Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The long and winding road, part 2

When last we left our hero, he was venturing across the land, braving holiday traffic and ancient subway systems to visit friends and relatives. Our story continues ...

Day 3: Boston to Richmond, about 650 miles

This was the big one. (Check the map again. This is the long squiggle on the east side of the "triangle" representing this voyage.) I knew there could be a number of complications, not the least of which was holiday traffic on roads with which I'm not familiar (I've been to Richmond, just not from the northeast), and the lack of cold drinks and protein bars in the car could be a problem, but there was nothing to do but stick it out.

I kept to the same pattern, stopping about every hour, except for the first two hours. Connecticut has lots of exits but no rest areas along I-84 (I prefer rest areas for quick stops because they're right off the highway and don't have additional customers like fast food places and gas stations do), so a couple of hours in, I noticed my attention was wandering a bit. (In fact, that was the worst it turned out to be on the whole trip.) A stop in New York took care of the attention problem, and I patiently retraced my steps to I-81, then headed away from the old route and toward new territory (and new states: I'd never been to Maryland before).

In the past, taking I-64 was nice, except for two stretches: the West Virginia Turnpike, where I-77 meets it, and the stretch in Virginia where I-81 (yep, the one I'm on) meets it. In both cases, traffic picked up as the interstates merged and dropped off abruptly as soon as they parted. Of course, this time I'd be on the busy part, or so I thought.

My GPS had other ideas. After six or seven hours of begging me to take the coastal route, it finally conceded that perhaps I had the right idea. However, as I crossed into Virginia, it suggested that maybe I shouldn't head back to I-64 (going southwest), but instead should try US-17 to I-95 to Richmond.

I thought about it for a while. Points in favor of US-17: it was more direct and was probably still a major highway, and if there was still traffic, I'd be closer to Richmond. Points in favor of I-64: it's an interstate, so there wouldn't be any stoplights, and it might not be that much longer. I took the US highway. Sure enough, there were a couple of stoplights that really slowed me down (probably added 15 minutes to the trip), but overall it wasn't bad, and once I was on I-95, everything was fine.

Finally hit the hotel at 8:15 or so, about 13 hours after I left. (I stay at the same one every time, the Holiday Inn Express on Mayland. It's just off I-64, so very convenient there, but about a 40-minute drive to my friends' house. There really isn't much that's closer.) Hooked up the laptop, updated my status and gave an approximate arrival time, cleaned up, and headed out. (I left the laptop: didn't feel like tearing it down three times today.)

Made it out to the house at a decent hour. Managed to avoid being parked in – their driveway is fairly long and has spots to the side for additional parking, because people tend to come and go at these things. On Friday, I'm typically one of the view who does leave, so I need to be at the back if possible.

Usually we pitch in around the house, inside and out, partly to thank the couple for hosting every year and partly because we like to help. This time, though, all the hard labor was done. (Oh darn.) All I could do was sit and eat, and eat I did. Friday, it was "just" meatballs, white chicken chili (I think), and some kind of coconut-mango cake that was pretty good. Caught up with the regulars who made it, hung out for a while, and headed back to the hotel around 1 or so.

As a side note, have you ever noticed how short the "king-sized" beds in hotel rooms seem to be? I'm not at all a tall person (5'8½", the last time someone measured me: I took the extra half-inch and kept it), and yet I've never found a bed in which I could comfortably sleep longways. Maybe it's because they use suction to make the beds, I don't know, but I always feel like I have to sleep at an angle to be under the covers. (There's a joke here about being single, I'll let you make it.)

Day 4, no driving

Well, by "no" I mean "to the hotel and back", but frankly, when you've crossed 11 state lines in 3 days, a little 40-minute drive doesn't even count.

Slept in until 10 or so, hit Castle Age, and then back to the house for the real party. (In the old days – aside from the fact I wouldn't have been driving because I stayed at the house – this would have meant hitting the keg. Now it means parking my butt in a chair in the air conditioning and staying away from drunk people.) Hanging out, playing Out of the Park Baseball because the internet connection isn't working (well, it was, but the secondary router wasn't, and I didn't feel like interrupting the hosts to get the key to the primary router), drinking this excellent licorice-mint tea, and waiting for the food to finish.

The hosts are very, very, very good cooks (did I mention that already?), as are some of the guests, so we always eat very well, and this time we had a challenge: clear out space in the chest freezer so they could fit the half cow they'd ordered. (Yeah, a half. Not a quarter.) Hmm, sausage: Greek sausage was very good, and I think there were kielbasa as well. (They make their own sausage, and no, you don't want to know how it's made.) French fries. A deep-fried turkey injected with some kind of habanero sauce. (They also like things spicy and grow many different kinds of peppers. Strong peppers. Like the kind that you have to wear gloves to handle, and even if you do, getting some oil on your skin may mean a trip to the basement to find laundry detergent. Don't know what I mean? Imagine the burn you felt on your tongue the last time you ate something really, really spicy. Now imagine that on your hands.) Pulled pork. Curry. Some more veggie stuff I didn't eat. Hamburgers. Hot dogs. Deep-fried brisket. (I know, it sounds weird, but it was good too.) Cake. Cookies. Brownies. S'mores by the bonfire.

The fire. That's my job. (I'm not saying I'm a pyromaniac. They are. I don't actually stand in the fire, you know, just close to it.) They have a nice fire circle behind the house, and when the weather is right (as opposed to when it's so dry you can't have a fire), we build a big fire. Big. Not this time, because we didn't have the attention for it, and the NHL was unkind enough to put on a game right around dusk, but it was enough to burn some fun things and make lots of marshmallows. (The swirled marshmallows are interesting, if you've not tried them before.) The other pyro and I made a little assembly line: we'd load up marshmallow sticks for the kids, they'd cook them and come back to us, we'd set up little plates, put the marshmallows on the plates with whatever they wanted (S'mores or plain), and load up the next sticks for the next kids. (About seven kids in all. We can handle it. We're former food service professionals.) At least half of the S'mores were actually eaten and not dropped on the ground, so that was a success.

Back inside to watch Game 1 of the Finals ... there was one drunk Flyers fan there (yes, I know it's redundant, but who's telling this story anyway?) who thought it was a "low-scoring" game. Look, we just saw a lacrosse game (NCAA semifinals) end 12-8. That's low-scoring. 3-2 after 1 is not a low-scoring hockey game. Anyway, the Blackhawks win, the remaining outsiders clear out, the regulars filter inside, and we have our ritual viewing of EuroTrip. (Scotty doesn't know.)

We move cars around just right so that the drunk people can stay and I can leave (this is harder than you think when you only have a gravel driveway and some vague spots to one side that may or may not be big enough for a car). I head back to the hotel for a good night's rest, looking forward to another day of vacation before I have to leave.

1 comment:

  1. I liked the picture of the smore you added. I kept thinking about how wonderful it would taste. Hmmmm mushy marshmallows.

    It is a nice ritual that you watch the same movie on each visit. Traditions are a good thing.