Unpacking and Unboxing

Thanks for all your kind words, friends of the blogosphere; I woke up at 6:00 yesterday morning in Itasca, got through airport security in 45 minutes – record time at O’Hare – thanks to being put in the priority boarding lane, and was dozing in my bed in Madison at 10:30 AM. After a brief lie-down, I remembered that I had to a) unpack, and b) get the mail.

Doing option B first, I went to the mailboxes to discover it overflowing, mostly with bills and junk mail, but also my cousin’s bat mitzvah invitation and my APO Life Member pin. Then, in the package room, a whopping six packages, which I opened in my living room while FaceTime-ing with my dad. Almost like one of those weird unboxing videos on YouTube. Anyway, my haul:

  • My APO Life Membership Certificate
  • A copy of the latest Ecumenica with my article in it
  • Three books (two for class, one as a gift)
  • Most excitingly…my German passport!

So it’s official: I’m published again, a Life Member, and a German, all in the same day.

Then, for the unpacking portion of the evening…

Suffice it to say that after laundering all my trip laundry, I was faced with the task of unpacking. Basically, that meant dumping everything out of my suitcase and onto the floor where it is and will be until I can sort it out.

Let’s see what I picked up along the way, shall we?

  • Postcards from EVERYWHERE (Utah, Wyoming, Maryland, Quebec, PEI, and Boston)
  • Partially-used toiletries
  • Barely-read books, including one I bought in PEI
  • An Anne of Green Gables windchime (PEI)
  • A teddy bear (PEI)
  • Catalogues and a program book (ATHE)
  • Business cards (ATHE)
  • A Canadian flag (PEI)
  • Maps of everywhere
  • Receipts
  • Pens and pencils
  • Miscellaneous pieces of garbage

That’s all folks.


Road Trip 1: New England, 1999

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.


Road Trips

When I was about 11 years old, some friends bought me a pocket-sized blue book with “Passport to Your National Parks” written on the front in gold lettering, with a map and guide to all the National Park units in the country, including battlefield, historic homes, whatever – there are about 360 of them. It’s a little book with color-coded sections in it. For each national park you go to, you get a cancellation, or “stamp” stamped in your book. The same friends took me to Washington, DC to get my first stamp from Ford’s Theatre and Peterson House (The House Where Lincoln Died) on December 31, 1998. I remember that date not because it’s imprinted on my brain but because the passport stamp says so 🙂 each stamp is a circle with the name of the park up top, location on the bottom, and date in the middle. So, since it was something collectible, naturally I became obsessed.

It was also around this time that the movie Eurotrip came out – you know, the one with the horrible trailer with the guy eating the mouse. I wasn’t allowed to see it but I knew it was about a road trip. My eleven year old mind went, “I want to take a road trip!” And now that I had my National Parks Passport, I actually had places to visit!

So I went through the book, starting from the first section, the brown stamps labeled “North Atlantic Region,” comprised of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. I traced a trail along the little numbers of the map, looked up the distance online, and decided I wanted to go. One problem…I couldn’t drive.

It was summer, and I asked my dad, who was outside trimming the bushes, “Dad, can we go on a road trip next summer? To get the national park stamps from the North Atlantic Region?”

His response: “Sure, you plan it, and I’ll drive.”

So it was settled.

Over the course of the next school year, I lived by the National Parks website, painstaking printing out both at home and at my school library all the pages for all the places I wanted to go, and kept them in a big blue folder.

June 1999 came, and believe it or not, I got my dad to take a week off work to drive us (me) to New England to do some bonding and traveling (and get those stamps)! My mother was possibly the only one more thrilled than I, since it meant for her a summer week without husband or son to take care of, cook for, and clean up after, and was only too happy to show us the door.

So we headed off on our very first adventure: to conquer New England.