Sunday, May 22, 2016

Stories from the Road

I just returned late last night from ten days of travel to the East Coast. I am not an enthusiastic or efficient traveler. I did take my Magic Bullet blender, pillow, towel, and drinking water filter, and yes, I did have to take things out of my suitcase at baggage check to get it under fifty pounds. I did not take a homegrown zucchini (they are not in season) or my cats, not even my favorite cat Ella; and I did not take my deep dish frying pan (however, I would have taken it had there not been a weight limitation on the suitcase). Ron shook his head in disbelief when he discovered that I had AAA maps in my possession, since he has used navigation on his phone with brilliant success for several years now. I like to look at a real map. I like to see where I am in context. On the East Coast a traveler passes through so many states at dizzying speed that it’s like going warp on the Millennium Falcon. I need to see which state I’m in.

Ron and his phone took us everywhere we wanted to go quite nicely and even helped us avoid a potentially phenomenal disaster by informing us that an accident had caused the closure of the Tappan Zee Bridge. When I realized the bullet we dodged by going via the George Washington Bridge instead, I told Ron that I knew there was a reason why I married him. He pointed out that the accident did not appear on my AAA map. I will write AAA and ask them to look into developing an interactive real-time paper map. There’s a concept. In my youth, I loved to travel. In my youth, I could fall fast asleep on the floor of an airport if necessary. Now it would take me half the night to get up and down off the floor. I miss my bed, my garden, my food and water, my cozy study lined with books. However, I love visiting people on a journey, which is the thing that pries me out of my reclusive life to catch a plane and go. And I visited some good folks these past ten days out. I also took in a couple of museums (the Rosenbach in Philadelphia and the Princeton Art Museum), viewed abundant gorgeous scenery, and admired the symmetry and glory of historic structures of the old-tymie sort (such as the bridges on the Merritt Parkway, the Princeton campus, and the restored buildings in downtown Philadelphia). So all things considered, the vacation was worth the hassle of travel.

On the morning of our departure, Ron lolled around in bed working industrial-strength crossword puzzles from his latest volume of the NY Times Grand Master Wordsmiths from the Planet of Obscure Words that No One Ever Says but that Count as Real Words Series. I asked him if he intended to get up and prepare for our trip and he said, “Nah, I’m on vacation.” Vacation from what? This man is retired. Vacation from making coffee, reading the newspaper, listening to music, surfing the internet, obsessing over the Golden State Warriors, and watching Turner classic movies? Harumph. He nearly passed on the vacation altogether when I told him he had to wear shoes. But the spark for the vacation was our desire to attend a wedding in Salem, Massachusetts and he was motivated to go so he did finally put down the crossword book, traded his bedroom slippers for sneakers, and packed his bags.

Our adventures began with a drive to the Bay Area to catch our flight East. We stopped off at the new Amy’s organic, sustainable, vegan/vegetarian fast food restaurant in Rohnert Park for a take-out healthy special-diet dinner. As a lifelong vegetarian, I loved Amy’s veggie fast food joint. I got a delicious gluten-free veggie burger, which I ate while Ron spent his usual three weeks studying the menu. By the time he ordered, I was satiated and ready to take a turn at driving. As we pulled out of the parking lot, Ron opened his take-out bag. I thought he got a veggie burger, just like mine. But he had ordered the deluxe model. “Wait, are those fries?” I asked. He knew that I would simultaneously not approve and want to eat most of the fries. So he denied that he had purchased fries and hid behind his hand to eat them. However, next he produced a strawberry milkshake from the bag. Whoa. We never drink milkshakes. This was totally a vacation kind of treat, with whole milk and all the bells and whistles. “Is that a milkshake?” I asked incredulously, as a prelude to sucking down a substantial portion of it. “No, no,” Ron replied. “It’s a pork slurpee.”

I will never understand the point of airport announcements. You would think that in the Age of Technology, an establishment as sophisticated as an airport could manage to make comprehensible broadcast announcements. But this is not the case. It is impossible to understand these announcements. Because I’m 80% deaf, I kept asking Ron what they were saying. How long was the flight delayed? Were we boarding? Which group was boarding? When? Were we in the right terminal? What is the meaning of life? He couldn’t make any more sense out of the mishmash of squawks and hisses that emerged than I could. When we asked the people around us, they shrugged in befuddlement as well. No one could figure any of it out. Apparently a deranged airline CEO gets his kicks from putting the announcements through a scrambler that makes the human voice sound like a washing machine on the rinse cycle. Judging by the sound of the announcements, we probably flew a washing machine to Philadelphia.

Whatever we flew, we made it to Philadelphia, rented a terrific car (I want one like that), and after several days visiting our friend Janine in her rococo house on the Schuylkill River (I dare you to pronounce that) that she inherited from her dad, we drove to the wedding. Unfortunately, we had great difficulty finding the wedding venue at the Salem Waterfront Hotel. When we arrived in Salem, Ron’s trusty phone navigation system had a psychotic episode and heard voices directing it to the wrong hotel. We drove around in circles for quite some time before Ron’s bladder trumped his phone navigation and that’s how we wound up at the Salem Witch Museum where Ron used the restroom and asked for real directions. Later, when we shared this with the friends with whom we were staying, they explained that all things conspire to take out-of-towners to the Salem Witch Museum and that’s how the museum makes its money. So we figure that the phone navigation had a spell cast on it by the Salem witches.

The wedding was as joyous, beautiful, fun, and touching as we imagined it would be and was well worth the journey, Salem witches and all. It’s such a treat to witness a wedding between two people truly in love who have a relationship that will clearly last. It certainly makes you want to dance, and dance we did, with longtime friends from our salad days in Berkeley. We celebrated with wild abandon. Although we like to party, we rarely party so rambunctiously, and I woke up in the morning with aches in unusual places and glitter in my underwear. When I crawled into the bathroom and peered in the mirror, I had a shock. I must have slept strangely on my right eyebrow because at first glance it looked like part of it was shaved off. Hmmm, I thought, I don’t remember people shaving off eyebrows at that party. When did that happen? But I soon realized that I could smooth the eyebrow out and no part of it was missing. Phew. I did remember the events of the night before correctly after all.

After the wedding we drove to New Jersey to see my father at the senior community where he lives. He took me to the Princeton Art Museum, and we had lunch together in Princeton. Since I had left my frying pan and most of my kitchen appliances behind, I was dependent on restaurants for food throughout the trip, which did not turn out to be as disastrous as I had feared. Fortunately for me, Princeton is accommodating for people on special diets. Directly across the street from the parking garage, I discovered a cafĂ© that served vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, fair-trade, and sustainable food. Yippee. When Dad and I walked in the door, he commented, “This restaurant even smells like you.” I think it was the cinnamon and other aromatic spices, so I take that as a compliment. Dad has a terrific life in his senior community. He remains lively and active. His sense of humor has not waned. In fact, during our visit he performed in an evening of comedy sketches and monologues about aging. As he was taking off his shoes at the end of a long day touring sculpture gardens and sharing Sabbath dinner at my brother’s house, he said, “I bought these shoes online and they almost fit me.”

After months of making do with skyping my brother’s new puppy Rosie, I finally played with her and received many sloppy doggy kisses. When Rosie joined the family, I sent her a squeaky stuffed owl toy. It became her favorite. I brought her a brand new one when I visited, and don’t you know that puppy immediately lost interest in the old one, which has been her beloved object for months, and switched allegiance to the new owl. She understands about ten words and one of them is “owl.” If someone asks her were her owl is, she looks for it, finds it, picks it up in her teeth, and darts around hoping someone will attempt to wrest it from her so she can hang on fiercely and growls ferociously. After tearing around the backyard like lightning, she fell asleep on the floor near the table where we sat talking. My niece watched Rosie adoringly and told her, “You’re so cute Rosie. Oops, you just got cuter.” 

While I’m on the topic of lightening, I have a story about that. In Massachusetts we stayed with my college friends from my days at Syracuse University, Carol and Ken. I took a class in Wordsworth and other English romantic poets from Ken when he was a teaching assistant and I was an undergrad. They have been married for over forty years, raised two children, and have a baby granddaughter. Carol gave me a tour of her house (which I have been to before) to show me all the changes they made after the house was struck by lightning a few years ago, caught on fire, and had to undergo extensive repairs and remodeling. Carol said that the lightning came in through an upstairs window, struck a wall, and set the wall on fire. Half the house burned and the other half didn’t. They were home at the time and they grabbed their computers, car keys, and phones and ran out. While waiting for the fire department to arrive, and watching her home burn (they have lived there for thirty years and raised their children there), Carol thought the house would burn to the ground and that she would lose everything. She felt lightheaded. Then Ken, a Wordsworth man to the core, turned to her and said, “You’re all the home I need.”

Beware the tentacles of the Salem Witch Museum that will ensnare you by corrupting your navigation system.

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