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.