Our first official road trip started on June 13, 1999. With a tank full of gas and hearts full of hope, we headed to nab our first stamps of the day, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After driving through Maryland and Delaware, we arrived in Philly just in time for lunch.
Our first stop was the Gloria Dei Church. It wasn’t too interesting – just an old church with a graveyard. We didn’t see a visitor’s center, so we asked around inside, and the church workers had no clue what we were talking about. It was listed online, but not in the book, so I thought we had a chance of scoring one, but alas, we failed. (A few years later, they did indeed get an official visitor’s center with a stamp. I need to go back.)
The rest of the day went very smoothly. We picked up the first stamp of the trip at Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, home of a supporter of George Washington, then another at the Liberty Bell (Independence National Historical Park) and at the home of Edgar Allan Poe. There, one of the rooms had a rubber “telltale heart” hidden under a plank, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. Later that day we hit Valley Forge before stopping for the night in Fort Washington, PA.
Day 2: More of the same. We hit three: Morristown NHP, Morristown, New Jersey; and my first brown stamps (as opposed to Mid-Atlantic light blue) were Ellis Island (new to my dad but old hat to me, having visited it with my 4th grade class), and the Statue of Liberty (which we climbed up to the base). But that didn’t matter because we got to spend the night in a state I’d never been to before: Bridgeport, Connecticut. I had finally visited a state that my sister hadn’t. Moving on to:
Day 3: Bright and early to capture Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Our first stop was the historic Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, where we got to see the secret passageway beneath the bimah (another historical thing that BLEW MY MIND) and say hello to the oldest still-standing synagogue in the USA. It’s also the only Jewish-themed national park, so, bonus. Once we hit Massachusetts, we made an unplanned stop in New Bedford and got the stamp for the New Bedford Whaling NHP, which remains one of my favorite national parks to this day – the town was so cute and little and New England, and the huge whale skeleton suspended on the ceiling didn’t hurt either. We spent the night at the Suisse Chalet Inn in Cambridge – I didn’t mind it so much (probably too high on having fun) but my dad remembers it as being a roach motel.
Day 4: Boston Day. This was also no-car day, which was less expensive and easier on my dad. We walked the entire length of the Freedom Trail to get the Boston NHP stamp, as well as the Black History Trail to get the Boston African-American stamp. I wasn’t interested in anything other than the parks and the stamps, but upon my dad’s insisting, we strolled around Boston Common and made a stop in Harvard Yard. We took the T to Brookline to see John F. Kennedy’s home, and then headed to Dad’s favorite part of the trip, a Red Sox game at old Fenway Park. They played the Twins but I can’t remember who won.
Day 5: Boston Suburbs. We hit up the Salem (Salem Maritime NHS), Saugus (Saugus Iron Works NHS) and Lowell (Lowell NHP) AKA home of the cotton mills. This is the only time on any of the trips I remember having a serious breakdown (I was totally a crier as a kid) – I think it was because of traffic. I was surprised at how little we fought throughout the entire eight-day trip. We also veered up to New Hampshire, just so I could say I’d been there, even though the only stamp was much further up.
Day 6: Goodbye Roach Motel, hello central and western Mass. We excitedly hit up Minute Man NHP in Concord/Lexington and the Springfield Armory in Springfield, ending the day with Weir Farm in Wilton, CT, before stopping at my cousins’ place in the Bronx for Shabbat.
Day 7: Shabbat. No parks.
Day 8: Last day. We bid the cousins goodbye, visited old Great-Aunt Yetta (think Yetta from The Nanny, only in real life), who lived in Washington Heights squalor complete with faded photos on the walls, furniture held together by duct tape, and a funny old-lady smell in the whole apartment, and got two stamps (Grant’s Tomb and Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace) before heading home. Where I proceeded to tell the whole story to my mom and sister, and anyone else who would listen, numerous times.
Overall, we had a great time. My dad is very much into history, and learning about American history with me was as much fun for him as it was for me. He viewed it as an “educational experience” for me, but I had my stamps and some other souvenirs so I was happy enough. He had been to NYC and Boston before, but hadn’t gone to any of the battlefields, presidents’ homes, or even Fenway Park before. He and I quarreled very little, and with my old-style, Pre-GPS maps from AAA, I managed to navigate us the whole way, even leading my dad on a shortcut once and redirecting him after he almost missed the exit off the New Jersey Turnpike going towards NYC. Even though I had such fun as the navigator, the driving did take its toll on my dad, who spent the next day or so sleeping it off.
We took a break in the summer of 2000, while I prepared for my Bar Mitzvah, but resumed our road trip with a Part II for four days in June 2001, heading toward the Midwest – the second of 5 official road trips we took together.