A Member of the Family

Here’s another auto themed story for you…..

The first time Susie and I went to Las Vegas (well, first time since I was there as a 10 year old) was in 1999 to celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary. Hertz was very nice on that trip and gave us a 1999 Ford Mustang as our rental vehicle. At the time, we owned a 1986 Mustang convertible, and after driving around Vegas for a week in a brand new Mustang, the bug was in my head to think about trading our 14 year old car for a new 2000 version of the vehicle!

Back in those days, there was still a Ford dealer in Mineola, so one day in October, we went to Mineola Ford to order a 2000 Mustang convertible. I probably should have suspected something was hinky with the salesman when he wouldn’t take the ’86 Mustang in trade, but was willing to personally buy it, but we went ahead and placed an order for a Laser Red Tinted Clearcoat Mustang convertible with a charcoal cloth interior and a black convertible top.

The car was being built to order, so once the factory accepted the order, there was a couple of months wait till it was built and then shipped to the local dealer. Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I got the call that my new BLACK Mustang had been delivered! “Black,”,I said incredulously, “I ordered a Red Mustang!” I got out my order paperwork, and there it clearly showed that I had ordered a red Mustang with a black convertible top! Somehow, when the salesman (the same one I had my doubts about) put the order in, he put Black as the car color rather than Red. When I told them I didn’t want the car, they were incredulous. They said they’d try to find another one in the pipeline, see if they could trade with another dealer, and someway make me happy. Suffice it to say they didn’t do anything, other than still try and convince me to take the black car. In fact, the day I went back to the dealership to get my deposit money back, there was the car front and center in the showroom. “Don’t you want to look at your car before you leave?” the sales manager asked. “It’s not my car!” I answered as I walked out!

I was disappointed, but as we were right in the middle of the holidays, I put thoughts of a new Mustang on the back burner, until after the new year. On January 2nd, 2000 I turned 50, and 3 days later, on January 5th, 2000, Susie and I walked into Park Inn Ford in Valley Stream to place an order. We ended up at Park Inn Ford because they were affiliated with the AAA Car Buying Service, and as a member, we were guaranteed a “no haggle price”. I had spoken to a young lady at the dealership, gotten a really good price, and had come in on the evening of the 5th to write up our order. Ford was running a Free Leather Interior promotion at the time, but as our older Mustang convertible had vinyl seats, I was well aware that an open top convertible with vinyl or leather seating surfaces was like an oven on a sunny day, so I told her I wanted the standard cloth seats. “No problem,” she said, and just deducted the price of the leather from our final price quote. I stressed that the car had to be red, and we left happy. End of story, right?

Well, not exactly. The next day at work, I received a call from the son of the owner of the dealership. It turns out that the girl I was working with was very new, and when she deducted the cost of leather from the car she was quoting me, she missed that under the Free Leather Ford promotion the cost of the leather was never added to the final price, making it a $900 mistake! He asked me if I’d be willing to split the cost of the mistake with him. If I’d go up $450, he’d subtract $450 from the price of the car. He also said that he would act as my salesman for the rest of the purchase, to make sure there were no more issues (and probably to save the cost of a sale’s commission). We talked for a few minutes, and agreed to split the cost of her mistake, and a relationship was formed.

The Mustang started our relationship with the owner and Park Inn Ford, and was the first of four cars we bought from him and Park Inn Ford…sadly the dealership is no more.

Park Inn Ford

On Friday March 31st, 2000, we picked up our nice new RED Mustang convertible, so today marks her 21st year as being a part of the family! I used to say that since we ordered the car 3 days after my 50th birthday, she was my “Mid Life Crisis” car, but now that she’s still with us, I say she went from being my “Mid Life Crisis” car to my “Retirement” car. In fact, she moved to Ocean City even before we did, getting New Jersey license plates the summer of 2016, and living here since then! When this summer rolls around, it will be the 22nd summer she has been with us, and after all, isn’t summer the real time to drive a convertible!

Happy Birthday…she can legally drink more than gas as of today!

This is her winter storage spot, till it’s summer and real top down weather!

Two People I Owe

Walter and Kathy Hemerly were another married couple that worked with my Mom and Dad, as members of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Chorus. They were a fixture of my life, probably from the day that I was born, and there are several things in my life that I owe directly to them.

Number one is Ocean City. Walter was from Philadelphia, and his family owned a summer house on the 3200 block of Asbury Avenue in Ocean City. Back in the early 50s, the Met’s season was short, and the members of the chorus collected New York State Unemployment during the summer. In the summer of 1955 when I was five years old, they finally convinced my Mom and Dad to come down to Ocean City. We stayed in a guest house right next door to Walter’s family summer house, and for the next 5 years, Ocean City was where we spent our summers. Turn the clock ahead to the first year Susie and I were married, and we once again visited Ocean City, and it seemed remarkably the same as it had when I was a kid. Jump ahead to the Summer of 1983, and our first stay in Ocean City as a family with 7 month old William Ryan, and the die was cast. Since that first visit with Billy, for each of the 37 following summers, we have spent part of or all summer in Ocean City, since 2005 in our own house, and since 2017, we’ve called it home! Thanks Kathy and Walter!

The second thing I owe them is my first car!

It was a 1955 Chevrolet BelAir 2 door sedan, in green on green. It wasn’t the car pictured, but it was exactly like this one. It had a straight six cylinder engine, a three speed manual column shift transmission (referred to as 3 on the tree), non-power brakes, non-power steering, an AM radio, white wall tires, and full wheel covers, and that was it! It cost me $50 when I bought it in the spring of 1967, but I had to drive it home from their apartment in Westchester County. I had learned to drive on my folk’s new ’66 Ford Galaxie with a V/8 engine, automatic transmission and power steering, so this was going to be a big change for me. I had never driven a stick shift, but I had watched a couple of folks drive one, and was sure I was prepared. I guess I could have done more research, but I was 17 and knew all!

So the day we are going to pick it up, we take the train up to Westchester, meet Walter and Kathy in their apartment building’s parking lot, give them the $50, put my new license plates on the car, and off we go. Okay…it’s harder to drive a stick shift than it looks….a lot harder! I drive around their neighborhood a bit to get a feeling for the car. I stall the engine multiple times, shift into the wrong gear, and have lots of trouble pulling away from stop lights. A lot of my issues had to do with that third pedal…the clutch pedal. See, my big issue was that I now had to drive the car from Westchester County to where we lived in Queens County. Westchester is part of the mainland of the United States, Queens is part of Long Island, an island off the coast of the United States. Island equals bridge, and bridge equals toll booth. You see my problem?

I cautiously get on the highway, and I’m doing fine as long as I don’t have to stop, but here comes the Whitestone Bridge to Queens and it’s toll bridge. Luckily there wasn’t a lot of traffic and I’m able to pick a toll booth with no line. I down shift and slow down, but I’m afraid to stop for fear of stalling and not being able to start the car again, so I toss the 35 cents toll (it was a long time ago) at the toll taker, and “accelerate” away from the booth and onto the bridge! Somehow, I made it home to Jackson Heights, parked the car (not easy to ease a standard transmission into backwards movement either), and knew I had my work cut out for me really learning how to drive all over again.

Over the next couple of weeks, I drove the car as much as I could and honestly, I got pretty good at the manual transmission. I attempted to “dress up” the 12 year old Chevy, even embarking on compounding the tired paint, till I realized I was compounding through the paint to the steel of the body. I settled for applying a racing stipe on the car, and getting a couple of new tires. The AM radio worked fine, and this was before the day of FM’s dominance, so I could listen to WABC, and all the other appropriate stations for a person my age!

My friend Richard and I were spending the summer before college working at Alexanders Department Store in Rego Park, and it had become my routine to pick Richard up at 96th Street and 34th Avenue on the mornings we worked, and for the two of us to drive to and from Rego Park together. One sunny summer morning, as we were heading east along 34th Avenue, and cresting a slight hill, I was momentarily blinded by the bright sun directly in front of us, but slowly then realized that there was a car stopped in the middle of the road. I attempted to stop, but I didn’t, and hit the back end of the stopped car and pushed it for most of a block before we both stopped in front of a school yard in Corona. Turns out that in the summer of 1967, while driving a 1955 Chevy, I hit a 1951 Chevy. I will always remember the name of the driver of the car, Mr. Lemberg Nelson, and the first words he said to me as we both stepped out of the car, “Oh my neck!”

Luckily Walter had installed seat belts in the car during his ownership, so Richard and I were belted in. However, pre-shoulder belts and air bags, I hit the steering wheel with my face, right under my nose, and although I didn’t lose any teeth, I did get 8 stitches in my upper gum. Richard had a bagel in his teeth at the time of the accident, so he had a 1967 version of an air bag and got no injuries!

Unfortunately, that was the end of my 55 Chevy, as it was not worth repairing the car based on the damage and the age and value of the vehicle. I always marveled over the fact that in the summer of 1967, while driving a 1955 Chevy, I had an accident with a 1951 Chevy. A 12 year old car hitting a 16 year old car…what are the odds. Also, if you remember from earlier in my tale, I was a neophyte stick shift driver, having had less than a month’s experience driving a 3 pedal car. For the last 54 years I have never really been 100% sure, if on that fateful morning while trying to stop the car, I hit the brake pedal OR the clutch pedal, and I guess I never will.

So those are the two big things I owe to my Mom and Dad’s co-workers, Kathy and Walter Hemmerly. My first car, that lasted less than a month, and my love for Ocean City, NJ, that has lasted a lifetime! Thanks Kathy and Walter!!

Luck of the Irish

A number of years ago, the kids gave Susie and I Ancestry DNA test kits for Christmas. We dutifully followed instructions, spit into the tube, packed it all up, and sent it off. I didn’t really have any doubt what my test would find, as I knew very well that my Dad was 100% Italian and that my Mom was not only 100% Scottish, but had even been born in Scotland and had not come to America till she was 6 years old! I don’t know if they are faster today, but back in those days, there was a couple of months wait till you got the results back. When they did come back, boy was I surprised!

Yes, the Italian and the Scottish were there, but look at what else they found!! 1% European Jewish (obviously the reason for my love of Matzo), 7% Caucasus, 7% Middle East, and (drum roll please) 25% Irish!! Who knew that after all the years of having nothing more in common with Irish folk than an apostrophe in my last name, I was now 25% Irish!!

Then, just one year later, and shortly before St. Patrick’s Day, I got the following “up date” to my DNA story!

Suddenly they had re-calculated the results, and although some of my other results were similar, now they’d lumped Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in together and highlighted Scotland! Oh well, so much for me being Irish! Goodbye St. Patrick’s Day, time to get out the “Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but Italians” sweatshirt again!

Then this year’s DNA story showed up, and guess what…now I’m 27% Irish!

That’s it, I give up! Tired of the revolving door of ethnicity, think I’ll just go back to what I’ve always known…half Italian, half Scottish!

Either way, Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone…please don’t turn out like those drunken kids, who cut school to go to the parade in the city, that I used to spend my trip home from work with on the Long Island Rail Road! More celebrating, less throwing up on your shoes at the curb!

Memories…the Times of Your Life

If you are of a certain age, you will surely remember the Paul Anka Kodak commercials from the 1970s. If you are of a certain age, you will also remember pictures, and the fact that Kodak advertised more than printers and printer paper back in the day. These commercials depicted the “times of your life”, with the soundtrack being Paul Anka’s song, The Times of Your Life.

That Kodak commercial, and the following advertising campaign was created in 1975, and after the considerable air play that Kodak was giving it, Anka decided to release it as a single, and, as they say, “The Rest is History!” If you don’t remember the commercial, take a look. https://www.youtube.com/embed/iqvKYfB39PI

The lyrics used in the commercials were:

“Good Morning, yesterday

You wake up and time has slipped away

And suddenly it’s hardy to find

The memories you left behind

Remember, do you remember”

In the typical commercial, this would be the soundtrack while viewing a montage of pictures from the past, including some shots of folks using very old Kodak cameras (remember them) to record these “Times of your life.” Then the spots would end with the voice over of, “Kodak Film…for the times of your life!”

I was reminded of this commercial campaign recently, because we are involved in a winter project to try and bring some order to the thousands of picture we have! The Christmas Gift Wrapping Table is back in the den, and we are in the midst of delving into boxes of photos that truly contain evidence of the times of our life!

As the parents of 3 kids, you can imagine that there were thousands of dollars worth of photos taken over their early years. Lots of Kodak film was bought, and lots paid to process once the pictures were taken. Unlike today, when you can instantly view what you’ve just captured, and retake if you don’t like it, back in the olden days, it was days and sometimes weeks before you knew if you got the shot you wanted, until they opened a Moto Photo, one hour developing store near us! Still you had to wait at least that hour to see if the picture was fuzzy, or if perhaps you captured a picture you never even realized was happening!

The above picture was a surprise when we got the film back from being developed. Susie had been taking some pictures of months old Krissi and Kenny, and didn’t realize she’d even taken such a great pose! This surprise picture was good enough to be featured in Twins Magazine and was the cover and the January picture of the next year’s Twins Magazine Calendar!

So as we go through our picture stock pile, there are lots of surprises. Unfortunately, not all as great as this one was! There are lots of, “What the hell did we take this picture for???” and, turning to each other, “Do you know what this is a picture of??” To be honest, as we go through them, we’re having trouble coming to terms with exactly what we are doing. One thought is to break them down by child. Another, perhaps breaking them into different families, or to just lump the obvious pics together, and make sure we separate and label the non obvious ones. Not sure exactly where this will go, but for now (at least) these are basic rules we are trying to follow:

1 – Is there anybody in the picture? If not, to the discard pile, unless its a picture of particular family significance (such as a former house, car, etc).

2 – If there are 4 or 5 of basically the same shot, pick the best one and save it.

3 – If it’s out of focus, too light or too dark, or a really crummy shot, get rid of it, no matter what it’s of!

We’ve so far come across pics from our honeymoon, from the birth of children, from vacations, school functions, pictures from our old boat (Atsa’ My Boat), holidays, trips to Ocean City and Disney World, and just about everything else you can think of. Our work table is an organized mess, with various piles of pictures that may or may not go together, or that we may not even keep!

Take a look….

One thing we are going to try and do, is something that neither Susie’s Mom nor my Mom did. Both of our Moms died at the age of 95, and we inherited a lot of pictures from them, In many cases, we have absolutely no idea of who the people in the pictures are, or where or when they were taken. Our goal is to make notes on any photos that the kids wouldn’t immediately recognize, We hope to not dump pictures like that on our kids someday!

Meanwhile, as we go through this project, we are indeed unearthing the visual proof of the “memories we left behind.” Just like in those old Kodak commercials, all these “memories” started as printed photos, and they are indeed of The Times of our Life!

Enjoy….

Remembering our friend Paula

Susie and I were very sad to learn late last Tuesday evening, that our friend Paula had died of a massive heart attack. We learned the sad news, when I read a post from another friend on Facebook just before heading to bed.

Paula was a gambler, with Video Poker being her game of choice, and that was how we met her. About 10 or 12 years ago, I asked a question at an online message board about Video Poker. Paula answered that question for me, and then we started to go back and forth as Susie and I asked other questions, and she graciously answered. She was very good at Video Poker, and anytime she made a weekend trip to Atlantic City, or a trip to Vegas, she always left with multiple “Hand Pays”. (When a single win on a slot machine or a video poker machine is $1,200 or over, it has to be reported to the IRS, so a “hand pay” involves a casino employee actually giving you your money, after they’ve filled out forms for the IRS and given you a W-2G slip.) She was very knowledgeable, and happy to share her understanding of the game.

So, for several months, we were “Internet Friends,” until we discovered that on one particular weekend, she would be at Harrahs in AC the same weekend Susie and I were planning on being there. At that point, she was a Seven Stars player (the highest level on Harrahs gambling rewards), and invited us to meet her and her friend Judy in the Seven Stars Lounge! The Seven Stars Lounge at Harrahs, was in the back of the High Roller slot area, and as you walked up to the door, it opened automatically. This was the pinnacle of rewards clubs, and Susie and I were like kids in a candy store, as we were ushered in and escorted to Paula’s table. Even though we’d never met, and had only exchanged messages on the internet, it was almost like we were old friends who’d not seen each other in some time. We got along wonderfully with Paula and her friend Judy. We talked, and drank (and ate shrimp the size of your fist), and gambled that night. We were no longer internet friends, but were now real friends!

We learned that Paula and her husband Jim were lawyers in Northern Jersey, and although Paula loved gambling, Jim was not a big fan. He came with her occasionally, but mostly she came with girlfriends like Judy. She loved traveling to New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City, and enjoyed several “Girl Trips” a year. We also discovered that she and Jim had a beach house down in Cape May at the bottom of our county, so we were kind of neighbors too!

Over the years, we’d meet up with her if we were all in AC for a weekend, and on one occasion even met Jim, but our favorite Paula Story happened 7 or 8 years ago. We told her we were going to be at Harrahs in AC with our kids, and she was going to be staying at Harrahs and meeting Judy and some other friends who were staying at the Borgota. We agreed that we’d meet up if our schedules coincided. On Saturday night, our family was at the Sapphire Bar in the Eden Lounge, having a pre-dinner drink, and I texted Paula. She said she’d stop by on her way to the Borgota. When she did, we introduced her to the kids, and to our favorite AC Bartender, Ralph. Perhaps, because I was having one, Paula had Ralph make her a Grey Goose Martini. It was cold, and it was good, and it was large (Harrahs martini glasses were very big back then), and went down way too easily, so she ordered a second. About halfway through the drink, she realized that she had to get to the Borgota, where she and her girlfriends had a dinner reservation at the Old Homestead.

Later on, we heard that after her time with us at the bar, she had a hell of a night. She bounced off the wall going down the hall to get the Jitney to Borgota, didn’t remember much of dinner, and had no idea how she got back to Harrahs. Sunday morning, she woke up in her bed, still dressed as she was when we saw her before dinner, and sleeping with her Old Homestead leftovers!

Sadly, we always talked about getting together either at their house in Cape May, or ours in Ocean City. Sometimes things just never get done because you have all the time in the world…sadly, we did not.

We’re thinking about her husband Jim, and all the family and friends she leaves behind, and know that she’s up in heaven with her beloved son Ryan, making up for lost time with him. Paula, you were one of a kind, and Susie and I will always fondly remember our times with you! Hope there’s nothing but hand pays up in God’s Casino!

Five Years Ago

Continuing the blog trend from yesterday, 5 years ago today, on Friday, January 29th, 2016, I worked my last day at WABC Radio. My first paying job was at the age of about 11, when I was a “Super” in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth, at the Cincinnati Summer Opera in the early 60s. According to a blog post I wrote in January, 2016, that was the first of seven jobs I’ve had during my life The last Non-Radio job I had, was way back in 1972, which I left to start working at WHN in NYC. (https://fdthird.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/seven-jobs/).

After 44 years working in radio, a question I was asked a lot back in 2016 was, “So what are you going to do when you retire??”. My flippant answer was, “Whatever I want to do!,” which worked for most folks, but there was the occasional hard ass who pushed it. “No, what are you really going to do? Won’t you get bored?” My answer to that was that no, I won’t get bored. I’ll be able to spend every day with my best friend, we’ll travel, I’ll read a lot, I’ll do some writing, enjoy life, and definitely try to not get up most days until after the 7:24 from Mineola to Penn Station has left the station!!!

In the last five years, Susie and I have enjoyed life in many ways, the most important being that we’ve spent the majority of every single day together! See, we’re a little weird. A long time ago we discovered, we really like being together. Be it a trip to Shoprite or Costco, a ride in the car, cooking, eating out, or whatever, if my best friend and wife is by my side, we’re happy! So, that’s the first thing the past five years have given us…the ability to be together!

On January 30th, 2016 (my first day as a retired person), I joined Susie, who had retired after the 2013 school year, from her job at Hampton Street School in Mineola. Now, truly, time was ours, to do with as we pleased, and we did! But what else you ask? Okay, let’s make a list!

First on the list, had to be something that just doesn’t get done while you are still regularly employed…Our Big Trip! For 9 weeks, from August to October, and traveling 9,773 miles, we covered our country in our Hyundai Sonata. Visiting places like Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, and so many other places that we’d always wanted to see.

Seeking the Sun…For every one of the five years since I joined Susie in retirement, we have traveled to Florida to seek a bit of a preview of the coming summer. On three of those years, we included a stay at Walt Disney World where we took advantage of my Disney Retiree free admission and discounts. The last two years, the trip included a multi- week stay in a condo we rented in what we consider our Florida home, Indian Rocks Beach. Sadly, due to the current Covid crisis we find ourselves in, there will be no Florida trip this year. No sunsets on the beach of Indian Rocks Beach, no trips to see Mickey Mouse, no visits with my cousins Jeanne and Walt in Barefoot Bay, and no preview of the Summer of 2021 for Susie and me.

We also cruised, a total of 6 weeks during the last 5 years! So many wonderful pictures, memories, and experiences.

Twin Weddings….In the past 5 years, our twins, Krissi and Kenny, joined their older brother Billy in the institution of marriage. Kenny and his husband Chris joined their lives in October of 2018 in Lake Tahoe, which included for Susie and I, a trip across the country on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief sleeper train. In June of 2019, our daughter Krissi and her husband Mike became one on the roof of their apartment building in Astoria. With the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline, I gave away our daughter, and Mike joined our family!

Of course, 2019 was also the year we added a third Grandchild, as Annabelle Lorraine D’Elia joined her sister Layla and brother Henry on April 17th! Here she is with Grandpa at Aunt Krissi’s wedding!

We also, along the way, cleaned out our house in Mineola, that had been the D’Elia Family Home since August of 1986. 31 years of life is a lot to pack up, but that we did, as we sold the house, and turned our Ocean City home into our full time residence. We were luckier than many in making the transition, as we knew exactly what we were getting into in Ocean City, having had a life here for 12 years at that point! To make it official, it was a change of driver’s licenses and car registrations to the state of New Jersey, and registering to vote!

Our Mineola house with a very young Bill D’Elia on the day we found it in early 1986

Along the way, I also had my left knee replaced! Right knee was supposed to be done by now too, but Covid has delayed that schedule!

Of course, living at the beach, there were hours spent on the sand of Pennlyn Place Beach. There were enjoyable times on our front porch, or the backyards or decks of our neighbors.

If I had to pick the most important thing that I’ve enjoyed the last 5 years, it’s having the ability to make our own schedule. We no longer are limited by the school calendar, by how much vacation I got at WABC (a lot), by the schedule of others, and by our need to be at certain places at certain times. Prior to Covid, if we wanted to get in the car on a Thursday, and drive down to visit our family in North Carolina and watch our oldest Granddaughter’s dance recital, we did. If we wanted to drive down to Maryland for the weekend and visit with our son-in-law Mike’s family, we did. If we’d had enough time without our dear friends Pat and Steve back on Long Island, a car trip up to see them was what we did. That’s one of the real reasons we are so interested in getting our Covid vaccines, because we’d love to be able to put the spontaneity back in our travel schedules once again!

So there you have it, it’s all about living the life we have chosen, that we love, and doing it whenever we want! Like I said…doing whatever we want, whenever we want! That’s our take on retirement!