Posts Tagged With: traffic

New York: One.Step.At.A.Time.

Like all good things, the land of cheese and syrup had to come to an end. The cool weather clung to the Vermontian hills as we rolled on and the valleys of upstate New york met us with bright sunlight and warmer air. Entering New York through the rural upstate regions was like starting a book by opening up to the index.  There was no sign of the New York that is brought to mind with images of Sex and the City, the Beastie Boys, Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal loving the Mets.  The weather was changing quickly and by the afternoon we were finally starting to see signs of life, that is if you refer to technology, pollution and traffic as life, disregarding the inherent contradiction of it all. The tri-city area of Troy, Albany, and Schenectady met us with a slap in the face of a warm, humid hand and mile upon mile of traffic congested streets. There seems to be a trend in our trip of approaching metropolitan areas during the peak of rush hour, leaving us only with the bitter taste of a fossil fuel spewing haze and the increasing desire to settle in the remote hinterlands of the country.

In full disclosure, once or twice me might have hoped for a vehicle with air conditioning. But there was nothing we could do about it now except navigate the open spaces between bumpers like a rickshaw driver in the streets of Calcutta (or Kolkatta if you’re more contemporary). Eventually we found our way out of city limits and onto the cold and impersonal expanse of the interstate. We were reunited with the 18-wheel semis and wide-load house movers, the behemoth motor homes and weekend warrior boat trailers. In case our confidence had become too overinflated we were reminded of how small and powerless we were in the presence of these monsters.

The finger lakes approached and with it the town of Syracuse. Night fell.   We were tired and Eliot had had enough. The crying began.  We pulled off the highway and wound up and over the steep Syracuse streets, desperately searching for a wi-fi hotspot to locate a place to sleep.  Eventually we settled on the more primitive but much more reliable of gps devices, another human being. There was a Wal-Mart down the road a bit, and it was there we would spend the night.   It was days like this that remind us of the toll the road can take on a person.

The next morning we continued west until Seneca lake. Descending south we skirted the eastern edge and landed at the very tip at Watkins Glen State Park. Home to the beautiful narrow gorge of Watkins Glen, where layers of rock jut out from the wall and waterfalls cut staircases into the earth. We claimed a spot at the campsite up the road and came back down to the entrance to the gorge, where we would begin our hike. It was a hot day, let me start by saying that. It was hot and despite the relatively short drive already I was pretty tired. Let me also start by apologizing to my eternally gracious and patient wife for putting up with (as well as she could) my grouchy and unpleasant demeanor.  Combine my state of mind with a child learning to walk who insists on surmounting slick, sharp steps of stone, himself, and you may, indeed, have a day that turns out to be less enjoyable than you hoped.  The heat and my character flaws aside, it was truly a beautiful place. There is nothing that can diminish the wonder of nature in a soul when she’s in her full glory. The mind, the heart, the attention span folds at the presence of such beauty and hesitates in its distractions to acknowledge without contest that there, beauty be.

Watkins Glen water. Falling.

Before he got tired of being carried.

Checking out the water

Steps? Who ever minds steps?

Please just…nevermind, I’m tired. Don’t get hurt.

Sweet mama and son on a sweet old stone bridge.

Why this child makes us smile.

Taking a break

How beautiful is that?

We made it, somehow by the grace of God, to the top of the gorge, with Eliot screaming in our ears as I ran him up the last few steps to our finish line where there was a playground, a bathroom, a store and (most importantly) a shuttle stop, because there was absolutely no way I was going to repeat that hike while wrangling our son who was getting more and more tired (see:clumsy and uncoordinated) yet who continued to insist on not being carried.  Relief was only temporary, though, because, thanks to a friendly Rabbi who had just completed the same hike and was probably enjoying an enriching spiritual experience, we heard that the shuttle would not run today.  I would like to apologize to that same rabbi for my grouchy and unpleasant demeanor.

I might have had a mental break at that point. I don’t remember much after blacking out and waking up with turkey feathers in my hair, ice cream in my shoe and a face tattoo of Chinese characters the meaning of which I will never know.

With little other option we made our way back to the gorge, descending step after step, taking turns holding our son’s hands, keeping him from spilling over the low retaining wall, and alternatively taking slow deep breaths and repeating to ourselves “it will all be over soon, it will all be over soon.”

Later at camp we found a swimming pool and Jamie and Eli went for a much deserved dip while I sat down and took deep cleansing breaths. Later, after showers, while dinner heated up on Captain Kiwi’s stove Jamie hung the hammock between two trees and Eli pulled out his trucks and played in the dirt. The daylight faded into the pine needles and our little family settled down for another night beneath the stars.  Showers, food and a swing in the hammock. It’s amazing what the little things can do for one’s state of mind.


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North by Northeast

Onward from Texas, Captain Kiwi hails. After a brief detour in Austin, North calls forth with the naive hope of cooler temperatures and greener pastures.  The limits of Dallas spread out toward us like feeler vines, and as the sun set and the vines wrapped around and around us the city grew.  Before we knew it we were in the chokehold of metropolitan traffic and the heat of Texas spring. Spring, a laughable thought. There was nothing Springy about the tight grip the heat, cars, sweat and fatigue had on us as we passed through downtown.  On any other day we would be making camp, hoisting the poptop and rearranging bags below.  But the North, and the prospect of simply leaving this giant state was too much temptation. We met Jamie’s old friend, Susan, for dinner, a brief and pleasant respite from traveling. And then we drove on.

We drove on and Eliot cried. Night had already fallen. It was too much for his little body, the sitting, the heat, the monotony.  We pulled off and found an empty parking lot. What came next was the type of memory one hopes to hold tight for the future when anxiety and doubt settle in one’s heart. We poured out of the van and let the cooler air refresh us.  The open space and soft parking lot lights let us feel vulnerable and comfortable and alone. At first Jamie was just trying to make Eliot laugh, jumping up, kicking a water bottle across the asphalt, but then we were all in on it.  We were running in circles around each other, screaming at the tops of our lungs, kicking trash like soccer balls to each other. There was a shopping cart corral, empty. A little too empty. We ran to it and slid through the poles, climbed to the top and jumped off. All the while Eliot laughed until he was hoarse. He did his best to follow suit, ducking around signs and kicking his little feet.  At some point Jamie and I realized we weren’t just doing it to make him laugh anymore. It was just us, the three of us, and we were finally there, present together, alone but together and alive.  We crawled back into the car, tired but refreshed and drove on.

Oklahoma introduced itself to us with moonlit Indian casinos and billboards pleading for motorists to consider adopting a Choctaw child. We found a truckstop behind a gas station casino and pulled in at the end of a long row of diesel rigs, generators humming in the dusty lot. It had been a long day.

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