Lost on the New Jersey Turnpike

Commonwealth

When the band Commonwealth was touring the Playboy Clubs, I enjoyed some of the best times of my life. I was proud of the band, and our 5-part harmony. We were a 70’s pop band channeling the Hi-Lo’s and Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross.  Before we hired horns, we sang the horn parts ourselves, and I loved it!

Many times a year , Commonwealth was the dinner/dance band in the swank supper club at the Great Gorge Playboy Club in New Jersey.  You had to fly into Newark and drive into the hills. The club away from most everything. It was just country and golf courses.

We didn’t fly anywhere, but traveled constantly, driving caravan with a car and a U-Haul.  The Great Gorge Playboy Club was in the valley of a huge, bright green golf course. You could smell the freshly cut grass as you drove the long winding driveway to the hotel.

Jorge Casas

Jorge Casas

This hotel was always a favorite of mine, because of its out-of-the-way location; and it is where I first started having more than friendship feelings for our Cuban bass player, Jorge Casas.

He was dating a pretty, blonde bunny waitress, and for the first time, I was jealous!  We hadn’t even been friends really, he was always bad mouthing the American Woman. I felt, being a singer and working with musicians, I was an exception to the typical greedy, materialistic American woman.   I did not disagree with him, I only felt he generalized everyone, that way.  It’s funny how close hate and love are!

While we were in the New Jersey club, I did not let my feelings be known to anyone, But on-stage, we did ‘look’  at each other more and more. The vibe was changing. We did talk about our feelings at the end of this engagement, and chose to talk to Maurice, the bandleader.

Maurice had strict rules against dating within the band. We didn’t think it was ethical or possible to skirt the rules, so we felt compelled to discuss it with Maurice, suggesting we might have to quit, to be together.  We waited until our next Playboy job in Detroit, when Jorge took Maurice out for a drink, and told him.  But that is another post!!

Peter Cook - Dudley More

Peter Cook – Dudley More

On our night off, Maurice (British pianist and leader) and Jorge suggested the three of us drive to New York, have tea at The Plaza, see the British comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in their Broadway show, Good Evening.  We planned on going to Chinatown, and jazz clubs, after the show, to really make a night of it!.

And so we headed out… Maurice drove, and Jorge and I were passengers.  It was so exciting. I was in my early-mid twenties, and the only time I had been to New York was to see relatives. Didn’t really get to see much of The City, during those visits.

We went to the Plaza Hotel, and spent time in the Tea Room. So many elegant woman, draped in their furs. and the fragrances of  Joy and Chanel. I was still wearing Shalimar perfume, I wore in high school!    Up to that moment, I had only seen The Plaza in movies.

Maurice, being from England, had such culture, and loved fine cognac, and pipes.  I hate cigarettes and cigars, but the sweet cherry tobacco that Jorge and Maurice smoked was nice. I always loved when they lit up.

I felt very sophisticated and was glad I always had beautiful dresses to wear on our nights, out. One thing I did spend money on was nice clothes. I had some beautiful costumes for our shows and always great silk and linen dresses for our nights out.

CourvoisierWhen we arrived at the theater, I hadn’t heard of these very famous comedians. This was long before Dudley Moore did the movie, 10, and long before he was known in America.  The show was brilliant, and I laughed so hard.  We left filled with laughter and joy, and our next stop was a jazz club in Manhattan. The guys drank their Courvoisier and I club soda. I never have been a drinker, and always went mad when friends said, “Oh Come on, have something”  I just hate that, but the guys never did that to me. They respected my non-drinking and did not try to push anything on me.

Next stop was Chinatown, and had the best food I had ever tasted! By now, it was now about 2 am. The guys were drinking heavily; I mean A LOT.  When we were going to the car, I noticed Maurice was slurring and stumbling, I said,  “Jorge. I don’t think he can drive.”  Jorge said, “I don’t think he can walk!”  

Jorge said, “I’ve had too much, too.” and he asked me if I would drive.  OK, let me tell you about my driving skills at that age. I didn’t even got my license until I was 18.  Then at 21, I was in a terrible car accident that left me terrified to drive again.   But now, I was our only option.   I told Jorge I had no idea where we were, and how to get to Great Gorge. It’s easy he said, follow this road to the turnpike and pay the toll and we are almost there.

toll-booth-nj-turnpikeThey were both in the backseat passed out by the time I got to the turnpike.  I paid the toll, and kept driving.

I was listening to the cassette tape deck and was driving along, when I came to another toll booth. Uh OH,  it was the same toll booth?  Had I gone in a circle?  I guess I had.  I asked the toll man how I get to Lake Geneva, and he couldn’t help me; too many cars behind me. Well, I will try this again.  Off I went with two alcohol soaked guys in the back seat, and I kept driving. La de da, driving along. It was nearly 4 am now, and a little frightening.

When suddenly, there is a toll booth. Yes, you guessed it, the same toll booth, for the third time. Now I pulled over on this ultra-busy Highway, and tried to wake Jorge. Help, we are lost, I need help.  Maurice heard me, and said , “Don’t worry Dahling, with his accent, I will take the wheel.”

“The HELL you will.”  I said, “I will walk before I  let you drive.”

Playboy Club Lake GenevaI stood in the cold freezing road of the Jersey Turnpike watching Maurice and Jorge drive off without me!.  I started to walk as far to the side of the road as I could to not get hit by a car. The greasy smelly street under my beautiful shoes. they were getting ruined in the morning dew of the New Jersey humidity.

Thank goodness, when they drove off I could hear Jorge yelling at Maurice, ‘You can’t leave her there!!”  I was hoping they would somehow come back for me, but knew it would take a while because you just can’t make a u-turn on the highway!

They did come back, and I got in the car, Maurice was angry that I had gotten out of the car. Jorge was now driving, and we made it back to the Hotel in time for breakfast. This was just one episode of our life on the road with the Commonwealth.

There are many more stories to tell. It certainly was never boring!

Jessica Marciel
Las Vegas Vocal Training

Maintaining Your Vocal Health

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