The Unbearable Misery of Traveling in September

Around here, the schools close for two days in September for the Jewish holidays. Seems like a perfect opportunity for a quick vacation, right? The weather is still nice, but the crowds are gone. The autistic kid doesn’t have friends, so it makes him much more portable. We switched around some tutoring time, and we’re good to go.

A couple of years ago, we used this break for a quick trip up to Lake George. This year, Ian and I hitched a ride to Toronto with Steve, who had a business trip there.

But both September trips were kinda “meh,” because it’s really a bummer to be at a place that isn’t set up for tourists. Sites are closed; others are a little depressing. Meanwhile, both Steve and I are in work-mode, so we’re either feeling guilty about not working or answering work e-mails from the top of CN Tower.

And this trip involved some serious transportation hassles. Toronto is actually very close to us. The flight is only 1-1/2 hours on a tiny plane that flies into a little island in the downtown area. Should be piece of cake. But still, it felt we were traveling for the entire day.

Slightly sleep deprived – I’m a terrible hotel sleeper — we cut corners when we could. We lugged our suitcases to the airport in a cab, rather than waiting 30 minutes for the free shuttle, for example. But still it was a whole day affair. Customs, suitcase weigh-ins (failed/had to check a bag), security, cab rides home, cushion time, taxi home in rush hour. The whole process probably took six or seven hours.

The autistic kid got a gold star and kept his frustrations to himself. Mostly.

On the way back home, the driver of the car service yelled at Steve for nearly the entire 40 minute trip home, because Steve texted him too early. Steve hadn’t considered that it was going to take over an hour to process our passports, pick up luggage, and then go another mysterious 30 minute line. The dude had to circle the airport for an entire hour, because there’s no place to wait with a cab.

Getting from Point A to Point B was so miserable yesterday that I can’t imagine flying again for quite a while. How do people, who travel frequently for work, survive this process without despairing?

Advertisements

Travel: Camping, Outdoorsy Stuff in Roscoe and Livingston Manor, NY (Catskills)

About halfway between the NYC metropolitan area and the upstate New York Colleges is the Roscoe Diner. Now, it’s nothing fancy. You’re safe going for the diner usuals, like the grilled cheese deluxe, pancakes, a burger, but eat at your own risk on the rest of the menu. Still, this joint has always been a ritual pitstop on the way to college with fresh linen and clean notebooks, and on the way back with a killer handover. The Roscoe diner knows its place in the world and is profusely decorated with college pennants from all over the country.

I did my share of hangover pancakes there in the 80s, as my folks drove me back from SUNY Binghamton. Over the years, we’ve camped in the area. So, I can say with confidence that I’ve been visiting Roscoe, NY for thirty years.

It has changed.

Prohibition Distillery, Roscoe, NY

That whole area is infested with Brooklyn and Upper West Side New York people now. In addition to the Roscoe diner, there have a restaurant where you can get brick oven pizza with a ramp pesto. There’s an artisanal gin company. Over priced farmers markets. Ironic furniture stores. The gays moved in and gentrified the place.

Now, I have mixed feelings about all this, because, truth be told, the ramp pizza was excellent. We got loaded at the distillery and bought some excellent gin. But it’s a little annoying to see people on vacation, who probably (let’s just admit it) look a lot like us. Sigh.

And the locals clearly have mixed feelings about the rich folks moving in. On the one hand, they like to sell them overpriced produce and sandwiches. On the other, the new people jacked up property values and have all the wrong bumper stickers.

The locals are Trump voters. Massive banners on the side of barns announce, “Farmers For Trump!” They like their guns up there, too, so they view the gun haters/tourists with major distrust.

Tense politics and questionable fellow vacationers aside, this area of the Catskills is gorgeous. There are a ton of opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, and canoeing. It’s hard to take a bad photograph there. We had a marvelous time and will probably head back up there in a couple week for an Octoberfest.

Here are the links to things to do:

  • Camping at Russell Brook. Tents and Cabins. Privately owned. Has a game room for kids and hosts events like Bingo on the weekend for regulars in the trailers and the tent people. A general store where you can buy things that you forgot for double the price.
  • Al’s Sports store Fishing licenses, canoe and kayak rentals, organized trips. We canoed down the East Branch Delaware. 3 to 4 hour trip. Al’s wife followed Steve’s car down to Roscoe and then brought him back up to the sports store, so we canoed to our car. Left the canoes down there.
  • Prohibition Distillery in Roscoe. Super nice vodka and gin.
  • Roscoe Beer Company in Roscoe.
  • Kaatskeller, Livingston Manor. Outdoor beer garden and fancy pizza place. Can hang out for long time and use their wifi.
  • Main Street Farm. This place has been around for a while. Nice earthy, crunchy place. Sandwiches and soups.
  • Brandenburg Bakery, Inc. Seriously must go there. We had the donuts and two or three kinds of bread. Got some loaves on the way out of town for home.
  • The Red Rose Motel. I think it’s a boutique hotel right now. We didn’t see the rooms. We went to the tavern. Nice burgers and beer in hipster joint. Played chess and used the wifi for hours.

Travel: Camping In Tents

I love sleeping outside in a tent. Weird, right?

It’s probably because of all my years in the Girl Scouts. Steve was also a Scout. Unlike me, Steve earned all the badges to become an Eagle Scout. I was a slacker scout, who went on all the trips way into my high school years, but never earned a single badge. I couldn’t be bothered to read the manual. Still, that experience was formative enough to hook me on the outdoors.

I like the mobility of life in a tent; you can find a campsite anywhere. I’ve camped in a New Mexico desert and on an island in Maine. It’s super affordable. There’s nothing like sleeping in the fresh air and drinking wine around a roaring fire in the evening.

We took the boys camping last weekend. We haven’t gone as often as we have liked with them in the past, because Ian had trouble functioning in a world without Internet access, when he was younger. (He’s fine now, so we’re going more often.) Even with those obstacles, we were able to go once a year and accumulate all the right equipment piled on a shelving unit dedicated for camping in the basement.

The fall is actually a perfect time to camp, because the temperature in the Northeast is not too hot and muggy. The leaves are turning, so the views are magnificent. We’re going to go again in the next few weeks to take advantage of the local Octoberfests. And camping gear is all on sale.

In the next post, I’ll share all the links to places we went, in case local readers want the details. In this post, I’ll just give some tips about how to do it:

  • Get a good tent. If it rains, you do NOT want to sleeping in a puddle. Good brands are Kelty, Marmot, or Big Agnes. Make sure the system has a ground cloth and a tarp. Tents can be found at REI, Campmor, and Amazon.
  • With a family with teenagers, everybody should get their own tent. And always go a size up for comfort; a two person tent is really a one person tent.
  • Bring your own pillow. Camping pillows suck.
  • Good sleeping bags are a must
  • I love our air mattresses. I couldn’t sleep outside without one anymore.
  • We only cook breakfast at the camp site. We’ve got a propane stove for that. A coffee press is essential. Need a cooler and ice for eggs, milk, and the white wine.
  • On the way into the campsite, get some wood at the local supermarket. (Don’t forget the fire starter and fire gun like we did this year.) It’s also good to have the day’s newspaper in the car. You read it, then crumple up the op-ed pages for tinder.
  • You have to go for two nights minimum to make it worth the effort of setting up a site.
  • We’re medium level campers. We’re not eating freeze dried lasagnas or carrying all our gear on our back. Nor are we “glamping”. That middle level means that we go to campsites where you can park your car at the site. These sites are also near civilization where a person can find a decent burger and beer in the evening.
  • Most camping sites come with their own picnic table, so if your trunk is short on room, then you can skip folding chairs. But if have room, a comfy chair is nice.
  • With the four of us and all our stuff, we usually do need the car roof top cargo holder. We’ve got the canvas one, which means that we have to wrap everything in plastic garbage bags. When it dies, we’ll replace it with the hardtop version.
  • Lanterns are needed, of course.
  • Put your food in the car over night, so you don’t get a visit from bears who can smell your s’mores a mile away.
  • And here’s my favorite camping/hiking memoir:

Travel: Shopping in Scotland and England

I didn’t buy too much when I was in the UK. All the stuff in the London shops, I could get in New York City, a mall, or online for the same price. Also, I didn’t feel like lugging around too much. I couldn’t resist some small knit items in Scotland and small items from stores that we don’t have here.

In Edinburgh, I bought some cutie-pie change purses and earrings at Simon Bonas for my nieces.

Earrings with some bling and jingle. The white ones are for me. The others are gifts for the nieces.
Nice change purse to throw into a beach bag. Big enough for dollars and a license.

In Scotland, there are a ton of tourist shops with the full kilt silliness. That traditional man-purse is called a sporran, or as Ian called it, “a dick hider.” The nicest stuff in those shop was Harris Tweed and Aran sweaters, but a little bit goes a long way. The Aran sweaters scream Sister Mary’s Convent Gift Shop; beautiful stuff, but too chunky for me. I did get a pair of lovely driving mittens. The Harris Tweed is fabulous on a wallet.

Very silly.

But a little of bit plaid and tweed is lovely. I picked up some lovely scarves and wallets for Christmas gifts.

On the drive to Inverness, we stopped at the House of Bruar, a high-end store for Scottish Country Clothing. It was kind of awesome. Steve got my birthday present there.

We’re huge suckers for outdoorsy clothes and camping gear. We’re heading out to the woods next weekend, so we’ll give the tents and propane stove a workout.

Flying With Autism

Midway through American Airlines Flight 101 from Heathrow to JFK, shortly after our microwaved meatball dinners were tossed out like frisbees, the flight attendant asked my son Ian if he wanted another beverage. He intently played his Tetris game on the backseat video console without replying or glancing her way.

Missing most of that exchange, I looked over in time to hear the flight attendant loudly exclaim, “Well, how RUDE is that?” She glared at me.

I recited the textbook response I give whenever Ian does something that inadvertently annoys strangers: “My son has autism, so we try to be understanding.”

More here.

National Identity, Origin Myths, and Culloden

Road from Edinburgh to Inverness
Road from Edinburgh to Inverness

About midway through our trip to Scotland, Steve picked up a rental car and we headed north to Inverness. Inverness is in the heart of Highlands, where the kilt and the bagpipe and the clans ruled for hundreds of years.

Yes, Steve bravely drove on the wrong side of the road for several nail-biting days on our trip. He may or may not have dinged up the back bumper on a narrow road one day. He said the first day was stressful, but after Day One, he felt fine. We could have done just fine using the train and bus system for that part of the country, but a car was nice, because we able to really explore the quiet lanes of the country. It would have been cool to have more time to drive up the coast and see even more remote areas and islands. Next time.

One of our day trips was to the ancient battle site, Culloden. Here, in 1745, thousands of Scots — massively outnumbered, exhausted, and out-gunned — stepped onto the battle field knowing that they wouldn’t make it out alive. The dead bodies were later just dumped in mass graves with big rocks laid through the field with clan names.

The fields of Culloden

There’s a big museum commemorating the battle there and you can walk through the field to think about the despair and the bravery of the troops.

Urquhart Castle, Scotland

This battle and the ramifications of the massive Jacobite revolution is everywhere in the area. Later, we visited Urquhart Castle or the remains of it. It had been blown up at some point during the whole Jacobite mess. And every site we visited on our trip had been impacted in some way by the lost battle, the bravery of the men, the brutal oppression of the British afterwards, and the decimation of the clan system.

Memorial at Culloden

This battle was the core of their national identity. A battle that they lost and arguably was a stupid, stupid fight; there’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity. But I thought it was fascinating that a country could identity itself as losers, especially after looking up at all the monuments to winning in London; the English are not shy about their colonial past.

Southerners also embraced the loser identity for years, focusing on the bravery of the soldiers, rather than the fact that they were fighting for the slavery. I wonder how many Southerners were of Scottish descent and took their cues from that country.

Every country has its own origin myths. For us, it’s the George Washington and the cherry tree, Betsy Ross and the flag, and Thomas Jefferson in Monticello. We won our war, so that makes things easier. People like their myths clean and simple. For Scotland, it’s bravery and honor, regardless of the cost. For us, it is founding fathers and the birth of democracy. Even if things weren’t perfect in the beginning, the myth goes, our country had seen a gradual march towards greater freedom.

Trump and his supporters are struggling to maintain old notions of the American Origin Myth at a time when the contradictions are too clear. We’re in a period where we’re redefining ourselves as a nation and trying to make peace with the past. It’s fine to have an origin myth based on being losers, as the Scotland example shows, but you can’t have an origin myth based on evil. Maybe a country doesn’t need an origin myth at all. It’s fascinating to see how all this turns out.

Travel: Packing for Scotland, the Highland (Part 2) An Essential Purse

sponsored post

True story. I am addicted to crossbody purses. I think I own ten. Probably more. I like them because I only need something that can fit my wallet, my cell phone, and a tube of lipstick. Anything bigger just cramps my style.

Crossbody purses are essential when traveling and you only need a change purse of pounds, the cell phone, and the key to the Air BnB. When you’re not using them, they fit nicely into a suitcase.

Pad & Quill‘s Heritage Bag is especially cute, because it has a nice shape and smells like new leather. It even has room for an iPad, so you can read Outlander in the corner of a cafe in Edinburgh for an hour or two. Hell, you can even imagine Claire using something like this.

When Pad & Quill asked to partner with me on this product, I immediately said yes, because of its vintage-modern vibe. My nieces offered to model it and now want one, too.