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I’ve never heard anyone say anything good about the Philadelphia airport.  I should re-phrase that, I have only heard people say bad things about the Philadelphia airport, so when I booked my connecting flight through Philly en route to Las Vegas, I was a bit apprehensive.  I was not, however, so apprehensive that I was willing to pay an extra $50 each way to avoid Philadelphia, and none of the horror stories I’d heard were terribly specific as to what the hell was so wrong with this airport.  Usually people just said something to the tune of, “It’s a mess” and left me to draw my own conclusions.

I got a voicemail from Baby-Having Best Friend a few months ago that said “Call me right away, it’s important.” Naturally I panicked and called her, leaving her a message with exactly when I would be able to talk within the next two days.  She finally called me three days later and said, “Ok, it’s not an emergency, but I would like to talk to you.”  We continued to play phone tag until she finally cracked and left the message, “I wanted to talk to you about this and have an actual conversation, but this situation is this: I have just watched the Hangover, and I think you, me, Map Fleece, and Cricker need to have a girls’ weekend in Vegas.  Now we should probably just resort to email cause this phone thing isn’t working.”

So we picked a time, and booked a hotel.  Then I started shopping for flights, settling for leaving Friday from Providence, connecting through Philadelphia, and arriving in Las Vegas around 9pm local time.

Then the curse of the City of Brotherly Love struck me.

I arrived at the Providence airport (which is not in Providence) without incident, cleared security, bought an iced coffee and some trashy magazines, then had a smooth takeoff and landing.  For reasons I can no longer remember, we were a bit delayed getting either into Philly or off of the plane, but I hauled ass to my connecting gate, and made it there just in time for boarding.  Then we sat on the plane for the next two hours.

After 30 minutes of waiting, the captain told us that we were 25th in the queue to takeoff.

After 45 minutes, the captain said that there was lightning and we would have to wait it out before the tower would give us clearance.

After an hour and 15 minutes, the captain said that the direction we were traveling was now clear.  We taxied onto the runway, sped up, then slowed down and drove off to the side.  The captain said that the tower had just said “Just Kidding!” and we could no longer take off.

More time passed with the captain popping on the horn intermittently saying things like “Folks, I’m sure you’re frustrated, we’re frustrated too” and finally culminating with, “We have to go back to the gate since you all have been sitting on this plane for over two hours.”  People were given the option to get off, stay in town, and rebook for the following day, and then about 20 minutes after that, the rest of us who had so foolishly held up hope of getting out of town were told that the flight was canceled.

After re-booking for the following morning, I went off in search of food and beer.  I don’t really eat much when traveling since all that sitting kind of kills my appetite, so by this point, it was 10pm, and I had had a sandwich at noon.  The only offerings at this late hour were fried foods, but I convinced the bored waitress in the first bar that I found to make me a plate of nachos.  I ate nachos for dinner, drank two beers, paid $31 for all of it, and then went off to find a quiet corner to hole up in until 7:55am when my next flight took off.

I managed to find a gate where the seats didn’t have armrests, and CNN wasn’t blaring at an uncomfortable volume, and also found an abandoned US Airways pillow lying on the ground.  With that, my backpack, and a tanktop laid over my eyes, and my pajama pants pulled on under my skirt for warmth, I settled in, hobostyle, for a long night of restless restlessness.

The following morning I boarded a plane bound for Chicago.  I got off in Chicago, ate a bagel, and got back onto the same plane to continue my journey.  Prior to this trip, I had no idea that you could take a plane that behaves like a train or bus, so I guess I’m glad I learned that (?)  This plane’s final destination was Los Angeles, but I got off in Phoenix where the carpet has tiny airplanes on it.

Once arriving in Las Vegas, I hauled ass to the cabstand, got a lift to the hotel, called my ladies, changed into my swimsuit, and went to the pool to drink buckets of beer in the sun.  After the pool closed, I insisted that we go eat Mexican food, since there is no decent Mexican food in Rhode Island and I needed some food in my stomach if I was going to be able to keep drinking.  We went to a Mexican restaurant, ordered a pitcher of margaritas and food, posed for a picture with a mariachi band, and then I passed out at the table.

I have a very dim recollection of my friends fussing over me, and the waitress saying something like “she’s really drunk, huh?  She didn’t seem drunk” and me wanting to protest that I wasn’t actually drunk just exhausted, but I didn’t have the strength.  Map Fleece took our food to go, and dragged me back to the room while Cricker and BHBF went out drinking.

I now have my Philadelphia airport horror story, though I suppose if anyone asks me, I’ll probably just shrug and say, “It’s a mess” since telling the whole story takes too much time.

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Niagara Falls_bannerThis past January, I drove from Providence to Toronto to visit friends.  We were having dinner one night with some of my friend’s family, and they mentioned that they had spent the day at Niagara Falls.  I was intrigued since I remember hearing a lot about Niagara Falls when I was a kid, but completely forgot about it as I got older.

“What do you do there?” I asked.

“We spent most of the day in the casino.” They told me.  “You should stop there on your way back, at the falls, not the casino.”

So I figured that since I was driving by it anyway, I might as well stretch my legs and take in the sight of this magnificent natural marvel.  What I didn’t count on was the fact that parking cost $14 (should have figured), and I was simply unwilling to pay that.  Instead, I drove a couple laps along the “Fallsview road” snapping pictures out the car window.  Eventually, I stopped the car, put the flashers on, and ran up to the protective barrier to snap another couple pictures before heading back to the states.

Despite the short amount of time I spent at the falls, I liked it, and got the notion that I should go back sometime and spend more than fifteen minutes there.  Then I got back home, and promptly forgot that notion.

About three weeks ago, the power of facebook advertising reminded me.  Since I put the pictures that I took of Niagara Falls on facebook, facebook decided that I am a Niagara Falls enthusiast, and told me that hotels might just be cheap there right now, seeing as the summer travel season is winding down.

It is after Labor Day, I thought, still temperate, but probably less crowded and cheaper.  So I hopped on Priceline, found a cheap hotel, read some reviews, and popped my head out into the living room to ask Gentleman Scholar, “Do you want to go to Niagara Falls next weekend?”

He thought for a beat, and said, “Sure.”

misc3 027I booked the hotel, and a few days later, started wondering what the hell one does at Niagara Falls for the entire weekend.  Surely you can’t spend the whole time riding the Maid of the Mist and staring at the water.  So I found a few Niagara Falls themed adventures, but not much else.  The best sites were run by the Niagara Parks Board, and were all water all the time.  The Lonely Planet Guide, didn’t have much more in it either except a snarky quote from Oscar Wilde: “The Niagara Falls is simply a vast amount of water going the wrong way over some unnecessary rocks; the sight of that waterfall must be one of the earliest and keenest disappointments in American married life.”, and the information that Niagara Falls used to be a major tourist destination.

Thankfully, spending the night in a hotel is often adventure enough in the short term, so we figured that if we maxed out Falls adventures early, we could just hang out and watch cable for a while–our hotel was even rumored to have HBO!  What a coup!

Turns out that the area around the falls looks a tiny and less impressive Las Vegas.  It feels like it should have a lot of options for things to do, but kind of doesn’t, except the casino.  It’s pretty, but looks sterile and modern, and was really not what I expected.  I was hoping for a 1950’s honeymoon destination feel–cheesy romantic stuff, buildings that looked like they had been there for more than five years.  I don’t know if Niagara Falls got a facelift recently, but everything felt strangely new.

Until we went looking for a liquor store and stumbled upon Niagara Falls downtown.  We had seen all of these brochures in the hotel lobby for wax museums, haunted houses, Dave and Busters etc., but had no idea where this stuff was. It was in downtown Niagara Falls, which is a roadside attraction promenade on par with the Wisconsin Dells.  Two Haunted Houses, a headshop, Louis Toussaud’s Wax Museum (with a terrifying Tiger Woods waving a golf ball at you from the front entrance), a Hard Rock Cafe, dinner theatres, and more tacky souvenir shops than you can shake a stick at.  It was amazing.

My parents took us on a lot of vacations as I grew up.  That’s one thing I’m really glad of, and we usually did them on the cheap.  This meant a lot of driving vacations like the one to the Wisconsin Dells, or Mount Rushmore, etc. We went to the roadside attractions that included streets of tacky crap, disappointing wax museums– though I’ve still never been in a wax museum–olde tymey picture shops, topiary gardens etc.  So if I couldn’t have my 1950’s chic Niagara Falls experience, this was the next best thing.marilyn_monroe_niagara_lancastria

Overall, I feel like Niagara Falls just doesn’t know quite what to do with itself.  The falls are rad, and even though we scoffed initially and said “It’s not like we’re just going to spend a whole bunch of time staring at the water.” we kind of just wanted to stare at the water, rushing back at different times of day to see how blue it was, or watch the fireworks –which they send up from the bottom of the gorge, so when they explode, they’re pretty much right in your face.  Obviously, if you want to lure people in these days, and keep them there, you need more than just a waterfall–even if it’s a good one.

It feels like Niagara Falls wants to re-evolve from being just a roadside attraction, into the destination it used to be, but maybe I’m just being a jaded asshole.  There were tons of people there for whom English was not a first language.  We stood in line next to a dozen Japanese businessmen, rode the Maid of the Mist with a lovely German couple, and had our photo taken by a group of French students (who may have been French-Canadian, but the point stands).  These people have either made Niagara Falls their destination, or at least a stop–I’m really curious which it is.

Strangely, I want to go back.

sunnyside_bannerOne of my favorite authors of all time is Judy Blume, and one of my most-beloved books by her is Otherwise Known as Sheila The Great. I have no idea how many times I’ve read and loved this book, and I plan to re-read it again just as soon as the copy I requested arrives at my local library branch.  In this book, Sheila Tubman (nemesis of Peter Hatcher of Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing and Superfudge fame), and her family leave NYC for the summer and go to Tarrytown, NY.  She meets a girl who lives in Washington Irving’s old house.  The house is full of secret passages, low doorways, and rambling hallways that fascinated me when I was younger.

I had heard of Washington Irving, read some of his stories, and seen the Disney cartoon of Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but the fact that someone lived in his house just blew my mind.  When I moved to Providence, I saw a flyer for Halloween festivities in the Historic Hudson Valley, which included Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s estate.  Since the Hudson Valley is beautiful in the fall, and there’s that Sleepy Hollow connection, this makes sense.  My long-dormant fascination re awoke, and I began scheming ways to get me to Washington Irving’s house.

Jewish Friend loves a superfunliterary adventure AND she went to college in the Historic Hudson Valley, so we packed up the car and took to the highway.  Of course, Sheila Tubman’s friend doesn’t really live at Sunnyside–it’s a tourist attraction purchased and restored by John D. Rockefeller in 1945 and opened to the public in 1947, but I’m not mad at Judy Blume for leading me astray.  I could never be mad at her .*

Upon arriving at Sunnyside, I saw a Halloween-colored cat wandering in the parking lot.  It had tags, looked completely at home, and when I indicated it should let me pet it, it graciously wandered over and spent equal time with me and Jewish Friend.  After a few more cars arrived, it scuttled under the fence and wandered in the garden.misc2 179

We followed a long downhill path to the house and found another cat hanging out on the low stone wall.  As we were petting this one, two ladies came down the hill and one exclaimed “Oh! There’s Eloise!”  Apparently, these two cats live at the house and wander around greeting guests and hanging out with the groundskeepers–nice life.

Sunnyside is a guided tour, and they only allow ten people at one time because the hallways and stairways are so narrow. There were two other people on our tour, which was actually perfect because we they seemed to be (almost) equally enthusiastic about literary tourism, and had had a really good tour when they went to The House of the Seven Gables (which means Jewish Friend and I should probably try again).  Bethany, the tour guide, wore a hoop skirt and told us that she had been working there for thirteen years.  This girl knew her stuff, which was awesome, and she encouraged us to ask lots of questions even saying at one point, “This is your tour, so please, ask me anything you like.” I don’t know why, but just hearing her say that, made me really happy.  She seemed to really enjoy her work, and our asking questions, which made the whole experience that much more fun.  misc2 183

Washington Irving never married, but he loved being around people.  Sunnyside, was originally 28 acres (now 10), and Irving along with a few friends designed it to be a romantic, flawless destination where a person could commune with nature.  He encouraged the people of the town to stop by to visit, or just walk the grounds.  He constructed a road that came up practically to his front door and fans would stop by and ask for autographs.

The house itself, was designed by Irving, and was originally a groundskeepers cottage which he expanded.  Since the original structure was so small, and he had so many visitors, there are six tiny rooms sort of jammed in, narrow hallways, and small passages.  He lived in the house with his brother, and five nieces, but always had friends come to stay, and served formal dinners from 3-8pm daily.  It’s rather amazing he found time to write anything.

It’s hard to pick favorites among sites of literary significance, but Sunnyside is very high on the list.  I would go back there tomorrow, and possibly again the following day.  I would also pack a picnic lunch as guests are encouraged to picnic, wander the grounds, and enjoy the garden–sigh.

*Upon re-reading OKASTG, it turns out that her friend didn’t live in WI’s old house, just in one where he slept.  Judy Blume did not lead me astray–I remembered it wrong!  All is right with the world.

camping_bannerThe teeny-tiny Minnesota town that I grew up in was 30 minutes from the Canadian border.  Every summer there would be a mass influx of Canadian campers who would roost in the campgrounds right by the city pool.  They would stare at us, we would stare at them, they would speak French and then laugh loudly in a way that made me certain they were making fun of me.

I loved growing up in that town and spending all day every day at that swimming pool, but even at that young age I had seen enough of the world to know that it wasn’t a superrad vacation destination.  There were some bike trails– I mentioned the pool (very nice for such a small town), a river that I guess people could fish in… I really don’t know what else would draw so many people to these campgrounds–or why it was almost exclusively Canadians.

When I was 12, we moved to another teeny-tiny town, this one in North Dakota, and there was a lovely state park about 30 minutes away.  This place had it all–woods, trails, a lake, beach–everything that I though proper camping should include.  Yet my friends who were of the camping persuasion, would go out there, spend the night in a pimped-out camper with almost all the comforts of home, and then spend the day either back at their parent’s house on the couch, or hanging out with me–not enjoying (what I thought was) the appeal of camping.

My parents never took me camping– which is probably pretty clear, because they didn’t get it either.  We took day trips to state parks, picnicked, swam, hiked, but then drove back home so we wouldn’t have to wrestle with putting up a tent, or what to do when it gets dark at 9:30pm and you’re really not hungry and have nothing left to say to each other.

Jewish Friend has been trying to shanghai me into going camping with her since I met her.  She went to college in an idyllic town in upstate New York and spent her time there hiking and wearing flannel (from what I understand of it).  I have now relented and agreed to camp with her in exchange for a visit to Washington Irving’s Estate, and possibly the mountain that Rip Van Winkle fell asleep on.

Now, in the quest to scare up some camping gear, I find out that more of my friends than I could possibly thought have a deep affection for camping.  Sassy Redhead, one of my most refined chums, owns a sub-zero sleeping bag and told me, “I chipped ice from a frozen river to make tea.”  Always classy, even in the woods.

This is similar to the bafflement I felt when I left the Midwest–Heartland of America, land of farmers– to come to the liberal Northeast and discover that all of these hipsters I was meeting also were or wanted to be farmers.  That’s an exaggeration, but it was perplexing.

I’m down with nature, I think it’s great and try to preserve it, I prevent forest fires, but I also like showers and comfortable sleeping surfaces.  Oh well, it’s an adventure.

I don’t much care for Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I appreciate his contribution to literature and philosophy, so we went to his house.  One thing that was interesting about this tour was that they do continuous tours, which I’ve never seen before.  What that means is, you ring the doorbell like you’re coming to dinner with Ralph, and then you join a tour already in progress.  This is nice because it eliminated all of the milling around in the giftshop waiting for the tour to start.  This was bad because we began the tour upstairs, and did not get all of the background on who all lived in the house.  Then the tour guide would say things like “so and so’s room” without explaining who so and so was, and we did not understand the significance at all.

It wasn’t bad though, overall.  We had two different tour guides.  rwe_concord_ma_06One started with us upstairs, then handed us off to another one in the parlor, then finished up again in the alcove.

Upstairs girl was the better of the two, but they were both rather awkward.  Upstairs, she mostly indicated at paintings and told us who was in them.  She said um a lot, and seemed like she was rushing a bit.  A couple people asked questions, and she said “I don’t know, but the lady downstairs does.  We can ask her.”  at least she didn’t try to make something up.

Downstairs girl was similar to the girl we had at the House of the Seven Gables.  She was awkward, and very hard to understand.  The situation was made more awkward by the fact that when we were on her part of the tour, we were the only two people.  She stared at the ceiling and orated on the life of Ralph Waldo, while we scanned the walls trying to understand her.  I think that there’s a trend among tour guides in New England to not only have a regional accent, but also a speech impediment and a penchant for mumbling– I’m kind of over it.

Fun facts about Ralph Waldo Emerson: In his later years, he was always late to church, and he blamed it on the fact that he could never find his gloves.  Thoreau built a special drawer into Emerson’s chair, so he would always have a place to keep them, but he was still late all the time anyway.  He had also been a minister for years when he was younger– must have been sick of church.

The best part of the tour was the end when we went downstairs and had a lovely conversation with the woman manning the gift shop.  She was a librarian as well, so we complained about the lack of jobs, and made fun of library school.  I kind of want to go back just to hang out with her.

I honestly do not know how many times I’ve read Little Women.  It must be getting close to ten times, and I’m currently listening to an audio version in my car, which is also very good.  I’ve read Invincible Lousia— a Newbery award-winning biography of Louisa May; Little Men; Big Guy, Little Women, which is a rather amusing book about a girl who is obsessed with Little Women, and then four girls move in next door to her who are almost identical to the characters; and I attempted to read A Modern Mephistopheles— Louisa May’s take on the Faust story after she claimed she was sick of writing  “Moral pap for the young.”

Jewish Friend claims that her childhood visit to -OrchardHouseConcord2CMAOrchard House is one of her happiest memories, so we were both pretty pumped for this one.

The Alcott family moved around a lot.  Bronson Alcott was a noted transcendentalist and educational reformer, neither of which paid any money at all, so it fell on the women to earn as much as they could.  He started the Concord School of Philosophy in the backyard of Orchard House, and it still stands today.  We tried to go in, but Skidmore College has reserved it for the day to host a lecture on the Great War.  After we asked, we were told that we could stay for the lecture if we wanted.  We opted out, but Jewish Friend snagged a nice leather bookmark of which she was inordinately proud.

The tour of Orchard House was top notch.  Our tour guide spoke in a clear resonant tone and knew her stuff.  She answered questions thoroughly, was approachable, and engaged us as tour participants rather than just talking at us.  The tour begins with a video of an actress pretending to be Louisa May, which I thought would be really lame and stupid.  It honestly wasn’t that bad.  She provided a biographical sketch that wouldn’t have fit into the house tour very well, and didn’t do that stupid faux English accent that so many people do when they’re imitating 1800s  folk.

This same actress, or a different one, may also make appearances at the Colonial Inn, just down the road.  The bartender told us that some chick pretending to be Louisa May shows up there from 12-5 on Sundays and parades around offering answers to questions and posing for photographs.  We didn’t see her, but I’m intrigued by this notion, and I think it would be hilarious if they had a second person there pretending to be Thoreau reading in the parlor, and then he and Louisa May had strident showy conversations.

I can dream.

The Alcott women were just as fascinating as the men, well, man.  They were all very similar to their characters from the book.  May Alcott “Amy” was a success full artist, and her drawings can be found all over the walls of the house.  She was also six feet tall and married a man 15 years younger than she– well done, May.  Beth was so painfully shy that she would knit mittens for the neighborhood children, but was too scared to actually hand them out.  Instead she left them on the front steps.  Anna Alcott “Meg”, was the pretty one, just like the book, and never actually lived in Orchard House, though she was married in the parlor.

I love Orchard House.  I want to go back.

The House of the Seven Gables is adorable, as is pretty much everything in Salem, MA.  Hawthorne never lived in the House, but he speculated about it and wrote his collection of short stories about it.  The property that the House is on also now has Nathaniel Hawthorne’s boyhood home– the historical society bought it, sawed it in half, and moved it over for historical tourism convenience.

The  seven gables tour is rad because it has secret passages (yay for secret passages!), Misc 205narrow, winding secret passages behind concealed doors, but it is less rad because it really has very little to do with Nathaniel Hawthorne.  It mostly deals with the Turner family, who lived there for three generations, and then the philanthropic woman who paid to have the house restored for touristic purposes.  The tour of   the Seven Gables House is guided, unfortunately, our guide was woefully sub-par.  The tour of Hawthorne’s boyhood home is self-guided, but much more interesting.

I read Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter in school and there was a little discussion about Hawthorne’s life, but I didn’t realize what a reclusive and rather strange man he was.  At the age of about 10-years-old, he suffered a minor injury, which should have had no lasting consequences.  He then lived as an invalid for the next ten years even though physicians could find nothing wrong with him.  I re-read his Wikipedia article recently, and noticed that the first 20 years of his life are just glossed over.

There were a couple of  ancient women whose job it is to sit in the boyhood home and answer questions.  I asked one about his period of seclusion, and she just scoffed and said, “yeah, he was kind of a wuss.”

I love old ladies who just don’t give a damn.Misc 209

Hawthorne also waited until he was 36 to get married, and married a woman who was 32.  Neither had been married before, and knew each other for five years before making it official.  So Hawthorne was a plodding, meditative man– not one to rush into anything.

Also in Salem is the Custom House, where Hawthorne worked, and the inspiration for his story– The Custom House, which usually serves as an introduction to The House of the Seven Gables.

I mentioned a while ago, that Jewish Friend and I went superfunadventuring to Salem for a trip to the House of the Seven Gables.  More recently, we made a daytrip to Concord, MA to visit Orchard House, and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s estate.  The plan is to embrace this summer of underemployment and use this deluge of time wisely– fill it with learning.  The response to my photos from the Concord trip was almost overwhelming, and many people commented on how much fun it seemed to be (and it was!). It occurs to me that maybe people who are interested in this kind of thing, don’t know what all we have at our disposal here in the Northeast.

Since I’m a nerd, and have a lot of time on my hands, I made a list– what I think is the definitive list of literary tourism in this part of the country.  I’m going to hit as many places as I can, and do a little write-up of each.  Since I’ve eaten almost all of the mac and cheese Providence has to offer, I have to have opinions about something.

Here’s the list:

Massachusetts:

Concord:

Orchard House— house where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women and lived for many years.

Ralph Waldo Emerson House— self-explanatory.

Walden Pond— Pond where H.D. Thoreau camped out and wrote smug essays.

Wayside— Another home occupied by the Alcott family, and the only home that Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in outside of Salem.

The Old Manse— Place where R.W. Emerson lived before settling in his later estate.  Also, Mosses from an Old Manse by Hawthorne…

Amherst:

Emily Dickinson Museum— Self explanatory

Fall River:

Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast— Not exactly literary, but a lot of books have been written about Lizzie.  If you stay there overnight, which is grossly overpriced, you must vacate your room at 11, 1, and 3 so the proprietors can run tours through it, but they serve you a breakfast similar to the one the Borden’s consumed on that fateful day– hilarious.

Pittsfield:

Melville’s Arrowhead-– You can find Melville stuff all over this area, plus there are two annual marathon readings of Moby Dick, one of which allows you to stay on an actual whaling ship (if you book early).  Arrowhead is the estate where Melville and his family settled and lived for 13 years, during which time he wrote extensively.

Springfield:

Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden— Awesome.

Connecticut:

Hartford:

Harriet Beecher Stowe Center— I really don’t care for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and I have no idea what else Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote, but what better way to learn?

Mark Twain House and Museum— My parents have find memories of Twaining in Hannibal, MO, but all they have there is his boyhood stuff.  In Connecticut, you get Twain as adult, and can view his beautiful 19-room Victorian estate.

Lenox:

The Mount–Edith Warton’s country estate– huge, beautiful, designed by Edith Warton.  Sassy Redhead has visited this place already, and seems very happy in pictures.

Cambridge:

The Longfellow House–occupied by H.W. Longfellow from 1837 to 1882.

New York:

Tarrytown:

Sunnyside— Home of Washington Irving.  I’ve wanted to visit Tarrytown since I was about 9-years-old and first read Otherwise Known as Sheila The Great.  In that particular book, Sheila Tubman, menace to Peter of Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing Fame, leaves NYC for a summer in Tarrytown.  A friend of hers lives in Washington Irving’s old house (which is clearly not true, but really cool, I thought).  This was the first time it dawned on me that you could go to places where authors had lived and wrote, and I’ve been desperate to go ever since.  The fact that I’ve lived this close for a year and a half is something that I’m not very proud of, but it is what it is.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery--I’m not terrifically excited to go to a cemetery, but these old ones can be pretty cool. Also, you can’t do a literary tour without Sleepy Hollow– for reals.

Cooperstown:

Fenimore House--Just what it sounds like.  Apparently, there’s a Cooper house in New Jersey too…

Vermont:

Dummerston:

Naulakha (Kipling House)-– Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book while living in the mountains of Vermont.

Shaftsbury:

Robert Frost Museum–Just what it sounds like.  I don’t care much for Frost, which is why this is last on the list.

My father called to sort out the logistics of my upcoming visit.  Because I’m flying into Minneapolis and then driving to Fargo, I’m not going to also drive to Bemidji (where they live, about 90 minutes away from Fargo).  From my perspective, I’m mostly going back to Fargo to see my friends.  Considering all of the intense time I’ve spent with my parents (15 days non-stop) over the past year, I think this is perfectly reasonable.  Plus, whenever I do go to their house, we just sit there watching HGTV, which I just don’t enjoy as much as they do.

I thought having them come to Fargo for marathon weekend made much more sense.  I’m running the 1/2, my dad usually runs the full, my mom and brother did the 5k two years ago– fun for the whole family!  Now it seems that my father will not be running the full marathon, but the 1/2, “I’ll be running right next to you, Annie.” he told me.

I don’t want to sound like a total brat, but that is not ok with me.  I’ve never run with another human being (except next to strangers), and I really have no interest in taking that on.  I’m not a chatty runner; I clap on my headphones, get in the zone, and proceed to sweat and huff and turn red in the most unattractive way possible.  I just want to be left alone.

Then my father asked where I run. “On my treadmill,” I told him, “watching TV”

“Oh, you don’t have any friends to run with?”

By the end of the conversation, I not only felt like a horrible daughter, but also like a friendless nerd who runs only to get away from bullies.

I picked running (or had no choice but to pick running, since it seems to be in my DNA), because it’s a solitary activity.  I don’t need to form a team of varied skill, or do any kind of administration, or worry about letting anyone else down– it’s all me.  Now it’s getting all mucked up because I keep choosing to run in from of people.

Part of me thinks I should have kept my jock tendencies a secret like I used to, but, too late for that now.  Plus, for some reason, I’m excited to get this free t-shirt…

It will be fine.  The thought of spending timewith my parents is often much more stressful than the actual act– keep reminding myself that.  Also, free food.

I’ve been listening to Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, which is his most recent book where he revists the same route that he traveled in The Great Railway Bazaar.  I’m only on chapter two, but the first chapter is a lot of him waxing philosophical in the brilliant way that only he can,about with it is like to revisit a place, and how it can only be sad and disappointing because inevitably it will have changed in some way that you’ll disagree with.   As much as I’m loving this book, I’m also forced to remember that reading (or listening to) Paul Theroux always makes me yearn for great life experiences that I just haven’t had, and feel remiss for not having them.  I also feel remiss knowing that I probably have had some great life experiences, but could never record them with the amazing words that he does.

I can draw all kind of parallels between him writing these books and me reading them.  I was reading The Great Railway Bazaar when I first moved to Providence to start library school.  Now I’ve started its sequel the same day that I got my official letter telling me that I passed comps and am an actual librarian.  For me it’s been nearly two years since I experienced his first trip– not thirty-three, but it’s been significant time in which a lot of things have changed.

Paul Theroux is the only author who I’ve ever underlined.  I’ve never been an underliner because I get so sucked into the story that I don’t want to interrupt myself hunting for a pen.  With him, it’s like every line is so true and brilliantly crafted that I want to memorize it, and since I can’t, I underline it.  That’s the frustration with listening to this on audiobook.

The bonus is, he’s riding around Asia on a train while I’m driving around South County in my car– it’s very appropriate.  Thinking about what I’m doing in my every day as travel, or adventure is very healthy for me, and makes me appreciate rather than go through my commute with blinders on.

As much as Paul Theroux is making me want to zip through Turkey en route to India (I mean, I always want to do that, except I’d like to linger in Turkey a bit more), it’s also making me think a lot about my upcoming trip back to Fargo.

A lot of the things that he’s saying about returning to a place are really hitting home for me.  When I went back to Oxford one year after living there to find that things hadn’t changed too much but just enough that I could feel how different it was– that was a bit strange to me.  I’ve moved around a lot over the course of my life, but I haven’t revisited the places that I left very frequently.

I’m out-of-my-mind excited to see my friends, and finally run the Fargo 1/2 marathon, but I know the whole trip is going to have an extreme feeling of surreality.  Lauerman’s is no more, so I won’t get to have my pickled eggs and schooner of Honey Weiss; there’s going to be someone else living in the apartment I occupied for 5 years; my old library is completely gone and a shiny new one is standing in its place; there’s probably going to be sandbags everywhere.

It’s not my town anymore, and that’s fine, because I left voluntarily, but it’s still weird.  I figured out before I left that I’ve actually lived in Fargo/Moorhead longer than I’ve lived anywhere.  I was born in Southern MN, Springfield while my parents were living in Wabasso.  We stayed there a year, then moved to Hallock for two years, then moved to Warren for a year, then back to Hallock.  That time we stayed in Hallock until I was 12, and we moved to Cavalier on my 13th birthday.  I lived in Cavalier until I was 18– then off to Fargo for ages 18-28.  I spent ten years in that town, a pretty much spent all of it planning various schemes to leave that didn’t quite pan out.

I was comfortable there, though, I was content.  I left in my own time, and it was the right time for me.

I’m excited to re-navigate streets that are a perfect grid, and eat Mexican food that actually tastes like real Mexican food, but mostly I’m excited to just hang out and actually appreciate the city without having to work all the time, or feel resentful because I’m still there.