They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have and peace they lack.
  -James Earl Jones "Field of Dreams"
and don't go mistaking paradise for that home across the road
  -Bob Dylan "Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest"

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Home Again

We got home about 5:30 on Thursday from a trip that spanned 13 states over the course of 2 weeks.

Thursday, June 26. Susan flew to San Francisco. The plane was late. She and John had dinner reservations at Foreign Cinema. She ended up having to take an expensive cab from the airport to make it in time for dinner. Apparently the meal was very good.

Friday, June 27. Susan and John pack up his stuff, pick up a rental van at SFO, and with help from a friend of John's (Nightcarl?) they load up and leave. Traffic is bad getting out of the Bay area and I-5 is full of smoke from forest fires. They spend the night in a Best Western in Pasadena, where Susan and I have stayed before.

Saturday, June 28. They arrive here about 3:30. Mike, Lori and Kaelyn come at 6:00. We have dinner on the back patio, Kaelyn uses the inflatable pool. After Mike and his family leave we swim in the big pool for a while.

Sunday, June 29. I help John repack the van, adding some things from here along with my suitcase, camera bag, etc. We leave about 8:30. I-17 to Flagstaff, then east on I-40. Lunch at Subway in Gallup, NM. It was raining heavily when we went through Albuquerque, although the view of it was impressive. Stopped for the night at an Econolodge in Tucumcari, NM. Dinner at Denny's.

Monday, June 30. We continue on I-40 thru Amarillo, TX. Lunch at a McDonalds somewhere.

Just west of Oklahoma City, we nearly had a bad accident. There were signs indicating that the left lane was going away so I got in the right lane and slowed down to 55 as the signs indicated. We were following a medium sized truck at a safe distance. We could not see around or over the truck. Suddenly he jumps onto the shoulder, revealing a line of cars at a dead stop straight ahead of us. I hopped into the left lane, which had not gone away yet, but fortunately had no cars right there. If I had reacted 2 seconds later we would have smashed into the line of cars at 55 MPH.

An exit or two later we got on a bypass toll road that took us around to I-44. From there though Tulsa (more impressive skyline than Phoenix, or so it seemed) and finally into Missouri, where we stayed in an Econolodge in Springfield. We settled our still-shaken nerves in a country and western type bar and then grabbed dinner at a Subway.

Tuesday, July 1. On through St. Louis, lunch at a Quizno's in Illinois, to Indianapolis where we got on I-70. Continuing the spirit of the Simpsons tour we stayed at a Super 8 in Springfield, OH. We ordered pizza from Domino's and watched I'm Not There on John's laptop. This was the dumpiest of the road motels.

Wednesday, July 2. Through Columbus, then Wheeling, WV, then south of Pittsburgh picking up the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Lunch at a turnpike service plaza. These places used to have Howard Johnsons restaurants but now they have food courts. We ate at Roy Rogers. Continued on the turnpike into the Philadelphia area, where we got off on US-1. That took us into Trenton, NJ and on into Princeton. John had a CD of music from the Sopranos that we played a lot while driving in NJ.

Route 1 is an odd beast in that part of New Jersey. Some of it looks like a freeway with exit ramps, etc. Then some of it is a regular old road with driveways and stop lights and the oddest part is there is no turning left and no u-turns and major intersections have elaborate ramps or even traffic circles. This combined with Google Maps' total lack of understanding of the area separated our arrival in Princeton from our arrival in the hotel by about an hour. The hotel was a Homewood Suites on Route 1, somewhat isolated from the town. The room had a separate bedroom with a convertible couch in the living room, where John stayed. By the time we got situated we decided to eat at the Ruby Tuesday's next to the hotel. We went to the indoor pool for a bit, and you could see fireworks from the town while we soaked.

Thursday, July 3. First task was to take the van to Tom's apartment to unload. Tom will be John's faculty advisor and had kindly volunteered space in his garage for John's stuff. He was very helpful, took charge of the task and we were soon sitting in his kitchen drinking espresso. Then we spent a few hours checking out the town and the campus. We saw John's apartment complex as well. The campus is beautiful and the town is quite nice too. Had lunch in an interesting design-your-own-burrito place. We got a call from Susan. She was on the plane at DFW. Her flight to Newark was delayed because of congestion at Newark. But we had run out of things to do and went back to the hotel and watched some TV and eventually a Simpsons episode.

Then we were off to the Newark airport. Conceptually it was simple, take Route 1 north to the NJ Turnpike and the turnpike to the airport. This was a situation where a map would have helped though. We were not sure just where we would get on the turnpike. Eventually we saw a sign that said that the turnpike was the next right. But the exit sign just referenced NJ-18. John said "I'm not buying it" and I agreed. Sadly we soon figured out that it must have been right because there were no more references to the turnpike. We stopped at two gas stations and gained little knowledge of what to do, the proprietors not being well versed in either directions nor English. Finally we saw another road leading to the turnpike and grabbed it. The van, while costly, did not exceed the original estimate. We took the skytrain to the terminal from Budget and then sat for about an hour watching the Yankees losing to the Red Sox on the TV in TGIFridays. Susan finally arrived, and then after a fashion her luggage as well. Skytrain back to Hertz where we piled into the rented Prius. The only hitch on the way back was that John managed to lose the toll ticket that I handed him. I had to pull over in the area just prior to the toll gate and turn on the lights in the car. Fortunately he found it. It was so late that Ruby Tuesday's had our business for a second night.

Friday, July 4. We went into town, essentially repeating yesterday's campus and town tour. We found the house that Albert Einstein had lived in as well as the Institute for Advanced Study, where he had worked. We drove to the battlefield park where the Meg Ryan/Tim Robbins film I.Q. had its climax. When we got there we found 4th of July festivities with people firing cannons, dressed up in revolutionary costumes, etc. After walking around there for a while we got back in the car and drove to the Washington Crossing State Park, where George Washington crossed the Delaware, about a half hour away. Then back to the hotel, and out to dinner at Blue Point Grill, a trendy fish and vegetables restaurant on Nassau Street (Princeton's main drag) where you bring your own wine. Then we walked around in the rain and looked at shops, restaurants etc.

Saturday, July 5. Drove around Princeton a little more, particularly interested in finding a grocery store. John will live a distance from the nearest stores, and lacking a car, things like bus schedules, whether a store delivers, etc. are important. Back to the airport to drop off the car and then a taxi into Manhattan. The taxi was a hoot. We had 3 large and one small suitcases plus a guitar and a camera bag. As it did not all fit in the trunk, John had to sit in the front seat. The driver handed John some things from the front seat to hold which included his odiferous lunch. The windshield wiper blades were falling apart and it was raining heavily. He had a bunch of random stuff stored above the visor that kept falling down. When he uncovered his EZ Pass gizmo for the toll booth the bracket that held it to the dashboard fell apart. We got to the hotel just about the time the rain subsided.

We stayed at the Hotel Giraffe, on Park Avenue South at 26th St. In the maps in the taxis, we were in an unnamed district south of Murray Hill and north of Grammercy Park. In at least one book this was called the Flatiron District but the NY Cabs considered it nameless, the only region south of Harlem without a name. The hotel was very nice, a "boutique" hotel, 73 rooms, in a quiet (for Manhattan) area. We had a small balcony facing 26th St. John stayed in a friend's apartment in Harlem, 20-30 minutes away by subway.

We got sandwiches at a coffee shop nearby. Then we set out with John to take his luggage and guitar to Scott's apartment. We were a little more nicely/heavily dressed than normal as we planned to end up at Patsy's, a restaurant that Susan had heard many things about, for dinner. Our first introduction to the subway was not good. It was hot and muggy on the platform and seemed to take forever for the train to come. Then we had to change trains and go through it again. At least the subway cars themselves were well air conditioned. Then we got out and were on the main drag in Harlem. We only had to walk one long block but passed many colorful scenes, people selling various things, music playing on boom boxes, a rasta-looking guy selling CDs, a produce market, etc. Then we got to Scott's door and John couldn't open it. Another tenant was leaving and she showed him how to do it. Scott was back in California and had given John the keys. After dropping off the stuff, we figured out how to lock it back up and were on the street again. Past the subway station we could see the Apollo Theatre, but I was not wanting to walk that far.

We wanted to stop short of Time Square and walk to Rockefeller Center, but John misjudged the stops and we were south of Time Square with little choice but to pass through. Susan did not like the crowds and did not want to come back. We went over to 5th Avenue and saw St. Patrick's Cathedral and then Rockefeller Center. Susan was getting tired of walking so we found an (amazingly quiet) bar and sat for a while. I wasn't sure of the precise location of Patsy's, I had been there once before, so John got the address and phone number. I suggested he call to see if we needed a reservation. He got a recording that said that they were closed, for precisely the days that we were in Manhattan, and would reopen the night we would arrive back in Phoenix. We were devastated. So we walked over there anyway, just to look at it. We passed the Ed Sullivan Theatre along the way. Then we took a cab to a restaurant that we had heard of near Greenwich Village that was coincidentally also called Patsy's, although very different, where we had dinner. It was very loud, mostly an NYU crowd in there with thumpathumpathumpa music. We walked back to our hotel from there, one of the longer walks of the trip.

Sunday, July 6. Susan had enjoyed Little Italy in Boston and had similar hopes for New York's. We took the subway there and at first glance it was very cool but on further analysis it was just a tourist trap. We did not see a grocery and there were tons of souvenir shops. We stopped for coffee and a cannoli. The filling got an A but the shell a C. I had an Italian rum cake that was very good. The waitress was Puerto Rican or Dominican we thought. Then we headed for the subway which was on the line between Little Italy and Chinatown. We had little interest in Chinatown as we were vary familiar with San Francisco's, but if the crowds near the subway were any indication, we do not want to go there. This was the most intense crowding we had seen other than Time Square.

We went to Ground Zero. Today it is just a big construction fence around the spot where the towers were. We walked from there to Wall Street. There is intense security around the New York Stock Exchange. We saw the spot where George Washington was first inaugurated. Then cab to subway, subway all the way uptown to Central Park West and a look at the Dakota, the site of John Lennon's murder, where Yoko Ono still lives. Then over to the park and then a cab back to near our hotel and pizza for lunch. We then found a place called Organique that had design-your-own-salad and -sandwich items. We had them put together some salads to have for dinner later (dressing on the side). Bought wine, pops, chips, etc. at a couple more nearby shops and walked back to the hotel.

We had tickets to The Lion King, which was celebrating its 10th anniversary on Broadway. Everyone had told me how wonderful it was but I was not particularly excited. I am not a big fan of musicals and on my first trip to Broadway I was passing up some big names in some more serious endeavors. I was somewhat familiar with the story, having watched the videotape of the movie with the kids years ago. The taxi could not get all the way to the theatre, so we got to once again fight through the crowd at Time Square. Once inside, it was relatively calm. When the doors opened we found out that we had great seats, 13th row center. I have to tell you that I was amazed at just how good this show was. The costumes and the production were unbelievable. You would have to see it to appreciate it.

After the show, Susan was the hero, managing to flag us a cab in the midst of the mob that emitted from the theatre. Before we knew it we were back at the hotel.

Monday, July 7. One goal of the trip was to avoid long lines. The Statue of Liberty is a problem in that regard, from what I have heard. An alternative is the Staten Island Ferry, which is free. It takes you past the statue and there are no lines involved. So we got a cab to the ferry terminal. Along the way we saw the waterfalls. They are a temporary public art installation in the East River this summer. Water is pumped from the river and then cascaded down, resembling waterfalls. There are four of them. The ferry was loading as we arrived, so there was no wait. We sat on the side of the boat that faced away from New Jersey and the statue, looking instead at Brooklyn. The ferry terminals were clean and modern. On the Staten Island end we looked outside for a minute, there is a minor league baseball stadium (Staten Island Yankees) and just waited or the next ferry back. This time we sat on the side facing the statue. This was not as good a view as you would have if you paid for the the tour, waited in line, etc., but it was quite pleasant.

Then a cab to a subway station in Brooklyn. The area that we got left in was quite UNpleasant, looked downright dangerous. The subway took us to Greenpoint, a Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn where John wanted to go. We found a Polish restaurant. The food was pretty good, I liked the kielbasa.

Then subway to the Brooklyn end of the Brooklyn Bridge. We walked across the bridge back to Manhattan, which was way cool. There is a pedestrian walkway that is above the traffic. Subway back from the Manhattan side of the bridge to the hotel. Wine and cheese reception in the lobby of the hotel. John left to go back to Brooklyn to see Caitlin and Daniel. We walked around our nameless district, primarily on Lexington Avenue, then had dinner at a Ray's Pizza outlet and went back to our room.

Tuesday, July 8. I got tickets online for the Empire State Building tour. This enables you to skip the first line, which is the ticket line. There is still a bunch of waiting in line, which apparently can be bypassed if you buy a more expensive package. We spent most of the morning standing in line for the tour and ultimately taking it. Then we walked over to Macy's. After Macy's, John and Susan bought some souvenirs at some shops on 34th Street. From there we took a cab up to north of the Theatre district and had lunch at the Carnegie Deli, a famous place with celebrity pictures on the wall. A sandwich could feed three people easily. Then walked north past Carnegie Hall and into Central Park. Walked around, exited at southeast end and walked past some of the high end shops in that area. Then we found a Yankees team shop, where John bought a hat (and one for his future father-in-law) and I bought a shirt. Then subway back to the hotel.

John had warned against how awful the subway would be getting back from the Yankees game -- add rowdy drunks to an already hot crowded place -- so I bought us tickets on the Yankee Clipper, a boat that would take us from fairly close to our hotel to right next to Yankee Stadium. We took a short cab ride to the 34th Street pier and waited for the ship. It was a 20-30 minute ride up the river, passing the UN building and Harlem on the left and Brooklyn, Queens and eventually the Bronx on the right. The entrance to the Stadium was about a 10 minute walk. We went up several escalators and found our seats. We were in the upper deck and the angle was so steep that the backs of the seats in the row in front was level with the floor in our row. The floor in front of the seats was so narrow that I was almost afraid to go -- stepping in front of already seated people -- to our seats. Susan was more scared even than I was. We sat through the first inning or so afraid that we would never have nerve to move to get food or use the bathroom. Then in the second inning somebody came and told us that we were in their seats. We had been confused about location. Our seats were actually much lower down. The people next to us had made the same mistake. We all got up and went down. Not only were our seats much closer to the field, there was a railing in front of our row. It was smooth sailing from there. The game was great. The Yankees were (are) in third place and they were playing Tampa Bay who were (are) in first. The Yankees played like the Yankees of old, Derek Jeter got key hits and they won impressively. The Stadium was nearly full, the crowd was into it, it was a great experience. You could see the new stadium over the left field wall. The ride back was fun. The boat was a good plan.

Wednesday, July 9. Last full day in Manhattan. Walked to the Farmers' Market at Union Square. It was great. With the possible exception of Paris this was the best one we have seen. You would not want for fresh produce if you lived near there. Walked on to Greenwich Village, had bruschetta and coffee/tea in a coffee shop at the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal. Walked on to Soho, saw a bunch of trendy shops, etc. Decided we had had enough and took cab back to near hotel. Got sandwiches and went back to hotel. Maid was cleaning room so ate in the lobby. I really liked the lobby of the hotel. Windows to the street on two sides. Espresso/Capuccino machine available at all hours as were cookies and coffee. Wine/cheese 5-7. Jazz piano in the early evening. This is also where the continental breakfast was served. After eating, John and I went to the NBC Studio tour and Susan hung out in the room and then walked out and scouted a restaurant for us. The tour was OK, not outstanding. It was not as good as its counterpart in Burbank. We did get to see the Saturday Night Live studio. Back to the hotel for wine/cheese. Susan had found us a great Italian restaurant on Lexington Ave. where we had a wonderful last dinner. Back to the hotel and then said our goodbyes to John.

Thursay, July 10. Cab to Newark airport, plane left on time, plenty of time for connection in Dallas. Plane left Dallas about 10 minutes late but got into Phoenix about when planned. House was still standing. The neighbors' cat who has adopted us was at the door within minutes of our arrival. John sent text message that night after boarding his flight for Warsaw.

Overall, this was a great trip/adventure/vacation. We took tons of pictures, some of which can be seen on here.

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