Peaks and troughs: Vacation 2006.

My summer vacation was preceded by one of the worst weeks in recent memory. It began when Paul deposited his dissertation with the graduate school and officially got his degree (confirmation of which was actually waiting for him back in Madison when we returned home — but such happy endings were not yet known). I was feeling pretty under the weather, hadn’t slept well, and, like Paul, had plenty of work to complete before taking off for the rest of the month. With the exception of a nice (if tiring) afternoon washing, waxing, and Rain-X-ing the cars (mine looked amazing) and a few moments of blissful exhaustion before the inevitable next push, the next seven days were stressful, backbreaking, and long.
First came the move to Ann Arbor. Paul and I picked up the U-Haul on Thursday, and were unexpectedly “upgraded” to a 17-foot truck by the clerk, who had either not slept in something like 48 hours or was wacked out on something. (When we dropped it off in Ann Arbor, we discovered that she had given Paul the wrong paperwork. Fortunately this did not cause a problem, one of the few things to work out in our favor.) By the time he had gotten it home and parked it in his driveway to start loading it up, Paul was thoroughly terrified by the size of the vehicle and the thought of driving it nearly 500 miles, with Chicago traffic in the middle. There was a great deal of packing and errand-running. Meals were rushed. Bike racks were purchased (another in a string of exciting and utterly frustrating events) and installed (the truly maddening bit, followed once again by enthusiasm upon REI-employee-assisted success). Box by box, Paul’s room was emptied, and, box by box, the truck was (half-) filled (17 feet is a lot of U-Haul, even when you have as many books and files as a recently-dissertated historian). In my attempts to help move one of Paul’s lateral file cabinets, I broke it almost beyond repair, and there was quite a scene, during which all the stresses and emotions of the move erupted. Things calmed, hugs were exchanged, a little fitful sleep was had.
Friday evening came quickly. We’d planned on leaving Madison that day, and had made overnight accomodations (cheapest Super-8 we could find) in western Michigan accordingly, but dinnertime rolled around, we ordered Chinese food, kept packing and cleaning. I must have walked between my house and his eight times that day. Finally, after stops at the Co-op ATM and the West Wash Mobil, we were on the road, me in the Civic and Paul in the truck. It was already dark.
We must have passed through Chicago around 11 or midnight, and, due to the horrible experience we’d had with 294 on our last trip to Ann Arbor, we made the mistake of taking the Dan Ryan — which is to say that we chose a road, which is almost always a mistake in Chicago. There was construction; there were a lot of trucks; we sat in a lot of traffic; my foot ached horribly; it took a long time to get to the other side. Eventually — somehow, miraculously — we made it to the Skyway without losing one another, and soon we were driving through the wasteland that is Gary-Hammond, a landscape which I am convinced is one of the closest earthly analogues of Hell: sulfur fumes, distant lights appearing out of the darkness, huge smokestacks and chimneys, some hundreds of feet tall and literally on fire, and not a human soul in sight.
Chicago-Gary-Hammond may be uninviting, but at least it forces you to pay attention. Once you hit 94 and are heading north again, the nothingness of industry gives way to the nothingness of the countryside, and, at one in the morning after a very long day indeed, the encompassing darkness and the nearly impercpetible curve of the road become far too lulling for you to feel safe. We bought some very bad coffee at a truck stop in Indiana and pressed on, pushing our tiny pools of headlight across the black expanse. Eventually we hit Michigan City, and then Michigan itself. We were just about reaching the point of utter exhaustion when our exit neared, we turned, parked, disembarked, checked in, brushed teeth, collapsed. It was four a.m.
Around 9 or so in the morning — in other words, still too early — I sat myself up in bed to a cup of coffee as bad as the night before’s, but one at least brought to me by a tired-yet-smiling Paul. We showered, dressed, and got on the road. We found breakfast an hour or so later, at a Perkins maybe an hour or so out of Ann Arbor. Paul called his landlord, we ate a standard-issue diner-chain breakfast (but oh! food and not-completely-horrific coffee!), and continued on to our destination. It was late morning when we arrived in front of Paul’s new home. His housemate brought us ice water with mint, NPR was on, the sun was shining, the weather was fine. We hydrated and rested a bit, and then got to work. Over the next few hours, with Tom and Ray Magliozzi in the background (thank God for them, oh yes, or I might have collapsed), we unloaded the entire truck, and deposited all of its contents (save the filing cabinets, which stayed on the back porch) into the basement, where Paul’s stuff would remain until his return.
By late afternoon, we were monstrously hungry. We pressed on until we were done unloading, and had transfered our stuff and our bikes and everything vacation-related to the car. It looked very Wisconsin. Then we called Erin Rhode, made plans to meet for dinner, dropped off the U-Haul on the south side of town, and headed in towards campus.
We met up with Erin at her house, stowed the bikes indoors for the time being, and headed to Ashley’s for burgers and beer. Erin gave me the scoop on Jenn’s wedding; Paul was content to sit and not be moving things. The food was filling and good. After eating, we walked around campus a bit, scoped out the new building (where Paul will be working), bought a couple of used books from a street vendor, and had ice cream before heading back to Erin’s to pick up the car and say our goodbyes. We’d booked a room at a hotel just off the highway we would be taking in the morning to head down toward Toledo. We went; we slept; we awoke; it was a new day.
It was, in fact, a Sunday, and at the Denny’s in Dundee, Michigan where we had breakfast — just across the highway from the Cabela’s superstore — the locals were having their family meals at tables set for six. Ours was by far the smallest vehicle in the parking lot. We got a booth in the back, near a table that was soon colonized by a group of aging but spry men, clearly brothers, and their wives. We smiled over our coffeecups. Our waitress was nice. I had found myself thanking waitresses more profusely and sincerely than ever before on this trip, a symptom, no doubt, of me nearly wanting to cry with gratitude every time someone brought me a cup of coffee that was hot and drinkable (in turn, perhaps, a symptom of severe exhaustion). Diner waitresses, of course, were particularly good at this, especially because they kept refilling it, usually with a smile. I thanked each one, every time. I became so grateful so quickly that I began to feel almost ridiculous, but I couldn’t help myself. I was beginning to think I needed a vacation.
We took our time with our meal, savoring the last of our coffee and talking about the trip ahead. Our vacation was finally within reach: we were over the hump, and all that lay between us and the house in Maine were several hundred miles of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire (but mostly Pennsylvania). Tonight we would be at Paul’s house in New York, having a drink with his brother David, getting a solid night’s sleep, or so we imagined. The following day, we would be in Maine. And, for the first time on our trip, we were in the same car, able to actually enjoy one another’s company on our journey. Things were looking up.
The drive across Ohio was an easy one, and we pushed across a fair bit of Pennsylvania before running into road construction that slowed us down a bit. We were listening to The Hobbit on CD. We stopped at a Dutch Pantry for roast beef sandwiches, mashed potatoes, and pie for dessert, and as we drove on we remembered that, no matter how prepared you think you are or how purposefully you inflate your estimations, Pennsylvania, like New York, is always much, much bigger than you think.
By the time we hit the Delaware Water Gap, it was dark, and we quickly realized that we had unwittingly timed our approach to the city with the return of everybody and their mother from Jersey/the Poconos/points west. As Paul evaded tailgaiters and huge SUVs laden with large families’ worth of bikes, we began to worry about the traffic. We tried to tune in to the radio, but the antenna in the Civic doesn’t really go up with the roof rack on, and, as with all important public announcement systems, the AM station recording sounded like it had been made by a lazy-lipped idiot using outdated equipment while underwater. We couldn’t make anything out. We were still too far away to get the FM news and traffic station out of New York, so we called up my parents and asked about the situation on the George Washington Bridge. It wasn’t good.
We were looking at anything between a half hour and an hour and a half delay, depending on the deck. The Tappan Zee looked better, but it was out of the way. We called David and asked his advice. He cast his vote in favor of the northerly route. As traffic thickened, we took his advice.
We headed up the Garden State Parkway towards 87. We caught a bit of traffic on the approach to the bridge, and it was slow going through the tolls, but eventually we were zipping along those insane Westchester parkways and nearing our destination. Dinner was waiting for us, as was a margarita. We arrived at St. Vladimir’s, drove up the hill, parked the car, unloaded our things, and collapsed around the kitchen table. David was finishing a margarita; some cold chicken and vegetables were laid out on the stove. We ate, David fixed us drinks, and we sat around commiserating. Talk turned to the strange assortment of bottles in the family liquor cabinet, and Paul fished out one he had been stunned by before, some sort of dark and foul-smelling Serbian liqueur, the bottle of which contained, in some topological impossibility or vitrine trick, an Orthodox cross made of wood. By the end of the night, David had convinced us all to take a shot, probably one of the worst ideas ever conceived and carried out, as the stuff nearly made me retch, even when chased immediately by a tall glass of water. That was it for us: Paul and I collapsed pretty much immediately thereafter. We did no sleep particularly well, an effect I blame entirely on the cross-liquor. It burns, it burns!
We slept in on Monday morning — David was at work. We ate coffee and crumpets, packed up the car, took the keys to the house in Maine, and set off on our way. We drove up the Merritt and through Hartford, with one missed turn, eventually making it up to the Pike and then 495. We hit a little afternoon traffic near Lowell, but we pressed on. We stopped at the New Hampshire State Liquor Store to pick up some wine, and were soon in Portsmouth. And then: Maine! We arrived in Portland around dinnertime, took the bikes off the car, parked the Civic in a garage, packed bags for overnight, and headed down to the waterfront.
After walking around a bit and finding all the nearby groceries shut for the night, we decided that what we wanted more than anything was to cook our own dinner for once, so instead of eating out in Portland, we hopped on the next ferry, planning to pick up provisions at the market on the island. We crossed the harbor at dusk: it was cool and damp and salty, and the lights of Portland lit our way. In less that 20 minutes we were docking at Peaks, and we went straight to the market and bought the makings for dinner and breakfast. With bags on our handlebars and packs on our backs, we biked the mile or so through the quiet, darkening streets to Florence cottage.
But the house was anything but dark. Lights were on inside, and a woman was on the screen porch, lowering the shades for the night. We nearly fell off our bikes. Here it was, nine p.m., and we were standing on the lawn of Paul’s house, bikes and groceries in hand, with what was looking to be a very bad situation indeed, so incomprehensible that Paul was sneaking around, trying to catch a glimpse of the woman to see if she was a neighbor he knew. We’d had the house reserved for the week since May. Paul’s father had talked to the realtor who rents it out for them these days, since they don’t make it up there as much as they did when the kids were young. And yet, it was increasingly looking like we were not going to have a place to sleep, much less to make dinner. It was dark, everything was closed by now, and we were feeling very much screwed.
Paul got on the phone to his parents in Arizona. I staggered around, wondering what else might possibly go wrong after such a hellish week, and how we could possibly deserve this turn of events when all we wanted was to put our stuff down and make dinner and go to sleep in what was essentially our house: the whole beautiful goal of this vacation, to which we had been looking forward for months on end, a week of relaxation and remove, an island of togetherness before our separation. We had driven a thousand miles to get here, moved boxes and furniture, crossed endless Pennsylvania, been kept going by the thought of relaxing on the famed porch of this famed little house, smelling the ocean, being alone. This was to be the reward, yet, standing there on the lawn, keys in hand, lit by a porch light we hadn’t turned on, a few scant feet from the front door, we were experiencing a greater distance than we thought imaginable, and the contrast was toppling. This time I really was about to cry, and not out of gratitude, but frustration and utter confusion. This was emphatically not how it was supposed to be.
After we had been skulking about the yard in a daze for about ten minues or so, the woman from the porch, who had been looking at us with equal confusion, came out and said hello. Paul explained the situation: his family owned the house, we were under the impression that we had reserved it for our own use for the week, we had come all the way from Wisconsin, we were very confused. “Oh my gosh!” she exclaimed, sincerely shocked and apologetic. “We just rented the place for the week a week ago.” Clearly something had gone wrong.
Over the next half hour, Paul made about two dozen phone calls, left several urgent messages with various members of the realty agency (none of whom were accessible, of course), and finally got ahold of one of the members of the Litchfield family, who own the house next door, whose barn we had opened up in order to stow our belongings and get a little light. Before then, we were beginning to think it was the barn floor for us tonight, no blankets, no rest. We had walked in to the house, which was wide open, and seen the bathing suits and towels strewn about, and decided that someone was definitely staying there, and that it might be bad form to terrify them upon their return by being asleep in one of their beds. But we were told that, yes, Heather was staying there for a few days, it was her 24th birthday, we should spend the night over there regardless, and if things didn’t work out we were welcone to stay as long as we needed. We spoke again with Susan, the woman renting our house, whose husband and kids had returned from their evening walk. They had talked things over, she said, and decided that, next morning, we needed to go down front and talk to these realtors. “This is your home,” she said. “If they can find us someplace comparable, we’re more than happy to move.” We agreed to hunt them down tomorrow, and Paul and I went next door to prepare our dinner.
In the kitchen, more than a little depressed and defeated, and very much exhausted, both mentally and physically, we embraced, pledged to make the most of things, agreed that tomorrow was a new day, and put the meat on the stove. We heard Heather and her friends return, and stepped outside to greet them. They rode up on their bikes, completely intoxicated, bearing on their handlebars a case of beer and a box of lobsters, and trailing a dog behind them.
“Paul!” Heather exclaimed. “We’ve been on a bar crawl in Portland. We’re gonna cook up some lobsters.”
“Happy birthday,” Paul replied.
Heather and her friends were incredibly happy to see us, and, after putting on a CD of big band hits that lent a slightly manic, circus-y feel to the whole bizarre scene, they set up their celebrations in the backyard around the lobster pot. We smiled and continued our dinner preparations in the surreal kitchen. We poured some wine, had some cheese, and eventually ate our spaghetti and meat sauce out back with the celebrants, happy to be dining among friends, if not in our house, at least a few yards away. In this group of organic gardners, the conversation turned to food, and we sampled ripe peaches from the tree in the backyard for dessert. I swear to you, these were the best peaches I have ever had in all my life. Paul and I retired early to one of the beds upstairs, and fell very much asleep.
In the morning, we arose pretty early, dressed without showering, and rode down front to pick up coffee and pastries and seek out our realtor. The office was closed, so Paul called a few more times (to no avail), and we locked up our bikes and Paul gave me a tour of the neighborhood. We walked over to the Fifth Maine, then back down front, where the agency was still shut tight. We ran into Susan, who had come down to see about things as well. The three of us decided to go next door to the other realty agency and see if they knew where we might locate their competitors. The woman there made a phone call for us, and we went our separate ways. Paul and I headed back to Litchfields’ to shower and dress. Eventually we got word that the agency was open, so we hopped on our bikes again and rode down front, only to find the office shut. By this point, we were beginning to feel like we — and our situation — were being purposefully avoided. We went back home. I finally got to shower, and I put on a sundress and started reading Ada, or Ardor on the Litchfields’ porch. I don’t remember exacntly how it happened, but some phone calls were made and received, realtors were finally spoken to, and by midday Susan came by to let us know that they’d found another place for them and that they’d be moving later that afternoon. We were elated, and grateful. Paul gave them his parents’ information, and told them that if they ever wanted to rent the place in the future that they should call them directly. “I don’t think we’ll be using these realtors anymore,” he confided.
Paul and I hung around the Litchfields’, gathered up our things, washed our dishes, helped Heather and her friends clean up the house for their departure that afternoon, and, by 4 p.m. or so, we were finally installed in the house of Paul’s childhood. It was perfect: spare in all the right ways, a few rooms down, two bedrooms up, and the best screened porch known to man. The house is cooled by steady ocean breezes all day, and stocked with all manner of interesting books. It has a big clawfoot tub, perfect for lounging and reading in the late morning. It has an old FM receiver, a piano, and just the sort of old-but-eminently-servicable appliances these sorts of houses always have. There is a clothesline in back. There is a crawlspace underneath. In one of the bedrooms upstairs is Paul and David’s old hideout, and David’s Shrine to Baseball. It is quiet and cool and small and comfortable. Once we were there, our vacation truly began. After a hellish week and an unexpected ordeal — softened by various personal generosities which will not be forgotten — we felt uncommonly relieved and grateful.
We cooked dinner that night, and ate on the porch, a small triumph that solidified our victory. We slept like babies in the cool salt air, and awoke to foghorns harmonizing from the surrounding shores. We were in Maine.
* * *
The next few days were spent reading, relaxing, riding bikes, going for walks around the island, enjoying coffee on the porch, cooking for ourselves, drinking Geary’s, and being happier than we’d been in a long time. We listened to baseball on the radio. We dried our laundry in the sun. We went to a Portland Sea Dogs game, where Paul nearly won a hundred dollars. We read some more. Laura and Kevin, in Maine on their own vacation, come and stayed with us for a night. We gazed at the stars. We stayed an extra night and had a very Maine dinner of lobsters, steamers, and some incredible North Atlantic swordfish with the Litchfields, who arrived on Friday night. We departed Sunday morning, in a steady mist, bought Paul some new running shoes in Freeport, and headed back down the coast toward Boston.
Of course, we’d made the mistake once again of appreaching a major metropolitan area from its vacation hinterland on a Sunday afternoon, which meant we hit some serious traffic on 95. We stopped at a rest area for some Cinnabon, and then at the New Hampshire State Liquor Store once again, this time at the behest of David, who had requested a bottle of the Patron Reposado, much to Paul’s brotherly chagrin. After having spent about $90 to park the car in Portland for a week, we were very much concerned about where we would put the car (and the bikes) while in Boston. Parking in the North End, where we would be staying with Mike, was out of the question. I made a few phone calls. Cruftlabs was a possibility, but with the Sox home stand (another awful story), it was spotty at best. Information on T lots was hard to find, and the MBTA was impossible to call without being put on hold. On a long shot, I called Mariano to see if he was still renting out his extra parking space in Brookline.
“You’re in luck,” he told me. “The guy just moved out on the eighth, and I haven’t re-rented it. You’re welcome to park there.”
Thrilled, we headed for Brookline, parked the car, hung out with Mar, stowed the bikes in his basement, packed our bags, and set out on the T before dusk. We met up with Mike, Scott, and LB at the Fisherman’s Festival near his apartment, dropped off our stuff, freshened up, had a bit of wine, and headed out to Il Villaggio for dinner. We were beat, but the food was delicious, the company great as always, and the restaurant — well, it continues to be one of my absolute favorites. On this night, with everyone and his mother at the Festival, the dining room was practically empty, so we had the place to ourselves. It was a very pleasant and intimate meal. Afterwards, we headed home, hung out for a little while, and then collapsed on MRhé’s capacious couches.
The next day, Paul and I made plans to have breakfast with the infamous Neil out at Zaftig’s in Coolidge Corner. We arose by eight, showered, dressed, and headed out. On our way to the T, we stopped at Modern Pastry to grab some coffee. Paul ordered up a couple of lattes, and the woman took a box into the back, presumably to complete the order of the older man who was sitting at one of the cafe tables to the side. We were incredibly confused when she returned with the box, now containing two enormous pastries resembling overgrown cream horns.
“Powdered sugar?” she asked us.
We sort of stared for a moment, during which she began to look concerned.
“Lattes?” Paul said, when he was able to speak. “Coffee?”
There was another pause.
“Oh!” the woman exclaimed. “I thought you said lobster tails.”
We looked at each other again, uncertain about what to do.
“Maybe we can bring them to Neil? Or Mar?” I suggested.
“We’ll take these,” Paul said, “but can you make us a couple of lattes?”
The woman apologized profusely, Paul demurred, and we walked away with two (admittedly delicious) lattes and two (enormous) lobster tails (which, if you say it quickly enough in the right kind of Boston accent sound a bit like “latte”).
At Coolidge Corner, we met up with Neil, and enjoyed a delicious brunch at Zaftig’s, after which we hung out at his apartment and caught the part of the last Sox-Yanks game that wasn’t yet completely ugly. As the afternoon crept on, curiosity overcame us, and we decided to sample one of the lobster tails, which turned out to be enough pastry and cream filling to kill a horse. We brought the remaining confection to Mar, whom we met up with around 4 for drinks at the Fireplace. Paul and I then headed back downtown, met MRhé at his place of employ, and walked back to the house with him. We made plans to meet up with Gregg, our advisor (in town doing archival research), for dinner in Cambridge, and, after freshening up, we headed out to Kendall, where he was staying in the old firehouse hotel. I suggested the East Coast Grill, and we walked up to Inman Square as the sun began to set.
We had a delicious meal, accompanied by delicious drinks, and fabulous conversation. After dinner, we walked through Central and up to Harvard, where we hit the bookstore, and then had some ice cream at Toscanini’s. Gregg went back to his hotel, and we caught up with Mike at Fire and Ice, before heading over to Cruftlabs for the obligatory tour.
We spent about an hour or so there, and Scott explained all the wonders of the space. Paul marveled at the plumbing and electrical work even more than some of the wackier projects, and for the rest of the trip he was talking about learning more electrical and plumbing code stuff. The three of us took the T back to the North End, and Paul and I collapsed once again on the couches.
The next morning, we got coffee at Modern again (this time without incident, and supplemented by croissants), and headed out to Brookline to retrieve the car. We swung by Mar’s, got the bikes, packed up, and were on our way in pretty short order.
We were headed to Hulett’s landing on Lake George in the Adirondacks to meet up with my parents and my uncle’s family, visiting from California. They were staying at a friend’s cabin for the week, and we would be joining them for a few days before heading down to see Paul’s folks back in Westchester. There being no real direct (meaning hypotenuse, not legs) interstate route from Boston to Hulett’s, we had decided to take the scenic route: 2 across Mass to North Adams and Williamstown, up 7 through Bennington to Rutland, and then 4 across to Whitehall, followed by 22 and some back roads over the mountain and down to the lake. It was a beautiful drive, and a wonderful day of driving. We had an unexpectedly lovely lunch in Leominster, Italian subs made by the proprietor, who grows his own vegetables and sells them in the shop as well, and eaten on the curb around the corner, in the company of a neighborhood cat. The Berkshires, Greens, and Adirondacks were heavenly, if difficult for our laden car. We caught a storm as we passed through Whitehall, one that shocked us with its suddenness and strength, as well as the speed with which it blew over. It made for a breathtaking descent towards the lake, all clouds and angled sunlight, and we arrived at the cabin before dusk had begun to set in. We unloaded the car, parked it up at the road, and readily accepted the margaritas Jeff brought us. Introductions were made, hugs were exchanged, cheese and crackers were consumed, and dinner was on the grill. We went for a swim, dried off, and sat down to a delicious meal, supplemented by delicious wine. Paul and I laid out or sleeping backs on the futon in the living room, and slept more soundly than we had in days.
* * *
The next day, we arose to coffee and eggs, and lounged about reading for most of the morning. Before lunch, we set out on a bike ride around the area, heading up the shore to the north about as far as thr road would take us, and then looping back around toward Hulett’s. I realized how much I have to learn about taking hills on a bike. We ate when we returned, and in the afternoon my mom, Jeff, Jessie, Paul, and I went for a swim out to the island and back. We explored a bit, Jake caught about a million fish off the dock, and we read in the sunlight. Before dinner, Paul and I took the canoe out and crossed the lake, hugged the opposite shore for a while, then explored an island back on our side of the lake, which turned out to be three small islands with a swimming hole in their midst. We found our dock, and headed up for dinner.
That night, Paul, Jessie, and I laid out on the dock and looked at the stars. She started asking us questions about shooting stars, the cosmos, and weather phenomena. We had just explained the provenance of thunderstorms when the next question came.
“Why do wars happen?”
Paul negotiated this one carefully but informatively, and brought us around to a discussion of history. Jessie was asking very good questions at this point, about the Revolution and territory, and as floored as we were, we were having a great time. Then the other big one came.
“So why are we fighting in Iraq?”
We sort of half-answered this one, but at this point Paul decided it was probably best to defer to the parents, so we told her that she should probably ask her mom and dad about this one. It was getting cold at this point, so the three of us decided to head back up to the house and get to bed.
“Keep asking questions,” I told her.
As we were snuggling into bed downstairs, Paul turned to me and whispered.
“Listen,” he said, indicating with his head the upstairs, where a light was still on, and Jessie was climbing into bed with her parents. We could hear snatches of conversation, about war and immigration and current events, and Jessie asking questions, and Jeff, sounding very tired and a bit exasperated at his daughter’s timing, doing his best to reply.
“I think she took us up on our suggestion,” Paul told me. We chuckled and went to sleep.
In the morning, it was raining. We had coffee and eggs and began to pack up our things. Paul and I were headed downstate that afternoon, and my family was going back to Slingerlands. We left by late morning, and drove back roads through to Fort Edward, where we stopped for coffee at the Stewart’s and checked out Rogers Island, where Paul did an archaeology dig once upon a time. After stretching our legs a bit, we drove down to Saratoga, where we sought out my cousin’s new pottery shop on Beekman. She was out, so we had lunch at a nearby pub and found her when we got back. She gave us a little tour of the shop and studio, and we got on our way.
We reached Albany by early afternoon, and hopped on the Taconic to head down to Westchester. We stopped by David’s work in Peekskill to get a key to the house, and then headed down to St. Vladimir’s. We unpacked the car and were about to head to Pathmark for some dinner food, when we realized that we had locked ourselves out of the house. This was bad: we had to pick Paul’s parents up from the airport in a few hours, and we needed to eat and clean up before then. Paul went down to the seminary in search of a key, and eventually found one. He sped off to Pathmark; I bathed and showered and cleaned up the kitchen; Paul brought back a frozen pizza and some beer, and I put it in to cook while he showered. Fortunately, due to the rainy weather, the flight was delayed, which bought us a bit more time. Paul was even able to eat a couple of slices of pizza before he had to head out to LaGuardia. I played some piano, read my book, and waited for the Ericksons’ return.
David got home about ten minutes before Paul and his parents did, enough time to open a beer and sit down in the living room with me. We helped unload the car, and I opened beers for the remaining Ericksons. John and Helen told us about their trip, and Paul brought out the Patron. I was nearing a point of insurmountable exhaustion, so I packed off to bed in pretty short order. I believe the rest of the house followed suit.
The next day, it continued to rain, and Helen’s plans to go to the botanical garden had to be shelved. John and David were both at work, so after breakfast the three of us ran some errands. We took the Civic in for an oil change, then headed to the optometrist to get Paul’s eyes checked. It continued to pour. We went back home, had some soup and corn muffins, and then Paul and I went to Tuckahoe to get his hair cut at an Italian barber’s. When we got back home, his mom was out, and we realized we had no key, so we walked down to his dad’s office and borrowed his. Helen soon returned, and we made tea and looked at photo album’s from the kids’ childhood. John came home, and Helen started dinner, and Paul and I went for a quick jaunt to Barnes and Noble before the meal. We had some wine, chatted, and sat down to a delicious feast. David came home when we were just about finished, didn’t touch his food, and started a conversation about the most depressing songs ever written. We listened to some Johnny Cash. Paul made espresso drinks and we packed up the car. We started for Albany after 10 pm, much to my surprise (I had thought it was about 8), and tried to make as good time as we could, since my extended family was leaving in the morning. We got to my house by around 1, laid our sleeping bags out on the Therm-a-rests Dad had set up for us on the living room floor, and slept.
The family left around 5 a.m., so we got up and said our goodbyes. We had a copy of one of the children’s books Paul wrote, which we wanted to give to the kids. When they had left for the airport, we went upstairs to my room and collapsed again. We awoke in the late morning, had eggs and coffee and chatted with Rodin, who was already there for the weekend (as of the previous evening). Josh’s car would be arriving around noon, as would Teresa. Rodin and I went out to the barn to take some pictures; we all showered and got ready for the day. People started arriving in the late morning: TFazio and Buster; Josh, Mike, and Hippo; we sat on the patio, had some Yuengling, and cooked up some burgers. Mom made an amazing potato salad. Then the fateful question was posed.
In the kitchen, on a side table, sat a box containing cards and a bell. “What’s Pit?” someone asked. My mom and I could not believe they had never heard of the game. “Oh, we’ll play,” I said. The group was dubious. How could a game with some cards and a bell be “frenzied” or exciting? But we cleared off the kitchen table, explained the rules, and the rest is history. Pit was played almost nonstop for the rest of the weekend by at least part of the group. They didn’t stop when my aunt, grandmother, and cousin came to call, and when Steph, Jess, and Audrey showed up for dinner, they were drawn in as well. Even after my parents, Paul, Rodin, and I had headed to bed, the rest of the crew sat around the kitchen table, shouting “one! two!” and ringing the bell late into the night. It was amazing. We woke up to find a legal pad covered in scores numbering in the 400s, and a newly invented Pit lexicon, including such phrases as “slipping [someone] the Bear” and “getting flaxed”. Incredible.
In the morning, Paul and I made a scrambler, and people sat around and read and talked. Dad held court with Josh and Mike in the kitchen, while Paul, Hippo, Mom, and I read and chatted in the living room. Teresa had left the night before, and Rodin had departed earlier in the morning. After lunch, Josh’s car left, and Paul and I decided to stay one more night before heading west again. It continued to be rainy and grey. We went for a drive in the afternoon, heading out to Indian Ladder for cider donuts and apples, then drove around below the escarpment and up to Vali’s grave, where we walked around a bit looking at old headstones. We then drove out Clipp Road, past the stone house and back into Delmar and home. We had a lovely dinner with my parents, and enjoyed beries and cream for dessert, with coffee. We sat around the fire in the living room and talked late into the night. We packed off to bed, anticipating a morning departure.
It was still rainy and grey when we packed up the car in the morning. We breakfasted on eggs and venison sausage, and were out the door by 8 or 9. We took the Thruway across the state, munching on sandwiches and veggies and the brownies I’d made the night before. We entered Ohio in the rain. We hit traffic north of Toledo, but were in Ann Arbor before dark. We dropped off some things at Paul’s house, and headed back into town for dinner. It was still cold and rainy. We picked Madras Masala, both for its delicious hot food and its proximity to the parking ramp. We were exhausted, but the meal was delicious, and totally hit the spot.
When we returned to the house, we extracted Paul’s mattress and box spring from behind the couch, set up the frame, and brought the bed up to his new room. We found sheets and bedding, brushed our teeth, and feel promptly asleep. In the morning, we went into town, where we breakfasted at Bruegger’s and the ERC, and I did some work at the coffeeshop while Paul went to take care of paperwork on campus. Around lunchtime, he called me.
“You have to come see my office,” he said. He came back to the ERC and picked me up, and we walked down State Street to the new building. We went up to the fourth floor, and, sure enough, it was a nice office indeed. He took care of some more paperwork, I read on the steps of Angell Hall (which looks amazlingly like a big version of Walker), and then we headed to Cosi for lunch and home to head out.
We drove to Madison. By some miracle, it was an incredibly pleasant drive. We hit pretty much nothing in the way of traffic in Chicago, thanks to a quick call to David, and the only slowdown we ran into was on the other side of Rockford. We ate the rest of the snacks, and arrived in Madison by 10 pm. We unloaded most of the stuff in the car, and I was thrilled to remember that I had actually cleaned my room before leaving town, so we could basically just fall right into bed, which is exactly what we did. We took our time in the morning, had a late breakfast at Cleveland’s, and went to campus to do work. We spent most of the day running errands and catching up, and returned home in the evening to make ourselves a nice dinner, which we ate on the porch. We then met some friends at Café Montmartre, before heading back home to bed.
Thursday was Paul’s last day in town. We had breakfast with Miller, saw his new place on the south side, and ran a few more errands downtown. I went home, and Paul met up with a friend for a light lunch. Then he returned home, packed up his things, and we said our goodbyes. The vacation had officially ended.
Fortunately, while I washed out the morning’s twin coffeecups, Martha came downstairs.
“Did P.E. leave?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said. A pause.
“Wanna hang out?”
* * *
Though Paul’s departure has been hard, I have had a lovely weekend back in Madison. Classes start tomorrow; Abby returns tonight. I have caught up with friends, seen Rhode on her way through town, finished my novel from vacation, and begun reading for school again. It has been a very good summer, full of very good friends and very good times. You can see the whole vacation album here. There may be more photos from Paul’s camera up soon as well. Until then, this is me, hopefully making up for a month without blogging, and returning to something of a normal life. I’m excited for another year.

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7 thoughts on “Peaks and troughs: Vacation 2006.

  1. Brava, Am! It was soooo good to see you, the ‘rents, and the rest of the gang this summer. As for grad school… I now feel your pain. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the update, Amrys. I’ve missed your writing — outside of our correspondence, that is — and you, too, of course.
    Good luck this term. I’m thinking of you.

  3. I guess you’re trying to make up for your lack of recent posts with sheer volume! Great story, though. You should submit short stories to some indy literary journal or something. Also, do you realise that you are totally obsessed with food? You must’ve recounted every single meal for an entire month! I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast.

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