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The Last Lincoln Highway Sign
Lincoln Highway Part 18, November 4, 2009
Email Article  Print Article David McLane (davemclane)    
After three days of camping we were rested and ready for the final push to the end of the Lincoln Highway: Times Square, New York City.

While our main guidebook, the Lincoln Highway Companion, suggested parking at the Weehawken Ferry and taking the subway into Manhattan, but we wanted to have a photo of us at Times Square alongside the van and trailer so we opted for the Holland Tunnel. The route seemed simple enough, get on Interstate-78 and travel east as it connects to US?1 and the tunnel.

However, we also had some idea of stopping at Lincoln Park to see James Earl Fraser's Lincoln statue which looked like it was near Exit?14 on I-78. As we approached the city, the exit numbers got bigger and bigger, so I stopped to make sure we were on track. We were. On closer inspection we saw that after I-78 crosses the New Jersey Turnpike it's called the New Jersey Turnpike Extension whose exit numbers start at the New York-New Jersey border and get bigger going west while the exit numbers of the I-78 we'd been on start in western New Jersey and get bigger going east. Go figure.

When we went back to where we had exited I-78, we found there was no entrance going east so we got on going west, and started back the way we'd come to an exit where we could get off, turn around, and get back on going east . . . but just as we approached cruising speed, the van didn't shift into high gear and we entered what we learned later was "limp mode" where you have just enough forward motion to get you to a safe place. Limping along I-78 near New York City on a Saturday night is definitely not a safe place, so I got onto the shoulder and managed to get to an exit.

But an exit to what? No stores, no gas stations, nothing but twisty-turning tree-shrouded residential streets. We wandered around until we finally saw a light up ahead at some kind of intersection and I decided to go as far as that. If there wasn't any place we could get help, we'd stop.

When we stopped at the intersection, who would believe it. Right on the corner was a sign saying "Transworld Transmission." We pulled in, stopped, and slept until morning.

Waiting for new transmission, New Providence, N.J.
©2009 D. McLane

THE NEXT MORNING, SUNDAY, THE OWNER SHOWED UP and asked what we were doing. When we told him the symptoms, he said there was nothing to be done until the next morning and left. So far not so bad; across the street was a MacDonald's whose WiFi reached us so we could catch up on our e-mail and such.

The next day, the owner, Bobby Berry, took the van out for a test. Gears missing; transmission needs to be repaired/replaced. How much? Depends; repaired might work OK but if not, you'll have to return to Transworld. Replaced with GM rebuilt would cost more as warranty good at any GM dealer.

I went back to the trailer, connected to the internet and checked out what kind money we were talking about. Found a transmission with a 3 year 100,000 mile warranty was about $1,850 while lesser warranties might be as low as half that, only you had to return to the shop which did the repair work. Sounded like we were getting a straight story so we decided to go for the GM rebuilt. The new transmission wouldn't arrive for another day so we had some time to kill.

I asked Bobby how things were going during the recession and he said for people like him, it wasn't going well as the Cash for Clunkers program (which paid people to turn in their old car and buy a new one) helped new car dealers, but hurt people like him who repaired older cars as they were being scrapped and sold to China.

As for health care, Bobby said it would kill small clinics, just like Cash for Clunkers killed car repair shops.

Finally, he said he didn't believe Obama was an American: nobody had ever heard of him and suddenly he "pops up out of the blue and becomes president."

While we were talking I kept looking around the office at the curious things on the wall: among other things, a photo of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein, a photo of Einstein, a plaque saying Bobby was a life-time member of the NRA, and "Ganesha" . Ganesha? In a transmission repair shop in the United States? In India, he's everywhere as he is revered as the Remover of Obstacles by Hindus and Buddhists, but here?

When I asked Bobby about the elephant-headed deity he said, "Oh, that's from the Yoga Lady." So who's the Yoga Lady? It turned out that Bobby had high blood pressure and was radically changing his diet as otherwise he would have to take medicine for the rest of his life and he wasn't up for it. The Yoga Lady was advising him and would be along sometime during the day.

Joanne Bruno, the Yoga Lady, Berkeley Heights, N.J.
©2009 D. McLane

Quan Yin, "One who hears all cries"
©2009 D. McLane
The Yoga Lady, alias Joanne Bruno, showed up that afternoon and after a long talk we went over to her house to see her Quan Yin, one of my favorite forms as she represents Mercy, the "One who hears all cries."

According to her handout, Joanne, Brachmachari, RYT, has been a teacher of yoga since 1997, Kripalu trained and registered with the Yoga Alliance, certified as a Reiki Master, Pastoral Minister, Aromatherapist and holds a Masters degree in Yoga Eduction. She teaches at various YMCAs and schools in the area and has her own private studio called the Healing Hands Yoga Center where she holds classes, does teacher training, gives Reiki sessions, and trains Reiki students.

When we asked how she was doing during the recession, she said while some people had cut back on things like yoga and meditation as they consider them non-essentials, others have come to her to learn how to remain calm so they can deal better with the hard times.

Rebuilt transmission from GM
©2009 D. McLane
THE NEXT MORNING THE NEW TRANSMISSION SHOWED UP, was off loaded with a winch from the delivery truck and Bobby and his nephew, Devin Esposito, put the van up on the lift and removed the old one. They took off the pan that held the transmission fluid and had a look: the small magnet designed to catch a few particles of metal looked like it had grown hair and the entire bottom of the pan was covered with metal sludge. Something had been disintegrating for a long long time.

The next step was to flush the transmission cooling system -- which has it's own small radiator up in front next to the engine radiator -- to make sure that no particles remained. Then they took of the orange plastic cover at the rear of the new transmission which covers the spline that attaches to rest of the drive train . . .

Ooops, looked different than the spline on the old one. Turns out there are two styles and we'd been sent the wrong one. Another day of waiting for a transmission.

The correct transmission arrived the next day, Wednesday, and Bobby and Devin installed it without any problems. Devin changed the engine oil, rotated the tires, and we were ready to roll.

Bobby and Devin install new tranmission
©2009 D. McLane

Up until the last day, we'd never got a firm price on the whole deal. One time Bobby had said, "You're lucky you didn't break down closer to the city as a lot of guys see out-of-state plates and know they can charge whatever they want, but I don't do that as I know what it's like to be stuck." As things went along he'd asked me, "Are you nervous?" I'd say, "No" and he'd reply "OK, I'll tell you when to get nervous."

Finally it was time to come up with the cash: $2,033 for the transmission, installation, engine oil and filter, tire rotation, 7% tax. A lot of money, but my judgment said it was more than a good deal, Bobby was helping out because we were stuck. Maybe it was because he hadn't been in New York City for more than 25 years.

Four thousand miles later when we had the oil changed and the tires rotated at a GM dealer I asked what they would charge for a rebuilt transmission and its installation. In round numbers, $2,000 for the transmission plus $1,300 for the installation. Bobby had given us the installation as a gift.

SO NOW WE HAD TO KILL THREE DAYS to be able to be in Times Square on Sunday morning. We decided to take a short tour of the places I'd lived so Sueko would have a better idea of my early life.

First stop was Newburgh, New York, about 80 miles north where I'd spent three years: one at Stewart Air Force Base -- completely changed, now Stewart International Airport -- and two with my first wife at 100 Prospect Street -- looked just the same.

Next was Phoenicia, New York -- 60 miles further north -- where the Shandaken Eagle that my father and mother had given to the town remains. It's the only memorial they have as their ashes were swept away from their original resting place during a flood.

Shandaken Eagle, Phoenicia, N.Y
©2009 D. McLane

The plaque at the bottom reads as follows:
Shandaken Eagle

This eagle originally stood high atop one of the tower of Grand Central Station in N.Y.C. at the turn of this century.

Originally coated with white cement, the cast iron eagle was restored with a protective bronze surface at the Phoenicia forge.

The eagle was donated to the people of the town of Shandaken by David & Gilbert McLane.

NEXT, WE WENT TO TWO OTHER PLACES I'D LIVED. Brewster, N.Y., about 60 miles north of New York City, and Port Washington, on the north short of Long Island. Both houses were still there but cost much more than they did more than 50 years ago.

Last, we went to Jones Beach on the south shore of Long Island. I have nothing but good memories of camping out at Number 9, the parking lot furthest to the east which had dunes covered in beach grass, and you felt like you'd left civilization and it was just you, the ocean, and the gulls crying into the wind. Number 9 is gone, but everything else is the same.

Sueko at Jones Beach, Long Island, N.Y.
©2009 D. McLane

AT LAST WE WERE READY TO TRY OUR LUCK WITH TIMES SQUARE. We camped at Wal-Mart in Mineola on Long Island and a little after midnight headed for the Queens Mid-town Tunnel which would put us on 34th Street in Manhattan. From there we would go north on Park Avenue to Central Park South, then west to Seventh Avenue and go south -- it's one-way-south -- and hopefully find a parking place where we could get a shot of us next to the van and trailer with Times Square in the background.

The shot of us at the start of the Lincoln Highway in San Francisco had been taken broadside to put the Legion of Honor in the background. But here it needed to be taken at any angle show all four -- trailer, van, us, Times Square in a much narrower composition. I'd paced it off so I wouldn't have to fool around as we might have to shoot in a no-parking zone.

Everything went well until we got maybe six or seven car lengths from the entrance to the tunnel and police began running at us and waving stop. Can't go through any tunnel into Manhattan with propane, only on bridges. Not so bad as we could see the Queensboro Bridge just to the north of us and it dumped us onto Manhattan just a few blocks from Central Park South.

We went round and round a few times: south on 7th Avenue, west on a side street, north on 8th Avenue to Columbus Circle, east on Central Park South. There was still a lot of traffic but things slowed down as it began to rain and after trying a couple of places we finally got a serviceable shot at the north west corner of 49th Street looking south along Seventh Avenue at 3:59 a.m

Sueko and Dave, 49th Street & Seventh Avenue, New York City, N.Y.
©2009 D. McLane

Jerry Peppers, the director for the Northeast Chapter of the Lincoln Highway Association had said -- by e-mail -- there was a Lincoln Highway sign on a light pole at the north west corner of Broadway and 42nd Street. We fired up and went on down Seventh Avenue, turned east on 42nd, parked, and I ran back to shoot the sign.

Not an easy shot. First, it was raining hard to middling, second the sign was a good way up on the pole, and last there a lot construction and whatnot that obscured the sign. I finally settled for an angled shot with under the watchful eye of a face that appeared and disappeared in the background.

Lincoln Highway sign, 42nd Street and Broadway, New York City, N.Y.
©2009 D. McLane

I'm not sure it was "Mission Accomplished" but our journey across America on the Lincoln Highway had come to an end.

I will also be posting this story to Open.Salon a few days after it I've sent it to OMNI and will then send a newsalert containing links to both websites to my mailing list.

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