April 24, 2014
Our recent radio expedition ran the first two Saturdays of April, from St. Paul to New York and return. Back in the day we could park an empty rig for a week at a marked curb in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood and the driver could then either fly home or stay at a hotel in the Very Large City.
After Mr. Guiliani left, the mayor's office parking enforcement slackened and curbside around the namesake building of the nation's most distinguished liberal Republican senator, the Jacob K. Javits Center, became host to a drab irony of RVs, pickups, wagons and panel trucks. Finding seventy clear feet of curb became difficult and we finally gave up and parked over on the Jersey side.
Lately they've restored the truck parking but it's still not a peaceful easy feeling to leave a rig sitting there unoccupied, so the strategy now is to unload at Town Hall, leave the truck in Newark and fly home. Return on the last Saturday, get Hank, load up after the show and head back. Simple enough.
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The truck and I left Minnesota at noon on April Fool's Day, a Tuesday. A half day on Interstate 94 from St. Paul will take you to a truckstop, a motel and a good steak house in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin. The next morning offers a wide new loop around the Great Chicago Coagulation and you board Interstate 80 eastbound nonstop into Indiana and Ohio. Park on the street in Cuyahoga Falls and slip into that dramatic hotel dining room over the great rushing rapids there and they will bring you what I believe is the absolute best lobster bisque anywhere within the national reach of a truck driver. Big talk. But it is my honest appraisal.
Pennsylvania is the Montana of the East, not as big of sky nor mountain nor as broad of valley but still dramatic and smooth to ride. Pulled into a large-lot motel near the Jersey line, ate early and zonked out solid until 4:30 AM. The load-in at Town Hall was set for 9:00 Friday morning and me'n Hank were there well before. We did the usual 140 five-at-time long blocks south to the Town Hall, unloaded and drove 140 long blocks back up to the George Washington Bridge. Thanks to the low ceilings in both the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, there is no easier way to get downtown from the west in a truck.
But it went all right until we got grim news that it was snowing in Minnesota. (Hear now an ominous low moaning from the bottom reach of a Hammond organ.) Our parking spot is in a truck lot just southwest of Newark, a place called Hillside. My guy for all seasons, Larry of New Rochelle, found it for us and told me to take Exit 42A off southbound Interstate 95; 42A he said and 42A I took, and it went far out into the harbor where they load ocean ships with great towers of rust-colored steel shipping containers. Broad waters on both sides of the causeway told clearly that this had to be the wrong road.
There was a lasso turnaround out in the bay and we came all the way back to the I-95 exits numbered 42 and 42A through 42D, like bra sizes. I parked at the edge and managed to roust a good guy from his Do Not Enter Employees Only office there. He said I wanted to exit and loop around and take exit 42 and I did that and finally found the yard. Vinnie the Main Man there guided me into a slot and then gave me a ride to a taxi company in downtown Hillside. Around the corner sat a place converted from general retail into an oddly large sixties style coffee shop, with the beads, the rugs, the miscellaneous old chairs and some bookshelves.
Had a latte and some fancy egg breakfast thing - it was now eight hours since waking in Pennsylvania -- and walked back to the taxi office and a cab appeared instantly to whiz me off to Newark International Liberty Airport.
The pat-down-and-search was rigorous and the moving walkways were stationary. And it was indeed snowing out west, and especially on our airport. I bought a half-pound burger and a quarter-pound detective thriller by Lee Child and dug right into both.
Finally sitting that night on the tarmac after a long day and a long silence from the crew we were notified that we were 30th in line for takeoff. I got home after one o'clock. Our sky-flung cast and crew go through this business fairly often so I have no beef about a 21-hour day. I finished the book Saturday morning.
Home time spun by and the next Saturday it was the Minneapolis-St Paul airport again and they whisked me through easy; the main screener said pleasantly, "You look kind of young; so... why are you are still in your shoes?"
"It's because I'm over 75."
"Well, you don't look it. Come on in. And have a good trip."
"Thanks very much."
A nice contrast to the hardnosed cat out east. And the moving walk reeled me in like a tarpon to a trawler. A newsstand near the gate yielded up a James Patterson work titled "Alex Cross, Run." Didn't get halfway through it and flight 5775 was on the ground in Jersey right on time at 1:53 PM. A cabbie with a GPS found Hank and I fired him up and we went up I-95 and once more joined in the overly popular molasses run to the George Washington Bridge.
It was the same route as the New Jersey Governor's Jam-Up Scandal took a while ago and I had wondered at the time about the fuss over it. I've been crossing that thing for thirty years and I thought: "A slowdown? They call it a slowdown? How can they tell?" That runup to the Very Large Bridge is very often only a fraction faster than the moving walkway at the airport, which doesn't move at all. But the flight had been on time and we had built in six hours of slack.
So Hank and I ended up parked for hours by the Javits center. It took not much cruising to find a Truck Waiting Line spot where a long dropdeck trailer rig was just pulling out. I get settled in there, window open to the spring afternoon, book open, when this guy in below-butt baggy pants and sweatshirt down to the knees comes striding from behind down the middle of West 33rd Street hollering, "Hey!! You cain't park there!! This here's for busses! You gotta move this thang!"
"The sign says truck waiting line," I shout back. He nears the rear of the trailer and hollers, "MOVE THIS THANG! THEY'S NO ROOM HERE!"
Maybe he sees the Indiana plate on the rented trailer and is expecting me to buy him off. I shout, "It's a TRUCK WAITING LINE! I'M A TRUCK! Sign is right up there! TRUCK WAITING LINE!"
"YOU NEED TO MOVE THIS THANG!"
"I AM NOT MOVING! CALL THE COPS!"
He pauses halfway up the trailer length and then stops. Reconsiders. Turns and walks back up to 11th Avenue and I'm thinking, "Can this guy really think he's gonna make a living intimidating over-the-road truckers?"
Our city permit limits our downtown minutes and when we're legal at eight o'clock we hook around on 12th Avenue -- the Lincoln Highway -- to 40th Street, head east and pull a carefully daring left swing onto the jam-packed Avenue of the Americas. Another cautious left onto 43rd Street and then mosey quietly up to the fourteen front doors of the Town Hall. People come out of the show in a good mood. Some pose by our curbside door for small portraits. In less than two hours the castered closets, bins and chests of heavy gear and cable will be shoved up the ramp and cleated tight to the walls, the rear doors swung closed and the ramp stowed in the underbelly.
Hank's big 550 Caterpillar diesel rumbles to life again and we move slowly, like a sleek bride, into the bright lights of Times Square. His big moment, the double line of marker lights across the cab top like a great bright wedding bouquet.
The westbound return ride is a lot like the eastbound one except no massive clotting at the Washington Bridge. This time the goo is in Chicago. The truck route leading to the magic runaround of city misery is under construction and I miss the teeny sign for the single-lane detour to it -- I saw no leadup signage clues -- and it ended up costing three hours of groaning through the mess in low gear, just like old times.
The showtime romantics who write songs about the glamorous glories of the various big cities are probably not the same people who make a living driving the necessary big trucks into them.
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Our man of all images, Mr. Fred Newman, can take you to the zoo, the aviary, the ocean, the arctic, the savannah, the jungle, the street, the junkyard; a ballroom in a mansion or a barroom in a desert. He can do all this with a sense of humor and a microphone.
And if that isn't enough he can take you to Mickey's Diner in downtown St Paul. With a paintbrush. The beautiful Church of the Assumption is in the background:
Mickey's Diner; painting by Fred Newman
I was there recently. Maybe Fred was at home painting it at the same time. And that's me in the window.
© Russ Ringsak 2014