September 1995


Jim and His Parents Vacation Together



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[As our intrepid reporter sat in a car with his parents for 8 hours a day he dutifully recorded their travels for those family members who were unable to attend. The prime objective is to visit sister Nancy and the new, first in the family grandchild. We'll also get to meet the in-laws for the first time.

His daily email letters to his two brothers follow.]

Day 1

Well, we are now safely inside our rooms at the Super8 in Newburg. Or is it Newsbury? I don't know. We started off on the wrong foot with an aborted take off from SFO. In our seats, engines revved up, plane gaining speed, gently pushed back into my seat. Then, full reverse, brakes on, seat belt holding me back. We slow to a stop. Hubbub of voices as the pilot comes on the speaker:

"Stay in your seats, no need to worry."
"Just had a small alarm go off in the cockpit."

Small - Alarm - Cockpit: three words that just don't go together. Thirty minutes later, fingers crossed, we're in the air.

On the ground at JFK we fight some traffic out of New York. With Dad as my fearless navigator we only get lost a couple of times. Once my fault, when in search of food I found myself in an exit lane to an eighteen wheeler trailer drop off. No big deal except there was no way back onto the expressway in the direction we were going. The only entrance is a U-turn. We head back south but on these toll roads there are few exits. Our AAA trip-ticks are not too detailed here and we take an exit, hoping to get right back on northbound. No such luck. We wander further south on side streets. I'm calling off road signs and Dad's squinting at a map that looks like a picture from 30,000 feet up. Miles later we cross under the toll road and head west. Still no way to get back on. Ten minutes of guessing this, my calling out that, and taking yet another blind turn I jet into a service station. "Good idea" is the only comment from Mom in the back seat.

Following directions we get back on the roadway in only two minutes. There was no way in hell we would have ever found this on our own. We pass by my trailer drop off point and pull off further on for human services. Burger King and sbarro for eats. What the fuck does sbarro mean anyway? Pasta in a mess-o-cheese with spaghetti try-and-find-the-meat sauce? That's what I had.

We're now here, Newsbury; it's 8:45pm. West Point is having a football game so this Super8 is sold out. No TV remote controls for our rooms. The desk clerk tells us that people rip 'em off so they don't have enough for everyone. Oh, that makes sense. If we come in tomorrow morning they'll be able to give us one. "But don't come looking too late!" I ask about a pool and they remind me, "you're not in California anymore." So true.

My non-smoking room is neat and clean. I lay back on the bed, light up a cigar, and try to work the TV controls without leaving my bed. My leg is just about long enough but my toes don't have the dexterity to carry out the task. Looks like lights out for now.


Day 2: Wet ones

Correction to the end of yesterday... 9:30pm the folks are at my door, we need some air. We walk down the hill to the Denny's at the bottom. The place is packed. Loud mouthed brats are at each table. It takes five minutes for a hostess to see us and seat us at a table across from a typical fat family. Kids are normal, the two moms are morbidly obese. The floor under them is littered with the detritus of their meal. The next table is empty but covered with stale dirty dishes. The spot it occupies on the carpet is also soiled beyond belief. My appetite wanes, but not enough that I can't wolf down a blueberry sundae before going to bed.

I wake at 8am; late. Up and towards the shower. I hear Dad in the hall telling Mom, "the privacy latch on his door still shows closed." Our pre-arranged signal was for me to switch the latch when I was ready to go out. "Anytime after 7am" I told them last night. Oh well. I ignore Dad and jump in the shower.

8:30 I peak out the window to see if it's sunny enough for shorts and find that it's raining. Not a downpour, but steady and very wet.

On the way to breakfast Dad tells me it was pretty boring last night without the TV.

"Oh, yours didn’t work?"
"We didn’t have the remote."
"Uh, Dad, you can still use the buttons and the knobs on the TV itself."
"....Oh yeah."

The local Denny's is going to become our hangout, I can tell. This morning I have something they call "Moons over My Hammy." This roughly translates into enough fat and calories to float the QE2 all the way to England.

On the road I spy a sign before the bridge, "Escort service area for overweight vehicles"; I'll get a photo of that tomorrow.

Greg and Nancy, and now Steven, live about 20 minutes away. Their apartment building is five stories of brick with a nice grass area in front. We ring their bell and they buzz us in. The entranceway is sparse, off white, and not exactly dirty, but not exactly clean. The whole place smells strongly of Chinese food. The elevator is old and not too beat up. On the floor button panel is scrawled, "This place SUCKS!" Seems to fit.

On floor three we step into a white cement corridor painted with five foot wide red diagonal stripes to give it some color. There are two empty shopping carts in the middle of the hall. Every sound echoes loudly in this modern cave. To the left I see someone looking at us from a doorway. Oh, it's Greg. "Howdy."

Inside, their apartment is very, very nice. Cozy and nice. And there is Steven. At 14 days old, he is very smooth skinned. None of that baby harp seal look to him. He's not pinched and red. Some light hair, and a peaceful look on his face. He was delivered a week late, he's heavy, and Nancy's breast feeding him. Perhaps it all conspires to keep him a quiet, uncomplaining baby.

We fool around, take some pictures, and chat. Lunch is a heavy basket of ribs and fries for me. Dad has the same, but he takes on the 1 pound option. Mom has steamed vegetables. Normal lunch for us all.

FDR had a summer house nearby that we go to see. It's in Hyde Park for those of you who know. The house is restored to the way they lived in it and it is a very livable house. I could see myself using the desk and library. Also on the land is the FDR presidential library. This is a great place filled with FDR memorabilia from his entire life. Very, very cool. We don't get to Vals-kill, Eleanor's hideaway on the property. Apparently after FDR got polio, Mamie made her life hell, FDR grabbed a mistress, so Eleanor build Vals-kill and lived there with "two of her girl friends." Say no more.

We met Greg's Mom and head to dinner at a nice restaurant right on the edge of the Hudson. Nice view and Greg takes the check again before I can get to it. That dog. Well, I'll let him pick up dinner tomorrow too then.

Back to Erika's for dessert and to meet the rest of the gang. Greg's oldest brother (11 years his senior) owns a classic car and we find him in his mother's garage putting it under wraps. Doesn't even drive it if there's a chance of rain. He has two sons that are over 20, and his daughter is there, looks about 17.

His older sister's husband is named Mike and he has two kids: boy about 8, girl about 6. Nice people.

We spend about twenty minutes in Erika's living room making that awkward small talk of families that have meshed through marriage but not in person. When the Simpson's comes on at 8pm the men and kids move into the TV room. Coffee, pie, cheesecake, and we're in the car for home.

Of course, we get off an exit too early and drive down dark industrial and residential roads in the city of Newburgh that Nancy has told us is a drug filled slum. Apparently a navigational breakdown. Did I mention that I'm in the pilot's seat? Anyway, an exit further down and we're on the beacon for home.

I input what I've learned of Greg's family tree and fax it to myself at the hotel. Tomorrow I'll give it to them and maybe we'll get some more data.

This journal day is full, and I'm off to bed.

Day 3: Meatday

I wake at 7:15 with a promise on my lips, "be heart healthy." It starts at 9am when I order raisin bran cereal with a dry English muffin. I have got to clear my system.

On our way to Nancy's we stop at a store to buy Mom some salt free stuff for lunch. We'll be eating-in today. Of course Dad and I can't help but buy a box of Snyder's pretzels, cheese for our sandwiches and some mixture of honey and mustard for dipping pretzels. I wasn't going to buy any, but then Dad found the sample table and the taste got to me; surprise, surprise.

Coming back to the apartment for the second day the interior approach doesn't seem as dreary as the first time. The cement halls do have a thin layer of carpeting on them and they echo like the Grand Canyon, but they are not as forbidding as they seemed the first time we stepped out of that elevator. The smell of Chinese food is gone. Today I notice about ten shopping carts in the small hallway; must be high tide.

We kick back with the kid today. Sitting, eating, petting him, and watching The Price Is Right. Today they announce the price and a winner. The woman jumps up on stage and Bob Barker says, "Wait, you weren't the closest." Jesus, they made a mistake and blinked the wrong person's podium. How did Bob know? I guess he isn't asleep. She had to go back and another cuter, whiter contestant got up on stage. Never seen this happen before. Never watched the show before. Maybe it happens all the time.

Yesterday Greg mentioned that he might take us out on his boat. Dad latched onto this and mentions it whenever we speculate out loud about what to do. I know he likes the water a lot. I can see that Greg wants to go too. I'm not that psyched about it, but I finally give in. Nancy and Mom stay on shore with Steven while we men jump into Greg's boat on the shore of the Hudson. We're launching it in Poughkeepsie and heading down river.

Greg cranks it up and we speed into the river. Man, we are dashing through the waves. Once on the water my spirits are up. God I love to move fast. Greg points at the speedometer: it shows 60mph. We are cooking. Greg slows and lets me take the wheel. For the next hour we cruise at 50 over wakes and waves all the way to West Point and back. I stop here and there for a few pictures but mostly I drive with abandon.

Greg points out the hill Nancy took him hiking on for their third date. It's called break neck hill. Greg describes crawling up a slope that is too steep to descend. Nancy later tells us, "I had to check him out."

At one point Greg turns to me, "Want to get a rush? Stand up." So, at 50 mph I stand up in the cockpit of this boat. Leaning forward into the wind. Bending my legs to keep my balance. Squinting to see ahead. One hand on the wheel, one on the cockpit glass. I am smiling from ear to ear. We can only hold it for 30 seconds and flop back into our seats. I look over at Greg and we show each other shit faced smiles.

The chop comes up. Only swells of 2 feet, but at 50 mph these are quite some speed bumps. Sometimes as we go over them the boat bounces and slips sideways a bit, feeling like it's just on the verge of out of control. I revel in the wildness of it. One hand on the wheel, the other up in the air. We bounce around. As a big wave approaches I think that maybe we should slow down and then remember, "I'm driving!" My right hand moves to the throttle. Ease off for a second or two and then back to speed.

A big boat shoots by us the other way. Greg leans my way. Over the roar he yells, "You might want to slow down for these." Off the bow are four foot wake waves heading at us. I crank it down just in time to slam into them. Bam, bam, bam. Greg tells me that if we'd hit the wake full throttle we might have bounced Dad out of the boat.

Dad is tugging on my arm. I’m too busy driving the boat to talk with him. He won’t go away. I don’t know what he wants, but I finally turn around to see that he's threaded a rope around my shoulder and tied it around his own waist. Dad tells me, "If I go, you go." We have a good laugh as we crash through the next wake.

Dinner tonight is at The Stockyard. Guess the specialty. We follow Greg through a maze of back streets to get there. All the streets are lined with tall trees. No landmarks can be seen to help the novice navigate. If we loose Greg we'll be left wandering.

Prime rib, small 13 ounce size, with bone, for the men. The women go for baked swordfish. Dad's the only one to finish. I make a good dent, but only stuff 60% of it into my gut before I give up.

A few pictures back at the apartment and we're home for the night. Tomorrow it's off by 9am for Sturbridge, then to sleep in Boston.


Day 4: Drive, me crazy

Up and at 'em 9am we're on the road. 94 north. Do we turn now, yet, maybe, soon, look for this, that, I think this, that, do you, maybe, et cetera, et cetera.

Long, long drive from Newbourgh to Sturbridge. But still here in time for lunch! Another round of do we eat here, do we eat there, I don't care, neither do I, save five bucks, eat at the buffet, no salt free there, et cetera, et cetera.

Sturbridge is a live historic town. Everyone who works there is in period costume. Old homes, smithy, basket maker, bank, livery, and all that. Very well done overall. We walk and talk for four hours here. Dad talks about his gardening with the knowledgeable staff. I have a great time. An interesting place is the broom maker's. Broom corn looks like corn, but is really a relative of bamboo. Out the top it sprouts pollinators like normal corn, but the strands go down about two feet into the stalk. When the pollinators stick out the top, the farmer bends the whole stalk in half so that the pollinator strands hang down and grow straight. Cut down and dried, these pollinators are tied around a dowel and cut even to make a broom. Turns out that this is even how modern whisk brooms are made. That's not straw, it's broom corn. Get your whisk broom out and take a look.

We make it to Sharon, about ten miles south of Boston. I've fed myself a 13 ounce filet mignon, medium rare, and orange sherbet. Having finished my work voicemail I complete this missive and hit the sheets with my current book, "Waiting to Exhale."

-day is done-

Day 5: Food day

8:30 cruisin' down HW1 on our way to Providence, RI. I spied a family eatery and in we went. Excellent Dutch apple pancake. The pancake was a typical egg Dutch baby with a thick lower base and browned sides. The treat was the apples. Piled in the center was a cup and a half of fresh apple chunks. Sweeter apples than I've had in a long time, lightly dusted with cinnamon. Cooked just to the point of turning soft. Dusted with granulated sugar and topped with a big blob of butter. Est: 1253 calories / 875 from fat.

In Providence we drove through some nice Presidio-like parts, and other Potrero Hill-like parts, in search of the Johnson and Wales University Culinary Museum. Eventually we pulled into a book store and I bought a map and the Boston equivalent of a Lonely Planet guide. We gotta' be more exacting in our travel.

Found the museum. All this stuff was donated by the famous Chicago Chef Louis Szathmary; perhaps you know of him? When he retired he couldn't find anywhere else to put his junk, so he donated it to the school. In fairness, it wasn't all junk. He has a collection of 30,000 cookbooks from around the world; a nice collection of presidential signature memos that mention food; 3000 book plates and etchings of cooks through the ages. However, in what category would you put the following collections?

Top it off with student docents who serve for one week and have been on the job only 15 hours when we arrive. They have memorized everything and tell us about each item in excruciating detail. "This is a set of spoons from Africa carved in ivory. They were used for medicinal measuring or makeup. This one has a spoon bowl on each end. This one is flat in the middle..."

The head teacher's assistant here was much better, more practiced, and knew what we wanted to hear. She also gave us bum directions to the J&W Inn and cafe.

Great lunch! J&W Inn is a teaching hotel associated with the hotel and restaurant management school of Johnson and Wales University. Run by students, the table help needed help. Fumbling and polite, they handled Mom's no salt diet best of anyplace yet. We asked what they could do and the guy came back with recommendations from the chef. I had an absolutely superb scrod and chips. The breading was as thin as paper, the fish cooked just to perfection, and there were deserts. Cheese cake, orange creme cake, and triple chocolate killer cake. Last I saw, Dad was still alive.

A drive to the Ocean Spray cranberry museum takes an hour; the museum, ten minutes. A long, leisurely drive back to the hotel takes us through a number of quaint, twisty country roads. These folks live in the woods and in town at the same time. We drove over the longest wooden bridge in the country and then back again. I should have slept instead.

Dad does his mid-week laundry and we eat Chinese next door. Just cooked scallops, looobster, shrimp with vegetables in a taro root noodle basket. Sweet and sour prawns. Pan fried noodles with vegetables. Mom had steamed chicken and broccoli. Excellent dinner.

Tomorrow it's Boston.


Day 6: Boston

On the road by 8:15 we head for the train station. Sharon is about 10 miles outside of the city. Like everyone else, we figure on commuting on the train. Too bad everyone else figures that way too. The parking lot is fuller than a plate of all you can eat ribs at a Sizzler. We drive around a bit and bitch and moan 'till I finally hit the road. "Screw the train," I say.

Traffic everywhere we look and we stop for another cholesterol bomb of a breakfast. ANOTHER apple pancake, this one closer to the kind we get at home and not nearly as good as yesterday's.

In Boston we park at the far end of a trolley tour bus route and take that into the city. They driver is a lively type. He might do stand up comedy when he's not driving. I like it better than I expected. We don't pay the driver but when we later stop at a hotel he calls out the concierge to take our money. He tells the bus, "They want me to sell tickets but they don't give me any commission. So, I let my friend at the Hilton sell the tickets." I suppose the driver gets a split. When you want to incent sales reps the compensation program is the key. The trolley company obviously doesn't know that.

We see it all. We ride, we walk, we ride, we walk. Have some great chowdah at Fanieul Hall. Also some more scrod; whatever that is. A woman at the bar convinces me to have a Beefeaters martini and for the cost of the $3.00 drink I take home a nice stonewashed twill cap with an unobtrusive "B" on the front.

Dinner is at the marketplace and we eat at a mall like place. In the middle of eating some joker pulls a fire alarm. A German couple next to us immediately gets up and heads for the door. Tutonic training. Others self-consciously get up, look around and head out. Mom gets up; I keep eating. None of the shop keepers is moving out. Ten minutes of ear splitting dining later the alarm stops and all is normal.

We head out of the city on the subway. Make it back to our car. With Dad navigating we miss our turn, but end up on the freeway anyway. To be fair, it's dark and these roads are poorly marked. Did I mention I was driving?

Tomorrow we head for the cape.


Day 7: Cod anyone?

Sign seen on a pinto while stuck in traffic: "Bumpah Stickah (for the cah)"

9:30 we're done with the breakfast gorge and on our way. It's about an hour south of Boston 'till we cross the Cape Cod canal and set rubber onto the roads of the cape.

Cape driving is like a drive through the Sierra foothills. All green and lush. Most homes are just off the side of the road and set back into the trees. The roads twist and turn, but generally head east. Housing styles are similar to Tiburon; I assume these easterners have copied us again.

I had no idea how long Cape Cod is. Shaped like an ell with a hook on the end, it's thirty miles on each leg. At 30 miles an hour it takes us an hour to drive each leg. Pretty scenery surrounds us. We drive under the canopy and then break free to drive with a coast view and then plunge back under the trees. Every open field is a cranberry bog.

Halfway through the second leg the cape narrows to under two miles, at some points only a mile wide. We drive behind a row of bungalows that front a narrow beach with open bay in front of them. Most are small, one bedroom places with peeling paint and wispy flowers in front. Some are monstrous affairs with multiple garage doors, decks, and maid's quarters. Some are boarded up for the season; obviously their owners won't be back until spring.

At the hook tip of Cape Cod is Provincetown. A rather large community of beds and breakfasts with a touristy Capitola feel to it. Much larger than downtown Capitola. Consider all of Capitola squeezed into one small peninsula and you have an idea of the place. While the cape is pretty well flat, there is a slight ridge down the middle. At the eye of the hook end is a good size hill that affords a view around the area.

We see many gay-nation flags flying here. From stores, B&Bs, and restaurants. Beefy women walking arm in arm; slight guys giving each other the eye over a chess table. I'd say about 50/50 mix.

We eat at a Portuguese restaurant with "ocean view." Ocean view from three tables at the end of the room that is. We're lucky enough to get one. Mom's salt free meal doesn't bear mention. I had scrod in wine sauce; ok. Dad has pork in clam and potato sauce. Red sauce loaded with paprika covers a bowl full of grilled potato chunks and big cubes of pork. Exceptional flavor. Clearly the meal of the day.

Our way back is down the spine of the peninsula, this puts us on a much faster road. We take a side trip to Hyanis Port to see how the "swells" live, to quote Dad. We figure on getting close to the Kennedy compound and trying to bluff our way in as caterers that John-John called. We have no idea where we're going. We start running into signs that say, "No Tour Busses" or "Tour busses must turn right." In each case we do the opposite. One time I catch a sign at a tee intersection that says, "Turn Right." However, it's not a one-way sign. I think this was put up by the people who live down the road to the left. We turn left.

After winding our way through some great houses we're on a road with a forest to our left and the sea beyond that. Regularly, small roads appear. Each one more a tunnel through the trees than a road. Small signs announce the name of the street and on top of that a small "dead end" sign. At the base of each "private road" is stenciled on a small board. Nothing can be seen by looking down these.

When the forest ends we're at a beach and we pull into the parking lot. Looking back over the trees we can now see some god awful big son of a bitch houses, if you catch my drift. These are gigantic complexes that we just see the top sticking above the tree tops. Most look to be right on the beach, though further than we could walk from here. We'd probably set off land mines if we tried.

Back in the car and driving fast we eat again at Johnson & Wales Inn near Providence. A very good dinner for all of us. The ride home begins the rain. By the time we step from the car it's pouring. Let's hope it clears by tomorrow.


Day 8: Museums

Again, breakfast has a high cholesterol content - I should tell you something you don't know.

By 10:00 we're parked and walking through the Boston Science Museum. Kind of a cross between the Exploratorium's hands on exhibits and Stienhart Aquarium's nice layout. At one exhibit a woman has a fresh sheep heart and lungs. She has a blow bottle hooked up to the esophagus and shows us how the lungs inflate. As she keeps pumping I step behind Mom. If those things explode they're not going to get on me. The heart ventricles are slit open and she runs a dissection instrument in through a slit and out an artery. How exciting. Funny thing, she wears a plastic glove on her left hand, which holds the lungs. She pokes her other hand into the tissue with some regularity, yet it is bare.

Noon we meet in the electrical exhibit area, home of the largest Van deGraf generator in the world. 32 feet high, built by Nicolas Tesla himself, it generates 2.5Mv. The show is about to begin. Jacobs ladders. Tesla coils giving forth six foot trees of purple power into the air. And the big boys... A whoosh-hum sound as the internal rubber belts go from a full stop to 60 miles per hour. The 15 foot diameter aluminum spheres get charged. Aluminum foil basketballs are lowered near the generator and BANG BANG BANG, lightning shoots out six feet. Again and again the charge keeps coming. The balls move further away and the strikes get longer. The lights go out. The air around the small ball glows a light blue. Fingers of charge flicker between the small ball and the generator. BANG BANG BANG BANG. These bolts shoot out ten feet right towards the audience.

Lights up, generators off, show's over. It's lasted an exciting 25 minutes.

We meet Peggy and Gene at the nearby subway terminal and head off to Legal Seafood: If it's not fresh, it's not legal. Some kind of rollerblade race is tangling up traffic and I have to do my best ass-wipe Boston driver imitation to make it. Don't worry, it comes pretty naturally to me.

LSF is another eat-fest. At least it seems healthy. The placemats at Legal have several sayings. My favorite: All of our employees who handle fresh fish wear rubber gloves. My thought: What's wrong with the fish?

We take a nice tour of MIT. Peggy shows us her lab. A six foot chemical bench with four shelves above it. Glasswork everywhere and a fish tank with several frogs in it. I imagined either a total mess or a complete neat freakout. Her area was squarely in the middle of the range. She must be normal. She's working on determining how individual cells in a frog embryo react to the chemical gradient along the embryo that causes them to differentiate into different parts of the adult frog. Whew.

Goodbye to them and a quick drive to bunker hill. Nice place, a bit of open space surrounded by brownstones. I shoot some artsy shots of windows and doorways while Mom and Dad check out the dioramas inside. Seems some big historic battle happened here. I'll have to look it up sometime.


Last day: not in yet

[Editor’s note: This file was found encrypted on Mr. Schrempp’s HP Laptop computer. It appears that he never added the final day’s report. Reliable reports have placed Mr. Schrempp several times at the Starbucks in Campbell, California since this trip occurred. We must assume Mr. Schrempp survived the trip home.]

Jim Schrempp is a sometimes freelance writer (only Vanity Press will publish his work) living in Saratoga, California. His writings have appeared on numerous pages on his own web site. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of anyone else (although Jim wishes more people shared his opinions)