Almost Heaven

Why is it that it always rains sideways when I go mountain biking in West Virginia? I remember the NORBA races back in the day at Snowshoe when it poured biblically the night before the races and the course was a peanut butter mess with extremely high humidity. I suffered like a dog. The years that we all went down to Slatyfork for the Fat Tire Festival, we could hear the torrential rains swelling the creeks outside of the Jerico Bed and Breakfast http://www.jericobb.com in Marlinton and woke up to flash flood warnings. But we rode. This year we went to a great event called Dirt Fest run by Dirt Rag Magazine http://www.dirtragmag.com in Big Bear, West Virginia and again, it rained cats and dogs on the Friday that we arrived. It was like “Almost Heaven” was saying to me,” Pat- you have to bring your “A” game down here and we are not going to EVER give you a gimme.” Even though we had brilliant sunshine on Saturday and Sunday, the damage had been done and the slime on the rocks, boulders, and roots which define West Virginia riding, made Saturday morning the usual challenge. There are people like Tom Florcik http://www.trailflobikes.com and Sue Haywood who make it look easy and send it over the big drops. But I tend to be more cautious because as I always like to say, ” I ride to ride another day.”

So why do I keep beating my head against the wall and venturing into a most challenging environment? I do it for the beauty of West Virginia and the people who make the event so much fun. Dirt Rag Magazine has been around for over 25 years and was the brain child of Maurice and Elaine Tierney. I am happy to say that I have known MO a long time and have had many enjoyable riding days with him along with cohorts like Karl Rosengarth and Jeff Wuerthele. Dirt Rag arranged all the logistics with Big Bear which is a formidable task along with arranging a whole myriad of suppliers in the bike industry to attend with demo equipment. Along with great food by Doan’s Bones Bar b Que http://www.doansbones.com and the fabulous pizza supplied by Liz Klevens, the event was lacking for nothing. The movies and the beer supplied by Green Flash http://www.greenflashbrew.com and Oskar Blues http://www.oskarblues.com did not disappoint and the whole weekend went off without a hitch. No one seemed to mind the muddy but steadily improving conditions. But what really brings us back year after year? The People!! The mountain bike community is a friendly lot of “crunchy”, ” earthy” people who love the outdoors and can really ride the challenging conditions. It is not often that you see a group of ladies like Val from Asheville, NC, Chrissy from the Canaan Valley and Stephanie from the burg, pound fearlessly over muddy, rocky obstacles with smiles on their faces and laughter all around. Mountain bikers know how to have fun and at the end of the day, know how to kick back and enjoy the fading sunlight and the roaring fire complete with stories about the adventures of the day sipping a cold IPA. I love my crew and also love to gather with the “tribe” at events like Dirt Fest. The Chetlins, the Girones, and Sy were missing but they were in Bend riding. So, they had an excuse. Our local crew makes a contribution to the scene with characters like the Shark, Bob Bannon and John O’Toole- veterans of the sport, Johnny Mac and Bob Anderson- really skilled riders, Pete Hilton, Mike Connors and his son Riley-fun, good riders, and Angelo Ross- the originator of http://www.naturalcause.org . John Casuccio, Joe D’Oro, Michele with an “L”, Michelle with two “Ls”, all skilled MTB folks, and of course Jeff Balicki who got MVP for the weekend riding the heinous rocks and roots just out of knee replacement surgery three months ago. If you ever saw passion for a sport, look no further than this affable barrister from Pittsburgh. He worked hard to get back on the trail and will be ready for ski season for sure. It’s the people…..people!!!! That is why we ride. Sure it is challenging, it is hard, it rains like a cow peeing on a flat rock, but the people of Dirt Rag and the folks of the eastern mountain bike community make it fun with the camping stories, the crackling fires, and the beers. Barry and the guys from Dirty Harry’s make sure all of us ride in style and repair the damage after weekends like this. The local shop is part of the community and we should all support them.

So if you ride mountain bikes, find events like Dirt Fest and support the cause. You will not only have a lot of fun no matter what the weather does, but you will make friends for a lifetime sharing the passion of riding and the truly spectacular trails. Thanks for reading.

Younger Next Year

I learn something new every ski season. I like to think other people do as well like my buddy Bill Yalch, seen here with his eyes closed. He and Brady Cunningham asked me how to smooth out their turns and I gave them a tip that always works that basically says…”don’t be in a hurry to finish the turn and engage the new downhill edge early and ride it out- flexing the ankles along the way”. Ankles are the key. I followed them down the trails at Arapaho Basin and called out when to engage the edge and when to flex the ankle. They did it and were very happy. John and Richard Nicolette are two childhood friends of mine who are great skiers. They ski in a very efficient, traditional way, but were interested in the new method of engaging edges and widening their stance. Bottom line- good skiers like Richard and John get it done for sure, but there is always something to be learned with new technique.

Fast forward a day and I made my way to Reno to meet up with our annual gathering of F.O.E.D.( Friends of Eric Durfee).

This group comes from all over the country to ski with Eric due to his generosity and we all represent different phases of his life. Mark Hutchinson and Proctor Reid are his childhood friends from Vermont. Hutch was a race coach at Stowe and coached Erik Schlopy who was a U.S. Ski Team member. Proctor raced with them as juniors and eventually raced for Dartmouth. John Ingwersen and Bart Smith raced for Cornell with Eric, and I came on the scene after Eric was married to my friend Helen from Seven Springs. This group skis hard and for a bunch of 60+ guys, we go from the first chair to the last chair. This year we had a little addition to our usual hard core gathering. My friend Jeff Mihalsky, a snowboarder- splitboarder to be exact( he has great prowess in the back country), came up from Sacramento to ski with us at Mt. Rose. It was funny- he kept calling us “old dudes” but we all learned a bit about snowboarding and my friend Eric said no doubt that snowboarding saved the ski industry. It was a great vision to see a bunch of old hard core skiers having a blast with a young snowboarder. We all get down the hill hard and fast and it was a great day and a mutual learning experience.

So one day at Mammoth, Eric says to Hutch ( a seasoned PSIA Ski Instructor as well as race coach), ” Hutch- give us all a tip for us to work on this trip.” He thought about it for a while and after telling me to lower my center of gravity and look more ahead, telling Eric and Ing to follow the turns with their center of mass instead of being so countered in the typical race position, and telling Proctor practically nothing because he bends the skis so well and gets them out from under his body that there isn’t much improvement there. We all learned something from those suggestions and even though we all are seasoned skiers, we all can learn something every season. Thanks Hutch.

After a series of shoulder surgeries, hip replacements, and other corrected maladies with this group, the skiing is still pretty high level and I asked Eric how long did he think we could pound it like this. He remarked that as long as nothing catastrophic happened, he didn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t have at least another ten years of high level skiing. That is the premise behind one of my favorite books,” Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley. Keep doing what you enjoy, stay in shape, and don’t let anyone tell you that you are too old. Chris is now in his eighties and skis and rides a bike everyday……everyday!!

I actually get a little depressed at the end of the ski season. I think about the year and how much fun it is to rip GS turns on a perfectly groomed slope. The thrill of skiing the steeps with the chalky smooth snow peeling from beneath my sharpened edges. The sun, the mountains, and the ability and the opportunity to enjoy them is something I treasure with my friends. As I nodded off on the plane after looking at the Rockies one last time this season, I daydreamed about the year and the laughs, the learnings, the fun, and the benefits of skiing. From the Laurel Highlands, to the Adirondacks, to the Rockies, to the Sierras, this season has been fun. Skiing is a lifetime sport and as we all move into another season, we have our motto…..” Younger Next Year”. Thanks Eric, Ing, Proctor, Bart, Richard, John, Bill, Brian U, McClean,Jeff L, Porter, John, Tim, Monty, Alan,Tom, Chris, Judy, Mike,Mike S, and my lovely wife and Holimont ski pal Janet, for a great 2016-2017 season. Thanks for reading and now it’s time to haul out the mountain bike.

Not a Pine Knot!

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This winter is a weird one for sure here in the East. Some weeks are cold and snowy and others are really warm. We had the great opportunity to enjoy The Lodge At Glendorn this past weekend and got some good skiing in at Holimont and some nice snowshoeing before it all started to melt.fullsizerender The last day we started a new sport- mudshoeing because of the deteriorating conditions of the trails. However, any time spent at the Lodge at Glendorn is a good one and the weather was generally cooperative for a winter stay. http://www.glendorn.com dining-6more-gd-pics-039

One of the other activities that Mike Smith and I take part in when we are at Glendorn is learning a little bit about skeet and trap shooting. The Glendorn facility is second to none and the instructors are well versed along with the equipment that is available. The collection of shotguns is impressive and some of those pieces of equipment are over $12,000.00 each. It is harder than it looks folks, and I am here to tell you that as much as I enjoy it, I can’t hit the broad side of a barn with a bag of rice. Enter George.

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We were first introduced to George as we walked into the facility for our 3:00 appointment at the range. George is a retiree working at the resort with 43 years in at Kendall Refining behind him. A nice older gentleman who asked us what we knew about skeet shooting. When we feigned mostly ignorance, he thought we were sandbagging him, but I told him he will surely see we were rookies when we first hold the shotgun. We all laughed and George explained the finer points of skeet and trap before we stepped foot on the range. George is a good instructor. He is patient and kind and understanding. He said that he gets as much of a kick out of us breaking a clay pigeon as he would himself. I didn’t want him to be disappointed in my lack of skill but he guided us all the way through. The poignant conversation began when George stopped and said, ” You know fellas, you might think I am an old pine knot up here taking up space in the woods, but I was a 5 time Pa. State Champion at Skeet.” I was not surprised at all because of his knowledge and the way he handled the shot gun. But I was more taken by the fact that he was a little insecure because of his age and perhaps what we thought of him. Nothing could be further from our minds as we respected his knowledge and skill. It struck me that older gentlemen sometimes feel like they have outlived their usefulness and that life has somehow passed them by. It became my mission to make sure George felt comfortable even though I was the one intimidated by trying to perform in front of a 5 time State Champion.

I like older guys. I would bet that in fact, George was not all that much older than me, but all in all, probably had a few years on me. You could see the 43 years of hard work in his hands, the slight fatigue of an older gentleman, but the twinkle in his eyes still showed me a passion for his sport and the thrill of passing on his knowledge to others like Dr. Mike Smith and me. I do notice young people today sometimes do not respect the older generation. They sometimes dismiss them as old men who don’t know anything. I always have taught my son Jack to respect the older guys as he learned a lot over the years from his grandfather- another George, George Bope. These guys have seen a lot and in my zeal to make George feel comfortable, I truly wanted to show him that in my eyes, he was not a pine knot at all but someone who was truly interesting to me. I asked him about his years at Kendall Oil and he obliged me with stories from the refining days and his experiences in the back woods of Pennsylvania. His slight intimidation disappeared as we continued to shoot and BS, and he realized that Mike and I truly appreciated our time with him. I told him, ” George- it may be nothing to you, but just having the experience of handling a shot gun and knowing how to load and shoot it was a good experience for me.” Even though I kept shooting behind the target, I was hitting the mark with experience and a good time in the wilds of Pa. with my friend Mike and our new buddy George.

Returning to the cabin to meet our wives, we discussed our meager results. img_1391 But more importantly, we discussed how much we were impressed with George. I am looking forward to seeing him again when we return to Glendorn. He may think he is an old pine knot, but to me, he is wealth of experience. Respect the older guys, you will learn something. Thanks for reading.

A Colonial Christmas

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I am a history nut and particularly the history of the Revolutionary days in this country. We here in Western Pennsylvania are fortunate in that a lot of the events that took place to shape the direction of the new nation took place right here in our region. I often daydream of what it would have been like to be an 18th century man. At this time of year, that daydream turned into a bright vision as I walked down the Duke of Gloucester street during my visits to Williamsburg, Virgina. 6c3139f39b95ad590a6b9fe3fffca04e

Wiliamsburg just might be one of the nicest places to visit during the Christmas season. Not only is it rich in history dating back to the 17th century but the reconstruction of historical sites make it seem like you are walking back in time. There were many nights when it was colder and  I walked the streets and talked to colonial dressed people standing beside an army stack of firewood burning brightly and warmly on the street corner. Their discussions of topics of revolutionary times not only made it seem real, but for visitors like me, it gave me great pleasure to see how it might have been had I lived in those days.
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Williamsburg is also famous at this time of year for their decorations on the doors of the shops and pubs and the Christmas decorations in general are exceptionally well done especially with a dusting of snow on the buildings and the streets. 605fd664dfc5584d478748da52c67ef3

One of my more vivid memories of those visits was to take in the Candlight concert series at Bruton Parish Church which was founded in 1674. When you come in from the cold and are greeted by candlelight and a choir from a visiting town, you can really get into the Christmas spirit absorbing the atmosphere and listening to the harmonies and the musical excellence of the chamber orchestras.

During warmer visits, I took my mountain bike and joined the evening rides with the shop guys from Bikes Unlimited ( 757-229-4620). You can call them for the ride schedules and can be treated to trail rides on the William and Mary campus trails as well as the Chambrel trails near by. The rides are always followed by a gathering of riders at the local Panera. These trails are twisty, turny, singletrack and although there are no measurable hills in the Tidewater region, they are challenging enough with the meandering trail construction. It is interesting to take a break on the campus of William and Mary and be facing a statue of Thomas Jefferson. Knowing that he attended here as a student and looking at his countenance was a treat to this history buff.

Sometimes history is lost on people. I had my family in Williamsburg one summer when it was 100 degrees. As I was extolling the virtues of Patrick Henry to my son as we heard his speech done by an actor, my son looked at me and said,” Hey dad- where is the pool.” Now there were no 18th century pools available but he eventually soaked his hot little bones in the hotel pool. My wife was looking for relief as well but all I could think about was ” give me liberty, or give me death.”

The Williamsburg Inn is the hallmark location to stay in the village. images-1
This is a beautiful hotel with first class amenities but the Williamsburg Lodge is another option if the budget for the Inn is not there. 806309_44_b

If I were to offer a suggestion, I would still stick by my recommendation for Williamsburg at Christmas time. If you get lucky with some snow and winter weather, you will really feel the colonial ambiance. Take it in and take a walk back in history. Thanks for reading.

Non- Revenue and Space Available

One of the funny things that they say about flight attendants is ” Marry me, fly for free.” Now that was not the carrot that drew me to my lovely wife Janet, but it sure was a great perk while it lasted. 31c039e513832a80dde8f645936e7d8e
I can remember the first flight by myself as a “non-rev” passenger. In those days we had to wear a coat and a tie and Janet told me not to ask for any food unless they had enough to serve. Living in guilt ridden hell like I did, I didn’t move for the 5 hour flight to L.A. I politely refused any service and sat in the seat quietly and read my book for the entire flight. When I got to LAX, I ran to the men’s room and breathed a huge sigh of relief. When relating the story to Janet, she said the flight attendants probably thought I was some kind of weirdo. I got better at flying “non-rev” after that.
I saw a lot of places in those days and the ski areas were the number one target. Who can pass up a free flight to ski out west or in New England? chair 23
I got pretty good at judging what flights were full and where to go. I also got quite adept at changing my clothes on I-70 East in Colorado on the way to DIA. Many times I was stripping down from ski clothes to a rumpled mess of a sportcoat, tie and pants while on the move eastward. As I ran into the airport many times barely making the flights, I prayed that the doors would close and I would not get bumped. I didn’t realize that I still had the zinc oxide on my lips and the suntan lotion slathered all over my face. The baseball hat covered up the greasy helmet hair and all was good headed home. Although my seat mates probably did not appreciate the sweat and the stench for the 4 hour flight. 03jack395.2

Jan and I had a lot of nice weekends together to the west coast when she worked a San Francisco flight or a San Diego flight. We would head out on a Friday night, get to the hotel and go out on the town. The next day we would get up early and sight see and hit every tour and restaurant we could during the day. We would have lunch at George’s on the Cove in La Jolla and see the Jags and the players in their Gucci shoes. I would ask Jan if she had a nice time? She would say “yes” and then I told it was time to get back on the bus with the bag ladies to San Diego. Reality struck hard. Then the plan was to take a quick nap because she would work the “red-eye” and we would be back in the burg early on Sunday morning. Those were whirlwind weekends.

When we would head to the beach, Jan became a weather channel junkie. If there was even a sniff of a tropical disturbance off the west coast of Africa, we were out of there. She always told the horror stories of getting bumped during hurricane season and often our trips were cut short because of a pending hurricane that was still thousands of miles out in the ocean. photo

One time coming back from Jackson Hole for a ski trip, we were stuck in Chicago. We waited two days and there were no “space available” seats. No chance whatsoever with all the cancellations and we rented the last vehicle available at O’Hare and drove through the blizzard back to Pittsburgh. We had my cousin Michael in tow with his buddy and were packed like sardines as we braved the harrowing roads headed east.

Oftentimes, I would be in the airport and would run into a flight attendant friend of Janet’s, who would laugh and say to me, ” are you flying again and your wife is working?” I sheepishly said yes but somebody had to do it! No wonder my neighbors called me the married bachelor.

Janet eventually retired from the airlines when we had our son Jack and we moved to the frequent flyer points from Southwest for a ticket. The good thing about those is that you actually have a seat and are not subject to the potential of getting bumped off the plane in some location that was a connection. We continued to travel together but in a more relaxed mode and my individual, last minute trips eventually came to an end. However, being the flexible curmudgeon that I am, frequent flyers and work trips became a new target for associated fun. But the adventures of the “non-rev” flights will always be in my memory because of the unknowns of weather, full flights, and last minute runs to the gate because I had to get that last ski run at a major resort. Traveling space available with ski bags and bike boxes was a challenge, but it was always worth it when you reached the final destination. photo

Flights today are packed and when Jan speaks to her flight attendant friends that are still working, they say flying “non-rev” is difficult because of the full flights. So, we laugh and say, we got it while the getting was good. Lots of fun times and lots of memories thanks to my wife’s hard work with USAIR. Thanks for reading and don’t bring that zeppelin bag for the overhead. Check it. My wife’s buddies will appreciate your courtesy.

Tuscany in Ontario

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Sometimes the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Take wine making for instance. Now, I have been to a lot of wine making regions on various trips but that was not the focus of the trips and I have not paid much attention. My lovely wife enjoys a glass of wine but I admit that giving me a nice glass of wine would be like giving a beautifully ripe strawberry to a hog. However on a recent trip to the Niagra on the Lake, Ontario region of Canada, my education process began. img_1050

There are hundreds of wineries in this beautiful region and we had the opportunity to visit two of them complete with tastings for Janet. I observed and listened intently to some things I did not know. For instance, the glasses used for some wines are different in that they are wider and deeper and encourage one to get their nose in the glass and smell the aromas which enhances the taste on the palate. We learned about pairings of wines with food. Cabernet Franc is an excellent choice with tomato dishes and pizza. Merlot is excellent with lamb. Chardonay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc are great with seafood. There are red blends that are great with filets and all things chocolate that include berries and other fruits along with a blend of wine. We learned about the different grapes that are grown to produce the various selections of wines. img_1043

Most of this information was given to us at the Trius Winery where we also had a delicious lunch on the patio in the brilliant fall sunshine. img_1049

We then moved on to the Colonari Estate Winery where I was intrigued by the “Appassimento” process of drying out the grapes to a certain degree to enhance the body and structure of the juice which in turn enhanced the sweetness of the wine. This is labor intensive and involves moving trays of grapes into a drying greenhouse. Only three wineries in the region use this process and blend some of their wines with 40% juice from this process. This particular winery was amazing and the grounds looked like you were right  in the middle of the northern Italian wine regions. img_1052

If you take the time to do the tastings at selected wineries, you can learn a lot. Again, I don’t know much about wine but I learned a considerable amount from listening to the hosts who served the various choices of wines at the tastings. I asked what was the difference between California wines and the Ontario wines and the comment was made that California has a consistent warm climate which enhances the sweetness of the juice. The “Appassimento” process facilitates this to a degree in the Ontario region because of the short growing and wine making season. img_1039

As an aside, the Niagra on the Lake region is an excellent place to ride a bicycle with a beautiful bike path that extends all the way to Niagra Falls winding its way along the wineries and flanked by the Niagra River. You can also ride by Ft. George which was built by the British in 1789 and recreated and restored in the 1930s. Riding into town, you can take in the various shops and restaurants of which Zees is one of our favorites with excellent food like braised lamb shank and the house specialty grilled swordfish. A great place to stay is the Harbour House B&B which is right on Lake Ontario which is beautifully appointed and maybe has the best house made granola I have ever tasted at their complimentary breakfast. img_1048

All in all, we enjoy Niagra on the Lake and venturing into Canada from our house in Pennsylvania is only a four hour drive. But once you are there, it has the feel of Europe with the vast areas of grapevines, road signs in metric measurement, and bilingual tourists from all over the world. img_1037

Again, introducing me to good wine is kind of lost when I prefer an ice cold IPA. However, I am learning and the process is definitely interesting. I learned just about how much I don’t know about a particular subject but I will venture north again with my lovely wife to learn more and enjoy the wonderful ambiance of Canada. Thanks for reading.

Fugheddabaddit

“Cause down at the shore everything’s alright
You and your baby on a Saturday night
Nothing matters in the whole wide world
When you’re in love with a Jersey Girl
-Tom Waits Sung by the Boss

My wife Janet is a Jersey girl. Even though she was born and raised in Pittsburgh, she spent a lot of time at the Jersey Shore. As a kid, during high school and college, she spent summers working on the boardwalk selling crabs and Ziggies, doing other summertime part time jobs, and being a waitress. She stayed with her aunt and uncle who insisted that Janet and all the cousins got summer jobs to augment their fun times on the beach and on the “boards.” beachwater
While working as a waitress, she had a boss who said,” fugheddabaddit” for everything. ” Hey, how is the Pastrami today?” ” Fugheddabaddit. ” Hey, can I have a day off tomorrow? ” Fugheddabaddit” ” Hey what is the weather like tomorrow?” ” Fugheddabaddit. Don’t you just love the Jersey accent and demeanor? It is no wonder that we go every year on the annual pilgrimage to Avalon, NJ. We just can’t help ourselves with the tradition and the feeling that you get when you cross that bridge into New Jersey and then smell the salt air in Egg Harbor. IMG_0254
A lot of Pittsburghers have gone elsewhere in the summer. The Outer Banks, Myrtle, Florida. But most of the hard core Pittsburghers still make the pilgrimage to the Jersey Shore for a myriad of reasons. We go with two other families and have done so for years. So many traditions have been established down there like Mack and Manco pizza on the boards with Johnson’s caramel corn. It is now Mack and Mack but basically the same pizza on the boardwalk in the evening watching the show of visitors and tourons that frequent these parts in the summer. As I previously mentioned, the local folks who have businesses down there who survived the hurricanes and just keep working and rebuilding, are typical of the New Jersey mindset. My knuckles get white from squeezing the steering wheel when I enter the state and I always remark that these people aren’t good enough to drive that fast. But you get guys like old man Moran at Moran’s Dockside who will sell you blood worms, clams, shrimp and every other kind of bait in the world every day with a deadpan look on his face. When I told him the last time that I am having no luck with all the bait that I have purchased each and every day, he looks at me and says,” Too hot to fish.” ” Bad time of year.” So I say,” Then why did you sell me the bait? ” He says ,” You wanted to fish.” Gadda love these folks!!! So I am relegated to fishing with my buddy Dean Denmead and on occasion coming up with Satanic catches like eels, horshoe crabs, turtles, dogfish and the occasional snow tire. But it is all part of the tradition. Even when the land breeze flies bite your legs so hard during the baiting of the line. It is like they sense that you are trying to get ready to fish and therefore are distracted enough to allow for them to feast on your flesh. downsized_0715091352
For me, the only way I maintain sanity is to ride my road bike with Mike King from Avalon to Cape May in the mornings. The early morning sunrises, seeing the crabbers under the draw bridges, and smelling the salt air is intoxicating. Part of the visit is to stop at Nun’s Beach in Stone Harbor and get the new T shirt for the year that commemorates another season at the beach with the pending surf contest sponsored by the nuns at the convent on the beach. Don’t tell me the Catholic clergy has it tough. Dinners at Sylvester’s with the fantastic fresh seafood eaten from paper plates on a picnic table may not be haute cuisine but it sure is Jersey. The corn, the tomatoes, the lazy days on the beach- people watching, are some of the things that Janet talks about all year. Fugheddabaddit.

So, in a few weeks, we will pack up the vehicle, bungee the beach chairs and fishing gear to the roof, put the bikes on the rack, and head east. And the reason you do it every year is because everything’s all right when you are in love with a Jersey girl. Thanks for reading.