Tag Archives: PA

The greatest summer ever, or, driving from New York to California in a motorhome when I was 8

 

A couple of weeks ago, something reminded me of the greatest trip I’ve ever been on, and I thought: Oh, I wonder if, when I blogged about it, I mentioned that.

Then I went back through eight years of this blog (that’s right, I’m term-limited out of blogging now) and was astonished, gobsmacked, amazed, to find out I’ve never written about it.

Truly, it had a huge impact on my life, I’ve written essays in actual newspapers about it, and yet, I’ve never told it here. Madness.

So, with summer just about over, here goes: I want to tell you about the summer of 1984, when a man, his wife, his 12-year-old daughter, and 8-year-old son (Me!) drove from Commack, N.Y., to California and back in a Winnebago motor home, over six glorious, occasionally foul-smelling weeks, and my entire world was opened up like a curtain at a Broadway show, revealing backstage.

It all started because my father was a schoolteacher, and in the 1983-84 school year he was granted a sabbatical. It was common for NYC teachers back then, and so for a whole school year my Dad planned a trip that sounded ridiculous on paper: The four of us, in a 26-foot Winnebago motor home, eating, sleeping, living in it all together, for six weeks.

We’d drive from our home on Long Island to Knox, Pa., on June 15, our first stop, and from memory, I want to say we arrived back home on July 28 or 29th. (There was a long, long period, I’d say at least 10 years afterwards, where my father, in front of friends, would ask me to recite the entire itinerary in order, and I could do it. If challenged right now, I could probably still get it 80 percent right.)

My mother and father had been counselors on summer teen tours in the late 1960s, but this was going to be a whole different thing.
We threw questions at my father all year, fast and furious:

— “We’re going to go to the bathroom in this thing, then emptying it all outside?”
— “Whaddaya mean, my bed turns into our kitchen table?”
— “I’ve got to be with my sister every minute of every day, for six weeks?”

There was skepticism everywhere. But my father’s enthusiasm was so overwhelming, so overpowering, that eventually I think I just gave up doubting him.

“We’re going to see America!” he’d shout, like a TV evangelist. “We’re going to look at incredible blue skies, and smell amazing air. It’s going to be great!”

Thirty-three years later, I can tell you: He undersold it. The trip was magical. Life-changing. Incredible.

We saw things my 8-year-old eyes had never seen. I can still remember so many details, huge and small: The huge ones? Seeing the Grand Canyon at sunrise, and sunset, still the most beautiful thing in nature I’ve ever seen.

The elk and moose at Yellowstone National Park. The majesty of Mount Rushmore. The enormity of Hearst Castle. The coolness of the “Four Corners,” monument, where Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico meet.

The grandeur of Old Faithful, and Yosemite, and taking a walk with my Dad down some trail to a river, and sticking our feet in and it feeling just glorious.

And the small details, I remember just as much: The yellowed piece of paper that had our itinerary on it, so we always knew where we’d be going next.

The cabover mattress/sleeping compartment above the driving area where my parents slept, where I spent most of the time we drove, watching America from a unique perch. My “job” was to record every expense of the trip in a little spiral notebook, and I was very proud to have that job.

The flat tire we got near Yosemite. The time my friend Andrew, vacationing with his family in Colorado that summer, clogged our little toilet. The hole-in-one I got in mini-golf somewhere in South Dakota. The complete shock and joy we felt when we found Hebrew National hot dogs in, I think it was, Minnesota.

It was unlike any trip I’d ever taken, or probably ever will take again. Was it all sunshine and roses? Of course not. We were an American family, so we fought sometimes, got sick of each other, complained there was nothing to do (KOA campgrounds, where we usually parked overnight, were not exactly hotbeds of excitement, but they did offer warm showers.)

When it was finally over, and we returned back to our little slice of suburbia, I remember being thrilled to be back in a real bed.

And more than a little sad, that this wild and crazy adventure was over.

I’ve often said, and many people who I’ve talked to about this trip have said, that I was at the perfect age to enjoy the trip. Not too young that I didn’t know what was going on, but not too old that I thought I was too cool for all of this (My sister, of course, has different memories of the trip, nowhere near as positive as mine.)

It was the summer of my life, and a summer I’ll never forget. And if I can ever convince my wife and family to climb aboard a motorhome, I know they’ll have the journey of their lives.

 

 

HBO’s 24/7 continues to be awesome. The worst “calling in sick” excuse ever. And the best Ping-Pong shots of the year

So Wednesday night was Episode 2 of HBO’s incredibly fabulous series “24/7, Flyers vs. Rangers,” which HBO did last year as well but with different NHL teams.
Basically, it’s a four-episode documentary series chronicling the daily life of the two hockey teams chosen to play in the annual Winter Classic outdoor game on Jan. 2. Last season it was the Capitals and Penguins, and HBO’s 24/7 look at them was such a massive hit with fans and in the ratings that they decided to do it again this year.

As a Rangers fan, of course, I was especially pumped to see the behind the scenes stuff. As a former hockey writer (though I only covered minor league teams), I can tell you that hockey players are some of the funniest, strangest athletes I’ve ever been around, and what many of them lack in intelligence they make up for in personality.

Two episodes in, and 24/7 has been great. We’ve seen Rangers coach John Tortorella swearing at his team one minute, then tenderly discussing his friendship with a 10-year-old Rangers fan who has cerebral palsy. We got to see an in-depth look at how a team deals with a player’s concussion, with the Flyers’ Claude Giroux.
The behind the scenes stuff is truly fabulous, and in last night’s episode we got more of the zaniness of Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (see his thoughts on the Universe above at :30 of the clip), some great on-ice audio during a fight involving the Rangers’ Mike Rupp, and of course some super slow-motion hockey highlights that HBO does so well.

I totally wish this could be a series HBO does for a whole season. If you haven’t seen it yet, the 24/7 episodes are all on HBO on demand. Check it out even if you’re not a hockey fan; I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

**I have to give this guy points for creativity. A Brookville, Pa. factory worker named Scott Bennett needed an excuse to skip out on work recently. So he placed a fake obituary about his mother in the local newspaper, and showed it to his bosses.

Sadly, the ruse was up when it was discovered by the employer that his mother was still alive, when the employer called the funeral home listed to ask how to send flowers. Shockingly, the funeral home had no idea what he was talking about.

Bennett has been charged with disorderly conduct, because being a schmuck and a terrible son aren’t things you can be arrested for in Pennsylvania.

Ah, Scott. Hope that unemployment check covers your shame.

**Because I feel confident I’m the only blog today writing about both Ping-Pong and hockey, I give you these four minutes of coolness. The top 10 Ping-Pong shots of the year, though frankly given that none of them involved banking a shot off the basement hot water heater, I think my best shots from childhood are better.

Steve Jobs finally walks into the sunset after changing the world. A school district uses sheep as lawnmowers. And a fun day at U.S. Open qualifying

Usually, when a CEO leaves a company, the tributes to him or her are overblown.
No one person is that much bigger than the product or business, 99 times out of 100. Most anyone else below the big chief can do that job.
And yet, with the news that Steve Jobs is stepping down, it definitely seems like the hype is about accurate.
This guy changed the world. His brilliant innovations with Apple are too numerous to be named here; there’s probably no area of technology that Jobs and Apple haven’t had a hand in. (if you’re reading this on an iPhone, I rest my case).
Jobs has been sick for a while, so Wednesday’s news isn’t a huge surprise, I guess.
But it still feels like the end of an era. What a remarkable career he’s had; people forget that he was thought to be all washed up when he left Apple. Check out this interview from 1994, and see how prescient this man was.

**You think your school district has funding problems? Please. You haven’t seen the trouble facing Carlisle, Pa. How desperate are these folks? They’re not using lawnmowers anymore to cut the grass at two local schools. They’re using sheep.
That’s right, sheep. Seven of ’em, on loan from the principal of the middle school. (Why does the principal own seven sheep? I’m guessing that’s a whole ‘nother story).
Embarrassing that a school district would have to do this. But hey, also educational for the kids? Who needs a field trip to the animal farm when you’ve got Dolly and Co. right outside the classroom window?


**How often in life do you get to stand five feet away from professional athletes, as they play some of the biggest matches of their career?
Not often. Which is why I did something I’ve always wanted to do this week: Go to the qualifying tournament at the U.S. Open.
For those not familiar with the “qualies” it works like this: If you’re a pro tennis player ranked in the top 100 or so, you automatically get into the U.S. Open. If you’re not, you have to play your way in through what’s called a qualifying tournament. For several days you try to beat other men and women desperate to make it into the main draw.
Every year before the Open they open the National Tennis Center in Queens, N.Y. and let fans watch the qualies for free. I went this year and it was fantastic. You can literally get five feet from these men and women while they’re playing; you can’t do that with any other sport.
Sure, there were no huge famous names like Roger Federer or Serena Williams playing, but these were true pros fighting their guts out, and in many cases the money they were trying to win would determine whether they could keep playing as a pro next year.
It was great fun. And yeah, there may be some more U.S. Open posts from me next week; I’m going at least twice, and hoping for more. In the immortal words of Bart Scott, I can’t wait.

Frank Deford nails it. That amazing OK Go video. And the laptop that spies on you

Frank Deford is one of my writing gods. As a kid, I was amazed that a guy who wrote about sports could be so thought-provoking, and write so beautifully. Along with Gary Smith and Jim Murray, Deford, the longtime Sports Illustrated writer, is one of three writers I’ve read who make me shake my head and mutter “I’ll never in a million years be as good as him. It’s like we’re not in the same profession.”

Deford’s genius (if you want just a small sample, check out his famous story on boxer Billy Conn here. Yeah it’s long. But it’s Friday. What else are you going to do, work?) has translated very well into radio and TV. He’s been doing NPR commentaries for as long as I can remember, and this week he made me nodding along in the car, as he often does.

He talked about how when entertainers or movie stars screw up, nobody demands or expects apologies or mea culpas from them. But when athletes do it, we demand our pound of flesh. Check out Deford’s three-minute commentary here.

**So I had no idea who OK Go was until a few days ago. But on so many of the blogs and websites I read, this video was linked and discussed. It’s pretty incredible, and all done in a continuous loop. It’s been viewed more than 3 million times already.

Prepare your jaw to be dropped:

**Finally today, a “this can’t really be true” story from my friends at Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.

A 15-year-old student in Ardmore, PA named Blake Robbins was called into the principal’s office, and allegedly was told that his school-issued laptop contained evidence, in words and photos, that Robbins may be dealing drugs.

How? Through a remotely-activated Webcam that was turned on while Robbins used the computer in his room.

This is beyond creepy and scary to think about, if true. The school administrator denies it. The kid’s family has hired a lawyer. Read all the details here and be very, very disturbed.