We start the day at our motel-hotel in Harrison, New Jersey, knowing that Manhattan is just a short drive, but we don’t know what traffic will be like, so we try to leave by 7:30 AM. We actually pull out of the parking lot at 7:45. We find the New Jersey Turnpike and follow the signs for the Lincoln Tunnel. It seems fitting to take the Lincoln Tunnel, but it was never really part of the Lincoln Highway. In the earliest years of the highway, starting in 1913, you arrived or departed from Manhattan on board a car ferry. Today there are passenger ferries, but cars have to take a tunnel or a bridge to get in or out of Manhattan. When the first NY to NJ tunnel, the Holland Tunnel, opened in 1927, it became a logical part of the highway, but the Lincoln Tunnel didn’t open till 1937 (when it was just a single tube with traffic moving both directions in the same space), and by then the original Lincoln Highway Association was just a memory.
We get to Times Square with a few minutes to spare. Amazing. We’re rarely (if ever) early.
We’re going to meet Jerry Peppers, the director of the New York chapter of the Lincoln Highway Association, at his law office on 45th Street, but he’s alerted me to a parking garage on 46th, and we go there, unpack all our equipment, and say goodbye to our van as it goes off in an elevator to who-knows-where.
As we’re checking in with the security guards at Jerry’s building, we see Buddy Rosenbaum standing outside the building, talking on his cell phone. It’s reunion time. Buddy doesn’t have a lot of time this morning, but he says he’ll wait while we say hello to Jerry upstairs. We go up, check in with Mr Peppers, and he comes back down with us, agreeing to wait while we do a quick post-ride interview with Buddy.
Bob decides to set up our tripod on the sidewalk, just beside the giant windows of the studio of ABC’s Good Morning America, but he’s just trying to get the Times Building in the background. Buddy looks relaxed and robust. He talks to us for just a few minutes about the thrill of being a New Yorker who got to be celebrated as he rode into Times Square with a police escort. It was a spectacular end to the cross country trip of Buddy and his buddy Bob Chase (now back in California) after 32 days on the road, crossing America from West to East. Buddy says he and Bob are already discussing possible routes for their next jaunt, and they did get to keep the Piaggio MP3 trikes.
Then we started looking for a place to do an interview with Jerry Peppers, the patient lawyer who’s been watching from the sidelines till now. Bob says Let’s go out to one of the uninhabited traffic islands in the middle of Times Square, and we all traipse out there, and Bob walks north till he finds a weird little space near 46th Street where cars coming down Seventh Avenue come really close to the cars coming down Broadway, but there’s a narrow spot where Jerry could stand somewhat safely beside a low Jersey barrier, and we’d have a really dramatic background for his interview. Jerry is game, so we go for it.
Jerry Peppers is a great talker. We get some of his personal history (boyhood in Cleveland, lots of different jobs, law school and family life), his path to finding the Lincoln Highway, and some very funny stories about his resemblance to Vice President Dick Cheney. The cars on either side of him sometimes seem like they’re brushing up against his sleeves, but he’s cool and collected, oblivious to the chaos and colored lights all around him.
When we finish the interview, we break out the still cameras and snap his picture. And he takes ours.
Then we walk over to the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street where he would like to see a Lincoln Highway Eastern Terminus marker placed. Jerry has printed out a simple but very effective paper-prototype on his computer, and he shows us how he tapes that up periodically to show where the marker could be, especially on special occasions, like the triumphant arrival of Buddy and Bob on their motor-trikes on Bastille Day last month.
Jerry also shows us where he’d like to mount an explanatory plaque on the one wall of the nearby Times Building, an interpretive historical marker that would explain a bit about the Lincoln Highway to curious passers by.
It’s reassuring and oddly inspiring to see how Jerry has the energy and interest to be the impetus behind setting up a marker at this end (and start) of the Lincoln Highway. He just may make this happen.
Having seen his “work space” this morning, we ask if we might go back up there with him and get some shots from that 19th floor corner office. He says No problem. The view from both his two big windows is unforgettable.