“The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view” (Kerouac, 1957)
It was 10:27 pm as I stood on Pennsylvania State Highway 209, as it passes through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, listening to the death groan and final breath of a 6 point white tailed buck. My first kill lay on the road; its death steam rising and life blood spreading out on the highway unceremoniously while my friend and worker Wayne was standing in front of my now damaged 77 Chevy Van. He was surveying the damage (deer antler through the radiator) that would certainly put the monkey wrench into our trip. Inside, the van were tools needed, as well as other tools we would probably never use but included “just in case”, to complete the jobs we were to undertake in North Carolina as one half of a Satellite Reception Installation crew for the North Carolina Board of Education and the Tie-In Network. The plan was to travel down a few days early in a direction that would include the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, then with the early arrival, scope out the jobs for both teams and get a day of rest in before doing our first job, in Elizabeth City, N.C. I stood there with no answer to a question I was sure I hadn’t asked and wondering what the hell I was doing here.
It was Super Bowl Sunday Eve, Jan. 26, 1987, an event that neither of us cared about in the least. (The humble writer must be clear that not only did I play the position of left out in most forced school educative sports, I really could have cared less. I historically have hated any televised sports, and quite especially football and due to my complete lack to co-ordination I really suck at sports) It had been an unmercifully cold day, with temperature lows of 3º (Weather History for Pittsburgh, PA, 1987) and in fact the temperature never got above 19º the entire day in Pennsylvania, while it was even colder in upstate NY where the journey began but hey, that’s just how it rolls in winter in the north; it gets cold and sometimes damn cold. We were well stocked for the anti-super bowl party that was historic in my house, but this year’s event would take place with only 2 people in a motel room in Elizabeth City. Neither of us drank but seeing how it was super bowl Sunday and there would be beer guzzling freaks everywhere, we felt the need to consume something, and chose my father’s favorite Courvoisier, and though he mixed it with ginger ale, were we not men? Or something like that. Neither of us was huge on beer, a commodity I would learn to enjoy much later in life in a non-commercial dark beer way. A wise man once told me to never trust a beer I could see through.
It was about 6 months before; when my friends Wayne and Bob, both of whom I was in a musical group with, convinced me it would be in my best interest to come work with them creating and installing Satellite receivers designed for home reception in a Chestertown company servicing the surrounding areas. Chestertown was at that time a far cry from Cable TV of any type, and the Dish™ Network had not yet even begun so for the immediate area and much of the outward areas there was a lot of installation work. It was pretty simple work; a land survey would get completed and a marker laid for the installation of the pipe cemented into the hole we dug. After a few days of curing the customer would again be scheduled for the crew that would come install the dish, actuator, and inside reception equipment, which was essentially a motor to move the dish and a receiver/amp; it could be quite unwieldy for the uninitiated. Bob was with engineering and sometimes would assist a highly technical install, but the brunt of the work and labor was done by Wayne and me.
These were pretty large dishes, 10’ – 16’ of rolled aluminum (conforming to a mathematical parabolic dimension of which I cared little about) heavy as hell with a custom frame, that mounted and connected onto 2 ½” well casing pipe which in turn was cemented into the ground, though later on they started distributing mesh dishes; they we no easy task to install and once installed trying train the poor backwoods people who could barely operate a TV remote control was a mind numbing chore that was hideously worse than writing a report on “Corine Corrina”.. In more than one instance we would again travel to homes for an unceremonious uninstallation, because the remote control and complicated many satellite uplinks and channels within them made it quite difficult and complicated to watch any program, let alone the guy who loosened the dish on the pole and tried to move it by spinning the dish back and forth, quite “soonly” breaking off the bundle of wires and cables connected. He was heard to ask “Motor?” like it was a new concept. A tech guy called them “woodchucks” and seeing stuff like that, how can one argue and worse how is a service technician to cope with this kind of lunacy?
I reckoned that even though I was going to the same rural situation to install satellites, it was after all for educational purposes, so how bad could it be? I agreed to the proposal so Bob (the electronic assembly person on a genius level) and I went about creating a business, getting insurance, and creating a work van for me. I bought a used Chevy Van that needed a transmission and some body work, the transmission came from a friends Camaro, as his car body was dying hard, but the transmission just was rebuilt. On the passenger side (of which side I was never seated because I am horrible and dangerous passenger was a custom light we installed, that would throw light straight down into Wayne’s lap, which would then be used to facilitate the rolling of joints for our trip. We created rules where we would require the smoking of 1 joint an hour and then an additional one when anything ceremonious happened, like the transport between states or the successful transport across a bridge or through a tunnel, in fact anything at all could be envisioned as a major success and require a celebratory joint. The dead smoking deer was not one of these occasions
I remember driving instructions tell you to drive straight ahead and do not brake, so realizing I had released the accelerator with my foot in fear and anticipation of hitting the deer and my foot hovering over the brake pedal, I pressed down again on the accelerator, only to have the deer turn back into the ¾ ton Van looking me right in the eye as it chose its particular sense of martyrdom and slid its mighty rack into the radiator goring it through. Yes by God, I was in Pennsylvania and this Buck wished to simply demonstrate just how friendly a state it was. What’s the saying; “Friends to the end”? I think this buck had demonstrated it perfectly, and then checked out to leave me as the executor of its estate.
The first people to show up where two guys in a pickup truck who were quite animated about who “owned” the deer. I thought to myself, “Jesus, It’s been slammed into by the front end of a Chevy Van before being run over and is probably bruised, besides, how I hell would I clean it, where would I store it and still make it to Elizabeth City?” As it turns out, my not being a resident was unfavorable and I had no problem letting the eager men trot off with my kill. The officer told me how lucky I was to be where someone was actually staying through the winter (the only person within a ten mile radius) and that the tow truck would be here shortly. I was to be ceremoniously dropped off with the van and my only worker in the middle of the night in Stroudsburg, PA, while all the Inn, Motels and Hotels were booked solid with no rooms anywhere. The levels of anticipation rose with every turn
I had thought ahead and brought sleeping gear with me, while Wayne had his Parka and was already shivering. To be fair, we were going down south in February, which tends to be much warmer than “up in them thar hills”. Wayne also was no boy scout either; what he was, was an arm chair military commander, because he would not be allowed in due to some old injury with his knee, but even then it would be a fail, as a survivalist/military conqueror would at least come with an emergency blanket. The floor of the van was carpeted, and still I have an extra blanket to lie down, and I shared the sleeping bag for the night, because our Inn for the evening was the van. Inside of the station/junk yard was some sort of attack dog that snarled and went into so sort of catatonic freak out every time we had to relieve ourselves. It was a pretty much sleepless night that ended with day break and the opening of the diner across the street.
After breakfast I got out the tools I’d brought with me and pulled out the radiator to be ready for the yard owner’s arrival. He had told me on the trip to the shop that in fact he had the radiator I needed and would be opened on Super Bowl Sunday. I did ask him on the trip to his shop if I could buy the radiator now, and he must have envisioned trying to pull a used radiator out of the vehicle it was coming from and putting it in our vehicle with temperatures well below freezing, because his answer was a quick and firm “no”. In his retrospect he had no idea that these two lunatics would actually have the tool required to perform the job not only quickly but well, and he actually apologized for it.
The tow truck driver/junkyard guy/repair center rode with a bulldog up front. They say the owners looked like their dogs, and this was no exception. Adding to the fact that it was night and this was the back woods, this guy had a loose fitting jacket, suspendered pants and a wife beater on; he fit the backwoods redneck persona to the sweat stains you knew were just below the underarm. Couple that with the ugly dog in the front seat, the shotgun in the window rack, when he told me no I felt I was in no position to argue at all, as was more than a bit relived to be once again on my way. Through this entire ordeal, Wayne had been strangely quiet; I saw how he viewed the redneck tow trucker and there was fear in his eyes.
As a side story, I have some sort of weird radiator karma, my former El Dorado on a road trip to Key West, after blowing a hole just at the end of the NY State Throughway near Suffern, popped again (after stopping at a store and getting some radiator repair in a bottle, it finally gave up its ghost in Wilmington Delaware. We were on the way to Key West for a series of band gigs/working vacation. I once again was saved by a kind individual who stated “I’ll need to rebuild that entire rad-e-ator” yet only charged me $120. He was in the back of a large building in downtown Wilmington, Delaware, I was an obvious out of towner and he could have doubled the price and I with no way of knowing or anyway to get a better deal. So here are two instances where I was unmercifully robbed of precious journey time due to a radiator, yet in the end the cost was very reasonable.
Kind of pissed but happy to be in a position to get the Van fixed and underway, we set about the task of changing over the radiator after paying my towing bill and the cost of the radiator, in this case $80 for a tow and $80 for the used radiator on Super Bowl Sunday, was a deal in anyone’s book.. It was about 10 am before we got rolling again and were far behind schedule. At this rate we would be lucky to make to North Carolina before dark, and fall behind with the debauchery we felt we should put ourselves through to balance the armchair football hero’s that were getting wasted themselves. I always felt we could do it better and without the resources that a super football game would provide. People all over the world would be doing shots for touchdowns (along with other forms of mind numbing chemicals) and just because we did not favor football, should not mean we should be left out. It also made the celebratory joints in line with the “program”, because we knew how to celebrate we simply needed any excuse or no excuse at all.
The trip went pretty uneventful on the way down after all that nature business. We left Stroudsburg and continued clearly rolling more joints just in case. We used to joke about rolling joints until you could not smoke any more, and then roll two more joints; one before bed and one to get you rolling in the morning. Clearly though after reexamining the map, and google maps in their own browser works really well, that it was pure madness the route we took, that on the return made it seem even more unnecessary. In some fantastic ways, google maps can deliver more than you bargained, like the through towns on this route.
I had worked for 2 consecutive years in Bethlehem PA, for a company that contracted work inspecting and repairing municipal sewers. I was my then father in-laws right hand worker and we stayed for those two 3 month commuting trips staying in Nazareth PA at a motel with a bar. In all my years working on the road, this had never happened, as neither of us really cared, but as it was he agreed to put us on the other end which was nearest the hot water tanks and much more beneficial to sewer workers if you catch my drift. We would work 4 10 hour days and drive the 5.5 hours home, leaving again Monday morning at the wee hours of 1 am, hitting the day as soon as we arrived.
Bob’s wife was pregnant with their first child, mine having already been born, and Wayne’s not quite conceived yet. This was to become in later years a theme of first my wife conceiving, then Bob’s and finally Wayne’s, where after the arrival of the 2nd child for all of us, the question of me getting fixed came into the male club conversation. This woman carrying Bob’s offspring filled out like nothing anyone of us has seen, with quite a few of us thinking that she would have twins, Bob was not happy. In his mind we needed to make money and this was business; it amazed me how far off the track he later got.
Bob is/was a functioning genius; that is to say he could design circuitry for amplifiers and satellite receivers, but did not possess the common sense to think his way out of a paper bag sometimes. This here is a guy who designed, built and programmed the head end for the cable system in Crown Point, NY and he ended up a heroin addict. Does too much brains lead to such behavior?
All that aside, he knew both Wayne and I smoked entirely too much and could still out install him; us on our worst day and him on his best. Mind you I am not bragging, just showing you what a damned Nancy he could be, the poor little hippie kid. I did toughen him up through the years, as I have a tendency to do in a way and manner that is completely out of my control. My former father in-law, grew a moustache as a kind of tribute to me (and later gave up the cigarettes through my urging), while one night years before at a party where there was acid, cocaine and obvious marijuana smoking, I looked up to see him standing in front, smiling at me, amazed I could know an Elvis tune, let alone perform it, knowing my feelings about Elvis; to this day we are still friends; it was his ex-wife who hated me and as we found out later.
It was around 10am when we left Stroudsburg and we figured that traffic would be of a minimum, but sunset was begun as we neared the Chesapeake Bay and with it the bridge and tunnel. It cost about $10 in 1987 to cross the bay and I am sure it is much higher by now. I remember the leafless trees silhouetted in the indigo sky with a blood red sun setting to the west as we trod on through the end of the afternoon. I seem liked forever to get to the entry point for the bridge/tunnel and now it seemed like nearly a half an hour of driving on a causeway (a large raised mound of earth and rocks onto which they place a road of all things) to reach what I would consider a bridge. You drive around a corner towards the beginning of the bay bridge-tunnel and off to the side was a building on sunken piles with a boat tied to it; looked pretty neat, seemingly worth investigating and something you always wish you had more time to find out about.
The bridge itself was pretty boring and a little disappointing. The sun was nearly spent and you could just make out shapes into the inky depths. There were few cars but still there were evident two solid lines preventing passing and no way to pull over with the space between the roads right white line and the actual edge of the roadway was maybe 2 feet. In heavier traffic with a car broke down in front of you, the help was backing up from however far it was to a space where a tow truck could turn around. These thoughts were discussed as we nervously rolled more joint to still our anxious nerves and Wayne instinctively rolled a few more for bridge-tunnel celebrations. I could see somewhat into the distance yet something seemed to obscure my view and in the dusk, it was difficult to distinguish. By the time I realized it was a huge ocean going vessel I seemed to be about to crash into, the road dove down at a crazy angle as we dove down under the water. I have to be honest; the whole experience was kind of freaky in the near dark. Here you are driving in dusk and realize that there is an enormous ocean going vessel that is several stories high suddenly taking up your entire view, and before you can even really react or wonder where in hell an ocean going vessel came from or was doing there, and just before you take your eyes of this huge monstrosity that holds your gaze hypnotically, the road just dives right down at a crazy angle into the bay. The horrors. I imagine it is not unlike being on a major roadway and seeing an airplane land on it.
So very uneventful from Stroudsburg; boring little cities and towns with boring billboards and odd little names, like Bear, Delaware and Smyma for Gods sakes; if it was named after a guy, you know he got beat up or became tough quickly. All this rural calm, two northern guys driving down the road stoned out of their minds and suddenly just before they drive, at a sharp angle down into this hole in the water there is a huge boat to scare the crap right out of you.. I thought for a minute that it is about things like this that one might not want to smoke pot and drive, but at that moment, Wayne was handing me a joint and I forgot all about it. It was not unlike driving to the Atlanta, Ga. Airport, where you actually drive under the runway and then over it again at one point. It from the airplane passenger (which I have flown out of Atlanta when in the Marines) that it freaks you out. Here you are in a monstrously huge and heavy commercial jet and you drive over and under the highway. Somewhere in the back of your mind rests the thought that you are much too heavy for a bridge of any sort and much too high for any underpass; and God help you, you are about to go up in the air with this thing.
In a very anticlimactic way we came upon our motel in Elizabeth City, NC a day late and few extra dollars short. Fortunately, my Dad had wired money ahead and there was a nice little check waiting for me at check-in. The good old days before cell phones were common at all and you could wire someone money and the check would be waiting at their destination. Now you need 6 forms of ID, 2 pints of blood, finger print scanning and the rights to your first offspring to be able to pick up a check from a western union vendor. We had arrived finally and would get a nights rest before we went off to start our first job, which was nearly next door to our accommodations.
You had asked before about Hunter S. Thompson and phantasmagoria, meaning whether or not it really took place. Both Wayne and I read of Mr. Thompsons adventures extensively, and we even carried some of his books as a roadmap biblio-reference. Like what would hunter do in such and such a situation? Both Wayne and I believed in the order that surely came from chaos, though sometimes the outcome was not favorable; that was just too bad and part of the consequence of living one’s life in this manner. We lived by the Grateful Dead song’s creed from “I need a miracle”, which states “Too much of everything is just enough”. (Barlow, 1978) Sometimes it’s only the inner cobwebs that need cleaning out, sometimes it’s the entire ego.
It seems like a sin, that Wayne ended up in life with bad knees and angry at the world. He is an arm chair warrior who could never serve, but can tell you all about how it is supposed to work. He can identify most aircraft by sight, and if we are ever attacked it might be a good thing. But to sit and be angry, that’s not how I envisioned his story ending up. That is the kind of thing cannabis was to prevent; which gives me thought and pause. Cannabis is supposed to mellow one out, not make one to be as angry as Dick Cheney. Bleeding heart liberals this and left wing that. Such anger makes one blind to the fact that there is no difference between Republicrats and Democans; greed, fear and war mongering. In the end I think it made Mr. Thompson a bit paranoid, and though I feel none of that, it appears this kind of outcome is more common that I thought.
“The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but to those who see it coming and jump aside.” (Thompson, 1998)
I have discussed the other side of my partnership too in other stories/reports; while not into the excess as Wayne or I, in the end it was excess that got him too. A man with a high IQ that is smart enough to design and implement an entire control center for Time Warner’s Cable TV for The Greater Glens Falls area as well as Crown Point, became a serious heroin addict and as a result spent 5 years in prison. Just before his arrest and conviction was when I had my accident and missed out on some serious public ugliness. A small price to pay if you weigh all the odds and options. In the end, I feel I win, though in all honesty are there any winners in this human race? I think it is something inside that just refuses to give up; I am the type of person who will not stop, will not quit and will not give up. You will need to kill me to make “me” stop.
Jack Kerouac sums it up as neatly as any crazy man could; “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars. (Kerouac, 1957)”
North Carolina to the outside contractor can be a wonderful place to work, as many of the board of education people we had to deal with, had wives who only wished to ensure we received our share of southern hospitality, and were fed properly. I must say it is some of the best feeding I have ever had while working on the road in any capacity. We would work in North Carolina for 3 weeks steady before wrapping things up in a temporary way to head home for a week’s break before heading back down and finishing the work laid out. It felt like an omen the intense 2 days of travel to get to N.C. and we were not disappointed. The work provided a large pallet of adventure both on our side and the Tie-in networks support/inspection crew that followed us around from job to job. Our final job was in Chocowinity, NC and was in itself an equally intense addition to an already evolving adventure. There are no merciful insights, no moral to this story; somehow we made it out and home alive, but all that as they say is another story.
Barlow, J. (1978). I need a miracle [Recorded by B. W.-T. Dead]. Mill Valley, California. Retrieved from http://artsites.ucsc.edu/GDead/agdl/mira.html
Kerouac, J. (1957). On The Road. Viking Press.
Thompson, H. S. (1998). Rum Diary. Simon & Schuster.
Weather History for Pittsburgh, PA. (1987, 01 25). Retrieved 11 15, 2014, from wunderground: http://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/KPIT/1987/1/25/DailyHistory.html