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The Jaded Eye
By Gerry Ayers
All Hail the Van Man

Imagine your favorite periodical going off on a tangent. A gardening magazine decides to cover lava rocks. A biking magazine discovers the joy of hang gliding. A newsletter devoted to dogs suddenly covers ducks in great detail.

So it was with great dismay when my beloved car magazines went off the deep end to write about and photograph... gasp... VANS!

For a brief time period, from about 1975 to 1979, vans became all the rage. A phenomenon I am still trying to figure out. And while subscribing to Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Car Craft, etc., and expecting stories on cool cars, I was given page after page of customized, crazy looking vans. Yuck.

Even the manufacturers jumped in with both feet. Ford had these purple and orange striped vans shown at the beach with muscle bound male hunks and bikini clad babes holding surf boards and jumping out of the van doors to the water like it was the end of the world. Dodge and Chevrolet did the same thing. "Fun stuff" as one company called it. Sure it was, a decorated box on wheels.

Now, let me tell you, these vans weren't your basic bread delivery trucks. No sir. Inside, you'd find deep shag carpeting, black lights, lava lamps, swivel seats, captains chairs, wet bars, mini fridges, eight track stereo equipment with massive speakers, television sets, plastic beads and perhaps a few oil paintings from sears thrown in for good measure. Don't forget the porthole windows to peek out or the vents on top that opened up -- kinda like a square submarine on wheels.

The 1970s van craze may have been spawned by the 1960's hippie VW bus. Peace, love…and mag wheels.

Older folks despised this new mode of American customization. I remember my father and some neighbors calling them "portable passion pits." Guys in the 1950s impressed girls with chopped rods. Dudes in the 1960s lit their fire with muscle cars. And now these bell-bottomed posers in the swinging '70s were going to do it with hairy vans.

Happy to report I didn't get caught up in this van-o-man frenzy that was spreading across the country. In fact, I wrote letters to all the major magazines decrying this new van phase that was littering our highways and downtowns. In my eyes, they were too big; they were too pompous (some painted murals on the side with metal flake paint of iron maidens and dolphins and gypsies and waterfalls and...). They also sucked fuel. Couldn't go anywhere in the snow either. 

What's funny is, the guys with the custom, hip vans traveled together around town. Like a Conestoga wagon convention circling the troops. When there was one, there were five of them! I can tell you why they traveled in packs. It's because if they were made fun of, they needed lots of reinforcement to uphold their garish choice in transportation! The tube top, cut off jean-laden girls inside them? Just there to boogie and waste some time. Truth is, if a souped up Corvette or Pontiac Trans Am came a calling, they'd probably abandon that ship in a heartbeat! At least those cars had T-tops to let the sun or moon in, if not a pull out bed or disco ball. Gals still dug cars. You know, the ones I wanted to read about in the first place!

That's because those high center of gravity, mag wheeled, fat tired vans couldn't handle worth a tinker's darn. You sat high in them, always looking down at things. They had the turning radius of an aircraft carrier. They had drum brakes, which caught fire when used hard. And when loaded down with a half dozen "friends" in the back, that ate into the already alarming fuel mileage! They also weren't inexpensive -- you could have a nice used 'Vette, or Z-28 or Nova SS or Aspen R/T for less dough.

Some dudes in high school fell hard into this motoring masquerade, thinking being a "van man" was the way to score with the foxes and be the hit of the neighborhood. The 1970s were funky enough, but this van thing was becoming hot as those lava lamps, or those citizen band radios or Bee Gees of the same time period. There was even a hit song... "Me and my Chevy Van." Whatever.

At the local circuit, the vans were the first to pull over and head for an empty lot or go curbside. My take? One can be printed (running out of fuel) and one can't (use your imagination). Fuzzy couches and fringe roofs a go-go. A real hit with the "pavement Picassos" and Farrah Fawcett wannabes. But, my group was more into ram air hood scoops, dual exhausts and staggered shocks. Remember, no van ever raced at Indianapolis or Le Mans!

My father had a light green Ford van during this time period. I thought he was going to grow his hair long, sport a beard, wear leather sandals and a tank top and talk about ‘hanging 10’ – instead, he painted his business logo on both sides, kept the AM radio intact, and instead of picking up chicks, he picked up rugs, draperies and furniture to haul to his customers. Didn't have to buy him a bumper sticker that said, "If this van is rockin' don't bother knockin'." 

Needless to say, THAT van never, ever made it to any of my magazines. By 1980, the van craze was coming to an end.  Just like dinosaurs that were going extinct.  For my tastes, not a minute too soon. At classic car shows or cruise-ins these days? You see plenty of GTOs and Mustangs and even Corvairs. No customized vans. Ever.

I rest my case. 

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My youth running program (Small Strides) just ended. I am going to share a story with you, simply because it will make you smile.

This year, our team consisted of 63 participants. 47 children ages 6 to 13, two grandmothers, three fathers and eleven mothers. WOW!

I also have a supportive team of 10 mentors for our 8-week adventure. I launch this as a self-esteem program with a goal of completing a 5k at the end. I assign mandatory weekend running homework, we cross train as a team, discuss nutrition, flexibility, hydration and run – obviously. This just briefly touches on the depth of the experience. I wish it were possible for me to allow you to experience the tremendous chemistry that exists among this group.

Some children are wild spirited yet unconfident, some just love the connection to their peers and others are naturally gifted. My adults are much the same. Some struggle more than others; to me that is where the stories happen. One mother was very aware that running presented a tremendous challenge. She declared with tears in her eyes "I just don’t want my children to see me struggle so much."

I met her one tenth of a mile from her first ever finish line to ask her one question: You have two choices,

One is to "survive" this experience, the other is to "conquer" it – what’s it going to be? So, with children by her side and head held high, she sprinted through the finish line. Congratulations my friend – celebrate your strength.

Buffy is the Wellness Director at the Eastern Lycoming YMCA.

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I Love(d) Lucy
By Mike Murphy

Memories can be strange things. A human mind definitely works in mysterious ways. I was recently listening to Billy Joel’s "River of Dreams" CD, which is basically about 20 years old at this point. It was right at the time this CD was popular that my Aunt Lucy died. She was my "grand-aunt" actually, and she lived every day to the fullest.

From the time I was 8 till about the time I was 13, I used to spend every other weekend at her home. I had a cousin Bryan my same age, who stayed over also, and we had the best of times, not just with each other but with her!

She used to let us do things my mother would have never allowed. We started and maintained fires in her fireplace, we chopped wood outside with saws and axes, we were allowed to cook things on the stove, and put things in the oven. My mom was always worried about me being "hurt"; her response was, "if he gets hurt, he knows what NOT to do the next time."

There were (what seemed) miles of woods behind her house. My cousin Bryan and me were allowed to explore these woods (without a mountain of directions or warnings) all day until dinnertime. Her only request was, "Be here in time for dinner or I’ll give you two birds hell."

She NEVER had to worry about us skipping dinner. She was the absolute best cook that I ever knew. She made every kind of fruit pie (blueberry, cherry, apple, raspberry) and I could have eaten the whole pie myself. She made the best turkey, chicken and homemade filling. No offense to my mother, but this was like heaven, compared to the "normal" food I had at home. She always had a mountain of lunchmeats. She always let my cousin and me make our own sandwiches, which comprised meat, cheese, egg, lettuce, onions, peppers, tomatoes. Theses sandwiches were so big we could barely fit them into our mouths. When my mom cautioned me about being a glutton, she would say, "He’s a growing boy, they are supposed to eat a lot. Let him go, EAT, EAT."

Now I believe that boys usually like to "do their own thing" when they stay at their grandparent’s house, but my cousin Bryan and I would play games with my Aunt Lucy and listen to her stories of "the old days" for hours. She was SO FUNNY. Her mind was sharp too; she didn’t forget one detail from events that happened in her life. She went camping, hiking, exploring, slept in tents, built shelters out of things collected in the woods, went boating, all kinds of cool things that when you are a little kid you don’t expect out of an "old lady"

However, I never saw her as old. She was always planting, cooking, baking, canning, chopping wood herself, planting bushes, pruning trees, cutting grass, weeding with a hand chopper. She was an active woman. She also never treated you like a "dumb kid". You were allowed (and expected) to help out with every chore in the house. Like I said, if you got hurt, "be more careful next time". She would say, "Experience is the best teacher."

She used to give us wood and tools and my cousin and I would make wooden robots, treehouses, and forts. It was fun AND creative. She would give us flour and sugar and dough and measuring cups and instruct us to make our own pies. NO micromanaging. She told you what to do and ": you were expected to do it". If it didn’t come out right, you had better plan on eating it anyway!

When I got to high school. I guess I was too busy or too cool, or you name it, whatever number of lame excuses there are for not visiting as much. I went over Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, - all the holidays mainly, and boy do I feel like a dope now. She taught me so much AND she continued to teach me when I got myself over there. There were some times my buddies and I dropped by to have a piece of pie or a cup of tea, but it flat out wasn’t enough.

In the early 90s Lucy was slowing down and I would go over and cut her lawn, help her with chores around the house, sit and talk with her (probably what she appreciated most). She had been buying mint sets of coins for me for years and also had loads of "old coins" saved up which she shared and presented to me. She told me I was a good boy. She said she was always proud of me as a kid and proud of me as a man. She passed away shortly thereafter.

Twenty years passes fast I realize. I wish my wife had gotten to meet her. They would be like two peas in a pod. They both, together, could let me know what’s expected.

Lucy—I still love you!

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Loyalsock’s Trip to the
Philadelphia Museum of Art
By Rita Shkurko

You know those long anticipated trips? You wait for them – impatiently. You even cross out dates on your calendar until the event. And these journeys get even better when you travel with your friends. The fun and excitement are basically directly proportional to the number of friends you have with you. These trips don’t happen often, and that only makes them even more precious for you as well as the wait – more anxious.

One of those trips has happened to me recently. But it wasn’t just a usual travel – it was a class field trip. Loyalsock’s AP Art History class, even though not entirely, went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Rodin Museum in the beginning of April.

Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest art museums in the United States. The museum has a long history. It began as a museum in 1876, after the Centennial Exhibition held during the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. After the conclusion of the Exhibition, Memorial Hall – the Exhibition’s art gallery – remained open and eventually became a museum of art.

The museum does have a pretty impressive collection of art, which has been getting larger and larger. In the collection of over 227,000 objects, the museum touts paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and architecture of Western and Asian art traditions.

The Asian collection of the museum includes ceramics, Persian and Turkish carpets, a very impressive ceremonial Japanese teahouse, and a Temple Hall from a building complex of an Indian city Madurai.

The museum’s European collection is also quite notable. It includes paintings, decorative arts, sculptures, tapestries of early Renaissance and Renaissance, Impressionism, and Modern Art.

Among some of the most famous artists represented in the museum are Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Dali, Renoir, Duchamp, and Eakins. If you like Impressionism paintings, you will enjoy that section in the museum, as it holds multiple paintings by Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro and, of course, the well-known Sunflowers by Van Gogh. To me, that was the best section of the museum; it is always a great pleasure to see some of my favorite works of art in real life.

When our class found Thomas Eakins’s paintings, The Agnew Clinic and the Gross Clinic, which we had learned about not long ago – the level of excitement in our group grew. All art looks different when you know what it is and how it was created. It looks familiar as if you were almost present when it was made.

During the trip we also went to Rodin Museum. It is a part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The museum has the largest (over 140 objects) collection of Rodin’s works outside of Paris. Some of the most famous sculptures held there are The Thinker, The Gates of Hell, The Age of Bronze, The Three Shades, and The Kiss. It was again very impressive to see the famous sculptures with my own eyes; the museum visit was even more meaningful as Rodin is definitely among my favorite sculptors. Visiting museums like that helps one either love or hate an artist more.

In addition to viewing the great collections in both museums, throughout the entire trip our class got to enjoy the wonderful friendly atmosphere. The fact that there were only 9 of us very much helped to create this atmosphere.

As all trips, this one came to an end as well. Being on a trip to a museum with like-minded people always is an exciting adventure and I am more than happy that we will soon have another trip like this one.

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