Rick's Space

My Exotic Vacations

Lots of folks go on vacation, fall in love with the exotic locale, and return year after year.

I have friends who have been to Hawaii a dozen times. Others go to Puerto Rico every year.

Maybe it’s the sparkling waters, decadent food, or just the familiarity of the place that draws them back. I, too, have that “special place” I return to every year about this time: Albany, New York.

For those who are too young to remember (or too old to remember) Governor Nelson Rockefeller spent billions of dollars creating the Empire State Plaza in downtown Albany, reshaping the city and thus building a lasting monument to himself.

I have been going to Albany for over 30 years, gathering with a group of friends who live there, every year. Not one lives downtown. No one goes downtown, except the thousands of government workers with pasty faces that file in every morning and return to the suburbs afterwards.

To say Rockefeller was a hardliner would be a severe understatement. He was a strong proponent of the death penalty, and he pushed through some of the harshest drug laws ever conceived, sending low-level pot dealers to state prison for 20 years or more. Pot dealers wasted away in state penitentiaries alongside rapists and murderers. There was no hope for parole.

Rockefeller actually believed that there was no difference between pot and heroin, though we know now pot users used to exhibit the telltale signs of calling everyone “dude” and referring to their girlfriend as “My Lady” even if her name wasn’t Guinevere.

Rockefeller was an extremely wealthy man. We know this because his last name was Rockefeller. He divorced his first wife, Mary, in 1962, leaving her the 30-room apartment on Fifth Avenue, and married Margaretta “Happy” Murphy, who was much younger than his first wife.

The marriage, which probably killed any chance of Rockefeller becoming president, was fairly scandalous at the time. As it was, Rockefeller ran for president three times and served as vice president under Gerald Ford, which prompted the joke, “Ford asking Rockefeller to be VP is like asking Morris The Cat to guard the tuna salad.”

Rockefeller died in 1979. The big joke back in the day was, “What did Nelson Rockefeller feel when he died?” The answer being, of course, “He was feeling Happy.” (I know, I know, back then the pot smokers would laugh at anything.)

Actually, though, The Gov wasn’t feeling Happy the night he died. Rockefeller actually had a fatal heart attack in a West Side townhouse he owned. He was with Megan Marshack, a 25-year-old aide, who was of course, much younger than Happy.

I travel to Albany for my annual Rotisserie Baseball Draft, a hotly contested high-stakes fantasy baseball league.

The 20 or so guys (and one lady, Sue) who gather at Maggie’s Sports Bar, try to be cordial with one other, but the truth is, we hate each other.

One of the highlights every year is when we have our first “Piss Break” at 11 AM. Everyone rushes to the bathroom simultaneously, though only one person fits in it.

Sue always moans, “I hate waiting on line.” That’s her joke — she is usually the only woman in the bar and thus has the ladies room to herself. But if one of the guys tries to use it, she runs up to the owner and tells him there is a pervert in the ladies room exposing himself.

Every year I have a standing offer: I’ll buy the bucket of mussels for anyone who will drain it. A couple guys tried their luck 12 years ago — none have since.

I usually stay at some seedy motel around the corner from the sports bar. Last year, though, I vowed never to go back again. That’s because when I went down to dinner, I was the only person in the restaurant. I ordered wine and asked for a menu and the waiter disappeared. I saw him at the check-in desk a half-hour later. He was the only employee in the place. I asked what happened to the wine. “I got busy, Dude,” he said. I wondered if he was an ex-con.

I didn’t meet Rockefeller in Albany — he was right here in Sag Harbor. I believe it was back in 1964, when he was a Republican candidate for president. My sister kissed him on the steps of the Whaling Museum. Her name was Margaretta, and we called her “Happy.”

Naw, I made that up. But this really did happen, and my sister Phyllis really did kiss him. Too bad she didn’t marry him. Truth is, “He died feeling Phyllis” doesn’t have much of a ring to it.

Karen has been after me to take her on vacation, and one of these years I’ll surprise her. Just imagine how happy she will be when she hears we are going to Albany.

Rick Murphy is a six-time winner of the New York Press Association Best Column award as well as the winner of first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Suburban Newspaper Association of America and a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.

rmurphy@indyeastend.com