Memory Motel

Some memories of people are etched in our minds. Some of places. And, some memories have both.

It was a rainy day, exactly as forecast. I enjoyed sleeping late that morning at my airbnb in Lee, Massachusetts. I had decided that after 10 days on the road and only 3 more to go to complete my Reunion Tour, it would be wise to avoid riding my bike through the light, steady rain.

25 Housatonic Street is conveniently located near the town center and is large enough for to host at least a few guests in some old period rooms as well as accommodate the owner’s family and grandkids on an occasional visit. Definitely not a motel. It was, as they claimed in the airbnb listing, “Comfortable Living in 1870’s House”.

Trivets from the three states that meant the most to me appeared on the table. A good sign, indeed.

I was sitting alone in a shared guest area that offered coffee, food, and information. There were obviously lots of memories made and shared in this home. The creaky floors and the numerous tsotchkes here seemed to prove that beyond a doubt. But people make memories and I was fortunate to meet a few.

This house keeps lots of memories frozen in time.

New-Age Kathy

I had met Kathy yesterday when I arrived. She was also a guest for the upcoming week, here for the Women’s Week program at Kripalu in nearby Stockbridge. It is the largest yoga retreat in North America. Her upbeat conversation reflected my understanding that this area of the Berkshires is known for its new-age thinking. She had come to gain a new enlightenment, become an instructor and to meet up with other yoga friends. Later, she said the program was everything she expected and more.

Biker Debbie

Later that day I met Dave and Debbie, who were my thoughtful and friendly hosts. Debbie was probably near my age and had been a competitive cyclist who also organized mountain biking races in the Kingdom Trails Burke Mountain area for several years – where I had visited a few days ago. It was obvious she had lots of old memories of those past glory days. Now, she and her husband still ride on tamer local trails and enjoyed walking. Funny, how easily it can be to relate to memories from people we might not have otherwise met.

Nurse Elizabeth

Sharing coffee and stories with Elizabeth, an inspiration of hard work and persistence.

But, that rainy morning I also met Elizabeth who was a regular boarder here and not your usual airbnb guest. After a friendly greeting I noticed she had a slight European accent. She began to explain she actually lived here 3 days a week to accommodate her job as an emergency room registered nurse in a Pittsfield hospital. Obviously, being an EMT nurse requires a certain type of individual.

You probably know that nurses are in high demand these days but their salaries do not necessarily reflect that. Apparently, Massachusetts hospitals pay much better than upstate New York. Elizabeth’s home is about 25 miles west of Albany so rather than travel 80 miles each way for 3 days, she stays here. This way she can have 4 days off to take care of her home and farm animals.

It turns out Elizabeth was born in Poland in an area known as Galacia that is the same area where my ancestors are from. Yet, her family began their American odyssey first in Bayonne, New Jersey, as many Poles did over the last century. Her family was able to begin immigration in the 1940’s after the war when sympathetic Polish troops allowed Poles to cross the border into Austria despite a Russian blockade. Later, the border closed and the family was denied entry until Glasnost occurred in Russia.

As was the custom of the time and place in Poland, Elizabeth married a neighbor in what might be called a pre-arranged marriage which she fought. Eventually, Elizabeth immigrated and worked through marital difficulties, earned here RN degree and raised three daughters (all now in their 20’s) that are doing very well, including one who is a pre-med student. Her’s is a story of a successful persistent immigrant and of one woman’s strength. I could not help but feel her story is not over yet and wondered what memories were ahead for her.

Lasting Memories

Nearly a week after my stay in Lee, I found myself on a weekend away in the Hamptons with my wife, kids, their spouses and the grandkids. It was to celebrate my wife Mary Ann’s 70th birthday. Yes, we were making our own memories too. Accidentally, a moment came a few days ago that brought a flood of memories back from that day in Lee, MA.

The Memory Motel still creates memories-Montauk Bar/Motel made famous by the Rolling Stones

In 1975 Mick Jagger was escaping a busy schedule of North American shows and a productive period of new music. Mick and Kieth Richards escaped to Andy Warhol‘s Montauk vacation home for a break. During that stay, Mick had a fling with a strong-willed woman. They would later name her as Hannah in a song he and Kieth wrote called the Memory Motel. (lyrics here) Some consider it one of their longest anb best ballads.

It’s speculation that the basis of the song then was Carly Simon, who Mick had a relationship with (Of course, it’s no secret that Carly got back at Mick with her hit single “You’re So Vane“). But the famous photographer Annie Leibovitz was also know as Hannah. So, let’s just say Memory Motel it was about remarkable women.

As we traveled through Montauk, we passed the actual Memory Motel. I did a double-take remembering the name but not realizing its history at the time. Apparently, there’s still a dive bar and beat up motel that lives on as a monument to memories past and those that can still be created.

Just like my stay at 25 Housatonic, some memories are just burned-in and will never leave. Rightly so. Chief among them are hard-headed women that make a difference and special places that we never forget.

A Day in the Magical Kingdom

Experiencing life in the Northeast Kingdom .

I spent two totally enjoyable days with my friend Mike Kennedy and his wife Kristen in Barnet VT, which is in the Harvey Lake area – in the northeast section of Vermont also known as The Northeast Kingdom. Here’s some of the highlights of my first day visiting this special place.

The beauty of having a friend in a far-away place is that you have a built-in desire (maybe a need) to get there someday. I often thought that a visit to see my old high school friend Mike Kennedy might not happen. Afterall, Vermont is an out-of-the-way place. Its on the way to nowhere. Whereas New Jersey always seems to be in the middle of everywhere. Mike had visited my area several times in the past few years.

With the dual personal opportunities of retirement and long distance bike riding, the idea of me visiting Mike seemed to make a lot of sense. And, if not now while I still am healthy and have the time, then when?

Welcome to Vermont

Mike and Kristen are very kind and open people who easily welcomed me to their home. It was an open-ended plan to just crash there for two days. I arrived the evening of October 1 in pretty bad shape from my long 96-mile ride from Burlington across the state and was looking forward to some recovery and company. My objective was to get to know the area and how life was in the part of the country.

Me with Kristen, MIke and Quokka (aka beloved dog)

Building Takes Craft and Sweat

First, a little background on his place. I believe it was about 15 years ago while living in the area, they bought the property with the idea of building a house. To most people, that would mean getting contractors to do the whole thing. But up here it’s often considering first what can be done on your own.

They decided to clear the land, set up temporary shelter and built a house that would surpass most contractors. This house is tightly insulated, has double-thick walls and has a floor heating system, all of which Mike either designed, contracted or installed himself. More work, pain and inconvenience than anyone could imagine. But it’s their effort and sacrifice that made it happen.

Off to the Lake

Mike amd I started my first day there kayaking on Harvey Lake, which is only a few hundred feet from his house. It’s a beautiful vacation area for many who have large lakefront homes. But the area is remote enough that you still cannot get a cell signal.

Today it seemed nearly deserted. We rowed around the lake and looked for loons who spend a great deal of their time under water catching fish and occasionally popping up, honking or flying away. One of Harvey Lake’s claim to fame is it is where Jaques Cousteau made his first dive in deep water that inspired his career.

Harvey Lake – deep and almost famous

Land of The Rich & Famous

After lunch, Mike and I took a ride to the Mount Washington Hotel in nearby New Hampshire to visit this grand hotel and admire the views.

The Mt. Washington Hotel is consider one of “grand hotels” of the area harkening back to the guilded age where the monied class would spend summers with nature and the priveledged. It is also famed for the Bretton Woods meeting that started the InternationaI Monetary Fund (IMF). It is a unique historical site that seems beautiful but out of place in such a raw environent.

Mike has had a fairly regular gig a few times a year playing his Americana music and storytelling there. It would seem a bit offbeat for this kind of place, but this too is a strange blend of basic Vermont living combined with an upper class lifestyle. This day the top of Mt. Washington (supposedly once marked as having the highest speed wind on the planet) was covered with clouds. Still the White Mountains were beyond impressive.

Tonight’s Show

Going back to Mike’s place in Barnet we bought some prepared food and planned to spend the night catching up and listening to music.

Mike is a born performer with a love of all sorts of music but particularly a folkish blend of old folk ballads, bluegrass, countryish songs with lyrics that tell a story. I’d say somewhere between Woodie Gutherie and Wilco.

Mike dubbed the music he favors as “Americana”. Sometimes it’s music with a message and sometimes music with strange old instruments. He talks of legendary local musicians, special venues and times of simply great music. And, I’ve found that same love and respect of music wherever I have gone in Vermont. Maybe its a holdover from those old hippie days that the rest of us have forgotten.

After a few outstanding local craft beers and a lot of singing we called it a night. Tomorrow was another day in the Kingdom.

For me, Vermont holds on to the past but cares about the future. My stay in Vermont reminded me of what’s important. There’s beauty in this struggle with nature.

Visiting Trane

A stay in North Philadelphia turns into a visit with John Coltrane.

It’s always a special treat when serendipity pays a visit. Even more so when there’s music involved.

Exploring North Philly Neighborhoods

I needed to drive to Philadelphia and get an overnight place to stay this past Friday night. Having had some interesting, and mostly rewarding, experiences using Airbnb.com, I searched for a place near Fairmount Park where most of our FreeWalkers’ Philadelphia Marathon Walk would be taking place early Saturday morning. Using Google Maps and Airbnb reviews, I found a place in Brewerytown, a section of North Philly I knew nothing about.

The Airbnb photos and reviews were good for a simple, private room on N 32nd St. and plenty of parking. Best of all the cost was only $50 for the night! But, reading into the listing and reviews there appeared to be two items to reconcile. What was this section of town like? And, what did the possibility of hearing CSX trains at night mean? No reviewer seemed particularly put out by either.

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Overlooking power plant and tracks, Brewerytown is in the middle city skyline in the background.

Using Google Maps, locating the place was easy and close to the highway. You could see  signs that this was a distressed section of town, but also signs of new building among old industry. As you might have guessed, this section of town had been home to dozens of breweries in the past due to its proximity to the Schuylkill River and the German population. Today only one exists – Crime and Punishment Brewing which I unfortunately did not get a chance to visit.

The neighborhood seemed similar to the gentrification I saw recently in Brooklyn. My place was a small front room of a new townhouse close to the street, clean and sparse with all the amenities available. The owner, Tyler, was a young friendly guy and highly rated by Airbnb.

Part of my interest in any Airbnb stay is to explore the area once I get checked in. You could see that this might be a challenge because its a mixed use area with old and new residential as well as industry and converted loft space. Parts looked cool. Parts looked threatening. Using Google Maps again, I decided to take a walk. Fairmont Park was close by. And, then I saw a map bubble for The John Coltrane House. Whoa, I had no idea he was from Philadelphia but I needed to know more.

Finding John Coltrane’s House

That CSX train’s tracks literally separated Brewerytown from another part of North Philadelphia across Girard Avenue and just a few blocks away on 33rd St. Even though this was adjacent to the park, it was literally “on the other side of the tracks” and looked badly neglected. Still there were signs for and about John Coltrane there, beckoning me to find out more. I continued walking to see what tribute was there to honor the great jazz legend.

JohnColtranesignI walked about a mile to an old section of row houses needing repair and saw the home and a marker outside. It read “The John Coltrane House” which is designated as a national monument. This place was formidable for his career where he developed his unique style and worked for a time with Miles Davis. The monument on the street did not reflect the place and the place did not reflect the monument.

John Coltrane
John Coltrane

According to the website John Coltrane House…

During the years (1952-58) that Coltrane lived on N. 33 Street, the house was often referred to as Trane’s House by many Philadelphians who were part of the jazz scene and by local fans that frequented the live music bars and clubs… (stories that) Coltrane played his horn on the front porch and in the park across the street are still told by old timers in the neighborhood.

It would appear there was an effort to renew and revitalize the place in 2012. What happened afterwards? Was it a lack of money or organization?

Coltrane had his bout with drugs and alcohol and moved to New York for his final years. He had recovered from his addictions and produced some of his best works inspired by a spiritual recognition before he died at the age of 40 due to liver failure. Some speculate it was from Hepatitis due to his earlier addictions.

It’s All About the Music

You may not be a jazz enthusiast or musician but I challenge anyone who has ever heard a riff by Coltrane to ever forget it. There is something otherworldly about his tenor sax that experts agree was unique and even spiritual. Here’s a sample of “In a Sentimental Mood” with Duke Ellington.

Let me say that I’m not a jazz expert but more a casual fan. There is something that’s palpably different with a saxophone, especially one so sweet and longing as “Trane” played. Coltrane died much too young but the legend lives on. How lucky am I to just step into the legend? It even forced me to review and learn about his life and music for this piece. I began thinking the old building may not make it but at least his music will.

The Legacy: A Love Supreme

Picture of St John ColtraneOf course, there is one piece that even transcends all his other great work and that is “A Love Supreme“, considered to be among the best jazz music ever recorded. Coltrane’s music was so profound that a church was created as Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco that mixes African Orthodox liturgy with Coltrane’s quotes and a heavy dose of his music.

You can learn more about the making of a “A Love Supreme” and the special jazz talent he worked with at the time here with this NPR piece.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/148148986/147872677

When you begin to see the possibilities of music,
you desire to do something really good for people.” 
-John Coltrane

Bumping into legacy of Coltrane was pure luck…or maybe improvisation? Just as John Coltrane might have played it.

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