive. Twin elementary school-aged girls you guess, with their mom who wants them to get their hair cut like Tinkerbell. They’re going to Disney for summer vacation. She just can’t decide which one, Tinkerbell from the cartoon Peter Pan or Tinkerbell Julia Roberts from the movie Hook. Again, another big smolie-olie to Bed-Head Teen for finding pictures of each on his cell phone.

…he’s been here almost 30 minutes and hasn’t had a single hair on his head cut.

Mr. Cell Phone who was waiting when you entered the shop is still engrossed in his phone. You decide you can’t take it any longer and leave in a douchey huff. As you exit the store you here Bed-Head Teen exclaim…

“Give me a High-Lo Fade and a Medium Pompadour!” 

…and you say to yourself, “how douchey.”

My Favorite Ballpark…

Being a life-long fan of baseball and the Phillies, Citizens Bank Park should be my favorite park, except…“Ain’t never been there, they tell me it’s nice.”

Connie Mack Stadium gets no vote here either. I went just once as a first year minor leaguer with my local Rec Council. Phils lost, kids stole the Cookie Rojas autographed program I had waited in line for him to sign. Older little leaguers I think. I promised myself if I ever pitched against any of them, they would get plunked. Depending of course on the game situation. I never did. Pitch that is.

My favorite stadium, the one with the greatest memories, and one sure not to get very many votes, was Veterans Memorial Stadium. I was in left field on April 10, 1971, the day the stadium opened. As an 11 year old baseball fan I was in amazement. I had been to Connie Mack Stadium in 1970, and it looked old. The Vet was a cement marvel of ramps and concourses with its bright new field of Astro-Turf and multiple levels of different colored seating used around the stadium. There was also a state of the art scoreboard (for 1971) that played funny cartoon videos. The Phillies even gave us 2 new “mascots”, Philadelphia Phil and Phillis, the colonial kids who along with the giant Liberty Bell were part of the Phillies new “home run spectacular” which went something like this…

When a Phillie would hit a home run, Phil would appear in center field and hit a baseball. It traveled toward the message board in right center and struck the Liberty Bell. The bell glowed and its crack lit up. The ball continued and hit little Phillis in the fanny and she fell down. As she fell, she pulled a lanyard on a cannon causing the cannon to explode. After some smoke and sound effects, a Colonial American flag dropped down. And, if that wasn’t enough, dancing waters would come to life to the tune of Stars and Stripes Forever.

As for the game, every Phillies fan can tell you that Boots Day made the first out (who doesn’t love a good Boots Day memory), Larry Bowa got the first hit and 3rd baseman Don Money the first home run in stadium history. More important, the Phils beat the Expos 4-1 and were in first place. And in an exciting pre-game stunt, catcher Mike Ryan caught the first ball after being dropped from a helicopter. The ball, not Mike Ryan. And the Phils were in first place…

I saw many games at the Vet over the years. In 1972 my dad took me to the Vet with the gang from Skippers Seafood Restaurant and Sports Bar when the Phils were the best team in baseball…but only on the days when Steve Carlton pitched. His 27 wins that season were almost half of the team’s total wins and made it easier for us to forget we gave up Rick Wise to get  him.

 In 1983, I went with some other inebriated friends to see the Phils finally beat the Dodgers and win the National League pennant. Gary Matthews hit a 3-run homer in the first inning that night giving the Phillies all the runs they would need to win the game. We almost missed it thanks to the time it took to ascend to our 700 level seats. Seats so high even a good Sherpa Guide would advise against going there. It didn’t matter that we were too high up to see anything, it was more about being there and taking in a moment that was a long time coming. The rest of the night was spent caught up in the post game drunken revelry of South Philly. I also had a ticket to Game 5 of the World Series against the Orioles. I was smart enough to scalp the ticket prior to the game. You didn’t have to be Joe Garagiola to know the Phils were done. Looking back on it though, I wish I would have gone to the game. I may never get a chance to go to a World Series game again.

In 1984 I sat with my girlfriend, now my wife, in the 700 level drinking melon balls from a thermos we brought in with us. That was back in the era of the Vet where you could bring in a thermos, you just had to promise there was no alcohol in whatever concoction you were smuggling into the park. And you could also bring in sandwiches as some thrifty fans on a budget did. How many cans of beer came into the park each night disguised as hoagies?

I saw the spectacular fast pitch softballer Eddie Feigner and his 4 man team, The King and his Court play an exhibition between games of a doubleheader. To be honest, he probably could have won with just himself and a catcher. Even against the home team.

And in 1993, baseball came full circle for me when I finally went to a game as a Dad. I took my daughter to a couple of games that season so she could see her favorite player…the Kruker. And the Phanatic. In ’93 the team also banned smoking from the seating areas and limited it to just the concourses. The Phillies had finally begun to remove Big Tobacco from the Vet.

The tradition of delivering the first ball led to one of  the great moments in Vet history as Kite Man crashed with his kite after falling from a ramp in the outfield seats prior to the opening day game of the 1972 season. In all fairness, he was a last minute replacement for the actual Kite Man, and after he crashed he did try to throw the ball, believing he could reach the pitchers mound. It ended up in the Phillies bullpen and the fan base booed him for his efforts. The Phillies continued the tradition of unsuccessful Kitemen until 1980 when a ball was finally delivered as planned. Oh, and in August of that year Karl Wallenda walked 640 feet across a tight-rope that was 168 feet above the concrete and plastic grass surface of the Vet. Without a net. He did take a break during the walk, to do a headstand over the second base cut-out. I’ll take this kind of world class entertainment over a CB Park bobble-head or bucket hat giveaway any day. I think most people would.

The Vet has been called a toilet, and in many unintended places such as the 700 Level and the bathroom sinks, it lived up to that billing. But for many of us Phillies fans, it was the proverbial toilet where we wallowed with our favorite baseball team from April to September. It was where we went on hot summer days for an over-priced, watered down, flat beer or soda, ball park hot dogs boiled in that gray-colored water in boxes and carried by vendors to all parts of the park, except the 700 Level. If you wanted food there, your best bet was to buy it on the way in and haul it up to your seat. No wonder they were always so pissed-off up there.

 And finally, the opening of the Vet in 1971 coincided with the first year of the greatest broadcast team we as fans had the pleasure of listening to, Harry and Whitey. Sadly all three are gone, but we will always have the memories.

“Hard to believe Harry.”

My Favorite Ballpark…

The Foods…of my Americana

Part 3 in a never-ending attempt at defining my Americana.

A true part of Americana, my Americana were Sunday family dinners and since it was Sunday, that meant my mom’s roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy and whatever vegetable they forced on meI could stomach the canned green beans and peas, but never those vile lima beans.  A quick trip to the bathroom with a mouthful of those disgusting beans destined to be spit into the toilet was pretty much guaranteed to be replaced with a fresh serving when I got back to the table, along with the parental edict, “I don’t care how long it takes, you’re not getting up until that plate is clean.”

…couldn’t get anything over on them.

I enjoyed the fresh Jersey tomatoes and corn in the summer, and who doesn’t like a nice, light cucumber salad, heck I could even swallow the Green Giant creamed corn, but Lima beans were just one of the foods I swore I would never eat again once I moved out of my parents house, the same for baked beans, cream chipped beef on anything, eggplant, milk bone dog biscuits (that was on my own, nobody made me) and a whole list of other foods, mostly vegetables, too long for this space. Surprisingly, Scrapple is not on the list. And to my credit, I never made my kids eat anything I wouldn’t eat, no matter how much nutritional value Joe Carcione ( the Green Grocer) claimed it had. I’m many things, but I am not a hypocrite.

Growing up in my own little Americana, there was one food that ruled them all, King Sugar. It bordered on addiction, and probably was. It didn’t matter in what form I got it, Tastykakes, Hostess fruit pies (the glazed ones, my favorites), or by the spoonful right from the Dominos Sugar bag. I wanted it in or on anything I ate, still do, still addicted, I just don’t eat it from the bag anymore. My wife puts it into a Tupperware container as soon as she brings it home from the store. And all those Tastykakes, and all those Hostess fruit pies were bankrolled by early collections on my paper route…

…remember when kids delivered your paper, to your door (mostly)…

…it didn’t matter which paper I was delivering, the Philadelphia Bulletin or the Burlington County Times, I knew which customers tipped, how much, and if it was okay to collect on Tuesday and not Friday, (“Because my family is going on vacation, sir.”) thereby fueling the addiction. With money in hand, it was off to that fancy new 7-11 on the corner downtown, across from Mr. Jones’s clock store, where my only choice was cherry or blueberry. Or should I get a Slurpee?

If I had a great week delivering newspapers, and maybe had some extra money, I used  it to purchase a different kind of  junk food. McDonald’s or Gino’s Hamburgers (what many now know as KFC) were the fastest and cheapest, and yes, maybe the worst, food I could get my hands on. And if my mom and dad knew I was riding my bike around the Marlton Circle they would have killed me, faster than the food I was eating. Even today, for many always on the go Americans (I’m just too lazy to cook) McDonalds still dishes out those same burgers. I would think, to our dismay, that would have to put them in the Americana class of food.

Just about any kid who attended public school in the 1960’s and the 70’s probably had a school lunch at one time or another. Who could forget those lovable lunch ladies spooning out whatever was the creation of the day. Fish sticks, grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza like none you’ve never tasted at any pizzeria, or hot dogs. imageMore concerning than what’s this made out of, was the question of who were these women, and why, if I lived in a small town, did I not know any of them? None of my friends ever claimed to have a mom who worked in the cafeteria. Mine never did. Don’t you find that a bit troubling as well? For me and my sisters, lunch was usually simpler, PB&J or some kind of lunch meat with cheese on white bread, bruised fruit, and if we didn’t already eat them all at home, a Devil Dog. Placed with love by our mom in a brown paper bag or one of those cool metal lunch boxes. Remember, they came with a thermos bottle, guaranteed to break after just a couple of weeks, but mostly after you dropped the box for the first time.

Many of the foods we eat I would define as regional Americana. That is, foods created in other countries but now popularized in an American city. Pizza is probably the most recognizable of this group. New York City is credited with having the country’s first pizzaria and in 1905, we were introduced to coal-fired pizza. Chicago gave us deep dish pizza while in New Haven, Connecticut, thin crust pizza was the popular choice.

In Philadelphia it’s the cheesesteak. The debate over who makes the best Philly cheesesteak is carried out every night in South Philly by two of the oldest shops in town, Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks, which sit across the street from each other.

Speed and simplicity are the rule when ordering a cheesesteak at these locations. Three simple words, one, whiz, with, gets you a cheesesteak with Cheez-Whiz and fried onions. Just an opinion here, but any food that ends in the word –Whiz, is probably pretty low on the nutritional value scale, and therefore not good for you.

Much like pizza however, you don’t have to live in Philly to get a good steak sandwich. Whether in PA, as I am now, or the NJ suburbs where I grew up, I’ve always found a shop who makes a good one. And put some fried onions on it and now you can say you’ve had a vegetable for the day.

And, what is probably the most popular appetizer anywhere, especially on football Sunday’s, buffalo wings, now come in just about any restaurant, tossed in a number of different sauces, as well as my personal preference, boneless (why get your hands dirty?)Buffalo wings gained attention back in the early 1980’s thanks in part to the Buffalo Bills, losers of 4 straight Super Bowls. No nationally televised Bills game comes without a sequence of a cook somewhere in Buffalo mixing up an order of wings.

Are you a fan of eating contests? Buffalo wings and hot dogs are the key staples in two of the largest and most popular eating contests anywhere…

…Wing Bowl in Philadelphia and Nathan’s Hot Dog  eating contest at Coney Island. 

At this past Wing Bowl? The winner received a Harley Davidson Fatboy motorcycle along with a $10,000 championship medal and ring.  The runner-up took home $5,000 and the winner in the Local Division claimed a 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe. Even this year’s Wingette of the Year pulled in a cool 5 grand. The winning eater? She ate 420+ wings and at 5’7″ and just 120 lbs., the last thing she looks like is a competitive eater.

Holiday dinners were always among my favorites growing up. Thanksgiving and Christmas were always the best, a turkey filled with my mom’s stuffing was the beast of the day. And it was one of the few times a year when you could get a good slice of mince pie or fruit cake, if you believed in such things. As a kid my parents were involved with the local V.F.W. Around Thanksgiving they would have a Turkey Shoot, they shot at targets, not turkeys, with the winners getting a nice Butterball turkey for their family dinner. My dad let me and my sisters shoot when we were old enough, and it was here I discovered I was unable to close (blink)my left eye, which is kind of important when you’re trying to line up the target. After failing to get the desired results by just covering my eye with something, one of the well-meaning vets barked, “Teach the kid to shoot left-handed!” It was after that first left-handed attempt that they took back the shotgun and told me to go in and get a Coke and a bag of Cheez-curls. So ended my chance at a career as a sniper.

It wasn’t until I met my wife that I was introduced to the tradition of The 7 Fishes on Christmas Eve (6 of which I disliked intensely), and lasagna on Christmas Day. It was imageabsolute culture shock, although after 27 years of marriage I’ve finally come to grips with lasagna on Christmas. The fishes, still not so much. My family usually hides at home now on Christmas Eve, like I said earlier, I would never make my kids eat something I wouldn’t eat myself,  and after attending Mass, we have a dinner of pizza or some kind of sandwich. Not much of a tradition, but it’s ours.

The backyard barbecue is a slice of Americana observed by many families during the summer, especially on the holidays.These events feature all-American favorites like barbecue ribs, smoked chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs, corn on the cob, and macaroni and potato salads. When my son was going through scouting, our troop would have a “family day” on the last Saturday of summer camp. Families would contribute their own side dishes and desserts, and the troop would cook a pig to be shared by all. I attended many camps as the troop Quartermaster Advisor, (or Adviser, your choice) and the smell of that pig cooking all day made the hot summer days making sure scouts attended their merit badge classes well worth it. That and watching 2 grown men having a friendly disagreement on how it should be cooked. How many different ways can you cook a pig?

Many townships, counties, and boroughs will often have a large celebration each year where everyone is invited. Fun I guess, until it gets held in the field behind your house. Two of the better traditional events held at these neighborhood picnics were the pie eating contest and the always fun, and somewhat violent, catch the greased pig. Can there be anything funnier than adults, some who may have enjoyed a beverage or 10, chasing a pig around a field. As a teen in the early 1970’s, I was old enough to participate in a couple of pig chases. Think of it as the kids game of Dog Pile, the game where everyone jumps on top of the kid with the ball. I was never lucky enough to catch one of those pigs (you have to get it by the legs, wrap it around the body and it will slide away because of the grease) and after the second year I stopped doing it when I asked myself “What the hell am I going to do with a live pig anyway?” And to be honest, it really is kind of a cruel thing to do.

Finally, I’ve mentioned many different foods and even some of the events that are tied to them. So let me end it here with my Top 10 Favorite Candies…in no particular order…

  • Hershey bar w/almonds
  • Chunky Bar
  • Goobers
  • Raisinettes
  • Almond Joy bar
  • Peanut M&M’s
  • NonPariels
  • Reese’s Peanutbutter Cups
  • Strawberry Licorice
  • Turkey Hill Banana Split Ice Cream…I know it’s not candy, but I had to fit ice cream in here somewhere.

As always, if you’ve been able to make it this far without falling asleep, thanks for reading, and I hope you can find time to read some of my other posts.

My Americana..Part 2

Planes, trains, tram cars, cars, and nepotism as part of My Americana.

Everyday travel in my Americana was always simple. The car. Did I have one, could I borrow one, or could someone please pick me up? Growing up, my family owned just one car, and depending on what time my Minor League or Little League baseball games or practices started, my parents work schedules sometimes made it hard to get there. I did get one valuable piece of advice however that went something like…

“Don’t worry, if you’re any good, they’ll find a way to get you there.”

Most of our family vacations consisted of driving to the Jersey shore for the annual V.F.W. convention. We didn’t take long cross country trips to National Parks or hop on an Eastern Airlines flight to Disney World. It was always Wildwood in June for the convention…and we tramloved it.             It wasn’t until I got my own car that I even saw anything west of the city of Philadelphia. I always knew places called Valley Forge and Reading were there, history and geography books told me as much.

On my 18th birthday, my mom gave me a gift called nepotism when she got me a job at the Evesham Waste Disposal Treatment Facility. If nepotism doesn’t define Americana, I don’t know what does. What my mom didn’t know is that I was so close to running a sub 50 second 440 yard dash in track for my high school. That was a really big deal. But, instead I would be making the unheard of salary (for a high school senior in 1978) of $5.18 per hour plus overtime (?), call-in pay(??) and all the tomatoes (think about that) I could ever want…shoveling sludge for the township we lived in. Screw those kids flipping burgers for that orange-haired clown, I had a career, I was gonna be rich!

Shoveling all that sludge allowed me to take that trip to Florida in 1981 that my familyft lauderdale never took, driving down in a customized Philadelphia Flyers Dodge van with a couple of friends for Spring Break. Since none of us actually went to college, let alone could spell college, I didn’t understand why we were going all the way to Ft. Lauderdale…until we got there. The Jersey shore was fun, but this place was an all-day, every day party. Both fun and frightening all at once. I did however, much to my chagrin, leave Ft. Lauderdale the same way as when I got there. And I don’t mean in a van. Like most 21 year-old males, my brain wasn’t always in charge of the operations…

…we don’t need no stinking reservations…

We were just about out of my neighborhood when I posed the question, “Where are wepaper staying?” After some uncomfortable head nods and some awkward shoulder shrugs, I was told we had no hotel reservations, “We will find a place when we get there.” Does anyone see the potential flaw in this plan (rhetorical)! But they were right, and 35 years later, I still stand corrected. However, I’m really ticked about the conspiracy to keep that little piece of information from me until I was in the van, the driver already pulling away from the curb.beach

The trip down was mostly uneventful, the agreement not to drink until we got there was easily the best and safest choice we made for ourselves and other motorists all week. The thought of getting pulled over by a ruthless, but certainly well-meaning, Georgia State Trooper, just looking to toss some intoxicated, trouble-making cretins just passing through his state on the way to Spring Break into a Georgia jail overrode the desire to drink and drive.

“Repetition is the mother of all learning.”

I don’t remember much about the drive down other than it was a good chance to learn, through osmosis, some of the songs that played endlessly for over 24 hours. It would have been better if we had a copy of Rosetta Stone.  We could have used our time productively to learn a language. Instead I came away with the ability to do the rap portion of Blondie’s hit song Rapture. Both important skills, but in no way interchangeable.

Driving through North Carolina into South Carolina gave me a chance to see what may have been the only point of interest on the whole way down. Those road signs that come almost every mile, announcing how many more miles are left until you reach South of the Border, the well advertised, too bright, fireworks selling, somewhat racially insensitive? (just look at the signs) tourist trap and rest stop along I-95 just south of the N.C.-S.C. border. I’m not sure if those signs were all placed there as a public service, or some sick joke meant to annoy drivers who needed a bathroom break, drawing you into their trap.

All Aboard Amtrak…

I’ve only been on a train a few times, mostly locals, however I did have the pleasure of traveling from Virginia to Sanford, Florida on Amtrak’s Autotrain. If you’re headed to, let’s say Walt Disney World in Florida, and prefer to have your own car with you, then the Autotrain might work for you, if you have 21 hours to kill. Which I did. It is also the same amount of time it would have taken for me to drive directly to Orlando from
Pennsylvania.image

My daughter had moved to Florida, and after two weeks of trying to match her car up with an auto carrier, I decided to just do it myself. If you’ve never been on a long distance train ride, it’s mostly enjoyable. I had a window seat and got a chance to see some of the little towns that the train passed through. Small, well maintained ranch homes with owners who obviously have learned to ignore the sound of a train passing not far from their front door…in the middle of the night.

Dinner, which was about the best food you can get on a train, was served in the dining car where I enjoyed speaking with other diners who were from south Jersey, close to where I grew up. The next morning the train rolled into the Sanford station, and after stopping for something to eat at another piece of My Americana called Dunkin’ Donuts I drove sugar-charged to Orlando where my daughter was thrilled to see her car again…did I tell you that she didn’t know it was me who was delivering her car? Want to guess what, not who, she hugged first? To wrap this up, if you go to Orlando often, avoid the I-95 drive and take this little slice of Americana, just remember to bring a good book, and unless you want to hear every conversation, some good noise cancelling headphones.

First In Flight?…

We all know the Wright Brothers and their contributions to America and the world in the field of aviation. But this section is mostly about Charley Furnas, a somewhat imageunknown but important name in American History. Charley is the precursor to what most of us would all become, what I would become, later in history. A passenger. Charley was the first person to fly with the Wright Brothers. We all recognize Wilbur and Orville as the builders of the first controlled, sustained power (not a glider) airplane. And in 1908, the Wright Brothers were attempting to sell their invention to the U.S. Army. The rub? The plane had to be able to carry a pilot and a passenger up to 125 miles at a speed of 40 miles per hour. Enter the hero of our story. Charley was offered the chance on May 14, 1908 to bravely go where so many of us now so easily go, the passenger seat on a plane. Charley had spent many hours working for the Wrights for little pay. They gave Charley the honor (I would have preferred cash) as a way to repay him for all of his hard work. But he also had a job on those first flights. The Wrights would focus on flying and operating the controls on the plane, and Charley would monitor the engine. Charley took two flights that day, one with Wilbur and one with Orville, making him not only the first passenger, and the reason we have flight attendants today, but the first flight engineer as well, and giving Scotty the chance to say…”I’m giving her all she’s got Captain!”

The First Automobiles…

Or actually, my first automobiles. Because of the job my mom got me at the sewer plant, I was able to purchase a real nice ’78 Pontiac Firebird from Burns Pontiac in Marlton. It was candy apple red (or some shade of red) with red velour seats, had just 5,500 miles on it, and was only driven by the owners daughter back and forth to work. It was a great car, and my dad, who was also purchasing a sporty Pontiac LeMans at the same time, made me buy it…however, I wanted the jet black Camaro with the T-Tops, but was somehow outvoted by my dad and the salesman. Funny how that happened.

Five years later I traded that Firebird, after beating it half to death, maybe due to some deep seeded resentment for missing out on the Camaro, on a 1983 Trans Am. I didn’t share that information with my dad…I didn’t want him to try and talk me out of it. I was an idiot. I had no idea how to negotiate and I’m pretty sure I got beat but good. However, I loved that car and nobody was going to change my mind. It was a combination of Kitt from Night Rider and the Bandit Trans Am with black and gold trim and my favorite accessory ever…T-Tops. That car made weekend drives to the Jersey shore fun and it was the only car I’ve driven irresponsibly over 100 mph. Unfortunately it was also a piece of crap, and after it was damaged during an attempted theft, I decided it was time to get rid of it. Joke was on the thief, the alternator was bad. The only way that car was going anywhere was on the back of a tow truck.

Finally…

Americans didn’t invent the automobile, we just figured out how to improve them and build them in quantity. Ransom E. Olds was the first, producing in quantity the Curved Dash Oldsmobile. Henry Ford built 18 million Model T cars by 1927 thanks to his use of the modern assembly line. Dr. Emmet Brown didn’t design the DeLorean, he did however invent the flux capacitor required to make it a time machine. And with that, a list of my favorite cars…other than the ones I’ve owned and in no particular order…

  • The Batmobile-in 1955 the Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln division built a concept car called the Lincoln Futura. It cost $250,000 to build and in 1965 Barris Custom City converted it into the Batmobile we know from the classic television show.
  • 1977 Pontiac Trans Am-I knew I would buy a Trans Am one day after watching Smokey & the Bandit.
  • 1956 Ford Thunderbird- (white) of all of the cars in American Graffitti, Suzanne Somers made this one the best.
  • 1978 Pontiac Firebird- almost as nice as my ’78 Firebird was Jim Rockford’s sierra gold model.
  • 1976 Ford Gran Torino-(red w/white vector stripe) Starsky & Hutch made this car popular from 1975 thru 1979.
  • 1971 Pontiac LeMans-not really a favorite car as much as a great movie. Popeye Doyle used this car in The French Connection in one of the greatest chase scenes in movie history. The movie Bullit had better cars, a 1968 Ford Mustang GT and a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T, and arguably the greatest chase scene in movie history, but even I spotted the green Volkswagen, all 4 times.
  • The Munster Koach- built using the bodies of 3 Model T’s and has an engine from a 1966 Mustang GT. The Munsters had the coolest hot rod on television.
  • 1959 Corvette-if you’ve ever seen the movie Animal House you know that Delta House rush chairman Otter owns the red ‘vette used in the movie.
  • 1966 Lincoln Continental- another entry from Animal House. Why is this one of my favorites? Because of what it became…the Delta House Death Mobile.
  • 1974 Spirit of America Chevy Vega- Chevy also offered Nova and Impala editions in red, white, and blue color option. Chevrolet also released the iconic t.v. commercial that year which gave us baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet as 4 pillars of our Americana.
  • 1978 AMC Pacer- AMC made some ugly cars, and the Pacer certainly takes the imagecake. In May of 1976, Car & Driver Magazine called it “The flying fishbowl.” The 1977 Pacer was used as a model for Goofy’s car in Disney’s A Goofy Movie.
  • 1921 Oldsmobile 43-A Touring car…with the rear half of the car removed and replaced with a platform and 2 chairs, Granny and Elly May had somewhere to sit on the Clampett family truck.
  • 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon- or the Wagon Queen Family Truckster which took the Griswold family to Wally World. And I’m assuming back again.
  • The Captain America Chopper- made famous by Dennis Hopper in the movie Easy Rider and at times the center of arguments on who really built the bike. Not even going to guess on that.image

There are so many more muscle cars and motorcycles, especially bikes from Harley Davidson and Triumph that should be on this list, but I’ve already gone on much longer than a bad writer should. If you’ve made it this far reading my incoherent ramblings, thanks and I hope you will come back for my next look at My Americana.

What is my Americana?..Part 1

Memories of things considered by me as our Americana while growing up in small-town, U.S.A. in the 1960’s and the 70’s.

Did you ever wonder what it is that makes us Americans? Foods, sports, musicspecial events, and literature are just some of the things that are part of defining Americana. Regardless of your station in society, we each have memories going as far back as our childhood, of things that we consider to be part of our own Americana. Below I’ve included some original photos of my small town America.

I’m not sure there is one true definition of Americana. Consider my small town U.S.A., a Main Street lined with mom & pop stores, like the small hardware store, complete with that hardware store smell, you know the one, the lunch counter named Artie’s, where mom was a waitress, a barber shop with a barber pole spinning outside, where barbers named Bud or Dom cut just father’s and their son’s hair (where as a kid you also may have heard and not understood your first dirty joke), and a delicatessen with a wood pickle barrel filled with fresh dill pickles soaking in vinegar brine. Main Street, where they held a Memorial Day or Fourth of July parade complete with fire trucks, bands, floats with some new Miss Something or Other waving down at you from on high, WW II and Korean War vets from the local V.F.W. (which my father was one) marching patriotically in step with their flags and rifles. A parade in which at some point, someone will come along and throw Dubble Bubble bubblegum at you when what you hoped to get was Bazooka gum with the Bazooka Joe comic inside. Suburban America in the 1960’s… where your parents moved to get away from the big city. What historians call suburban sprawl. At my age, I still remember that town, the town I grew up in, with shop owners who were on the volunteer fire department, who left their stores when called, any time of day, regardless of who was in the store. This picture of small town living and growing up in the 1960’s truly defines everyday life in my Americana. Sadly, for many, this picture, these memories of small town America are quickly disappearing. They did in my former small town…

For my kids, my Americana, my town, is just a town that exists in a Norman Rockwell painting or some other ancient artifact (me) from the 1960’s. Although to be honest, they probably don’t know who Norman Rockwell is, although for many of us, his work will always be a part of true Americana.Their world, their town, is constantly changing, filled with too many strip malls and large box stores, and the over-development of just about every open space available. There is always some new version of technology becoming available to upload or download, Friends they have…but have never met…a world constantly rebooting. Their own version of Americana… Generation Y Americana. 

Over my next 5 or so posts I will be looking at some of the things and events that help to define my Americana including, but not limited to, sports, music, transportation, television and media, food, and family life. Much of it will be about things as they were, because isn’t much of Americana about remembering?

If you’ve made it this far thanks, and I hope you will read the other posts in this series. And, if you’re one of the few who read this, please feel free to send me your memories or comment on what you’ve read.