Spring 2018 - Heading To The Northeast

Ralph's Blog

Previous     Blog Index     Next

An Early Departure

Winter in Austin is quite fine, especially considering I was born in Buffalo and lived in Rochester for close to 20 years. You won't catch me complaining about an occasional dusting on the ground in an exceptionally cold winter. You will catch me complaining about 100 plus temperatures in an Austin Summer. That being the case, we decided to escape Austin in mid May, early enough to make it to the GottaGetGone, a lovely small folk festival held on Memorial Day in Ballston Spa, NY.

We visited with friends in Arkansas on the way to Nashville, where we toured the famous places in country music. Naturally, we had to visit the The Ryman Auditorium, the original home of The Grand Ole Opry. The building has a fascinating history (follow the link for details) as does the founder, Tom Ryman. That's Judy hanging out with his bronze incarnation outside the building.

We opted for the free tour of the first floor (as opposed to paying to see the other floors) and found Minnie Pearl in bronze, as well as a beautiful auditorium with lots of historical information. The Opry long ago outgrew the Ryman, but it is a wonderful place to visit.

The Country Music Hall of Fame

I lived in a small town in Pennsylvania for six years, where I became a Country Music listener by default - there was only one station available and it played Country Music. Up until then I had pretty much ignored the genre, but there was a lot of good music to listen to there. (Mini-rant - these days Country music all sounds the same to me, but then someone said the same thing about Irish music so I just shut up about it.) I could do with less of the drinkin' and cheatin' stuff, but you don't always get what you want. Just ask the Rolling Stones.

The place reminded me of our visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that we saw last year. Lots of glitz & glamour but with horses, guns and Cadillacs instead of sex and drugs.

The best part was touring RCA Studio B.

That's where the stars of my youth recorded their hits: Elvis, Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer, The Everley Brothers, Ray Price. They had on display the state-of-the-art 3-channel sound board that was used in those early years, which thrilled my techie soul.

In the studio, which was lit with colored lights for mood adjustment at Elvis' personal request, we heard samples of some of the hits produced in that very room. In fact, you can see our guide and us sitting at the very piano Floyd Cramer used to record Last Date, a song that I absolutely loved as a teen.

There's an X taped on the floor where the vocalist stood, so we got a little thrill standing in Elvis' shoes, so to speak.

We only had one day to explore Nashville, so we took one of those tour buses and got the instant overview of the town. Of course we have forgotten all those fascinating facts and bits of trivia we almost absorbed from the guide, but we can say we were there and nod knowingly when someone mentions the home of Country Music.

By the way, we stayed at the Grand 'Ole RV Resort while we visited the Grand 'Ole Opry. Simple things make some people happy.

A Surprise Visit

The reason we only had one day in Nashville was so we could arrive in the small town of Somerset Kentucky on the third Friday of the month. That's when our old friends Joe Lamay and Sherry Reese produce their Third Friday Folk series of concerts.

Naturally, we didn't tell them we would be coming, so the look on their faces when we showed up was priceless. Usually we make arrangements to meet old friends in our travels, but we knew where they would be on that particular day so we had the joy of just dropping in on them without warning.

The show was great (they book some fine regional acts) and they took us to a pretty good pizza joint afterwards. We reciprocated the next day by inviting them over to eat the leg of lamb that had been taking up too much space in our freezer, catching up on all the stuff that had happened since we saw them quite some time ago. A very enjoyable visit.

Having enjoyed our time in Cincinnati on our first trip out we spent a couple of days there, then headed to Ballston Spa for the GottaGetGon. It's great to connect with old friends, especially when there is so much good music involved.

A Tour Of What Used To Be Home

We usually park the RV at a friend's place when we visit Rochester, but that didn't work out this year so I had to try to find alternate accommodations. Much to my surprise, when I tried to find an RV park convenient to Rochester so we could visit the doctors and the friends we left behind for the traveling life I couldn't find one. All the RV parks are an hour or more from Rochester. Having spent our winter months in the South, where its practical to live in an RV when it gets cold, we had gotten used to finding a place to stay near the hub of civilization. With Rochester winters, nobody in their right mind wants to live in an RV with three feet of snow around it, so the RV parks are seasonal and designed for get-away-from-it-all vacations.

So, as silly as it seems to plan a vacation from your retirement, that's just what we did. First off was Robert Tremain Park in Ithaca, where we ran into some trouble - quite literally. I had booked a site we had used several times before, knowing it was easy to back in to. What I didn't know was they had re-graded the site since the last time we were there and the back end of the trailer bottomed out before the wheels made it to the hill. That took out one of the stabilizer legs and left some dents to the body. Naturally the entire park was booked, so we couldn't easily switch sites. We were fortunate that they have an "emergency site" that we could fit into so we were able to stay there after all. All it took was 200 feet of water hose to connect to the nearest faucet to refill the tanks, but we come prepared - no problem.

Since there is a two week limit at the state parks, we moved on to Hamlin Beach, a beautiful park but in a dead zone for call service. We spent a lot of time driving in to the nearest (and that's a relative term, folks) town with a library to use the Internet and make phone calls. Oh yeah - it was time to replace all four tires on the pickup, not unexpected but those things cost a chunk of money.

Once again, we used all of our water hose and hauled the Honey Wagon to the dump site while we were there. We did get some spectacular sunsets over Lake Ontario.

Moving on, we spent a couple of days at Lakeside State Park near Olcott, NY. There we met cousins Brad and Marnie and their grandkids, as well as a whole passel of mermaids. Seems we hit Olcott on the weekend they had their annual Mermaid Madness Parade.

In one of those surprises that you get living the traveling life, we found the Culvert Road Underpass, the only road that goes under the Erie Canal. At 7' 6" clearance it was a good thing we didn't have the RV with us when we discovered it

Next up was Darien Lake State Park, outside Buffalo. That's where we picked up Calvin and Dalton, our grandkids that live only a few minutes from the park. If you're from the area, you will recognize the name Darien Lake as a giant amusement park, but the state park is a quiet and enjoyable place away from the madness of screaming kids on the roller coasters.

That brings us to the Old Songs weekend. The adults spent the weekend listening to the music, the grandkids spent the weekend in the RV playing video games. What can you do with children these days?

We were pleased to see our old friends Barbara and Nadine Dyskart (mother and daughter) performing there as Confluence. Don't try to Google them, you'll get another couple using the same name, but they make beautiful music together.

Our tour continued with Letchworth State Park, where somebody stole my gas can while we toured the inside of the Mount Morris Dam with Calvin and Dalton. I had apparently not re-locked the chain when I took the gas can out while moving things around in the pickup bed.

That brings us to Forth of July weekend and Slugfest. Slugfest is a long-standing gathering of friends who camp out for the week around the 4th to eat and play games. Physical effort is strongly discouraged, thus Slugfest. I have a great collection of T-shirts that Camper Ted designs each year to mark the event. We've missed it on our travels the last few years, it was great to get together with the gang again.

Thus ended our tour of our former home place, handing back the grandkids to their happy and relaxed parents who only grimaced a little to have to cope with them again. I'll add a note that, since I'm writing this a good year after these events: Calvin called us up wondering when we would be back to take them with us again in 2019. He was very disappointed to find we were on the West Coast in Oregon. I wonder if he will be interested in traveling with the old farts when he's sixteen next year.

More Music

Next we headed to Orillia, Ontario for the venerable Mariposa Folk Festival. Sadly, the people who book the festival have lost track of what folk music is and seem to be more interested in increasing the crowd with rock acts, so I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped. Two standouts were Angelique Francis and AJ Croce.

Angelique is a smokin' blues singer with a powerful set of pipes, and she's backed up by her sisters. The 13 year old who played the sax was outstanding. Keep an eye on her, she's going places.

AJ Croce, the son of the legendary Jim Croce is a superb talent on his own, no need to trade on his dad's rep. He knows how to work an audience and kept us enthralled throughout his performance.


We've always enjoyed Toronto (Judy and I honeymooned there) so we scheduled a few days to explore it. We played tourist and took one of the bus tours, where we watched Spiderman wrestling with someone in the park, then rode to the top of the CN tower just to say we had done it.

While there, we found a poster for an actual Air Guitar contest and took a boat cruise through the islands.

Hanging with Friends

Our Canadian friends, Warren and Diane, have been inviting us to their place for some time. Usually, we meet them in Texas where they go to escape the Canadian Winter. We spent a lot of time with them in 2017 when we got evicted from our RV park.

All did not go smoothly, though. Just as we were about to exit the expressway for their place someone pulled up next to us, beeping the horn and pointing to the flat tire on the RV, which I hadn't even felt go out. So We crawled until we could find a safe spot to change the tire, got out the jack and other implements of destruction and I prepared to crawl on my belly under the RV to jack it up.

This is not a joyful experience, even with a 20 ton jack it takes a whole lot of effort to raise 8 tons of trailer high enough to change a tire, especially in 90 weather. As luck would have it, someone pulled up behind us and asked what was wrong, then offered to do the grunt work of jacking. No fool, I happily accepted and between us we got the tire changed. If you need a roofing job done near Cornwall Ontario, call the number on his T-shirt.

Once settled in Warren and Diane's back yard, air conditioner happily humming, we acquired a new set of surrogate grandkids, who were thrilled to have someone new living right outside their front door. We spent a lot of time together reading books and playing games.

We also had our own personal tour guide to Montreal, Diane having grown up there. Did you know that when the Americans invaded and occupied Montreal in 1775, Ben Franklin was tasked with convincing the Canadians to support our revolution. Old Ben didn't succeed, but it seems he did establish the craft of printing in the city.

Warren became our second personal tour guide for Upper Canada Village, a living museum of life in 1860s Ontario. Even though Warren has to tool around in his anachronistic scooter these days, he used to work in the sawmill there so we had a fine time getting the inside story about the place.

Before we left, we went to the Palmer Rapids Twin Music Festival with Warren and Diane. It bills it self as Country and Bluegrass, but the reality seems to be more Beer and Rock oriented sort-of-country, in that order. The Bluegrass was very limited, with the same bands performing the same sets both Saturday and Sunday. However, there was a very interesting piece on Carter Stanley by Gary Reid - worth checking out if it comes your way.

At the end of the festival I learned one more dumb thing you shouldn't do with an RV. As we pulled out the pickup's computer flashed a trailer error message that there was a wiring problem, so I checked everything and couldn't find anything wrong. Two hours later we pulled in at Warren and Diane's place and when I went to unhook the RV the emergency brake switch was on fire. Apparently I had pulled out the switch when I put the gas can for the Generator back in the pickup bed, so I had been driving with the trailer brakes on for the last two hours.

Now I know what that message means - it's time to get new brakes - but there wasn't any place that could do the work in less than a couple of weeks since this was prime RV travel season and everybody else needed work done. I drove very carefully and slowly for the next few weeks.

New England

In our four years on the road we have managed to visit all the states except New England, so this summer our goal was to bring that total to all 48 contiguous states. We figured Hawaii wasn't practical in an RV and Alaska was just too far. Maybe we'll fly there someday.


I won't give you all the details for every destination, but only hit the highlights. We started in Vermont, where I once again proved I'm a lousy sailor. Judy, who practically grew up sailing with her fisherman dad, has a cast-iron stomach. Me - more like a tub of churning acid. Nevertheless, I found the site of the Whistling Man Schooner Company, which at the time had a picture of a much larger boat than it does now. I figured I could make it on a bigger boat, but I was not to find out. We arrived to find a little boat at the dock and boarded despite my misgivings. I made it on the outbound leg without too much problem, but when the captain turned the thing around the sea got just enough rougher that I lost my breakfast over the side while everyone else was nibbling snacks and quaffing wine. My fellow passengers were sympathetic, and I did apologize for messing up the scenery for them.

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire we found another Frank Lloyd Wright house to tour, as well as The McLane Audubon Center.


Our friends Dave & Helga joined us in Bar Harbor Maine to visit Acadia National Park. The first item on our agenda was lobster, and we had barely set up the RV before we found the nearest lobster joint (there are zillions of them!) and indulged ourselves. Delicious!

Here are some random shots, including one more anonymous cute kid.

As proof that some people never learn from experience, I once again boarded a boat - this time a much bigger one - after taking several Dramamine tablets to go and watch whales with Judy. This time I made it without spewing, but even though I took almost 60 pictures of the whales, every darn one of them was of the tail. I plead that I was barely able to stand, let alone focus and point the camera, but really - how bad can your luck get?

During our few days in Portland Maine we found a lovely covered bridge with a bunch of kids having a grand time on a rope swing below it.


One of my favorite stops was when Judy took me to Walden Pond, as in the beloved hideaway of Henry David Thoreau. Before we even started, Judy made friends with some nearby horses and I found a chipmunk munching on a mushroom.

There is an old Jewish tradition of leaving a rock on the gravestone of a loved one, as flowers will die but a rock will survive. I don't know if that's where the tradition of leaving a rock on the site of Thoreau's cabin came from, but, as you can see, there are a lot of rocks piled there. It's a lovely spot to contemplate whatever needs contemplating, although the entire site has been fenced off as its now surrounded by suburbia and no longer a rural retreat. We did meet a very lovely family picnicking as we walked and exchanged cameras to take each other's pictures.

In one of those odd twists of fate, the next attraction we visited was Fort Adams, which is now a state park. Its military aura a stark contrast to the serenity of Walden Pond. Actually, it is a spectacular piece of architecture. We took the extended tour and, riding on the back of a speeding golf cart clutching our dog Max (he was welcome on the tour) we were practically levitated (at least from the seat going over the bumps) to the top of the hill overlooking the fort.

As any good military planner would know, having a hill overlooking your fort is not such a good idea if the enemy happens to be perched on top of it with their cannons, so they built a secondary fort on the hill to protect the main fort. When the place became a park the new curators didn't know that the mini-fort was up there because it was so thickly overgrown with vines and poison ivy. The guide's description of how they cleared the place and had me scratching at a dozen psychosomatic itches.

That's the outside view, below is the main entrance with the modern entrance bridge and the moat.

Here is the roof of the cannon galleries. The masons who built the place were superb craftsmen, with the bricks (3 layers thick in most places) cut and fit into elegant arches. The effort and expense we can put into things meant to kill people never ceases to astound me, especially since our society just seems to hate helping people.

The whole purpose of the fort was to prevent warships from sailing up the river after the war of 1812, so there is a great wall of cannon ports along the river, They were never used in war, but the guide tells us the bottom of the river is littered with cannon balls fired in training.

Even after military technology rendered the fort obsolete, it briefly was home to gun emplacements during the second World War, which still survive to this day.

We got to see the interior, which is in sad shape after being abandoned for many years and having had all the iron and steel removed during WWII. The diamond in the brickwork is the smoke hole in the ceiling to clear the smoke when the cannons fired.

We even walked through the tunnels under the fort that were put there to listen for enemy trying to dig their way into the place. The French architects that designed the the fort really knew what they were doing.

In the center of the fort is a large grassy area and you can see several cannons that were recovered after being dumped in the river.

As we left, we were greeted by a heron posing on a buoy, just asking to have his (or her) picture taken.

Rhode Island

Turning from military excess to personal excess, we paid a call on the Rosecliff mansion. It's no exaggeration that our entire RV would rattle around in the entrance hall to the place and our entire yearly income might cover a few days taxes on The Breakers. Nevertheless, it is a magnificent place to visit.

One of the things I found interesting was the dual lighting fixtures, the left side for the new-fangled electric lamps and the right for a gas lamp.

Speaking of modern conveniences, check out the ranks of faucets on the hand-carved tub. You had your choice of hot and cold running fresh or salt water. No need to freeze your buns when the Atlantic (that great view out the back windows) was too cold, just bring a little bit of it indoors and call the maid for a light snack while you soaked.


We also visited Mark Twain's house, but I did something wrong with the camera and only have one I took on the cell phone. The place was well worth seeing, and was lovely. Sadly, Twain was a lousy businessman and had to sell it when his finances went into the dumps.

Bet Havarah

Way back when, (the seventies) Judy's brother Paul was a member of what might be called a Jewish commune, Bet Havarah. They bought a place in the rural Connecticut as a retreat and Judy has many happy memories of joining them to celebrate various holidays.

Whether it was anti-Semitism, neighbors afraid of those damned hippies moving in or just general cussedness, there was opposition to the group that even made the New York Times. You can read about it here for the details if you want. Her brother Paul, a lawyer, lead the legal rebuttal to the zoning board in the contretemps.

As Paul died tragically, the place has special meaning to Judy, so we did some research and finally managed to find the house. The group has long since disbanded and the house had just been sold to a couple who were going to restore it. Its still there, and we can hope the new owners will restore it to it's potential.

Thus ends our journey through New England, just in time for us to make it for another weekend of folk music at the Last Gasp before heading back to Texas.

Previous     Blog Index     Next