Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Canby Park and Walking the Tracks


One of the things parents always tell their children is stay off the train tracks and to never go into abandoned buildings. One of the things growing up in Canby Park was the train tracks went right through the woods and they were just a natural corridor. You could walk the train tracks and get yourself right into the city. I know I mentioned walking train tracks in other posts but this time I'm just going to talk about walking down to the riverfront. The tracks it went through Canby Park we're called the Market Street branch of the B&O Railroad. The Market Street branch connected the big railroad yard by the General Motors Factory to Wilmington and the businesses in the city. Those tracks are still there but there and used once in awhile to transfer cars from one railroad to another but there are no longer any businesses in the city that get rail service.

We would walk down the street into Canby Park woods and then down to the tracks, once on the tracks we head down toward the city. Next we would cross Maryland Avenue, then walked behind Alban Park and around Robinson's Bend and you would be at a place called West Yard. At West yard you'd have to be careful because that's where the tracks connected with Amtrak. Those trains went faster and they were patrolled by the police.

Once we got to West yard there was a lot of things we could get into. There was a place that had been a scale house for weighing rail cars. The scale house was gone but the scale mechanism was still in the ground and there was a manhole hatch that opened allowing access to climb down

underground and around inside the scale mechanism. It was dark, smelly, dirty, and greasy but it was a neat place to crawl around when you were a kid. We could go under the Amtrak elevated railroad and in the other side between Amtrak and the Christian and River there was an industrial park that used to be the old Dravo Shipyard. One part of the shipyard was used by a company called Trans Car Services that repaired tank cars, mostly for the Dupont company. I remember in the summer after 8th grade I had to go to summer school and there was a girl that rode the bus with my named Judy Dombrowski, her dad worked there. Sometime 2000 Raymond and I were walking around in the closed down facility and I picked up a piece of paperwork that was blowing around in the breeze and her dad’s name was one it. It's amazing that the name has stuck with me but sometimes we just remember peculiar things.

The switcher from Trans Car Services is now
on display at the Delaware Children's Museum. 
The big attraction was walking around the shipyard, going through the abandoned buildings, and climbing up into the cranes. The abandoned buildings are all mostly knocked down now and the few that remain from the shipyard days have been repurposed. Inside some of the warehouses there were large overhead cranes, you could climb up the ladder and get up in the control box of the crane and pretend you were driving the crane. I clearly remember all that smelling like pigeon poop. It was a heck of a lot of fun for a little kid. Some of the big free-standing cranes are still standing in the shipyard shops area. I've been inside every one of those. I also remember going into the boiler room and climbing up on the boilers and walking around on the catwalks inside the boiler room. One of the things I remember about those old buildings were there were still World War 2 era posters hanging up, you know the type that warned “loose lips sink ships.”
The former Wilson Line steamer State of Pennsylvania
Another attraction was sunk in the mud in the Christiana River, a steamship from the old Wilson Line. I'm not old enough to ever remember the Wilson line but I remember people always talking about it. The ship was called the State of Pennsylvania and it got stuck in the mud when it was on its way to either be stored or scrapped at the old shipyard. In the 1970s there were cables attached to shore that went out to the ship and us kids always talked about crawling out on the cables and getting out to the ship but we were never brave enough to do it. Probably a good thing because by then the ship was probably so rotted if we walked around we would have fallen through the floor and gotten ourselves into a world of trouble.
If mom only knew the places we used to go. The view was great! 
So when I became apparent that when my own kids were old enough to wander I had to keep in mind these things I had done. I went on the train tracks and I went in abandoned buildings. In fact if there was a train ran rumbling down the tracks going to Wilmington we would wait for the locomotive to get around the curve so they would not see us and then we'd hop on the freight cars and ride down into the city and also we'd ride back if we could catch one going the other way. If my parents only knew all the places we went and things we did when we would be off wandering for the afternoon.

Things Dad would Say

In the present the world has changed to one of short and fast sensory input. The president communicates with tweets, people can have entire conversations in emojis, and internet acronyms such as LOL and OMG are commonplace not only digitally but in speech. In the past people used expressions which used words and some were actually full blown sentences.

One of the things I'll always remember from my childhood are the things that my dad always used to say. No, they weren't dirty, not really, and they weren't full of cuss words, they were just fun and memorable.

My nickname was Tom-O, not Tom or Tommy. I always liked Tom-O the best, but ended up being Tommy for most of my life. If you want to make me smile call me Tom-O.

When my bedroom was messy, my dad would say “this place looks like Hogan's Goat.”

When I wanted something, my dad would answer “people in Hell want ice water.”

When I asked my dad where we're going he'd say “crazy want to go.”

Me with my dad about 1969.
When I asked my dad if we were going to do something he would say “might as well we can't dance.”

When I asked about what's for dinner, dad would say “bread and pull it.”


When I asked about where babies came from he'd say "an eagle shit on a rock and the sun hatched you."


Sometimes when we'd see a pretty girl dad would say “hey Tom-O there's a sexy broad.”

Also, like for maybe of us in the area, the creek was always the crick and the crick had wooder, not water.

Once in a while he would say: "Tommy you ain't no good, gonna chop you up for firewood, put you in the pot when it's hot, put you in the bowl when you cold."

Now, for the last one I can remember for the moment, when I would ask where is mom, he would reply, “she went to take a shit and the hogs ate her.” When I was little I heard it so fast I thought he was talking about a place called a hogzater, I thought it was a special place where mom’s went to poop. Once I got a little older I figured out what he was saying.

If you have a memory of some long-forgotten expression please share it in the comments.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Coach Larry Monaghan

My time as a student at Delcastle was such a important time in my life. Looking back throughout my life I note how many of the teachers there helped me learn not only the curriculum but how to live, how to be a good person, and how to treat others. One of the ones who helped me learn a lot was Larry Monaghan, who was principal for part of my teaching career, but was the girls basketball coach when I was a student there.

I became involved in girls basketball by following my buddy Joey Adorno's lead. I quickly realized it was fun to watch, the girls were nice, and I liked girls. I've always been attracted to girls sports. So I never thought I would actually learn anything by watching girls basketball, but it happened. After going to a number of games and getting to know all of the girls I soon found myself with a clipboard keeping stats for the team and even riding the bus to some of the games. Joey and I with all of those girls. It was a good gig!

I didn't have any classes with Coach Monaghan and he never really tried to teach me anything. What happened was purely organic. I started to realize his style was to run plays, the girls were trained and drilled in various plays. The would run to certain spots and pass the ball here and there and someone would get open and boom, they'd get a basket. He also really pushed the basics; the bounce pass, the pick, the hop stop layup, and other fundamentals. He was a coaches' coach in the respect. Whenever a game would get out of hand he would call a timeout and get the girls calmed down and instruct them on getting back to the basics. They would settle down and run the plays while sticking to the basics. They really played as a team, it was amazing.

So my big takeaway was that I always need to know the basics. Sometimes when things get a little out of control, take a time out, and focus on the basics. Follow the plans, run the plays, and good things will happen. There have been a number of times when I felt things were getting out of control in my life and I followed Coach Monaghan's plan with good results.

I learned so much without ever taking a class. I had so many good teachers at Delcastle. I just want to be as good as Mr. Kuska, Mrs. C., or Mr. Monaghan.

Goldie's Deli on Union Street

One of the places I will always remember going as a kid was Goldie's Deli at 906 Union Street. It was owned by Anthony and Joseph Briscoe who were friends of my dad. As far as I can tell the Briscoe Brothers purchased the deli from Samuel Goldstein or his heirs, hence the name Goldie's. Goldstein was a Wilmington businessman who also owned Goldstein's Liquor store on 8th and Monroe Streets and a taproom at 807 Shipley Street. 

Goldie's was located directly across the street from Huber's Bakery where a great uncle on my mom's side of the family worked. I think it was uncle Ed. When you walked into Goldie's the first thing you noticed with the amazing smell of the fresh deli meats. People like Wawa and Subway these days, but you haven't lived until you walked into an old-time city deli and smelled that amazing deli smell. Wawa might be the place where people go nowadays but they will never compare to a neighborhood deli like Goldie's. The counter was on the right and the wall on the left had various racks for items found in a neighborhood store such as loaves of bread, chips, pretzels, and the coveted Tastykakes. The next thing thing you really noticed were the trophy mounts of all of the game that the Briscoe Brothers hunted over the years. There were also mounted fish and plenty of photos of the brothers on various hunting trips. They went on trips to faraway places like Maine, Idaho, and Montana. I don't remember exactly but I remember looking at the photos and knowing that those places did not look like Delaware. I've always suffered from wanderlust and seeing these photos made me want to see these places. In the back there was a room with tables and a television where you could sit and eat.

My dad would take us there and we'd get hoagies and eat in the back. Dad would talk with the guys there for what seemed like forever. Sometimes the back room would get smokey and uncomfortable but that was part of life back then. I can't imagine being in a public place filled with smoke these days. There was always a TV going and we could watch wrestling with Captain Lou Albano, roller derby with Judy Arnold, or Howard Cosell commentating on ABC's Wide World of Sports. The adults would talk and talk and my brother Chris and I would hang out watching TV and every so often pester dad for some Tastykakes. My favorites were, and still are, the Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes. In my opinion the flagship of the Tastykake product line, I know a lot of people might say otherwise. Pestering dad normally worked, it bought him more time to chat and got my brother and I our coveted Tastykakes.

Dad and his friends would be talking about hunting, fishing, or the latest things happening in Wilmington. Eventually we'd hit the road and if we were lucky dad would stop and get us Italian Water Ice. A hoagie from Goldie's, Tastykakes, and Italian Water Ice... the trifecta for a kid on a Saturday in Wilmington in the 1970s.

Today you can still get a good sandwich at 906 Union Street at the Kozy Korner Restaurant. It is a great place to get a little neighborhood flavor in Wilmington's Little Italy. The hunting photos and mounted deer trophies are long gone, the air is smoke-free, but you can still meet up with a friend and have a sandwich. 

The experience of the chewing the rag in the back room of a neighborhood deli is one that is fading. Devices and social media have taken the place of conversation while people use touch screens or smartphone apps to order hoagies and rush in and out without ever taking to anyone. Sometimes we think things improve but maybe they actually have not.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Adventures in Africa Part I

In 2009 Don Richard and I went to Africa in search of riding some of the last steam locomotives in regular railroad service in the world. For a guy who loves trains this was really big. Think about seeing the last dinosaurs on the planet. We took a really long flight from JFK to Johannesburg and then changed planes for a short flight to Victoria Falls. The first flight was 16 hours and the second was maybe an hour and a half. At Victoria Falls we went straight to the falls. They were spectacular! One of the wonders of the world. We spent the afternoon walking the paths around the falls, then crossed the spectacular bridge next to the falls into Zambia. What an experience! We were tired because we did this straight through from the US without a night in a hotel. We then scored a ride in the cab of a steam locomotive pulling a dinner train. It was a special sort of locomotive called a Garratt that was mostly used in Africa and never really caught on anywhere else. For part of the ride we sat on the roof. At one point I spotted an elephant dashing into the brush. What an amazing time.

We weren't done yet. After all of that we bought train tickets to ride to the town of Hwange which is the site of a large national park and also a coal mine that still used steam locomotives. We Really didn't know much about what was going on there and were getting tired. Now were read a lot of information about traveling in Zimbabwe and there were a lot of advisories like if you ride the train lock yourself in the compartment and don't open the door for anyone without a badge. We also read not to go out at night, not to be alone at night, and be warned that there were a lot of petty crimes. So at the train station we decided we wanted to get some pizza and beer. Don wandered off on his own to find pizza and I started asking about where to buy beer. Some kid hear me talk about beer and ran up offering to help me. I gave him $5 and he took off running. I thought I'll never see my $5 or my beer, I was also waiting for a guy who told me he would sell me a Zimbabwe license plate so I hung out. A few minutes late the buy arrives with 6 beers! For $5! I took the beer and gave him another $5 and thanked him. He was a happy kid. My guy arrived with the license plate, which is a great souvenir because they are durable, flat, and light. Don arrived with the pizza and we boarded the train.

We got underway and the conductor came along and checked out ticket. He came back a minute later and said if we had any left over pizza he would like a piece.  We said to have one and offered him a beer. He turned it down saying he had diabetes, left with the pie of pizza only to return a minute later saying he would take us up on the beer. We finished the pizza and beer and soon were really tired. It was about a 4-5 hour train ride to Hwange and we closed our door and tried to sleep but it was bloody hot. We ended up opening the door and the cross breeze made it comfortable and soon we were both asleep, just like we were warned not to do. Nothing bad happened and soon we were in Hwange.

Now keep in mind that we had been two days traveling and had not been in a hotel room. We soon found out that the train actually didn't stop at Hwange but rather at Thompson Junction, a few miles outside of town. We got off and found the station was very basic, it has one light bulb and no taxis. We were miles from town, didn't know anything about the hotel situation, and had no reservations. The few people who got off were dispersing quickly. We went to a guy with a pickup truck and said we needed to go to a hotel, there was only one as it turns out. We hopped into the back of his pickup and off we rode into the African night. The starry sky was amazing, second only to the one we say a few years prior in Inner Mongolia, China. The Baobab Hotel sat on top of Baobab hill and overlooked the town of Hwange. Our driver took us straight to the hotel and wow, had a spectacular view. We gave him a few buck and he went on his way. How lucky we were that the guy was honest. Between Don and I we probably had more cash than he had seen in a lifetime. We were in luck because the hotel had space for us. Finally, we got to sleep in something that was not moving.

In one single event we traveled from Wilmington to Hwange, Zimbabwe over two days with only sleeping on the plane and train. We saw Victoria Falls, named in honor of Queen Victoria at the height of British colonialism. Rode on the roof of a steam locomotive and took a train to a town we didn't know, got in the back of a pickup, and somehow safely ended up in a decent hotel without a reservation.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Bear Canyon, the Lion's Cage, Clay Cliffs, Indian Rock, and White Bridge

One of the things about growing up in Canby Park was the nicknames for the various places we would play. Bear Canyon was sort of a crater in the woods near the train tracks. There was a huge rock sitting up at the top on the side. Bear Canyon was a place where we would ride out bikes down one side and of the crate and gather speed to zoom up the other side. If we went fast enough it was possible to get some air when you hit the top of the opposite side. Older kids hung out on the big rock and probably smoked pot.

If you went down the tracks towards Wilmington you would find the Lion's Cage on the west side of the tracks. It was the outlet for the storm sewers from the west side of Wilmington to empty out into the little creek that in turn dumped into the Little Mill Creek which dumped into the Christiana River. The Lion's Cage was a huge concrete box with one open side that had bars. Inside was three small platforms that looked like places a lion trainer would have the lions pose. In fact they were there to break up the flow of storm water in heavy rains. Kids in Canby Park all knew about the Lion's Cage and many of us had made our way through the storm sewers more than once. The storm sewer pipes were about 5 feet in diameter and ran for a long way. There were junctions and places where the sanitary sewer could overflow in the event of heavy rains. Imagine a eleven-year old kid wandering through the sewers. It happened in Canby Park.

Next was Clay Cliffs. They were just a place downstream from the storm sewer outlet where the water flow eroded the hillside revealing the large open face of clay. The water pooled there so it was a place to play in the water and to catch tadpoles, crayfish, minnows, and whatever else was unlucky enough to be found by us kids.

Indian Rock was a place on the Little Mill Creek where there were a bunch of rocks and some fall in the creek that caused the water to flow rather fast. It was a good place to sit and hang out in the woods and also to go into the creek to cool off. I remember more than once sitting in the fast moving water allowing it to flow right over me. One time we walked to the laundry mat on Germay Drive and bought a small box of laundry detergent for 25 cents, took it back to Indian Rocks, and dumped it in causing a huge amount of suds on the downstream side. It was probably not good for the environment but it was pretty exciting for a couple of kids.

If you went downstream from Indian Rocks you hit White Bridge. This was the nickname for the bridge where Maryland Avenue crossed the Little Mill Creek. The creek had some deep spots there and we sued to fish. One time Paul Schofield and I caught a catfish under the bridge. Paul and I also walked down the creek picking up soda and beer cans or bottles looking for eels. For some reason eels used to make their homes in these bits of litter. I don't remember what we ever did with them but I remember dumping out can after can and once in a while we'd find an eel.

Going the other way up the Little Mill Creek there was a deep spot where there were fish called mud suckers. My friend Mark Emory and I caught those and took them to an old man on Seneca Road who used to eat them. I can't remember the guys name.

Those days in the woods at Canby Park were pretty amazing times. Between parents not letting kids run the roads like we did back then and all of the electronics kids have today there is probably nobody doing those things we did. It was a special time and those days will always be a find memory. If I could do it all again I would in a heartbeat.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Going to Prices Corner

The first cool place I started to travel to on my own was Prices Corner shopping center. I was about 10-11 years old, I discovered that there was a dirt road that ran right along the tracks along side of the Wilsmere Rail Yard from Dupont Road to Centerville Road. The distance from my house to Prices Corner was about 2.5 miles, flat, and the dirt road was safe from automobile traffic. It was an easy ride for a young kid.

At Prices Corner there was everything a kid could want. Kiddie World was a great toy store, the gold standard of toy stores in the area. They had model trains, bicycle accessories, and all the other any kid would want. There was also Woolworth's which has a lunch counter with water ice, soft pretzels, hot dogs, and other great stuff. Woolworth's also had a pet section and a record section. Other stores were JC Penny and Sears. Both of those stores were not that appealing because of the lack of kid stuff.

I remember many times riding my bicycle to Woolworth's and picking up records. I always bought 45s because I had not really learned of the value of owning albums. Some of the ones I remember riding out and purchasing were Don't Give Up on Us by David Soul, Beast of Burden by the Rolling Stones, The Devil Went Down to Georgia by the Charlie Daniels Band, and various ones by Blondie.

I also discovered riding the DART bus in this part of my life. The fare to Prices Corner was 35 cents but if I got on with a group of people, I could quickly drop my money in a spilt second after the person in front of me and the money would drop down and it would be impossible to tell how much each of us put in. Or perhaps, the driver just trusted everyone, didn't care, or was cutting a kid a break. But for whatever reason, on days when I took the bus I was able to ride out for a few pennies on many occasions. It was a fun thing to do and I could put together enough money to buy a record, soft pretzel, or water ice.

Back to riding my bike. In those days I would leave the bike out in from of Woolworth's or Kiddie World without a lock and it was never an issue. The ride through the rail yard was always fun and I would get to see the car shop working on freight cars and the locomotive servicing area and whatever locomotives were there. There was always locomotives switching freight cars around, sometimes a through train would roll through, and once in a while I would see something special like the circus train, a weed sprayer train, or other work train. Most of the time the bike rides to Prices Corner were with my buddy Mark Emory, he liked a lot of the same things and we did a lot of bike riding together. Other places we would ride were to Rockford Park, Banning Park, and the Wilmington Riverfront. A lot of the time we didn't have money and just rode out and back or did a little window shopping. When we rode to other places we often stopped along the way at a 7-11 store and bought Slurpees. If we didn't have money it was never an issue to stop and get a drink from someone's garden hose.

Prices Corner was a good first destination but it didn't take long before I wanted to ride my bicycle or the bus to further, more interesting places. To this day I'm always looking for new and exciting destinations.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hobby House

We always went shopping at the Pathmark on Kirkwood Highway and one of the things I liked to do was wander over to the nearby hobby store called Hobby House, this was located about 1/2 mile away at Midway Shopping Center and was two doors down from Hobby Art. I always figured that the two stores were related but I never really cared about Hobby Art because it was more arts and crafts while Hobby House was trains, slot cars, and other models. Those were the important hobbies anyway.

One of the remarkably different things from today is that it was not unusual for a kid to wander off to another store, much less one 1/2 mile away, and the trip involved crossing the busy and dangerous Limestone Road. This was common and a parent was not thought of as awful for allowing their child to do so at the age of 11 or 12. Even more so was Chris, three years younger would tag along and be in my charge. The times were so different back then.

One of the ways I earned money was by helping people with groceries and the trips to Pathmark offered me an opportunity to do so. Since Hobby House was a bit if a hike it was a bit of a math challenge to calculate the amount of money I earned against the time it would take to walk to Hobby House select a product and return without delaying my mom. I have always been a math person and naturally just took to doing mental math in the moment. As I got older, I also learned to constantly calculate arrival time based upon how far we had to go, the current time, and the speed that we were traveling.

Hobby House was the second best hobby store around, the gold standard was Mitchells on Concord Pike but we just didn't get up there very often. Even so, Hobby House had all of the things a young empire builder wanted. I could buy a freight car for 99 cents. I also bought non-train model kits as well. Some of my favorites were a WWII Landing Ship, a four-plan set of the Blue Angels, the USS Enterprise, Squad 51, and the Batmobile. There was also a time when Chris and I were were into slot cars and Hobby House had lots of those. One thing I always wanted to do was to buy the coveted slot car / model train crossing and combine the two but there was always something else and it never happened.

As far as I can remember we always made it back on time even though I didn't have a watch. I never liked wearing a watch, rings, or necklaces so I got really good at finding clocks around my environs or catching glances of people watches as they we close. Today, since I always have a cell phone I've lost the knack for checking other people's wrist watches.

Hobby House has been gone for decades, Mitchell's is gone from Concord Pike, and I still play with model trains.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Dave Garman

One of the great guys I used to work with at the chemical factory was David L. Garman. Dave was from Virginia and moved to Delaware sometime in his early adulthood. Dave was a mechanic assigned to the chemical plant and I came to know him when he was reassigned to the power house. It did not take long to figure out that he was an amazing mechanic.

He served in the Korean War as a Private First Class in the Marine Corps. Like many of the other war veterans I knew, he never liked to talk about his time in the war. Once in a while he would say a few things. I did learn that his time in the Marines was really rough and he told of some really ugly fighting. He spoke of fighting waves of soldiers who came charging without gun. They we ordered to just keep coming and coming picking up guns form fallen soldiers as they charged. Since then I've seen this sort of thing portrayed very graphically in the cinema, I can't imagine how that must have felt.

Whenever there was a problem Dave could fix it. He was an old-time mechanic that knew more tricks than any mechanical person I've ever met. He knew tricks to take apart things that seemed permanently stuck together, he could remove a broken off pipe from a piece of equipment without any trouble, he could solve problems that seemed hopeless. This is the guy you want in a power house because the name of the game is to stay running all the time. Our factory made a million dollars of product a day so shutting down to fix something was frowned upon by the management because shutting down the power house meant shutting down the plant.

Our equipment was old, mostly from the mid 1950s when the Dupont Company built the "new" power house back then. Some of the equipment was so old that I think it may have been some of the last of its type in the entire state. One of the things was the Copes Thermostatic Tube automatic feed water control. This was the last automatic control system that was not based on some sort of electronic or pneumatic controller. Dave could handle maintaining it and I knew how to operate it. I knew the system was as old as the steam locomotives that I so loved and I also knew most power plant workers at the time never saw one, much less knew how to operate it. We also had the last plant whistle in Delaware and I was the guy who blew it last when one of the supervisors made us stop blowing it.

Dave seemed a little rough at first but was indeed a very kind man. He often had great stories and he somewhat liked trains. he told me stories about the big steam locomotives of the Norfolk & Western Railway hauling long coal trains over the mountains in Virginia and the modern electric locomotives of the Virginian Railway that competed with the N&W.

Dave passed on in January 4, 2000, shortly after retiring. This was the case for so many of the men who worked at the chemical plant. The retirement age was 58 and many didn't make it much longer. I'm glad I got out of the chemical plant when I did but I value all I learned from him. When I find myself with something broken and seemingly unfixable, I think about Dave Garman and what he would do.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

My First Real Dance with a Real Girl

I high school I was involved in a leadership and skills club called VICA, the Vocational and Industrial Clubs of America. Today the club continues on as SkillsUSA. It was a great experience and I learned a lot of stuff that I carry with me to this day. There was an annual VICA leadership retreat weekend at National Guard Barracks in Bethany Beach. There was a lot of leadership related related classes. On Saturday night the was a dance. Now I always loved music, girls, and dancing but in high school I was often shy to ask girls to dance with me. Being away from most of my peers and feeling the juices of leadership flowing through my veins had me confident enough to ask girls to dance with me. I danced with several to faster songs and it was fantastic. I felt really confident, which I didn't really feel around girls at that time in my life. I was dancing with a girl named Elizabeth Plumber, a girl from one of the downstate schools, when a slow song came on. The song was Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart. With all of the confidence a teenage boy ever had I reached for Elizabeth's hand and took it for the slow dance. She came up close to me and we danced. Her hands were like sandpaper, it turns out she was a masonry student and had coarse man hands. I was a little surprised but that didn't stop me from enjoying the dance. I never asked for her number and I never saw her again. In 1982 there was no internet, no cell phones, and I didn't have a car so it was not possible to try to go on any dates with a girl who lived downstate. Even calling her would have been long distance which would have not gone over well with my mom. Kids today have not idea what long distance phone service is. That was my first slow dance with a girl, each time I hear that song I always remember Elizabeth and her mason hands.

One Night a Busboy

As a teenager I never really wanted to have a job working at a place. I was an entrepreneur, really a hustler and an idea man. I made my money helping people carrying groceries, cutting grass, raking leaves, painting, moving furniture, and selling trinkets. I always found a way to make enough money for the things I wanted. I also picked up a newspaper route in about 1977. I know it was 1977 because I remember delivering the newspaper that carried the headline "The King is Dead."

In the newspaper business I quickly learned that service paid. I was the kid that put the paper between the storm door and the main door so people didn't have to go outside to pick it up. This made me a lot of money in tips. The weekly price was about $1.35 and I often got $2.00 and was told to keep the change. At Christmas the tips were really big. It was a great gig. I was a successful businessman. Not only that but I also figured out the system set up by the News Journal Company. They rewarded paperboys for getting new customers with points. And again because it was 1977 the points were called "Spacebucks" honoring the groundbreaking movie Star Wars that had just come out. If someone quit the route I didn't call it in and would keep an extra paper or two on my route. This was always helpful because most days someone would stop me and say "hey kid, do you have an extra paper?" This was always good becauseI never carried change and that normally meant they gave me fifty cents or a dollar and I got to keep the change for a thirty-five cent paper. When I would pick up a new customer I would use one of my surplus papers to service them and call it on one of the special windows of time when they offered double Spacebucks to paperboys as an incentive.

This continued throughout my time as a paper boy and I carried extra papers and sold them to people stopping me on the street and I would also drop them at the DelCampo bakery which was the last stop on my route. They got one paper but the guys there never minded extras and if they didn't get sold they were put to good use getting in with the bakery guys who then loaded me up with fresh-from-the-oven rolls. The place always smelled fantastic and the hot rolls tasted better than candy. When my mom understood my business practices she called me a hustler.

Also working around the neighborhood got me plenty of work and money. I cut grass in Canby Park and all of the neighborhoods in the area. I would push the mower as far as St. Elizabeth to cut grass because the folks over there had bigger lawns. I remember a woman over there named Irene once asked me if I wanted to buy pot with the money I had earned. I thanked her and told her no. I never told anyone about the offer but it was way wrong to bring it up to a young teenager.

My dad thought I should try working a job. He was a part-time bartender at a neighborhood Italian restaurant and bar called Picciotti's on 4th street. He set it up for me to be a busboy and I reported to work in a pair of black pants and white shirt. They showed me the ropes of clearing tables and wiping them down. It sucked. I hated it from the first table. It is not that the work was below me but I knew I didn't need to clean up dirty tables to make money. I had my own ways and they suited me fine and I worked hard and always made enough money for my needs. One time, before the paper route, I was carrying groceries for people and I made enough money to buy a Welcome Back Kotter record player. It was awesome to own such an amazing piece of musical equipment. I also made enough money to sustain my model train habit and play some occasional games of pinball. Why did I need to clean off tables? I especially hated emptying and wiping out the ashtrays. That was totally disgusting.

After a couple of hours and manager came to see me and asked how it was going. I told him okay but in a voice that said otherwise. He said, "you don't really like this do you?" I shook my head in agreement and he asked if I wanted to go home and I said yes. He said okay and thanked me and I left and never worked another day in the food industry. I never got paid for those couple of hours and never cared, I was just glad I didn't have to keep doing it.

A Starry Night in Inner Mongolia

Spring break of 2004 was my first trip to China. Alan, Don and traveled there to see the last mainline steam railroad in the world. China is a place I have come to know and love. As of this moment I've been there 5 times for up to three weeks. I've seen more of China than most Chinese people. This first trip was epic and magical because it was my first experience in China. The steam trains operated in the far north, Inner Mongolia, near the Mongolian border. The whole trip was just a culture shock because our senses were overwhelmed with new sensations, new smells, sounds, tastes, and sights. Every waking moment was sensory overload.

We hit the ground in Beijing with no reservations and only a handful of things I printed off the internet. We found our way to the main train station and bought a ticket on an overnight train to Shenyang (pronounced Shen Ya). There we found a taxi to first location for steam trains, the town of Tieling which was the base for the Tiefa Coal Railway, Tiefa was named for Tieling and Faku which are along the railway. At Tiefa we experienced the steam era as it mush have been in the 1940s in the US. There were frequent trains and nearly every one was hauled by steam locomotive. The last two steam locomotives built for commercial freight service anywhere in the world were operating at Tiefa. They were built in 1999! We got rides in the locomotives cabs and toured the shop facilities and saw countless steam-powered trains come and go. It was heaven for train nuts like us.

After a few days there we went to a town called Tongliao which was the end point for the 600-mile-long JiTong Railway. The railway ran from Togliao to Jining, all in the province of Inner Mongolia. The in the very rural northern part of China. We attracted a crowd most everywhere we went because people didn't really see Westerners in these parts of China. We met some nice girls who worked in the station at Tongliao, I don't know what job they had but they wore very formal uniforms and they were excited and interested to have Western visitors to their station. My favorite was a 6-foot tall girl named Ya Ya. There were lots of jokes about taking Ya Ya home during the rest of the trip.

We had a funny episode that involved buying a ticket. Nobody on the staff knew any English and we knew about five words of Chinese. We point to a train ticket from a previous trip, then pointed to the map to Tongliao, and then pointed to the town of Reshui which was the town closest to Jing Peng Pass where we wanted to see mainline steam trains cross a mountain range. We were trying to determine which window to use to buy a train ticket. The girl seemed to understand our request and she took Don off for a walk and guided him to the bathroom. He stopped and shook his head no and they both laughed. So much for communication.

Another neat thing was each time we opened our map a crowd of people would gather around. They would peer over our shoulders and have entire conversations in Chinese while we were making our travel plans in English. Nobody knew what the other was saying.

We got on the train the next day and headed to Reshui. The entire trip was through agricultural areas and the fields went on as far as the eye could see. When you looked closely you would see there were people everywhere working the fields by hand. We passed houses of mud where these people lived. The trip was about 300 miles and we got to Reshui late at night. Getting off the train was a mind blowing experience because first we were immersed in near sensory overload culture shock of just being in China, second, the sky was the most amazing night sky any of us had ever seen. I don't know how to describe it other than take the number of stars you see here and multiply it by that number and that is how many stars there were. At the same moment there was a double-headed steam train getting ready to leave so there was also the smells and sounds of seeming living, breathing steam locomotives. The steam crew saw us and were shining their flashlights at us and calling for us to come ride with them. We couldn't because we were dead tired and it was last and we still needed to find a hotel.

That single experience is one of the ones that will always be with me. I've seen some nice starry nights, impressive ones in Africa, South America, in the Western US, and on the water, but no starry night has ever matched that night in Reshui, Inner Mongolia China.

Wilmington's Role in The Lady Bird Special

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