Monday, September 28, 2009

SERIAL LITTERING ALONG ZZYZX ROAD

In my day (1979-1984), the traditional jumping-off point when driving to Los Angeles from Las Vegas was the Tropicana Avenue on-ramp for Interstate-15. This spot was highlighted by a mileage sign that read: L.A. 285 miles. So distance-wise, you knew immediately what you were against.

Due to the time factor, bordem plays a major role in this journey. So, unless this was your first trek across the desert, the scenery is a repetitious blend of brown deadness surrounded by dull, barren mountains. Nevertheless, within a half-hour, even rookies are ready for a nap before they pass the prison hamlet of Jean. Beyond that, the next incorporated town...which is only a dot on the map, is aptly called Stateline. Its at that spot that the Nevada portion of the trip ends. In the blink of an eye, you zoom by the two dusty, miniature casinos squashed inside the border as you enter California.

Despite its Utopian reputation for lush fruit orchards, fertile valleys, Pacific beaches and big cities, California's eastern side is dominated by deserts. And the bulk of the next three and a half hours to LA-LA-Land will be dominated by the nothingness.

100 miles into the trip, the excitement mounts as you near the thriving megalopolis of Baker. Boasting a Denny's, McDonald's AND a coffee shop in the Husky Truck Stop, this two gas station town, complete with a single flashing yellow traffic light, has billboards all along I-15, proclaiming Baker to be the: Gateway to Death Valley. I'm not certain that's something to be proud of...however, it is the first oasis since Vegas. So, whether you're burnt-out from the road, have a legitimate need for a pit stop or just want to fluff-up your butt, this opportunity is rarely passed-up by travelers.

Five minutes before Baker, just when the thought of being there has everyone agog...anticipating the experience of 113 degrees, you pass the oddest sign. At first you try to recall the spelling...then try to pronounce it. Inside the truck stop, you ask the chubby waitress the same question she's answered 10 thousand times, "Can you tell me about Zzyzx Road?"
WHEN YOU HAVEN'T SEEN A TURN-OFF OR MUCH OF ANYTHING ELSE FOR 80 MILES, CURIOSITY OVER THIS SIGN IS QUITE NATURAL. ALSO, THE 2006 MOVIE, "ZYZZYX ROAD," (note the different spelling), STARRING KATHERINE HEIGL DOES DEAL WITH THE SAME ZZYZX ROAD.

My waitress opened by correcting the pronunciation: "Zee-ZIX."

I can understand why a waitress or anyone in the hospitality business might become sarcastic. First, being sardonic is not an offensive weapon. Its a defense mechanism designed to protect against...in this case, the annoyance of being forced to respond to the same stupid question over and over. On the other hand, the most industrious souls, especially those who work directly for their own tips, have put them self into an interesting position by insulating the sarcasm with cleverly devised lies. The double benefit here is...she comes off as sincere and receives a more generous gratuity while entertaining the troops and giving impetus to a budding urban legend.

That's what my waitress did. After she confirmed the pronunciation she said, "To the naked eye, it looks like Zzyzx Road don't lead nowhere but..." She then rattled off quite a fantastic yarn. Down through the years, I have spread the word and have also heard many other versions it. That's why I always believed her story to be the McCoy. Nevertheless, 29 years later, I decided to find an objective source. After exhaustive research, I announce to you, the TRUE truth regarding the settlement called Zzyxz.

Numero Uno...it was NOT where NASA had a friendly close-encounter of the third kind with aliens from Planet Xenon. Part Deux...it was NOT a sex, drugs and rock 'n roll infested hippie commune and thirdly, at NO point did it serve as a hideout for Charles Manson and his legion of zombie-like, serial littering followers.

ITS A PROVEN FACT THAT LESLIE VAN HOUTON, LYNETTE "SQUEAKY" FROMME AND THE REST OF THE MANSON GIRLS HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH CRAPPING-UP THE MOHAVE DESERT WITH GARBAGE.

Actually...prior to 1944, the area was called Soda Springs. It attracted mainly elderly tourists who sought the therapeutic advantages of its natural spa. Back then, access was almost completely limited to rail service. Earlier, it was a watering stop for stagecoach lines and wagon trains.

In the early part of the 20th century, Soda Springs became an important prehistoric quarry, specializing in the recovery of ancient native American items. Later, salt mining became an important local industry as well as associated mills.

After 1944, Curtis Howe Springer took control of the enterprise and renamed it, "Zzyzx Mineral Spring and Health Spa.". He chose the word Zzyzx for the sole purpose of inventing the last entry in the dictionary. Due to tax problems and misuse of the land, he lost control in 1974 and the federal government seized the property. It's been overwhelming uninhabited until 1976. That's when the state university system was permitted to put its Desert Studies Center there.

In the heart of San Bernadino County, the entire four and half mile ride on Zzyzx Road from I-15 is still only partially paved. Despite providing no roadside services, curiosity seekers are still always welcome. It won't exactly be a Kodak moment but the remnants of the old mines and mills are still there. Plus, you can also check-out Lake Tuendae which is known as the home of the nearly extinct Mohave tui chub (fish). And if you're completely lifeless...the area code is (760), the zip code is 92309 and Baker...the Gateway to Death Valley...is seven miles north.

Monday, September 21, 2009

HOW DO YOU SAY, "THE THIRD TIME IS THE CHARM," IN CHINESE?"

EDITOR'S NOTE - The irony is striking...I ended a week of constipation, in of all places, the Wo Hop Restaurant's men's room, in NYC's Chinatown.

Twice in the last six years, I have had disastrous (well...unpleasant might be more accurate), trips to Chinatown. On October 13, 2008, this column addressed these misspent adventures from October 2003 and July 2006 in a piece called, "NOTHING SAYS COLUMBUS DAY...LIKE CHINESE FOOD."

Since that last time being burnt, I actually considered taking Chinatown trips off my to-do menu-of-life. Luckily, this past Friday, my son Andrew had no school on my day-off, so we were free to gamble and give C-Town one more chance.

Under threatening skies and a stinging raw wind, we left South Jersey armed with foul weather gear. A sprinkle or two couldn't dampen our spirits as we persevered north, on the Garden State Parkway past the exit for Herbertsville. Later, in an unlikely turn of events, the bright sun greeted us on the Outerbridge Crossing as we entered Staten Island (New York's last frontier). By the time we got to Brooklyn to visit my mom, a beautiful day had thrust itself upon us.

My mom loves Chinatown and was disappointed that she couldn't join us. But she was more green with envy when we said that we also going to the San Gennaro feast in Little Italy...especially because she'd be missing out on her favorite, "rum baba" from Ferrara's Bakery.

One of the tell-tale scars of previous Chinatown debacles was the curse of parking. This time we made an unsuccessful, preliminary sweep of Mott Street, (the heart of Chinatown). Then went off the beaten-track. With kismet on our side, we quickly found a legal, free spot on Henry Street. The weather was so pleasant that we wished we were wearing shorts and tee-shirts for the ten block walk to lunch.

Our favorite restaurant in Chinatown is Wo Hop, (it translates to... harmonious union). Established in 1938...with few added amenities since, this 24-hour Cantonese-style eatery occupies the basement at 17 Mott Street.
NO! I AM NOT STANDING IN A HOLE...IT'S ONE FLIGHT DOWN TO THE PALATIAL PARADISE.

Almost lost in their photo clad and graffiti scribbled walls, I noticed a blue-ribbon poster boasting Wo Hop as; "THE BEST CHINESE RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD!" And they get no argument from me. My cronies and I have been braving long lines up their outdoor steps, in all kinds of weather, since in mid-70's. While its true I have strayed to a few wannabes over the years, these days, I wouldn't think of eating anywhere else in C-Town.
Due to previous difficulties, Andrew hasn't eaten there since he was four. So it was a new experience. He loved what he ordered, (Egg Drop Soup, General's Chicken and fried rice) as well as everything he sampled from our plates...he especially liked the tasty, giant soup noodles and the thinner-styled duck sauce.
WOULD YOU LIKE AN AFTER-DINNER MINT? ...IT'S WAFER THIN !
He even drank the hot Chinese tea without sugar and called it the best too! His appreciation was proven when he spent 15 minutes in the restroom...texting his friends to describe the "culinary orgy."
THE BUSTLE OF CHINATOWN NEVER ENDS

I used their bathroom facilities too...but I didn't text anyone. I was strictly business and I'm happy to report that in regard to cleanliness...Wo Hop scored a vast improvement. Since my last visit, their "sparkling" toilet area jumped all the way up to a "1" on the "1 to 10" scale...with 10 being the highest.
DURING CHINESE NEW YEAR, MOTT STREET GETS EVEN CRAZIER.

To walk off our meal, we searched and found the "chicken" arcade. This arcade got its nickname because you could pay a quarter to watch a live "dancing chicken" or play tic-tac-toe against a different live chicken. Since we were there last, PETA, the Board of Health or common-sense put an end to that. We also cruised through the ubiquitous tee-shirt shops and souvenir stands...Andrew bought-up some gifts and mementos.
SHORTLY AFTER THIS PHOTO WAS TAKEN, WE WERE ASKED TO LEAVE AFTER HE KNOCKED A DISPLAY DOWN WITH A TOY SAMURAI SWORD.
Then we crossed the great ethnic cultural divide called Canal Street and walked one block west to Mulberry Street. Before turning the corner, the first wisps of deliciousness wafted their way into our self-consciousness. The first full-blown whiffs of fried onions, sausage etc are almost overwhelming. For the next eight blocks, the heart of Little Italy is turned into a gastronomic pedestrian mall.
THE FEAST COMMEMORATING SAN GENNARO, THE PATRON SAINT OF NAPLES ITALY BEGAN IN NYC ON SEPTEMBER 18, 1926. ORIGINALLY, IT WAS A ONE-DAY ROMAN CATHOLIC RELIGIOUS CELEBRATION, "ORGANIZED" BY FOUR "RIVAL" COFFEEHOUSE OWNERS. THE OBSERVANCE WAS AND STILL IS HIGHLIGHTED BY A CANDLELIT PROCESSION THAT CARRIES A STATUE OF SAN GENNARO ALONG MULBERRY STREET AND BACK TO, "THE CHURCH OF THE MOST PRECIOUS BLOOD." TODAY, DUE TO COMMERCIALIZATION, THE HOLIDAY HAS GOTTEN SO BIG THAT IT HAS EXPANDED TO 11 DAYS AND ONTO EVERY SIDE-STREET IT TOUCHES.
Nearly every inch of the way is crammed with extensions into the street of existing restaurants. Added to that, booths, kiosks and tents sell everything related to Italian food. Throw in a marching band, parades, carnival rides, side-show attractions, the occasional non-food vendor and you have the San Gennaro Feast.
THE SAN GENNARO FEAST IS CELEBRATED EVERY SEPTEMBER. ITS HARD TO BELIEVE, IT GETS MUCH BUSIER AT NIGHT. ALSO, THE MAGIC OF HOLLYWOOD REALLY DIDN'T HAVE TO EMBELLISH MUCH WHEN THEY FILMED "THE GODFATHER PART TWO." IN THOSE SCENES, DON CORDELEONE IS A YOUNG MAN ON THE ACTUAL MULBERRY STREET DURING THE SAN GENNARO FEAST.

While there, our eyes popped out of our heads and our taste buds followed as we strolled past the sea of temptation. I even regretted our great lunch because I wanted to eat everything I was seeing. Soon, we took our last picture of food, did a little more shopping and as we began to peter-out...it was time to decide where (and what) to have for dessert.

AS THE DAY TURNED TO NIGHT THE CRUSH OF TOURISTS MULTIPLIED.

We slipped into Ferrara's Bakery and went cannoli-happy. We also got an assortment of pastries for friends back home. Our cannoli-fueled walk through Chinatown back to the car went fast except for my detour to Chattam Square to photograph the famous the statue of Confucius. You can imagine my shock when we got there...the statue was some other "unknown" dude. At least nobodies feet were killing them, so I only got a little teased.
Yes, the third time was the charm! The trip went so well that the hour-long cross-town jaunt just to get to the Holland Tunnel couldn't deter our warm afterglow.

Monday, September 14, 2009

THE SKY IS FALLING...IN THREE YEARS.

I just got an E-Mail from Chicken Little. In it, he said the boy who cried, "WOLF!" "twittered" him and apparently, the sky is falling again...UGH!

In an ensuing phone call C. L. said, "Yes, its later than you think, the end is near...its time to repent! The cataclysm is officially upon us."
REPENT TO WHO? CHICKEN LITTLE CALLS HIMSELF, "HALF AGNOSTIC, HALF ATHEIST AND HALF CYNIC."

"So that means," I countered, "its time to; re-stock the bomb shelter with water, can goods and Twinkies, arm to the teeth, vulcanize your ark and invest in a second set of solar panels."

Gulp! I couldn't believe the knucklehead said, "Yes! And and before the flood waters rise, you should start sizing up the folks you want on your boat...because the re-birth of humanity might rest in your hands."

ECONOMICS WILL BE THE LEAST OF OUR WORRIES !

"Money," he said, "will be useless. Raw precious metals, gasoline and batteries will become the coin of the realm..." I cut him off, "Yeah, yeah I saw that episode of the 'TWILIGHT ZONE' that was the one with Wally Cox and Buddy Ebsen." "Your not taking me seriously..." I said, "No I am not."

Chicken Little informed me of the impending apocalypse. He was kind enough to tell me that the annihilation of the world as we know it is coming. AND! it would occur...2012. I said, "2012? How can you be so sure?" He was dazzling my mind with numerous profound negative examples of the number 12 when he explained, "The bloodiest battle of the War of 1812 happened in 1813." When my jaw dropped he continued, "And you don't need me to remind you that the Titanic sunk in 1912." "That's it?" I said, "You're basing Armageddon on that?" "No!" he stated, "there's more." "Wait," I said, "don't you see what's happening right now with the swine flu 'epidemic?' A gazillion people die from regular flu every year and it's just tough toe-nails...but two die from swine flu and its time to run for your lives. Don't you understand it only takes one media moron to get the ball rolling and its Y2K and the killer bees again." He whispered, "The Mayan calendar is the key." I thought my head was going to explode from his spewed rantings. Then he ended this tirade with, "The Mayan calendar ends in 2012."

WITH COUNTLESS LUNATIC FRINGE GROUPS OUT THERE, THE CLAIM OF EARTH'S DEVASTATION COMES A FEW TIMES EACH DECADE !

I try to remain supportive of my friends but I couldn't help but laugh. He didn't appreciate my attitude and added, "Don't be fooled. There will be few survivors this time around...and you'll want to be prepared...it was predicted by Nostradamus." "I hate to burst your bubble," I said, "but the percentage of accurate Nostril-damus predictions are especially low." He said, "His name is pronounced Nostradamus." I said, "No. He was actually Dutch and its pronounced Nostril-damus. Back in the 1500's, in one of the few times in history when it was cool to be French, Nostril-damus passed himself off as a Parisian. Really check it out. They all thought he was a weirdo with all his far fetched quatrains and started busting on him because the sides of his nose were especially fleshy. Back then, the French didn't have a single word for nostril. So they would describe that body part as...the sides of your nose. But because he was such a wacko, his critics used it as an insult and eventually named it after him. After he died and became famous, the word nostril was considered a tribute."

Chicken Little tried to change the subject. I interrupted, "The end of the world is a great money maker. People come up with clever gimmicks, write books or sell survival equipment to get rich quick. Others just like the spotlight on them and hope to become famous. The true profiteers recognize this weakness in our society and prey on irrational fear. If this fear is allowed to fester, hysteria takes over and the guy who got in on the 'ground floor' selling phosphorescent-colored, radio-activity de-naturizers...laughs all the way to the bank.

"No!" Chicken Little asserted, "I read the charts and Saturn will be in perfect alignment with Uranus during the vernal equinox in 2012." I said, "Have you checked 2012's bio-rhythms, it's numerology, had a tarot card reading, experienced a remote viewing or checked your theory against the time travel continuum?" Chicken Little said, "Hey, I may not be able to explain it, but when you're swallowed up by the blight, don't come cryin' to me." I said, "This virtual end to mankind...will it be sudden or gradual?" He said, "Gradual...I told you, its gonna be a flood." "How big is the boat you're building?" "My friend has a boat...I'm in charge stockpiling batteries.." "Oh. Have you started a bucket-list?" "Yeah, I want to have sex in every state between now and then." I said, "Really?" He said, "I have a head start, I already took care of Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Florida. And on my vacation next month, I'm driving to Topeka, to hook-up with this fireplug I met on-line." When I smirked he added, "I also want to learn conversational Latin and get on the 'Twenty-Thousand Dollar Pyramid!'"
I wonder if he realizes he has a better shot at learning Latin?

THE MAYAN CALENDAR, ETCHED IN STONE ENDS IN 2012.

Chicken Little is investing too much of his faith in this. Couldn't it be just possible that the Mayans took the calendar as far into the future as they could. Isn't it possible that it coincidentally ends three years from now. After all its a great gimmick and sells books, creates TV shows etc. Now, I know its a heavy object but have the end-of-worlders lifted one of these babies up and checked the reverse side? Maybe we have another twelve hundred years. And what about the sides, I bet they could cram a few centuries there too. And perhaps if they were as advanced a civilization as we've been led to believe...I bet if the archeologists kept digging...they'd find built-in adapters to add extensions. Hell, hockey players are far from geniuses but the have invented adapters to add rings to the Stanley Cup. THE STANLEY CUP CONTINUES TO GROW (notices the 5 bottom tiers) AS TO INCLUDE THE PLAYER NAMES OF EACH YEAR'S NHL CHAMPIONS.

My answer to Chicken Little and you too, is the sky IS NOT falling. Relax, have a nice glass of celery soda (CEL-RAY) and enjoy life. The exception being, if you see the angle, create the nonsense widget, put a price tag on it and laugh all the way to the bank.

Monday, September 7, 2009

BOOB THE BOWMAN

It's hard to believe but I have come to associate the humble and graceful helicopter flying over my town with nothing but negativity.
HELICOPTERS ARE BEST USED AS A RICH MAN'S COMMUTER SERVICE OR FOR TOURISM...LIKE THE GRAND CANYON.

I have been power walking for over ten years. I get out a few times each week in different directions for about fifty minutes. During this period, I recall three times that helicopters were over head...unfortunately, none of them turned out well.

Some folks see me as a knucklehead as I chug by but I have far more regulars who wave or give me words of encouragement. Also, friendly car-honkers who I rarely recognize cheer me on as well.

Aside from the exercise, my main goal on these jaunts is to gather my thoughts for blogs etc.,while avoiding pot-holes and other roadside obstacles that lie in wait. I think this aversion to injury prevents me from seeing a lot of the local natural beauty. For the uninitiated, my neighborhood, (Galloway), plucked out of idyllic suburbia, is chock-full-of wildlife. Most of the live wildlife I see are birds. I may not be a birder (bird-watcher) but when I'm not striding around pot-holes, I do appreciate seeing hawks zooming through the forest canopy, circling ospreys or majestic flocks of Canadian geese in formation. I once even saw a pair of turkey-buzzards ripping apart a deer carcass. Also, I get to see many other smaller birds who stray from a nearby sanctuary.

WITH THE ATLANTIC CITY SKYLINE IN THE BACKGROUND, THE EDWIN B. FORSYTHE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, THE HOME OF 332 BIRD SPECIES,
IS LOCATED 2 MILES FROM MY HOUSE IN OCEANVILLE.


About nine years ago as I walked down great Creek Road, an eastbound whirlybird cut across the noontime sky. I gave it no thought until about a half hour later, when it re-appeared and sped-off in the opposite direction. Days later I learned that a schoolmate of my son Andrew was air-lifted to the head trauma unit of Jefferson Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. The helmet-less boy survived a head-on quad-cycle collision with a tree. Although this kid leads a mostly normal life now, he lost his hearing in one ear and has poor short-term memory. It should be noted that the sixteen year-old quad driver lost a leg in that accident.

Three years ago, on Reeds Road as I set off for my walk on, I witnessed a "routine" traffic stop on Wrangleboro Road. Before the officer got out, a second police car arrived. The second officer stood poised off to the side, behind the perpetrator's vehicle, as the first policeman approached. Suddenly, the violator shifted into reverse, floored the accelerator and made a sweeping burnt-rubber 270 degree angle U-TURN back onto Wrangleboro. In addition to scaring the crap out of me, he sideswiped a passing car before jumping the curb ala "THE DUKES OF HAZARD." The cops hurried into their car's as the desperado disappeared into the Sunrise sub-division across the street.

I knew there was only one way out of that complex so I gave the chase scene no more thought. On my way home, a chopper was hovering over Sunrise before it started a circular search pattern. Despite the entire Galloway PD plus the helicopter in pursuit, he still got away, (temporarily).

The third incident occurred a week ago (August 31st) which was the first day at Absegami High. "Gami" is half a mile from my house and it's close enough for my "sophomoric" son Andrew to walk there. The school opened extra early this year because a new high school (Cedar Creek) is opening on the other side of the district in 2010. So the administrators want to end this year early so that they maximize their time next summer to iron-out any last minute kinks for Cedar Creek.

At 9:30 that morning, I was power-walking to Jimmie Leeds Road when I first noticed the copter. Four times, it criss-crossed the sky until I headed home. On my street, I crossed paths with my bike riding neighbor BOOB. I remember he was wearing his goofy, signature-statement blue do-rag. As documented in my column several times, BOOB and I have had our differences down through the years so I didn't ask him if he knew anything about the helicopter.
Shortly there after at 10:45, the phone rang. It was a recorded message from the Absegami principal. In it, parents were made aware that the school had been in "lock-down" due to an undisclosed problem outside the school. My son is no stranger to school evacuations...there have been several bomb-threats and weapon searches since entering middle school. So I guessed that some jerky student feeling robbed of the last week of summer trumped-up some situation to get out of school.

When Andrew returned that afternoon, he had no specifics. We were left to guess until the Tuesday morning PRESS OF ATLANTIC CITY came. Dan Good's article on the first page of the region section was entitled, "BICYCLIST WITH BOW AND ARROW DISRUPTS ABSEGAMI'S FIRST DAY." Here are some excerpts: A bicyclist with a bow and arrow rode onto the school's parking lot. Security asked him to leave and the bicyclist yelled, "You can't make me leave, I built this school." Later, a second security guard spotted this man on a bench near the JV baseball field and described him as, 50-60 years old, medium build, long beard, in a tan shirt and blue bandanna.

The guard called for back-up when the cyclist reused to leave. After the call, he fled into a wooded area along the Garden State Parkway on a silver mountain bike. Soon there after, the Galloway police, assisted by Egg Harbor Township police K-9 unit, Richard Stockton College police, the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office and New Jersey State Police helicopter were called in to search...unsuccessfully for him.

My wife read the article and said, "This nut sounds like BOOB." I said, "I think you're right. I saw him on his bike that morning but without a bow and arrow." Throughout the next day, we debated our civic duty. The main sticking point was, we had no idea of what kind or color his bike was. But we knew first-hand of his odd-ball tendencies and anger management issues. In Thursday's paper there was a follow-up article entitled, "BOW AND ARROW BICYCLIST TURNED HIMSELF IN AFTER READING STORY."

BOOB was in fact the culprit although his account of the story makes him out to be the victim. Nevertheless, he faces disorderly conduct charges but feels, "It's not fair to even hand me a trespassing ticket." IT'S INCOMPREHENSIBLE THAT ANYONE...EVEN A BOOB LIKE BOOB (AFTER ALL, HE'S A PARENT TOO) WOULD BE BOW AND ARROW TARGET PRACTICING AROUND A SCHOOL.

Additionally, I guess BOOB THE BOWMAN would also have to "foot the bill" for mobilizing so many law enforcement agencies while disrupting the school day and scaring many students, parents etc. I hope he pays dearly...but most of all I hope the little light bulb in his equally tiny brain finally lights up and helps him learn a valuable lesson in humanity.