The old clubhouse. Photo Courtesy of the Southampton Yacht Club
Last week, I related how Dad and I had our Friday schedule – pack up the Horsemobile and drive to Southampton. A lot of people have such similar routines. Saturdays no different.
Even the grand dame of our Southampton rooming house, Mrs. Fordham, had a weekend habit. Every Saturday she would get together with her buddies and – I have no idea what they were drinking, rolling, or tooting – but were they up, I mean UP!, for the Lawrence Welk show at 6PM! They were huddled together in the chairs, arranged in a semi-circle around the boob tube, simply breathless for the start of the show… Roll the bubbles… Ah, one, two, three…
After a busy week in the office of Bernard Olcott & Associates on the 33rd floor of the Pan Am building, it was time to close up shop on Friday afternoon. It was July 1966, the pavement outside was soft from the searing heat of the sun. Summertime transforms Manhattan into a tropical sweaty island, albeit with world-class dining and entertainment options.
We strolled back to Dad’s large efficiency apartment at the Peter Cooper Hotel on 38th and Lexington, grabbed our stuff for the weekend, and took the 7 train out to Long Island City where Dad kept his car, the “horsemobile” – see image below – during the week. Like a Canada Goose in periodic migration, every weekend we plied our way east away from the hot shimmering city onto the Southern State Parkway until it emptied out on country roads. (This was before the Long Island Expressway was extended to Riverhead.) There, we followed Hot Water Road from Manorville all the way down to Route 27, making a left in Eastport. Through picturesque villages with quaint cottage-like storefronts, we wound our way past Katrina’s Deli (the logo was a haunting blond girl wearing a Viking-styled horned helmet), Go Kart tracks, and roadside ice cream parlors with high peaked roofs.
The girl from Glasgow was cute. At the Palacio Hotel, Estoril.
The Arc de Triomphe. The Louvre. The observatory at the top of the Tour de Montparnasse. Invalides. Trocadero. There’s a lot to see in the city of light. Dad took me to all of it. And of course we recuperated from the cuisine of Great Britain.
Aside from the momentary lapse on the Metro, Dad did well with the language barrier. He was familiar with Paris and knew the ropes. While tagging along for the ride, I felt intuitively that this sublime city loomed large in my future. And nine years later, I did come back to Paris to live there as student during the summer to master the language. Later on, I came to spend a lot of time in both London and Paris on business or visiting friends. London always struck me as a familiar place. If you flew from New York towards the northeast and kept going past Boston, about 5 hours later, you arrive in London, which, like Boston, has lots of crazy streets, red brick buildings, English-speaking people with crazy accents, 7-11s, Colgate toothpaste, and a nearby place called Cambridge. However, if you pushed ahead yet another hour, you arrived in Paris, with none of those things (except crazy streets, of course). I loved the exotic quality of ditching the familiar. France feels like a foreign land, but not an unfamiliar one. It’s a place where you can dig deep in its mysteries and reap rich life experiences.
Dad and I boarded our Air France flight to Orly Airport and, as customary, I grabbed the window seat. I was only 11 but still I understood that Dad was looking after his business affairs while we were in Europe. We had visited one of his best English clients – Massey-Ferguson – and he had pushed his joint venture discussions forward with the senior partners from Marks & Clerk while in London. He had scouted out possible locations for the proposed operation in the Channel Islands. His work done, and the Apollo 11 astronauts back home safely, it was time to leave the Anglo-Saxon world behind and see something completely different.
France was an important country to my Dad’s business from an operational point of view. While he did not have any customers there, all of his clients (be they American, British, Italian, or Japanese) did have large portfolios of French patents on which renewal fees had to be paid annually in French Francs. Therefore when he went to the French Patent Office on the rue de Leningrad (later to be renamed rue de St. Petersbourg) earlier that decade to win acceptance for his bulk payment process, it was a real coup when they readily agreed to accept his bulk payment process. In fact, the top 3 countries in Europe for patent registrations – UK, West Germany, and France – all accepted his instructions direct from New York. Even though Dad only studied a little French in high school, he sure loved him some France as his operation there was a huge money maker.
Put another way, as surely as my Grandmother loved to whip up some French cuisine, Dad and I surely loved to eat it. After two weeks in the UK, our stomachs were ready for France.
After leaving New York at 9 in the morning on Pan Am, Dad and I were walking down Oxford Street, London by 10 PM, iconic black taxicabs and double decker buses whizzing by. I was hungry and saw all the burger places, just like back home. London looked like my kind of place since my diet was comprised primarily of hamburger. Dad warned me that those English burger chains like Wimpy’s were not as good as the ones back home. He was right!
And so I made my first discovery about England – the cuisine was inedible! Remember that this was 1969, before the food revolution had come to Britain and reversed the tradition of a very poor local cooking tradition – principally by boiling – made worse by the war. While in England, I suffered continuous bouts of nausea. Once on the London tube with my Dad, I remember sitting across from a mother and her son, maybe the same age as me. He was nauseous and vomiting so I instantly was sympathetic. The only problem was that he was getting sick into a clear plastic bag.