Saturday, August 31, 2013

Road Trip!

Sometimes you just need to get out of Dodge.

I’m currently in this stint at work where everyone is out of the office and we are operating on a true skeleton staff.  My entire cube area is empty, the offices are empty, the technology group was recently moved to Jersey City (seems all roads lead technology to Jersey City these days).  The Grumpy Cat even took off a few days to bring his youngest to college for the first time.  We have the bare minimum of warm bodies present to process a (legal) cash transfer.  This would be the ideal time to clean my desk and get rid of some of the 1500+ emails in my inbox, but all I want to do is run out of the building and go to the beach.  I know there is a vacant chair at a swim-up bar somewhere with my name on it.  I have full confidence there is a deck chair out there, next to a chilled bottle of Pinot, waiting for me to come find it, and take in a new landscape.  I believe I am in full need of an escapism journey to an off-the-beaten-track town with a quaint hotel, and it would be great if that hotel had a (clean) Jacuzzi.    

Something about late summer just makes you want to check out and take a break.  But if I look at my 8 years of attendance and vacation schedules here at work, only once did I take off during the summer.  One week – July 2007, and I think I had a stomach virus for half of that week. 

So now that I’ve complained and day dreamed for two paragraphs, I can assure you that the Summer of 2013 has not all been wasted on silly things like going to work.  While my swim-up bar and hot tub may still elude me, we’ve had a few adventures of our own – the kind you can do in one day and not have to jam a baby stroller through a metal detector.  Yes, our two-mini road trips involved no metal detectors, pat-downs or security breaches whatsoever. 

Road Trip I: Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives

In July, for a bit, days were getting into the 95+ temps and bringing summer activities back indoors to make good use of this wonderful invention we have called Air Conditioning.  We had a couple of things we wanted to do and somehow, it just fit to do them all in one day: an errand in Connecticut, a Children’s Museum (indoors!) in Norwalk, dinner at Rob’s new love - Buffalo Wild Wings (insert eye roll here), and our recent find in the Overlook Dive-In Movie Theater, in Poughkeepsie, NY.  I Google-mapped everything, and plotted out our course.

We got the day started out east on 95 into Norwalk, home to a very interactive, hands-on children’s museum.  I found it on line because they were 1. Air Conditioned and 2. Advertising their dinosaur exhibit, and Nick loves dinos right now, I’m not really sure why, but he also loves trains, and balls (playing catch).  I guess it’s what little boys do.  The museum had a giant water-works exhibit and it was filled with plastic balls that you could float around in the water works.  The kid was in seventh heaven.  The Dino exhibit wasn’t that exciting for him, because it took a-dig-for-bones archaeological approach and all Nick wants to do is run around saying “Roar, Dino, Roar”, while stomping his feet.  They also had a dance room with a projector shooting different images onto the floor and the kids could jump on them.  Nick’s quite the dancer, and he’s not bad at jumping either.  A bunch of other tactile-ly things and a quick stop a the gift shop to buy, what else, Dinos (one’s a real ominous looking T Rex – sometimes when we’re home and it’s dark and the T Rex is on the floor, limbs upward, I think to myself, oh Lord, one of the cats died, but no, it’s the dino), and we rolled out, dinos and all.

While a very worn-out Dino-lovin’ 18 month-old snoozed in the back seat, Rob and I drove the 75 miles north-west towards Poughkeepsie, via route 7 to Danbury.  The drive from Norwalk to Danbury on a windy, two-lane route was nice and peaceful.  We passed small towns with tree nurseries, fresh fruit/veggie stands, little antique/old stuff shops and the occasional chrome-plated diner.  It was a little slice of Americana.  It was a hot day, but it was a nice day. 

We got off route 7 and onto I-84 toward Fishkill and then north to Wappingers Falls.  Wappingers Falls has a big shopping area with several chain stores and car dealerships.  By itself, it was nothing remarkable, aside from the fact it was our pre-movie pit-stop at Buffalo Wild Wings.  While I took in the small-town quaintness and lack of aggressive drivers along Route 7, Rob spent that drive strategizing his approach to selecting buffalo wing flavors.  I was able to pick one flavor of wings and I went for something dangerously spicy and tongue-numbing.  He picked the other three flavors and then had to diligently study the beer menu.  Wings and beer, I guess it’s what big boys do.   

Buffalo Wild Wings has no less than 20 flat-screen TVs airing no less than 17 simultaneous sporting events (I think the Yankee game got three TVs worth of coverage, well I think they were playing Boston), no less than 50 types of alcohol, and no less than 25 flavors of wings.  There was so much sensory-overload, it was hard to notice your own child taking a nosedive out of his chair, French fries and dinos spilling about, and no less than 3 waitresses and 2 bystanders coming to your aide.  I was furious at this daddy-distraction of a restaurant, but I could get no articulate words out of my mouth, lips fully asphyxiated by hot sauce.

We got out of that hot wing mess and changed Nick into his pajamas, and headed further north to the drive in theater in Poughkeepsie.  We found this drive-in last summer when needing a night out at the movies, but with baby in tow, it was worth the sixty mile each-way-drive to get to see a new flick and let the kid sleep in the back seat.  Gas is cheaper than a sitter?  Yes, unless the sitter service is called Free Babysitting by Grandma.

Overlook Drive-In is like the ultimate throwback movie theater.  It’s a big open field with a ginormous movie screen and a crummy old cinder-block garage-like structure that houses the (not so nice) restrooms and the concession stand.  The popcorn is good, but I think the oils they use are as old as the garage-building itself.  Last time we came the popcorn gave us some digestion challenges, and that on top of wild wings is a recipe for disaster.    

I digress.  We pulled into a spot according to the pre-established hierarchy of vehicular size and let Nick run around for a bit.  Behind the movie screen, it’s heavily wooded, and even though we’ve never seen a horror film at Overlook, I have no doubt that a machete-wielding, mask-wearing, chain-saw-brandishing, nut job will emerge from the woods and kill us all.  Lots of families were there and many were tailgating.  Some brought their dogs.  I was keen that the dogs would clearly alert us when the serial killer steps out of the woods so we all may have a chance to escape.  Growing up in the urban Second Borough makes one constantly suspicious of dense clusters of trees and such. 

The Drive-in also offers you something movies hardly ever do anymore, and that’s a double feature.  We saw a movie I call “Slugs”, which is a movie about racing snails officially titled “Turbo”, and finally, I got to see “The Heat”, with Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock.   It was a great movie and it made me laugh out loud, while the big boy and the little boy snoozed in the car.  As drive-ins need the dark of night to light up the screen, the movies here don’t start until about 9 pm, so after a double feature, it’s after midnight and we still have 60 miles on the Taconic back to the Seventh Borough and an ax-murderer to dodge, so car doors locked, we were on our way home.        


Road Trip II: Locavore Holiday

One day Rob and I received a wonderful gift, the gift of babysitting (this gift actually costs money, but Nick already knew the babysitter, so the element of stranger-danger was off the table).

We were so elated we didn’t know what to do with our free day, and the weather forecast was not looking so good, but I decided we would still manage to make an adventure out of it.  The adventure had three rules: 1. We will go out to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  2. None of our eateries could be places we have been to before, either separately or together.  3. To re-enforce rule #2, we could not go to Buffalo Wild Wings.

So the day before our day of 'adventure' I did some web research and no less then 60 minutes of Google Mapping Westchester County and I came up with our Locavore day out. 

Nick got dropped off and we headed towards the Sound for breakfast at Stanz in Larchmont.  Walking into Stanz, we ordered breakfast off the large chalkboards behind the counter, and then headed into the 'diningroom' area, made up of large, farmhouse-style tables and a help-yourself coffee bar.  You know I helped myself to the coffee, and Rob and I sat down at a smaller table, surrounded by 'regulars' reading the papers and meeting up for what looked like a post-lululemon workout group.  I had a potato-egg-goat cheese-and-onion scramble, with toasted French bread and a small fruit cup.  Rob had pancakes and bacon with a side order of fruit cup which was more like a fruit bowl.  The fruit was fresh, the food was good.  Stanz was very 'Jean-Jaquesesqe' for those of you familiar with its Pleasantville cousin (thought unrelated).  I'd like to have sat there on a drizzly morning and keep refilling my coffee and reading my WSJ, but we had an agenda, so it was time to go.  Stanz in Larchmont, two thumbs up. 

We rolled out to I 95 to attend to an errand relating to the aforementioned hole in my kitchen, and spent mid-morning doing that.  For lunch, our stop was at Red Hat in Irvington, a Hudson River town named after Washington Irving and his Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame.  Sleepy Hollow gets no recognition by the MTA and Metro North, but Irvington has its own commuter rail station, and Red Hat is situated on that small tract of land between the Hudson River and the Hudson River line, just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge.  We made no reservations for any of our eating spots on this July Friday, because it was a weekday and we thought we were 'beating the weekend rush' or whatever that meant.  After negotiating a parking spot, we realized Red Hat was quite the place for lunch as well as dinner and we'd be waiting for table for a long time.  In that small tract of land between the Hudson River and the Hudson River Line, were a small cluster of ~100-year old factory/warehouses that had (somewhat) recently been renovated into sites for small business, retail and Red Hat had capitalized on this architecture and river view, and we waited over an hour for an outside river-facing table for lunch.  In the meantime, we sat at the bar and had a round, while people-watching at the bar luncheon crowd, who seemed to be business lunch regulars and giving the evil eye to those patrons at tables whom we decided were done eating and needed to get up, vacate their table, and move us up on the wait list. 

We were finally seated at one of their river-view tables, outside the old brick building, under a black and white ticking-stripe awning, and even though I had already looked at the menu online, I needed to give it another go round just in case.  I got the Moules et Frites, Rob had a burger.  The  scenery and ambiance were worth the wait, though next time, and I'm sure with their roof-top cocktail service, there will be a next-time (though it will have to coincide with babysitting), I will be more strategic in my timing to Irvington (aka make a reservation).  I asked Rob how his burger was, and he said it was "French".  I asked him what that meant, or does being at a bistro just trump everything with tasting "French".  His interpretation of tasting "French" meant being under cooked.  As we're both fans of meat being VERY well done, anything less than burnt meant being cooked "French".  Anyway I really enjoyed my Moules, something I had only grown a taste for in London, when my housemates and I would frequent a Belgian beer place, big on Moules, though even bigger on beer.  My Red Hat Moules were fantastic.  We had dessert - Rob had a Key Lime pie slice, which seemed to vindicate his "French" burger, and I had a ginormous Profiteroll, sliced in half with a scoop of fresh vanilla ice cream in the middle, and a boat of melted chocolate on the side.  Dessert and a clearing, sunny sky over the river Hudson was full compensation for a long wait for a table and a "French" burger.

Stuffed to the gills, we had one more errand to make in the sixth borough and dinner at Truck in Bedford.  Heading north on I 684, we were hitting our third point in the triangle of our adventure/locavore holiday.  Larchmont, Irvington and Bedford also makes for an east-west-north triangle per Google Maps as well.  Where Larchmont seemed normally suburban, Irvington was, at some point, an old river town, whose Main Street absorbed the deep slope to the river (de)incline indicative of many Hudson towns, but Bedford, just a few miles north of the Seventh Borough, encompassed riding rings, small-tract farmland and unpaved roads.  As we headed off I 684 and onto local roads, it became apparent that there was a local parade closing down the main road in Bedford and we'd have to circumvent.  Guided by local police, we drove over gavel roads, past farms and into the very small main town of Bedford.  On Route 22, aka Post Road, aka White Plains Road, was a small house with a small parking lot that was Truck, so aptly named for its home address, the Truck website will tell you that Route 22 was that main food delivery route from Canada down to the Bronx, and Truck's founder, a US Southwest ex-Patriot, named the restaurant such after the food delivery trucks on old route 22.  Despite it's stark name and quaint placement, Truck serves food with a  Southwest flavor and its recommendation on favored the seasonal margaritas.  So we ordered some.

Again, trying to keep with the spirit of adventure and not with the spirit of reservations made well in advance, we were seated at a small table near the doors to the kitchen, and I sat in full view of the commercial-grade dish washing machine, bringing back memories of working in the kitchen at college.  I would have gladly run a few racks through the dishwasher at Truck if they'd comp some of my seasonal watermelon margaritas, which I would have sat there and drank all night if I wasn't the driver home.  Despite our crummy seating, we kicked off with a good rapport with our waiter, who was just as much of a fan of fish tacos as I was.  Three different types of fish tacos with rice and beans was a special and I ordered it right up.  Rob had a chicken quesadilla, and I had a Bluefish, Lox and grouper taco, after some fresh chips and very fresh salsa were delivered to our table.  I covered all my food with the 'secret hot sauce' and it was nothing less than magical.  Until I got to the lox taco.  I just couldn't eat lox in a taco, it looked horrible, and I couldn't bring myself to do it.  So with no request for a substitution, our waiter comped my  lox taco and brought me a shrimp taco.  Still filled on Red Hat profiteroles, I didn't need another taco, but the gesture was well received.  And I ate it.  Our waiter and I had a thorough discussion about fish tacos, and I think the last time I had real good fish tacos was in Santa Barbara, California, four years ago.  The key to good fish tacos is you need that south west flair AND you need to be near the ocean to get fresh fish.  California gets it.  Truck delivered as well. 

Though the town of Bedford left me with a feeling that I didn't earn enough money to even drive though it, I had had three good, local Westchester meals, and was fully satisfied with my 'adventure' for the day.  In the spirit of Truck's route 22, we followed that same road, through Armonk, White Plains, and finally into the Seventh Borough, picked up Nick from babysitting, and headed home.


Pre-Roadtrip: Before the Learner’s Permit, or The Early Years of Liz, the Mapaholic

In a past life, I may have been an explorer.  Well, probably not.  I’m not that adventurous.  I’m pretty risk-averse.  But I’m surely a map-aholic.  I once confided in a friend that if Google Maps existed when I was a child, I’d surely be a recluse, studying maps all over the world, Streets, Traffic, World view, etc.  I’d have never left my bedroom and yet have a photographic memory of all things map-able.  I’d be the cartographer hanging out with the explorers.  The technician hanging out with the adventure-seekers.  I’d be the dork supplying detailed information to support the popular guys (oh, wait, that’s my job now!)

Fortunately, Google Maps did not exist when I was young.  So many maps at the touch of a finger, it would have been addictive.  Instead, I spent my childhood walking, riding my bike or roller-skating around my very-easy-to-follow-numerical-grid-of-a-neighborhood.  We had a car when I was very young, and then again when I was 12, but for a good chunk of my childhood, we didn’t go very far unless you could get there on public transit or car service/cab.  My early-life map obsession was fed by the Public Library system, which provided free bus maps, free subway maps and these gigantic mega-ton books called Atlases.  Perhaps kids today will learn of the Public Library system as the pre-Google way to find anything about everything.  Because, you know, it’s totally the same.  I’d take the free maps off the racks every time I went, trace my fingers around the bus routes, through all the neighborhoods young girls should never find themselves in after dark (ironically all those neighborhoods are now cool, pricier, and infested with Hipsters), and check off places I’d been: this park, that park, this museum, that pool, this beach, that stadium.  So many places out there for me to find, map my way to it, and tick it off the list.  I’d see the world one city block at a time.

Fortunately, Google Maps did not exist when I was young, and this is also assuming I’d have a computer in my bedroom which had internet access.  That’s a tall order, given my mom’s issues with technology (even right now) and when our family did get its first computer, it lived on the dining room table, next to two type writers.  You see, we didn’t eat at the dining room table, that was like the ‘office’, or a rather large display table for typewriters and even an adding machine here or there.  We ate at the kitchen table, because the kitchen and the dining/office/area were actually nowhere near each other.  (Note: I’d like to tell you I grew up in a pre-war building, but our building was actually completed in 1943, right in the midst of World War II, so maybe all the clever architects were out helping Uncle Sam and our building got the interns for the drafting stage.)  So when my family did get its first computer, which was really only used for playing hangman and writing essays for high school, it lived on the dining table, which was actually situated in an alcove of our living room, down a long hallway from the kitchen, amongst the other typewriters, and yes, we had typewriterS, plural, and if you are reading this and don’t know what a typewriter is, you can Google it.

Road Trip III: Greatest Hits of all-time Road Trippin’

Select Highlights of Adventures in Driving:

Fortunately, Google Maps did not exist when I was young, but they have become widely used well after I got my driver’s license.  My husband will verify, I’m not a big GPS fan, most of the time, in fact I often know more than the GPS does (according to me), and my husband often takes the side of the GPS, because technology is always more reliable than your wife (according to him).  I am able to be more knowledgeable than a GPS (or as my tech-challenged mom calls it, a GP – she won’t give it the respect of all three letters, nor should she), because before any big road trip, I Google Map our route and destination and it’s like once I see the pictorial representation of a location, I remember it always.  Once I’ve driven somewhere, I have total mental recall of replicating the drive.  I had a roommate who could do the same thing with dates, you give her any date of any year and she knew what she had done on that day.  Maybe that’s a gift.  Maybe that’s a curse.  But it’s the skill I’ve got so I’m sticking with it. 

Sometimes you just need to get out of Dodge, even if you drive a Toyota - but planning the escape is really half the fun.  Road trips are great, even though hours of driving can be boring, it’s that nexus of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ and ‘Life’s a Journey, Not A Destination’.    I’ve done the spur-of-the-moment-everyone-pile-in-the-car-late-night-run-down-to-Atlantic-City, where we stay up all night and watch the sunrise on the boardwalk.  I’ve done the peaceful, solo drive up to Dutchess County for a friend’s garden wedding.  I went to that wedding dateless (actually the garden owner’s puppy kept sitting next to me so I guess he was my date), but left with a full car as wedding guest-cum-taxi service. 

For the back-to-back graduations of my Carrollton, Ohio, based-cousins (Class of ’07, Class of ’08), twice I made the drive out to eastern Ohio with friends in tow.  The first ride involved us making a lot of animal noises, both in the car and outside of the car, after our first encounter with an alpaca farm (you can take the girls out of the 2nd Borough, but you cannot take the 2nd Borough out of the girls). I think some of the Alpacas were for sale.  I could have bought an Alpaca!! On our second round to the Buckeye state, we took our time, took a come-what-may approach to Cleveland (and by come-what-may, I mean, keep your expectations low and Cleveland won’t disappoint) before we headed south to my cousins’ (and yes, past that same alpaca farm).  It was on this leg of the journey, I was shamelessly profiled by the local police and prosecuted with my first (and only!) moving violation.  The cop gave me a speeding ticket for doing 39 in a 25.  You could believe my confusion, I wasn’t even going fast.  The officer told me I was in a ‘commercial’ speed zone of 25mph that was about 4 car lengths long and well, radar got me in that tiny band of egregious regulation.   Business District speed zones?  It was Memorial Day weekend, who’s working???, but I was driving a red, rented car with Empire State plates and they made an example out of me, or so I thought.  When we arrived at my cousins, I was informed that’s how the local cops catch everyone, and at the ripe age of 18 my cousins already had a few tickets under their belt. 

Before the graduation party, we found a liquor store, parked the car nearby and walked in the garage bay-sized doors to get some party beverages.  Little did we know, this was a drive-through liquor store and we were supposed to drive the car into the shop.  If someone had given me a ticket for that, I would have understood, but I’m still a little bit bitter over my 39 in a 25.  Well that, and the $200 I had to mail to Carroll County.  To pay for the (alleged) speeding ticket, I did not buy an alpaca.