Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy RIP

Ted Kennedy RIP

I met Ted Kennedy on two occasions, once when I was a kid, I guess I was nine in 1960 when Teddy was campaigning for his brother for President in downtown Camden and the nuns let us out of school to go see him.

It was at the Walt Whitman Hotel, which isn't there anymore, but at one time was a grand old hotel, and I was walking next to TK down the grand staircase, while he scribbled his name on a piece of paper for me.

I don't know what ever happened to that relic, but years later I met him again, this time at his home in McLean, Virginia, in the spring of 1977 or 78.

My friend Brian had lost a leg in a motorcycle accident in Ocean City (NJ), and with the insurance money he bought a little red TR7 sports car and asked me to join him on a cross country road trip. We lived in a seasonal-winter rental beach house at the time, with two other guys, and literally drove from coast to coast. My brother Leo gave us his CB radio and we were "Red 7" on a cross country trip to Long Beach, California, where we would attend the US Grand Prix auto race, which like Monaco, was through the streets of the town.

On the way we stopped to visit friends of mine from college, and in Colorado, stopped at Winterpark, where we met Hal O'Leary, who invented three-track skiing for one-legged handicapped people, like Brian. They ski without a prothesis, on one leg, with outriggers on the poles. After awhile you don't consider them handicaped, as Brian quickly became a better skier than me, a "normie."

A week or so later, on the other side of the Rockies, we put into Aspin, where we met another three-track skier on Ajax, Aspin Mountain. One of his outriggers was broken, so Brian helped him down the mountain and at the base bar, where our waitress was Nancy, who we knew from Ocean City. Nancy worked on the boardwalk at Irenes, near where I worked in the summmers, Mack & Manco's Pizza. Nancy is now married to Ed Devlin, then the owner of Irenes. So we introduce Nancy to our new friend, who we jus met on the mountain, Ted Kennedy, Jr.

Teddy was then seventeen, and had just lost his leg to cancer, but was clean now, and learning how to ski three track, and a few other things. Brian took Teddy out for a spin in the TR7 and showed him how to shift gears with one leg, and do a handbreak turn 360.

Teddy wanted to go to California with us, but the car only held two people, but he gave us his phone number and said when we got back to the East Coast to give him a call and tell him how the rest of our trip went.

We drove to California, went straight to Santa Monica Pier and then to Long Beach for the Grand Prix, and to Mexico, a little further down the coast to Ensenada, where Brian got arrested with another one-legged skier we met in Colorado. They had turned the street lights switch out and were arrested, put in a Paddy Wagon, taken to court, where the judge was working, and were fined whatever they had on them. They were out of there by the time I walked down the street.

Before we left town I grabbed a couple of $5 Cuban cigars, Montecristos, that you can't buy in the USA, figuring I'd give one to my father's boss, the county prosecutor, and the other to George McGonigle, the long time bartender at Gregory's our local bar in Somers Point. (Ocean City, NJ being dry).

Well, to cut to the chase, on the way home we stopped in Columbia, South Carolina, where we visited our good friends Scott and Duncan MacRae, who had worked with me at Mack & Manco's. They had opened a college bar/restaurant called Yesterdays, at Five Points, and are really successful. Leaving there, we were about two hours out of DC when Brian called Teddy and told him we were in the neighborhood.

Teddy said to come by his house, we could still make dinner if we hurried. We didn't hurry, and got tied up in traffic and lost, and it was about 8pm at night when we pulled into a gas station in McLean, not far from the CIA. Teddy gave us directions to his house, and young Patrick answered the door. It's hard to imagine Patrick is now a Congressman from Rhode Island, but then was just a kid.

Teddy was glad to see us, and introduced us to his sister Kara, and then took us into the library where his father was on the phone. There was a fire in the fireplace, and a sterio was playing a reel to reel tape of a speech by RFK that Teddy, Sr. was apparently listening to. Although he was at home in his own study, Ted Kennedy wore his tie tight up on his neck, and yet seemed comfortable.

Senator Kennedy handed the phone to young Patrick, saying "Talk to your aunt Ethel," while Teddy, Jr. introduced us, "Dad, these are the guys from Jersey I was telling you about."

As the Senator shook our hands, and asked how our trip was, I noticed he was smoking a cigar, which he was holding in his other hand, a cigar that was down to a roach, as they say.

While he wanted to hear some stories of our adventures on the road, I said that while in Mexico I had bought a couple of Cuban cigars, and asked if he would like one. Sure. So I went out to the car and got one of the cigars, and as I gave it to him I told him that I had bought two, one for my father's boss, the prosecutor, and the other for our local bartender, George McGonigle.

Then he wanted to know which one I was giving him?

He was getting the one I was going to give my father's boss.

"That shows whose more important in your life," Kennedy said laughing.

I then remarked about how there is the story of "your brother ordered a case of Cuban cigars before he signed the trade embargo," which Kennedy said, "was something Jack would do."

Young Teddy then showed us around the house, his pin ball machine in the basement, and his bedroom, where on the wall was a framed page from a yellow legal pad, with notes and scribbles and dated April 17, 1961, the day of the Bay of Pigs.

I later saw that a book was published on presidential doodles, and thought about that page and what was on it.

We didn't stay long, an hour or so, but we got to know young Teddy better, skiing with him again in Colorado a few times, and he visited the Jersey Shore.

I also got to know Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who stayed overnight at my family's house at 819 Wesley Ave. in Ocean City, while on the 1980 campaign trail when Teddy Sr. ran for President. I drove Bobby around to radio stations and meetings and hooked up with his brother Michael. I then drove Bobby and Michael to New York City, where the major argument was to have dinner at 21 or pizza. We ate pizza.

Having met young Teddy skiing, and the Senator and his family at their home, and knowing Robert and Michael from the campaign trail, I can say that I found the Kennedys to be a fairly typical Irish American family.

And now Big Teddy is gone, and the younger generation must step up. Hey, that's us.

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