Month: August 2018

VW Patty Wagon Visits Hometown Ansonia

My humble hometown of Ansonia, CT, while only 6 miles by 6 miles, is filled with memories beyond larger than life. My great-great grandparents, on both the Italian and Irish sides, came to America in the early and mid 1800’s. The Irish relatives came to America due to the potato famine in Ireland. They opened a fish and meat market on Main Street in Ansonia in 1861. Despite the IRISH NEED NOT APPLY signs, my great-great grandparents, Peter and Mary Mulligan, were so thrilled to be in America, they named two of their children after USA Presidents. My great grandfather was named George Washington Larkin, once the sheriff in Ansonia, and his brother Alexander Hamilton-Larkin. My great-great aunt had a school named after her in Ansonia called Annie E. Larkin School, now the Ansonia Police Station, after having taught immigrant children there for over 50 years. My grandparents owned Larkin Real Estate and Insurance in the 1940’s, where eventually my mother Judy, and her brothers Jack and George, were also working in the family business. To this day my mother, Judy Larkin-Nicolari, works in real estate for Coldwell Bankers; all the small family businesses found it hard to compete in contemporary times. My sister Lynne ironically opened a store called Moodswings in the exact location on Main Street where our grandparents had their Larkin Insurance Company. My grandparents went to Ansonia Public Schools in the 1920’s, my parents in the 1950’s, my sisters and I in the 1970’s, and my niece Kelly, Lisa’s daughter, in the 1990’s. Four generations. My Italian side got on the train from Ellis Island, saw the smoke stacks in Ansonia, and with the thought there must be work here, got off. They have been there ever since. Three generations crammed into a small house on Central Street, yet they were happy growing tomatoes and making sauce, aka gravy. My father, Dr. Richard F Nicolari, recalled when the ice man delivered the ice block for the refrigerator. Imagine. My grandfather, also Richard, a blue collar guy who worked at the local YMCA for 45 years and at the Anaconda American Brass for 50 years, was clearly a man with a work ethic. He was certainly proud of the day when his eldest son, my dad, became a school principal at 26 years old and then Supt of Schools in Ansonia at 34 years old. They didn’t say much, but the lump in their throats spoke volumes.  As a kid, I always found it interesting how the Italians went to Holy Rosary Church and the Irish went to Assumption. My mother must have won the toss because we went to Assumption Church and Assumption School, also my mothers alma mater. Her parents lived directly across the street. To this day, whenever I leave Assumption Church, I find myself in a flurry of visuals as I gaze across the street and picture me with my sisters and cousins in our Easter bonnets on THAT wall. And when I take a ride to 35 Johnson St, the Larkin homestead where the four of us grew up in the 1960’s, I cant help but picture my sister Carolyn being taken to the hospital for sticking a pebble up her nose that would not come out. And here we are. My sister Lisa presently teaches at Ansonia Middle School; I taught and was a school administrator for 28 years in Ansonia. And through all the ups and downs, our parents were always unconditionally proud of their four girls. As my sister Lisa faces a new chapter in life, putting her house on the market and considering leaving her hometown of Ansonia, emotions are flying as the unknown awaits. When my friends initially drive through my hometown, I can almost read their minds upon entering this middle class town with not much fanfare. However, leaving, they are all green with envy of my roots, and all know, that is priceless.

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VW Patty Wagon pays it forward

Crossed paths with Tom from Perkins Printing on Elm St in New Haven totally by chance. After yoga class and a bite to eat, I slowly re-entered the world and observed a man strategically placing new lettering on Café Java’s windows. I recall my sister Lynne, the business minded sibling, suggesting I advertise my blog on my camper. Now after 9 years of going to this yoga studio, I never noticed, or really paid attention, to this printing place right under my nose at 50 feet away; so much for thinking I am astute. After selecting the color and the Mary Tyler Moore font, as Tom coined the phrase, I returned a few days later for the big day. Now parallel parking patty wagon is challenging without power steering; so the moments of parking at the corner is serendipitous. Though a 60 second dash to announce patty wagon has arrived and ready for the big day to blogvertise; ran out and ouch, a $50 ticket. Well, the Mary Tyler Moore font took the edge off as I felt like tossing a hat in the air to make it all better. (Boomers get that). Ironically, the next day I see my yoga buddy has a parking meter down to 2 minutes. Knowing her elderly mom was with her and they were delayed at yoga; I added a few coins to add to her time. Now I believe most people do these random acts of kindness and that my gesture was not so magnanimous. However, I share these moments to reinforce how the big things in life are really the little things. I am gently reminding us how good it feels to be kind  and create an energy shift. The other day my cousin’s daughter, Kayleigh, was so excited that a random person paid for her lunch. Keep it going. Peace on.

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VW Patty Wagon meets New Haven people part 2


From Downtown New Haven to City Point, real people share enthusiasm and memories of their VW experiences. Mark, a former student from the days I was a teacher, is now working at Shell & Bones, yet more importantly, is a proud dad to an amazing son. Ironically, as he was having his picture taken by the patty wagon, my sister Lisa stepped out the City Point Kitchen and introduced herself to Mark’s son; she would be his teacher in two years when he gets to middle school. Embracing the two degrees of separation, it’s not six. My neighbor, John Williams, a criminal defense attorney in New Haven for 5 decades, yes 5, was eager to share his memories of his days at Harvard in the 1960’s and his trips to DC in a VW camper bus. John was instrumental in the Black Panther trials in New Haven in the late 60’s. Quite a memorable way to start a law career. Patrick is a guy I randomly met while dropping a friend off at the New Haven Train Station. He was taking a photo of the patty wagon, like many do, and shared his 1960’s VW memories that involved his dad and older brother. After lunch at Shell and Bones, my dear friend Margreth, who was visiting from CA, and her two friends, David Freeman, and his wife Sylvia, were excited to see the PW. David, a the former CEO of Loctite, shared over lunch that he was following my blog; very humbling; and now he is a part of its journey. smile!

Growing up in the 1970’s would bring every teenager in New Haven County to the Rubber Match on Dixwell Avenue. It opened in 1973 as the local head hippy shop, and still exists today with John the original owner. John was blown away by the memories that ran through his head about VW campers when he saw mine parked in front. PS I only bought some peace sign stickers. As I sat on the bench at CPK, I observed three people looking at the patty wagon. I announced myself as the proud owner. Dolly, now my new best friend, ran up and hugged me. Two complete strangers serendipitously captured in a moment in time by a vehicle. Her daughter and son in law were observing this interaction like it was a spiritual experience. Well, it was. Dolly could not contain her enthusiasm as she shared how she was at St Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury yesterday and in the room was a VW calendar; one looked exactly like mine. She silently thought she would love to see this camper. And voila, the next day she is in New Haven and parked next to patty wagon. You can see why she is hugging the PW. It was a divine intervention. John (yes another John) is a cool contemporary hippy chiropractor in New Haven. He cracked my neck a few times. Thanks John. New Haven Attorney Joe Rini and Attorney Annie Levitt from West Haven give peace signs at the PW. Where did all these attorneys come from? Smile. And the brother I never had, Brian, an amazing drummer of the Panacea Brothers, shares a PW moment.

Lastly, IKEA, enough said; ask Michelle (inside joke). If you visit New Haven and have a VW story, track me down; be a part of the adventure. Join the journey. www.pattywagonadventures.com

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Patty Wagon meets International VW Enthusiasts at City Point Kitchen in New Haven


Paraphrasing a line in the movie, Field of Dreams, “Build it and he/they will come,” this VW patty wagon is all that.

Happy, enthusiastic, genuine people are drawn to this VW as it evokes so many memories, or simply, curiosity. Spending much of my weekend next door at City Point Kitchen, a quaint New Haven Restaurant next to Shell & Bones on the New Haven Harbor, is such a perfect spot to meet interesting people. C’mon down. Over one weekend, Patty Wagon met siblings from Venezuela on a bike tour along the water. They saw the VW and were taking photos as my 90 year old friend Tom, played his ukulele. At the picnic bench were three visitors speaking German. They were on their way from Boston to NYC and stopped at the half way point, New Haven, for breakfast. They were eager to see the VW Westfalia and were proud it is German vehicle. Such an interesting trio. Auf wiedersehen meine Freunde. The following day, Tim was at the same outdoor picnic bench reading a book in German. This piqued my interest; we chatted. I would not have known Tim was, not only my condo neighbor, but a VW enthusiast with a story about his parents owning one, if a conversation wasn’t initiated. Tim’s parents bought one in Germany from the fire department; go figure. Thanks Tim. Another happy camper, Ben from England, was eager to share his feelings about being a 14 year old boy in England and wanting one of these VW’s as he observed car shows in Waterloo, London. Thanks Ben.

The more seasoned I become the more I realize the big moments in life are really the little moments. Introduce yourself, start a conversation, meet your neighbor. Peace on.

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