The 2nd part of the Room 31 saga.  I stop and visit the Bates Motel.  Personally.  A repeat from last year.

23 years after the events of my last story, “CRASHES NEXT TO ROOM 31,” would you know that your humble narrator is still plying the highways of the Garden State? In fact, I drive through the Lincoln Tunnel regularly on my way to work.

As I pondered this story, I was furtively glancing over my shoulder while exiting or entering the I-495 trench leading to the gaping hole of the Lincoln Tunnel. It’s a very busy place, a “great attractor” of traffic where cars merge and change lanes on a moment’s notice. I could only steal a glimpse or two safely of the former York Motel, more easily on the New York-bound side. It’s still there, looking much more polished in 2017 than it did in 1994 (or 1982). Gone is the sign advertising “hourly rates.” Up is the new logo of a national motel chain and what appears to be coat of fresh looking white paint.

I had never been a guest of the York Motel on a nightly – or otherwise – basis and thought that stopping by for a quick look around might be interesting. I wondered if I would be able to find the infamous room 31 and what the motel might look and feel like close up.

Online, the motel advertises cheap rates and transportation to and from Manhattan. I knew all about that from my Dad’s move to Weehawken in 1970. Close to Manhattan, sure. Times Square is almost exactly 3 miles away as the crow flies. Just try driving there at any civilized hour of the day (or early evening). If you could walk on water, you would get there faster.

Does the locality resemble Manhattan in any way? Can you walk anywhere to get a bagel?

Not likely. I have long since been fatigued by marketing and promotion that tries to sell New Jersey as part of New York.  I have my reasons.

Anyway you strangle it, the rates are way less than Manhattan!

Last Thursday, after I published my post, I was driving back to New York City. The York Motel was, of course, fresh on my mind. I knew that I would be passing it on the right. If I wanted to see it for myself, it would be an easy off-ramp – the same one my Dad took in 1994 where he was rear-ended.  Maybe even take a few pictures. It was a pitch black October evening, so visibility would be limited. But what the hell?  This is an October kind of story.

The events of December 23, 1982 at the York Motel, like the one on October 1, 2017 at the Mandalay Bay, was proof that the ogres of Grimm’s Fairy Tales hadn’t been so fanciful after all. In fact, I am persuaded that there have always been ghouls in our world.  The best advice, passive as it might be, is to steer clear.

At the Kennedy Boulevard exit, I pulled my trusty ride over to the right and started climbing the hill of the exit ramp. By 9PM, the dinner traffic rush to Manhattan was subsiding so concerns about getting rear-ended were much diminished. I did have to make a dramatic and immediate hard right to pull into the parking lot of the motel. Parking was provided on either side of the oblong structure. I chose the right hand side, thinking that I could drive around the building like most motels. I was wrong. The narrow driveway, bounded by a high white plastic fence on the right, dead-ended.

I parked my car and popped out to look at the room numbers under a gloomy night sky, illuminated by tinny overhead lights, the ambiance as inviting as an 1950s-style hospital operating room. The numbers were all 100s, presumably for the first floor. I looked upstairs and noticed all numbers were in the 200s, as expected. So where was number 31? I followed the numbers to room 120 at the end. So where were the 130s?

The other side.

I walked through a hallway and found room 140. Turning left, I walked down the descending numbers and easily found 131. From the outside, it looked exactly like just another dingy room.


Care to rent this room?

The motel didn’t look as nice close up as it did on the highway. On this side of the joint, the east side, I could see that the Palisades Cliff had been dynamited to make a flat lot on which the motel had been built. The rough exposed rock formed a solid wall to the East, which must have made for dark shadowed mornings.


I followed the walkway towards signs marked “Office” and soon found myself in a modern motel check-in and check-out vestibule, an exotic clerk behind a thick sheet of what appeared to be bullet-proof glass. On my side was a man whom I thought was maybe another guest checking in or out, but he turned out to be a manager, or possibly owner.

So, I chatted him up. Yes, he knew that the Motel had been formerly known as the York Motel. He knew that something had happened in Room 31 some 35 years ago and clearly did not want to talk about it. Understandable. There would be no access to any secret information about the events of December 23, 1982; these folks knew less than I did.

Here’s a picture of the lobby adorned with Halloween regalia.



I made a U-turn and came out the way I had came in, looking carefully for traffic exiting I-495. When the coast was clear, I floored it so that no one could hit me and navigated my Dad’s ‘Intersection of Doom’ in the murky night. It did not feel very welcoming and, for once, I was glad to be in the Lincoln Tunnel moments later.

Sometimes the past does not want to give up its secrets.

To be clear, my Dad was not directly involved in any way with the York Motel.  It’s just that this place was in fact one of the cornerstones of his ‘Intersection of Doom.’  Most people simply know it as a traffic clogged junction where they were held against their will for hours at a time.

Across the highway was the pharmacy where Dad returned condoms because “they were made for midgets.”  The “left turn from hell” was cater corner.  His funeral home was on this same side (as the motel) of the highway, down a few blocks.

I haven’t yet discussed much Dad’s last days in the Bernard Olcott Story.  To jump to the future for a brief moment, on Saturday September 2, 2006, he attempted to drive for some reason from his home in Weehawken to his office.  It was an extraordinary day in the New York City area.  I remember it well.  The weather the entire day was stormy and rainy, exceptionally dark for that time of the year.  Dad became lost, which was strange in that he had lived in Weehawken for 36 years and the drive was little more than half a mile.  He knew the way like the back of his hand.

Inside the family, we never knew exactly what happened, but he somehow ended up at a service station in an agitated and incomprehensible state.  An ambulance was summoned and, unknown to us, he ended up in a hospital for observation, until I was called the following Monday, Labor Day.

We don’t know for sure, but my bet is he got tangled up in this intersection bordered by the York Motel.



Today, on tap for you is a repeat, my number one post from last year.  Please do continue to look under those motel mattresses, if you are a road warrior.

Crashes were not always relegated to software programs. Sometimes I experienced other kinds.  And they often happened close to the office.  Or next to scary places nearby.

In late spring 1994, Dad and I made a marketing call to a potential client without Bob. It was a major telecom company based in northern New Jersey, about an hour’s drive from Weehawken. The prospect was already running one of our competitor’s patent management systems, and wasn’t looking for a change. Rather, this was going to be a straight-up discussion about annuity payment services, right down Dad’s alley.

After some preparation, we plunked down inside my Dad’s lobotomized Mercedes Benz and traced our way to the company via the Garden State’s ribbon of expressways as guided by a crusty folded highway map.  As mentioned in my post “HIS NAME WAS BOB GERHARDT,” Dad had a method of increasing gasoline efficiency in automobile engines. It involved disabling multiple cylinders within the engine based on the simple premise that each cylinder is a source of fuel consumption and combustion. If you can shut them off, you will consume less fuel.

What could be simpler?


The Central Park Zoo in the mid-to-late 1960s barely resembles today’s facility.  The centerpiece, the Sea Lion Pool, which remains pretty much as it was (with the addition of plexiglass walls, so you can see the seals swimming underwater). But the rest of it, which resembled a prison for animals, has been dramatically remodeled to be the more “naturalistic” habitat seen today.

CP Zoo2

For one thing, back then you could tell when you were close to the Zoo by the strong smell of excrement. Today, the smell is gone, with one exception: the Penguin room which has a fairly strong scent of guano. Well, they do have a lot of water birds paddling around in the simulated Antarctic environment; the main attraction is their own indoor  large plexiglass pool where the aquatic acrobats can be admired while “flying” through the water.  According to the penguin keeper, they love it when the keepers “turn the rain on.”

Zoo Pengies.jpg

Back in the mid-1960s, I remember a row of cells behind the Sea Lion pool, where incarcerated animals could be seen behind two rows of bars. There was a gorilla, a leopard, and several other inmates. They either sat at the bars looking out sullenly, or paced back and forth endlessly.


by James Thurber. Reprinted from “Fables For Our Time” as published on

SELRES_b8a6cde1-2b94-4f90-a3b2-fbe72078debdSELRES_aedfdf38-a27b-4311-ba41-fce3dfad8eddSELRES_c8832d7f-ce0e-42c0-9506-7e871176971aSELRES_4c9353a7-9e90-4945-bb85-d7d3c61a4e5fSELRES_0db28aa6-011d-4eeb-a4fc-9ca4e1a1c513Just because!SELRES_0db28aa6-011d-4eeb-a4fc-9ca4e1a1c513SELRES_4c9353a7-9e90-4945-bb85-d7d3c61a4e5fSELRES_c8832d7f-ce0e-42c0-9506-7e871176971aSELRES_aedfdf38-a27b-4311-ba41-fce3dfad8eddSELRES_b8a6cde1-2b94-4f90-a3b2-fbe72078debd

Once upon a sunny morning a man who sat in a breakfast nook looked up from his scrambled eggs to see a white unicorn with a golden horn quietly cropping the roses in the garden. The man went up to the bedroom where his wife was still asleep and woke her. “There’s a unicorn in the garden,” he said. “Eating roses.” She opened one unfriendly eye and looked at him.

“The unicorn is a mythical beast,” she said, and turned her back on him. The man walked slowly downstairs and out into the garden. The unicorn was still there; now he was browsing among the tulips. “Here, unicorn,” said the man, and he pulled up a lily and gave it to him. The unicorn ate it gravely. With a high heart, because there was a unicorn in his garden, the man went upstairs and roused his wife again. “The unicorn,” he said,”ate a lily.” His wife sat up in bed and looked at him coldly. “You are a booby,” she said, “and I am going to have you put in the booby-hatch.”


The events recounted in my post last week, “PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 2,” took place in the mid-to-late 1980s. It was a tumultuous time for me. I had finally taken my place in the family business — the one I had grown up in — only to discover that the business that bears my name turned out to be a toxic place for me personally.

Specifically, it wasn’t the business per se.  The work and the employees were cool.  Even Yoshi!

It was my Dad, the founder and CEO, the man I looked up to, who had sadly become erratic and “eccentric.” So much so that, with great reservations, I decided to leave the company and go back to school to earn my MBA.  One market crash later, I found that, much to my shock and chagrin, I was back at the very same company in the mid-1990s. Things had not improved.

Last time, I introduced a character named Herby Wellington, a world famous stockbroker and financial genius of the storied Wall Street firm, “Slaminger.¹”

I suspect that Herby persistently cold-called my Dad until he somehow got through. As a matter of course, Dad dodged such calls, occasionally yelling into the receiver and slamming it down in front of the staff at Olcott International.  Everybody was entertained.  Except, perhaps, for the cold caller broker.


While on the topic of fathers and sons, I post for your delight this week another guest post from my high school classmate Ned McDonnell.

Drinking alcohol was against the rules at our boarding high school.  Transgression resulted in an 10 days unanticipated visit home for the first offense.  You could surprise the folks by coming home!!!  And permanent banishment on the second.  Since I was on my way to Theologian studies at the Vatican, I was never subjected to this harsh process.

Unfortunately for Ned, he got busted.

This is his story about going home and the reception that awaited him there.

My Far-away Father

My father, John Gordon McDonnell, was an engineer by training and a World War II Navy drill instructor. That made him a tenacious disciplinarian with a very cut-and-dried view of life. After we moved back to Pittsburgh from Sydney in 1968, my father and I did little together since he no longer needed a jib-man on his week-end sailing adventures. For a perfect snap-shot of our ‘rapport’, listen to “Earache My Eye” by Cheech and Chong.

Big Bambu

The Plane! The Plane!

“Good afternoon, we are approaching Pittsburgh International Airport. Please make sure your seat-belts are fastened, seats upright and cigarettes extinguished. Skies are clear at thirty-five degrees. Thank you for travelling with Allegheny Airlines and we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving 1975. Go Steelers!”

As DC-9s were wont to do, this smaller jet rocked in the coming winter’s wind. That weaving legitimated a creeping, contingent nausea. No, I was physically in good shape after the extra day on campus laying down the varsity basketball court and the wrestling mats, etc. in the School’s gym. My defiant manner of that moment failed to hide my gnawing shame of letting my family down by facing expulsion from prep school and dishonoring my family.


When I review my site statistics, I notice which posts are most popular, and where most of the viewers come from.  “LOOKIN’ FOR THE EIFFEL TOWER” is my third most popular post ever and it receives most views from France!  Aside from some of my fans out there, I think most folks who stumbled across my post were probably Americans (and a few dizzy South Africans) looking for a famous monument in the City of Lights.

So while I am busy writing “PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 2,” I repost for your enjoyment my number one hit from France.  I recommend that you read this post while listening to my favorite station over there, TSFJazz (occasionally playing live, raging jazz from nightclubs all over Pair-ee!)

The events in this story are from July 1969, right after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon!

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.