Notes from the Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 29th, 2003Edgewater, NJ – The Starting Gate

 

We had a great event at The Whole Foods Market in Edgewater.  Over fifty people showed up (despite a major downpour).   The Rag Shop, a local craft store, provided terrific crafts, Bearemy of Build-A-Bear Workshop helped entertain the kids and Whole Foods provided a delicious breakfast for all and a great space for our celebration.  Two New Jersey television news stations covered our event.

 

Thank you to Chief Martin and the Edgewater Police for the escort from Whole Foods.  We began our trip heading west on Route 80, and drove all day, with a stop for lunch in none other than the Dutch Pantry in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, with many rest stops along the way.  Because El Monte RV Rental was good enough to provide us with the use of a 29-foot motor home for the week, for a deeply discounted rate, our party grew to six – Jon, Michey, Sam and Rebecca Singer, Rachael Lillie and Evan Cohen.  Rachael came from Canada to help with the kids, and Evan (my cousin), came to serve as a primary driver and business manager.  And how lucky we were to have these two incredible and invaluable members of Team Rebecca. 

 

Everything was going great, after our almost 12 hour journey, when just before midnight a police officer pulled us over, only 20 miles from Cincinnati.  When we explained that we were just rushing a bit to get the kids to sleep, during the first day of our cross-country drive to raise money for autism, and asked him to be charitable, he simply gave us a down home welcome and said “no” and proceeded to write a ticket.  Thank you Lebanon, Ohio for the warm welcome on the first day of our trip.  

 

Fortunately, when we arrived at the hotel that was generously and anonymously providing us with free rooms for our trip, we found that we had been upgraded to something that resembled a presidential suite.  Two big beautiful bedrooms with a room in between, with a thirty-foot ceiling, that is probably for entertaining (there were comfortable chairs, a couch and a spiral staircase up to a second level).  The kids fell asleep and we quickly joined them.

 

August 30thCincinnati to Chicago

 

We woke up and took the kids for a quick swim, and had a great buffet breakfast (breakfast was included at this wonderful hotel).  When we went outside to load everyone into the motor home, a police officer was standing beside our vehicle – now what did we do?  I jokingly asked him if he could escort us to our next event, at Wild Oats Natural Marketplace in Norwood, OH, and he said that was what he was there to do.  He and another police officer gave us a motorcycle escort through the city, and to the store, with sirens flashing and through all of the red lights.  Thank you to Chief Streicher of the Cincinnati Police Department, and especially to Officers Bill Fagin and Paul Glindmeyer for the escort.

 

For the Cincinnati Wild Oats event, the sun was shining and tables of snacks and drinks were set up outside the entrance, and we had a great event.  Two local television stations (including the NBC affiliate) showed up with the help of some local friends which made us feel even more welcomed, Bearemy was there again to make the kids happy, and many people stopped by and took our information to learn more about autism.

 

After the event was over, we hit the road again for what looked to be a quick ride (5 hours) to Chicago.

 

August 30th to 31stChicago

 

            Our Chicago hotel was another great place to hang our hats.  They had a nice pool and the kids enjoyed themselves for a quick swim, and we put them to bed and Rachael stayed with them while we had a great dinner with our dear friend Phil Shanks at Tavern on Rush, the restaurant he runs for the Phil Stefani Restaurants.  This is a great Chicago steakhouse and everything was delicious and the service was wonderful – of course we dined with Phil, but are sure that it did not make a difference. 

 

            The next morning after taking the kids for another swim, we took a drive around town, and ended up at the newly remodeled Children’s Zoo.  The kids had a great time and then we headed over to Tavern on Rush for our Chicago celebration of The Drive.

 

            Bearemy was again a great help for the day, because our event was on the second floor of the restaurant, and our favorite bear was often outside in front of the restaurant attracting attention and hugs and sending people in.  The main attraction for all of the kids (and many adults) was upstairs, where we welcomed many locals passersby for delicious make your own sundaes courtesy of Ciao Bella Gelato Company in Chicago and Tavern on Rush.  And we were very fortunate to have news coverage from the local CBS affiliate.

 

            Chicago was also very special for us for a number of reasons, including the fact that we spent time with Phil, his wife Stacey and their son AJ.  Some other old friends from New Jersey, The Zaskys, were also able to make it, our cousins The Seidmans and the Kaplans also came by to see us, and a few people that we know from New Jersey told their Chicago friends about the event and those friends were also able to come.        

 

That night, after another quick swim, Rachael again watched the kids while we headed out for a terrific dinner, at another Phil Stefani Restaurant called Riva on the Navy Pier.  The food was excellent, and the view of Lake Michigan was spectacular. 

 

September 1st  Chicago to St. Louis

 

            We had a late morning event in St. Louis planned at The Wild Oats Natural Marketplace, and we had to leave very early in the morning to make it on time.  Michey and Sam left our group at this point, and flew to Chicago because the driving was going to be a bit much for three-year-old Sam.

 

            The six-hour drive flew by, and we were very excited to arrive in St. Louis and be greeted by local affiliates of CBS, FOX, NBC and WB11.  WB11 did a very in-depth interview, we had another successful day of handing out lots of information about The Drive and speaking with local residents, and Bearemy again was a big help on this very hot St. Louis day.

 

            After the event, we drove around the city a bit to look at the Gateway Arch and see some other sites.  What we were really after was something much more important however, that was recommended as a must by many people.  It did not take a lot of convincing to get us to Ted Drewes, for mouth-watering frozen custard.  We called a friend for directions, and after driving for a while through a suburb of St. Louis, we asked the driver of the car stopped next to us at the light, and he was from Indiana and was headed for the same destination.  We followed him and once we saw the crowds practically spilling out onto the street we knew we were there.  And it really is as good as people said it was, and on this hot day, it was especially refreshing.

 

            We left St. Louis very happy, but after about twenty miles we heard a big bang and a series of thuds.  When we pulled over, we found that the tread came off one of the tires.  It was late afternoon on Labor Day weekend, and the first tire store we found could not help us.  They directed us to the local TA TravelCenter in Foristell, and it turned out to be the lucky break that saved the day.  Crystal Heap, the first person we encountered at TA was amazing.  While she did not have the tire for our vehicle, she called stores in the area until she found a Wal-Mart store that had what we needed, only three miles away.  She then told us to come back if that store could not mount our tire, and we did.  Crystal and her team at TA were prompt, efficient, and we were on our way to Kansas City for a one night layover before our big trip to Denver.   A quick dinner at Taco Bell and then it was off to bed in another very nice hotel.

 

September 2ndKansas City to Denver

 

            We woke up for a quick swim and breakfast, and hit the road for our long day to Denver.  I am not sure if Kansas is considered the Great Plains, but plain it was.  Miles and miles of fields with cows and barns here and there, and maybe it was a mirage but I could swear that I saw a bunch of camels (it was another hot day so who knows).  I wanted to take Rebecca somewhere nice during the day, especially because we missed visiting the botanical gardens in Kansas City because we got in so late, and started out so early.  When we saw the Topeka Zoo and Rainforest exit sign, we knew that it would be a good quick stop on the way.  The Zoo and Rain Forest were small but fun, and Rebecca had a great time.  We also took a train ride and had the pleasure of viewing a beautiful and extensive Rose Garden that should not be missed when passing through Topeka.

 

We got back on the road, and found Kansas to be very flat, with some interesting roadside signs.  There was the advertisement of the largest prarie dog, a number of museums, and several pro-life, guns save lives and fireworks store signs (and when we were throwing out some trash at a gas station we noticed empty shells in a garbage can).  When we stopped in Goodland, Kansas for dinner, we were treated to a surprise.  Goodland is the home of a twenty-four foot by thirty-two foot reproduction of one of van Gogh's seven sunflower paintings, resting on an 80-foot tall easel.

 

The rest of the drive was relatively unremarkable as far as we were concerned, except for the fact that the speed limit climbed to 75 miles per hour once we crossed the Colorado border.  After nothing but rest stops and fast food stores for hundreds of miles, the lights of Denver on the horizon were a welcome sight as we arrived in the city late evening.

 

September 3rdDenver to Santa Fe

 

            As usual, Rebecca and I headed for the pool and then had a good buffet breakfast.  For some reason, she had a lot of trouble going to sleep at night, and then woke up really really really really early (5am) and would not go back to sleep. 

 

            We headed out to our event at Wild Oats, and FOX and CBS were there waiting for us, and filmed our arrival.  We had our second Girl Scout greeting (in New Jersey Rebecca’s Brownie friend Ella and her family came to join us) as a few representatives from the Denver council were on hand to cheer us on, take pictures and report in their newsletter.  Rebecca proudly wore her Brownie vest, and again had a terrific time walking all around the store, eating the terrific snacks that they provided, and enjoying a delicious lunch (they very hospitable in treating Team Rebecca to a very tasty lunch).  We were also very pleased to meet leaders of the local autism society who showed their support by attending and by making a generous contribution to our effort. 

           

            Bearemy was there again, attracting a great deal of attention and helping us provide our information for awareness and education about autism, but the best part of this event was the fact that an old college friend, Mark Rangell, his wife Shari, and incredible kids, Brian and Jeff were on hand to make this a very special visit.  Brian and Jeff, captain and co-captain of Team Rebecca of Colorado, spent a lot of time with Rebecca, helped promote the event over the intercom at the store, handed out materials and talked to shoppers about The Drive.  Thank you Team Rebecca Colorado for being our number one supporters!

 

            Finally, after a fun morning, Greg Roberson of the Denver Police Traffic Unit was good enough to provide us with a motorcycle escort away from the event, and through the city to The Denver Botanical Gardens.  Thank you to the Denver Police and especially to Greg.

 

            The gardens were beautiful (Rebecca had fun smelling the flowers and just walking around), and then we started on our long drive to Santa Fe.  We saw buffalo along the way in addition to the many cows and horses, and the desert and mountain scenery in the distance was beautiful.  We also enjoyed the 75 mph speed limit, which allowed us to get to our destination very quickly without any encounters with local law enforcement.

           

            Upon arriving at the hotel in Santa Fe, we found that we would have a more than perfect end to a perfect day.  We were put up in two luxurious private suites, one with one bedrooms and the other with two, and both had large kitchens and living rooms.  We were walking distance to the heart of the city, and Evan and I took a stroll to town while it was lightly drizzling for a quick and wonderful Southwestern meal at Pasquales.  

 

September 4thSanta Fe to Scottsdale

 

Since we knew that we had a long day of driving ahead of us (ten hours) to Scottsdale, and we also knew that it would very hot for the rest of the day, we found a nice outdoor activity for Rebecca in the Albuquerque Botanical Gardens and Aquarium.  Rebecca had fun and the gardens were spectacular.  The butterfly exhibit was one of the most beautiful that we have ever seen, and they had many other interesting and unique displays.  Evan was a trooper and took the motor home for an oil change while we visited the gardens.

 

The drive to Scottsdale was long, however the red rock mountains and the desert landscape were spectacular.  After getting stuck in traffic in Flagstaff because of an accident, we started getting nervous about the timing.  We were then very happy to learn that Arizona was in a different time zone and an hour behind so we were happy to essentially gain an hour.

 

It was HOT – 105 degrees at 6pm hot.  We went directly to our event in Scottsdale, and were happy again to see familiar faces.  Friends greeted us who were originally from New Jersey, and they brought along a couple that has a grandson with autism.  Special thanks go out to Officer Chris Coffee of the Scottsdale Police Department for being on hand, and to all of the members of the community who stopped by to take our materials and learn more about our efforts.  We had another nice event and Bearemy made another appearance and gave Rebecca some accessories for the stuffed bears that she received courtesy of Build-A-Bear in New Jersey and Chicago.

 

            Our hotel (another beautiful property) was very close by and we were happy to settle in and prepare for our final stretch to Los Angeles.

 

September 5thArizona to Los Angeles – The Finish Line

 

            We woke up very early and enjoyed a swim in a beautiful and warm outdoor pool.  The weather was quite warm even early in the morning.  We had a great breakfast by the pool, and then started out on our long drive from Scottsdale to Los Angeles.  We drove through the desert in Arizona and California, through Palm Springs, and it was a hot one.   During this relatively uneventful drive something interested happened.  When stopping at a Taco Bell for a quick lunch, we said hi to the person cleaning the windows outside in the sweltering heat.  He looked at our vehicle and said that he had a friend who had “a child with that” while pointing to the “Building Better Lives for Autism” banner on the motor home.  He took several brochures and Frisbees, and said that he would pass them along, and hopefully his interest will lead to more contributions and greater awareness in that community.

 

            The traffic heading into Los Angeles was not too bad, and we made it early to Pasadena for our arrival celebration at Wild Oats.  This was a very special event because Michey and Sam and many other family members and friends were there to greet us (Michey is originally from Los Angeles).  And for the first time since our kick-off in New Jersey, there were actual Girl Scouts at the event from local councils in uniform and they were very sweet to Rebecca.  The store set up a terrific craft table, served food, fruit smoothies, and cookies.   It was a great event, and community members were very responsive and interested in what we were doing.

 

            At the end of the day, we returned to the hotel, and on Friday it was off to Disneyland where we had a fantastic day.      Our weekend with friends and family was great, and we received a lot of donations from our West Coast contingent.  While the flight back was relatively uneventful, when the captain mentioned after a few hours into the flight that we were passing over Wichita, it was funny to think that during The Drive it took nearly four days to pass Wichita.

           

            And on another positive note, in the words of the Warren County Court Clerk, “All is well that ends well  - the ticket that we received in Ohio was ordered dismissed by the Judge with no costs after he had a chance to read about our amazing journey. 

 

            Thank you to everyone who has helped so much in this effort to raise funds and awareness of autism, to our friends both old and new and to our family members and business associates.  We look forward to continuing in our effort to raise $10,000,000 to find the cause, appropriate treatments and ultimately a cure for autism, and to funding important educational research and helping to open new schools.  We thank all of you in advance as we plan events during the year and our next cross-country Drive for Rebecca.

 

A note on September 11th

 

On this day of remembrance, the anniversary of such a horrific event where so many lives were wasted, there is new found hope for so many wonderful children whose lives can become fuller and futures brighter as a result of the efforts put forth by so many incredible people in connection with The Drive for Rebecca.  Thank you.

 

 

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