I don’t think I couldn’t tell you what I did on any August 23rd in my life, but days like my birthday, April 17th, New Years Eve or the 4th of July, I have many memories. The 4th of July trip to New York in 1986 is one of those days that have great memories. I went there with Jackie and Jay Are. Two of my life long best friends. 1986, that was a long time ago. Just over a year earlier I had started and was paying for college. I had also purchased a new 1984 E-150 Ford van. I wasn’t a rich man, I had given my father my disability money to invest for me and all I was receiving from him was $14,000 a year, but when Jay Are said road trip to New York to watch the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I’m in!!
For those who don’t know, the statue of liberty was a gift from France. A Frenchman named Frederic Bartholdi decided one day the United States should have the colossal neoclassical sculpture and convinced the people of France to pay for it. Well the statue, the United States was responsible for the base she stands on. Did you know there is a statue of liberty on Mackinac Island? Over the years the one in New York became rusted, in disrepair and in risk of parts of her falling off. A business man named Lee Iacocca raised millions to have her renovated. If you don’t remember Lee Iacocca, he’s the guy who took over Chrysler when it was bankrupt, the first time back in the 80’s, and got it going. Do you remember the TV commercials, ‘’buy a dodge, get a check?’’
The renovations cost $1.7million. On July 4th, 1986 New York was going to celebrate the completion of them with the world’s most expensive fireworks in history, fireworks that cost $2.2 million.
Since Neither Jay Are, Jackie nor I had millions, we drove to New York in my ford van. I was proud of that van. I bought it completely empty. When I say completely empty, I mean completely empty. When I opened the rear doors the first time, all I seen was the cheapest driver’s seat they offered. There wasn’t a passenger seat or any covering on the walls of the van. The van’s walls were bare metal. Over the next year, I designed and purchased all the raw materials to construct a fabric covered foam padded button tuck interior with removable panels for storage behind them. With the help of friends and family, we took an empty van shell and created a one of a kind beautiful custom van.
The overhead consol, which was also covered in the brown fabric button tuck, housed the switches to control the two different colored interior lights that could be dimmed and the power to the stereo. The lights themselves were hid under panels so they were indirect type lighting. The consol also contained the stereo equalizer, front speakers and CB radio. The cheap front seat was replaced with a captain’s chair on swivel base, same for the passenger. In the rear, I bought a tri-fold sofa that matched the interior. It electrically reclined into a bed. My friends even installed my wheelchair lift.
The exterior of the van was overhauled as well. Jay Are added a visor over the front windshield, along with a front air dam and fender flares over the tires. For tires, I bought wide aluminum spooked rims. On them were Firestone 235 60’s on the front and 255 50’s on the rear. As for paint, Jay Are found this brown paint with a gold metal flake – a beautiful color. Not only did he paint the new parts and rims with the paint, but he painted the entire van as well. And the part of the paint job that really set the van apart from all others was Jay Are painted ALL the chrome on the outside of the van with a flat black. Not having chrome really made the gold metal flake brown paint reflect in the sun. Oh, remember the last story of how people mess with my wheelchair lift switches? Jay Are cut a gas cap door out of an old ford pickup truck box and welded it onto the back side panel of the van then mounted the switches inside. No one ever knew the switches where there unlike my new van where everyone can see them. The 351 HO V-8 motor wasn’t left alone either. Jay Are installed headers with dual exhaust and glass packs.
My 1984 brown ford van sounded as beautiful as she looked. With the dual gas tanks full of gas the three of us went to New York for the 1986 4th of July party. Over the years, Jay Are and I made several cross country road trips. Just about every one of them we’d leave after 10 o’clock at night. I liked driving at night, so I’d take the first shift driving. With the two gas tanks, the van had a range of 500 plus miles, so it would be near morning when we’d stop for our first gas stop. At the gas station, Jay Are would fill up while I hit the bed. No hotel room needed to drive to any part of the United States for us. We’d drive straight through. The driving straight through and sleeping in the van saved us hundreds on every trip we made together. Then once on the east coast we visited my friends Chuck and Cassie, who live in Rhode Island and Jackie’s friend Mary who lived with her mother Joan near Boston. Both, of course, let us stay at their houses.
Chuck’s house was fun. It had a swimming pool. If you’ve never been to the east coast in July, it’s hot and humid. The guy that owned the house was a scuba diver. I swim like a rock, so they put the jacket part of his scuba suit, mask and snorkel on me and threw me into the pool. It was so much fun hanging out at the pool. Add to that Cassie’s daiquiris, the best I ever tasted, life was good. At Joan’s house it was eating lobster east coast style. It was the whole lobster. I started by sucking the juice out of each and every leg, then I crack and ate the claws and finally I ate the green stuff before enjoying the tail. I followed Joan’s directions and enjoyed every part of the lobster. Again, life was good. Oh, don’t go to the Braintree mall and order 4 bottles of Dom Perignon at one of the restaurants. They will sell them to you.
When it was time to watch the unveiling of the statue of liberty and the fireworks, we packed up the van with Chuck, Cassie and Mary and drove to Liberty state park in New Jersey. We just looked at a map and thought that would be the best vantage point to watch from. We were right, but getting within a mile was impossible. So I parked the van about a mile from the bay, which was 200 feet from some burnt out abandon cars and on foot we went. You know what I mean. About 2/3rd of the way in, a ford LTD 4 door stopped right next to us. Some overweight guy with a short hair cut yells at us. What are you guys doing? We’ve got a cooler full of beer, maybe some food and water, maybe? We all look at him. He’s a cop! More likely a detective! Oh crap! What did we do? I think a couple of us just grabbed a beer. We all look at each other as he yells again. What are you doing? Where’s your car? Back there? Someone says and points. One of you guys get in here (his car) and we’ll go get it! We all look at each other and no one volunteered. Although he looked like a police officer, was he? If he was, why was he yelling at us to get in his car, so we can go back to get the van? Why? When he yelled, and I mean yelled, with an angry look, Chuck finally walked over and got in his car. As they drove off, someone said what we were all thinking, I hope he comes back.
30 plus minutes later, the blue ford LTD with a brown ford van following showed up. Jay Are put the cooler back into the van and Chuck drove down to the water front. At a stones ‘’toss’’ from the bay, Chuck parks the van in a handicapped parking space. Although it worked out well, it was so weird how he yelled at us. I’m sure my buddy Steve who is from Connecticut will tell me that’s just how they talk there, get over it!
When the beautiful hot sunny day turned to evening, the world’s most expensive fireworks began. Since we were in New Jersey, we had the statue of liberty just off to the right of us and the Manhattan skyline across the bay. I believe the fireworks were being shot off from something like 21 different locations, but the main show was off of five barges in the middle of the bay. Oh, before I forget, they also had the tall sailing ships from all over the world there. There were thousands of sailing ships of every size you could imagine. We even got to ride on one. Chuck was a welder at company that made parts for racing ships. He made parts that were on ships that raced in the America’s cup. Jay Are remembers the history of the ship we went on better then I, but I recall it raced in the great lakes and the Newport Rhode Island to Bermuda regatta. The owner said it won in its class. I recall the mast on the ship being so tall it barely cleared under a bridge that ocean liners went under. As for world class fireworks shows go, it was simply amazing. Being on the New Jersey side of the bay, we had the entire Manhattan skyline for a back drop. 99% of the fireworks I’ve seen in my life were fun because of the people I was with. While this was true on that New Jersey shore line in 1986 as well, but to watch $2.2 million worth of fireworks live for more than an hour was pretty cool.
When the most amazing fireworks show ended and they had the fire in the hill off in the distance that they started under control, it was time to leave. That meant close to a mile back to the New Jersey turnpike with several hundred thousand people walking in between us and the turnpike. That brings up my brown E-150 personally customized ford van and Jay Are. The van had a CB radio located in the overhead consol. Connected to the CB radio was a PA speaker. Jay Are was a master at making it mimic different sounds. One sound was that of a horse walking on pavement. When you’re stuck in stop and go traffic, he could make it sound like a horse was walking the same speed as the cars. As the cars started to move, he’d make it sound like a horse was walking the same speed. As traffic slowed and stopped, he’d make the horse walking sound slow and stop. Hey when you’re s tuck in traffic for an hour or more to drive a mile, its simple entertainment to watch all the people looking for a horse that isn’t there. But the thing he was really good at was his ability to mimic a police siren. He started doing that as we were leaving. Suddenly people for a quarter mile started looking for the police car or ambulance. There were easy several hundred thousand people between us and the turnpike. When Jay Are started to mimic a police siren, I kid you not, the crowd in front of us parted like Moses parting the red sea. I just drove forward into the newly forming opening Jay Are was creating. It was working so well, Jay Are was starting to get cocky. Off in the distance there was a city bus. Catching a free ride was a guy riding a bicycle hanging on to it. Jay Are says into the microphone of the PA, ‘’Hey you on the bike, get off the bus!’’ Soon everyone riding a bike got off of them and started pushing them. I quickly told Jay Are no more of that. As we’re passing the crowd, the head lights no longer conceal we’re not an ambulance or the police. Some of the natives aren’t happy we’re pulling a fast one on them. There were many asking for a ride and a few fists banging on the van as we passed. I just drove as fast as I possibly could without hitting anyone. In about 15 minutes, we were on the New Jersey turnpike.
That trip to the east coast was a lot of fun. We also stopped in Washington DC for a day or two. If you have never visited the east coast of America, its a great place to go. The United States of America started there. I’m a history buff, so I love being a tourist there. And yes Jay Are, I finally did find the Liberty Bell, which is in ”Philadelphia.” On one of our trips out there, after driving for 8 hours, and before I was wearing glasses to be able see to read the road signs, did I say I was tired? yet? I started to enter a large city in Pennsylvania. I missed the name of the city. It was only written in big white letters a half dozen times I’m guessing. Well, the scrambled eggs I have for a brain thought I was entering Philadelphia? Jay Are wakes up from his sleep and asks where I’m going? I told him I was going to look for the Liberty bell. Jay Are asks me if I know what town the Liberty bell is in? Of course I know, I told him. It’s in Philadelphia. Jay Are then points toward a huge stadium. The huge sign with letters even I could read without glasses made me feel like the fool I sometimes am. The sign said, ”Three Rivers Stadium.” It’s a good thing I’m good looking, because sometimes I’m not very smart. I was only 300 miles from Philadelphia and the Liberty bell. Oh well. When people laugh at you because you do something foolish, laugh back at them. That way they’re laughing with you and not at you!!