adventure, Amtrak, beachcomb, beachcomber, beachcombing, Buffington, Caribbean, Clint Buffington, humor, illustration, love, message in a bottle, New Hope, railroad, romance, stick figure, train, travel
Well, I found Janet and Bruce LaClair’s message in a bottle in February 2008. They had sent it from the bridge in New Hope, Pennsylvania, in 1981.
But how would I find them? The message was older than I was!
After Cathy Dyson helped me track down Ed and Carol Meyers, I knew I needed help finding Janet and Bruce LaClair. That’s why I called Riley Yates, a reporter with the Intelligencer, who quickly found Janet and Bruce.
Soon I was on the phone with Janet—I caught her as she was leaving a grocery store. When I read Janet’s message out loud to her, she sat down and cried softly as she listened to the words she had forgotten about, because she recognized the hopes she shared with Bruce for starting their “life together”.
Janet told me she and Bruce had divorced in 2006–two years before I found their message in a bottle. As Riley Yates says in his article, 27 years is “a lot of living”. While this bottle roamed the high seas and baked in the sun, life in the states went on, with all its highs and lows. After 24 of the bottle’s 27 years at sea, Janet and Bruce ultimately decided they were better off as friends.
I felt for Janet as we were on the phone. You see in this wedding photo that they are like any couple: hopeful, smiling as they say their vows. And the wedding is outdoors in spring—a veritable symbol for new beginnings:
Janet and Bruce remodeled buildings in their early marriage, and, as Riley Yates reported, “At the time they married, they were renting a small apartment on the top of a barn on a Pipersville horse farm”.
Which is kind of bizarre, because—believe it or not—I, too, lived in a remodeled horse barn when I found their message!
Janet and Bruce had two children, Ryan and Ashley (incidentally, my sister’s first name is Ryan, her middle name Ashley), and they returned annually to Key West where they had honeymooned back in 1981. And life went on.
Janet made time capsules and concealed one in a wall of each house they remodeled. She wanted to commemorate her wedding with Bruce by making something similar, and picked for this occasion a message in a bottle.
She bought a 32 ounce bottle of soda with an aluminum lid, emptied and cleaned it, stained a piece of paper with tea, wrote a message on this paper, rolled it up, stuck it in the bottle, ran a bead of caulk around the inside of the aluminum lid, and, finally, screwed the lid back on, sealing the bottle. It’s probably the best-sealed bottle I’ve found to date.
The bottle, dropped into the Delaware river, found its way into the Atlantic ocean where it circled clockwise in the currents for years.
Which brings us back to the train.
The day after meeting Richard Kaplan, I headed to Raritan, New Jersey. Unfortunately, I would not be able to meet Bruce on my train trip, since he lived in Key Largo. But I would meet Janet, since she was still in the northeast. I left Arielle and Devin’s place on Long Island, and received a text message from Janet as I made my way to Penn Station.
“Good morning!” She wrote. “I will plan to be at the station for the 12:45 arrival. Can’t wait! We have a beautiful day. Yippie!”
Which I found reassuring because as a rule, anyone willing to use the word “Yippie!” is someone I know I will get along with! 🙂
That morning, I rode the Long Island Railroad into NYC, switched to a NJ Transit commuter train, and headed to Raritan. I had only been standing at the Raritan train station for a few minutes when Janet called.
“We’re at the station,” she said. “Where are you?”
“I’m at the station too!” I said, and took a few jubilant steps out from the building.
“There you are!” she said. “We are on the other side of the tracks—don’t move! We’re coming right over!”
That “we” told me she had brought her partner Glen. Glen gave me a big smile as he pulled their SUV to a stop and Janet jumped out. She ran around the front of the vehicle.
“Hi!” she said.
“Howdy,” I said. I stuck my hand out to shake, which she took, but pulled me in for a hug and kissed me right on the cheek!
“Why don’t you jump in?” Janet said, motioning to the back seat.
“Getting into cars with people I’ve never met before has become a bit of a theme in my life lately,” I told them as I climbed in.
“We’re not strangers!” they insisted.
And just like that we were driving. There was candy on the seat beside me—a gift from Glen, who worked with a chocolate company. That’s right: in just about 30 seconds I managed to violate the most basic rules:
It was Mother’s Day, by the way. Does that count as irony? 😉 Of course, I found Janet’s message on my mother’s birthday, too.
I didn’t know it, but Janet and Glen had secretly planned to take me to New Hope, the very place where Janet and Bruce had dropped their bottle in the river!
As we drove, I was surprised at how beautiful and rural and green New Jersey is outside the cities. There were old houses and barns everywhere. Soon we were driving along the Delaware river—the one George Washington famously crossed, the one into which Janet dropped her message in a bottle.
In New Hope, the first order of business was to find parking.
“They are Nazis about parking in this town,” Glen told me. “They love to give you tickets for being over the line.”
Before leaving the car, he crouched at each corner to make absolutely certain that the SUV was perfectly within the box prescribed by the parking authority.
We took off down the sidewalk and I was struck by all the rainbow flags in town. In this picture I caught, by pure chance, a pride flag beside an American flag reflected in a window—a reminder that freedom in America means freedom for all of us, not just for straight folks.
In his book, New Hope Pennsylvania: River Town Passages, (which Janet and Glen bought for me in a New Hope bookstore that very day) author Roy Ziegler writes:
The drive for liberty and independence brought George Washington’s army and the Underground Railroad [to New Hope]. In 2002, New Hope continued its spirit of acceptance and diversity. It became the first borough in the State of Pennsylvania to pass a comprehensive ordinance banning discrimination in employment, public housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. (Ziegler xv)
Woo New Hope!
Walking past rainbow flags, we stopped for drinks at a place called The Landing with a great outdoor patio overlooking the river and bridge.
Here’s a photo of the bridge from which Janet dropped the bottle, taken from The Landing’s parking lot:
We wandered up to the bridge once we left The Landing, and I swear I felt giddy as we walked out to the middle. I had now met two senders of messages in bottles: the Meyers and Richard Kaplan. But this was the first time I’d traveled to the spot—the exact spot—where the sender dropped a message in a bottle into the water…and I was WITH the sender! This was Holy Ground. Check out this photo of me and Janet on the bridge:
And this candid one I sneakily snuck:
Janet radiates energy, and standing there beside her, with the full sun in our faces, I noticed how her eyes are radiant too, starting out as gold sparks around the black center, then sparking out into blue rings.
We left the bridge and wandered down the street to lunch at a restaurant where they had made reservations. There, Janet received a text message from her daughter wishing her a happy Mother’s Day. Ashley was in a beautician school “on the coast,” and Janet was supposed to go witness her work the next day. In fact, the day before our meeting, Ashley had called her mom to invite her to see the new studio she would be working in.
“I’m going to meet the guy who found my message in a bottle!” Janet told her.
“You’ve got to be shitting me!” was Ashley’s reply.
“Does that mean she was OK with me stealing you away for Mother’s Day?” I asked.
It was fine, she told me—we had Ashley’s blessing.
(In case you’re wondering: YES, I called my own mom that night!)
Somewhere in the course of lunch, I asked how they met, and they said they met on the internet. One of the questions on the matching site was, “What kind of things would you like to do with your match?” Janet answered, “I want someone who will go to the top of the Eiffel Tower with me someday.” When Glen contacted her, the Eiffel Tower was in the background of his photo. Goosebumps!
Sure enough, Janet and Glen did go to Paris. Janet emailed about this:
“I have sent my message in a bottle while standing on the bridge in front of the Eiffel Tower. This time I took a picture so as not to forget. If it takes as long as it did with the last one, and what with my track record for memory anyway, I thought this would be a good idea… We had been out for a romantic dinner and ended up having to run in the rain the two blocks from our hotel to get down to the Seine River at midnight so that the bottle might have a chance under the cover of darkness. It was a very special night. Thanks for finding the first bottle and giving me the chance to have the experience a second time.”
Speaking of photos of Glen with the Eiffel Tower in the background, check out this proof of bottle #2:
Another time, Janet wrote:
“While in Paris and after throwing my second message in a bottle into the Seine, my partner in crime asked me to marry him! We decided on eloping to Edinburgh, Scotland and got married on New Year’s Eve over there – in a castle! You can’t believe the red tape to make it all happen in such a short amount of time, but my new husband is very good at getting things done and won’t take no for an answer when he sets his mind to something.”
Is that cool or what?! Now, she’s Janet Rockware. I love this picture of the Rockwares in front of the Moulin Rouge:
I wrote in my journal after meeting Janet and Glen:
“Incidentally, new hope is the theme of this particular adventure. Janet says we must ‘live for the day,’ which I interpret as ‘we must live always with new hope in our hearts.’ New hope for love, new hope for work, new hope for our families and friends.”
I know, I know. I’m a big cheeseball. At least I’m shameless about it in these journals:
“We must embrace, as Glen says, ‘clean livin’; we must live with new hope for strength and courage when we feel abandoned, and when we are hurt, new hope for the ability to forgive the ones that hurt us, who are almost always the ones we love.
“I wonder if Janet needed to meet me as much as I needed to meet her. Maybe she needed to meet me for closure?”
I was very sleepy as we drove back to the Raritan train station. Spending all afternoon in the sun, eating, and drinking beer left me tuckered out.
My journal says:
“In the bleak parking lot of the Raritan train station, as our car rolls to a stop, I feel the lonely train ride back to New York looming over me. I feel it in my chest: I do not want to go. I have more questions. I want to go back to New Hope. I want to stand on the bridge again, smiling in the sun, which sparks in Janet’s eyes.
“I know only that I must get on the train that is approaching. I look once more into Janet’s electric eyes and hug her.
“Bye for now,” I say.
“Take care,” Janet says, “and come back!”
“I’d love to,” I say.
“I shake hands with Glen through the window, and just like that, they back out of their parking spot, wave to me, honk their horn, and drive away.
“In a daze, I walk to the station’s platform and board the train.
“The conductor tears my ticket, and I sink into my seat, overcome by the immense loneliness of solo travel. There appears to me only one reasonable course of action: I eat Glen’s chocolate the whole ride back to New York, reading the front page of Janet’s newspaper over, and over, grateful for these gifts.”