Archive for July, 2013|Monthly archive page

Riding Around

In The 70's on July 20, 2013 at 6:05 pm
Let's Ride

Let’s Ride

One thing we did a lot in those days was ride around aimlessly. You could argue that this was a waste of time (as many of our parents did), but we loved it.  Our  cars served as  moving ‘think-tanks’ of sorts, as well as a means to escape boredom and our only chance for adventure.  Taking a cruise with good friends- sometimes smoking a joint, sometimes not- but always moving from place to place, listening to music and having deep conversations was quality time. We pondered philosophy, science, world news, emotions, books, ideas and relationships on these wonderful rides. And naturally- we also discussed the painstaking minutia of our latest crushes and the merits of Robert Plant’s tight jeans as well. And we  often laughed until we cried. 

We had basic destinations in and around our town. These were  places  we drove to ‘on purpose’- albeit in very, very roundabout ways.  The Big Three: The Beach, The Other Beach, and Gallaher’s Estate. The Beach included both Calf-Pasture and Shady- one strip of beach divided by a fence into two, hosting baseball fields, miniature golf, a marina, and an over-sized parking lot, which was the hub. We never played baseball (surprise! surprise!), rarely played miniature golf, didn’t use the marina (other than maybe to pee behind a yacht at night after the restrooms were locked) but we used the heck out of the parking lot: it was our rec center, meeting place and ground zero on weekend nights.

The ‘Other’ Beach was  in the snooty, upscale town to the north of us, where celebrities lived, and big money resided (or people who got in before the real estate boom) While they did everything in their power to keep us from littering up the landscape with our more-than-five-year-old American made (gasp!) cars and non-designer clothes, we didn’t care, or abide.( I think we were mistakenly still under the impression that it was a free country!) 

Besides, we thought it would do Buffy and Biff some good to see that their lily-white, upper class existence didn’t entitle them to erasing the rest of us, stray dogs to their pedigree. And, trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Ritchie Rich scrunch his face up, while adjusting the yellow sweater he’s tied over the shoulder of his pink Izod shirt at the mere sight of a ten year old American made car. Priceless! 

We’d drive around on the quirky winding roads and lanes for hours, being careful to follow the speed limit to the letter so as not to get pulled over and banished. We’d  look at the mansions, trying to figure out which celebs lived where: Paul Newman over here, Martha Stewart over there, that famous musician over here.  Often, all we could see were towering locked gates and stone-walls, but still! We knew they were in there! (This was before the word ‘celebrity’ made me sick, and TMZ  eradicated all the mystery and glamour of celebrity via over saturation) We took it as a personal compliment that movie stars-who could live anywhere- had picked a place so close to us, and never once considered the decision was made in spite of us.


Gallaher’s Estate, was a town park, a place we referred to as ‘Galla-GERS with a hard ‘g’ – never realizing, until decades later there was no second ‘G’ at all.  ( Our ignorance was partly due to the whittling down of the name to ‘Lers’)   An English field stone manor, it was built in 1930 by some rich guy, and was inherited by the town and turned into a park. The main-house- a giant stone mansion, sat on 220 acres, which was locked to the public most of the time. But we weren’t there for the mansion, we were there for the grounds. The property was covered in trees, woods and trails, and stretched for miles. There was an oversize circular driveway and small parking area, where we’d all meet up. It looked just like the Playboy Mansion, (though there was  no Grotto, or-thank christ!- Pauly Shore) It attracted a  high rate of rowdy teenage hooligans (according to disapproving adults), but as you well know, those were my people. Not all of them, of course. Like everywhere else, there were different cliques with which to align or not.

The Grateful Deadheads- with their tie-dye clothes, suede moccasins (if any shoes at all) and floppy sunhats, were laid back, peace loving, 70’s  hippies who would often play hacky-sack (‘stoner soccer’) behind the grand estate, braid flowers into each other’s hair and flash fluttery peace signs to one and all.  They listened to bootleg recordings of Grateful Dead songs-none of which, from what I could tell, had a beginning or end. It always sounded like you were plopped down in the middle of an endless jam.  A single song could last an hour. Rumor had it, that in person, onstage, band members could leave the stage, go out for dinner and return, while the same song would still be going.

The music was mellow, but strangely- it didn’t seem to matter what the Grateful Dead played- just as long as it was them playing it. Because I wasn’t a fan, I often felt like Jerry Garcia and Co. were getting away with something, because no matter how far out the jams wandered (and trust me- they went to space!) a deadhead would give it a glowing stamp of approval. Some fans I knew  packed up and followed the Dead on tour.  You wouldn’t notice they were missing until they re-appeared in  little circles on the grass, playing acoustic guitars and making the beaded bracelets they sold outside tour venues, reminding you of their presence and of the 60’s. (By the way- even though we didn’t mesh musically-these were the kindest people in the park) 

Deadheads hanging out before a show. Peace and Love.

Deadheads hanging out before a show. Peace and Love. Peace and Love.


There was also another group,  mostly  guys, who drove  hand-me-down  Saabs, Volvos and Subaru’s, wore brown sandals, smoked incessant (hydroponic) reefer and played Frisbee in the main lot. They often brought dogs-Retrievers and Labs wearing bandanas around their furry necks, who played canine frisbee at pro-level. These dogs would be flipping through the air, catching the frisbee backwards, catching it with their tails. This crowd listened to  Neil Young, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Allman Brothers and Jethro Tull (who I hated- even though they’d been my first concert. They lost me at gross lyrics about snot and the incessant flute playing sealed the deal. Plus, they weren’t cute. Shame!)

Ah, man- Rover bit my Frisbee!....('Needle and the Spoon' plays in background..)

Ah, man- Rover bit a hole my Frisbee!….(‘Needle and the Spoon’ plays in background..)

Then there was us: mostly high school kids, wearing faded jeans and jean jackets with band patches and concert t-shirts, thinking we were so cool, but often embarrassing ourselves by cheering for the idiot doing burn-outs in the parking lot in the jacked-up Charger, or puking in the woods after three beers.  Blasting Zeppelin and throwing up the devil horns, the guys had long hair and pukka shell necklaces-the girls often rocked the ‘Farrah’ hairdo (guilty), along with Maybelline blue-eye-shadow applied with a heavy hand. We loved Black Sabbath and Van Halen, and though we didn’t attend Ridgemont High, we were no doubt the Jeff Spicoli’s and Stacy Hamilton’s of Gallahers. Aimless and shameless. We should have been embarrassed, but instead we had the times of of our lives.

The hairstyle that launched a million hot rollers

The hairstyle that launched a million hot rollers


Florida 1973 Part 1

In The 70's on July 2, 2013 at 5:36 pm

The annual trek down to Casselberry, Florida became a fixed part of our summer schedule for almost a decade. My brothers and I would fly out of New York City’s Kennedy Airport at the end of each June,  after school let out for summer vacation.  Sitting together in roomy blue airplane seats,  we would anticipate the delightful tray of airline food (scrambled eggs, silver dollar sized pancakes, orange juice, small carton of milk and a golden dinner roll with fancy foil wrapped squares of butter) by meticulously uniformed, friendly stewardesses. (Of course, David only ate the pancakes plain- he would have much preferred his go-to summer breakfast of dry Rice Krispies and Tang, a habit my grandmother would nix so quick he’d get whiplash) The kind stewardesses  would then gift us with metal wings to pin onto our shirts, insisting we were all co-captains, which thank Christ wasn’t actually true. (The way my brothers commandeered their Huffy sting-rays and mini-bikes, we’d have all been goners)

Remember the tarmac?

Nan and Pop-pop would excitedly greet us, as we entered the airport from the tarmac, beads of sweat instantly forming on our brows as we walked from the plane down steep metal stairs and across the asphalt runway.

Once we entered the lavishly air-conditioned terminal, Nan and Pop formed a dual octopus of flailing arms, kisses and boisterous greetings. (This must be how the Beatles felt in 1963!) Nan was dressed in her ‘special occasion’ duds- a short sleeved, polyester double knit dress (in a half size) two strands of pearls (graduated lengths) support hose and white, cushioned easy steppers. Clip-on costume pearl earrings, and rose red lipstick meant she’d gone all out. She was barely 5’1, so I had to crouch to greet her- the familiar smell of L’Air Du Temps and Sen-Sens transporting me back to my childhood.

After happily mauling the three of us and marveling at our growth  (“You’ve grown like weeds!”) Nan would snap open her cream colored purse by the costume jeweled clasp and pull out a plastic baggie containing three packets of mini-Chiclets, a handful of sour balls (“I get the red!” called Rob, beating David and I to the punch while we scowled) and several cellophane wrapped butterscotch  discs especially for me-( the boys hated the flavor and referred to it as ‘buttercrotch’ Such class!) This seemingly small candy-bag ritual signaled the official beginning of our summer in Florida. My grandparents would be in charge of us for six chaos-filled weeks. It’s a wonder they were so into it.

My grandfather was as excited as a Labrador at a frisbee match- a big grin on his deeply tanned face, his dark brown comb-over slicked neatly across his reddened forehead, which he tended to with a cloth hankie. He wore a light, short sleeve button down shirt, dove-gray sansabelt slacks and white leather loafers as required by law for all men over 65 in Florida. He hugged me and guffawed: ‘Ahhh, yessirree- we sure missed you, Young Lady! Ahhhh….look at the three of you!’, hugging my brothers, ruffling the tops of their hair, the whole time exclaiming ‘Ahhh haha” “That’s right!” and ‘you…betcha!”

With the greeting ceremony over, it was time to walk to baggage claim, hopefully stopping first at the orange juice kiosk that sold freshly squeezed juice in plastic novelty containers shaped liked authentic Florida Oranges- a green plastic leaf and straw sprouting from its lid. My brothers weren’t interested in this item, and sighed heavily when I insisted we stop.

“She only wants it coz of the container! And she had orange juice on the plane!” Rob huffed, like there was a legal limit, then  cawed in a sing song voice “it’s so cuuute!”

“Shut-up, Hot-Wheel Head!” I retorted- the implication that at ten, Rob still played with Hot Wheels. Which he did.

“Be quiet before I sell you both to the gypsies!” threatened Nan, with David adding an enthusiastic ‘Yeah!” into the mix as if he had any authority.

After Nan bought me my juice ,which I took a long, purposeful sip of, shooting dagger eyes at both bros. I’d drink the whole thing just to prove I was actually thirsty, though I was not. Maybe I did just want it for the container. (Who wouldn’t? They were adorable!)  We made our way through the airport in order to retrieve our bags. We each had a separate suitcase, hefty blue vinyl Samsonites with silver buckles. We watched with eagle eyes as the conveyor belt spit out the luggage from our flight. My suitcase took the longest, because, according to Rob, it was filled with ‘stupid stuff she doesn’t even need’ to which I replied with a noisy bottom of the cup slurp, followed by a heartfelt, citrus scented burp. 

“Why don’t we all act act our age instead of our shoe size?” suggested Nan. I looked down at my white clogs, and realized my grandmother was accusing me of being seven and a half. We’d only just gotten here, and her job as referee was already in full swing. She happily took the wheel our mom was no doubt tired of white-knuckling.

As soon as we exited the airport doors, a wall of sauna-like heat hit us square on. My grandmother, who wasn’t a big heat fan to say the least, rolled her eyes dramatically and began to fan her face with her free hand. Meanwhile, my grandfather took in a hearty breath and insisted “Now this is living!’ ‘You betcha, Florida sunshine!” as a counter strike.

“Sheesh! You and your Florida! I’m melting into the sidewalk and you’re over the moon!” she marveled, and then added “If you ask me, it’s all a bunch of malarkey, Mister!” My grandfather just chuckled and shook his head in disbelief that Nan could see anything negative in his idea of paradise.

We were with Pop-pop on this one- the heat didn’t bother us all that much (it was a novelty) and we were jacked up for this vacation. We had bikes to ride, games to play (baseball, kickball, Nerf football, clackers, super balls, frisbees) people to see (all of the neighborhood kids we’d hung out with last year) and more touristy places to visit than you could shake a stick at.

Anything within a three hour distance was on our radar, and our grandfather was beyond game. We went to Disney World, Busch Gardens. Gatorland and Lion Country Safari (where we observed animals in deep slumber-all but the looney ostrich at the entrance gate who pranced around the car, pecked at the windows and put on a big show, gearing us up for the eventual letdown) We hit pools, ponds, lakes and oceans-I’m certain Pops would have driven us to a puddle, were it in a brochure. 

 Even the local stores were exotic to the three of us: Zayre, Jordan Marsh, Burdines, The Altamonte Mall, The Winter Park Mall.  The convenience stores (7-11, Speedy’s) were a source of endless fascination, with their risque vacation postcards depicting alligators about to take bites out of bikini-clad, tan-lined buttocks, bronzed and oiled hunks drinking out of coconuts in neon colored bathing suits, the whole Snow vs. Sun debate that mocked their recipients. There were wacky straw hats, shelves flooding with Coppertone and Solarcaine, cheap t-shirts with iron on stencils: Flip Wilson: The Devil made me Do It! ,’Keep On Truckin’ and monstrous 70’s muscle cars, their engines and wheels exploding out from underneath them.

There were ‘Arrive Stoned’ license plates-(scary to us still in its blatant defiance to the law! Ridiculously coveted by us a couple of years later) and key-chains with dangling shells and freeze-dried seahorses.  They sold cheap, scratchy towels touting beach  scenes, orange sunsets and state maps dotted in endless tourist attractions. And treats: Yellow Scooter pies (my god, so exotic!) pixie sticks, Fruit stripe gum, and an endless array of novelty candy. And the mother of all cash cows: cigarettes and beer. All this, plus  major blasts of ice-cold air-conditioning. We could spend hours in these stores, a dollar bill burning a hole in our pockets.

 'Wish You Were Here!'



Florida 1973: Part 2

In The 70's on July 1, 2013 at 7:28 pm

We  dragged our suitcases, ball-and-chain style across the pick-up lane, dodging yellow taxis and elderly drivers who could barely see over the wheel. Pops pointed across the way to his car, a new big, green 1970 Plymouth Fury, a car that lived up to its name with him behind the wheel. He was very excited about the prime spot he was able to secure directly in front of the airport’s entrance. He puffed his chest out and beamed. 

We listened as he described how it had all come about-how he’d driven by at the exact moment that a brown Cadillac was pulling away and he’d slammed on the brakes just in time.

Nan said, “And I have the neckbrace to prove it!”

Pops crinkled up his face and shook his head, obviously contesting her side of the story. Then he shrugged and continued:

“Yessirree! I pulled right in, I did!” he said proudly.  I got the feeling that if it were up to him, we’d stay longer and gaze at his parking job so he could bask in the rush of holding such a miracle spot. In the end though, all he could do was sigh, as my grandmother rolled her eyes and fanned her face at an even more  rapid pace, waiting for her door to be unlocked.

Jingling the keys in his hand, he switched gears, noting Nan’s discomfort out of the corner of his eye. Suddenly he was anxious to ‘get this show on the road.’ He unlocked the Plymouth’s giant trunk and we lifted our heavy suitcases up and over, where they landed inside the cavernous trunk, with three heavy thuds, while Pop-pop wiped down his sweating brow with his embroidered hankie.

“There you go! Atta boy!” he guffawed, proud that we could lift the behemoth Samsonites, before he  slammed down the massive trunk lid, and scurried to open Nan’s door with the key before she fainted from heat stroke.

“Woo, boy!” she sighed, seeing the lock pop up like a turkey timer, as she thrust open the front passenger door and began frantically rolling down her window with the gusto of a pilgrim churning butter. While fanning her face, and blowing air up from her bottom lip, which lifted her curls, she hissed,

“It’s as hot as Hades I tell ya! And you can put that in your pipe and smoke it, Buster!” It was as if she was speaking to everyone and no one simultaneously.

Florida International's prime parking spots.

Florida International’s prime parking spots circa the 70s.

Pops scurried around the car, methodically unlocking the back doors. I quickly called ‘Window!’ as did Rob, leaving David stuck in the middle. He dragged his butt slowly across the scorching seat like a cat with a dingleberry, sighing into the sizzling-hot vehicle dejectedly, while we kindly urged ‘hurry up, stupid!’ We couldn’t unroll the windows fast enough.

 Pops started up the car, warning us that in a few minutes we’d be required to roll-up all of the windows again- as soon as his new Chrysler Air-Temp System  kicked in. We needed this warning because rolling up windows manually takes a bit of bicep power, and is harder if you’re suffering from mild heat stroke, your back and legs sticking to the leather seat, tongues out, panting.

Finally, he pulled the trigger on the forty minute journey back to 391 Marigold Road, our home base for the summer.  He took a quick peek at the road behind him, jerked the wheel to the left, then gunned it out of the parallel parking spot- all of us instantly pinned to our seats with the sudden ‘G-Force’ (grandpa force) a blaring horn from a passerby (and finger in the air) welcoming us onto the airport road. 

Yachts of the 1-4, circa 1970s

Yachts of the I-4, circa 1970s

Every year we forgot about Pop’s driving style, and every year we were reminded in an  instant as his unique driving skills reared back up in a frightful how-do-you-do.

First off, Pops is a brake rider. If you are behind him (bless your heart) chances are you will be blinded and/or confused by the flashing red brake lights he applies every three seconds or so, regardless of speed or terrain. But this isn’t his only trick: Pop-pop is also a pedal to the metal kind of guy, stomping the gas like a bank robber in a getaway car. So you are virtually going 40-brake!-50-brake! 60-brake, until such time as you suspect you have actual whiplash. (Need I point out that no one is wearing  a seat-belt, it is 1973)

And here’s another fun fact: Pop-pop is hard of hearing.  He wears a hearing aid the size and shape of a circus peanut, the color of silly putty. The deluxe model. But even mic’d-up, Pop rarely hears any commotion around him, much of it the result of his curious driving decisions. In fact, if someone shoots him the bird he just gives them a friendly wave back as his eyesight isn’t so hot either. 

‘Yeah, yeah! You betcha’ he says in their general direction, behind a tight-lipped smile.

Even Frank Bullitt took heed when Pop-pop hit the streets!

Even Frank Bullitt pulls off to the side when Pop’s Plymouth Fury hits the streets!  

Over the years, Pops had three different cars-each one bigger than the next, all of them 4 door sedans. They were boats- ships even-sturdy war wagons, rolling on wheels of steel (okay-fiberglass belted tires) capable of parting the traffic seas in a single brazen clip. He backed out of his driveway without looking, he jumped lanes like the needle on a polygraph test, and he called it ridiculously close when coming up on a red light in a six-lane intersection. (Ironically, the one time he didn’t ride the brakes) Believe me when I tell you- Space Mountain had nothing on a ride to Pantry Pride with my grandfather!

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