Hey everyone- Eric Foemmel has once again shared another exciting installation of his travel log with Philadelphia Eddie with us! Great stuff! Eric is extremely kind to share this all with us, and it’s a great read. This is part two- make sure to check out the links at the bottom of this post too, to see where you can get your hands on a copy of Eddie’s newest book (which we’ll be reviewing very soon!) and see Eric’s website. Okay, no point in hanging around, here is part two!
(Click here for the previous installation)
I headed to the airport before dawn on January 31st to meet up with Eddie to begin our February travels, which includes both the East and West coasts. It was a cold, foggy morning in Sacramento, and I watched my fellow passengers as I waited at the gate for my plane. They all had long faces and were dressed in business casual attire for comfort and a professional appearance, but I sensed that none of them were excited to tackle the responsibilities waiting for them at the office. Even though it barely 6:00 AM and the sun was just about to peak over the Sierras to the east, everyone was checking their smart phones, making last minute schedule changes, or drinking coffee. I think I was the only guy at the gate with a mischievous smile on my face.
I was the lucky one at the gate. Not only did I have a boarding pass, I had an E-Ticket. Having Eddie as my boss and partner in this project, I didn’t have to email or text him, make last minute arrangements, or participate in the madness of the modern world. Eddie is the cat that adds to the craziness in this world. I would expect nothing less from a man who was a pirate in his past life.
As I flew from California to Florida, we hit some turbulence and the plane shook and dropped. As my fellow passengers gasped, I couldn’t help but laugh. After all, this is the E-Ticket ride. The meteorologists predicted severe storms for most of the Unites States that week. In particular the Midwest and the East Coast were going to get pounded with snow and ice storms. From the severity of the predictions, I would not have been surprised if they started to call them the Storms of 2011. However, the weather predictions did not calculate that Eddie was returning to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Now, in my opinion, that was the making of a perfect storm.
I landed in Florida, and I called Eddie right away. With his cheerful voice, Eddie said, “Be there in ten minutes, Eric.” I grabbed my bags, and headed to the curb. Five minutes later he arrived, and as I opened the back door to throw my luggage in the back seat, Eddie leaned back from the driver’s seat to shake my hand. As per usual, every hair was in place, he had a dark blazer on, a pressed down collar, and he had a huge smile. He said, “Good to see you again, my friend. Margueritte is cooking dinner, so we have time for a few drinks. Let’s go to Applebee’s.”
We were having a few drinks and Eddie started telling me how he was looking forward to Philadelphia, and he filled me in about the progress of the printers. He also added that Jack Dracula had died. I told him that I was sad to hear the news, and I asked how old Jack was when he passed. Eddie said he was seventy-two-years-old. “Wow, that’s kind of young, Eddie.” “That’s fucking old, Eric! Don’t ever get old. It isn’t any fun.” We finished two rounds of drinks, and headed home.
Margueritte was cooking another amazing dinner, and her brother Neil was visiting. It was great being at their house again. I felt right at home. Occupations were one of the many topics at the dinner table. Eddie asked me if I knew which were the most hated and most loved professions in the world. He said, “The most hated professions are lawyers, doctors, and cops. The most loved professions are bartenders, prostitutes, and tattooers.” Thinking about my friends sitting around the table, Margauritte was a bartender and Eddie was a tattooer. If only I was a hooker, we would have had a trio more popular that the three musketeers.
The next day, Eddie, Margueritte and I had plenty of errands to run. We had to have her car serviced, take her brother to the airport, pick up more books at the printers, get Eddie’s prescriptions, and mail some books to Ireland. I love listening to Eddie and Margueritte when I am in the car with them. Eddie will sometimes chuckle under his breath, and Margueritte usually hums or softly sings along with the radio. As the scenery rolls by, she often remarks how beautiful it is. The Spanish moss hangs from the old cottonwood trees that are nestled amongst the pines and palms. Large birds wade in the lakes by the road, and raptors glide in the sky. Looking at this, Margueritte says, “I love the lakes. The birds love them. If I could come back as a bird, I would. Just look at them. Soaring around, It’s complete freedom. I love those birds.” Eddie said, “Me too, baby.”
After we ran our errands, Eddie and I started loading the van with books. The van was almost overloaded, but, as I expected, Eddie had already planned out where we would store the luggage and the bar supplies for the booth. When we finished, he said, “Good. Let’s have a drink before dinner.” Margauritte made roast beef, vegetables, and mashed potatoes with garlic. There is nothing like a hearty meal before a big trip. Everyone headed to bed early, as Eddie wanted to get an early start.
In the morning Eddie and I some coffee, and we hit the road. Eddie wanted to get a start as we had 1000 miles and eight states to travel in two days. We needed to get started, so he asked for some coffee to go. He told Margauritte that we would eat on the road, so she walked us out to the car and we said our goodbyes.
As I mentioned before, Eddie’s doesn’t really drive. He more or less glides down the highway at 80 miles per hour. There were a lot of cops out that day. Within the first 50 miles, we must have seen eight cops. Eddie looked over at me, and said, “If I was a cop, I’d be an asshole. I’d pull the guy in front of us over and say, “Where the fuck did you get your license?” and then I’d rip it up.” Eddie sped up and soared right around him. What the hell was the guy doing in Eddie’s lane?
From Orlando to Daytona, we took 4 East. At this juncture, we hopped on the 95 North. We were about to travel through these states: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Eddie has traveled this road many times. Before 95 North was a eight-lane freeway, it was a one-lane road labeled the 301. He told me that we would stop at a place called South of the Boarder in South Carolina. That was the halfway point.
He continued on about North and South Carolina. He said that Paul Caps was carnival man that traveled the United States and stumbled upon the tiny town of Jacksonville, North Carolina. There was nothing there but a Marine Base. He built bowling alleys, bars, brought in dancing girls, and made a deal with the Provost Marshal that he would run a clean operation to entertain the marines. Namely, no prostitution.
Keeping to this deal, Paul Caps owned the town. I asked Eddie, “Having finished Volume Three, I know that you went to court for having a “body painting” place where the marines could paint naked girls in this town and that caps influenced the judge to put the screws to you. Did Paul Caps own the Judge?” “Yes.” “He owned the cops?” “Yes.” “But, he never owned the tattooers?” “No. He NEVER owned us. That used to drive him crazy. We were making some money in that town, and he could not get a piece of it.”
As we approached South of the Border, we began to see huge billboards. Eddie explained that a man named Pedro started selling key chains and t-shirts there in the 1950s and from that he built an amusement park with hotels, a steakhouse, bumper cars, rides, merry go rounds, petting zoos, an observation platform, and other roadside attractions. “I drove south one year and there was a big sign saying, “Hot Tamales and Cold Beer.” I didn’t even know what tamales were, but I had one. Pedro caught your attention, got you to stop, and kept building.”
As we pulled into South of the Boarder, there was a Mexican theme permeated throughout this little town that built up around a shack selling souvenirs. Buildings had huge sombreros on them, cement dinosaurs were also wearing sombreros, large cement apes had t-shirts painted on them, neon signs flashed everywhere. There was a reptile lagoon with alligators or crocodiles, there stores to buy bottle rockets, firecrackers, M-80s, and all sorts of other fireworks that are illegal in just about every state. The hotdog stand was a large building with large cement dachshund right in front of it. On its elongated body, Pedro had painted “Hot Dogs.” The ice-cream stand had large cement ice-cream cones painted in pastel colors.
The first order of business was to have a steak dinner with a bloody mary. Again, doing anything with Eddie, you will realize he does things with a lot of showmanship, class and originality. So when we pulled up to the steakhouse, I was not surprised that the building was built to look like an extremely large sombrero. This was a very swank joint in the 50s and 60s. The black stucco ceiling had glitter in it, portions of the walls were made with glass bricks, and dark red curtains hung from the ceiling to the floor. We were seated at our table by a young, beautiful blond hostess with a charming South Carolina accent.
One minute after sitting at the table, the waitress took out drink order and invited us to help ourselves to the salad bar. As we were eating our salads and sipping our drinks, Margauritte called to check on us. Eddie answered the phone and in a loud voice said, “Hello, baby!” The other parties dining in this huge sombrero turned around to check Eddie out. They could not resist turning around once they heard his distinctive voice. He continued his conversation: “We’re having dinner.” “No, don’t hang up. I want to talk to you.” “I was just at the salad bar and thinking of you. It’s wonderful. Everything is fresh and they have all the fixings. Yeah, OK baby. I’ll call you later.”
As we ate dinner, Eddie kept telling me how much this road stop souvenir stand had grown into this great amusement park. He loved it. “Pedro really built something, Eric. From a shack with key chains and novelties to an amusement park with hotels and nice restaurants. He did this without going to business school. He did it with hard work and imagination. No bank gave him a loan to do this. In those days they wouldn’t give a Mexican any money to start anything, but he did it. When they started to build the I-95, they were going to build it a few miles away from South of the Border. I think Pedro paid some people off, and they planned the highway so that it would come pass South of the Boarder. This is the American dream.”
Top picture © Jimbo the Driver. All pictures taken from Facebook, with permission from Eric and Eddie.