Patty Wagon Adventures Posts

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.


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.

1 Comment

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.

1 Comment

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.


VW Patty Wagon Attends Taylor Dayne Concert

VW Patty Wagon attends the amazing Taylor Dayne Concert on the New Haven Green on July 28, 2018. Can’t believe Taylor is 57 years old; way to represent. Ran into Juan, one of my mechanics for PW, and his wife at the concert. My sister’s friend Nancy, a proper woman from Simsbury, always buckles up when with the Nic Chics sisters Thelma and Louise. Michelle joined in the festivities and helped video tape patty and the impromptu guitar jam. Notice the guys in the background also feeling groovy, smile. Those blow-up guitars end up adding so much to a party. My sister Lynne gave me 12 of them for my birthday; best gift ever. lol. Also ran into Ryan Kristafer from Ch 8’s In Style AM Show. I had the pleasure of being a guest on his show when I was talking about a mentoring program for at-risk youth on probation and in foster care. While having a grand time, the police approached the patty wagon and her she had to turn and face the proper way. Disappointed, since my middle name is Thelma (kidding) and now the slider door would be facing the street versus the green, thus she lowered the camper roof and moved down the street. PW ended up closer to the stage; the luck of the Irish. My friend Lisamarie and I got up front and center, thanks Lynne, as we and ended up with a selfie with Taylor Dayne and an autographed blowup guitar. Priceless times.


VW Patty Wagon overnight trip to MA family gathering part 2

After the bridal shower in Hingham, MA, our family headed to Framingham, MA, for my Aunt Elise’s 88th birthday celebration at St Patrick’s. Music mends minds; it is the panacea for the elderly challenged with memory issues. My mother, the consummate enthusiastic singer, is so dedicated to her sister; she sees her almost every weekend and immediately breaks into song to lift her spirits. It’s special. My sisters and I would do the same for each other. Aunt Elise is the eldest of 5 kids from an Irish family; my mother is the youngest with 3 brothers between them. Elise dedicated her life to raising 5 amazing children on her own while working as a full-time nurse and part-time realtor in the 1960′, 70’s and 80’s. From as far back as I can recall, she always had a glisten in her eye, she never spoke ill of people and was always positive. So it was fitting that we, my sister Lisa, named Elise after my aunt, escorted her to the Patty Wagon for a little shot of comforter, as she references, aka southern comfort. Smile. These are priceless times. Happy Birthday my dear Aunt Elise. After leaving St Patrick’s, the patty wagon headed back to New Haven with my mother and two aunts. I could tell they were white knuckled with no seat belts in the rear and a 42 year old car that may, or may not, make it back. With no AC we had the windows open and couldn’t hear anything from the backseats; we texted instead ha ha. Randomly, my sister Lisa drives past us on route 90 holding up a red umbrella with a look on her face that alerted us, it was not her umbrella. Determined, Lisa was focused on getting the umbrella to the proper owner so she could cross that off her to do list. Lisa called to inquire about the umbrella; my mother couldn’t hear her on the phone; it was too loud in the VW. Figuring we would deal with it at another time and that Lisa was long gone on Route 90, at least I thought, with her luxury AC and Bruce Springsteen blaring. Suddenly, my drivers side windshield wiper breaks; and it is now raining. As my mother alerted my two aunts from my dad’s side of the family, Judy and Sue, of our dilemma, I pulled off to the side to assess; No go. It was dangling like a wounded arm. What to do. I don’t mind being alone, but now I am responsible for my precious cargo passengers. So I crawled forward, and, like a mirage, I saw a stopped car ahead pulled off the side. IT WAS LISA!!!! Unbelievable. She had NO idea of our situation. She was so determined to hand off that damn red umbrella, and thank Goodness she did. As I approached her car she has a slick smile with red umbrella in hand. I told her, not only is she keeping that red umbrella, she is adding my three passengers and bringing them back to New Haven, safely. Out of patty wagon comes their luggage in the rain with 18 wheelers whipping past us. I reassured my mom, sister and aunts I would be fine. I found respite from the rain under a bridge, but knew I couldn’t stay there long. Too vulnerable. So now I white-knuckled it 3 miles in the break down lane at 10 mph in monsoon conditions to the next rest stop. Figured I have wine, a bed, and ipad to hunker down for the night; revisit the trip and the weather in the morning. Then of course it hit me, a truck stop; for sure there had to be a driver who would fix the wiper. First guy I came upon was Spanish, and mucho gusto and bano didn’t get me far; I resorted to sign language charades. This wonderful man called his Spanish-English speaking amigo and asked if I had plyers. I did. Still with tags on, he fixed the wiper in five minutes and I was on my happy camper way. Something about this patty wagon that just brings out the best in everyone. Peace on. Join the journey at


VW Patty Wagon overnight trip to MA for family gathering part 1

Quality family time; priceless. My nephew Taylor is getting married to Emily in September, both Hamilton College grads, so this was his fiancé’s bridal shower in her hometown in Hingham, MA. My sister Lynne rented an Airbnb for the family while my accommodations were in the VW patty wagon. The patty wagon also made for an extended outdoor living room for happy hour as my mom and two aunts thoroughly enjoyed the comfort of the living room while being outdoors. While my nieces Leah and Kelly, along with my nephew Taylor threw the frisbee around (of course the camper comes equipped with a frisbee), my sister Lynne, because she is 59 and has many more years of frisbee throwing experience, represented in that event. My mother sang a song at the shower to the tune of Hey! Look Me Over by Lucille Ball. For 50 years she has been rewriting the words to parallel the event, whether a birthday, wedding, shower, retirement party, whatever, my mom, a former Sweet Adeline’s Director, has the song to sing; we have all come to expect it. An event wouldn’t be the same without it. We all had beads on and couldn’t say the word WEDDING or we would lose our beads, so my niece offered to say that word during her Nana’s song to her grandson to spare her beads from being taken. Side note, Emily and Taylor asked my mom to be the flower girl in their wedding, yes, at 79 years old, the flower girl. After the shower, off to celebrate my moms sister’s 88th birthday. See part 2 of patty wagon adventures with Aunt Elise, patty wagon, and the comforter aka soco southern comfort. Love my Irish family.


VW Westfalia Patty Wagon Adventure attends first classic car doo wop in North Haven

Patty Wagon attended her first classic car show in North Haven and surprisingly won an award for favorite car, selected by a young boy. Of course he was thinking of the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine;
smile. The music was awesome, people were helpful, and everyone loved the patty wagon because they are rare on the east coast. Ah and the random adventures continue. Peace on.


VW Patty Wagon with City Point’s Tom Ahern who shares his-story

Followers of this blog may recall that Random Act of Generous Emotion kindness act when Patty Wagon delivered a misplaced package to the proper address and Tom Ahern answered the door. Well this is a continuation of the adventure that has developed from that day, all stemming from a random moment; a new relationship was found. Tom’s journey, from sharing his history in the 1940’s at City Point (formerly called Oyster Point)in New Haven, to his present encounters with the patty wagon, will carry on. Tom turned 90 a few weeks ago. If we pay attention to our “seniors,” we may learn so many lessons from their tenacity. Anyone who has lived through the Depression, WW2, and the Cold War, is built to last. Listen to their journey. More to follow on Tom.

Leave a Comment