|BEGINNING AS A TEENAGER, CAROLE KING, (1942-PRESENT), WAS A HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL SONGWRITER. LATER, SHE STARTED TO PERFORM AND HER MUSIC BECAME THE SOUNDTRACK OF A GENERATION.|
For a short while, there was some real doubt whether we'd actually make it to the show. But first, a little backstory.
In the summer of 1969, two friends and I were walking to "the pool," aka, the Seaview Pool and Yacht Club, (for the sake of accuracy, please be aware that due our fourteen year-old mentality, "yacht" should be pronounced to rhyme with, botched).
Halfway there, a shiny, old, black car slowed to a stop, (I was a kid, so beyond knowing a jalopy from a Rolls Royce, my knowledge as an autophile was limited). A smiling man, smoking a stogie called out, "What's the only thing that's important in life?" My friend J answered, "Parking spots." The man said, "Bee-yoo-tee-full! You remembered. Now tell your buddies; a man shouldn't be judged because of his character, a man should be judged by the quality of his parking spaces."
The big car whipped around the corner. I said, "What was that all about?" J said, "That's Bobby V's dad." S, my other friend whispered, "Was that really Joe Vanilla, the Patron Saint of Parking Spaces?"
I knew only Bobby V. as being my friends' friend but I never heard of Joe Vanilla. Apparently, on their side of Canarsie, Joe Vanilla was a household name. Still, most adults avoided him or claimed they didn't know this shady character. That's why back then, Joe Vanilla was what we call today, an urban legend.
Joe Vanilla, (before he was arrested), was a mythical spirit like Robin Hood. Except in their section of my neighborhood, if something fell off a truck and you knew a guy, who knew a guy, that second guy giving you the incredible deal, was usually Joe Vanilla.
During my budding puberty, I wasn't savvy to anything that resembled the Witness Protection Program. But that's what it seems like now because Joe indeed vanished and his own son never confided in his friends as to the situation his dad was in or his whereabouts.
This level of criminal behavior was heroic to my moronic, young mind. I listened with great interest as J shared what he knew. I found out that Joe had a scrap metal business in Staten Island. But because he was "connected," (associated with mobsters), he earned a lot more selling untaxed cigarettes and whiskey as well as a wide range of "hot" items.
J ended with, "We all thought Joe was in jail...maybe he made other arrangements...either way, he has the mark of the squealer." I said, "What?" J said, "There's tons of people out to get him, so he shouldn't be driving around in that thing."
On a subsequent trip to the same club without Bobby, we circled the neighborhood for forty minutes Until someone had the good sense to say, "It's time to pray to Joe Vanilla, the Patron Saint of Parking Spaces." Strange but true, a minute later we found a spot...of course the ten-block walk to the disco in those damned platform shoes was so far that we should have taken a cab.
Down through the years, I have enlisted the help of the Patron Saint of Parking Spaces often enough that my wife Sue uses it too.
Sue and I, with parking issues in mind have a private joke that in our thirty-two years of living in South Jersey, we have NEVER had a sit-down dinner in Philadelphia, (she has...without me).
I have written other blogs that concern my unrealized attempts to have dinner in a Philadelphia restaurant...the common theme to those failures were...parking.
My parking ineptitude in Philly took an interesting positive turn when Sue and I flew to Hawaii, in December 2015. While in the planning stages, a stranger overheard me grousing about the cost of airport parking and said, "Google Philadelphia off-site airport parking."
He was right. His random act of kindness saved me close to a hundred dollars. On the computer, there were several nearby places (usually hotels), that allow you to park on their premises and provide shuttle service to and from the airport. Our choice was located ten minutes away in, Essington.
Four months later, Sue bought tickets to see, "BEAUTIFUL," the musical about singer, songwriter Carole King's life. Sue used the similar idea by googling, parking in Center City Philadelphia. The result was an incredibly low (pre-paid) rate of $16.00 that would be valid from 3:30PM until 3:30AM.
The luxury of guaranteed parking inspired us to stop the thirty-two year jinx of never having a sit-down dinner in the city of brotherly love. But it wouldn't be blogworthy if there weren't any ifs.
Sue's GPS easily got us to Center City at 4:30. Despite the heavy rush hour traffic, at crawling speed, we found Locust Street, (where our parking lot was). However, the geniuses who put-up the garage's web-page failed us, in three key ways. First, the business name and the corporate name were different. Second, two rival parking lots were on the same street. Third, despite having the address on our receipt, building numbers along the street were impossible to find.
By design, we were early for a relaxing dinner, so time was in our favor. Still, it was hyper-annoying to unnecessarily go around the block...only to find out that you can't make a legal left turn there. So our bumper-to-bumper circle back for a second try, took an eternity.
To the annoyance of the drivers behind me, to make an informed guess, I inched back up Locust Street. I saw all three garages on the left side of the street and said, "I wish I was wearing a 'WWJVD' bracelet. Sue grinned after I added, "It's a 'What would Joe Vanilla do,' bracelet."
|WHO WOULDN'T WANT SPIRITUAL GUIDANCE WHEN STRUGGLING TO PARK.|
I took an impulsive ,calculated risk and pulled into the middle lot. But there wasn't a human to speak with. I balked about pushing the button for a ticket because I had pre-paid and was afraid if I was in wrong place, I 'd get charged ten bucks just to make a U-turn. Luckily a worker spotted me. He didn't give a shit and insisted I continue in. Before I took the ticket, I made him assure me that even though the web-site name and the business name on the wall didn't match...that they were the same outfit.
Once inside this claustrophobic garage that was probably built in the 1930's, I was directed to take the spiral ramp to the roof. It was a tight squeeze and there were no mirrors to assist in seeing oncoming drivers. So I naturally hugged the right wall. Seconds later, a woman coming down (too fast) was heading right for us. I slammed on the brake. Like a scene from a horror movie, the giggly bitch swerved back into her lane without hesitating. We really, really came close to not having our long overdue dinner Philly that night.
Our hearts were thumping out of our chest when we finally parked, (my instinct was to kiss the ground but the pavement was too filthy). Downstairs at the exit, life became good again, we could see our show's venue a half block away, the Academy of Music.
It was a "beautiful" night, so we didn't mind taking blind stabs in the dark, trying to find a restaurant. We read several menus before ending my three-decade dinner schneid in Philadelphia, at Prieta's, a lovely Italian restaurant/bar, on Walnut Street, between 18th and 19th.
Outside the Academy of Music, I busted on Sue because 94.8% of the crowd waiting to get in were seventy or older, (with 94.8% of them being women). My jibes were forgotten when the doors to the lobby opened. I felt like I was hobnobbing with royalty because it was that stunningly "beautiful." The rich and wonderful feeling continued inside when my eyes feasted on the classic theater.
The show grabbed my interest immediately and never let go. The only reasons I got restless was because halfway through the first act, I had to pee and I didn't want to miss anything. Plus I was scouting out two other empty seats because my partial obstruction of the stage was too distracting and more than I thought I could overlook.
|MY SEAT WASN'T THIS BAD. BUT BAD ENOUGH TO MAKE US MOVE (SUCCESSFULLY) AFTER INTERMISSION. I GOT AN ADDED BONUS OF AN AISLE SEAT THAT HELPED ME STRETCH MY PREVIOUSLY CRAMPS LEGS.|
"Beautiful" received rave reviews both on Broadway and in Philly. Carole King's story is reflected as the timeliness of her life influenced by her music, (Sue and I saw "JERSEY BOYS," last year and that great show used a similar formula). Despite catering to a female audience, I loved this show. I never realized that Carole King's songwriting talent was so vast and important. The deeper message is going beyond mere survival and attaining greatness. The audience truly appreciated that when they find out why after always shunning the limelight of performing...she became one of the all-time greats.
In using Joe Vanilla's famous quote, it's fair to say that "BEAUTIFUL," was, "Bee-yoo-tee-full." Later, the joy continued as Sue and I investigated the length of Ms. King's famous songs that she wrote for others, (to feel the same rush, just google her).
Back at the garage, we discovered that the whole audience also parked there. Maybe the Joe Vanilla parking movement is gaining momentum too? Still, it took forever to get out but at least our lives were never put at risk. The usually tedious ride home flew by as Sue played Carole King music from her phone and read aloud about her well-accomplished life.