Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bill & Brian's Great Adventure

Bill & Brian's Great Adventure (Con't)

Brian's Story

Brian is from Ireland, Northern Ireland, and came over to the USA in the 1970s to work with his friend John Hassen, both finding work as house painters at the Jersey Shore. Living in Somers Point, one day Brian was on his way to work in Ocean City on his motorcycle when a little old lady pulled out in front of him. He tried to swerve, but went down, his head hitting the curb and cracking his helment.

In Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point for months, they tried to save one badly damaged leg, but eventually had to amputate it, extending his stay. A good friend, Gregroy's bartender George McGonigle, who loves everything Irish, tried to get people to go visit the poor Mick, far from home, in the hospital, with one leg. I didn't go.

But one day I was sitting under the TV by the front door when in walks a one legged guy who must be Brian, and we sat at George McGonigle's bar for a few hours and got to know one another. I had been to Belfast, where Brian went to school, and I had even visted Kelly's Cellar, an 800 year old Belfast bar that he frequently patronized.

Brian, with one leg, could no longer paint houses, so he began to tend bar, and did so at Gregory's dining room bar, Zaberer's on the Black Horse Pike and later the Libary III in Cardiff, before managing and owning the Libary IV in Williamstown.

Eventually, John Hassen returned to Ireland, where he married his sweetheart Finvola, whose father owned a bar, McReynold's in Dungiven, in northwest Ireland, near the border, which John now runs with Fin and her seven sisters.

After John went back to Irleand, Brian lived, on occassion at my family's home, 819 Wesley, as did all our friends, and we shared a winter, off season appartment on the beach at 38th street in 1977, with Bill Potterton and Pete Pospich, both Mack & Manco guys. I know its hard to imagine today, but we actually paid about $300 a month for a four bedroom apartment on the beach in Ocean City from September until April, an apartment that otherwise rented for $2,000 a week in the summer. It was also one of a string of three really bad, freezing rain and snowy winters that we haven't seen since. That was also the year Brian finally got his insurance settlement for losing his leg, and after paying off his expenses, including laywers, he had enough left over to send some money home and buy a brand new, red TR7 sports car. It looked like a little wedge, but was souped up and fun to drive.

"Let's go!," he said. "California. Coast to Coast."

The plan was to go to the Long Beach Grand Prix auto race, which was being held that year through the streets of Long Beach, just like Monaco, where I had seen Brit Graham Hill win the 1970 Monte Carlo Grand Prix. It would be a cross country jaunt, from Ocean City to Long Beach, ocean to ocean, and in a sports car like the two guys in the Corvette on Route 66, or Then Came Bronson, the motorcycle reporter who meandered around the country on a whim.

"Let's go!"

Although I wasn't broke, I wasn't working steady, except some odd jobs on the side and collectiung unemployment from working the previous summer at Mack & Manco's. I only had a few hundred bucks, but Pete said he'd send along my undemployment check, and for a couple extra bucks, I sold my typewriter to Carolyn Nixon(who reminded me of this when I ran into her at a Tony Marts Reunion last summer).

My brother Leo gave us his CB radio, that we hooked up, and using the natural handle "Red 7," and we stopped by Gregory's to say goodbye to George McGonigle, the bartender, before heading west in a rain storm. Since Brian had unhooked the dashboard speedometer so it wouldn't register the miles, thinking about reselling the car later on, we had no idea how fast we were going or how much gas we had, and promptly ran out on the Pennsey Turnpike. It was the worst driving rain you could imagine, and since I had a Topsider raincoat, I hitched a few miles down the road, got gas and hitched back with it, all in the driving rain. An inauspicious start, that I later recalled when pirate entrepaneur Pat Croce set out from Ocean City on his motorcycle trip to San Diego and almost lost his foot in an accident before getting out of state.

Once we were on the road though, things went pretty smoothly. Arriving in Pittsburh, per the plan, we stopped in unexpectedly on my college roommate Mark Connelly, who had also spent many summers in Ocean City, painted 819 Wesley and was part of the crew of the summer of my group rental (circa 1973?).

Since we went to the University of Dayton, where Mark's sister Kathy also matriculated, Pittsburg was often a half-way pit stop when driving between Ocean City and Dayton for my four years at college.

Mark suggested we stop in Boulder, Colorado and visit his sister Mary, who has also spent summer time in Ocean City, and then cross the rockies and check in with his other sister Kathy, thus saving motel money as well as seeing good friends.

Mary, a firey red head (are there any other kind?) and her boyfriend, lived in a big apartment in big, corner house in the same hip neighborhood where Mork & Mindi were supposed to live. It was near the university, and was pretty neat. There was a news and coffee shop around the corner called Eight Days A Week, where I bought my Rock Mountain News (RIP this week, after a century of great newspapering), and plotted my day.

We must have stayed there a week or more because I remember visiting the Garden of the Gods (which I had seen ten years earlier on a summer road trip with Gary Pancoast and his parents), Pikes Peak and place with the girl on the barroom floor, a story that my father had once related.

Mary had some friends who were really interesting too, incluidng Dave and Jennifer, ski nuts, who I recently thought about out of the blue for some reason. One night Brian cooked a chinse sweet and sour dish and we all went into town to the Boulderado Hotel, where there was live jazz in the second floor lounge.

The Boulderado still has, at least it did then, an old west atmosphere. When you walk in the door you can just imagine how it was a hundred or more so years ago, with its front desk, winding staircases and second floor balcony. I forget who was playing, but we did meet beat poet Alan Ginsburgh, who I recognized, as I had seen him previously give a lecture at Stockton collge at the Jersey Shore. When I introduced myself, he invited us to sit down in these old upolustry chairs and antique coffee table.

When I told him I was from Camden, he asked if I ever visted Walt Whitman's grave, and I had, though nobody else is ever there when I was. I asked him to recount how he was related to Whitman, as detailed in some recent magazine article, and he elaborated on how there was a line of mutual homosexual lovers that link them. He said he was there to give a beat nick lecture at the William Burroughs? school.

Then we were off in the Red Seven (our CB handle) back on the highway west, over the hump to the other side of the alps, past Vail to Glenwood Springs, and then back east to Aspin. At least that's the way it looked on the map. But it didn't turn out that way.

There may have been a snowstorm, and the pass closed for the night, or some delay, but we got sidetracked to WinterPark, a small ski community just off the main highway between Denver and Vail. We were just driving around the rockies, listening to music (Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" comes to mind), when Brian sees a sign "Handicap Ski Parking Only."

"That's us!" he said, pulling right into the slot, and picking up his plastic prothesis knee and walking in the door that read: "Handicap Ski Office - Hal O'Leary".

It didn't take long to meet Hal O'Leary, a jovial guy with an Irish smile, who asked one question: "AK or BK?"

Brian's an AK, above the knee amputee, which meant he would ski three track, rather than with his prothesis. Brian went into the locker room to put on a ski boot, and met a guy whose name I should never forget, but I do have a mental block. But he was a Vietnam vet who stepped on a mine and lost both legs below the knee, so he's a BK, and skis with his prothesis and two outriggers. Skiing with one leg and two outriggers, Brian would ski Three Track, a type of skiing reportedly invented by O'Leary, who really wrote the book on the concept, and had Brian skiing within an hour of meeting him.

The handicap ski program at Winterpark also taught blind people how to ski by following the cow bell of their guides, and they got me to ski, since how could I watch them ski and not do it.

We stayed at this rustic all wood lodge, in an almost dormatory style setting, but they had a fireplace, a little bar and had a great owner, host who made everybody feel at home, and served as our Winterpark HQ for a few other visits over the next few years.

They were going to have their annual Handicap Ski Tournament a few weeks later, and we tried to time ourselves to get to Aspin, hit the Long Beach Grand Prix, spend some time at the coast, and make it back to Winterpark for the Handicap Ski Tournament, which they promised would be a blast.

When we finally got to Aspin we found Kathy Connally driving a Mellow Yellow taxi cab, and glad to see us. She lived in a fairly modern apartment building on the slope of a hill on a road that emptied into town at the Jerome Hotel. We had sleeping bags and a couch, and took Kathy out to breakfast and lunch, and got to know the town pretty well.

Ajax mountain was steep, an all black trail, mogul strewn slope that I really didn't want to try to tackle, so while Brian and some new friends skied AJAX, I walked into town and poked around a bit.

The bar at the Hotel Jerome, of course, became our base of operations. Heading down the road to town I had to pass a foreign car repair shop, where there was this big bald guy with a beard who looked like a Viking, certainly a biker, tinkering with these exotic sports cars.

Martin was the name on his sign, but I learned his name was Martini, of Martini and Rossi fame and fortune, and we talked a few times and I told Brian about him. Just down the road from Martin's Garage was the Hotel Jerome, a fine establishment indeed.

I went down there the afternoon Brian was skiing and was sitting at the bar drinking a draft beer and reading the newpaper when I hear from behind my back, "My God, it's Bill Kelly!"

Now who could this be?

It was Maryanne, a cashier at Circle Liquor in Somers Point, and two of her friends from the Gregory's-Charle's-Anchorage crowd. They were on tour too, and it was a miracle we happened to cross paths. I walked them across town to the bar at the base of Ajax mountain where, low and behold, Nancy from Irenes's on the Ocean City boardwalk was there, working as a waitress. When Brian made it to the bottom of the hill, it was a real Jersey Shore reunion.

While skiing down Ajax Brian had met another one-legged Irish skier, Teddy Kennedy, Jr., then only 17 years old, and having recently lost his leg to cancer. It was great that he hooked up with Brian, as Brian showed him some ski moves, and taught him how to shift gears with one leg in the TR7.

Aspen has plenty of celebrities, including John Denver. There was a John Denver look-a-like who hung out at the Aspen bars, but the real John Denver would't be seen in town, as everybody hated him. Apparently he had some gasoline tanks installed at this ranch and was hoarding gas when it was scarce. Kathy's hair dresser, who came around and gave us all haircuts one night, gave us some inside dirt on Denver, since she also did his hair, but I forget the good parts now.

One day, riding around the country roads with Kathy in the Mellow Yellow cab, she gave me a book, John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," and now, every once in awhile, I'll give the same book to somebody who I think will appreciate it.

Hunter Thompson was there too, but I never met him, and didn't make it to the little Creek Bar he hung out near his home. I did meet his wife Sandy, a beautiful lady who worked at the Aspen bookstore, which was owned by guy whose father was a big shot CIA officer. We all went out to breakfast together one Sunday morning, to a local's place where after a week in town, we knew most of the people there.

On Sunday afternoon, while everyone else went off into the mountains on a mission of some sort or other, I went to the bar at the Hotel Jerome to watch the ball games and read the papers. I was sitting next to the brass rail waitress station, and every once in awhile the waitress would come up and order some drinks and then say, "Jack wants to know what the score is," and after the third or fourth time she asked for the scores for Jack, I was wondering who the hell this Jack guy is. When she bent over to empty a tray into the trash while asking for the scores for Jack, I could see behind her, a guy sliding up low to the floor and pinch her on the ass hard enough to make her scream. I had a 35 mm camera with me at the time, right there in front of me, but didn't use it when Jack Nicholson looked right at me, and smiled, a smile just for me.

Then he went back to his drink and games, but I'll always have that face in my mind.

We had to get to Long Beach for the Grand Priz, and time was running out, so we reluctantly headed out again, west, across the desert, to California. One night, I was driving and Brian was sleeping, and Lew London't "Swingtime in Springtime" was playing on the radio. It was a college student station out of New Mexico and was beginning to fade out so I pulled over to hear it all, which woke Brian up, wondering why we're stopped on the side of the road in the middle of the desert.

It was a Sunday night, because I noted to Brian how Lew London was playing at that same time back by the fireplace at the Library III where some of our friends worked, including Lew.

We got a motel room when we got to Bakersfield, on the other side of Death Valley, and after a big breakfast with the truckers, we decided to head north to San Francisco because we still had a few days to kill before the Grand Prix. In San Fran we looked up my friend from Philly Bill Vitka, who we had heard on the radio on the drive up. Vidka went to Penn in Philly and was the news director at WMMR, where I worked with him on a couple of important stories (ie. Army dioxin studies), and he offered to put us up on the floor of his meager apartment. I also called Kathy Fletcher, a local teacher who I went to school with at Dayton, and we all met at a local bar. We also visited Fisherman's Warf, the Buena Vista, where Irish coffee is the house drink, and the beatnick poets bookstore around the corner.

We would come back to San Fran the following year, and stay longer while Brian took the competition driving school course, but we didn't know that at the time. Vitka took us to a seafood restaurant in Sausalito, on the bay, and the next morning, to a a cliff they jump off with the hang gliders, before we started heading south on the coast road. Past Big Sur, and Carmel, William Randolph Hursts' Zanadau castle, the TR7 really handled the coast road well, and we started playing tag with two chicks in a sports car heading in the same direction.

When we got to Los Angeles, we got the girls to go to a bar with us for a few drinks while I tried to call my friend Glenn Gebhard, a UCLA film student and cab driver. He was working at the time and I called the cab company he works for and they directed him to where we were with him thinking we were a fare. Was he surprised to see me, and I introduced him to Brian and the girls we had just met and he had us follow him to down the road to Venice, where he had an apartment near the beach.

Venice, home to the Doors and the hippies of LA, with its winding blacktop prominade that runs along the water, and bars right there on the beach, something you'd never see in Ocean City, "America's Greatest Family Resort," and dry Methodist blue law island.

But here, in Venice, California, it was natural. Glen took us out to eat at some Italian joint where Bob Newhart and his family sat at an ajoining table, and we observed Glen's instructions not to bother them. And it was quite funny to see Bob Newhart talking to his family like he was in character on his TV show, which itself is pretty dry but funny humor.

It turned out, as we discovered while all sleeping together on Glenn's hardwood floor, that the girls were lesbians, and the next morning they were gone. Later that week I did meet another neat girl, who had just joined the air force, and who I later met at the Philadelpia airport and drove to McGuire to fly to Greenland for a year. We hooked up with a lot of my old frinds, but also met people who we would remain friends with for a long time.

We got to Long Beach for race day, and didn't have any trouble picking up the press passes I had requested a few weeks earlier, and had the run of the place.

Watching a Formula One auto race is difficult because you have to get a good location, near a turn, where the cars slow down enough for you to get a look at them and keep them in order.

Like we did at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glenn, we walked around the course to get a feel for it, and then went over to the pits, and low and behold, there in the Ferrari pit was Rip Martin, the guy from Aspin.

Of course Mario Andretti, the Nazareth, Pennsylvania, Italian born American was the favorite, and won the race, becoming the first American to win an American Grand Prix. After the race, while walking through the parking lot, we came across Mario's two sons, said hello and I took their picture. They were pretty young then, young teenagers, and Michael looked a like a chubby Italian, but he went on to be a good race driver like his father. And now his son, Marco, wants to be one of the USAFI drivers on next year's F1 circuit.

After the race, everyone went over to the Queen Mary, where the Victory party was to be held in the ball room. The press passes we had got us on the boat and in a party in the big bar, but we really wanted to get into the Victory party and hung out in the cocktail lounge seats by the banquet room door.

Things got exciting when Mario showed up, with photographers popping bulbs and TV and radio crews there broadcasting live, I got up and started taking photos in front of Mario and walked backwards into the room. I was in! Without even trying. The Mario, the man of the hour, in the room, they quickly sealed the door and I tried to act like I belonged there and walked over to the open bar for a drink.

This party was for the drivers, and sponsors and it seemed most of the people knew each other pretty well, so I tried to inconspiciously blend in.

I looked around the room for Rip Martin, who should have been there and could have gotten Brian in, and would have stood out a head and shoulders above everybody else, but I didn't see him anywhere.

There, I recognized the guy next to me but didn't quite know exactly who he was, so I chatted up a conversation with him and he was British, a clue, ah yet, Sterling Moss, the Great Sterling Moss, the world motorcycle champion, world Formula One champion, one of the greatest road race drivers ever. And he was drinking beer with me on the Queen Mary.

Not a snob, and with a beautiful babe hanging on to his arm, Moss appeared friendly enough, and he was interested in the fact that I had drove across country in new TR7, and started to question me about the car's handling, when I explained that my friend, who owned the car, Brian was just outside the door. Brian, I said, didn't have an invitation to get in, and was from Ireland, and had lost a leg in a motorcycle accident. With that, Moss handed his drink to the babe, and asked where this Brian was? Right outside the door, I said, and we went out and there was Brian, sitting back chatting it up with some other people.

"Hey Brian," I said, "I'd like you to meet my new friend, Strling Moss," and you could see Brian light up as he recognized the road racing hero of the century, who escourted us both back in to Mario Andretti's Victory Party on the Queen Mary, where a great time was had by all.

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