Category Archives: New Jersey

New Jersey Part II: Cream Ridge

We went to the middle of the state when we switched locations in New Jersey. Our second spot was at a “luxury” resort with “ultra RV sites” called Laurel Pond. We were about three miles south of I-195; 20 miles east of Trenton and 30 miles west of the Atlantic shore. When we arrived we began to suspect that Laurel Pond was a real estate development venture gone awry. The office was one of those portable trailers that construction firms set up on the premise of a building project. When I went inside to get us registered, a young mom was there to greet me and get us checked in. Her toddler was crawling around on the floor. I had to step over his toys to reach the desk. There were no computers, phones, office supplies… or any other item typically used when operating a day-to-day business. We had been informed ahead of time that we would be required to pay our weekly fee in cash.

She took our money and I signed some sort of paper that said I would not sue them if something happened while walking in the wilderness. I was also told I had to make a hand-written notation next to my signature saying my husband also agreed to this disclaimer. Then she said she would lead us to our site. Mike had detached the car from the tow bar while I was registering, so he followed her and I followed him. Usually when the staff person at a park leads us to our site, they lead us to the correct spot and then get out and help us navigate the bus until we are situated appropriately. This time, she drove through #51 pointing out the window of her car to location of the electrical box, water line, and sewer connection. Then she kept driving and parked her minivan in front of a dirty travel trailer with trash and broken appliances strewn around its perimeter. She got out and went inside. We handled the rest on our own.

Despite the view across the street, #51 itself was GREAT compared to the place we had just departed. It was about three times larger than our sliver of land at Fla-Net Park. The ground was covered with crushed granite so it would not be muddy when it rained.  A canvas canopy covered the picnic table, and we even had a gas grill available for our use. The biggest kicker: there was an above-ground hot tub! We did not intend to use the thing, but this was still the first place we have stayed that came with a personal spa. (Mike has a thing about public hot tubs, and I kind of agree). The neighboring spot to our north was empty. Since the actual power box was covered up in weeds and vines, it did not look as if anyone would be taking that site during our stay. The spot to our south was taken by another old trailer, but it was not surrounded by trash or dismantled refrigerators.

During the check-in process, I asked for a map of the campground. The young mom gave me a black and white copy of what looked to be one of the original promotional brochures. As I examined it in detail, it was apparent that the original developers had built the “resort” to accommodate 75 spaces. Some were to be completed with mini mobile homes made to look like log cabins on the exterior. The other spots were obviously intended to accommodate motor homes or travel trailers like ours. The brochure also showed pictures of a swimming pool, play ground, a bath house, a pavilion, shuffle board courts, horseshoe pits, another pool with a water slide, a bocce ball area, and a sand volleyball court. The playground is the only thing that actually existed in reality. A total of 73 spots were planned and it looked like only 1/3 of those had sold. We suspect that the project did not go as planned and the developer abandoned the venture when he began to lose money. There was obviously no Homeowners Association in place on this business venture. The lots that were individually owned were individually maintained (or not). The lots that did not sell (according to the brochure) were completely abandoned. Landscape maintenance was not a big concern at Laurel Pond. Neither was trash collection. The dumpster was overflowing the day we arrived, and it just got worse from there. Apparently, the original developer also abandoned the trash service to the park. About mid-way through the week, I spotted the young mom up on a ladder sorting through the bags of garbage. I think she consolidated what she could into larger trash bags, and took the top layer to another dumping location. The stray cats in the area really loved climbing through the pile each night.

Although this RV park was not in the least bit luxurious, it was good enough for the time we spent there. We had 50 amps of power, a sewer connection, free Wi-Fi, good water pressure, free cable for the television, and some elbow room. Additionally, the price was the lowest amount we had paid in months. A factor our budget could not let us dismiss.

While Mike was researching our surroundings during coffee on the first morning, he checked on restaurants in our new area. When we get the chance, we like to eat at restaurants featured on the cable television show Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. In each episode, Guy Fieri features a collection of restaurants that fall into one of the categories in the show’s title. They are usually ‘local joints’ with good and inexpensive grub. Visiting these places is a fun way to taste some local flavor without busting our budget. We had a collection of choices in several seashore towns a short distance to our east. We settled on 10th Avenue Burrito Company in Belmar. In a perfect world, Tex-Mex would be on the agenda at least once a week. In Texas that is usually on a Friday, for some reason. Since we have been on the road, I have been severely deprived of any good Mexican food. Quite honestly, we have been reluctant to patronize any Mexican Food establishments for fear of being disappointed. The reviews of 10th Avenue Burrito Company were positive enough; we decided to give it a try.

The restaurant was on the edge of a strip shopping center, so they had an outdoor sidewalk area that was enclosed with plastic panels. When the hostess sat us, we learned that dogs were allowed in their patio. We had left Piper and Cessna in the back of the Honda, so I brought them to hang out with us at our table. The next good thing about the place was that they served Sangria! They also had an extensive collection of tequilas available, which was intriguing to Mike… although a bit too early in the day to begin any sampling. We ordered the pulled pork flautas, adobo chicken wings, and a beef burrito with enchilada sauce. Everything was great. The food was more California Mexican than it was Tex-Mex, but it still satisfied our perpetual craving for comida Mexicana.

After lunch we wandered through the downtown and Mike stopped into a local hardware store to see if they had an obscure wrench he had been looking for. The central business district encompassed only a few square blocks, so we turned east toward the beach and walked along the sidewalks of a nice traditional neighborhood until we arrived at the water. Many homes were still undergoing repairs after being damaged in Super storm Sandy. Others along the block looked brand new, as if the owners had to start from scratch after the storm. There was a boardwalk running parallel to the sand and water, so we wandering along it for a while before turning back east and exploring another section of the neighborhood en route back to the car.

Our campground was just down the road from McGuire Air Force Base and Fort Dix, which is under the jurisdiction of the United States Army Reserve Command. Mike stayed entertained with watching the military transports and helos flying low nearby. One afternoon he saw a C-5 and several KC-10’s flying in a pattern around us. I came down with a cold on this leg of our trip, so he spent several afternoons sitting by a campfire and staring up into the sky while I huddled indoors where the heat was cranked up.

The best thing about our first stop in New Jersey was seeing friends that we knew. The theme remained constant on our second stop because we got to see my cousin and his new bride from this location. I must start by admitting that I am a bad family member. I thought my first cousin, Kevin, lived in Michigan while he actually lived in New Jersey! We had obviously lost touch over the years and recently re-connected on facebook. He was always posting pictures from New Jersey and I kept thinking to myself “wow, he sure does travel to New Jersey a lot”. After several months of this curiosity, it finally dawned on me that he might not live in Michigan anymore. I sent him a message, and my excellent (although sluggish) deduction skills had proven me correct. They were only about 58 miles from us! We decided to meet somewhere in the middle, so we both drove toward the shore and hooked up in Long Branch. The newly-weds had tied the knot in a beach ceremony about one month earlier, and they wanted to show us where it all took place.

Their ceremony was at the Ocean Place Resort & Spa, so we agreed to meet them in the hotel’s parking lot. Ocean Place is right in the middle of Long Branch, so it was a convenient location to drop our car and get out on foot. We brought Piper and Cessna with us because Kevin said several restaurants in the area were dog friendly. Just like every other shore town in New Jersey, the beach was bordered by a nice wide boardwalk.   We all walked to the northern edge of the boardwalk where it met 7 President’s Beach, then turned around and started debating which restaurant we should visit first. We decided to have a drink and some appetizers at a place called Rooney’s Oceanfront Restaurant. They had three dog bowls full of water near their front entrance, so we figured our two were welcome. The weather was chilly and blustery that day, so their outside seating section was closed. We parked Piper and Cessna on a patio far away from anyone else, and then went inside to keep visiting. After some oysters and creamy hot crab dip, we moved to another place called The Wine Loft. After another drink and a cheese platter it was time for Mike and I to drive back home, but the four of us agreed our visit had been too short. The next day was Sunday, so we made a plan to meet in Princeton. The drive was still about the same for both of us, so we would ‘meet in the middle’ one more time to keep catching up!

The weather for our daytrip to Princeton was spectacular. The air was chilly, but the sky was a clear blue and the sun was shining so bright that everything seemed to sparkle. Once again Piper and Cessna got to go on the outing with us. We planned to walk around the campus, and this way they could get some exercise while we explored the ancient university. The dogs have grown fond of historic architecture after being on the road this year! Princeton is one of nine colonial cottages established before the American Revolution. Today on a per-student basis, the private research University has the largest university endowment in the World. It was founded in 1746, and we felt like we were back in the 18th Century as we admired the wonderful stone buildings. The High Victorian Gothic and Romanesque Revival architectural styles made us feel very royal on our tour. The six of us walked around snapping photos and pausing frequently to gawk at the amazing details and stonework on every corner of every building.  One nice surprise about our tour of the campus was the wonderful public art we discovered along the way. The buildings themselves looked like art, but there were also sculptures and metal works scattered across the grounds. After looking online I found that there is a Campus Art Program that seeks to enrich the University’s visual and intellectual environment by placing works of art in strategic locations across the campus. It is Princeton’s belief that works of campus art enrich the broad University community as well as visitors by enhancing the educational experience; deepening a sense of place and the experience of space; stimulating diverse viewer responses; encouraging questioning; and creating lively gathering spots. All parts of their mission were satisfied for us that Sunday afternoon. There is also an art museum on campus, but we did not get a chance to go inside. I found out my favorite ‘piece’ of art was not even permanently located on the Princeton campus.  A series of 12 giant bronze sculptures called “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” created by the renowned Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei have been loaned to the University by the family of an alumnus who wishes to remain anonymous.  The exhibit will remain for one year and it began on August 1st. The work has been shown around the world in cities including Sao Paulo, London, Los Angeles and Taipei, so I think we got lucky to run into it in New Jersey.  The snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit and dragon represent the signs of the zodiac. Each animal was sculpted with such great detail; we sat and stared at them for quite a while.

A few students stopped to pet the dogs as we strolled the sidewalks. They told us all about their pets back at home while getting a dose of canine love.  Neither Piper nor Cessna minded the role of stand-in for a few minutes. After we finished looking around the campus, we decided we would find a place to grab a snack and watch some football. It was a Sunday afternoon, after all. We followed Kevin and Claire to a place they knew called Tiger’s Tale Bar and Grill, which was just a couple of miles away from the campus. We chowed- down on chicken wings and sliders while they had oysters and potato skins. Once the waitress snapped a group photo, it was time for Mike and I to get on the road back home again. The cousins still wanted more visiting time. We ended our time together brainstorming other options on how and when we might meet up again while we were still fairly close to them. If I had only known where they lived, we would have been able to contact them much earlier in the Lower 48 in 48 Tour. Oh well, I was grateful to be reconnected at last.

While Mike was running errands one day he heard on the radio that Lyle Lovett would be playing an acoustic concert with John Hiatt at an historic theater in a suburb of Philadelphia later in the week. We have a family rule that goes like this: If ever Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett or Lyle Lovett is playing within one hour of us, we go. The Keswick Theater in Glendale was about an hour and 15 minutes from the Laurel Pond campground. We were going. We started investigating the ticket purchase. We learned that there would be a service charge for online purchases, but there was no fee to purchase the tickets in person at the box office. You know how Mike loves to save a buck, it was agreed that we would make a 3-hour drive, round trip, (with toll fees) to save the online service fee. Luckily, he is not a glutton for punishment and we decided to make a daytrip out of it.

The next morning we packed up the dogs and drove into downtown Philly. It was an easy drive and took us just over an hour. We parked near Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, and took off on foot. Our mission that day was mainly walking and exercise related so we did not tour inside any of the buildings in Independence National Historic Park. We walked the perimeters and stayed on the move. The Liberty Bell was situated inside a building, but some of the walls of the rotunda where it is displayed were glass. This was great because the dogs got to see the iconic symbol too, even though they weren’t allowed indoors! They were surprised like me… thinking it would be bigger than it was. We walked around Independence Hall and all through the surrounding area which has been termed the most historic square mile in the nation.  Then we walked to Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River. This was a great public gathering spot that I’m sure was a fun location for special events and community activities. The day we were there, it was fairly empty. Next we stumbled on the Independence Seaport Museum. There were two ships moored up against a concrete bulkhead.   We saw the Olympia.  Launched in 1892, she is the oldest steel warship afloat in the world. We also saw the Becuna, a submarine that was launched in 1944. When we left the waterfront, we turned back toward town and wandered through a busy neighborhood of South Philly. As we began to completed a giant circle on the map, we walked through a quaint neighborhood of Row Houses on the way back to Benjamin Franklin’s grave. The streets looked just like what one would expect to see on a walk in Philadelphia. The dogs were tired, and we didn’t want to get stuck in late afternoon traffic, so we got back in the car and found our way to the suburb of Glendale to purchase our Lyle Lovett tickets.

Our next day trip from this stop was to Atlantic City. It was a 90-minute drive from our place. Once again the dogs went with us. It was a cold and blustery day. There were heavy clouds in the sky, but no threat of actual rain. We wanted to walk Piper and Cessna along the boardwalk to wear them out, and then we planned to let them take a nap in the back of the Honda while we went into one of the casinos. Since the weather was so cold, they would be fine in the car. They could snuggle with each other to keep warm if necessary. We found a parking spot near the middle of the boardwalk and just one block off the water. We got lucky on this day too, when we arrived to the boardwalk we read a sign that said dogs were not allowed until after September 1st. I was glad we were visiting during the off season.  It wasn’t too crowded, but there were some folks like us ambling up and down. Many of the food booth and souvenir stands near the ocean were closed, but the area wasn’t completely dead. One thing Piper found out very quickly is that the boardwalk in Atlantic City has a stray cat issue. I looked online after we got home and learned that 350 – 400 cats live beneath the boardwalk. There is a campaign to spay and neuter the feral ones, while attempting to adopt out any of the ones that are more tame. They were everywhere! Piper was just sure he was going to have a chance sometime during the day to capture and torture one of them. He yanked and pulled on his leash, lunging toward every cat within eye sight. In between cat sightings, he had fantasies of murdering any number of the seagulls playing in the sky above us.  Between the cats and the birds, he was worn down at the end of our walk.

We walked all the way to the northern end of the boardwalk, and Mike held the dogs while I walked inside Revel, the northernmost casino along the strip. The resort has only been open since April of 2012. It was all reflective glass in wavy shapes on the exterior and super swank ultra modern chic on the inside. It looked like it would be a very fun place to stay, especially in the summer when the beach side pool would be open.  I rejoined the crew after my short tour and we retraced our steps heading south. We had already spotted Jimmy Buffett’s Land Shark Bar and Grill out over the sand during the first part of our walk. We decided it was time to stop in for a drink and a snack as we approached it the second time. We love to give money to Mr. Margaritaville any time we see him or one of his establishments. The restaurant wouldn’t allow dogs on their patio, but we just tied their leashes to a stair railing leading out onto the sand near the patio. Then the nice hostess gave us a table on the outer edge next to the railing. Cessna rolled around the in the sand and dug a couple of holes while she waited for us. Piper plotted his next move against the feline population. Neither of them cared about the gorgeous view we were facing out over the water.  We enjoyed our beach drinks and nachos with our coats on, and then made our way back to the boardwalk to continue our explorations to the south. Once we felt like the dogs were worn out and that we had witnessed a good representation of the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk, we went back to our car. The wind was COLD, and I was ready to be warm for a minute. My cousin’s wife, Claire, had said that their favorite casino was the Borgata, but it was not on the boardwalk. We made the five minute drive across town and parked in their parking garage. The dogs were totally fine with being left to take a nap.

We went in and circled the casino floor to get our bearings. Our strategy was to find a video poker machine and get free drinks like we did at the Foxwoods Sports Book in Connecticut. The interior of this casino was more subdued. They took the ‘less is more’ approach. Very elegant and low key in a refined way. Lots of white faux stone pillars and chandeliers. The Sports Book at the Borgata did not have machines at their bar, but there was a large circular bar in the middle of the casino floor that did. After a couple of martinis we decided to grab a bite to eat at Bobby Flay’s Steakhouse, located at the opposite corner of the casino floor. We ordered appetizers. Mike had a lobster cocktail that was to-die-for. I had some steak skewers and the best mashed potatoes I have ever had in my entire life. The place was filling up with the evening crowd, so we took that as our cue to make the long drive home before it got too late. On the way back to our bus on the dark two-lane highways, we must have passed 50 deer by the side of the road. Mike blew his horn each time he saw one, and it seems like the horn was honking for the duration of our trip home that night.

When we woke up on Friday morning, it was Lyle Lovett Day! We goofed around all day with chores and naps until it was time to leave the house around 6pm. The drive to the suburbs of Philly was easy; we just transferred from toll road to toll road until the right exit number came along. We drove through several neighborhoods before reaching the hub of Glenside.  The little downtown area was about three blocks long, with stores and restaurants sprinkled behind a tree lined sidewalk. The Keswick Theater was toward the top of the downtown strip.  The privately owned 1928 theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was initially a combination vaudeville/ movie house touted as the most comfortable and acoustically perfect listening room in the entire Philadelphia market. The seats from 1928 are not necessarily the most comfortable anymore, but the acoustics were indeed magnificent. We got there early and enjoyed a couple of cocktails in the lobby before the show started. There were only 1,300 seats in the venue, so we parked ourselves in a corner and watched the other patrons filter in until it was time to take our own seats.

Mr. Lovett did not have his Large Band with him this evening. The stage was set with two chairs, two guitars and a small table in the middle. He and Mr. Hiatt came out and spent the next two hours alternating between funny stories and great melodies. They took turns, and sometimes chimed in on each other’s songs. If you have ever seen Lyle Lovett in concert, you know that his dry sarcastic wit is just as entertaining as his music. That is what makes him such a great songwriter.  Well this night we had two great songwriters on the stage, so the remarks were doubly funny.  The music did sound incredible. Crisp and pure are the best words I can think of to describe it. After the concert was over, I braved the long line to the ladies room. When I came back to the lobby to find Mike, Lyle was in the front of the auditorium talking to some fans.  His tall self with big hair was just steps from us. It was all I could do to maintain composure and keep my distance. Mike was consoling me as he guided me away from the funny Texan and toward our car. We parked behind the theater and each artist had a Prevost Bus parked near the back stage entrance. We passed a few other groupies waiting near the front of the buses, but no signs of Mr. Hiatt.

The Keswick Theater was such an intimate setting; it is no wonder the owners have built a business filling the uncomfortable seats to capacity with big names. While in line upstairs after the concert I was reading flyers for upcoming bookings. They had musical acts like Los Lonely Boys and Keb’ Mo’, and they had comedy acts like Steven Wright and Wanda Sykes. If I ever had to move to the Philadelphia area, I think I would want to live in a neighborhood near the Keswick so I could walk to a show once a week!

Our last weekend at Laurel Pond was busy with errands, football and campfires. Both of us were still fighting colds, so the agenda was low key. Mike worked on the heater in our bedroom; it blows cold air into our room when the heater in the bathroom is running. The temperature was starting to drop into the low 30’s at night, and heat is always a good thing in that atmosphere. We didn’t have Fox Sports 1 with the cable we were getting, so we went about a mile down the road to a sports bar and watched Texas play TCU on Saturday night. The game was delayed 3 hours due to thunderstorms, so we only saw the first half. When the rains came, we looked at the radar and Ft. Worth was under a squiggly rainbow of weather on the Doppler, mainly oranges and reds. We went home and went to sleep. On Sunday we went to Lowe’s and bought a space heater. That is the best $15 we have spent since we purchased the Monaco! We kept warm by the campfire outside and by the space heater inside until it was time to leave our Ultra RV site. We were checking The Garden State off of our list and making our way to The First State next. Our plans were to move from (near) Milford, New Jersey to (near) Milford, Delaware.

The beach at Atlantic City

The beach at Atlantic City

Atlantic City Boardwalk

Atlantic City Boardwalk

Some of the amazing historical architecture on the Princeton campus

Some of the amazing historical architecture on the Princeton campus

Football and munchies with my cousin and his new bride

Football and munchies with my cousin and his new bride

The ONLY nice view at Laurel Pond Ultra RV Resort

The ONLY nice view at Laurel Pond Ultra RV Resort

The liberty bell

The liberty bell

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt entertaining us from the stage

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt entertaining us from the stage

Mike and Piper getting ready to light the campfire. Yes, that is a hot tub behind them.

Mike and Piper getting ready to light the campfire. Yes, that is a hot tub behind them.

The architectural details on the Princeton campus were amazing!

The architectural details on the Princeton campus were amazing!

We stumbled upon this maritime museum on the Delaware River when we were exploring downtown Philly.

We stumbled upon this maritime museum on the Delaware River when we were exploring downtown Philly.

10th Avenue Burrito Company was on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Yum!

10th Avenue Burrito Company was on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Yum!

New Jersey Part I: Flanders

When we were back in Rhode Island, our neighbors were from New Jersey. We quizzed them about what we should see in the Garden State and they gave us lots of good ideas. Based on their information, we decided to make our first stop in the northwest part of the state. From this location we would easily be able to get to New York City to the east, and the Poconos to the west (neither of which is IN New Jersey). Finding a campground in this area was very difficult. There really weren’t any to choose from.  We found a spot in a town called Flanders and made a reservation. Based on the reviews, we weren’t expecting much… but we were extra disappointed when we arrived. Can you say dump?

Fla-Net Park was by no means a vacation destination. It was a trailer park. Probably 90% of the campers were occupied by full-time residents. The school bus picked the kids up around 8 every morning. The dogs barked all day after their owners left for work in their loud diesel engines. The first motors fired up every morning around 5:00, and the last ones to leave got away by about 6:30. After a bit of observation, we determined that most of the occupants were line men who had come to the area after Super Storm Sandy.  Apparently, infrastructure repair projects were still in the works. There were two dumpsters in the park and both were overflowing when we arrived on a Tuesday. One of them was never emptied during the entire week we were there.

We had spot #M3. The sites were spaced more like they belonged in a truck stop. Our spot was so tight that we couldn’t even spend time outside because their sewer connection was so close to our front door. The smell was overwhelming. This means we really couldn’t open windows either because the stench spilled straight into my kitchen. The park did not have cable and our DirecTV signal was blocked by campers parked on a hill above us. No television. Not even over-air channels. We would have happily left, but we had nowhere to relocate, and our reservation was non-refundable. I don’t mean to complain, but the worst part was that the daily rate was on the high end of our budget.  I’m not sure where the owners put their earnings, but they most certainly did not reinvest any of it into the operations of the park.

After we got the bus settled on the first afternoon, we tried to walk the dogs around the park. That took about 5 minutes. There was a wide open space of grass behind a graveyard of dilapidated campers in a “storage area” at the bottom of a hill in front of our bus. Piper and Cessna were desperate for more exercise, so we departed the crumbling roads of the campground and tried to “hike” into the adjacent wilderness. Actually, it turns out that we were hiking in a humongous drainage ditch that happened to be dry at the moment. We had started out at the bottom of the ditch, so we trekked up a steep hill of unmanaged grass that came to my knees. With every step I was waiting to find a snake or a rat under my feet. When we finally reached the top we found ourselves in the parking lot of a Chili’s and Macaroni Grill. As I tried to discover the silver lining of our current adventure, I told Mike we had a $25 gift certificate to Macaroni Grill in my wallet. We could have a complimentary dinner there one night to pass time. Chili’s would also have televisions in their bar area, so we had a place to watch football when Saturday afternoon came around. The dogs wouldn’t be able to join us for the Texas game, but I would be able to walk across the parking lot at half time and let them out for a bit.

Our first full day in New Jersey was predicted to be the best weather for the rest of the week. There was no reason to hang around Fla-Net, so we hopped into the Honda and headed for The Poconos in Pennsylvania.  I had gone online and found a few waterfalls that were about an hour north of us. We thought we would take the dogs on a hike and see some beautiful scenery while we were at it. We were off to a late start because it had taken longer than intended to do the research and find out where to go. The drive up to the northern boundary of New Jersey was pretty with fall foliage along the road.  We even crossed over the Appalachian Trail again, but we didn’t see any hikers this time.

I’m not an expert in geography, but from what I can tell the Delaware Water Gap is part of, or next to, the Poconos.  A water gap creates the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania where the Delaware River cuts through a large ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. The land is primarily designated as a National Recreation Area. Since our brilliant political leaders had shut down the government during this time, there wasn’t much going on in the region. Mike was the driver. I was the navigator. The dogs enjoyed the views from the back window.  We made a couple of unscheduled stops on our way north. First we stopped at a money machine where we could get cash with no fee.  Then we unexpectedly passed a Honda Dealership, so we zipped in to get a new set of windshield wipers we had needed for a while. After I got us lost a couple of times, we finally reached our first destination around 3pm.

Dingmans Falls is managed by the National Park Service, so it was closed.  No problem. We parked our car near the road and walked around the locked gate. There were several other cars parked in the area so we figured we would see other tourists along the way. There was also a sign that said ‘no dogs’, but who was going to come kick us out? We walked in on a long narrow road that ultimately led to a visitor’s center and a trailhead. The landscape was gorgeous. The path through the woods was a wooden boardwalk, so the walk was easy. About 20 yards into the trail, we passed Silverthread Falls. This was a tall skinny waterfall that only flowed after rain. Lucky for us, it was flowing on the afternoon we were there. We snapped a few photos and then continued along the path to find Dingmans Falls at the end of the line. We walked along a flowing stream dotted with rocks and boulders. We were in the shade of the forest and all the trees were bursting with yellow and orange leaves. The sun was shining bright up in the sky, which made it seem like we were in a sparkly wonderland as it filtered through the branches and spilled out into pockets of light all around us. It really was one of the most beautiful walks we had been on in quite some time.

We heard the rushing of the water long before we spotted the second highest waterfall in the state of Pennsylvania. The water dropped about 130 feet into a large pool of water. There was an observation platform at the edge of the water pool, and then there were steps that led up to the very top.  We were there for exercise, so we started climbing the stairs. I don’t know how many steps we had to conquer to make it to the top, but our legs were tired and we were breathing hard when we got there. In reality, the view was much better from below. I think there were a couple of other trails that embarked into the wilderness from that spot, but it was getting late and we didn’t want to get lost in the forest at sunset. We turned around and reversed course.

By the time we made it back to the car, it was after 4:00. We had planned to drive in a big circle back to the campground and our next intended stop was Raymondskill Falls, located south along the Delaware Water Gap. By the time we found the next destination, it was even later and we did not know how long it would take us to walk that path. We decided to skip that one and the next, Bushkill Falls. I would have been disappointed, but we weren’t planning to visit Pennsylvania until NEXT summer. We would just put this area on our wish list and come back to stay for a longer visit in the future.  We made it back to the Monaco just after dark. I hadn’t planned anything for dinner, so we left the dogs at home and walked across the parking lot to burn our gift certificate at Macaroni Grill (thanks Brad and Angela).

Melanie and Bob are our mutual friends who originally introduced us. Mike and Bob have been close friends since high school in Garland. Melanie and I played on the same tennis team in Tyler. Bob’s sister, Lori, lives in New Jersey. She and Mike were in the same grade (Bob is one year younger). Lori’s husband is also named Bob. His family has a restaurant called The Lamplighter which has been in business for the last 30 years. We had always planned to look them up when we got to The Garden State, so now was the time. We googled the restaurant and found out it was located 8 miles from our camp! We couldn’t have planned it better if we had tried.  Mike sent Lori a text and we planned to meet at the restaurant in Chester on a Friday night.  This was definitely the best perk of our stay at Fla-Net Park… we got to talk to other humans besides ourselves for a change.

When the time came, we drove over to The Lamplighter for dinner. Neither of us had ever met Lori’s Bob, and Mike hadn’t seen her in decades. We really weren’t sure what faces we were looking for when we walked through the front door. We told the host we were there to see Lori. It turns out that we were talking to Bob, the owner. She was en route, so he took us to the bar and served us a couple of drinks. The place was crowded during the dinner hour, but he was so gracious. He took the time to sit with us and answer all of our questions about New Jersey, even though he could have been doing a number of other things related to his business instead. Once Lori got there, we sat down at a table and had a delicious dinner. Mike had the largest slab of prime rib I have ever seen and I had one of my all-time favorites: veal piccata. It was perfect.

It seems like the evening passed in the blink of an eye. They talked about old times in high school. We talked about mutual friends of Bob and Melanie that we all knew. They gave us advice on things to do and see when we went into New York City. Before we knew it, they were ready to close for the evening and we were the only people left in the restaurant.  They wouldn’t even let us pay the bill! We felt so bad because we were not looking for a free meal, so Mike left what we guessed would have amounted to our total tab as a tip for the waitress. She was happy and we felt slightly less guilty.

The next day was a big day for us. Texas played at noon. As planned, we spent several hours at the Chili’s bar watching the game. Luckily it wasn’t on Longhorn Network that week! The best part was that we won! We went back home after the victory for a quick power nap and then drove north to Dobbs Ferry, NY later in the evening. We had made plans to catch up with more old friends. This time it was one of my high school buddies.

James and I had been in the same class at Westlake in Austin and we both went to UT after graduation. I ended up pledging Kappa Delta Sorority and he was in the Sigma Chi Fraternity. I took James to almost all of my sorority parties because he was the best date EVER. We were always just buddies, so I was constantly guaranteed a good time with no drama. He was (and is) the quintessential perfect gentleman, we had great fun together, and I was certain I was not going to be mauled at the conclusion of each evening. It was the perfect scenario. We lost touch after college and he ended up moving to New York. He met Sasha from SoHo. They got married and he has been there ever since. Thanks to Facebook, we got back in touch several years ago. He and Sasha live in Irvington, NY, which was a little over an hour from our camp. He is a singer-songwriter on the weekends, and it turns out he was playing at an art gallery exhibit near his home that Saturday night. We drove over to see him, meet Sasha, and hear him play. The evening turned out to be tons of fun. Another band called The Party Faithful was also playing that evening, and the music was great! Even though we got a chance to visit before the show, and again in between sets… it wasn’t enough time to catch up. As we reluctantly left to make the drive back home, we planned to see them again on Monday (Columbus Day). Since it was a holiday, they didn’t have to work that day. We talked about meeting somewhere in the middle for lunch, but they offered to make the drive to Flanders. They wanted to see our “house”, so I offered to make chili and we made it a date.

We finally made it to New York City on the last Sunday of our time at Fla-Net. On Friday night Lori and Bob had assured us that driving into the City would be no big deal on a Sunday. Until talking to them, we had planned to drive our car to a train station in Jersey City, park the Honda, and then take the PATH train into the World Trade Center or 33rd Street. If we drove ourselves all the way into Manhattan, we would be able to take the dogs and we could be gone from home longer. We wanted to make it as inexpensive of an outing as possible. There is so much to do there; we had to select one activity. We chose Central Park. The weather was beautiful, so something outdoors would be the most enjoyable way to spend our afternoon in The Big Apple.

The most direct route from where we were was via I-280 to the Lincoln Tunnel. We still are not sure why we listened to Lori and Bob. If this trip was something that they classify as easy, they are TOUGH people. I’ve said before that motorists in the Northeast drive like maniacs. As we drove east the number of maniacs on the interstate began to multiply exponentially.  As the roads became more crowded, the drivers became more aggressive. It was like we had accidentally entered a NASCAR race. This was not a ‘Sunday drive’ by any stretch of the imagination.  This was full on automobile warfare. Every man for himself. Thank goodness Mike was driving. I would have turned around and gone home.  He probably would have to, if I had suggested it out loud.

As we approached the tunnel, the number of cars remained constant but we all came to a grinding halt. Now we were in a sea of frustrated maniacs. Why did we decide to do this again?  We crawled through the tunnel and it got worse when we came out the other side. I’m not sure why the City even paints stripes to designated lanes on their streets. There are no rules, there are no lanes. It doesn’t matter what color the streetlight is flashing. It doesn’t matter what regulations are posted on the street signs. As Sasha pointed out later… the majority of cab drivers are from third world countries, and that is how people drive in New York. That girl is a smart cookie. I wish we had talked to her before this trip. She also told me later that they really don’t take the tunnels; they prefer the bridges. More good information that we could have used ahead of time.

Before we left the house, I had located a parking garage online and plugged the address into my GPS. I wanted us to have a specific destination as we made our way into the belly of the beast.  I was going to be the navigator, and I was not interested in ‘winging it’ once we got there. My directions told me to take the second right after we emerged from the tunnel. It took us 45 minutes to go 2 blocks. The lights would turn red, but cars would keep driving into the intersection. Cross traffic could not pass, so they would block the lane when their time came to crawl 10-inches forward.  Honking was not helpful, but that didn’t stop anyone.

We finally made it to the parking garage. We were so happy to get out of the car; we didn’t even ask how much the parking fee was going to be. The parking attendant ordered us out of the car and screeched off to a lower level (we actually had to yell at him to stop the car when he took off, so we could get Piper and Cessna out of the back). Geez. Getting around on foot was much better. Central Park was two blocks to our north. It seemed like everyone in the City was there enjoying the weather and smoggy air. Piper was a mess because of the horse –drawn carriages. Remember the white face horse in Tupelo? Well, he was just begging us to give him another chance at one of these equines as they clopped by us every six seconds. We walked along the path between East Drive and 5th Avenue. We passed the pond with the remote control sailboats. We passed the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When we made it to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir we decided to turn and make our way back south along the paths between West Drive and Central Park West. We passed The Lake which was full of row boats. We passed Strawberry Fields, and suddenly I couldn’t get that damn Beatles song out of my head. We passed Tavern on the Green, but it was closed for renovations.  We came out at Columbus Circle. We decided we needed a bit of happy hour before we would be brave enough to get back in the car and jump back into traffic wars for the drive back home.

A place called the Redeye Grill was located at the street level near the entrance to our parking garage. We were parked at 7th Street across from Carnegie Hall. They had outdoor tables set up, but it was slightly chilly in the shade of the buildings as the afternoon grew later. No one was outside, and it was early for dinner – so inside was relatively empty too. I went in and asked the hostess if we could sit with our dogs outside to have a couple of drinks and possibly some appetizers. She told me it was illegal to have dogs outside, and then she yelled over to a waitress and asked her if she wanted to serve us on the patio. The waitress answered “not really”. So I asked if we could just sit out there and I could come get our drinks myself… We haggled back and forth. I was sweet as southern pecan pie – which was very difficult to pull off. Finally, they relented and told me the grumpy waitress would be out to see us in a moment.  Score!

We each had two drinks. I had two glasses of wine. Mike had two beers. Piper plotted an attack against every horse that passed us on their way to Times Square.  Cessna sprawled out on the sidewalk and took a nap in the middle of the chaos. We decided against appetizers for fear the server would have spit in our food. Our bill came to $68 dollars.  Yes, $68 for four drinks. How do people afford to live in that place? We paid forty more dollars to pick up our car after 2 hours. I said Hail Mary’s under my breath all the way back to the ‘tunnel of hell’. Mike took on the persona of a taxi driver in Bali. We miraculously made it out of NYC without a scratch on the car. Must have been the prayers.  The first thing Mike said to me when we got back to the Monaco was “do you want a martini”? Hell yes, I wanted THREE martinis… through an IV!

When the time came to leave Fla-Net, we couldn’t pack up and get moving early enough. The trailer park was certainly the worst we had stayed in to date. However, with all that said, I’m glad it was one of the stops on our tour. We got the chance to reconnect with old friends, and that opportunity was worth more than each of the drawbacks combined. When I thanked Lori for taking the time to come meet us for dinner, she said “of course, you are family”. This from a woman I had never met before. When James, Sasha, and their daughter Teah left our house after lunch on Columbus Day, it was as if only one week had passed since we were the ones in college. I loved his family, and he liked Mike too. Each of us was so happy to see that the other had turned out happy after we were “all grown up”.  Mike and I had been ecstatic about the chance to talk to someone else besides each other. There had been many more silver linings on this stop than our gift certificate to Macaroni Grill or game day at Chili’s. Silver linings that really mattered.

 

The big waterfall at the end of our hike in the Poconos.

The big waterfall at the end of our hike in the Poconos.

My friend James and the lead singer from The Party Faithful.

My friend James and the lead singer from The Party Faithful.

Central Park, NYC

Central Park, NYC

No TV at this stop, so we had to watch the Texas game at Chili's. The parking lot was adjacent to our park, so we just walked over. Not very glamorous or 'local', but the drinks were cold and the food was hot!

No TV at this stop, so we had to watch the Texas game at Chili’s. The parking lot was adjacent to our park, so we just walked over. Not very glamorous or ‘local’, but the drinks were cold and the food was hot!

So much fun seeing my buddy James, and his lovely wife Sasha.

So much fun seeing my buddy James, and his lovely wife Sasha.

Why in the HELL did we think it would be no-big-deal to drive into the City?

Why in the HELL did we think it would be no-big-deal to drive into the City?

How is this for a beautiful view during our walk in The Poconos?

How is this for a beautiful view during our walk in The Poconos?

The first waterfall on our hike in The Poconos.

The first waterfall on our hike in The Poconos.