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.


From the hall of ersatz messages, we walked around the corner to the authentic original temple of modern dining, the Automat.

Long before McDonald’s and Burger King moved from strip mall paradises out on Highway 50 in Orlando to urban centers near Grand Central, Horn & Hardart had reigned supreme as America’s original fast food restaurant. Like the post office, the walls were covered with tiny glass windows displaying Salisbury steak, sandwiches, macaroni & cheese, pudding, or slices of cherry pie, all fed by kitchen staff behind the wall. After inserting either coin or token into the slot and turning the handle, you could raise the window and take out the delicacy.

There was also a cafeteria line if you had more time to wait.


Around 5 PM on an early summer’s day in the mid-1960s, Dad finished up his workday in his small suite in the Pan Am Building, towering above 42nd Street in mid-town Manhattan.  I stared at him. It was the end of the day, and Lenny, Dad’s Pall Mall chain-smoking secretary, was long out the door.

I was hungry and ready for my supper. But, typically, Dad had just one more thing to do before Miller time (for him, not me). It was always a letter that had to be mailed, a thick fat one. Stuffed full of papers, the envelope sat on Lenny’s desk, already addressed to a foreign patent office. The zip code was an indecipherable jumble of numbers and letters. Festooned with large denomination stamps, the likes of which I had never seen before, this package of computer print-outs and a foreign currency bank draft was destined for the post office. And then some foreign patent office out in the big, wide world beyond!


Everyone has a shining moment. My Dad’s bears repeating. He really slayed it!

So Dad got the idea for a fantastic business related to patent filings and infringements, kind of an amalgam between legal and IT but not a legal practice, strictly speaking. As I am able to remember it, he had become friendly with Ed Greer, who was head patent counsel for the Union Carbide Corporation. Union Carbide was one of the biggest chemical corporations of the day and was headquartered in their own magnificent skyscraper two blocks up Park Avenue from the Pan Am Building.

It was a probably a simple matter for Dad to put it together that large corporate patent owners could benefit from some form of computer calendaring.
Keep in mind that a large company like Union Carbide owned a large portfolio of patents. They would initially file patent applications in the home country, USA for Union Carbide. And as they were a large multinational corporation selling their wares everywhere, once the patent applications were accepted here at home, they would then engage in an international filing program elsewhere, typically the largest 15 countries in Western Europe and then Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and maybe Brazil and South Africa to boot.


Life is not easy. We all have problems-even tragedies-to deal with, and luck has nothing to do with it. Bad luck is only the superstitious excuse for those who don’t have the wit to deal with the problems of life. ”
Joan Lowery Nixon, In The Face of Danger

Problems?  Yeah, I had a few.  But let’s be real.  My weird situations are nothing compared to many suffered by others.

Consider Denne Bart Petitclerc, journalist, author, producer.  When he was 5 years old in 1934, his father took him to downtown Seattle to admire the holiday decorations.  Stopping in front of the giant Christmas tree, his dad told him to “watch the angel (on top of the tree), I’ll be right back.”  He didn’t return.  He left his child there, abandoning him to be an orphan in the December night.

At least I had a Father to love, to admire, to tell me funny stories, to join in the family business, and then to, maddeningly, watch as he withered away.  There were many good years, regardless.

I think we’ve all had pivotal moments like that, when everything changes.  Today’s story, a repeat, is about my night when the sky was darkest, and most unfamiliar.  Merry Christmas and don’t forget to count your blessings (and not boobies)!  

In the spring of 1962, I turned 4 years old. Mom and Dad were living at 1050 Fifth Avenue and Central Park was my playground. In the evening, I would play in my room and when I heard the door open and Dad enter the apartment, I would thrust myself down the stairs, yelling “Daddy, Daddy!” One time I came down the stairs so fast, I tripped and fell. I arrived at the bottom in a tumbled mess.

My Dad would have a seat on the couch, maybe after turning on the hi-fi or plopping the Four Lads on the phonograph. Mom would serve him a Rheingold. “What’s that?” I asked. “Beer,” he said. “Can I try some?” “Sure.” I did, it was not to my taste.

I was oblivious to the fact that the marriage of my Mom and Dad was finished.