Jersey Day Trips on a Shoestring
By Anthony Buccino
Huzzah! is one of those olde English words you find yourself saying for a few days after the Renaissance festival in Sterling Forest. It’s a good word to remember the festival by.
I can’t wait until September to write my essay about how I spent my summer. Even though there are a few weeks left, and possibly a few more things to do, I can say that in spite of the crazy weather, we’ve made the most of another summer.
We squeaked in a few day trips. One trip to the Sterling Mine in Ogdensburg, one to the Great Falls and the Paterson Museum. We walked through the dusty remnants of the Thomas Edison plant in West Orange where we saw the Black Maria. Another time we visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
On a few weekends we went away and stayed at the Marriott Hotel in Newark airport or the Hilton Hotel in Parsippany. They had a pool, we didn't have to cook or make the beds.
Before the recent gas crunch with Iraq invading Kuwait, we survived the summer with night rides and day trips. Any student wishing to steal this essay and turn it in, be my guest, but don’t blame me if you only get a gentlemanly C.
One night we slipped into the car and headed for the cool north woods. Well, we headed north on Route 17, through the Paramus Forest, through the Ramapo Mountains - named after a college, I think - and into the strange state of New York.
We had been taking weekly forays into the country. I was hoping to see as much as we could without leaving the state.
Another trip, on another Friday night, we headed north on Route 23. I had done some fishing up that way and just wanted to see how much the area had changed.
First of all, the highway circles were gone. Good riddance to weird traffic. There has been a lot of development up Route 23 way. I was glad I don’t have that commute anymore. Even the secret ponds I knew were overgrown or just filled in. At least the fast food restaurants I knew were still there.
As I headed the old station wagon north on 23, I told my daughter, Andrea, that if we kept on 23 we’d end up in High Point. It is the highest point in New Jersey. From there, I told her, on a clear night we could look back and see New York City. It would be a lot like the view from the Palisades.
Instead, I took a cutoff and headed towards Greenwood Lake. I was driving on memory. That town was made famous when New Jersey’s drinking age was 21 and New York’s was 18. Every weekend, the troopers would peel some drunk New Jersey teen and his car off a tree on the winding roads.
Remarkably, to me anyway, we actually found Greenwood Lake. I headed up, meaning north, on Lake Shore Drive and we watched the sunset as the boats tooled along the lake.
Years ago, a co-worker lived in Upper Greenwood Lake, and he told me where to fish among the floating stumps, and if someone yelled at me for parking on their street, just use Tim’s name.
I used to fish in one of these lakes back in the old days when I had lots of vacation time and Andrea was too small to want to come along. I brought my nephew Alan here to fish one April, but it was so cold it was practically snowing. So, I took him from here down to Lake Musconetcong.
We entered New York and nothing seemed different. It was still a quiet little country backwoods road. Quiet and backwoods compared to, say, Route 21 in Belleville and Nutley, anyway.
I kept the wagon on the road, and caught glimpses of the lake at sundown until the road ended at some traffic light in the middle of Hooterville. We turned the car around and headed home.
I couldn’t resist one last detour and headed to West Parkway in Pompton Plains. The last time I was there, there was a beautiful little park with huge bass spawning in the lake. Those fish must have been 22 inches.
Some things are better left undone. I was sorry I went down that road. Now there is a huge office complex and the lake is overgrown and lies in the shadow of Interstate 287. Just what New Jersey needs is another highway. Where were the damned environmentalists when they were needed?
New York Renaissance Festival
The best of our one-day excursions into no man’s land was our latest trip to Sterling Forest in Tuxedo, N.Y. I planned to write about it for the newspaper and notified the sponsors ahead of time. (Not everyone gets a tour guide, but you’ll have a lot of fun if you let yourself go.) In a well-organized affair, the New York Renaissance Festival takes us back to the 15th century as surely as if we had hopped into Doc’s DeLorean and headed back to the future.
First inside the gate, we saw Robin Hood and his Merry Men getting the better of the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham and his band of scoundrels.
We were met and treated royally by our hostesses Ellyn Stein and Erica Paley Stevens. They showed us around the 65-acre festival and clued us in to where Shakespeare would be performed, where our futures could be told, where the living chess board would fight to a simulated death, and where the final joust of the day would take place.
It only took about 40 minutes to get to Tuxedo, straight up 17 north and follow the signs. It’s clearly marked and the closer we got, the better the signs were. We got there a little after 11 a.m. and stayed right through the end of the day’s performances at about six p.m.
Who would have thought that we could have so much fun and entertainment in the 15th Century.
Andrea’s favorite part of the day was the Festival Faerie Tales. She even got to take part in one with the jester!
My wife, Dawn, got a chance to take in some of Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors.” And I got to take in samples of the food, including steak on a stake, jumbo pretzels, and orange ice cones (made with actual oranges) that were out of this world.
Of course, the usual rabble of beggars and scoundrels was on hand. One beggar stood at the gate at closing time offering to take our money so we wouldn’t have to carry it home. How nice.
But there was something magical about knights in armor fighting, and wenches hawking food with that olde English accent. The period costumes were amazing. Although a woman would appreciate the fabrics and all, I could see that the clothes must be hot to wear on a sunny August day.
Erica and Ellyn were in heavy, almost royal robes. The heat didn’t affect them as much, Erica said because in the 15th Century, rich people moved slowly, and people who could afford to dress that way, had servants to fetch things.
The beggars and common people were dressed in lighter rags, and if we didn’t look at the other tourists wandering the grounds, it was easy to imagine we were back in the good old days. Huzzah!
Oh, yes, Huzzah! is one of those olde English words that you find yourself saying for a few days after the festival. It’s a good word to remember the festival by. I remember the festival runs weekends during the summer and ends about mid-September.
Overall, it wasn’t any more expensive than a day at the shore or an amusement park. And it was much more educational than either of those two days away could be.
Yes, there is a lot to be said for day trips. Especially if you enjoy them with your family and make new friends.
Based on Day Trips, and adapted from A Father's Place, An Eclectic Collection
Photos courtesy of NY Renaissance Faire (1990)
Day Trips by Anthony Buccino was first published in The Belleville Times in 1990. It has been republished in A Father's Place, An Eclectic Collection.
Some of the places we visited on our day trips
Essays, photography, military history, more
New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
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