….or Pete & Linda’s Excellent Adventure!
Reporting about a recent week in my life is not a subject I normally blog about. But it was a special week crammed with memorable events and marvelous people. Within the span of nine days I experienced enough truly positive adventures that I now feel compelled to share them with you.
It all started with an obscure note on my Linkedin page, a page I rarely look at. It was from an unknown source, asking if I’d be interested in a speaking gig. It turned out to be the result of a recommendation from my dear friend, Marion Blumenthal Lazan, that had reached a speakers’ placement agency. They were trying to contact me to ask if I’d be interested in a speaking engagement at boarding school in Connecticut. For a west coast guy, that seemed pretty extreme.
Later I phoned Marion and learned that she had spoken there before on numerous occasions. But she was unable to do so this year. So, she recommended me as her replacement. I would be speaking at a boarding school called Suffield Academy, located in Suffield, CT, about 12 miles from Hartford. An east coast friend then explained, only partially in jest, that any school with a name that ends in academy adds $100,000 to the yearly tuition, implying that this is a school where our one per centers house their kids. But more on that later.
I was facing two totally dissimilar events that were happening only days apart, but which made the trip appear to be worthwhile. First, my friend, Earl Gandel, had been after me for years to come back East to his home in Bridgehampton, and participate in a vintage sports car rally; an event that he puts on every year. Since it would take place two days before the Suffield gig, this time I said, “Yes!
But I have to put the blame squarely in Marion’s lap because it was her recommendation that launched this odyssey which evolved into something above and beyond anything I’d ever done before. As an 80 year old, I suddenly found myself on the Speaker Circuit.
Then a TV group in Brooklyn, NY found me during our Indiegogo campaign and wanted to interview me about my film for an episode of their show called “Movie Talk”. Fortunately that could take place anytime I was in the vicinity.
Then, finally after I committed to Earl’s sports car rally and the speaking engagement at Suffield, he found yet another place for me to speak. It was to be at a synagogue in Sag Harbor, about fifteen minutes away from Bridgehampton, and would take place two days before his sports car event. As in Suffield, I would be showing my film, and answering questions about it afterwards.
So, all of a sudden, here we were with four east coast commitments; in Brooklyn, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor and Suffield, CT. But it was the perfect opportunity to bring my son, Tim and our daughter-in-law, Diana. We’d been promising them another trip that the four of us could take together, and this was it.
What made it extra special was that Diana had lived and worked in NYC for ten years or more, and really knew her way around the island. Plus, the two of them had been back there twice within the last four years.
So, off we went, on a noon flight out of LAX on the last Sunday in September, bound for JFK. It was warm and muggy when we arrived, and close to midnight when we got to our designated hotel. Described as a “Hip/Luxury, four star hotel in Soho, unfortunately it wasn’t quite that lofty. While it turned out to be very hip and very designy, luxurious it was not and had a lot of serious issues. But that’s for another blog, suffice to say that we had to change rooms, which were even more costly, before doing anything else.1
Monday was a free day, which we spent following Diana’s lead. First the 9/11 Memorial, then a walking tour of the Hi-Line. After a lovely mid-town lunch, we cabbed it to Central Park, where Tim treated all of us to a Pedal-Cab tour of the park, put on by a pair of young tour guides from Mali, both of whom delighted us with their exceptional knowledge of the history surrounding the park, spoken with their lilting African accents.
The weather continued hot and muggy on Tuesday, the day of my TV interview. After breakfast at our Soho hotel, (the restaurant was excellent and the one saving grace to an otherwise problematic stay) we headed to Brooklyn looking for the studio. But first we had to stop off at Juniors, the storied restaurant/deli known for its Cheese Cake, which of course we had to sample.
Once we located the studio, and figured out how to get in, I was handed a bunch of informational paper work to fillout, before our two lady co-hosts arrived. Once that was done, I was ushered to the set where I met the two ladies hosting the “Movie Talk Show”, Lesley Gonzalez and Carrie Wesolowski.
The show it self went well.2 But it was the cast and crew that really made an impression on the four of us. Besides being incredibly warm and friendly, this was a group that was made up of some very talented people, many of whom have their own shows. It felt like I was part of a “Little Theater” group where everyone doubles and even triples on everyone else’s shows. For example, Tonya, our floor manager, has a design show; “Pops”Gaskin, one of our cameramen, is a relative of Harriet Tubmann, and has his own show on “Black History”. Our co-host, Lesley Gonzalez, also schedules the interviewees for MTS, works in the booth on two or three other shows, co-hosts yet another show, while making and serving lunch for our entire crew, and anyone else who happens to drop by.
The four of us came away from the experience absolutely loving these people.
After we returned to Manhatten, I had a short rest and a quick shower. Then we took another cab ride, this time uptown to Broadway and the Booth Theater to see the popular hit, “Hand to God”. The show was wonderful and as good as its reviews. As a result, after starting in “Off/Off Broadway, it moved up to “Off Broadway”, then Broadway, and now, after the first of the year, it’s moving to London and the West End Theaters.
Next morning was Wednesday and we were off to Jamaica Station and a two hour train ride on the creaky old LIRR, bound for Bridgehampton. As we neared our destination, the weather changed from warm and muggy to cold and rainy.
Earl was already there waiting to bring the four of us to his Bridgehampton house, where we would stay for the next four days with him and his wife, Cathie.
Thursday Linda and Diana professed a desire for Long Island Lobster. So, the six of us headed to Hampton Bays, and “Out of the Blue” for seafood; Earl and I in his ’49 Triumph, and the rest in Cathie’s Volvo.
That evening was my screening and Q&A at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor. A wonderful experience for me, and enthusiastically supported by a small but extremely vocal group of its members, who continued their questions for almost an hour after we screened my film.
But I was exceptionally impressed by our host, Rabbi Dan Geffen. Barely a year out of school, this is his first Rabbinical post in a Synagogue; which is the oldest one in Long Island. But Rabbi Dan is also a computer geek, a gamer and was both our projectionist and audio visual engineer. Along with his wife, Lu, who turns out to be a lovely blond Valley girl from Encino, he exudes the enthusiasm of a kid with a new toy. For me it was another delightful experience.
Friday was cold and rainy, and started abruptly at 6:00am, when a siren began blasting out of nowhere and nearly blew us out of bed. It came from the fire station literally next door to us, and turns out to be the traditional method of alerting the local volunteer fireman that there is a fire in town. Finally, when we got our shattered nerves together, it turned out to be the perfect day for a breather, and a bit of relaxation. But sadly, Diana had to leave us and return to L.A. for work.
Meanwhile, we had a lovely lunch in Sag Harbor at the Dockside Bar & Grill, then dinner at the Bridgehampton Museum to celebrate the 100th anniversary of auto racing in their small town. It was also the kick off event for their vintage sports car rally the next morning.
But Saturday remained cold and rainy, with additional wind gusts to add to our discomfort. Neverthelss, we pressed on. I was slated to drive a vintage MG TF-1500, a car slightly newer than the old MG TD that I used to race back in the day.
My son Tim was my navigator, armed fortunately with his iPhone, his Google maps and his uncanny ability to cope with them in a moving car. So, off we went undaunted, but cold as hell. While I had some mechanical issues with our old MG, it held up well enough to get us through a beautiful four hour tour of the Hamptons, Sag Harbor, and what’s left of the old Bridgehampton race track, that has since been turned into a golf course. And in spite of the fact neither of us had ever seen or driven those roads before, we finally finished, albeit in eleventh place out of the thirteen cars that completed the event. All right….at least we finished!
Sadly we had to leave Earl and Cathie the next morning, to get to our final destination – the one that started this entire odyssey – Suffield Academy. While on a map, it looks fairly simple to get to, going from Bridgehampton, NY to Suffield, CT, is actualy a bit more complicated. Timewise, the shortest route required flying south west to Philadelphia. Then changing planes and flying north east to Hartford, where we would be picked up and driven to the school, a short five miles away. Earl graciously drove us to the airport at Islip, where we began the first leg of our trip to Suffield.
That flight was uneventful except for having a bunch of Harlem Globe Trotters on the plane with us. It was a small Canadian Bombardier Dash-8 100, a turbo prop that barely holds 39 passengers.
Our second leg from Philly to Hartford’s Bradley Airport was thankfully brief. Then as promised, we were picked up in the baggage area by Sara Yeager, the Dean of Students. She apparently does this quite regularly, choosing to pickup guests herself, rather than leaving it to some underling.
After a short drive to the school’s very picturesque campus, she dropped us off at their guest house, which is situated on grounds near the Headmaster’s House. Space here is very ample. They graciously left us with a golf cart on which to get around the spacious campus. The plan was to meet Sarah at the dining hall for dinner.
The dining hall is huge, and the food is served cafeteria style. But there is nothing industrial or mass produced about the food in any way. On the contrary, the selections are ample and the food is really tasty and well prepared. Many of the students work there, as all of them are required to have a campus job of some kind. So, why not eat well while you’re doing it?
Joining us at our table was a young history teacher, Beth Krasemann. She explained that within the fall semester she introduces her students to a seven week course on the Holocaust.
Later we were joined by the school’s young Headmaster, Charles Cahn, who quickly made me realize how wrong my earlier impression had been, before we got there. Still thinking of it as a boarding school for all the One Percenters’ kids, and a tuition of at least 100K, I couldn’t have been farther from the truth! The school is non-denominational and their students come from all over the world. The yearly tuition is barely half of what I thought, and there are relatively few children there from America’s top one percent.
The next morning we were given a tour of the campus, which was a chance to see for ourselves just how astounding this place is.
The curriculum and facilities are absolutely first rate, whether it be curriculum, classroom, athletic facilities or food, everything is beyond reproach. Nothing feels skimpy, as if they tried to take short cuts. It’s an absolutely amazing place.
Founded in 1833, it has a long tradition as an Eastern Prep School. But less than two decades ago it put on a new face, and began appealing to 9th thru 12th graders around the world. The school also changed its philosophy contrary to the traditional “sink or swim”environment of other schools. Instead, they chose to become very nurturing with the faculty members going out of their way to see that each student is given serious and ample support.
Otherwise the students live an extremely disciplined life style. They are not coddled, and it’s definitely not an easy school in which to get an education. Suffield has very strict rules:
Classes are six days a week, from 8:00am to 3:00pm, with an hour for lunch. At 3:00pm the students are expected to attend the athletic endeavor of their choice. But they must choose three of them for the year. Fortunately the school has a broad range of choices and gorgeous facilities.
Dinner is served at 6:00pm; then Study Hall which begins at 7:00pm until 10:00pm. Students MUST study during that period. To make sure, they are supervised by a faculty member. Then lights out at 10:pm. No TV or internet after that, when access is shut off. In addition, Boys must wear coats and ties to class, and all students must have a school job during the day, in addition to everything else.
Charles Cahn had explained to me that their’s is not the ideal business model, because they have a huge faculty to student ratio, with over 100 faculty members to service a population of 400 students. That’s 40%. Faculty members are expected to perform double and even triple duty which means that most, if not all are a combination of teachers/administrators and/or coaches. Most of them live on campus. Many of them are married to other faculty members; many are graduates of Suffield, and many of their children attend the school as well.
Even though we were on the campus for barely 24 hours, I found the students to be charming and outgoing, expressing a pride in their surroundings, and a deep fondness for their fellow students. The mood was infectious.
So much for the school itself. Our final event was held in the Chapel, a Baptist Church that doubles as a place of worship for the people of Suffield. It’s a gorgeous venue and reminds me of something I’ve seen in a movie.
So, it was within these spectacular surroundings that we had our final screening and q&a; the event that was the genesis of this whole trip. Since the entire student body is expected to attend, along with as many faculty as possible, it turned out to be the largest audience I’ve ever had, around 500 people in attendance. Nevertheless, it was a huge success and an exciting finale to an otherwise incredibly rewarding week.
1 If you’re interested in learning more about our “not so luxurious hotel” in SoHo, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be more than happy to share the details with you.
2 The show is scheduled to air on November 13, 2015. Check their website for show times, channels and further updates: