Where We Went This Year! (22,000 miles of driving!)

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Layoff Week


The birthday girl slept in while Butley and I went on a nice long walk in the morning. Good to tire him out and to give her a chance to sleep in. Angie’s parents, Tony and Marianne had flown in for the soireé, and our friend BT McNicholl had come down from New York on Sunday for brunch, as he was going to be in San Antonio on business (for five hours – what a jet-set life he leads…). Angie, Tony and I went shopping for wine in the afternoon. Why, do you ask?

Well, it seems that a great many of Philadelphia’s restaurants are BYOB. This is apparently because there are a limited number of liquor licenses in the city available. (Someone lobbied for a good deal, I imagine.) As a result, they’re extremely expensive. So many, if not most, of the restaurants in Philadelphia allow you to bring your own alcohol. (We found one restaurant where they make different margaritas and you bring your own tequila.) This is good for the consumer in a number of ways. You pay much less for your wine, AND you know that the restaurant isn’t making any money on liquor sales – it’s all about the food & service – so the restaurants had better have some damn good food & service.

Thusly loaded up with liquor, we returned to the hotel to put the white wine on ice and to shower & lay low for a bit. Tony and Marianne went out for a pre-dinner cocktail of their own, while Angie’s friend Liz Morton arrived early from New York & came to hang out at the hotel with us. Dolled up & ready to go, Angie, Liz, and I went over to the restaurant.

Pumpkin is not a big place – in fact, it only has seating for less than 30. And it’s normally closed on Mondays. But Angie had made arrangements to have them open for us and we had the place all to ourselves. She’d also been in conversation with the owner & chef (a married couple with a pit bull themselves – loved the karma) and had planned an eight-plate tasting menu.
So, we had the kind of arrangement I’ve always envied when walking down Ninth Avenue in New York & seeing a sign on a restaurant window, “Closed for private party.” We had a very rustic-chic dining room all to ourselves, with a full staff in the back. And a word about the staff – they were terrific. From the presentation & description about the foods to the juggling of 16 diners moving about the table to visit with different groups, to handling little mishaps along the way, they operated smoothly, warmly, and without conveying any sense of stress to us, providing a fun, fun night.

So – the guest list. Angie, me, Tony, Marianne, Joy Franz, Carrie Kozlowski, Adam Natale, Adam’s parents Andi and Sal, Kelly Cruz, Liz Morton, Eva Kaminsky, Henry Stram, Marty Moran, Aaron Goodwin, Birgit Huppuch. Because it was down in Philly, we knew that lots of folks who wanted to come couldn’t for one very good reason or another, and because we had to have a solid head count by a certain point, to plan how much food was going to be prepared, we had to have an RSVP deadline. But in keeping with the goal of a low-pressure, fun, easy dinner, we gratefully accepted all the comers who could make it and counted each one as a lucky opportunity to see another friend.

Now, I am not enough of a gourmand to recount the details of the food, its preparation, the farms where the radishes were grown or the butter was churned, but I do know I was impressed with the debriefing before each dish. I am also not even enough of a gourmand, frankly, to recall all the dishes we had. But in a few words, they were light, tasty, and exactly right.

As was the evening. Our thanks to all who were able to make it, especially to those who came in from out of town. Angie spent her 40th birthday exactly how she wanted – with good friends, good food, good wine, and nothing to do but enjoy all three.


Tuesday was the day to do all the things in Philadelphia that we had wanted to do but hadn’t really had time for ‘til then.

Which wasn’t all that much, as it turned out. Angie got some Rita’s Water Ice, a definite destination, if you find yourself in the City of Brotherly Love of Frozen Desserts. We went for dinner with Aaron Goodwin at El Vez, a seemingly predictable Mexican restaurant which was happily not so predictable.

That evening, we turned in early. Maybe it was the fatigue of the last week kicking in, but I was a bit under the weather than evening. And with the drive ahead, I thought it wise for me to dig in & conserve my energy. Angie, having pulled off one of the more successful birthdays I’ve ever attended and faced with the necessary preparations for her impending duties as marriage maestro for Doug & Antonio's wedding to come, gave no resistance to the idea.


Off to Boston. We stopped on the way in Bethlehem, PA for lunch with my sister and brother-in-law Marisa and John, and my nephew Julian. And I have to say, the Waldorf school that Julian’s been attending has resulted in some pretty spectacular artwork and knitting. Marisa made a great salad, complete with salmon (Is salmon, fresh vegetables & tangy dressing “ok” with me? Like you have to ask?). Butley did his parents proud as he sat calmly by the dinner table. And we got a quick tour of the house which, because of all my travels hither & yon, I’ve hardly seen since they moved in. And from the ocean mural in Julian’s room to the skylight cut into the ceiling attic to the textile shop-cum-Pilates studio to the academician’s study, John & Marisa have made their house a home.

Hizzoner and I played a little soccer as Angie & I got as caught up with John & Marisa as the remaining 45 minutes would allow, and then my inner Mussolini kicked in. The trains must run on time. And so must we.

We continued on to Boston, where we arrived at Doug’s sister and brother-in-law Amy & Doug MacDougal’s place in Westborough, MA where they kindly offered to let us stay. Butley had a great time climbing up & down the stairs of their beautiful home, going from room to room. Having only recently been re-sentenced to hotel living, after his extended stay in Des Moines, it was a fun treat to have another full-on house in which to roam around. And a cosy one at that.

Doug & Amy have the kind of house that family sit-coms are written for. Where people come & go, they pop in and are immediately invited to plop themselves down on the sofa for a little television or to stand around the kitchen island for some neighborly conversation, to join for an evening meal if one’s being cooked (or to rummage through the fridge for leftovers, if not), and to spend the night if the drive home is too long. It’s the house that has the existence of life being lived at every turn. Which, by the way, is not a euphemism – it’s very handsome. And Angie and I were the lucky first guests in the new upstairs bedroom that Doug has been working on with such expert skill that I had to ask again to have it explained to me that no, they didn’t hire someone to do the attic renovations for them but in fact he did the plastering all by himself.

That night, the rain began to fall. And the sound of the rain falling like beads on leather lulled us to sleep – a lovely soundtrack, even if it gave us all the more reason to fear for the outdoor wedding that had been planned for the next day.


Now, when people talk about lightning strikes, about the damage done to their homes & property, it’s usually not storming like the bejeezus right then and there, while you're hearing about it. Some element of imagination is required. You see the splintered trunk, the burn marks on the side of a barn, the shattered window of a car, and you think to yourself, “Yes, that must have been quite a thing to have happened.” But still, it’s hard to make it real for yourself.

But at 5 in the morning, when the lightning struck a tree a block away, my first thought was why would terrorists give a damn about setting Westborough, Massachusetts as the target for an explosive attack – because surely that is the ONLY thing that could have made such a frigging BLAST like the one that woke us up and drove an already anxious Butley, shaking and drooling, into bed and under the covers with us.

I mean, this was LOUD.

And it was at that point, in between paroxysms of canine terror, that Angie and I said to each other, as if describing the impossibility of unaided human flight, “Yeah, that wedding’s not happening outside.”

And so it looked at 10am, when the rain had slowed but was still falling pretty steadily. The backup plan was to use the library in the condominium building where Doug & Antonio live. They were planning to hold a pre-ceremonial greeting and toast there before the main event, and might use it for the ceremony as well.

It wasn’t optimal. Living in Jamaica Plain, directly adjacent to Jamaica Pond, Doug & Antonio have a special attachment to the pond where they often take walks. As dearly as I hold Inwood Hill Park, even after only having actually lived there for maybe three months, I can sympathize. But it looked like the die was cast. But they held out hope.

And by about 2pm, the rain had turned to drizzle, which was now beginning to turn to mist.

We arrived at the condo around 3, and the plan was to push on, perhaps with a few umbrellas, perhaps some delicate stepping, and to have the ceremony at a gazebo on Jamaica Pond, covered as it was, just in case. And after a warm reception where guests began arriving from points hither and yon, raising a glass of champagne and nibbling on some hors d’oeuvres, it was off to the gazebo we went, like a merry little parade.

As the MC, Angie was terrific, a hostess with the mostest. And the wedding was very moving. Doug’s mom and Antonio’s father have both passed within the last few years, and their absence was felt. Yet the good humor and general grace of all the participants, not to mention the mist and fog gently lifting over Jamaica Pond, kept everyone’s spirits lifted.

I could give you the blow by blow of the wedding. But I’m faced with the fact that, in order to do it any justice at all, I would have to write far more than I have finger strength to accomplish. And for most of our readers unfamiliar with Doug & Antonio, it would be interesting reading, no doubt, but a bit difficult to appreciate. However, as it turned out, Doug’s sister-in-law, who was to be the wedding photographer, was unable to make it at the last minute because of illness in her immediate family. And I, with my camera and relative anonymity from the large majority of guests, was easily able to hold myself at lens’ length and step in. The result, after I sorted through the photos, was a little slideshow which, I think, gives a better impression.


We rose, packed the car, and headed home.

No, let me write that again.

We rose.

Packed the car.


Yes, it’s true. Ben & Carmen, who’ve been staying at our apartment, graciously offered to find other accommodations for the July 4th weekend, and we three weary travelers go to spend THREE DELICIOUS NIGHTS IN OUR OWN APARTMENT.

God bless you, Ben & Carmen.

We ate at the Indian Road Café, a lovely breakfast, lunch, dinner, nightcap place that had only just opened weeks before we hit the road at the start of this whole tour. In fact, the July 4th weekend was its one-year anniversary. I remember how everyone was reading the updates in the windows, as they were in the planning stages, that the owners posted occasionally, how everyone was peering in the windows during the renovations from the long-derelict former deli that was there before, and how all the neighbors we knew were so quick to mention that “Indian Road Café’s finally open!” once they opened their doors. And here it was, already at their one-year mark, and they're going very strong, I’m glad to say.

We at there three times, actually. I frickin’ love that joint. Right off Inwood Hill Park, with views of the common green area and the Harlem River Spuyten Dyvil bend, where it flows into the Hudson. A great wine and beer selection. Hardwood floors, genial staff, and owners who fully appreciate their status as anchor for a neighborhood community scene, with mounted photos from Inwood Hill Park ‘back in the day’, personal attention paid to every guest, and a menu that’s already being changed, to keep the regular clientele (who, given its location in the little cul-de-sac where it sits, surely makes up a large share of its business) coming back for more.

And on July 4th, as Butley kept to the bathroom, as far from the fireworks as he could be, Angie and I went up on the roof and – along with about 20 or 30 of our neighbors and their guests – watched the horizon behind The Cloisters light up in brilliant colors in a fireworks display that we couldn’t really see but which, no more than an elevator ride away from our little piece of the great American dream, we enjoyed with fine satisfaction.

We unpacked. We rearranged. We went through mail. We watched a video. We repacked. We slept. We walked through the park. We said “See you soon,” to our home once more. And on Monday, we …

…packed up the car and headed for DC.

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