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Vacation 2011:

We Flew Off To Look For America

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you

 —Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17


Flight path

I fondly remember Labor Day Weekend, 1950, when my parents and I drove to Niagara Falls, arriving late at night and stopping on the bridge to view the rainbow-colored lights glowing off the torrent of water leaping off the precipice. My parents took the bed while I slept on the floor that night in a B&B on the Ontario side of the border, stopping for gas the next morning where I was transfixed by the crown logo atop the gas pump before eating breakfast in a restaurant with large paned windows and crystal chandeliers. Riding home across upstate New York, I saw the only steam locomotives pulling freight trains that I would ever remember afterwards. I was two and a half.

But the die had been cast and for the rest of my life I would yearn to travel and sightsee. Anything would qualify as a destination: a place I had seen in a movie or a TV show, heard mentioned in a song, seen in someone's slide show. By age ten I was coloring in the states I had been in on maps. By age twelve when my Uncle Bill told me he had been to all fifty states, it became my goal. I entered my fiftieth state at age 22, rendering my state coloring pointless. So I started keeping track of every county of each state I had and would visit with the new goal to see every county in every state.

Pat, on the other hand, had grown up here in California and although the trips he went on with his parents included Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, he had never been east of Reno, Nevada until he met me fifteen years ago. His first trip to the east coast came in March of 1999 when we flew back to New Jersey to visit my father. It was cold, gray, and drab but he did get to spend a day touring Manhattan, got a ride on the Staten Island Ferry where he fell in love with the Statue of Liberty, and got a quickie night-time drive-through of Washington, DC. I promised him we'd return some day to visit all the museums, go inside the White House, the Capitol, etc.

Growing up in New Jersey, I had been to DC hundreds of times, knew the landmarks intimately, and had strolled through the museums multiple times. I went to college in Virginia for a year and had been stationed in western Massachusetts during my four-year Air Force stint. Hence, I was quite familiar with nearly everything there was to see in America's northeast corridor. And I wanted Pat to see what I had grown up with.

I created and maintain a website as well as a database for my high school graduating class back in New Jersey and dutifully posted the announcement of the planned 45th reunion picnic to be held on June 25th, 2011. Given our financial downturn in the current economic climate, I had no intention of flying to New Jersey to attend. However, back in early May, a high school friend still living in my old stomping grounds whom I had known since middle school and with whom I had stayed in touch, had also become a good friend to Pat, informed me that she had changed her mind and would attend the reunion.

Pat & I haven't had a vacation in three years and we really needed one. With the value of our investments finally creeping back up, I decided to damn the torpedoes, go to the reunion if for no other reason than to see Donna again, and tour the east coast as I had promised Pat twelve years ago. Although Pat, after 31 years, gets five weeks of vacation per year, JC Penney won't let him take more than two weeks at a time. He put in for the two weeks the following morning, got them approved, after which I got busy booking plane tickets, a rental car, and lodging online as driving our motorhome to New Jersey and back within two weeks would leave no time to do anything else.

I sketched out a rough itinerary. We'd arrive at Newark Airport on late Friday afternoon, June 24th, pick up the car, and head to Donna's house in Mercerville where we'd spend two nights. Saturday we'd attend the reunion. Sunday morning we'd bid adieu to Donna and husband Wayne, stop by to pay our respects at my stepmother's grave before driving directly to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York. Pat loves cemeteries and this one was loaded with famous people besides being mentioned in Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Next stop, Mystic Seaport in southeastern Connecticut, then on to Newport, Rhode Island followed by a stop in Fall River, Massachusetts to see Lizzy Borden's house. Follow that with a stop at Plymouth Rock and a drive out to Provincetown on Cape Cod, which despite my having been stationed in western Massachusetts for a year and a half forty years ago, I had never seen. I allocated a full week to tour southern New England and wanted to be in DC the following Sunday evening.

A check of the calendar revealed that the following weekend was the Fourth of July and I realized it might be hard to find a vacant motel room, so I booked a hotel for Sunday and Monday nights in Rosslyn (Arlington), Virginia. We'd have a full week to explore Washington, DC, and I'd wing the rest of the lodging. Our flight back home would leave Newark Airport at 6:45 a.m. on Sunday, July 10th. Hopefully my planned itinerary wasn't overly ambitious.

Day 1: Friday, June 24, 2011

NJ map

As luck would have it, Pat's boss at JC Penney discovered that our first day was inventory day at the store and told him he'd have to belay his vacation. He let her know the plane tickets had already been purchased and were un-refundable. She relented on the condition that he work Thursday night into Friday morning at 2 a.m. Our flight was at 6 a.m.

Welcome to NJI spent the week getting everything ready for the trip… except my suitcase which I kept putting off. With Pat at work Thursday night, I finally started packing, but dragged it out over six hours. Excited about the trip, I couldn't go to bed at my usual 11 p.m., but finally crawled under the covers at 1 a.m. Pat walked in the front door at 1:30 a.m. We both managed to get two hours of sleep before getting up at 3:30 a.m. Our next-door neighbor, Don, would be house-sitting and feeding our cats while we were gone for the sixteen days, as well as taking us to and picking us up from the Oakland Airport. Don rang our doorbell at 4:10 a.m. We all drank coffee before heading to the airport at 4:30.

Newark AirportThe Delta flight left on time at 6 a.m. for the two-hour leg to Salt Lake City where we had an hour layover before catching the second flight on to Newark. We got our checked bags off the carousel, picked up our rental car at Budget, found it in the parking lot, and I spent the next ten minutes trying to figure out how to turn on the windshield wipers in the light to moderate rain.

Turnpike TicketIt was a short one-hour trip down the New Jersey Turnpike to Donna's house in Mercerville and I told Pat I wanted him to get a Tony Soprano shot of me grabbing the ticket from the turnpike booth when we got on. By the time we got off the turnpike at Hightstown, the rain had stopped, the sun was out, and Pat already had an entirely different view of New Jersey from our previous trip in March of 1999. Everything was green! In fact, too much green. The trees were so full and lush, we could rarely see past the edge of the roads we traveled. On the county road between Hightstown and Mercerville, Pat was surprised at the number of nurseries we passed until he realized, unlike California, the gardens in New Jersey have a short growing season.

HightstownHightstown, NJ

We arrived at Donna & Wayne's at 7:30 p.m. after construction delays and rush-hour traffic slowed our progress on the turnpike. Linda Linard, another high school classmate, was already there having driven down from her home in Westfield, Massachusetts, and had the spare bedroom, so Pat & I would have the sofas. I was home again… where nobody sweated the small stuff and made do!!

Before we had left home, Donna had asked what we wanted for dinner Friday night when we arrived, and I promptly answered that I wanted something I couldn't get in California: a genuine Trenton tomato pie — thin crust, tomato paste, & cheese. We all piled into Donna & Wayne's SUV and headed across the bridge to a family pizza restaurant in Morrisville, Pennsylvania where we met up with a dozen or more old high school friends for dinner.

The pizza was great; the restaurant was awful! The noise level was so loud, you could barely hear the person speaking next to you, leaving me wishing I had brought my earplugs to dial down the din. After dinner, we headed a few blocks away to the backyard patio of another high school classmate, Linda Lombardi, for drinks and socializing. Now dark and after nine o'clock on a warm, early summer evening, Pat got to see his first lightning bugs glowing forty feet up in the tree branches above us. We don't have fireflies in California, so this was quite a treat for him although I found it odd that on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, the lightning bugs were high up in the trees whereas on the Jersey side I always recalled them flying around at knee level.

We piled back into the SUV around 10:30 with Donna behind the wheel, headed across the Trenton Makes — The World Takes bridge into Jersey where Donna decided to give us a late night tour of Trenton's Chambersburg district, famous in the Janet Evonovich novels. Back at the house, we all crashed promptly. It had been over 36 hours since Pat & I had had any extended sleep.

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17


Day 2: Saturday, June 25, 2011

Donna's HouseIt was 9 a.m. by the time I awoke on the sofa and removed the earplugs I had inserted the night before to block out the sound of Donna & Wayne's TV in their upstairs bedroom. Pat, Donna, & Linda were already yakking it up around the coffee pot in the kitchen. The class reunion picnic was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., so after dressing, coffee, and a cigarette in the back yard, Pat & I headed down to Dunkin' Donuts to pick up a dozen. Our rental car had no ashtray but did have a nasty sticker on the window warning of a $250 cleaning fee if we smoked in it. Pat headed into the second hand store next to Dunkin' Donuts to get us an ashtray for the car.

We drove the three miles to the dock on the lake at Mercer County Park only to discover that, despite the directions, the reunion wasn't there, preempted by a South Asian Indian wedding reception with a loud band that was warming up. Finally found a person who said our location had been moved to another spot in the park. By then, two other couples had arrived and the three cars of lost souls tandemed over to the new location where we found everyone else.

ReunionSpeaking of warming up, so was the weather. Only mid-morning and already I was sweating in the eighty degree heat coupled with high humidity. It only got worse as the day wore on.

Out of a class of 472, about 40 people showed up for the reunion and half of those were spouses. It was fun saying hi to faces I hadn't seen in years, but beyond “where are you living now?” there was no serious conversation other than between those who had stayed in the area and in touch with each other. Most split off into the same cliques they belonged to 45 years ago and, since my social life back then was outside of high school, I stayed mostly outside the pavilion on the grass with the few other smokers.

The heat and the humidity were awful. The kitchen towel I'd brought along as a sweat dabber was soaked and I just wanted the reunion to get over so I could get back to some air conditioning. It was a strange realization that, after 45 years, none of us really had anything in common any more. One thing hadn't changed, however: a group of jocks from back in the day got together at a table and mused about all the teachers they wished they could have banged. Definitely not the table for a 63-year-old gay man!

Things started breaking up around four o'clock and Pat & I headed back to Donna's where we helped with setting up the backyard potluck dinner party she had planned for that evening with half the Beta Girls and their spouses invited. It was still hot and miserable, but at least we could duck into the air conditioned house periodically to cool down.

The guests started arriving and filled the backyard patio sunroom where they started noshing on the plethora of potluck dishes while washing the food down with wine and other spirits. By dark, the lightning bugs were blinking on and off all over the yard — this time at knee level —, Pat was enjoying himself immensely, and three hours of imbibing got the women to let down their guard in front of their husbands and recount torrid tales of past Beta Girl get-togethers (Beta Girls only at these get-togethers, Donna wanted me to mention) including pole dancing and shared experiences with old boyfriends. Not to be outdone, the husbands recounted tales of past girlfriends. I didn't want to be left out either and given the brave open world of the 21st century and, by now having consumed at least a half a bottle of wine, I volunteered to reveal what guys I had slept with while we were all in school. The women loved it; the men cringed! All in all, a great party that got so loud, I was surprised the neighbors hadn't called the cops. By eleven o'clock, the aftermath had been cleaned up and we all headed for bed.

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17


Day 3: Sunday, June 26, 2011

NJ map

Today was Pat's and my first travel day and we wanted to get an early start. But Donna wanted us to go to breakfast at Anita Tulli's home about two miles away. It was a lovely brunch with coffee, orange juice, eggs, sausage, fresh fruit, bagels and lord knows what else on their backporch patio. What a lovely way to start the day and say our thank-yous and goodbyes.

HeadstoneFrom there we headed to People of Truth Jewish Cemetery to pay our respects to my stepmother June whom my father & I had buried there back in January of 2003 in 19° cold and 30 mph wind gusts. Even at eleven o'clock in the morning, the heat and humidity were already getting to me. We left the obligatory small stones on June's tombstone, got back in the car, and programmed the GPS we had rented to take us to Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Like our GPS at home, we named this one Helga as she had a real attitude in her voice whenever we strayed from her chosen route. We quickly discovered that this Helga was not nearly as educated as our Helga back home: you couldn't program her to go to a town without providing her with a street address and rather than tell us the remaining distance to our destination, she instead told us what time we would arrive. I managed a go-around on the street addresses for towns we hadn't been to yet by entering 1 Main Street, but I never could get her to reveal the remaining distance to destination.

Welcome to NYOf course, having grown up in the area, I could drive directly to Sleepy Hollow with no help from Helga whatsoever: New Jersey Turnpike to Garden State Parkway to New York Thruway to Tappan Zee Bridge. Helga, not surprisingly, wanted us to go by way of the George Washington Bridge and upper Manhattan which I was determined to avoid. It took a good twenty miles of driving up the Garden State Parkway before she finally relented and picked the route I was driving. But she still refused to tell us the remaining distance.

Tappan Zee

Tappan Zee Bridge

Elizabeth Arden

Elizabeth Arden's headstone


William Rockefeller's Mausoleum

We easily found the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery on the north side of the small Hudson River Valley village of the same name and pulled in by one o'clock. By now, the heat & humidity were over-powering and I was sweating like Niagara Falls from walking up a hillside to see the mausoleum of William Rockefeller which was currently being refurbished. Elizabeth Arden's grave was the hardest to find, especially when short-tempered from the oppressive heat. Turns out her headstone is marked Graham, her family name. Elizabeth Arden was strictly her business name whereas her real name was Florence Nightingale Graham.

Helmsley crypt Helmsley Glass

After sweating for forty minutes looking for Elizabeth Arden, we drove halfway down the hill to the Harry & Leona Helmsley mausoleum. Even in death, they can't help but flaunt their wealth. On three sides of the huge marble crypt are identical stained glass windows depicting the Manhattan skyline. Even Leona's dogs' cremains are buried in there with them.

Fake Bridge

Pat on the "not original" Headless Horseman Bridge


Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Carnegie Gompers Irving
Dutch Church Marker

We then drove to the bottom of the hill to the banks of the small Potantico River to view the “Headless Horseman Bridge (not original).” Driving back up the hills, we came upon Andrew Carnegie and Samuel Gompers before driving to the south end to locate Washington Irving. The heat kept pushing us on and we headed next the the Old Dutch Church where we went inside, then strolled its old cemetery adjacent to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Again, the heat kept us moving and we next discovered that U.S. 9, which runs through Sleepy Hollow and north past the church and two cemeteries, crosses the Potantico River. A New York state historical marker is at the foot of the bridge announcing that “The Headless Horseman Bridge. Described by Irving in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow formerly spanned this stream at this spot.” So much for the “not original” in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery!

Real Bridge Location

CT map

Welcome to ConnecticutBy now it was four o'clock: too early to quit for the day and too hot to hang out. So we programmed Helga to take us to Mystic, Connecticut and hit the road. Twenty minutes later, Pat entered Connecticut for the first time and I came to realize that the toll had been discontinued on the Connecticut Turnpike, now I-95. After the traffic turned north in New Haven on I-91 to Hartford, we made quick time through the lush green forests along I-95 which parallels Long Island Sound.

Mystic River DrawbridgeWe got off the freeway at the Mystic exit around six and stopped to fill our rental car up with gas. Two blocks later, we came to a dead halt in backed up traffic and sat still for ten minutes or so. We soon learned the traffic jam was caused by the opening every 40 minutes after the hour of the drawbridge across the Mystic River up ahead. Downtown Mystic, divided by the river, is a Bohemian little village of outdoor cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and shops and next to the water, the heat was dialed down considerably. We programmed Helga to find us a Super 8 Motel and she took us back to Groton where we checked in for the night before heading out to eat at the Groton Townhouse, recommended by the front desk of the Super 8. But not before discovering that our smoking room had no ashtrays and my wristwatch had died. I drove to a nearby Walmart, bought ashtrays, soap & shampoo for our showers, which given the horrendous heat, we would be taking frequently, and a big bottle of Fabreeze with which to kill the smoke odor in the car despite the fact that we opened the windows every time we lit up. I picked Pat up back at the motel for dinner, drove right past the restaurant and, six miles later, turned back around at the Groton Submarine Base.

After dinner, we returned to the motel and got our first night's sleep away from home in beds.

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17


Day 4: Monday, June 27, 2011

On the drive into downtown Mystic the night before, we had passed the parking lot and entrance for Mystic Seaport and knew exactly how to get back. We jumped on eastbound I-95 in Groton and in less than ten miles exited onto the main drag back into Mystic.

Mystic River
Sail Making Shop Sail Making


It had been 40 years since I last visited Mystic Seaport, a New England whaling village museum. Back in 1971 it was small and intimate, compacted into an area less than Frontierland at Disneyland. Forty years later it seems it has quadrupled in size with all the buildings spread further apart, perhaps to create the illusion of a real New England maritime village. A huge welcome center just inside the entrance now collects $24 per person to wander about the grounds. Even the parking lot across the street has expanded to the size of that of a small supermarket.

Summer Homes Sailing Lessons

If they added additional re-creations, I didn't notice. The sail-making barns, boat carving sheds, print shops, sailing vessels, and Victorian homes were still there as were the period costumed docents to act out their maritime skills. But it was all new to Pat and he found it intriguing, though “lacking in joie de vivre.” He went on to say, “I particularly liked the setting along the banks of the Mystic River with the boats out on the water and the summer homes along the shore embraced in the summer green of maples and birch, but I was expecting more quaintness with more in-character acting in the skill demonstrations. But still it was interesting.” Okay, so I souped up Pat's actual words, but that was the gist of them.

Mystic Lighthouse

Pat rests on a bench in the shade of the lighthouse

As the morning wore on the temperature went up, the dish towel tucked under my belt got damper from my wiping away the sweat, and the energy began to drain from my legs. A glance around at the other visitors on the grounds revealed that they, too, were beginning to move like molasses in January and even the young children were becoming less rambunctious. Pat and I found a bench in the shade next to a lighthouse on the banks of the Mystic River, sat down, lit up, and relaxed for a spell.

The Mystic River before us was populated with sailing vessels of every size from the tall masted barks all the way down to the one-man sailboats being crewed by a group of teenagers who were part of a Youth Training Program. Crushed clam shells mixed with gravel made up the ground cover around us and a light breeze off the water cooled us down… as long as we didn't move out from the shade of the small lighthouse.

Barrel Shop Print Shop
Cargo hoisting Village

We could have used something to drink, but no vendors were nearby in this area of the park. After twenty minutes, we got up from the bench and moved on, stopping to view a demonstration on how eighteenth and nineteenth-century barks loaded and unloaded their cargos. After stops at an old printing shop and barrel making shop, then passing up a drink purchase at an expensive looking restaurant in the middle of the grounds, we did a quickie look-see of the old Victorian homes, millenaries, and general stores before heading into the food court back by the entrance and ordering lunch. Besides the welcome center, it was the only other air-conditioned building on the grounds resulting in a very leisurely lunch.

Welcome to RIAfter lunch, we walked back outside into the heat and my replenished energy from the 45-minute lunch break in an air-conditioned food court quickly evaporated. After fifteen more minutes of ambling around, we concluded we had seen all there was to see and headed for the parking lot. The ghastly heat made me irritable as I tried to program Helga to take us to Newport, Rhode Island which I hadn't expected us to get to for at least another day, perhaps two. Of course Helga wouldn't settle for just Newport; she wanted a street address in a town I had never been to. 1 Main street seemed to satisfy her and we headed out of Mystic. Much to my surprise, within fifteen minutes, we crossed into Rhode Island.

Benny'sI had been in Rhode Island several times in the past, but always in the upper half, never near the ocean or bays for which the state is famous. So I planned the route this time to meet this criteria as well as to capture the last two counties of the state I had yet to enter. Just a couple of miles in, we arrived on the north side of Westerly and spotted our first Benny's. Pat, who had been spotting Macy's at just about every shopping center we had passed in the last three days, had yet to spot a Penney's, and quickly blurted out, “Where?”, believing I had said "Penney's." Of course, he was on vacation and didn't want to be reminded of JC Penney's where he still worked after 31 years, but Benny's in Rhode Island provided me with an opportunity to needle him by pointing and shouting it out every time I spotted one. And driving across Rhode Island, small as it is, was about to shower me with lots of opportunities to get his goat!

Helga had us make a left turn onto U.S. 1 in Westerly and a few miles later the highway signs alerted us to 1A, a scenic byway. What the hell… we weren't in a hurry, but where did it go? Helga was no help as she steadfastly refused to show us a map of where we were, insisting on showing us only the road we were on trailing into the back of her screen. So, I pulled over and consulted the Rand McNally Road Atlas which showed a road that looped south off of U.S 1 down to Watch Hill, then eastward a few miles until it re-intersected U.S. 1. We doubled back half a mile and took what we thought was 1A south (pale-orange road on map) from Westerly towards Watch Hill.

RI Map

Ocean House Hotel

Ocean House Hotel in Watch Hill, RI

Helga started going berserk! Off route! Recalculating! A quarter of a mile later, Off Route! Recalculating! And on infinitum she hollered every few blocks. “Don't worry,” I told Pat confidently. “She'll figure out that we're on the loop and eventually will recognize that we're on the way back to U.S. 1.” But Helga kept it up the whole ten miles into Watch Hill, a gorgeous little beach town located on the state's southwestern-most tip where Block Island Sound meets the Atlantic Ocean. Smitten with the beaches, the hordes of people walking the streets, the shops, the mansions, and the 19th century hotels, but unable to find a place to park, we kept driving through. Eventually the loop through town brought us back onto 1A (though no sign had alerted us that we had left it in the first place) and we started the eastbound portion back towards U.S. 1.

But the homes and the countryside starting looking familiar. Too familiar. And when we reached the two-story 19th century bed & breakfast at the traffic light, we realized we were driving back on the same road we had come in on and, if we didn't turn around, we'd miss driving along the coast. I pulled over and re-consulted Rand McNally, cross-referencing with crossroads and even Helga. The light bulb finally went on in my head: we had never gone south on 1A from Westerly in the first place; instead, we had turned west on 1A (purple road on map) from the point where it rejoined U.S. 1. No wonder Helga had gotten so upset with us!! We had been traveling away from Newport instead of towards it. Until now! Bottom line: Rhode Island was even small on a map and our concept of distances needed revamping.

RI map

Helga had another annoying programming idiosyncrasy: she deferred to naming the street or road we were traveling rather than the highway number whenever possible. Of course states, counties, and municipalities don't allocate a lot in their budgets to posting road name signs, hence following her directions was often a challenge. So, instead of getting back on U.S. 1 to Newport, Helga wanted us to look for Post Road — which was U.S. 1. Two bridges across Narragansett Bay and 33 miles later, we arrived in Newport.

Newport Bridge

Newport Bridge across Narragansett Bay

Newport church

The car hit a pothole just as Pat snapped this shot in downtown Newport

Not exactly what I was expecting. We wound our way through narrow hilly streets in what appeared to be a college town looking for an interesting spot to stop that also had available parking. Having opened the windows in the car, we got hit with the heat and knew this would not be a good place for walking, especially on hills. Nothing struck our fancy, so we headed north out of town towards Bristol, fifteen miles away in the last county of Rhode Island that I needed for my quest.

Welcome to MassBristol was even less interesting than Newport, so we did a 180 and headed for Fall River, Massachusetts, ten miles away. If Newport and Bristol were dull, Fall River was just plain awful! It was an old New England industrial town who's businesses had long since fled the area. Old multi-story brick mills along the river had been converted into lofts and shops for artists. Downtown storefronts were boarded up. The streets were essentially free of traffic and pedestrians and, frankly, the place looked darn right scary.

Lizzie Borden houseWe were there to see Lizzy Borden's house which turned out to be atop a hill a mere three blocks from the center of downtown. Whatever had been on the property next to it had long since been torn down leaving an empty weed and litter strewn lot. We never even attempted to go in the house which is now a bed & breakfast, instead opting to take a couple of photos and get the hell out of Fall River as quickly as possible. I had planned on getting a motel for the night in either Newport, Bristol, or Fall River and now we were on Plan D: head for Plymouth, 38 miles away.

RotaryBut Fall River wasn't going to let us leave that easily. I programmed Helga for Plymouth from our parked car in front of Lizzie Borden's and followed her directions down to a freeway along the river… that was closed for demolition! Every time we turned in the only direction available to us, Helga got nasty, but quickly found another route. Alternate routes 2, 3, and 4 also got torpedoed with dead ends and detours. Eventually we prevailed, but not without highly elevated blood pressure. An hour later, after driving through our first Massachusetts rotary, we arrived in Plymouth around seven in the evening.

Plymouth RockWe headed straight for the waterfront where we secured a free parking spot right next to Plymouth Rock. Of course there is no historical account of the Pilgrims ever stepping onto a rock as they disembarked from the Mayflower. In fact, their first landing was at modern day Provincetown, 25 miles east across Cape Cod Bay. Still, the legend of the rock, which started 120 years after the Pilgrims landed, makes for a powerful (pardon my pun) touchstone, and we felt obligated to see and photograph it.

Dead of Night toursThe semi-circular drive where we parked next to Plymouth Rock was filled with other cars, tour buses, and two hearses touting their Dead of Night Ghost Tours. After dutifully photographing the Rock, Pat went over to chat with the tour directors who were trying to attract clients for their upcoming tour at sundown. Then we crossed the street and ascended the steps up Cole's Hill overlooking Plymouth Harbor and the granite portico that enshrines the rock.

Plymouth Rock signA National Historical Landmark, Cole's Hill contains the cemetery where the original Plymouth Pilgrims are buried as well as a large statue of Massasoit, the Indian leader who helped the Pilgrims survive their first winters in the New World. After wandering around the park for awhile, we sat down to enjoy a cigarette before walking back down the hill to the car across the street. Despite all of Helga's navigational limitations, she proved to be quite valuable for finding us lodging. Per her suggestion, I called the Blue Anchor Motel, just a few blocks from Plymouth Rock, to inquire about pricing and availability. Yes, they had a vacancy. Price: $95. Done deal! And we drove over there to check in.

Plymouth Rock portico

Portico that enshrines the rock


Massasoit statue

Plymouth Harbor

Plymouth Harbor

Pilgrim's bones

This crypt on Cole's Hill contains the bones of the Pilgrims who died during the first winter (1620-21) of the settlement

Blue Anchor MotelThe Blue Anchor is a cute 2-story New England home on a residential street with four rooms connected in a row out back and three guest rooms inside the house. Pat & I had to share a double-bed and smoking inside was not permitted, but they did have wi-fi! We were assigned Room 1 out back. The room had a cute little porch in front with two chairs and a small table on which we set out Groton Walmart ashtrays. It had been a long day since starting in Groton, so we relaxed on the porch with a cigarette or two, listening to all the birds and watching the squirrels cavorting in the trees.

At sundown, on the advice of the motel office, we drove the eight blocks or so to downtown Plymouth, easily found a parking spot along Main Street, and started walking past shops, boutiques, bars, and small restaurants. At a corner we ran into a group of people, mostly late teens and early twenty-somethings, carrying lanterns and following a walking tour guide. It was the Dead of Night Ghost Tours folks again leading their first evening tour!

Sam Diego's interior

Interior of Sam Diego's (from their website)

A block and a half from the car we came upon Sam Diego's Mexican Restaurant, looked at the menu posted outside, decided we could afford it, and were in the mood for Mexican food. We went inside to ask for a table and were blown away by what their website describes as “an interior of old brick wall and beautiful Mahogany woodwork featuring a staircase leading to a second floor level.” Per our request, the hostess seated us outside on the sidewalk patio and I quickly ordered a Corona with lime slice. After suffering through the oppresive heat of the day, a beer never tasted so good!

Sam Diego's patioWe spotted an ashtray on the brick wall next to our umbrella-covered table, grabbed it, and lit up. For those of you who have never smoked or gave it up years ago and may have forgotten, it is traditional for smokers to light up while waiting for their orders to be delivered. Back in the day, it was the surest way to have the food show up at your table after a long wait. Of course, in this day, it is no longer legal to smoke in restaurants and most won't let you smoke on their patios either, so this was a special treat for us. When the waitress returned with our salads, we asked her if our smoking at the patio table was okay, fully expecting her to reprimand us. To our delight, she was shocked by the question and had never heard of not being able to smoke at restaurant patios. “Trust us, it's coming to your state soon,” I told her.

Soon after our dinner arrived, another group from Dead of Night Ghost Tours passed by the front of the restaurant and the tour guide, spotting Pat, hollered out, “We've got to stop meeting like this!” We spent a leisurely two hours having dinner at Sam Diego's and chatting with our fabulous waitress. Near the end of our dinner we spotted a third Dead of Night Ghost Tours group across the street, pausing with lanterns in hand, at what appeared to be a second-hand furniture and appliance store.

After dinner we walked around downtown Plymouth in the warm summer evening peering into shop windows and coming across the old Plymouth County Court House. We got back to the Blue Anchor around eleven o'clock, had a last smoke on the front porch, then retired for the night.

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17


Day 5: Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cape Cod map


Sandwich exitAfter a good night's sleep, we sat out on the front porch to have our first cigarette of the day. The morning was overcast and thus a tad cooler. After watching the birds and squirrels as well as the people arriving for work at the municipal offices next door, I went inside to set up the laptop on the desk in our room to download yesterday's photos from our cameras, install them on the iPad, and answer emails while Pat walked up to the corner to find us some coffee.

roadside homeBy ten o'clock we'd packed our suitcases, loaded them into the trunk of the car, turned in our key at the office, programmed Helga to take us to Provincetown, and hit the road towards Cape Cod. Helga reported that we'd arrive in 90 minutes or so, but still refused to give us the distance. By Sandwich we had intersected U.S. 6 whose beginning we had seen in Bishop, California back on our 1998 trip to the Grand Canyon. U.S. 6's eastern terminus is Provincetown and we'd be following it out to its end.

We had expected the Cape to be narrow and offering us views of the ocean, but such was not the case. Instead it was peppered with lakes, cranberry bogs, thick woods, and sand dunes interspersed with boat dealers, motels, restaurants, and assorted other businesses that catered to the weekend beach crowd traveling the only road to the tip of the Cape. Fifteen miles or so before Provincetown, we saw an exit for the Cape Cod Lighthouse and decided to take it.

artist at easelWe parked the car in the lot and walked up the path passing two artists at work at their easels. Cape Cod Lighthouse's official name is Highland Lighthouse and, like the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina, this one had been moved 300 yards back from the dune cliff that was eroding onto the beach. So we walked past the lighthouse and followed the path out to the observation point on the dunes where we could finally see the Atlantic Ocean lapping at the beach below us. Turning around we could see Provincetown out in the distance and the far shoreline of Plymouth on the west side of Cape Cod Bay.

dune cliffThe best view of the lighthouse and its keeper's quarters was from this overlook, but it was impossible to get a shot without people in it walking towards us along the pathway. A few months back I had taken an online Photoshop course from Creative Techs in Seattle and one of the episodes taught me a trick I never knew Photoshop could do that would come in handy in just this situation.

To compact a long story, to create a photo of something without unwanted people (cars or other moving objects) in it, use a tripod if possible. Otherwise, stand very still and take multiple photos of the same object. Photoshop will analyze the multiple photographs to determine what moved and what didn't, then generate a composite photo with the moving parts removed! Think of totally empty busy freeways. That's how they do it!

I took five hand-held shots of the lighthouse, all containing people walking the path on the right, in front of the buildings, and even up in the lantern room of the lighthouse. Here's the result:

Highland LH

Like the people were never there, the "clean" photo of Highland Lighthouse after processing in Photoshop CS5

U.S. 6 markerIt was a hot and sweaty walk back to the car in the parking lot. With windows down and AC blowing in our faces, we headed back to U.S. 6 to cover the last 12 miles into Provincetown. The divided highway curves around the cape past sand dunes with occasional views of the ocean on one side and Cape Cod Bay on the other. Suddenly we found ourselves in downtown with no mention of the official end of U.S. 6.

Tremont St 1Provincetown's narrow streets were filled with people, bicyclists, and cars vying for passage. Portuguese flags were strung every fifty feet or so across every street in celebration of the Blessing of the Fleet that had taken place just a day or so before our arrival. Slowly we drove our way through the masses and pulled into a $15 all-day parking lot at the beach that didn't allow you to go out and come back in. Even at the beach it was hotter than hell! We walked a block to a mom & pop fast food joint and ordered fish & chips. Pat, who loves Coke, suffered through a Pepsi and I got a mocha frappe. Yep! They call milkshakes frappes in Massachusetts. We ate a leisurely lunch on their shaded sunken patio.

Tremont St 2After lunch we walked up Tremont Street, sometimes using the street, sometimes using the sidewalks. It was like New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Tremont Street was lined with art galleries, ice cream shops, boutiques, tattoo parlors, tacky resort bars, and head shops like Spank The Monkey. Pat even found a Portuguese bakery. At what appeared to be the northern limit of the “shopping district,” we made a right turn and walked the half block to the beach where we sat down on a seawall, lit up, and scanned the bodies on the beach and the boats out in the harbor.

Spank the MonkeyTwenty minutes or so of relaxation later, we headed back down Tremont Street towards our car. If you've seen one tacky, crowded beach town, you've seen them all; the crowds were much younger than us and the overbearing heat made walking miserable. We began dreading next week in Washington, DC where we knew it would be even hotter.

Portuguese Bakery View from top Parking Lot

Pilgrim MonumentWe set our sites on the Pilgrim Monument rising 252 feet atop a hill overlooking the town, asked a traffic cop for directions, fetched the car, and drove up the hill. We paid the $6 a piece entry fee at the adjoining gift shop/museum after depositing $10 with the parking attendant and walked up to the base of the campanile which is the tallest all-granite structure in the United States. Even the short uphill walk from the gift shop had me sweating but my reward would be the elevator to the top.

Ooops! Did I say elevator? There was no stinking elevator! We had to hike the steps to the top!! They actually charge you $6 for a workout you never wanted in the first place, especially in this heat & humidity. Of course you don't learn this until after you've forked over the money. Fortunately there were four portals in the granite walls on the way to the top where I stopped to enjoy the cool sea-breeze rushing through before summoning the energy to ascend further. Eventually we made it to the top on shear guts & determination only to have our camera's blocked from taking clear photos of the panorama below by “clear” (read: marred & scratched) plexiglass. Pat laid down on the floor and shot under it, but my ingrown toenail prevented me from twisting my feet into the pretzel position needed to accommodate the limited space. But at least it was cool up here!

Enough of Provincetown already! We probably couldn't afford a motel here and there was nothing age-appropriate for us to see or do anyway, so we hiked back down the monument, got our ten bucks back from the parking attendant after showing him our monument tickets, and headed out of town.

Race Point Dunes Pat on the beach

Cape Cod National SeashoreTwo or three miles down the road, we came upon the turn-off to Race Point Beach in Cape Cod National Seashore and took it across the dunes to the entrance gate where the ranger was counting his money from the day's visitors and waved us through at no charge into the parking lot. It was 4:50 p.m. The beach was expansive and we hiked across the sand to the water's edge where I took off my shoes & socks and deposited them next to the lifeguard's chair. Oh happy feet!! The sand gave them a wonderful massage after suffering the streets of Provincetown and the stairs of the Pilgrim Monument. I even walked into the gentle surf and let the bottoms of my pant legs get wet, thoroughly enjoying the cool-down from the heat of the resort town. Pat wouldn't take off his shoes or go into the water, but sat down in the sand and relaxed.

After an hour it was time to go, but where to? It was only Tuesday and already I had exhausted my list of destinations for the entire week. Pat said he'd like to see Boston, so we programmed Helga and set sail. Of course she wouldn't tell us how far it was, but an internet check while writing this revealed it was 115 miles, half of it back over the same road we'd taken this morning from Plymouth.

Sunset on U.S. 6We passed the first hour on the road in total silence, the result of a tiff we'd had back at Race Point Beach. I had told Pat to take his shoes & socks off and get his feet in the sand and water. But he took it wrong and his childhood obstinacy kicked in which in turn pissed me off. Looking back on the incident from a distance, I think the heat had gotten to both of us.

We pulled off in Plymouth to get gas, then headed a block down the street to have our first dinner at a Friendly's, a New England ice cream parlor and family restaurant which I remembered fondly from my Air Force days of the early 70s. After all these years, they're still in business, still family owned, and still as friendly as ever. Companies today could take a page from the Friendly's playbook on how to treat customers. The food was terrific, the prices moderate, and the service was just plain friendly! Our waitress treated us as if we were a part of her family.

The sun was going down as we got back in the car and onto the freeway and an hour later we were driving through the outskirts of Boston. Of course I had no street address I could give Helga, so I just followed the signs. Helga promptly dropped dead when I missed an exit and we entered the “Big Dig,” the new several mile-long interstate tunnel under the city. However, I found another exit within the tunnel, the signage looked promising, and I took it to emerge into Boston's downtown financial district.

Within a few blocks I spotted a parking garage, pulled in, paid the twelve bucks, and Pat and I got out to explore downtown Boston from the sidewalks. We guessed that downtown hotels would cost us a couple of hundred bucks for a night, so the plan was do a quick walking look-see, then have Helga find us a Super 8, Budget, or similar cost-conscious room for the night out in the burbs. We expected the motel would have tours of Boston available and we'd take one in the morning.

We found a kiosk on a corner with a city map showing what sites were nearby and we headed over to Faneuil_Hall which was closed for renovation. We consulted another kiosk map and headed for Boston Common. Along the way we came upon the Granary_Burying_Ground which contains the graves of Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin's parents, John Hancock, Sam Adams, and the victims of the Boston Massacre.

carouselAt the top of the hill we spotted the Massachusetts State Capitol building and Boston Common just below it. It was a very warm summer evening, but the oppressive heat of the day was gone. I still sweated as we strolled through the Common, but at least the sun wasn't beating down on me. We sat and rested on a bench at the Frog Pond and lit up our cigarettes. Pat had his camera and managed to get some closeup shots of the carousel with his flash, but nighttime building and cemetery shots were impossible. It was pushing ten o'clock and we were exhausted from a long day that had begun back in Plymouth, so we trudged back to the hotel parking garage, got the car, and had Helga find us a Super 8 which was less than ten miles away.

After several missed turns, Helga directed us to the Massachusetts Turnpike which came as quite a surprise to me, but not knowing the area, I followed her directions implicitly. Twenty minutes later she had us exiting in Watertown and taking us through some pretty dicey neighborhoods. After several more missed turns thanks to the difficulty of trying to read street signs in the dark and the resulting “Off Route! Recalculating!” pronouncements, she finally got us to the Super 8 parking lot in a part of town I wouldn't want to venture out into. But what the hell, we were there to sleep.

We went inside to check on room availability. “The only double I have left is in the basement,” the night clerk told us. Not wanting to search for another motel this late at night, I told him we'd take it. Surprised by the $99.52 price tag, I asked why his prices were so high. “We're only a mile out of Boston,” he said. “You'd have to drive another twenty miles out to get anything cheaper!”

We got our luggage out of the car and headed down the basement stairs (no elevator) to our non-smoking room. What a charmer!! Pat's headboard had been ripped from the wall and was laying on the floor behind his bed… as was the electric outlet into which the table lamp and clock radio had been plugged. The cord to the radio wasn't long enough to reach the floor, so, like the outlet, it lay on the carpet by the back of Pat's bed. The ceiling clearly had suffered water damage and someone had painted it over with a non-matching color.



Above: ceiling, Left: headboard,








Right: outlet


I got the AC in the room cranked up and we headed outside for a last cigarette of the day. Back in the room, we both undressed quickly, turned out the lights and noticed the huge space between the door and its jam that allowed the hallway lighting to seep in (translation: anyone could have forced our door open in the middle of the night), got into our respective beds, and tried to get to sleep. The room had a window well to the street above us and the curtains didn't quite come all the way down to the sill, so light from the street also was filtering into the room. Despite our exhaustion, it was hard to get to sleep, but after 45 minutes we both started to drift off when a loud crash very nearby made both of us jump up. A check of the hallway revealed nothing. Apparently someone had tossed an old steel trash can into the window well from the street above. We were too tired to care anymore and fell asleep.

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17


Day 6: Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New England map

Up in the morning, Pat hit the shower and I headed outside for my first cigarette of the day. On the way back to the room I stopped by the complimentary breakfast set up in the lobby and brought back two cups of coffee and a couple of sweet rolls. There was no mention in the lobby of available Boston tours and, in any event, all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there.

Pat watched the news and weather on TV while I downloaded the photos from our cameras and loaded up the iPad with the newest images from yesterday. Like me, he agreed he'd had enough of dicey neighborhoods, screwball streets, and deteriorated pavements and after turning in our room key and loading the car, I programmed Helga to take us to the Portland Head Lighthouse in Maine.

Boston skylineBoston bridgeFollowing Helga's directions, we found ourselves driving along the north bank of the Charles River into Cambridge in morning rush-hour traffic, desperately trying to anticipate which lane to be in for upcoming turns and dodging potholes. Pat managed to get off a few shots of the Boston skyline across the river, I managed to miss a couple of turns while trying to get back on the freeway north out of town, and Helga was able to quickly reroute us when I screwed up, albeit with a distinct attitude in her voice.

After a hectic half hour, I could relax once we arrived on I-95 northbound. An hour later we hit the New Hampshire border, pulled into the rest area at the state line, and took the obligatory picture of the welcome sign. It was 10:30 in the morning and already pretty warm. I used the men's room while Pat looked around the welcome center. Back in the car, we crossed the bridge into Maine eighteen miles further up the road. Three states in less than half an hour; not bad!

Welcome to NH Welcome to Maine Welcome to Maine

Less than an hour later we exited the Maine Turnpike at South Portland and followed surface streets for six miles towards Cape Elizabeth and Fort Williams Park, inside which the lighthouse is located. The sun had disappeared shortly after leaving the turnpike and the closer we got to the lighthouse, the heavier the fog became. Finally! Back to weather we could relate to!! Warm, yes… but infinitely more comfortable than the sweat producing heat we had endured for the previous five days.

Portland Head lighthouse

Lighthouse towerThe lighthouse was shrouded in fog, so getting a good photo of the sea sentinel that has appeared on more jigsaw puzzles and calendars than any other, was going to be a challenge. Two sisters had two cameras set on two tripods at an overlook just south of the cove that wrapped around the lighthouse and I headed their way. They'd been there for a couple of hours hoping the fog would clear just long enough to get a good shot. Terrie Jacobson of TJ's Photo-Art gave me her business card and when I checked her website after getting home, I was blown away by the beauty of her photography.

Ledges Ledge closeup

Having left my tripod at home (intentionally), I took ten hand-held shots as the fog ebbed and flowed, occasionally catching waves breaking on the infamous Maine rock ledges below that resembled the petrified trees in the Arizona desert. After half an hour of chatting with the two women, I gave up on the fog ever receding enough for a clear photo and headed over to the grass meadow in the middle of the park where a vendor was setting up his hotdog stand.

Frank's franks

The lighthouse tower can barely been seen through the fog above the bush between the keeper's quarters and Frank.

It was lunchtime, we were hungry, and Frank's Franks Flying Meal Deal seemed quite the ticket. Pat & I each ordered a kielbasa which Frank still had to cook as he was just setting up his cart for the day, so we sat down at a picnic table a few feet away and chatted with him while a young dad tossed a frisbee across the grass for his son. According to Frank, he wasn't allowed to sell frisbees under the terms of his vendor's permit as it would put him in competition with the gift shop over by the lighthouse. Instead, he gave away frisbees as dishes to hold his franks and kielbasas. True Yankee ingenuity!!

Stained glassAfter a thoroughly enjoyable lunch at a picnic table on a green covered with fog, we headed over to the lighthouse, took some closeup shots, then ventured into the gift shop where I spotted an 11” x 22” framed stained glass rendition of the Portland Head Lighthouse and fell in love with it. “It's probably a couple of hundred bucks,” I told Pat. It was $55 and I took it. Two souvenir coffee cups and a book on New England lighthouses brought the final bill to $97.60, but we had our obligatory mementos of the trip.

Learning that we were from California and that the stained glass would be traveling inside my checked suitcase on the flight home, the women insisted on wrapping it within an inch of its life to insure it arrived unbroken. They secured cardboard on the front and back of the wooden frame all the while fighting a nearly losing battle with the tape dispenser. After twenty minutes, I assured them it was good enough and we made our way back to the parking lot.

It was mid-week and decision time on where to go next. We had reservations for a hotel in Arlington, Virginia for Sunday night, so the further I ventured away from Washington, DC became distance I would have to double-back on at some point. Unvisited counties in Maine would take us fairly deep within the state and far from the beaten path. But I did have one county left to hit in New Hampshire (Strafford) and it was nearby. We'd head for the county seat, Dover, then cross New Hampshire to Brattleboro, Vermont where we'd spend the night.

Saco street sceneI programmed Helga accordingly with the proviso that she take us via backroads so Pat could get a feel for the Maine countryside with perhaps a touch of Stephen King thrown in. To force this issue, I first had to consult the road atlas and select a town in the direction of how I wanted to go and have Helga track there first, before programming her upon arrival to my actual destination, Dover, New Hampshire. In this case I picked the intermediate town of Waterboro, Maine . I got a little suspicious when Helga initially put us on the Maine Turnpike southbound, but she had us exit at Saco, through town, west on South Waterboro Road to Waterboro, then south on Maine 4.

The 2-lane roads were gorgeous, taking us through forests of maple, oak, pine, and birch and past farm fields of corn half-grown to maturity. The countryside was dotted with farm houses, barns, and silos and even the occasional horses grazing out in the fields. Soon, we came to the small Maine village of Alfred, spotted a country store at the main intersection, and pulled in to get some drinks. Alfred, with its store, hotel, common, church & cemetery, was right out of a Stephen King novel.

Alfred country store

Alfred corner


Alfred cemeteryBefore we headed into the country store, we grabbed our cameras and walked around the quaint village taking pictures, spending time in the church cemetery checking out the tombstones. However, away from the coast, it was hot… not as bad as what we had experienced back in New York or Connecticut or Massachusetts, but definitely toasty. We headed into the country store to get drinks. I veered off into the mens room before grabbing a quart of real chocolate milk from the refrigerator. It's so hard to find chocolate milk that isn't 2% or even 1% reduced fat which I despise for its watery taste.

A sign by the cash register proclaimed: Now Hiring: 3 Smiling Faces!! Another was outside in the parking lot. At a table near the front door, a teenager was filling out a work application and on our way out I jokingly told him he didn't have a prayer because he looked so dour. He got the chain-pull and smiled back at me.

NH capitol

Capitol building in Concord, NH

NH Highway 9Half an hour later we arrived in Dover, New Hampshire and I could now say I'd been in every county of the state. I re-programmed Helga for Brattleboro, Vermont and thankfully, she picked New Hampshire 9, the Franklin Pierce Highway, all the way across the state. We wound our way along a mostly 4-lane divided road past lakes, forests, and low mountains. After passing through Concord and spotting the state capitol building, the scenery got even more rustic as the gentle mountains around us rose a few hundred feet above above the valleys Highway 9 threaded through.

Keene churchWe pulled off into the southwestern New Hampshire town of Keene around five o'clock. The crystal palace-looking lobster restaurant I remembered from my Air Force days of the 70s was gone, but Keene was still an artsy college town. A band was setting up in the town common for a summer evening concert and the shaded streets were still lined with boutiques, outside dining spots, and galleries. Forty-five minutes later we got back in the car, found Highway 9 westbound, and half an hour later crossed the Connecticut River into Brattleboro, Vermont.

We pulled into a gas station to fill up and were quite surprised when the pump stopped at $6.84 and refused to give us any more. The attendant came out and admitted they'd been having pump problems for the past few days, but they'd been working fine for the past few hours. Unable to get them back up and running, they'd have to close the station for the night and wait for the technician to arrive in the morning.

After driving through downtown Brattleboro and back to the north side, we checked into a Super 8 (this one was fine!), then walked two parking lots over to the nearby Friendly's for dinner. After another enjoyable dinner, we headed back to the room, watched a little TV, then hit the sack for the night.

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17


Day 7: Thursday, June 30, 2011

VT to PA map

I-95 VT

I-91 in Vermont

After checking out of the Brattleboro Super 8, we found another gas station to finish topping off our tank, before hopping on I-91 southbound towards Massachusetts. Like New Hampshire, I had one county left in Connecticut to finish off the state and I had programmed Helga to take us to Torrington.

I-91 in MA

I-91 in Massachusetts

The western Massachusetts scenery was quite different from the flat roads we had travelled earlier in the eastern part of the state. Here there were rolling hills on the horizon all around us. Approaching Springfield, I spotted a jet taking off in the distance from Westover AFB where I had been stationed back in 1970-71. Helga had us exit I-91 onto the Massachusetts Turnpike westbound for a few miles before directing us south on U.S. 202 in Westfield. 10 miles later, we crossed into the Nutmeg State for the second time.

202 in Connecticut

U.S. 202 in Connecticut

Mostly a 2-lane, undivided road, U.S. 202 wound its way through Connecticut villages and forests, up and down hills, past lakes and reservoirs. Eventually Helga dumped us onto 4-lane divided freeway, Connecticut 8 and, once Litchfield County was in my pocket, I reprogrammed her for lower Manhattan so we could take the Staten Island Ferry and Pat could see the Statue of Liberty in the daylight. After consulting with Rand McNally, I entered an address of 1 New Street, a short street at Manhattan's southern tip.

Helga directed us to Danbury, then southwest on I-684 towards Westchester County in New York. It was a road I had traveled many times back in my USAF days on weekend trips between Springfield and Trenton. By the time we hit the Hutchinson River Parkway just north of New York City, traffic was slowing down due mostly to highway construction zones.

NYC map

I expected Helga to take us to the Cross-Bronx Expressway towards the George Washington Bridge, then south down Broadway in Manhattan to Battery Park. Instead, she took us across the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge into Queens. Heading westward with the Manhattan skyline framed in our windshield, we passed LaGuardia Airport before Helga had us swing south onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Why the hell was she taking us to Brooklyn? In fact, why were we on Long Island in the first place?

LaGuardia airport

La Guardia Airport↑



Oy Vey!The further south we drove, the more it began to look like Helga was taking us to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and Staten Island. Wrong!! We'll take Manhattan, thank you very much!! “Turn that bitch off!” I told Pat as I took the first exit off I-278 to the first bridge I could find across the East River. And then is when I spotted the sign I wish we could have gotten a photo of: "Leaving Brooklyn. Oy vey!" Turned out to be the Manhattan Bridge and on the other side we found ourselves in Chinatown.

Lower Manhattan map

ChinatownThe bridge dumped us onto Canal Street and I knew I just needed to head west across Manhattan until I hit Broadway, then turn south to Battery Park to get on the ferry. It was a typical busy hot summer afternoon with city traffic and hordes of pedestrians crossing every which way as well as filling the sidewalks. In other words, I had to keep my eyes peeled for people and bicyclists as well as the taxis, furniture trucks, and tour buses while simultaneously hunting for Broadway and hopefully positioning the car in the proper lane to make the turn when it came up.

Reade StreetPat was like a deer caught in the headlights at the sight of so many people, but he did manage to get a few pictures out his passenger window of the Chinese businesses and tall, unknown buildings as we drove by. Caught in a left-turn-only lane, I was forced to turn onto southbound Lafayette Street before we got to Broadway. At least we were southbound and the street we were on really didn't matter as all the north/south streets in Manhattan end at Battery Park next to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Lafayette wound past Collect Park, Thomas Paine Park, and Foley Square before dumping us onto Centre Street which snaked its way past Printing House Square and New York City Hall before becoming Park Row which a block later intersected Broadway. Left turn, Clyde! Ten blocks later, we were passing Bowling Green Park with its Wall Street bull statue though I only got the briefest of glimpses at it through the thousand tourists who were packed around it taking pictures. Pat saw even less of it.

downtownYeah team! We arrived at Battery Park and cut over towards the ferry terminal at the southeast corner. We drove back & forth along State Street and Water Street past the Whitehall Terminal only able to find the bus entrances to the ferry. Confused, I pulled into the parking lot of the International Service Building next to the ferry terminal and asked a security guard how to get the car into the terminal.

“You can't take a car on the ferry.”

“What? Since when?”

“Since nine-eleven. Cars aren't allowed on the ferry any more for security reasons.”

ChurchI was stunned. Perhaps I should have seen it coming with airport security back in Oakland. Or, while planning the trip, discovering that you had to make a reservation in advance to tour the White House that included a mandatory three-month security check. But here I was confronted with the reality of a 21st century frightened world when my head was locked on the easy going world of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Clearly, I didn't get it yet. But this turned out to be a foreshadowing of more nasty surprises to follow.

My plan had been to take the ferry to Staten Island, then cross over to Jersey and get on I-78 westbound which went through my childhood friend's hometown of Lebanon where we'd stop for a little bit before continuing on to Pennsylvania where Pat would have the opportunity to see the countryside of the state as we headed southwestward towards Gettysburg.

Ground Zero

Ground Zero

Plan B: I programmed Helga to take us to Lebanon, New Jersey and she directed us back to State Street, left on Battery Place, and right onto northbound West Street. And there, along the east side of West Street, was the hole in the island known today as Ground Zero. We couldn't stop, of course, but just seeing it was a bonus after having to give up on the Staten Island Ferry.

Holland TunnelWe missed some fast and furious turns for being in the wrong lane when we came upon them, but Helga quickly recalculated and eventually brought us to the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. And there we sat, inching forward ten feet here, five feet there, idling with traffic threading its way into the the tunnel's two lanes from the four down to three down to two-lane Spring Street approach. It was five o'clock in New York and here we were in the middle of rush hour.

It seemed like it took over an hour to get into the tunnel but eventually we emerged on the Jersey City side and followed the signs for I-78. It paralleled the Hudson River for two or three miles before turning westward towards the New Jersey Turnpike and across the urban jungle that most folks think of when they think of the Garden State. We never did see the Statute of Liberty despite the fact that we passed within a mile and a quarter of it, our view of the harbor totally blocked by the elevated interstate's sound wall and high rises next to it.

We pulled off the freeway into Lebanon, New Jersey around seven on a warm and comfortable summer evening. Though only 44 miles as the crow flies from midtown Manhattan, Lebanon is a world away… a sleepy little colonial era village of barely a thousand people.

I had met Ira at boy scout camp during the summer of 1961 where we were paired together for the cooking merit badge course we had signed up for. Our charcoaled Dutch apple pie, baked in a firepit, was a disaster but we both got the merit badge and became life-long friends. The following March, at the invitation of Ira and his folks, my dad drove me up to Lebanon and dropped me off for the weekend. Lebanon was even a different world from the Hamilton Township where I grew up, much like the Mayberry of Andy Griffith fame.

7 High StreetAs we pulled up in the dark to 7 High Street, a 3-story farm house with large front porch looked down at us from the small knoll upon which it had been built. Ira and I shared his bed that night while the old depression era radio played the latest rock & roll hits from WABC in New York. Bruce Channel's new hit Hey Baby! was playing as I lay there, a perfect match to the old time feel of Lebanon in general and the Eick household in particular.

The next day Ira introduced me to his best friend, Rob Sheppard, from two houses down the street. The three of us explored the town together, running and playing through adjoining yards without a care in the world. Just having friends and playing was something I had never really experienced until that weekend in 1962 and I cried on the bus back to Trenton that Sunday.

Rob and I worked the summer of 1962 at Camp Pahaquarra together and swapped weekends, one week going to his house in Lebanon, the next to mine in Trenton. Like Ira, Rob was a great friend and we shared a lot of good times together. But we all grew up, graduated high school, and went our separate ways to colleges around the country, losing touch in the process.

Me, I flunked out of college after the first year and enlisted in the Air Force for four years rather than risk being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. After six weeks of basic at Lackland AFB in Texas followed by a year of electronics training at Keesler AFB in Mississippi, I landed my first working duty assignment at Korat RTAFB in Thailand where I extended my 12-month tour of duty by six months because I loved the country so much and was having the time of my life. I returned to the States in May of 1970 and after settling into my new duty assignment at Westover AFB in Massachusetts, got the news that Rob had been killed while flying helicopters inVietnam.

Rob's graveIra had done several years in the Navy and today lives in Jacksonville, Florida. But his youngest brother, Brian, still lives in Lebanon and Rob is buried in the Dutch Reformed Church Cemetery along Main Street. After showing Pat Ira's and Rob's childhood homes, we drove over to the cemetery and began the hunt for Rob's grave. Pat found it first near the back close to the street, and I paid my respects. “We'll find his name on the Wall when we get to DC,” I told him.

Brian EickFrom there we drove down the street to the town's firehouse where the volunteers were washing the fire trucks in the parking lot and I asked if Brian Eick was around. Brian, who, with Ira, had visited us in Oakland two years ago, was ecstatic at seeing us. I told him we could only stay for fifteen minutes or so as I wanted to get us over to Pennsylvania before it got too dark out. Brian, in turn, told us that Ira was currently driving up from Jacksonville for the upcoming Fourth of July weekend. We'd miss seeing him, but we had to move on to get to DC by Sunday evening.

hot air balloon

A hot air balloon sails over the hills of western Hunterdon County, NJ

We stopped up the road from Lebanon for gas, momentarily forgetting that you're not allowed to pump your own in New Jersey, then getting back onto I-78 where we crossed the Delaware River into Easton, PA and headed westward past Allentown/Bethlehem, continuing another twenty miles or so before spotting a sign for a Super 8 motel in Kutztown.

Welcome to PennsylvaniaWe checked in, then headed across the freeway overpass to the truck stop diner on the other side for dinner where we struck up a conversation with the trucker in the next booth. The first ten minutes or so were pleasant chit-chat about trucking and places around the U.S. he and we had been to when he suddenly veered off into politics by bringing up his firm belief that Obama was Muslim and not legally the President because it was a proven fact he had not been born in the U.S. The guy turned out to be a right-wing nut job from Tennessee and when we didn't whole-heartedly agree with him, his face turned positively scary.

Even though he's not, what difference would it make if the President were Muslim, I wondered? And when is this "birther issue" going to go away? The two issues were nothing more than window dressing for deep-seated racism to my way of thinking. Not wanting to compromise my beliefs but also not wanting to agitate this guy, I struggled to diplomatically avoid agreement without stating my own position. The conversation abruptly ended, he dawdled over his dinner in silence, and thankfully left before we had finished eating.

But I wondered if he was headed out to his truck to retrieve his gun and return to wipe out the two left-wing San Francisco fags I was sure he had realized we were. After paying our tab at the cash register, we headed out to our car looking right and left to make sure the trucker was nowhere in sight. We made it safely back to the motel and crashed for the night.

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Day 8: Friday, July 1, 2011

Day 8 map

By now we had established a “morning in the motel” routine. We'd start with a cigarette, either in the room or outside, depending on whether we were able to get a smoking-permitted room. Next, one of us would bring back coffee and sweet rolls from the motel's complimentary breakfast room. I'd start getting yesterday's photos off the cameras and onto the laptop and iPad, answer email, etc. while Pat took a shower. He'd check the room's TV for the local weather and national news while I showered. We'd pack up, turn in our keys, load the car, and hit the road. Almost always, this final step would occur sometime between nine and ten o'clock. Both of us take a good long time to wake up and go through our morning rituals. Besides, we were on vacation so what was the hurry?

PA countrysideI programmed Helga for today's destination, Gettysburg National Military Park. It was closer to nine o'clock when we drove down the on-ramp of I-78 and headed southwestward towards Harrisburg. Until now, all that Pat had seen of Pennsylvania was Morrisville, New Hope, and Philadelphia, all of which lie along the Delaware River. With the morning sun at our backs, we drove through the rolling hills of eastern Pennsylvania's farm country past fields of tall corn, fruit orchards, and wild flowers. Unlike New England, there were no huge expanses of forest to block the view. Indeed, the closer we got to Harrisburg, the taller the Alleghenies west of the Susquehanna River grew in the distance.

Allegheny mountainsThe morning traffic was moderate as we circled around Harrisburg to the south and crossed the Susquehanna. Twelve miles west on I-76, we exited onto U.S. 15 southbound which is 4-lane-divided limited access for the first ten miles until it reaches Dillsburg. While stopped behind traffic at a light we noticed a diner right next to us, Baker's Restaurant, and decided to pull in for breakfast. Awaiting our coffee, Pat made the mistake of drinking from the water glass. “This is awful,” he told me. “It tastes like dishwater!” I had a western omelette and he downed a plate of pancakes and sausage.

The morning heat was rising noticeably as we exited the diner and continued south to Gettysburg where we arrived at the battlefield's new visitor center by 11:30 or so. The last time I had been to Gettysburg was 1952 with my grandparents. Only the battlefield, the split-rail fences, and a few monuments were present then. And although I don't recall the time of year we passed through on our way to visit relatives in Virginia, the weather certainly wasn't anything like the overbearing ninety degree heat that started me sweating the second I stepped out of our car in the parking lot today.

Gettysburg National Military ParkThe humidity was as high as the temperature and by the time we went inside the air-conditioned visitor's center, my shirt was sticking to my chest and back. I had but one question for the docents: was there really a Donehower buried here at Gettysburg as my grandfather had told me? I never really believed him, but wanted to know for sure. The ranger checked the books and gave me an ambiguous answer: “No one with that last name is listed here, but there are plenty of unknowns buried out there.”

The visitor's center was filled with families and children along with the occasional docent dressed in period costume. Since U.S. 15 now bypasses the battlefield, I asked a woman in a Civil War era dress and bonnet how to find the old U.S. 15 through the middle of the battlefield which I had traveled back in 1952. After a sweaty hike back to the parking lot (God, it was hot!!), we found the old road, stopped to take a couple of pictures, and quickly got back into the air-conditioned car. Further down the road we passed an encampment of battle re-enactment Confederate soldiers. A few days later we learned from the TV in our Washington, DC hotel room that a few of them had been killed by a lightning strike from a passing night time thunderstorm.

Gettysburg 15 Gettysburg battlefield

Welcome to MarylandMaryland farmAfter consulting Rand McNally, I programmed Helga to take us to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It would give Pat the opportunity to see central Maryland and add a new state to his list. In less than 15 miles we crossed into Maryland where the rolling farmland and horse ranches soon gave way to the Catoctin Mountains. At Frederick, we turned off of U.S. 15 onto U.S. 340 westward towards Harpers Ferry. Twenty miles later we crossed the Potomac River into Virginia. At the south end of the bridge, the road turns right to follow the Potomac upstream and one mile later crosses into West Virginia. A mile after that, the road turns away from the Potomac to follow the bank of the Shenandoah River for another mile before crossing it.

Welcome to West VirginiaForty years had passed since I last visited Harpers Ferry, site of John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal there in 1859, one of the major sparks for the Civil War. The road had changed a bit since then and I didn't readily recognize the turn-off into the small town perched atop a hill overlooking the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. All the same, I followed Washington Street through town and down the hill to the end of the street where it meets the two rivers coming together. Two left turns from there should bring me to the railroad station.

Not so fast, Lee! In the past forty years, the National Park Service had built cobblestone streets, restored the buildings along the Shenandoah riverfront, and blocked vehicle access to the train station to the left on the Potomac riverfront! It was all now known as Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. There was nowhere to park, get out, and walk over to the train station. What the hell? NPS, in its infinite wisdom, had determined that the increasing number of visitors over the years was creating a parking nightmare so they built a visitors parking lot two miles out of town and offered a shuttle service. With no other choice, we drove out to the parking lot and rode the shuttle bus back down to the river junction.

Downtown Harpers Ferry

Washington Street in Harpers Ferry

rafting on the Potomac

Rafting down the Potomac River

Harpers Ferry hillside

Looking back from the railroad station

Railroad bridgerailroad tunnelTwo railroad tunnels emerge from a mountain on the Maryland side of the Potomac and the tracks split across two trestles, one heading south along the Shenandoah, the other west along the Potomac. Back in 1971 I had been able to walk out on the trestle of one of them across to the Maryland side, then back. NPS put a stop to that, but they did attach a pedestrian walkway to the side of the Shenandoah bound railroad trestle and Pat & I hiked across it in the steamy heat. A sign posted at the beginning of the walkway noted it was part of the Appalachian Trail which runs from Maine to Georgia.

Shenandoah River

Abandoned 19th century bridge pilons stand where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac

Returning to the West-by-God Virginia side, we trudged up Potomac Street to the railroad station, now an Amtrak stop. There's nothing particularly interesting about the station itself even though it is over a hundred years old, but from its perch above the Potomac, it offers the best camera views of the train trestles and tunnels. And, it's air-conditioned! I used the boys' room while Pat checked out the historic photos on the walls. Unfortunately, the park service had set up a fenced off area for construction equipment right at the spot of the most dramatic view of the tunnels. We settled for hillside shots of Harpers Ferry then headed across the street to an ice cream shop, got our order, and sat with another couple in the shade of an umbrella-covered patio table. Between the heat and the hills, I was exhausted and we took the better part of forty minutes chatting with the couple, slowly eating our ice cream.

So, now where to, I wondered after the shuttle dropped us off at the parking lot outside of town? It was only Friday and our reservations in Arlington, only 46 miles away as the crow flies, were for Sunday and Monday nights. Where to go to kill another 48 hours? A check of the road atlas provided the answer in spades: Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park and Monticello in Charlottesville! It would give Pat a chance to see the Virginia countryside outside of the DC metro area and visit the source of that image on the back of all our nickels.

Welcome to VirginiaIt was too late in the day to get to, then cruise the hundred miles of Skyline Drive, so the plan was to stop for the night at its northern terminus in Front Royal, Virginia and I programmed Helga accordingly. U.S. 340 would take us the whole 43 miles. The heat of the day was beginning to subside when we arrived in Front Royal and found a Budget Motel to check into around five o'clock. We were in Virginia now and the heat would likely be worse than any we had suffered through to date. DC? God help us!!

Once settled into our room (smoking, thank God!), we went back to the office and told the clerk we couldn't turn the desk lamps on. He promptly came over, showed us the trick with the switch, and per our inquiry offered up the names of several places we could get dinner within walking distance. The motel was at the top of a hill. The places he directed us to were beyond the bottom and still not in sight when we decided to walk back up the hill to get the car. Even in the car they were at least a mile away. After driving past each, we headed back to the one closest to the motel: The Knotty Pine Restaurant. A small two-story brick building, it looked like an old mom & pop diner, and when we walked through the door a time warp zapped us back to 1936.

Knotty Pine lunch counterTo our left was a blue and chrome 50s lunch counter with stools in front and soda fountain behind. Tables and chairs lined the other side, the front corner table currently occupied with chit-chatting locals, the only other folks in there besides the staff. In the center were six booths arranged 3 x 2. The walls, as one would expect, were knotty pine and peppered with signs like “Ahhh… I see the screw up fairy has visited us again."

At the end of the lunch counter stood 3 full-figured, no nonsense Southern working women well past their prime who looked at us with a jaundiced eye. No one was eating.

“Are you still open, or are you getting ready to close up?” I asked.

The folks at the corner table hollered out some snide, but obviously intended to be humorous comment and the woman sporting the mousy-brown mullet, wearing a Loretta Lynn t-shirt with a heart & roses tattoo on her upper left arm fired back a quick retort that included the fact that they were open for several more hours. Turned out she was the bus person and dishwasher. It broke the ice and Pat I grabbed a center booth.

wall signsThe chalk board on the back wall proclaimed the special of the day: liver & onions. Our waitress, wearing a short-sleeved dark t-shirt and blue waste apron, had short brown hair, was somewhere between 45 and 55, and gruff-looking, brought water and menus, then fired off a zinger at the dishwasher who just as quickly fired back. As did the owner who was clearly past fifty, wearing glasses and a star-patterned white short-sleeved blouse, and sporting shoulder length chestnut hair in a page-boyish cut.

The one-liners flew back and forth across the little restaurant and Pat & I joined in with a few zingers of our own. It was all in great fun and for Pat and me, the ambiance harked back to our childhoods in the 50s when mom & pop diners were a form of family entertainment. If anyone in the place was younger than us, it wasn't by much… fifteen years at best. And here we all were acting like kids again without our parents around to tone us down.

Knotty Pine womenHanging from the top of the doorway to the kitchen were several baggies filled with water, each containing seven to ten pennies. “I read in Reader's Digest a few years back that they would keep the flies away. We don't have any flies, so I guess they work,” the owner told us.

The cook came out from the kitchen and all three women pounced on him for something he hadn't done yet. He needed someone to operate the credit card machine in the barroom at the back of the building. The boss lady told the dishwasher to go take care of it and the dishwasher complained, “You know I'm no good around computers and machines!”

Knotty Pine restaurantThe ambiance was right out of Comedy Central in a 30s to 50s setting. We had such a wonderful time in there neither of us remembers what we had for dinner. As we paid the tab at the cash register we told the owner what a great time we had. Pat asked her how long she had owned the place and she launched into its history. First opened in 1936, it had been through just a handful of owners over the years. It had become a Front Royal institution for the locals with, apparently, a salty reputation likely created by the barroom in the back of the building. As a young girl, she had been chided by her father for being seen anywhere near the place. When it came up for sale ten or fifteen years back, she bought it for herself.

We told her the clerk at the Budget Motel had recommended her eatery. “Wow! That's good to know. Most folks around here badmouth it as a dive.” Pat noted the FOR SALE sign on the newer eating joint up the street and she told us it had passed through three owners in its first year before going bankrupt. And so the Knotty Pine, with few changes in its 75 years, continues on with home-cooked food and a staff of characters right out of Fried Green Tomatoes. We said our good nights and headed back to our motel with full stomachs and fond recollections from our childhoods. Not a bad way to end the day!

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17


Day 9: Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day 9 map

Distance wise, it would be a short day: only a hundred miles down Skyline Drive and another thirty or so to Charlottesville. So we took our time with the morning checkout routine and pulled into the Knotty Pine Restaurant for breakfast around 10:30. The place was busy, the staff had changed except for the bus person/dishwasher who had swapped out last night's Loretta Lynn t-shirt for a red tank top.

Next we topped off the car's gas tank for the first time necessary since New Jersey and Pat needed a fresh carton of cigarettes. I roll my own cigarettes for the day each morning at our motels and hopefully had brought along enough tobacco to get me through the trip. Pat paid $45 for the carton in Front Royal, happily less than the $52 he typically pays back home, and significantly less than the $85 they wanted in Connecticut.

Welcome to Shenandoah National ParkTwo miles out of town we entered Shenandoah National Park and started the 1500 foot ascent up from the Shenandoah Valley floor. The speed limit on Skyline Drive was 35 mph for the entire 100 mile length. No need for park rangers to set speed traps: the sharp curves and gorgeous overlooks keep most drivers in line. Besides, Skyline Drive is not a road one takes to get from Point A to Point B; it's strictly a scenic byway to be enjoyed by tourists at a leisurely pace.

MotorcyclistsAs I expect most folks do, we stopped at nearly every overlook for the first twenty miles or so and in the process, kept running into folks we had chatted with at the previous one. In particular was a group of motorcycle folks in our own age bracket heading down to a rally in Tennessee. As friends and families would gather for group shots with the mountains and valleys behind them, Pat would offer to take the photo for them so everyone could be in the shot. At one overlook, someone offered to take a shot of the two of us together… something neither one of us had thought of doing up until that moment.

The mile-markers continued to increase as we worked our way south through the park. A check of the map told us we were looking for mile-marker 105 at the southern terminus. After mile-marker 30, we started passing overlooks. It wasn't because the scenery had become boring but rather the views were often of the same valley from a different angle. Just past mile-marker 50, we came upon a pull-out for Dark Hollow Falls and decided to check it out.

Shenandoah mountains

Pat & LeeWe expected the 70-foot falls to be right next to the parking lot. No such luck! To get to them, one had to hike a 1.4 mile roundtrip trail and the sign warned: Very Steep! It was two o'clock in the afternoon and even at 3,000 feet elevation, the heat was on. Hmmm… steep trail; very hot; pass or play? We mulled it over. What the hell, how steep could it be? These were the Appalachians and we were veterans of the Vernal Falls Trail in Yosemite. And at 1.4 miles roundtrip, it was only seven tenths of a mile to the falls. Go for it! We could always turn back should we discover we had bitten off more than we could chew.

Dark Hollow Falls Trail

The steps on the last 1,000 feet of the Dark Hollow Falls Trail

We started down the trail. It was steep, though Yosemite trails were steeper. But I was also five years older, hadn't done any serious hiking since then, and had neglected to factor in my ingrown toenail. The grade forced my toe against the tip of my shoe every time I put my foot down. Though we were hiking in a forest, the heat of the day was still pretty formidable and with every painful step of my toe downhill, my thighs reminded me that they might not be up to the challenge of the return trip.

Was it 1.4 miles roundtrip to the falls or 1.4 miles one way? In my pain and the heat I could no longer remember. The dish towel I kept tucked under my belt was pretty damp by now and I started asking every other group that passed us returning from the falls how much further it was and would the effort be worth it. Distance? Quite a ways yet, they reported. Worth it? Yeah, they're pretty nice!

The forest canopy thickened as we continued our descent and just as I came upon a sign that said it was just another thousand feet, albeit the downhill grade of the trail suddenly doubled at this point, Pat called out from behind me that he was calling it quits and returning to the parking lot. I was still 14-years-old in my head and I would be damned if I was going to come all this way, get this close to the goal post, to give up and turn around. “Fine! I'll meet you back at the parking lot, but I'm going on!!”

Dark Hollow Falls

Dark Hollow Falls

Dark Hollow FallsA little research after the fact revealed that the trail we'd been hiking followed along the Hogcamp Branch of the Rose River and descended 400 feet in the seven-tenths of a mile to the falls. The sign advising 1,000 feet to the falls was at a 90° turn in the trail that overlooked the top of the falls where they tumbled off the cliff along the gully that formed the base of Stony Mountain. The remaining thousand feet of the trail was so steep, the rangers had built steps to cover the seventy foot plunge to the bottom and the sound of cascading water propelled me on. I'd deal with going back up later. Thirty feet from the base of the falls I looked back to see Pat trudging down behind me.

Admittedly, having been to Yosemite several times, Dark Hollow Falls was no great shakes. Yet, for the destination of a trail leading from a parking lot along Skyline Drive, they weren't half bad. The problem was getting a decent photo of them without the dozen+ other exhausted hikers cavorting in the pools of water or taking their own photos while their family members perched on the boulders in our own pictures.

crawdadBut first things first: I was overheated and my feet were killing me. I parked my butt on a rock, took off my shoes and socks, and dipped my feet into the shallow pool. Then I soaked my kitchen towel, wrung it out, and cooled my head with it. The ankle-deep clear water with its stone and pebble-covered bottom reminded me of the shallows in a creek at Camp Pahaquarra where I used to catch crawdads. As if on cue, an eleven or twelve-year-old boy ran over to show me the crawdad he had just caught. Much to my pleasant surprise, after showing it off to his mother nearby, he returned it to its home and left it behind.

Pat and I spent a good twenty minutes or more at the base of the falls regaining our strength and mustering up the courage to start the arduous ascent back up to the parking lot. The steps of those first thousand feet were the worst and we stopped three times or so to rest. After that it was walk ten minutes, rest for five. Pat re-wet my towel several times in the nearby creek to help me cool down from the afternoon heat. I had expected the uphill return trip to take three times as long as our decent and was pleasantly surprised to arrive back at the parking lot in half the time it took us to get down, despite the half-dozen five-minute breaks. We'd won!

Pat on a rockAll the younger folks around us seemed just as beat as we were. Perhaps in our maturity, we were just more adept at managing the pain and, maybe, at our age the reward of success was that much sweeter. The only problem now was that I needed to pee and there were no restrooms in the pullover. In fact there hadn't been any in any of the overlooks. And the trail had been too crowded, the woods too sparse to duck behind a tree.

TunnelJust getting into the car, starting it, and firing up the air-conditioning as quickly as possible was sufficient to divert my attention from my bladder. My grateful thighs cried out, “It's about f-ing time!!” We sure could have used something cold to drink. We were only halfway through the park, but we'd had enough for the day and headed south on Skyline Drive stopping only briefly at one or two more overlooks, turning our focus to mile-markers and looking for the elusive number 105.

Sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety… at 35 mph it seemed we'd never reach the end of the park. We finally pulled into the south entrance gate at Rockfish Gap at five o'clock and I ran inside for the public restrooms. There were no public restrooms here, the ranger told me. I begged. I pleaded. “I've had to go since Dark Hollow Falls back at mile-marker 50!” He caved and let me in his office bristling with security cameras and directed me to the back.

Tree fungiRelieved, I returned to the front desk to find Pat handing in the trash he had collected at various overlooks and along the Dark Hollow Falls Trail which he had stored on the backseat floor of our car for lack of trash receptacles in the park. The ranger explained that they only had garbage trucks pick up the trash from the park once a week and NPS had determined that the presence of trash receptacles would lead to overloaded receptacles which would lead to very happy bears and other native critters. So, no trash receptacles in the park. Except for the ranger stations, of course. Pat, ever the concerned environmentalist, said yes, he'd like to fill out a complaint form.

We hopped on I-64 eastbound and twenty minutes later took the Charlottesville exit with no help from Helga. We would need her help for local lodging and she graciously directed us to another Budget Motel, this one twenty-six dollars more expensive than last night's stay in Front Royal. But it was only a block from the University of Virginia and a restaurant was located just across the street.

There were two clerks at the desk, an older one maybe ten or fifteen years younger than us and a younger one in his twenties that we flirted with, causing him to blush and the older one to play along with us. Would he carry our bags up to our 2nd story room, we asked? For a fee, he replied. Oh no, that's part of the service, the older man said!

Check in, dinner across the street, back to the room and to bed. Tomorrow: Monticello.

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Day 10: Sunday, July 3, 2011

Map to DC

After checkout and breakfast at the restaurant across the street, we headed south through Charlottesville towards the I-64 exit we had taken into town yesterday and where we had seen the signs for Monticello. We found the signs beyond the overpass in the median across from the offramp and headed in the direction they pointed. A quarter of a mile further we stopped for a traffic light, but there were no more signs. We drove another seven miles south on the 2-lane country road, never saw another sign for Monticello, then spotted a pickup pulling into the parking lot of a country store/filling station not yet open for business and asked the driver for directions. Per his advice, we returned to the same traffic light we had stopped for earlier and made the only right turn available to us onto Thomas Jefferson Parkway, a narrow 2-lane road that wound its way up and around the surrounding hills. In less than two miles, we pulled into the parking lot at Monticello.

Monticello entranceIt was Easter vacation of 1956, with my parents, when I last had been to Monticello. There was no large parking lot back then and no entry fees as I recall. Though docents were on hand to answer your questions, there were no guided tours per se. One wandered from room to room throughout the house. Along one narrow hallway I spotted spider web adorned pieces of china on display in a recessed wall cabinet.

My father, the son of a carpenter and a stone mason himself, was intrigued with how the house had been built. Heading out the back door we came upon the horse & carriage stables and the wine cellar.

My mother did not approve of the school system in Barnegat, New Jersey where we lived at that time and paid the tuition for me to attend the school on Long Beach Island where she taught. When we returned to school after the Easter break, she caught my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Conk, in the hallway and told her, “Ask him where he went on Easter vacation.”

“Tommy Jefferson's house,” I piped up proudly in front of my class when asked.

“And what did you see there,” Mrs. Conk prodded?

“Cobwebs,” I answered without hesitation!

Jefferson's tombstoneThe trees are fuller in early July than in the early April of 1956, perhaps explaining why we couldn't see Monticello from the entrance as my parents and I had seen fifty-five years ago. And the fact that it was Fourth of July weekend and not early spring would likely account for the horde of cars in the parking lot. We got in line at the visitors center and paid the $44 entry fee, which was two dollars off of the regular $24/each fee for being over 60. Not a particularly generous senior discount, but hey… we'll take it!

Jefferson family cemeteryOf course the visitors center and huge parking lot weren't there at all in 1956 and now one had to get a ticket for a guided tour with the time of your tour clearly stamped on it. Our tour would start in two hours, so we decided to start with the family cemetery. We caught a shuttle bus that took us up to the mansion where we saw the shaded benches in back where we would gather for the start of our tour later. We got off the shuttle after it circled back down the hill and stopped at the small fenced graveyard.

The major change on the property since 1956 was the addition of wide brick walkways throughout the grounds and after photographing Jefferson's tombstone and glancing through the bars at the headstones of other family members, a few of whom had been interred recently, we headed up the walkway, past the vegetable gardens, to the top of the knoll where the house was perched. Late morning and already I was using my sweat towel frequently.

I wanted a clear shot of Monticello from the front lawn without trees blocking the view and as I crested the lawn in front of the structure, quickly realized that would be nearly impossible. Over 500 folding chairs had been set up on the lawn directly in front of the front door and a TV crew was setting up camera and speaker equipment to either side. Plan B: angle shot from the side with judicial use of the telephoto lens on my camera. The heat was now bearing down in this open space and my irritability surged proportionately.

Monticello gardensPat and I headed over to the gift shop where I used the boys' room downstairs then parked my fanny on the two steps between the different levels of the little shop to cool off in the air conditioning while he browsed. My total intolerance for heat and humidity had become a major theme ever since landing in Newark ten days ago. I'd become irritable and completely drained of energy with just a few minutes of exposure. Yet, this was the very climate I had grown up with and it never bothered me like this as a kid. But for the past fifteen years I had been living in an area where it rarely went below 55° in the winter and just as rarely, above 75° in the summer. Clearly northern California had turned me into a wuss!

Pat and I wandered about the grounds some more, consulting with the brochure that had been handed us back at the visitors center, smoked a cigarette or two, before heading over to the the well-shaded benches along the carriage path behind the mansion to wait out the remaining forty-five minutes to the start of our tour. I struck up a conversation with the folks on our bench to my left while Pat, sitting to my right, chatted with the folks on the next bench down from him.

Suddenly, one of the women with whom I was talking spotted Pat and asked if he was my son. Floored, insulted, but always ready with a quick retort, I shot back with a smile, “No. He's my husband!” Her jaw dropped and a blank expression swept over her face. It's fun being 63. You can get away with saying anything! A later review of the photo the motorcyclists had taken of us yesterday up on Skyline Drive revealed her confusion. Despite the mere two and a half years difference in our ages, I do look considerably older than Pat… now.

We lined up with the other thirty or so folks when our tour was called and headed inside the back door of Monticello. Our docent took us on a circular route through the house, stopping in each room to point out its elements and historic background. No one got to cross the threshold of the front door anymore, a particularly fascinating invention to an eight-year-old mind 56 years ago: Jefferson had created a hidden rope and pulley system that opened the door automatically whenever guests stepped onto a floor plate strategically placed on either side of it.


While standing in the front foyer, she called our attention to the chairs and equipment outside on the front lawn. "Every year on the Fourth of July," she told us, "we have a naturalization ceremony where newly coined American citizens are sworn in and dignitaries from Washington come down to address them." I now felt bad that I had reacted in anger to the blockage of my 'perfect' straight-on shot of Monticello.

backyard of MonticelloPhotos were not permitted to be taken inside the house, so I focused my attention on finding the receded wall cabinets with the cobweb-covered china as we went from room to room. They were nowhere to be found. When the docent ended our tour outside on the newly laid brick walkway at the home's northwest corner and asked if there were any questions, I had two: what had happened to the inlaid wall cabinets with the cobweb-covered china and where was the carriage house?

She was in her seventies and had been giving tours of Monticello for nearly 40 years… since 1972, and had never seen the display cabinets I remembered from 1956. As for the carriage house, we were standing on top of it. The new brick pathways had become its roof. Pat and I walked down and around the knoll, then through the carriage house and wine cellars along a tunnel that ran the whole length of the house under its front porch.

Carriage HouseGranted, the house could not have changed that much since 1956 or even 1826 when Thomas Jefferson died in it. But the grounds of the estate had gone through a major revamping in the fifty-five years since last I walked them. Maintenance on a two-hundred-year-old-plus mansion is not cheap and in order to attract the tourists and their dollars, changes have to be made to accommodate them. Still, the ambiance had been altered significantly in the process and there was a sad sense of loss for the eight-year-old boy who, so long ago, had once visited Tommy Jefferson's house.

We hopped the shuttle back down to the parking lot and trudged in the heat to our car. The week of exploration throughout the northeast had come to an end and it was time to make our entrance to Washington, DC for part two. This time I had a street address for Helga… our reserved hotel room in Rosslyn, Virginia. But Helga threw us a curve: according to her, there was no town of Rosslyn in Virginia. Perhaps we would be willing to settle for Arlington? I entered the street address with Arlington as the city of destination and hoped for the best.

My grandmother's sister and brother-in-law, Aunt Ethel & (old) Uncle Bill, moved from Trenton to Lynchburg, Virginia in late 1951. My dad's brother and sister-in-law, (young) Uncle Bill & Aunt Peppie, also moved to Lynchburg in 1952. Hence, throughout my early life, I went back and forth between Trenton and Lynchburg frequently and knew the route by heart. After the opening of the New Jersey Turnpike and Delaware Memorial Bridge in late 1952, we were able to skip Gettysburg and go directly to Washington, DC, then south the rest of the way on U.S. 29… which happens to pass through Charlottesville. So I expected Helga to route us up U.S. 29 to Culpeper, Warrenton, and on into DC… a straight shot in my mind. But Helga had a completely different route in mind.

Instead, she routed us up Virginia Highway 20 to Orange, through Unionville, to the junction of Virginia Highway 3 towards Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg? Why was she headed to Fredericksburg? There are few highways I haven't been on in Virginia and I definitely knew how to get to Washington no matter how screwed up Helga might have been. So I followed the route she picked and was pleasantly surprised to find us driving across two Civil War battlefields I had never seen before: Wilderness and Chancellorsville. We didn't stop, but we can say we've seen them.

I-95On the outskirts of Fredericksburg, Helga revealed her plan by having us turn north on I-95. Obviously she had found a quicker route to DC than up U.S. 29 and all was forgiven. It was mid-afternoon on a Sunday, but it was also Fourth of July weekend, hence most folks were already at their destinations and traffic was light to moderate. All the same, the closer we got to Washington, the more I urged Pat to keep an eye on the map. I didn't want another New York City experience.

Hotel room viewIt was just past four o'clock when we got on I-95 and I had Pat call our hotel to let them know were were on our way and only an hour south of them.

Inside the beltway, Helga directed us onto I-395 towards the Pentagon and soon Pat got to see the U.S. Capitol in the distance for the first time in the daylight. We drove right past the west side of the Pentagon before turning onto Jefferson Davis Highway in Arlington. Helga was announcing turns fast and furious by now and Pat, trying to keep up with Helga and Rand McNally, bit my head off when I piped up with, “Hey look! The Pentagon!!” or “Hey! There's the Washington Monument!!”

Helga brought us right to the front door of the Residence Inn, but which of the buildings surrounding us was it? I was looking for the Residence Inn, but the sign proclaimed Mariott in large lettering. Then I caught the Residence Inn in smaller lettering. At $132 per night I was quite surprised when the desk clerk told us it would be an additional $14 per night to park our car in their garage. I left the bags with Pat in the lobby while I went to park the car in the garage. Our second surprise came when we had to use our room key in the elevator to get to our floor. The third surprise was the room itself: fabulous!! Two rooms, actually: a kitchenette and living room with bedroom and bathroom in the back. The living room and bedroom each had a flat-panel HD TV. The kitchenette had a fridge, microwave, coffee maker, and dishes in the cabinets. We were on the fifth floor so our view of Washington was blocked by the other high-rise buildings around us, but otherwise two nights in this place would be terrific.

The rental car and Helga would now get their own vacation as we would be using public transportation to get around Washington. My pre-trip research had revealed that a Washington Metro Station was just a few blocks from our hotel as was the Iwo Jima Memorial. After settling into our room, we headed downstairs and asked the desk clerk if it was possible to walk to the Iwo Jima Memorial from here and she handed us printed directions from behind the desk.

Two blocks down the street, the directions guided us onto an elevated walkway, but were sketchy about how to get off of it. Eventually we found the stairs back down to street level where we had three more blocks to go. It was hot. It was humid. From the short hike up and down stairs I was already sweating profusely. We trudged on and arrived in the park with the Iwo Jima Memorial as its centerpiece.

Iwo Jima Memorial

The Iwo Jima Memorial, 5 blocks from our Arlington hotel

Washington Cathedral

Washington Cathedral, perched on its hill across the Potomac in Washington. Note the darkening storm clouds!

Now it may sound like it was a long extended hike but, in fact, as the crow flies the Iwo Jima Memorial is only 1,700 feet from the hotel. By sidewalk it's 3,300 feet… just six tenths of a mile. It was mostly sunny when we left the hotel, but now the sky was beginning to gray over. After getting our pictures, we hiked back towards the hotel and by the time we climbed the steps to the top of the elevated walkway, the heat had worn me down and I was exhausted. Fortunately, the walkway was actually a city park of sorts with tables and chairs.

My dad always used to tell me, “Kid! You have a fainting ass. Every time it sees a place to sit, it faints!” My ass fainted into one of the chairs. So did Pat's. We lit up our cigarettes and I dabbed the sweat away with my never-leave-home-without-it kitchen towel. We were less than three blocks from the hotel and the only thing left to do with the day was find dinner. So, there we sat and relaxed for the next half hour.

Lee on the phoneI decided I wanted to chat with one of our friends, so I hunted through my cell phone's address book and hit the call button for Heath Eigenburg back in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Imagine my surprise when Mike Gienau answered his phone in Omaha! Clearly I had programmed the cell phone with the wrong number, but Mike and I chatted for ten minutes or so.

Arpanet birthplaceBy now the sky was getting darker from thickening clouds and we began to hear the sound of approaching thunder. Time to get back to the hotel! Along the way I spotted Washington Cathedral in the distance under an ominously-looking dark sky and got a photo before Pat and I hurried our pace back to the hotel lobby. We got up to our room just as the storm broke and the view out our window of the downpour accompanied with lightning flashes and loud claps of thunder was spectacular. Thunderstorms are exceedingly rare in northern California and I missed them.

After the storm passed, we went down to the lobby and asked the desk clerk for some cheap places to eat nearby. She handed us a list and we headed out the door. The streets were glistening from the recent shower and the heat had been washed away. Two blocks away, our first choice on the list was closed, so we trudged three blocks down the street to our second choice.

The Tex-Mex fast-food joint, Chipotle Mexican Grill, was halfway below street level and the entrance was flooded eight inches deep from the recent storm. We found a second entrance around the corner and in the process, sighted the Washington Metro Station which we would need in the morning. I had the Burrito and Pat had the Burrito Bowl. (Okay, the Burrito Bowl link doesn't want to bring up the burrito bowl. Just click on it on the restaurant website's menu bar.) After dinner we trudged back up the street, made the left turn, and headed the two more blocks back to the hotel, passing a historic sign marking the location of the birth of the internet. We returned to our room and called it a night. Well, almost. Unfortunately the entire hotel was non-smoking, so we parked our human butts in the rockers at the front entrance for one more smoke. Now we can get a good night's sleep!! Tomorrow: Fourth of July on the Washington Mall with 100,000 of our closest friends!

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Day 11: Monday, July 4, 2011

U.S. Capitol

Rosslyn sculpture

Sculpture on Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn

We had two nights reserved at this hotel, so the morning schedule was a bit different. We planned to be on the west lawn of the Capitol for the annual broadcast of A Capitol Fourth on PBS, a live concert followed by the fireworks over the Washington Monument. Of course this didn't start until seven in the evening, so we planned on walking around the Capitol grounds and the Mall during the rest of the day and stopping to see whatever struck our fancy and was open. We had a whole week to spend in Washington and we wanted a leisurely pace. Which meant there was no great rush to get out of the hotel this morning.

I fired up the coffee pot in the kitchenette as soon as I got up, then headed down to the front entrance for my first cigarette of the day. In the lobby I noticed that the hotel was serving a free buffet breakfast from seven to ten o'clock in a large sitting room off to the side. Back up in the room I went to work on downloading yesterday's photos, rolling a new pack of cigarettes for the day, etc. while Pat showered and watched the local news. Last night's storm had created scattered blackouts in the outlying DC metro area and we learned about the Confederate battle re-enactors being struck by lightning up in Gettysburg overnight.

We headed down to the hotel's breakfast buffet where they had everything you could imagine: scrambled eggs, ham, bacon, sausage (patty & link), fresh juice, coffee, fruit, along with sweet rolls, pancakes, and waffles. The past ten days of stifling heat had not only worn me out, it had also worn out the wardrobe in my suitcase, so it was time to hit the hotel's laundry room on the floor below us. The laundry room also required our room key for entry.

DC Metro escalatorThe hotel was wonderful and while waiting for the washer to finish, I returned to the lobby to inquire about extending our stay through the rest of the week. $249 per night, the desk clerk told me after checking the computer to see if they had rooms available. Yikes! Their weekday prices were higher than their weekend prices? It was then I learned the reason for Helga's confusion yesterday. Turns out Rosslyn is a neighborhood in Arlington much like Georgetown is a neighborhood in Washington. And during the week its hotels fill up with lobbyists doing business on Capitol Hill.

DC Metro platformIt was a little after eleven when we finally struck out for the DC Metro Station. We're veterans of BART here in the Bay Area and in downtown San Francisco, the escalators go down two hundred feet under the street. But the DC Metro escalators descended for what seemed five hundred feet to the platforms. We each bought a $20 ticket and headed for the platform. Having studied the subway map back in our room (and having brought it along for reference) we knew that only the blue and orange lines ran through the Rosslyn Station and both would take us to the Capitol South Station at Capitol Hill.

With BART, our train network here in the Bay Area, every station is different. Not so with the DC Metro. All of the stations had a huge arched ceiling with rectangular blocks of inset concrete reminiscent of the dome on the U.S. Capitol. By comparison to BART, these underground stations were huge!

Capitol South StationCapitol Visitors entranceAfter emerging from the Capitol South Station, we got our bearings and trudged up Capitol Hill past the Senate and House office buildings, finally arriving at the Capitol Grounds. On our last visit at night back in 1999, a huge pit had been dug on the east side of the Capitol giving it what today is a Ground Zero look. They were in the process of building the new Capitol Visitors Center. Now twelve years later, it had been completed and we descended the entrance steps and got in line for a security screening check complete with airport metal detectors and Capitol police waving detection wands up and down the bodies of visitors. It was here that Pat and I had to toss our Swiss Army pocket knives into the trash before being granted entry.

Over my lifetime, I have probably wandered the corridors of the U.S. Capitol a dozen times or more, on my own, free to explore nearly every nook and cranny without escort save for the House and Senate galleries which required an easy to get pass by stopping by my Congressman's office. Now, like Monticello, one needed a time-stamped ticket and waited in line for a tour guide who warned that anyone who strayed more than six feet away from the group would be arrested by Capitol Police.

First stop, a movie theatre where we watched a thirteen-minute movie on the history of the Capitol. Next we lined up to cross the threshold into the Capitol itself and emerged into the National Statuary Hall just to the south of the rotunda. The semi-circular room was originally the House of Representatives prior to the wings being added to the building. Actually, it was the second House; the first had been burned by the British in 1814. Each state has contributed two statues of its prominent citizens and, much to our chagrin, California had sent a statue of Ronald Reagan.

Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court

Library of Congress

Library of Congress


We moved on to the Rotunda and gazed up at its top a hundred and eighty feet above us while our tour guide prattled on about its history and paintings. I had wanted to get a photo of Pat standing at the spot where news correspondents report from the Capitol, but that was on the floor above us and clearly we would not be allowed up there.


Above: Statuary Hall

Right: the Capitol Rotunda


Ronald Reagan statue

Ronald Reagan statue in the Rotunda

From the Rotunda, we were led past Speaker Boehner's office into the Capitol Crypt where George Washington was supposed to have been interred. However, he died before it was completed and his family buried him at Mount Vernon.

Pat at the Capitol

Speaker Boehner's Office

Right: heavy security around Capitol Hill

Capitol security


Rayburn BuildingAnd that was it! Within 35-40 minutes, we were released back into the Visitors Center. Had I been that oblivious to the changes in our country since nine-eleven? Apparently so. In researching for this part of the blog, I couldn't even find a floor plan of the Capitol to refresh my memory of what we had seen or had missed as a result of the tightly controlled tour. Fear has taken over to the point where we are no longer free in our own country. It was a sobering and disappointing realization. Thank God I had seen it up close and personal on my own in the past. Sadly, Pat never would.

Outside on the southeast side of the Capitol again, we took the obligatory shots of the Library of Congress and Supreme Court across the street then tried for some interesting angle shots of the Capitol itself before heading down the hill on Independence Avenue towards the Mall. Along the way we passed the Sam Rayburn House Office Building before spotting the United States Botanic Garden at the corner of First Street. It's one of the few attractions in DC I had never been in, so inside we went.

U.S. Botanic Garden
rain forest

A gardener, I'm not. But I do appreciate nature's artistic cornucopia when I see it. As one would expect, the interior is a man-made rain forest of lush green rising up to the sky with hundreds of the world's most colorful and uniquely shaped flowers scattered throughout the forest floor. I don't know any of their names, nor do I care to. I'm just content to take in all of the vibrance and diversity.

flower flower flower flower
flower flower flower flower

It had been overcast in Washington the entire day, thus muting the heat which is not to say I wasn't dabbing my brow with my kitchen towel occasionally. But I tire quickly from walking slowly which is why I fly with my cart through grocery stores, shopping list in hand, and when Pat wishes to browse, I usually look for a place to sit down and wait until he's had his fill. From the Botanic Garden, we walked down Independence Avenue to 3rd Street SW which was blocked off to vehicular traffic. Here they had set up the pedestrian entrance to tonight's concert on the west lawn of the Capitol. The line in was already fairly long, but we could see that the gathering crowd on the lawn was still reasonably sparse and with three hours to go to showtime and no food or drink with us, it seemed more prudent to kill more time. So we headed down Jefferson Drive SW past the newly opened National Museum of the American Indian. I would have sworn that this was the site of the American Museum of Modern Art the last time I was here, but perhaps my memory was faulty and it was further down the Mall.

Spirit of St. LouisJust past 4th Street SW, we came upon the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum. Pat had peered through its windows during our late night quickie tour back in 1999 and before we left home we watched Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian with Ben Stiller, knowing we'd soon be here. Another security check at the entrance, and we were inside. Rockets, capsules, and moon landers shared the floor with a moon rock you could actually touch and aircraft hung suspended from the ceiling high overhead. As expected, the Spirit of St. Louis was up there, but where was the Wright Brothers' plane? Turned out it had been removed from the ceiling and given its own room on the second floor where folks walk around it though its just beyond reach of curious hands and fingers.

Wright FlyerIn the middle of the second floor grand hall, George Norfleet was sitting at a table and signing copies of his book A Pilot's Journey: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman. I bought a copy and had George sign it to Lee & Pat. We wandered through the many exhibits of America's aeronautical and space exploration past for anther half hour or so before heading across the street to the Mall which was set up like a county fair with bands, trinket dealers, tattoo parlors (okay... actually tents), Bible thumpers, Hari-Krishnas, and even a traveling Love Generation exhibit that would have been quite at home in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district.

National Mall National Mall

Volleyball playersTired from walking all day, we found a park bench, lit up, and watched some gorgeous twenty-something guys playing volleyball. Oddly, there were no food vendors on the Mall. Now two hours to showtime, we decided to head back and get into the security line for the concert on the Capitol's west lawn. This close to showtime, I expected the crowds to be even larger than the 100,000 I mingled with back in 1976, but there was still plenty of room on the grass and we were even able to get a spot at the fence where we could see the seating section and the stage.

It was still ninety minutes to showtime and my feet were killing me, especially my ingrown toenail, so I kicked off my shoes and socks. Ah! Relief!! Most folks had brought blankets to spread out on the ground and picnic baskets loaded with food and drink. We chatted with many of them around us and discovered that, like us, they had come from all over the country. And, like us, they looked pretty tired from a long day of walking around Washington.

West Lawn Pat on West Lawn

A Capitol Fourth began promptly at eight o'clock and Jimmy Smits took the stage. We were looking forward to Steve Martin and Little Richard, the only two names we recognized. Frankly, I had never heard of Josh Groban, Matthew Morrison, Jordin Sparks, or Kelli O'Hara, but their performances were classic Broadway perfection and we enjoyed them tremendously. It was 300 feet from our spot along the fence to the stage, so the performers were more easily watched on the JumboTrons set up around the venue. Unfortunately, when Steve Martin and his Steep Canyon Rangers band came on, they had their own stage obscured by the crowd in front of us and we barely got a glimpse of him.

The fireworks over the Washington Monument were scheduled to begin at nine o'clock and by ten of nine, folks were already heading over there. We really wanted to see Little Richard but the show was beginning to wind down and we began to think he would be a no-show. So we joined the lemmings and headed out to the Mall and as we exited the inbound security check stations, we heard Little Richard take the stage. Not a problem: I had set our DVR to record the show before we left California.

A Capitol Fourth stage

Jimmy Smits on stage

And this was with a zoom lens! He was 300 feet away.

If I had to guess, I'd say forty to fifty thousand folks had gathered on the Mall between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial to watch the fireworks. There's something unforgettable about watching fireworks bursting over the Washington Monument that brings goosebumps to your skin and tears to your eyes. You recall all those years when you saluted the flag in school, served overseas in the military, and traipsed down to the local polling booths and realize that your American pride emanates from this sacred place: our nation's capital. And on this night we saw heart-shaped bursts that we had never seen before. Perfect!

At the end of the fireworks we joined the rest of the lemmings in emptying out the Mall, stopped at a street vendor's truck to get something to drink, then trudged up Capitol Hill to the South Capitol Metro Station. The street entrance was a mob scene. Eventually we made it onto the escalator but were blocked from the platform. A glitch in the system had temporarily stopped the trains from running. When the trains started running again we managed to get on one going in the opposite direction from Rosslyn. Two stops down we got off, crossed over, and got on one going our way. It was after eleven when we got back to our hotel room and, exhausted, we had those last smokes of the day outside before heading up to the 5th floor and straight to bed.

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Day 12: Tuesday, July 5, 2011

DC Map

Pat at Arlington CemeteryIt was moving day and I had planned to consult Helga for an affordable hotel in the DC area when it occurred to me to do an internet search in our room. I found a Days Inn on Connecticut Avenue in Washington for ninety bucks a night, checked our DC Metro map, and discovered there was a Metro station nearby. Perfect! I called and, yes, they had rooms available and I reserved a room for four nights.

JFK grave RFK grave

We took our morning buffet breakfast out on the patio where we joined another couple at a table. After email answering, photo downloading, cigarette rolling, showers, and packing, we checked out of the Residence Inn in Rosslyn and, with hours to kill before checkin time, drove over to Arlington National Cemetery, parked, and got out to stroll the grounds. Following the signs, we headed directly to John F. Kennedy's grave where I was surprised to discover that Jackie had been buried next to him. Around the hill about 50 yards away, was Bobby Kennedy's grave. Jack may have had the grander monument, but Bobby had the better real estate: at the bottom of the grassy knoll directly in front of the Custis-Lee Mansion that looks out over Washington.

Watering the dogTomb of the Unknown SoldiersoldierUnlike yesterday's overcast skies that kept the heat down, today the sun was out and making up for lost baking. Indeed, there are lots of trees in Arlington Cemetery, but the paths up, down, and around the rolling grounds are mostly out in the open and by the time we reached the Tomb of the Unknowns, my towel and I were both soaked and my body battery had lost a third of its charge. Arlington Cemetery is a sacred place, of course, and most folks give it the respect it deserves by staying very quiet, not walking on the grass, etc. without having to read the signs that request it. Though she was quiet and you couldn't actually hear her talking, one woman we passed was asked by a security guard to turn off and put away her cell phone.

Arlington National CemeteryWe found a shady spot with park benches down the hill from the Tomb of the Unknowns, sat down, lit up, and relaxed for a bit before walking the open air pathway through the blazing sun and unmitigated heat back to the parking lot. With the AC blowing in our faces from the dashboard, I drove across the Arlington Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial and started looking for a parking place. With no luck in the immediate vicinity, I followed the signs to “additional parking” which led us down Ohio Drive along the banks of the Potomac. A mile down the boulevard with no available parking spots in sight and not wanting to hike back this far in the heat anyway, we gave up on the Lincoln Memorial for now and I programmed Helga to take us to the Days Inn on Connecticut Avenue.

Lincoln Memorial Exxon station

Helga put us on the Rock Creek & Potomac Parkway past the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Watergate Complex of Nixon fame, and through Rock Creek Park where Chandra Levy's body had been eventually found. Along the way we passed a gas station with the highest price we had ever seen. As a whole, gas prices throughout our trip had been in the mid three-dollar range, including here in DC. There was nothing unique about this station's location so far as I could see. Just seemed to me they were trying to discourage business.

Unlike the Budget Inn in Boston, the Days Inn on Connecticut Avenue looked to be in a very nice urban neighborhood. We pulled into the parking garage and checked in. The rooms might be $90/night, an amazing bargain for being right in DC, but there was an additional $20/night charge for the garage… even higher than the Residence Inn back in Rosslyn. And, like Rosslyn, the whole hotel was non-smoking. Pat and I were beginning to feel like anachronisms. But at least we weren't made to feel like pariahs where we did smoke, unlike here in the Bay Area where people will cast angry glances and occasionally disparaging comments our way.

Washington CathedralThe map showed that Washington Cathedral was only two miles from our new hotel, so after settling into our room, we got directions from the front desk and drove down to it. My college roommate had been from Rockville, Maryland, just outside DC, and had invited me home with him on a couple of weekends. Unfortunately, as soon as we got to his parents' house, he would take off to Damascus to spend the weekend with his girlfriend, leaving me there with his folks. The parents graciously lent me a car and I used it to drive to Washington Cathedral, still under construction and not expected to be completed for another hundred years.

Washington Cathedral choir stallsTo my surprise, it had been completed in 1990 and now had a large underground parking lot. Pat had had a really bad emotional reaction at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York back on our 1999 visit there and I was worried that we might have a repeat here. But he was enthralled with the architecture, the stained glass, and the wood and marble carvings throughout. We joined a small tour group, though unlike the U.S. Capitol, it wasn't mandatory and we could break away any time we wished to explore on our own. Woodrow Wilson is interred at Washington Cathedral and after Thomas Jefferson back in Charlottesville and John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery, this made the third U.S. President's final resting place he had seen on this trip.

Like every cathedral, this one was adorned throughout with stained glass of religious themes. While sitting in a pew listening to the docent, I spotted a very different stained glass window above to my right that depicted the sun, the moon, and the Earth with eliptical paths connecting them. I no sooner snapped a photo of it when the docent called everyone's attention to it as the most unique window in the cathedral. The Space Window honors man's landing on the moon and contains a moon rock in its center.

Space window pulpit

After following the tour group and guide around for twenty minutes or so, we dallied too long, lost sight of them, and ended up exploring on our own. Down in the catacombs we happened upon the sarcophagus of a bishop. After an hour of peering into a maze of nooks and crannies under and throughout the Cathedral, we headed outside to the shaded benches in the park in front, sat down, lit up, and watched the birds and squirrels cavorting in the trees and on the grass. After a half hour of relaxing, we headed back to the garage, got the car, and were unpleasantly stunned by the $16 parking fee we had run up in barely two hours.

Bishop's sarcophagusWe got lost on our way back to the hotel and had to ask a fellow on a residential street for directions, but in the process, we managed to get in a pretty good tour of Washington's Georgetown District with its gorgeous brick homes and finely landscaped properties.

After asking at the front desk, we walked down Connecticut Avenue to the nearby Chalin's Chinese Restaurant for dinner. Dinner was fine; our waiter was aloof. I left a one-dollar tip. On the way back to the hotel, we walked past the neighborhood gym and scanned the bodies inside for some eye candy. Disappointingly, the majority of the folks inside the windows on treadmills and exercise bikes were women.

The sun was going down in Washington and with it, the heat was settling down to a sultry summer evening. We sat on the concrete flower boxes in front of the hotel, lit up, and played fashion police with the pedestrians walking by. A little TV watching up in the room, then a good night's sleep.

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Day 13: Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Washington Mall Map

We slept well at our new digs, woke up early, and headed down to the flower boxes for our morning cigarette. Pat walked over to the Burger King three doors up the street and brought back two cups of coffee. After completing the morning routine up in our room, we headed five blocks down Connecticut Avenue to the Van Ness/UDC Metro Station and caught the red line to Metro Center where we switched over to the blue line and rode two stops to the Smithsonian Station.

Hirshhorn MuseumIt was overcast in Washington this morning, making for comfortable walking. As with the Air & Space Museum back in 1999, Pat had been able to walk up to the door of the Smithsonian Castle and go no further. And, like the movie Ground Hog Day, it was happening again! We had arrived on the Mall at 8:30 and nothing opened until nine o'clock. So we walked on to the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art next door. It, too, was not yet open, so we walked around the circular building while I told Pat of my previous visit to the National Museum of Modern Art. This did not look like the same building and, if it was, clearly the name had been changed. The museum I remembered from the '70s had been brimming with Andy Warhol originals and a painting on a triangular canvas surface that gave you three different images depending on whether you stood to its left, its right, or looked at it head-on.

Smithsonian castleIt began to rain… quite heavily! Fortunately there was plenty of over-hanging cover from the building to stay dry under while we waited for the doors to open. After clearing security, we browsed the galleries on three different floors. The paintings and sculptures were so far spread out that the museum seemed empty. There was only one Andy Warhol and no triangular canvas surface painting. I asked; no one knew of the painting I remembered. Nor did anyone remember a Museum of Modern Art. Clearly this was not the same museum and frankly, I found it rather boring.

Smithsonian castle interiorThe shower had passed when we walked back to the Smithsonian Castle. Now open, we went inside, passed through security, and began to stroll through the building. In years past, the Castle had contained exhibits that I had found particularly fascinating such as the national coin collection with six one-hundred-thousand-dollar bills, the largest denomination bill ever printed by the U.S. Government, with video cameras trained on them. I had also seen a large collection of children's pianos, no more than thirty inches wide. In the basement had been a collection of farm equipment dating back to the beginning of the industrial age in the early 19th century. All of these things were gone now, presumably moved to the larger museums on the north side of the mall.

Instead, the Castle was filled with small collections of just about everything imaginable — antique furniture, jewelry, Indian artifacts, advertising logos and signs, stuffed animals, historic photos — presumably to whet one's appetite for the larger collections across the street. No discernible theme to it all, but rather a scatter-gun approach to the wealth of the Smithsonian collection.

Typewriter eraserThe sky was still gray when we walked out and headed across the Mall towards the National Archives. Along the way we passed through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Our favorite piece was a twenty-foot tall rendition of a typewriter eraser. Across the street at the National Archives, a queue stretched from the entrance back to the corner and we took our place at the end. Thankfully the rain had stopped as standing in a line on an open sidewalk is no place to be in a passing shower. As if on cue, a street vendor walked by selling umbrellas. How much? Five bucks. We'll take one! Pat wondered if we'd actually need it. Think of it as insurance, I told him. Having an umbrella guarantees that it won't rain again. And it didn't!

National ArchivesMuslims make their once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca. For Americans, it's the National Archives to see the original Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Of course the Magna Carta, the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, and the Emancipation Proclamation as well as many other historical documents are on display there, but those three overshadow the rest. After passing through security, we were separated into groups of twenty or so and led to another queue inside the building. As in the line outside, we passed the time chatting with others next to us.

Back outside, we headed west on the Mall to the National Museum of Natural History, passed through another security check, and headed straight for the minerals and gems collections upstairs. My mother had brought me here one weekend back in 1961 to see the Hope Diamond. Is nothing sacred from my past? Even the Hope Diamond was now in a setting specifically designed for it. Thankfully, the setting will be removed after a year and the diamond returned to its original singular pendant setting.

You can count on the Smithsonian to have only the best of the best on display, but with the grandeur there comes an apathetic reaction to the excess of it all. Surely it's not fair to compare one of the world's most stunning collections of jewelry, gems, and minerals to a candy store or ice cream shop, but with such a huge display it all becomes just candy or ice cream after awhile and we moved on to explore the rest of the museum.

Back in the late spring of 1959 my 5th grade class trip had been to New York City and included an hour or so in New York's Museum of Natural History. As an eleven-year-old I was fascinated with the stuffed mastodon, the mummies, the meteors, the native american dioramas, the dinosaur skeletons, et. al. The Smithsonian's Natural History Museum is pretty much the same and at 63, I found it rather boring. I'm guessing that the objective of natural history museums is to inspire young children to future academic pursuits and careers. History itself engages me; the natural sciences do not.

Eye candyThere were only two things beyond the gems and minerals collection that drew my attention for closer inspection and both were on the second floor. First, a gorgeous specimen of eye candy that paused at a display long enough for Pat to surreptitiously snap a photo of him. Second, the live butterflies in a glass-encased, climate-controlled room for which they charged a fee to enter but which you could view just fine without entering. After a stop in the basement restroom, we headed outside and westward to the National Museum of American History next door.

DING DING DING DING!!!! This place was fascinating! It spoke to our age bracket with displays of objects we grew up with. But first things first: The Star Spangled Banner. Yes, the original canon-pocked flag that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812 for which Francis Scott Key wrote what became our national anthem.

ruby slippers

Pat by Dorothy's ruby slippers

When I first saw the Star Spangled Banner many years ago in this same museum, it was hanging from the back wall in plain view of anyone who walked in. But time has taken an even greater toll on it than the British did back in 1814 and it went through several years of intricate restoration and now is displayed in a tilted case in a climate-controlled darkened room that protects it from light and humidity damage. Like seeing the original Declaration of Independence, seeing this flag brings goosebumps. Well, to me at least and I find it hard to fathom that others don't have the same reaction.

18th century house

Within These Walls display of 18th century house construction and furnishings

Outside the display room was a young woman dressed as Mary Pickersgill, the woman contracted to sew the flag that flew at Fort McHenry. She was there to answer any questions one might have about the flag while assuming Mary's persona and amazingly stayed in character no matter what the subject of the question posed.

The American History Museum is a treasure trove of America's past and a lot of emphasis is placed on the twentieth century. We headed straight to the second floor to view the collection of inauguration gowns worn by the First Ladies of our nation. From our own era they had the gowns worn by Mamie Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Roslyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara and Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, and even Michelle Obama. Michelle's display included the shoes and jewelry she wore. Unfortunately, all are in glass cases in a dark room which made photographing them difficult.

crash test dummiesAfter the First Ladies exhibit, we found something exciting around nearly every corner: Judy Garland's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, Edgar Bergen's dummy Charlie McCarthy, Vince & Larry, the crash-test dummies, Howdy Doodie, Kermit the Frog, and seemingly on infinitum. We never consulted a map of the museum but just kept discovering cool stuff until my legs finally signaled a time-out. I found a bench to sit on while Pat kept exploring.

Pat came back to show me a reconstructed 18th century home he had seen on an episode of This Old House. It had been occupied by five families over 200 years and was about to be torn down in the mid-60's when someone contacted the Smithsonian to inquire if they'd be interested. The house was completely disassembled at its location in Ipswich, Massachusetts, hauled to Washington, and reassembled so as to expose its construction.

Truth in re-creation: arrow points to horse's "exhaust." Pass mouse over image to view.

Charlie McCarthyThe most comical thing we saw was a 19th century street scene recreated complete with cobblestone street, a carriage, a full size horse, and a pile of the horse's dung directly beneath its tail on the cobblestone.

Tired and convinced we had likely seen everything that would interest us, we made our way outside to discover the rainy morning had given way to a sunny, hot, and humid afternoon. It was three o'clock in the afternoon, we were tired from all the slow walking, and we still had a few days left in DC, so there was no need to see everything at once. We decided we'd finish today off with an elevator ride to the top of the Washington Monument and headed the two blocks over to its base.

I was surprised at the lack of a large crowd and thought, great, we can go right in! Wrong!! Like the White House, the Washington Monument now required a reservation… sort of. The park ranger informed us that we had to stand in line at the kiosk at the bottom of the hill along 15th Street to get tickets. The kiosk was open from 8:30 to 11:00 a.m. but the line started forming around 7:30 and the tickets were usually gone by 9:00.

headed to the Washington MonumentWashington MonumentOf course, if we were able to get up early enough and down to the kiosk by 7:30, wait in line for an hour for it to open, and get a ticket when our turn in line came, the time stamp for our entrance could be late in the afternoon and we'd have the whole day to kill. And we'd pretty much finished seeing everything we cared to see in the nearby vicinity. So going to the top of the Washington Monument got crossed off our list.

Lincoln Memorial

The drained reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The new World War II Memorial in foreground.

Washington MonumentAnother surprise was seeing that the reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial had been drained. A ranger explained to us that it had been sinking for years and a new bottom was being built, a project that would take another two to three years to complete. We took our obligatory photos, then headed off the treeless mound for the shade of Independence Avenue and the Smithsonian Metro Station.

Back at our room we relaxed for an hour or so and I caught up on email with our friends back home. When Beverly Dubrin read that we had spent part of our day at the National Museum of American History, she promptly emailed back to ask if we had seen Julia Child's kitchen? Oh My God! How could we have missed that? Beverly wrote:

White House

The White House peeks out from between the trees in this view from the Washington Monument. Is that Michelle next to the center column on the 2nd floor portico balcony?

My sister could not tear me away from Julia Child's Kitchen… such wonderful memories! I lived in Boston when the show got started and as a fundraiser for WGBH, the local PBS station, one could pay $10 to watch a taping of the show and afterwards chat with Julia and Paul. We did not get to eat the food; it was given to the staff. I remember one show just before we moved to California where I noticed she was using some California wine in a recipe. I asked her if she had a favorite California wine and she said, in her typical matter of fact manner, “No; just whatever I have around that is open.” So Julia, so unpretentious. That kitchen at the Smithsonian is her "set" for her early TV shows.

We'd have to go back… tomorrow. But first things first: we headed back down Connecticut Avenue to a Subway shop we had seen near the Van Ness/UDC Metro Station. And this one had my favorite hoagie that had long since been removed from the menu at Subway shops in California: crab!! The sun was getting low in the sky when we finished eating, went out to the street and lit our after-dinner cigarettes, and started our evening stroll back to the hotel.

As previously mentioned, I roll my own cigarettes each day and they have no filters. Hence I keep a pair of tweezers in my shirt pocket to use as a roach clip when the butts get short. But as we walked up Connecticut Avenue and I reached for the tweezers, they weren't there. Apparently they had fallen out of my pocket. We doubled back to the Subway shop, checked the trash outside and under our table inside with no luck. There was a CVS pharmacy along the way back to the hotel, so we stopped in and I bought another pair. As it turned out, the “lost” pair of tweezers were on the desk in our hotel room. Day over!

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Day 14: Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mall map

Reagan ITCIt was the morning of our fourth day in Washington and there were only three items left on our list of things we wanted to see: return to the American History Museum to see Julia Child's kitchen, the Vietnam War Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. After two mornings of buying our coffee next door at Burger King, we discovered that there was free coffee every morning down in the hotel lobby, so we brought two cups up to the room. With so little left on our list of things to see, I suggested to Pat that we leave Washington tomorrow morning and cancel tomorrow night's room reservation. He agreed. We did a slow and easy morning in the room finally stepping out onto Connecticut Avenue for the short walk to the Metro Station at eleven o'clock.

Julia Child's KitchenThis time we got off the Metro at the Federal Triangle Station and we exited the subway into the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center complex, a pedestrian maze of plazas, walkways, and arches located on the street behind the Museum of American History. We made our way over to the backside entrance to the museum and, after clearing security, immediately noticed the signs pointing the way to the Julia Child's kitchen exhibit that we had missed yesterday. After photographing the TV program set from every available angle, we made our way back out the same entrance we had come in through.

We walked west on Constitution Avenue and made a right into the Elipse and headed for the fence along the south lawn of the White House. To the right of the White House grounds was the Department of the Treasury Building that appears on the back of the ten-dollar bill. Of course it was the back of the twenty-dollar bill we were interested in. Over to the left side we spotted Michelle Obama's famous vegetable garden and as we gawked at the White House for any sign of interesting activity, a helicopter circled low to the ground around the Washington Monument. Could it be the President? We later found out that the Park Police also have the authority to fly helicopters within DC's restricted air space.

White House south lawn

White House garden

Above: Michelle Obama's vegetable garden on the south lawn of the White House


Eisenhower Executive Office Building

The south face of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with the First Division Monument in the foreground

We continued westward to 17th Street with a good view of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building whose chimneys were wrapped with scaffolding for renovation. Turning south on 17th we passed the headquarters of the Organization of American States and the American Red Cross before turning west on Constitution and entering the National Mall. We followed the pathway down and along the shoreline of Constitution Gardens Pond, current home to several duck families and their goslings silently gliding across the water. We bought drinks from a refreshment stand in the park before walking on towards the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial a few hundred yards ahead.

American Red Cross HQ

American Red Cross Headquarters


Organization of American States Headquarters

I had been to the “Wall” before, but hadn't approached it from the east side as we were doing today. They no longer had park rangers or docents on hand to help you find a name on the wall. But at the western end they did have directories in which you could look up any of the 50,000+ names and the corresponding panel panel numbers and positions. I quickly found Rob Shepard's name in one directory while Pat looked for Robert M. Sawaya in the other. Robert was a college classmate of Pat's brother, Mike. We each wrote down the information we needed and headed back down the slope of the wall. We found Rob's name on the wall first and photographed it before heading back up the eastern side and finding Robert's. It was a somber experience for both of us.

Vietnam Memorial Wall
Rob Sheppard Robert Sawaya

The west end of the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial leads out to the northeast corner of Lincoln Memorial Circle which we crossed and ascended the steps to see “the big man” up close and personal. Before leaving home for this trip we had watched the 6-part PBS series on Abraham & Mary Lincoln, so it was another emotional moment when we finally stood inside the monument and looked up at the sitting Abraham Lincoln. It was just as inspirational to stand at the center of the top of the steps looking out at the Washington Monument knowing this was the very spot Martin Luther King stood when he gave his I Have A Dream speech.

Lincoln Memorial Lincoln Statue
Reflecting pool

So, this was it! We had seen everything we wanted to see in DC two days early; now what? We sat down on a marble ledge and gazed out at the drained reflecting pool, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol Building in the distance. And there were the jets taking off to the west from nearby Reagan National Airport. We'd done a lot of walking today and it was a mile and a quarter hike back to the Smithsonian Metro Station. Hell, in two weeks we had done a lot of traveling, period. No wonder we were a bit tired! Plus there was the unrelenting late-afternoon heat bearing down. It would be a sweaty, arduous hike back to the Metro Station and we decided to take it in hundred-yard bites as we certainly weren't in any hurry.

We descended the steps from the Lincoln Memorial down to the street, crossed, and headed down the shaded path that parallels the south side of the reflecting pool. We by-passed signs directing pathways to the nearby Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. I was born three years after Roosevelt died and the Korean War ended when I was in kindergarten. But at the east end of the drying mud pit that was currently the reflecting pool we came upon the relatively new National World War II Memorial which I thought had been built at the Capitol's reflecting pool on the west lawn but couldn't find earlier in the week.

WWII memorial

A post for each state and territory that fought in World War II

World War II memorialThe Memorial had been built low into the ground so as not to obstruct the view between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and wrapped around a large pool of its own that was filled with children cooling off in the water and adults dangling their bare feet over the edge. Probably the only spot in Washington where folks were allowed to go into the water at a monument. There were statues of course and inscriptions in the marble as one would expect, but graffiti was not something I expected. Come to think of it, we'd never seen any graffiti anywhere all week long.

Kilroy was hereCloser inspection revealed that the graffiti was actually carved into the marble: the droopy nose and hands hanging over a wall caricature we both remembered fondly from our early childhoods. And for those too young to remember, the inscription: Kilroy was here. I sat on one of the shaded benches while Pat took more pictures before continuing our eastward trek towards the Washington Monument.

We could see the Jefferson Memorial through the trees on the far side of the Tidal Basin, but having spent a day at Monticello, we trudged on to the Smithsonian Metro Station, arriving back at our hotel around five o'clock. I stopped by the front desk to cancel our reservation for Friday night and headed up to the room to relax for a bit before dinner. Tonight it would be the Italian Pizza Kitchen which we had spotted earlier across and up the street at the corner of Albemarle.

sun-burned Lee

After two weeks of overbearing heat, a very sun-burned Lee emerges from the Van Ness-UDC Metro Station

After our evening stroll, we returned to the room and I caught up on cigarette rolling, photo downloading, email, and planning where we would go in the morning when we left Washington.

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Day 15: Friday, July 8, 2011

Maryland map

Lee at deskOur flight home wasn't until early Sunday morning, so we still had two full days to fill and one more night at a motel. With a 6:00 a.m. Flight to Phoenix on Sunday morning, Saturday would be an all-nighter. A check of my counties revealed that there were six left in Maryland, all along Chesapeake Bay — two on the western shore and four on the eastern shore. And that realization gave rise to today's travel plans: cover the six counties to finish off Maryland, head to Ocean City, end of U.S. 50 which starts in Sacramento, then up to Lewes (pronounced LOO-iss), Delaware to catch the Cape May Ferry over to the Jersey shore.

DC ChinatownGreat plan until I looked up the fares for the Cape May—Lewes Ferry online and discovered that 9/11 security concerns had once again muddled our plans. Turns out one must make reservations online a minimum of two hours prior to sailing. We had no idea what time we'd be arriving in Lewes and when we did, without a motel room we wouldn't have internet access. Such down to the minute timing sure takes the spontaneity out of traveling and, as you've probably surmised by reading this far, impulsiveness is the keystone of our travels. Plan B: from Lewes, drive up the throat of Delaware to I-95 and back into New Jersey from there.

We were up early this morning, checked out of the Days Inn by 8:30, and programmed Helga for Charlotte Hall, Maryland in St. Mary's County, a short 43 miles but which included DC morning rush-hour traffic on the way out of the District. Again we missed a few turns but in the process got a driving tour of DC's Chinatown and Helga didn't get nearly as upset with us as she had back in Boston. In less than half an hour we unknowingly passed the unmarked border between DC and Prince Georges County, Maryland and began sailing with the thinning traffic through forests and withering suburbs.

Western shore MDArriving in Charlotte Hall, we stopped for gas before starting leg 2 to Prince Frederick, 17 miles away. The Patuxent River narrows to just six tenths of a mile where we crossed the bridge into Calvert County. My Maryland counties were now complete for the western shores of Chesapeake Bay; time to head for the eastern shore. From Prince Frederick, we headed north on Maryland 2 to Annapolis where we intercepted U.S. 50 eastbound and across the four-and-a-half-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Chesapeake Bay BridgeThe last time I had been on this bridge was back in 1961 on the way to and back from my uncle's wedding in Richmond. They had since built a 2nd parallel span north of the original, completed in 1973. The concrete barriers on either side of the road deck block your view of the surrounding Chesapeake Bay until you start the descent from the crest of the span. At that point the utter flatness of Maryland's eastern shore spreads out before you. 77 miles from Prince Frederick, we arrived in Denton, Maryland, county seat of Caroline County. Three counties to go!

eastern shore churchThe eastern shore is nearly void of forests, covered instead by corn fields, estuaries, and marshes. From Denton we motored southward to Eden, Maryland in Somerset County passing through Talbot and Dorchester counties along the 77-mile drive. Arriving in Eden in early afternoon, I could now say I had been in every county of Maryland and we set sail for Ocean City a scant 36 miles away.

The New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia coasts are one long boardwalk… a rarity in California, hence a special treat for Pat. I parked the car in a lot a block from Ocean City's boardwalk, paid the ten bucks, we grabbed our cameras, and walked up through the North Division Street entrance. Pat immediately fell in love with the mixed aromas of fast food joints wafting through the air, the chotchkie shops, weekend vacationers strolling up and down the boardwalk in their summertime, let your hair down, anything goes apparel, windsurfers out on the ocean, bathers frolicking in the surf, and sunbathers relaxing on the beach. It was Provincetown, but a little more organized. But more glitz and glamor, and certainly more real estate than Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk back home.

Ocean City Boardwalk
Ocean City boardwalk sign Ocean City Boardwalk

Ocean City signAfter seven hours of riding in a car, our bodies were a bit reluctant to take on a long walk, so we grabbed a tram which took us the 1.8 miles to the north end of the boardwalk, also known as Atlantic Avenue, past t-shirt shops, salt water taffy and ice cream stores, bars, hotels, condos, summer rental homes, and tons of bare-chested young men. After the seriousness of Washington, it was a much needed change of pace.

At the northern terminus turn-around, we hopped out and quickly paid the additional ten bucks a piece fare for the return trip and got back on the tram. Joining us a few seats up ahead in our carriage was an obviously tipsy black man with his white girlfriend who kept calling out to every black couple or group of young black men we passed and sticking out his arm to give 'em five. To us, the majority blacks we passed on the boardwalk looked embarrassed by his behavior and ignored him altogether. A few pacified him with a return hand-slap. He clearly was having a wonderful time and for those of us riding with him his obnoxious behavior never became threatening.

I had last been in Ocean City one weekend back in 1963 on a winter daytrip from New Castle with my mother. She had wanted to see Bobby Baker's Carousel Hotel, then the focus of a huge political scandal in Washington. Apparently the hotel was the scene of sex parties for Washington big wigs of the era. While riding on the tram I had asked a woman I had been chatting with and she informed me that the hotel was still here but had been converted to condos. She didn't know whatever had happened to Bobby Baker.

Editor's note: if you think things are bad in Washington today, click the Bobby Baker link above to read how much worse they used to be!

eyecandy eyecandy
eyecandy eyecandy

threesomeWe got off the tram at its southern terminus near the amusement rides and walked out to the pier before circling back to the boardwalk and ambling down to its southern end at the Ocean City Inlet where we sat down on a bench and watched the boats cruising back and forth between the ocean and the bay. As we headed back up the boardwalk toward our Division Street entrance, we kept passing two young guys with an older woman whom we originally assumed was their mother. The woman looked like five miles of bad road and could easily pass for forty. The guys, on the other hand, were late teens or early twenty-somethings with mildly above average looks and builds. It soon became apparent from the interactions between the three that she was a girlfriend of sorts. A strange threesome that left us wondering, but most importantly, left us.

Lee at the Ocean City inlet

Pat at the Ocean City inlet

Left: Lee relaxes on a bench while (right) Pat waves at passing boats in Ocean City's inlet.

Ocean City amusement rides kites on Ocean City beach

Dippin' DotsPat got excited when we came upon an ice cream shop called Dippin' Dots. “I've seen these on the Food Network,” he told me. What are they, I asked? They look like a bowl of Fruity Pebbles! “No, they're ice cream frozen in nitrogen,” he told me. He ordered a cup and I hazarded a taste of what I was sure would freeze my tongue since it had been frozen in liquid nitrogen. Kind of an odd experience: cool, but not overwhelmingly cold. Kinda tasted like ice cream… certainly sweet enough. But eating little ice cream pellets just didn't get me too excited.

chipped beef restaurantWe got back to the car and headed up the island towards Delaware. Clearly Ocean City had grown tremendously since 1963. Back then the Carousel Hotel was four miles out of town. Now the city and its environs reached all the way to the Delaware state line, some nine miles from downtown. Along the way we passed a restaurant whose sign got my mouth to watering and Pat's to gag: General's Kitchen, House of Chipped Beef. I love shit-on-a-shingle; Pat hates it. Who knew that someone had started a restaurant dedicated to it!!

Welcome to DelawareWe crossed into Delaware onto Fenwick Island passing dunes, beach, and ocean to our right and Little Assawoman Bay to our left. The sun had been in and out all day, but now as evening approached, the sky darkened from cloud cover, threatening rain. It was nearly eight o'clock when we pulled into a hotel parking lot in Rehobeth Beach to inquire about room availability. Built on stilts for protection from hurricane surges that made for a nice covered parking lot, it looked rather low end… but, what the hell… we just wanted a bed for the night and this place would probably be cheap, maybe less than the hundred bucks I figured we'd have to spend for a hotel just a stone's throw from the beach we had no intention of walking to. I was in the office with Pat behind another couple ahead of us and when I heard the desk clerk tell them the cheapest room they had was $249, I grabbed Pat and we left.

Delaware coastWe got on Delaware 1 and headed north towards Lewes. Within a few blocks it began to rain, light at first, then increasingly heavier. We kept looking on either side of the four-lane divided highway for another hotel/motel that looked promising, but no dice until we were a couple of miles past Lewes. It was nearly dark when we spotted the Red Mill Inn on the other side of the road. Looked a little pricey, but the parking lot was nearly empty, it was dark, and I really didn't want to drive unfamiliar wet roads at night. $125? We'll take it!

Delaware dunesJust as we started to get our bags from the trunk, the skies opened up and the rain started coming down in a torrent. Our room was on the second floor accessible only via an outdoor stairwell. And that's when I noticed the no smoking signs on several, but not all of the doors. No, ours was not a smoking room, the desk clerk told me, but he did have one available… on the ground floor… right in front of our parked car. We quickly switched rooms and had just shut the door behind us when the the thunder and lightening began in earnest.

It was very hot and muggy both outside and inside the room, so my first chore was to get the air conditioner running full blast. Problem was it never seemed to cool the room. But, we could smoke! There were two full size beds in the room. Pat took one and I took the other. A little TV and the knowledge that the next beds we slept in would be our own as tomorrow would be our up-all-nighter, was all we needed to zonk out despite the muggy air in the room.

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Day 16: Saturday, July 9, 2011

DE-NJ map

Red Mill InnIt was the worst night's sleep we had on the entire trip. Both of us awoke in the morning to discover we both had torn all the bedding off our mattresses exposing the plastic liners. A check of the air conditioner revealed that I had mistakenly set it on air exchange rather than cool and, once corrected, the room cooled off within fifteen minutes. I felt like an idiot.

Well, let's review this fiasco. We had eaten lunch at a Burger King somewhere on Maryland's eastern shore. Pat had his Dippin' Dots on the Ocean City Boardwalk. It was dark by the time we found a suitable motel in Lewes, Delaware after an all-day drive and a few hours of boardwalk cruising. A thunder and lightening storm broke just as we were getting into the room. But, where in all of that activity was supper? We had both totally forgotten about eating supper! I wasn't just tired last night… I was totally drained of energy! No wonder I didn't have the brain cells available to work an air conditioner properly.

Delaware 1Last night's thunderstorm had cleared the humidity from the air and produced a clear blue sky this morning from which the sun was already bearing down intensely. By the time we awoke at 7:30 the parking lot was already nearly dry. I headed for the bathroom to shave and discovered that the hot water tap was not working. Pat pointed out that wallpaper was peeling from the walls and the original plastic protective covers had never been removed from the lampshades. Even so, this place didn't rate a close second to the dive back in Boston.

Dover exitWe got through our morning routines and were out on the road by nine o'clock headed north towards Dover. Twenty-four hours from now we'd be halfway across the country at 30,000 feet and we were really looking forward to getting home. With a 6 a.m. flight tomorrow morning, there would be no sleep tonight, so today was all about stalling and stretching things out. Don't want to get to Newark Airport too early!

A few miles up Delaware Highway 1 we passed a sign welcoming us to Kent County and I told Pat, “Congratulations! You can now say you've been in every county in the State of Delaware… all three of them!”

DE State Capitol buildingRather than take the bypass, we turned into downtown Dover passing Dover AFB along the way. We drove past the Delaware state capitol building and other historic buildings before cruising through Dover's old downtown. With a population of just barely 36,000, Dover has to be one of the smallest state capitals in the country. Even so, the abundant Georgian and Federalist architecture was quite alluring.

We were having a little trouble finding our way back to state highway one, but in the process got a nice tour of residential neighborhoods. Eventually we came upon the Countrie Eatery across the street and whirled around into the parking lot. The restaurant sits beside Silver Lake, a tranquil tree and estate-lined body of water populated with ducks and geese serenely gliding across its placid surface.

Silver LakeInside we found a kitschey mom & pop restaurant decorated with cows, pigs, and horses with maple tables and chairs. The atmosphere was quiet and subdued… just the way we like it!

Our waitress had a British accent. Or was it Australian? New Zealander? We asked. British. She'd been living here in Dover, Delaware for the past fifteen years. Loved the climate. Really? It's bloody awful here in the winter time! Ironically, she was from Dover, England. Perhaps this was a step up from living along the English Channel.

DucksPat ordered The Constitutional breakfast: 2 eggs, 2 pancakes, 2 sausages, 2 strips of bacon, and home fries. Me? I ordered The Kenton, aka sausage gravy on toast, my favorite rendition of SOS, and satisfaction achieved after passing the General's Kitchen back in Ocean City yesterday. While drinking our coffee and waiting for our breakfasts to arrive, we struck up a conversation with the only other couple in the dining room. They had grown up on Maryland's eastern shore and had moved away to Albuquerque where they stayed for the next twenty years. Loved it out there. But her husband had become homesick for the eastern shore and insisted on moving back to Maryland. They'd been back for a few years now, but it wasn't the same eastern shore they had grown up with and after the first year, realized they had become de-climatized to the humid summers and freezing winters, and yearned to return to New Mexico. Unfortunately they could no longer afford to do so.

TurtleBreakfast arrived and Pat's meal was so large I was convinced he'd never finish it. But he did, as I did mine. Having inadvertently skipped supper last night, we were hungrier than we realized. After paying the bill at the cash register under the watchful gaze of the cow clock, we walked out to the dock behind the restaurant and watched the baby ducks gliding behind their parents on the lake and turtles popping up to the surface to get some air and sun for a few moments before diving back down into the water.

Delaware Memorial BridgeOver the years, the State of Delaware has converted State Highway 1 to a limited access toll road from south of Dover up to Wilmington. Since we were trying to kill time rather than speed things up, we opted for U.S. 13 that parallels the turnpike. Within an hour we were on the Delaware Memorial Bridge crossing into New Jersey. The plan was to stop in to say thank you and goodbye to Donna and Wayne in Mercerville. However, they had dinner plans for seven o'clock… what time would we arrive? We should be there by five, I told Donna. We headed north on I-295 past Philadelphia, stopping at a Wawa for gas in Burlington. Our rented Nissan had been averaging 33 mpg, so this would be the last tank we'd need.

Wawa Welcome to NJ

Delaware River

Eastern most bend of the Delaware River at New Jersey's narrowest point.

Just as we crossed the bridge over Crosswicks Creek into Mercer County and Hamilton Township we spotted a sign ahead for a scenic overlook. Scenic overlook? Hamilton Township, New Jersey? I grew up here. The highest hill in all 39 square miles was the top of Concord Avenue in Mercerville… all of fifty feet, and that's likely an exaggeration. The actual overlook was along the banks of the Delaware River on the southbound side of the freeway, but a walkway overpass had been installed on the northbound side to get to it.

We pulled in, parked, and walked over. It was the eastern most bend of the Delaware River that forms New Jersey's wasteband, the narrowest part where the state is a mere 36 miles wide and heavily wooded. In fact I had camped in this area as a Boy Scout back in 1960. The Delaware flowed lazily through the woods with New Jersey on the right and Pennsylvania on the opposite shore. The only sign of civilization was the Public Service Electric & Gas Company powerplant along the shoreline that serves the Greater Trenton area.

Wayne & Donna

Wayne & Donna Thomas

We pulled up to Donna & Wayne's front door in Mercerville just before five o'clock and, at Donna's direction, walked up the driveway and through the back door into the kitchen. We whooped out the iPad to show them where-all we had been in the past two weeks and Donna filled us in on their recent trip down to their summer home on Cape Hatteras. Knowing they had a dinner engagement in Philadelphia in two hours, we kept the visit short, took pictures of each other, and said our goodbyes. In twelve hours we'd be on our way home.

This had been my first trip back to New Jersey since all of my relatives had died and I was having a very different reaction than on previous homecomings. Of course things had changed… I'd noticed that on previous trips. But it wasn't mine any more. I might be familiar with the area, but it had become a distant familiarity.

Then again, I had never been close to my family and I had very few friends here. I grew up here, but it really wasn't home to me. It was a place where I had to bide my time until I could get as far away as possible. I had a sense that this would be my last time here. I had never belonged here in the first place and there was nothing left to call me back. I had wanted to show Pat where I had grown up and that mission was now nearly complete save for the very worst chapter in my childhood: Barnegat.

Hillhurst Avenue

My grandparent's Hillhurst Avenue home and my bedroom window for 7 months

Alberta Avenue

The house I helped my dad build in 1958-59 and my 2nd floor bedroom window on right

And so, with the twelve hours remaining, only two and a half of daylight, I decided to get some final photos of the touchstones of my life in Mercerville that I would likely never see again. From Donna & Wayne's house on Lowell Avenue, we drove the three blocks over to my grandparents house on Hillhurst Avenue where my father and I had lived with them from September 1958 to April of 1959 while my father built his new house three streets over on Alberta Avenue.

The gentleman who now owned 225 Hillhurst came out and was excited to learn that it was my grandfather who had built his home in 1952. I took a couple of pictures of the house, then spent the next ten minutes trying to politely get away from the garrulous owner. We drove the couple of blocks over to my dad's old house on Alberta Avenue and managed to get a few shots without having to engage anyone else in conversation. Three minutes and back in the car, drive out to Nottingham Way, and head out of town for Barnegat.

I was seven in June of 1955 when my father bought the rowboat business in Barnegat and we moved down there from our Johnston Avenue home in Hamilton Township. Besides fulfilling a life-long dream of owning a fishing-related business of his own, the move to Barnegat served another purpose. My mother had been raising Springer Spaniels at our Johnston Avenue home, belonged to a kennel club, and my father had long suspected her of running around with one of the men in the club. Barnegat would isolate her.

Unfortunately, it also isolated me. Our new home and business was two miles out of town right on the marshes and creek that lead into Barnegat Bay. My mother had to give up her Hamilton Township teaching job and secured a job teaching on Long Beach Island, twelve miles away by car. She did not approve of the school in Barnegat and paid the tuition for me to attend Long Beach Island Grade School where she was teaching. I was the only kid in the school who did not live on the island. Needless to say, when school was over for the day, I returned to Barnegat with my mother and never had the opportunity to interact with any of my classmates after school. She also forbade me from ever going into the town of Barnegat and playing with any of the kids there. So, for the next four summers and three school years, I was a prisoner in Barnegat.

Pine barrens

New Jersey's pine barrens seem to go on forever without so much as a telephone pole to break the monotony

Over fifteen years Pat has heard me tell this story more than once, but I wanted him to see the “scene of the crime,” so down County Road 539 we headed through the pine barrens towards the Jersey shore. We had taken the same road down to Tuckerton with my dad during our 1999 visit and Pat had never seen a stretch of road so boring in his life. The scrub-pine forests seem to go on forever and, indeed, they make for the perfect soldier training ground. The majority of New Jersey's pine barrens are part of Fort Dix.

In the late 70's, my mother had retired from her last teaching job in New Castle, Delaware and had moved back to Barnegat where she married her second husband. The town had grown by then from the 800 population of the mid 50's to 8,000. As of the 2010 census, it was just shy of 21,000 and the housing developments had spread out two miles beyond the Garden State Parkway, which during my time there, had been three miles out of town in the god-forsaken pines. I hadn't been back since moving my mother to Florida in 1981 after the death of her husband.

In town I showed Pat where the post office had been, the barber shop, the drug store where I had once found a postcard of our rowboat business taken ten years earlier when we still lived on the property, and the now empty lot where the Barnegat Hotel & Restaurant had once stood. The hotel had been owned by Jake Hartman and his relationship with my mother ultimately led to the divorce of my parents.

Barnegat Friends Meeting HouseWe headed east out of town and stopped at the old Quaker Meeting House I passed twice every day as a boy in my mother's car on the way to/from school and which I peddled my bike past on my trips into town for a haircut. Built in 1767, it was Barnegat's oldest landmark. Past the horse farm where I used to hang on the fence and dream of riding a horse, the road curves through the marshes before coming to the old wooden bridge next to my father's rowboat business of years ago. The bridge was still there, barely changed save for the wooden road deck which now had a concrete overlay. Our house was gone… it had been moved to another location down the road some thirty years ago. The boat shed where we built our own rowboats and inboard garveys was also gone. But the rental slips were still there as was the boatramp.

It was the first time I had set foot on the property since 1958 and despite the house and shed being gone, the surroundings looked, but more importantly felt, pretty much the same. The creek still went around the bend to the bay, the marshes still extended southward to the distant horizon, the reeds still grew along the edge of the property, and the telephone pole to which we tied a rowboat up on the road for getting back and forth between the house and the car during northeast storms that flooded the property was still there. And best of all, the swallows were still building their mud nests in the wooden beams under the bridge.

Barnegat 1957

Our property on a postcard, circa 1957. My dad's '56 red & white Ford Ranchero on left, my 2nd floor bedroom windows, & my barely visiable bare-chested father standing just below the short phone pole. Brown boat in front of Ranchero is Elmer Seaman's Leakey Tiki.

J&R DocksI pointed out to the water and told Pat that's where I used to fly my kites only to have the seagulls cut the line sending the kites fluttering into the water. I took him to a spot on the back of the property and showed him where a cat had been buried. Pat walked around the property taking his own pictures while I struck up a conversation with a fellow tending his boat on the corner slip. Yes, he remembered Elmer Seaman, the blueberry farmer and mayor of Barnegat of the 50s who kept his Leakey Tiki in one of our slips. I asked if he remembered a little of this or that and generally he recalled hearing of the things I mentioned, but being thirty years younger than me, was too young to have known about them personally.

J&R DocksThe saddest thing he reported was the town's having sealed off the old artesian well just up the road from which my mother and I had schlepped water during the winter when our house pipes had frozen. It was nearly dark now and I wanted to get a photo of one more thing: the pavilion down at the town's public dock. We drove across the old wooden bridge and half a mile down the road came to the sand and gravel parking lot which had an outdoor concert in progress and dozens of people out enjoying the summer evening event. This is where we came to watch the Fourth of July fireworks, I told Pat. We'd drive one of our garveys down the estuary and tie up here to the public dock. The fireworks were shot from those marshes over there across the water.

J&R DocksThe two-story covered pavilion was still here albeit having undergone several renovations over the years. This was my private refuge to which I'd ride my bike to escape my parents screaming fests back at the house or to wait in dread for my father to arrive home to punish me for a lousy report card. Barnegat was filled with painful memories for me, yet they didn't seem to hurt any more. In fact, the area looked like something out of a Hollywood movie and I wondered if some would have found my childhood here to have been idyllic.

MarshesAnd that was it. I had shown my partner my roots and I could walk away for the last time without regret. What was, no longer existed and what is, was no longer a part of me. Oddly enough, fifty-three years later, I still lived by the coast. But the coast I lived on now came with far more pleasant memories. We got back in the car and continued around East Bay Street past Barnegat beach where my mother had met husband #2, back to U.S. 9, onto the new Barnegat bypass, and got onto the Garden State Parkway northbound towards Newark. It was nine o'clock and we still had nine hours to kill.

Barnegat Public Dock PavilionTwenty miles up the Parkway, we stopped at the first service area and got a couple of cups of coffee, stretched, walked around, and managed to kill an hour. Thirty miles later we stopped at the next service area and ordered an entire pizza. Pat took the opportunity to thoroughly clean and Fabreeze the car to eliminate any evidence of our smoking. We managed to kill another hour, but with only 30 miles left to Newark, we'd run out of options for killing time. Besides, after being up for 17 hours, we were starting to get rummy. And somewhere in the middle of all this trying to kill time, midnight had come and passed.

Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Day 17: Sunday, July 10, 2011

Flight path map

It was a little after 2 a.m. when we pulled into the Budget Rent-a-car drop-off lot. Pat got busy one last time with paper towels, Windex, and Fabreeze while I got the bags out of the trunk. A final visual and olfactory check of the car convinced us no one would never know we had smoked in it. Yes, I know, smokers are not the best detection equipment for the presence of nicotine but we were confident Budget wouldn't slap us with a $250 clean up fee.

waiting in terminalWe trundled our bags inside to the Budget counter and turned in the keys and Helga to the poor gal who had won the graveyard shift. And with a little more than four hours still to go before our flight's departure, we engaged her in conversation. Good for us and good for her in an otherwise empty terminal. Besides, the longer we delayed going to the USAir terminal and checking in, the longer we could step outside and smoke.

By 3 a.m. We were bored with Budget. The airport monorail system was shut down for nightly maintenance, so we waited for a shuttle bus outside. The driver let us off at the near end of the terminal. USAir was at the far end and we had to schlepp all our luggage 150 yards down to the other end. What part of USAir did he not understand? Or, how had we managed to piss him off? Who knows.

Less than a dozen other passengers were waiting in the empty terminal and a sign indicated that the ticket counters would open at 5 a.m. But they had wifi and I pulled the laptop out of the backpack, plugged it into a nearby wall outlet, and sat down. Pat went outside for a smoke. When he came back in he disappeared into the terminal and came back with two cups of coffee. By then I had struck up a conversation with a South African who had fired up his laptop in the seat next to me, so I sent Pat back for a cup of coffee for him. A Malaysian had joined us by the time Pat returned with the third cup and he headed back for a fourth.

By 4 a.m., a line began to form between us and the still un-opened ticket counters. Pat got in the line to hold a place while I stayed seated. It was quarter to five when the ticket counter opened for business and I joined Pat in the line with the rest of our bags. I paid the fifty bucks to check two suitcases, got our boarding passes, and we headed down the escalators to get in line for security… which wasn't open for business yet. We got through security at 5:30; our actual departure time was 6:45.

New York sunrise

cup of coffeeOn the way to our gate we grabbed two more coffees and the airport equivalent of egg/sausage McMuffins. By six o'clock we'd been up nearly 23 hours, but the sun was coming up behind the Manhattan skyline and it made for a memorable sunrise. Finally we got to board our flight to Phoenix. Unfortunately we did not have adjacent seats, though they were in the same row. Pat had the window and I had the aisle. We persuaded the fellow in the middle to take the window and Pat moved to the center.

We both napped on and off as best we could on the five-hour flight. It was so hazy outside that I never could see the ground all the way across the country. Admittedly I was trying to get a view from the window across the aisle; the guy we had given the window seat up to on our side had closed his shade.

Phoenix airportIt seemed ironic that having suffered through oppressive heat and humidity on the east coast for the past sixteen days, that we would be flying to Phoenix, the capital of oppressive heat. But it was a very well air-conditioned terminal and we had only an hour layover before our flight onto Oakland.

God, we could hardly wait to step outside the Oakland terminal into the Bay Area's traditional cool summer weather! Ninety minutes later we were there, got our bags from the carousel, and lit up our first smokes in nine hours outside in the sunny upper 60s air while we waited for Don to arrive and drive us home. Of course Don told us we had just missed a week-long heatwave where local temperatures were in the nineties. No matter, it was over now. The only question left was would the cats ignore us on our return to the house as punishment for having left them with a stranger for two weeks or would they not leave us alone?

After ten minutes of ignoring us while Don was still in the house, upon his departure, they wouldn't leave us alone. Home again, home again, jiggety-jig! Screw the unpacking. We let Wheezie and Mouse out in the backyard for the first time in two weeks and we both headed for bed.

Epilogue from Pat

For me, our trip back east was for Lee to reunite with his past. Although Lee wanted me to see his world and where he lived, he also wanted me to see a part of the United States that I only dreamed about. When we went back in March of 1999, I saw parts of New York and New Jersey during the day but Philadelphia and Washington, D. C. were at night and all the places I saw then were closed. Plus it was so cold!

This time I got to see more of Lee's world in the daylight. Though it was so hot and places that Lee remembered as a child, teen, and young adult had changed drastically over the ensuing years, I found it enlightening, beautiful, and a learning experience I will never regret. It is sad that we cannot go back home and revisit our youth, but as I see it, we can go back, hopefully without expectation, just to visit and be a guest and not a participant as we once were. Having lived here in California all my life, things have changed but they happened while I was here, unlike Lee's situation. The changes I saw were sometimes gradual, some drastic and quick, but when it happened I saw it first hand.

With this and so many experiences Lee has shown me, I always look forward to these trips. Lee will plan a trip, mostly to catch a county he hasn't been in and I go along for the ride enjoying whatever is presented. There have been times I freaked and thought we were going to die… not really die, just that the situation seemed dire and I didn't see a way out. I guess I am not one who thinks on his feet quickly and panic sets in. Not having the experience of lots of travel in my life I don't know how to handle a given situation. I do think I have gotten better over the almost 15 years Lee and I have been together. He has shown me a world I would have never known otherwise. He is one cool man.

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