Saturday, July 30, 2011


Just finished a six-day whirlwind trip to New York and Pennsylvania.  We left last Thursday morning and pulled into Skaneateles, NY that night in time to party at a camp on this scenic Finger Lake.  By the time we arrived, the kids were wild and the adults couldn't have cared less.  I hate being the only sober one in the crowd.

That night we stayed at a "boutique hotel" in town.  Being  unsophisticated, I had no idea what a "boutique hotel" meant.  I knew Gal Friday booked the handicapped accessible room, so I wasn't worried, but I did wonder what type of establishment to expect.  Some of the images I conjured up mostly dealt with female fashions or cosmetics so I was prepared to get in touch with my feminine side.  After a two-night stay, I'm still not sure what a "boutique hotel" is except maybe...small.  It turned out to be an old house with a few upgrades like beds in the bedrooms and a refrigerator on the second floor.  The TV did have a remote though and the pillows were fluffy.

We hit the town at  precisely the right time...if you like to shop outside on the streets in 102 degree weather.  The town was engaged in some kind of festival where everyone from the surrounding areas get to spend money.  I'm not complaining because I got to play my favorite sport - making people on the sidewalks dodge my power chair.  This chair can do a lot of damage to human tissue, especially when I have the power jacked up full throttle.  Pain is utmost prominent when hit by this flying missile.  I know because I ran into myself  (not easy to do) and realized what a weapon I had at my disposal.  Oh, yeah, I love to see Jack and Jill jump.  I have a scoring system:  members of the law - 80 points; athletic type teenagers - 50 points; dogs - 30 points; old people - 20 points; old people with walkers - 10 points.  I shoot for 100 points per outing.

That evening we attended a tribute to Carolyn, a close friend who died a few months earlier.  Her husband hosted this bittersweet occasion, which was held at the Skaneateles Country Club.  The club sits on the lake's shore and is truly beautiful; in fact the village and surrounding countryside are too.  It's a scenic wonderland and if you ever have the opportunity, I would recommend you visit the Finger Lakes region.  It's really a shame people don't know there's so much more to New York State than the Big Apple. 

The next morning we left town and drove to Utica where we stayed another two nights.  That afternoon and evening we attended a golf tournament, but not just any golf tournament.  This is the annual Coffin Family and Friends Golf Tournament.  This is quite a story.

For fifteen years, I ran my own little golf tournament to pony up some cash for a couple of different charitable organizations.  Ike Coffin, who is married to my niece, and some of his siblings would trek down from NY to NC to participate.  Actually, calling this event a golf tournament might be construed as somewhat of an embellishment... it really was a party.  Golf clubs were optional.  To save embarrassment, I won't delve into the awards and the reasons for these prestigious prizes.

Ike took this "raising money by playing golf" concept to the extreme.  He initiated a similar tournament in upstate NY...but a legitimate golfing event.  Each year they made money and distributed it to local families in need.  Their slogan became "To Demonstrate Small Town Values for Life."  Each year the tournament increased in size and finally they started a foundation, which has grown to over a million dollars.  They have helped so many people who really needed aid.  They have expanded and now also hold tournaments in Virginia and Georgia.  It's absolutely wonderful to see true civic service in action.  My hat is off to Ike and the whole Coffin family.  

The next day Gal Friday and I visited one of our old college professors who I hadn't seen in 50 years.  When I say old, I'm talkin' ancient.  This old codger is 96 and that's not in dog years.  Ray Simon was the originator of the public relations curricula at Utica College and is the honored granddaddy of the department.  Ray is acknowledged nationally as an expert on the subject and has published and lectured nationwide. 

When we arrived, his wife Lyn greeted us warmly.  Then Ray came out of the house.  Truthfully I expected to see him wheeled out, but no way.  This guy looked as dapper and energetic as Sammy Davis Jr.  I was a little envious.  To make matters worse, he helped place my portable ramp on his steps so I could gain entrance to the house.  I mean, come on, a guy four years shy of a century helping me didn't bolster my self-image.  Of course, taking all his criticism during his classes back in college didn't either.

Now you have to understand Gal Friday was  his pet student while I represented the clown he tolerated.  This guy had such an impact on me, I still have dreams about not graduating from college.   To bolster his memory of us, his wife pulled out an old grade book.  Oh, no!  How could she submit me to further embarrassment?  Suddenly I felt like the kid who gets caught stealing candy.  Nervous sweat formed under my arms as I tried to look cool.  First she looked up Gal Friday's grade... B.  That was probably the worst mark she ever had in his classes.  Then she slowly turned the pages searching for my name.  Seconds seemed like hours as my anxiety grew and  prickly itching overtook my body.  I just knew the nervous sweat showed through my shirt.  I prayed I wouldn't soil my pants.

"Oh, here it is", she calmly whispered.  She raised her head to stare at me - our eyes locked.  She must have read my pleading look as she excused herself and left the room with grade book in hand.  By this time I was paralyzed with guilt, shame, you name it.  Back in she came and sat down.  Raising the book,  "Oh, where was I?  yes here it is, Conte... B.

Apparently God had intervened.  He must have given Lyn an instant dose of compassion.  I'm certain she turned an F into a B.  I think Gal Friday and Ray were surprised, but I was shocked.  I wanted to crawl out of my chair, across the room and kiss her feet.  I would have, but Gal Friday had restrained me with the chair's seat belt.  Lyn instantly became my number one heroine.  If she was a charity, I would have pledged my life.

We ended our visit with a couple of photos and the picture of Lyn will have a prominent place in our new home.  As we left, Ray patted me on the head and congratulated me on my writing and encouraged me to keep doing so.  I wondered if he would have done so if that grade had been an F.  A pat on the head from the legendary Ray Simon - wow, quite a day.

Then we drove to the Oneida Indian Nation's Turning Stone Casino complex in Vernon, NY  to dine with six old high school chums.  This place is something else.  I've traveled all over the world and seen some impressive hotels and this rates right up there.  Of course having a casino, three golf courses and bringing in top name entertainment doesn't hurt.  The Oneidas struck oil with this place.

After Gal Friday drove approximately 109 miles around the complex to find a proper parking space, we entered through the main doors.  Holy moly, this place was both elaborate and gigantic.  We looked on the directory for the fancy Italian restaurant where we were to meet our friends.  Appreciating the ambiance, I hoped my social security check  would cover the cost of a  plate of spaghetti.  (Residual anxiety from the Ray and Lyn visit.  Once I got the bill, I was extremely happy to discover the prices were moderate.) 

The structure is like a maze and Gal Friday followed me around like a rat hunting cheese.  By some stroke of luck my classmates found me as I whizzed around going nowhere.  I knew I was lost, but still making good time.  They asked where Gal Friday was and I said right behind me, but as I turned to look, no Gal Friday.  Oh, God, no, I lost her.  Panic struck at my very core.  I immediately doubled back frantically searching for my true love, but she was nowhere to be found.  Just as I planned self-assassination, two of my buddies escorted her to my side.  Boy, what a relief - what would my life be like sans Gal Friday?  I'd be dead in the water without her.  Her return meant so much, plus, she had my wallet.

We spent a grand evening with Bob and Jean, Thad and Jane and Chuck and Pam telling old lies, while engendering new ones.  Great people, happy times.

The next day we drove to Monroeville, PA.  I say we drove, but Gal Friday handles all the driving now.  She drove 1350 miles on this little jaunt.  We arrived at midnight.  The following day we lunched at another high school classmate's house.  I've known John since I was four years young and we've stayed in touch most of our lives.  His wife Joyce has suffered through broken bones, heart attacks and cancer in the past five years and John had his bout with cancer too.  Tough sledding for this couple, but they maintain positive attitudes and are fun to be around.

Their house sits a few steps up from the walkway, so I couldn't navigate my chair into their home.  Although John is an engineer, his career, from which he retired, was financial.  He offered to build a makeshift ramp to get me into the house.  I countered with, "How about eating in the garage?"  Hey, a financier!  These were the guys that caused the housing crisis and he wanted to build me a "makeshift" ramp.  I protested violently, but it fell on deaf ears.  He lugged a couple of 4x4's and a piece of plywood from the garage and up I scooted.  Gal Friday couldn't watch for fear I'd fall.

We had a nice lunch and chat with my old friends and when ready to leave, I hesitated at the top of the ramp.  Somehow the angle of the ramp's slope changed dramatically while we unknowingly enjoyed lunch.

I distinctly remembered how it looked from the bottom up, but it was a whole different matter looking from the top down. Peering  down the ramp reminded me of a breathtaking water slide at Six Flags.  Oh, oh, yesterday's anxiety mode reared its ugly head.  Unable to witness my attempt, Gal Friday left the scene.   I geared my chariot down to almost reverse and closed my eyes as I started my plummet.  Look, Ma, no eyes - I made it.

Gal Friday got us home by midnight...we'll take a few days to recover.

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