Northeast passage

The Friends and Family Tour of summer 2012 came to a successful conclusion. No, not a Lisa's Hotcakes tour, I'm afraid. This was Sweetie and me visiting people in the northeast United States. It wasn't like relaxing on a beach in Hawaii for a week, but it was a good trip.

I'm going to spare you the detailed travelogue. It was the kind of trip where you fly east, stay at a friend's house for a few nights, drive a bit, stay with relatives, drive some more, spend one night in a cheap but decent motel, drive some more, spend a couple nights with different relatives, and finally drive all the way back to the beginning in one stupidly long day to stay for a couple more nights with the original very patient friends. And then you fly back west and are jet-lagged for a few days.

Instead of the travelogue, I'm going to break out of the linear chronological mode I fall into too often and deal with the trip by topic: fashion, food, family, one or two others. For now, since I'm jet-lagged (and was so tired last night that every time I tried to write a blog entry I soon ground to a halt), I will post only a few "lessons learned."

The first is to grab that free map that the rental car company has in the airport shuttle. Or some kind of paper map. Or if you insist on paying the big bucks, rent a GPS. Sure, you lived in that area 18 years ago, but shit changes. And you were never in Philadelphia before and didn't know New Jersey very well except the part near New York. Do not rely on the iPhone GPS app. You will not know whether you are supposed to be on state route 117 or the Saw Mill Parkway, since they are right next to each other, until 117 veers off and you soon realize, oh, we're supposed to be on the parkway. And you will not figure out where I-95 disappeared to as you head south on the New Jersey Turnpike. And you will definitely not know that Exit 4, which says "Philadelphia" below the main destination, is really the only good exit to Philadelphia if you're coming from the north, even though it's yet another state route.

It's no good complaining that there's no nice, direct connection between Philly and the Turnpike, like maybe an interstate or something. And it's no good complaining that I-95, the main route from Maine to Florida which has been completed for something like 50 years, is inexplicably discontinuous in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Maybe PA and NJ don't get along or something.

(Very little is actually inexplicable anymore, thanks to Wikipedia and some serious highway geeks. If you Google "Interstate 95 in New Jersey," there are even more geeky details.)

Second, do not drive from southern New Hampshire to Philadelphia on a single weekend day. Sure, you used to do Boston to Virginia in a day, but you were 30 years younger then. You will get stuck in traffic in at least one place, and you will be exhausted and cranky by the time you hit the City of Brotherly (not Sisterly, I guess) Love. And you will then drink three beer with dinner, which you pretty much never do anymore, and when you get home pass out in your dress and never get around to taking off your makeup (and yet somehow wake up the next day without a headache). Instead, maybe you should politely ask relatives in Connecticut if they will put you up, or put up with you, or something like that, for the night.

Trouble is, it's a long drive for one day, but short to split into two. Maybe the solution is to use New York City as the halfway point, even though it's more than halfway, and then spend some time in Manhattan, which you didn't get enough of before (more to come on that).

Finally, when you need coffee, which you do a couple times a day, do not expect to find a Starbucks. Yes, there are Starbucks in the northeast, but they are few and far between, not every few blocks like they are here. Don't get all Left Coast chauvinist. You don't even like Starbucks! Give in to the ubiquitous Dunkin Donuts. The coffee is fine. And when you're in Philadelphia, take advantage of the many cool independent coffee shops, like the one in which you had a discussion with the woman running the place about how drinking hot coffee on a hot day actually cools you off. She made damn fine coffee too. Now that's almost like home!

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