Saturday, October 6, 2007



September 19, 2007

Despite spending $600 on my fridge, it is still acting up and now it is freezing everything. As a result, I had to clean up a burst beer can. This problem only arises when it is operating on propane and not on electricity, so I don’t know what else is wrong. At this point I am considering just buying a new fridge. The quote I got in Canada is $3,000, but it may be cheaper in the USA.

I’ve seen a lot of seashore on my travels, and decided to go through the middle section of Connecticut instead of Mystic, etc. Visitor Centres are very helpful in determining a route, as they always have lots of brochures and maps, and Connecticut was no exception. Shortly after crossing the state line there was a sign for a Visitor Centre, offering details about the state, including a book that listed campgrounds. There aren’t very many in this state, and I was told that the electricity and water charges to campgrounds is exorbitant; hence the shortage of these facilities.

I chose to head to Branch Brook near Thomaston, which is north of Waterbury and across the road from Black Rock State Park. Denise, one of the owners of the Branch Brook was very friendly and helped me to back into my shady site, which came complete with a wooden deck. She owns a Wheaton terrier, which just goes to show that dog owners are friendly people! She later helped me when I told her of my fridge troubles and she brought out a catalog for me to compare prices (there was one listed in the size I need for $1,300), and also when I wanted to buy a part for my greywater tank, she told me not to pay for it until I was sure it was the right size (which it turned out it wasn’t).

After hooking up the RV and relaxing a bit, Ripley and I were visited by the camp cat, a large dark grey guy with white paws. He made himself quite at home, enjoying the scratches I gave him—but out of reach of Ripley, who was quite excited and I was afraid she would scare him off.

Laundry time once again. This is generally a good spot to meet other campers and this place was no exception. This time I chatted with a woman whose husband has a very dangerous occupation and which forces them to travel around the country from job to job. He is a rock climber who stabilizes the rocks adjacent to highways so that they don’t fall down on to passing cars. I didn’t know that such a job existed, but the constant moving around is hard for his family. They have three children and their mother home-schools them in their Fifth Wheel, which didn’t seem quite large enough for the five of them, plus their dog. The kids were quite cute and they all wanted to take turns walking Ripley. I’m not sure that Ripley enjoyed this as much as the kids did!

I decided to try phoning my friend Monica, who lives in New Rochelle, New York to see if I could connect with her, and left her a voice message. She called me back later and invited me to come and stay with her. She lives in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets, but she said to bring Ripley anyway! So, we will head there the day after tomorrow.

September 20, 2007 – Branch Brook Campground Continued.

First thing in the morning Ripley and I headed over to the State Park. Dogs are allowed but only on a leash. However, it was very early and not even the staff had arrived yet, so I didn’t heed the signs. Ripley always enjoys running off leash and never strays very far away. The park is relatively small, surrounded by houses, but still is a nice oasis with lots of tall trees and plenty of squirrels, just to drive Ripley nuts. We came upon a brook, which I guess is Branch Brook, meandering along after going over a small waterfall. We followed the brook and it goes right through the campground on the other side of the highway.

I decided to stay another day, even though the fee is $38. It is a very serene place, and I don’t feel like traveling.

One of the other campers has an Ontario license plate, and just as I was going over to say hello, Verne came over to see me. He and his wife Susan are from Alliston, Ontario. Verne is retired now but Susan has decided to be a traveling nurse, taking contracts in various places for three months or so. She prefers to work nights, so she was sleeping at the time that Verne visited. He said that he is an independent fellow and doesn’t mind being on his own most of the time. After Sue’s contract is up they are heading to Arizona where she will work again. We had a great chat about all sorts of things, and Verne offered to fix my greywater tap, which is broken. That is the part I mentioned earlier that I thought Denise had in the office. However, later we ascertained that it was the wrong size. Too bad, as it would have been a good opportunity to get this fixed for free.

Verne had a nasty cut on his arm which he got while out cycling on the trail nearby. He hit a tree root and took a bad fall. I didn’t realize that there were such trails right by the campsite, and went off exploring with Ripley. The trees back there were about 30 feet tall. There were all kinds of trails leading in every direction, with the sun just touching the forest floor where there was only sparse vegetation. Truly a peaceful place for a stroll, with the brook on one side. I don’t know who owns the land, but I hope that this area is not slated for future development.

Later on when Verne came over to see about fixing my greywater tap, he invited me over to his RV for a drink. They have a lovely motor home, complete with a slide-out that makes it quite spacious, as well as a large kitchen, a built-in computer with printer, 3 (!) TV’s, and lots of storage space, both inside and out. This is not their first RV as they have been traveling around for a few years, but now they are full timers. It is quite fortunate that Susan has a portable type of job that allows her to work in the USA, as well as to be covered by medical insurance for her and Verne. OHIP has allowed her to be away from Ontario for five years with a possible extension of another two years.

Verne is very easy to talk to, but unfortunately I never did get a chance to meet Susan as she was either sleeping or working. However, we may meet up in Arizona, and we exchanged email addresses.

The nights here have been very cool, dipping to the low 40’s F, with a daytime high in the 70’s F.

September 21, 2007 – On to the Big Apple

Before heading out, I stopped to fill up with propane at the office, and chatted with Lamar, an Air Force helicopter pilot who was just moving his motor home out to the house that he and his wife purchased yesterday. He told me that he managed to survive duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan and decided that he would re-locate here in the US teaching others to fly helicopters. He reasoned that he wanted to be there for his children who are 12 and 14, to spend time with them before they decided that they were too old for that kind of thing.

Denise was again very helpful when I mentioned that my brake light was coming on. She called John at the nearby Sunoco station. She sends a lot of the campers to him, and he had a look. He said the brakes looked fine and that it was probably just the sensor giving trouble. I felt quite reassured after this, as I had been very worried about driving with faulty brakes.

So, we hit the road again, traveling south and with the help of Maude, made our way to New Rochelle. It took a bit of effort to find a parking spot where Philippa would fit and where there weren’t restrictions on time, but eventually I found a spot on a side street about three blocks from Monica’s apartment.

Monica is a friend who used to be a zoo keeper, more specifically, a gorilla keeper at the Toronto Zoo. She was chosen to be a New Noah by the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, and spent time at the Jersey Zoo and then on the island of Mauritius working with an endangered parakeet there. She went on to get her Masters Degree in England and then landed a job in New York City as Program Director for Africa with the Wildlife Conservation Society (formerly the New York Zoological Society) back in 2000. She readily admits that she is a poor correspondent, so we had more or less lost touch. And so, it was all the more exciting to see her and to spend time catching up.

I had mentioned that her apartment building doesn’t allow pets, so we had to sneak Ripley in and out. We did meet the odd tenant, but otherwise there wasn’t a problem until the second last day.

Monica lives in a pre-war building that has features you just don’t see in modern affordable apartments (especially in the New York City area). It is quite spacious with a sunken living room, a dining room, two bathrooms and a very deep, big bathtub. The second bedroom is a reasonable size and Monica’s bedroom is quite large. She has decorated the apartment with lots of memorabilia, including pieces from her parents’ and her aunt’s house. It truly is a sanctuary from the craziness of the city. She actually lives just outside New York City in New Rochelle.

We took Ripley in Monica’s car to nearby Larchmont and sat in chairs outside Starbuck’s there. As usual the passersby were charmed with Ripley, and even a woman driving by commented on what a lovely dog she was.

Right now the Canadian dollar is at par with the American dollar, so I made a quick stop at a nearby ATM machine. Monica then took me on a tour of the large houses along the shore in Larchmont.

Since my fridge was acting up again, I had brought all my frozen stuff into the apartment, and we had some of it for dinner. I then took advantage of the deep bathtub to have a lovely soak. They just don’t make tubs like that anymore!

September 22, 2007

At 2:30 a.m. Ripley indicated to me that she had to pee, so I blearily dressed and took her down the four flights of stairs to the lobby. Monica had previously told me that she had encountered a skunk when she left for work early one day, and so did we! It was crossing the street as we were walking by and when they saw each other, both Ripley and skunk froze. Luckily the skunk did not raise its tail, but just waited patiently in the middle of the street for us to walk on by. I turned my head to watch it as it completed its journey across the street and into the garden of a nearby house. Like all wild creatures, many adapt to an urban life.

After Ripley did her business, we walked up the four flights of stairs and I crawled back into bed. I had been apprehensive about the safety of the neighbourhood, but Monica assured me it was quite safe, and indeed it did seem to be so during my stay. At 8:00 a.m. Ripley and I took another walk and I checked on the RV. All is well.

Monica and I discussed what to see during my visit and we agreed that a night at a symphony or opera performance would be agreeable, even though tickets are expensive. The symphony was not playing today so we chose to buy tickets for the opera tonight.

One destination I wanted to hit while in the Big Apple was the Metropolitan Museum. Monica has been there many times, so I chose to go in to the city by myself and to meet up with her later on in the day. She offered to take Ripley out for a walk during the day (I think she misses not having a pet). She walked me to the train station and gave me the directions to the Museum. Calling upon my newly acquired Seniors status, I paid $7.50 for a return ticket, getting off at Grand Central Station. The dome in the central part of the station has astrological signs around the circle, and I’m told it is lit up at night. Monica had told me which subway to get on. The only problem was that I was going in the opposite direction to the Museum! I ended up at the Brooklyn Bridge before asking the passenger beside me if I was going the right way. Luckily it is only a matter of climbing the stairs and crossing to the opposite side of the track to catch the right train. And I caught an express, so it didn’t take too long. The Museum is at 82nd Street and Central Park Avenue. The subway stops at 86th Street and Lexington, a relatively short walk. BUT it was raining when I came out. An entrepreneur was selling umbrellas -- $10 and $15. The $10 one looked exactly the same as the one I had bought in a dollar store at home (and which was in my RV), so I decided to get a little wet. After all, I wouldn’t melt and I would dry off eventually. It wasn’t pouring, only spitting rain.

It was worth getting a bit wet to visit the Metropolitan Museum.

They have truly spectacular exhibits, and I had to keep reminding myself that the mummy I was looking at, the Rembrandt on the wall, the complete Egyptian tomb, etc., etc. were all authentic. It is not a place that you can see in a day, or even two, but is best viewed in small pieces in order to appreciate the magnificent works. I was therefore able only to get an overview of the areas that I did visit in the hours I was there. The items for sale in the many shops were tempting, but I am being good about not collecting “stuff” again (at least so far!).

Portion of a Painting

Egyptian Sphinx

After several hours of wandering, I needed the restorative power of a cup of tea in the museum café upstairs. Saturday appears to be a very busy day and it wasn’t possible to find a table that wasn’t occupied, so I asked an older woman sitting by herself if I could join her. She and her husband had come to New York City from North Carolina for the weekend and planned to see Jersey Boys later that day. After her husband joined her, they left and I invited a young man looking for a place to sit, to sit at my table. He is an Austrian businessman, sent here by his CEO to take a course on business English. His English seemed just fine to me, but he told me that more and more of the clients of the bank he works for are dealing with people whose common language is English. He seemed to be enjoying himself with his free time before his course begins in Monday.

And so, on to the Rembrandt gallery where I marveled at the technique of the various Dutch artists represented there, besides Rembrandt. There were works by Vermeers, Hals and Raphael and many more whose names I did not know. And then on to the Greek and Roman galleries.

By this time I was feeling quite a bit of pain in my left hip, which has been bothering me for some days now. I think I have a pinched sciatic nerve.

Monica and I had arranged to meet at Fiorello’s Restaurant across the street from the Lincoln

Centre, and we snagged a seat in the outdoor area. It was noisy but I wanted the real New York atmosphere. Monica had suggested this restaurant because previously she had found that ordering the antipastos made the price reasonable. But the prices had been raised since she was last here. We each ordered the same thing – 6 antipasto special (3 seafood and 3 vegetable), and a carafe of wine. No dessert. No coffee. But bill came to $45 each, and the meal was nothing spectacular. But that’s the big city for you.

We had chosen to see Don Giovanni performed by the New York City Opera at the Lincoln Centre. None of the cast was well known, but all were young, very capable artists, and the producer was the famous Harold Prince. The sets were not exactly elaborate. It wasn’t the Metropolitan Opera, but we both enjoyed the performance, although it was quite long.

Street Musicians

Taxis in New York City are quite reasonable but I can’t say much for the courtesy of the driver who took us to Grand Central Station. When Monica told him our destination, he demanded that she speak up. When we arrived and got out of the taxi, he insisted that she owed him an apology! What nerve!

We arrived home at 1:30 a.m. and of course Ripley needed a walk after her energetic welcoming.

September 23, 2007

I didn’t sleep very well.

Monica has been very generous with her time and suggested that we have brunch in the East Village and then take a walk in Central Park. What could be better than a typical way to spend a Sunday here? We drove down, with Ripley sitting on my knees.

Virage is a small restaurant on the lower East Side where we were allowed to sit outside at a table with Ripley. I can’t see that happening in Toronto! And she was not the only dog! When I saw Huevos Rancheros on the menu, I knew that that was what I wanted. It came complete with black beans and a wonderful salsa (and far too much food). Meanwhile, Ripley did her best to charm the nearby patrons. It was a perfect way to start the day.

I am glad that I wasn’t driving, as I would have given up on trying to find a parking spot near Central Park and maneuvering into tight spaces where cars routinely double park. After a half hour or so, we lucked in on a spot where someone was pulling out and grabbed it before someone else did (as had happened earlier).

One of many dogs enjoying Central Park
Central Park is truly an oasis where the inhabitants of the Big Apple can come to get away from their tiny apartments and the din of the city streets. It is a place where people walk their dogs, play cards, read a book or rent a boat (either full-size to row or in another pond a small, remote controlled boat to play with).

Remote Controlled Boats

Hans Christian Andersen Statue with
Young Admirer

Marilyn & Ripley (Dakota
Apartments in background)

Teams play baseball; others line up to see a performance of Shakespeare in the Park; others display their wares for sale on the walls outside the Park; others bring a blanket and simply watch the parade; everywhere you look people are enjoying this sanctuary, as were we. At one point we came across some firemen and policemen who had a ladder up a tree. The spectators were theorizing that there was a cat up there. Others said a squirrel. Whatever it was, the man up the ladder came down empty-handed.

The three of us (Monica, Ripley and I) walked possibly a couple of miles around the different areas, stopping here and there while I took photos. We didn’t quite get over to Strawberry Fields where the memorial to John Lennon is, mainly because we got on the wrong path, but I do have a shot of Ripley and me with the Dakota apartments in the background and next to the Boat Pond. We sat on a bench there for awhile and chatted to two British women who had come in on a cruise ship. It’s always fun to strike up a conversation and find out where people are from and what interests them. They were going to a Broadway show that evening (I forget which one).

The weather was perfect for this saunter around the Park – temperature about 80 degrees F, sunny and breezy.

On the way home Ripley fell asleep. She had had an exhausting day! We were all tired and decided that renting a movie and staying in was good. I cooked one of my favourite dishes for us using a pound of ground beef, pasta, veggies and tomato sauce seasoned with oregano and basil. And so we settled down in front of the TV to watch Georgia Rule.

September 24, 2007

The building painter caught me going out of the apartment building with Ripley and told me that dogs were not allowed in the building. I assured him that I was simply visiting and was on my way out. That was stretching the truth a bit, but was not exactly a lie. Monica suggested that in future I should use the back entrance, and there was no further trouble.

I checked on the RV, and the fridge has stopped working completely on propane. Everything in the fridge is ruined.

Monday is a working day for Monica, so I took the train down to Grand Central Station and walked to the Grayline stop for a two-hour double-decker tour of New York City. It’s a good way to get around a large area of downtown and see some of the buildings and sights. Unfortunately, the UN was opening and some of the streets were cordoned off, but it was still worth it. I debated about going over to Ground Zero, and chose not to.

The Naked Cowboy (a fixture in Times Square)

Graveyard in Manhatten

Taxi Drivers like to decorate their cabs

My hip continues to give me trouble, and I tried to arrange an appointment with a nearby licensed massage therapist. I left messages for two different places, but neither returned my call.

When Monica came home we sat down to watch “The Good Shepherd”, but I fell asleep halfway through.

September 25, 2007

I am leaving tomorrow and wanted to visit the Gorilla Congo Exhibit at the Bronx Zoo where Monica works. We arranged for me to take the 1:00 train to Fordham Station where she picked me up. Her office is in one of a row of “temporary” buildings. She has a huge responsibility of ensuring that all the WCS programs in Africa are operating smoothly, that the researchers have the equipment and support they need to carry out their projects successfully. And most important of all, she writes grants to obtain the financial support needed. She is charge of a $25 million budget. I don’t envy the administrative aspect, but she does get to travel to Africa frequently.

Entrance to Butterfly Garden

I was last at the Bronx Zoo in 1988 (I believe) when I brought our male gorilla Barney down. At that time I was quite appalled at the ancient gorilla facility there. In contrast the new, very expensive Congo Exhibit is truly wonderful. The visitor goes through a tall gate made out of bamboo and enters an area surrounded by tall foliage, a waterfall and recorded sounds of insects and birds, re-creating the feel of being in a rainforest. There are signs that prompt the visitor to look for elephant dung or a termite hill, etc. and through the trees, an okapi is calmly grazing. Further on there is a rock grotto to walk through and then the visitor passes through some exhibits of mandrills, DeBrazza and other monkeys, and enters an education area with information on the species that are being eradicated in Africa, and then on to a theatre where you can watch a short film on this topic.

Capuchin with "enrichment"

Bactrian Camels

And then you enter the two gorilla exhibits situated side by side. They are glass-fronted to protect the animals from human diseases, so the visitor gets a window view into the forested habitat. There are natural tall trees (protected by hot wire), as well as artificial ones that the gorillas can climb. Each exhibit is spacious, with hiding places for the animals – and there are three babies racing around with the adults. Only one group of gorillas was on display unfortunately, but it was nice to see that they were in a far more enriched environment than when Barney was there. It’s too bad that he didn’t survive to see it. He died at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado some years ago, after fathering a few babies.

Monica had very kindly arranged for me to meet with Chris, the Senior Keeper. She took time out of her busy schedule to chat, tell me about the gorillas and the procedures they use and other topics of mutual interest. Although I had left the zoo profession in 1995, it was just like old times chatting with her.

I also visited the new African Wild Dogs exhibit, which again has been done very well, with a glass front, plenty of trees and bushes (and some very sleepy dogs).

I really liked the Bug Carousel. Instead of traditional horses, there were various insects on which children could ride.

And the Mouse House was novel, housing several different species of rodents (although I would like to have seen fewer but larger exhibits).

At 5:00 I met Monica at her office and we drove back home, stopping off at Target so that I could buy a collapsible cooler (since the fridge isn’t working). She had picked up yet another movie to watch (Something’s Got to Give). I didn’t last very long and soon fell asleep. Thankfully Monica took Ripley out for her evening walk, as she had done last night too.

September 26, 2007

Ripley needed another 2:00 a.m. walk and we met yet another skunk who was rummaging through the garbage and who had dragged out an egg carton, which I guess had some yummy egg still in it. I marvel that wild creatures such as this skunk can manage to survive in an urban environment. They live in areas with busy streets, where water must be difficult to find, not to mention food, and yet they survive.

The parking signs on the street where the RV is stated that there was no parking on Wednesdays between 8:00 a.m. and noon, so that meant getting up earlier than usual to be on my way. Monica very kindly offered to get up with me to drive me and my bags to the RV. It was hard to say goodbye, knowing that it would probably be some time before we would meet again. Hopefully we will maintain email contact at the very least.

I have been corresponding with Laura Kelly, a friend of my friend Frances Burton, who is expecting me to arrive in a day or two. Unfortunately, she does not like dogs. This is going to be somewhat difficult. She had offered to have Ripley stay with one or other or her friends who have dogs, but I explained to Laura that Ripley had been abused and abandoned, and still suffers from separation anxiety when I leave her. It is concerning me, but hopefully we can work something out.. I have offered to sleep in the RV with Ripley if we can find a shady spot to leave it. We shall see how it goes.

In the meantime, I wanted to find some quiet place in the country to veg out after the urban environment of New York, and headed southwest to Amish country in Pennsylvania. I chose Kinzer as my destination because the campground there was one of the Passport America sites where I could stay for half price. I almost made it and decided to stop at a gas station to fill up, when I noticed that I had another blow out on the same tire that I had previously had to replace. I do recall hitting a very violent bump on the highway in New Jersey and perhaps that is where the blow-out occur. Because it was on a dual wheel, I hadn’t noticed anything.

I went inside the gas station to ask if anyone knew where I could get a tire replaced, and one of the cashiers offered to call her uncle who made house calls for large tractor trailers. Unfortunately, she couldn’t reach him and left a message. And then a man whom she knew came in – a big burley fellow – and he offered to change the tire for me and put on the spare. He started to do so, and then suggested that the Wal Mart nearby could do this with their compressor much more easily. He called them on his cell to see if they had the right size, but no such luck. He then contacted Sumitomo to see if they had the size. He used to be a trucker who drove to Toronto and back, and we exchanged Canadian – American jokes while he was making these calls – especially the one about Canadians saying “eh?” all the time. Sure enough, Sumitomo had just one tire, and this fellow whose name I never did get, directed me to them. As a parting remark, I told him he was not so bad for an American.

And so I limped down the road, and now I can say that I have been to Paradise --- Paradise, Pennsylvania, that is. It is just close to Intercourse and Bird in Hand. The manager of the Sumitomo store arranged for one of his staff to change the tire, so while I was waiting I took Ripley for a walk in the back area of the shop. The edge of the yard was filled with many stones, and sandpipers found it a great place to make a nest. They don’t actually make a nest but simply lay their eggs amongst the stones. It is quite amazing how they blend in. You can be staring at the eggs, turn your head and then be unable to find the eggs again!

We also wandered to the back adjacent to an Amish farm, where the farmer was leading six horses harnessed to a heavy piece of machinery. The manager of the tire store told me that the Amish do use tractors for such things as putting silage into the silo, but where possible horses are used. They can also have a phone for emergencies, but it must be in an inconvenient place, such as in the middle of a field, rather than inside the house. Everything must be utilitarian. Their way of life is simple and in tune with nature.

Having paid the $250 fee for the new tire, I went down the road to Rovers Retreat Campground in Kinzer, and was directed to a site without trees. I really prefer to have shade because the RV can become quite hot during the day, but apparently those are reserved for the seasonals.

As my fridge had stopped working, I had the odious job of clearing out all the spoiled food and dumping it. What a waste. At least, it works when hooked up to electricity, so I have to decide what I’m going to do about this. It’s all very fine to have a small cooler, but in the long run it will be extremely inconvenient not to have the fridge. When I have the time to go to an RV dealer, I will enquire about buying a new one. In the meantime, I will have to buy perishables in small quantities, and rely more upon non-perishables.

Ripley and I walked around the campground in the dusk, with bats flying around in the adjacent trees. We found a gravel driveway leading up to a cornfield and adjacent to a farm machinery museum, and came upon a young Amish man mowing hay with three horses. It’s really a step back in time to find this anomaly in our society.

September 27, 2007

Because of the reasonable price ($17.50) and the peaceful surroundings, I decided to stay another day, to catch up with laundry, etc.

Ripley and I took a long walk down the road to the Post Office to mail some postcards. I was surprised at how much truck traffic there was, but then learned it is the major truck route between Pennsylvania and Harrisburg.

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