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A First Time for Everything
Big Words

by Big Daddy Graham

Jan. 1 has come and gone. Did you decide that this was the year you were going to lose weight? Quit smoking? Put the toilet seat down? (And by the way, ladies, how hard is it for you to leave the seat up?!)

But I’m going to look at that date a little differently this year. I was recently performing my favorite pastime, channelsurfing and I happened on some dumb teen flick with a scene that I have seen countless times in many different forms.

Someone dragging on their first cigarette. Some nerd having their first shot of tequila. Some extremely nervous, pimply faced boy trying to ask a girl out.

So in honor of the name of this magazine, here come a few of my favorite “firsts.” And all of them occurred right here in South Jersey.

When I was in high school, I used to occasionally hitchhike to West Catholic High in West Philly, but that doesn’t really count since the only drivers who stopped to pick you up were parents of your friends who were driving to the school themselves. They knew you.

The first real hitchhiking experience I ever had started in Collingswood. My buddy Fred, who had moved there with his family, and I were sitting around bored on a hot summer day. I had taken the speedline to get to his house as neither one of us owned a car.

We were 15 and Fred said, “Hey, let’s hitchhike down to Wildwood.” To show you how truly times have changed, we told Freddie’s parents that’s what we were going to do, and neither one of them barely looked up from their newspapers. Not today!

And neither one of us had ever truly hitchhiked before. Well, to make a long story short, we were such amateurs that somehow, after an hour-and-a-half and four rides, we ended up in Glassboro before we gave up. Glassboro! From Collingswood. We were apparently going sideways.

But here’s the cool part of the story and I swear to you every word of this is true. While we had our thumbs out standing at this intersection, it started pouring on our side of the corner. We were getting drenched while it wasn’t raining at all on the other side of the street. That has never happened to me again. This occurred right in the area where Landmark is near Rowan’s campus.

And this tale comes automatically pouring out of me if someone is in the car with me. “You’re not going to believe this, but right here …”

The first time I ever had a panzarotti was in South Jersey and here’s the interesting part. I’ve never had a panzarotti anywhere other than South Jersey. God, do I love them. Gonna run out right now and get one.

1966 Ford Galaxie 500
I had two older siblings, a younger sister and both of my parents growing up. No one had ever owned a car. I was starting to branch out of my Philly rowhome roots when my previously mentioned best friend moved to Collingswood and I wanted a car in the worst way. One day we were walking in Westmont and there was a car parked in front of a house with a “For Sale” sign slapped on it. The paint job looked to be the color of a jawbreaker after it had been sucked on for a while. It sure looked beautiful to me. There was a phone number on the sign which we called and it turned out the dude wanted $400. We set up a time for me to test drive it.

We rapped on the door and this grizzled old dude (picture Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men) answered it. I paid little attention to what should have been my first tip-off that I should just walk away. There was no key for the ignition. That’s right, no key. You had to start it with a screwdriver.

The moment of truth came when I told the guy that the best I could muster up was $300. He gazed at me and mumbled, “My boy, you are getting the deal of the century” and took it. Well, the way things turned out he probably moved the next day.

The first thing that went wrong was that the oil light went on. When we pulled it into the service station and asked what that meant, a bunch of greasers said, “Well, I guess that means the car needs oil,” and they all laughed their keisters off. After charging us twice a quart what we would have paid at a Pep Boys, we started pouring the oil in—get ready for this—the tiny little hole that you pulled the oil dipstick out of.

So naturally, all the oil just started running down to the ground and after the mechanics finished busting another gut, they told us to get that %&*# car off their lot.

Three months later the car just upped and died in South Philly on the way to a Phillies game. I took the plates off and just left it there. Someone later told me that the car was converted into a condo that’s now going for $450,000.

The Cherry Hill Mall
I was dating this girl who lived in Haddon Township. One day she took me to the Cherry Hill Mall. (We were at the end of a “relationship” that never had a beginning, really.)

It was the first mall I was ever in. What do I remember about it the most? The amount of stores under one roof? The climate- controlled temperature? The food court? No, I had never seen so many greatlooking women assembled in one spot. It was wonderful and meant the end of that relationship, which I’m sure was just fine with her.

There’s a Backup at the Atlantic City Expressway Tolls
The first time I heard those infamous lines coming from KYW, I paid it no mind. It didn’t sound all that ominous. Ha! I have now spent the rest of my life learning every Jersey back road there is to avoid that mess. But sometimes you have no choice and I figure that by now I could have read every Game of Thrones book cover to cover 17 times if I added up all the minutes that I have wasted in those lanes.

Try to have a good new year and get some advice before you do something for the first time. Don’t be stupid like me.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 10 (January, 2018). 

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