My Sentimental Journey Part 4
Day 23: Saturday, Washington, DC: Not our best sight-seeing day: We started out for the post office and George (the GPS) wanted me to take a left onto New York Avenue. Normally that might be a good idea, but, during Cherry Blossom Season New York Ave is more like New York Parking lot. Coming back George didn’t warn me that the road we were on, and that he wanted me to turn right off of, went into a tunnel under and past the street onto which I was to turn. I don’t trust him as much as I did four weeks ago. So I caught his error and made the correct turn to get back on course. We thought today would be a good day to visit the National Arboretum. The weather was cloudy with some patches of sun. I ignored George’s suggestion to stay in the right lane because it was so bumpy. I missed the turn and had to turn around and join the inbound New York Ave cherry blossom enthusiasts. We finally got there and were enjoying it.
Michele went into the Bonsai building while Lucy and I stayed outside and watched some Koi in a pond next door. Then I heard a great wind and suspected that it did not bode well for us. Before you know it we were in a downpour. Lucy and I found shelter and waited for Michele and for the rain (and hail) to let up a little. That was the end of the Arboretum for us. On the way back to the hotel I stopped at the gas station (on New York Ave) that had a good price posted for diesel. I was all set to pump when I noticed that the pumps had “Condemned” signs on them. The next station I tried had a posted price of $3.959 but when I put in my credit card the price jumped to $4.049. I try not to do business with folks who bait and switch so we left without gas. We asked George for recommendations for a Mexican restaurant. He wanted me to take a left onto New York Ave. I knew the way by taking a right but George kept recalculating and trying to get me onto New York Ave. Does he get a commission? Michele asked if George and I would still be on speaking terms when we get back to Ashland. I’m not sure. His first restaurant suggestion was in a seedy neighborhood, so we tried his second. It was great, one of the best we have ever eaten in. When we got back to the hotel the parking lot was crowded. I had planned to put the camper on the truck after dinner. Michele said I’d never be able to do it, but, with a little maneuvering and blocking the driveway for a while the truck got under the camper and all is well.
Day 24: Sunday, Washington, DC – We decided to go to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s farm. I had more than a few disagreements with George. Partly, my fault. I got confused when we went over the Anacostia River and thought we had crossed the Potomac. My sense of direction was off and I missed a few of his queues. When we got there a guard motioned to us to go around the circle again and come to talk to him. I wondered what kind of trouble we were in but he was just helping us find a good parking place, behind locked gates, even. The place was crowded. It was a mob scene. We took a walk and decided not to go into the farm and farm house, etc. Someone suggested the Grist Mill which was interesting and not crammed with people. What a treat! It only cost $4 a head and that included a guided tour of the mill and the distillery. George Washington’s mill was looted and nothing was left but the foundation. There was sufficient documentation of how it worked that it has been completely restored. The mill is based on a patented system that was fully automated in the 18th century. The grain goes in at the top. Its chaff is blown away by agitation and a fan.
It then drops down a floor to the mill stones. The ground flour is then hoisted by an enclosed elevator to a rotating basket that sorts the fine, medium and coarse flours and drops them down into waiting barrels. The Mill wheel drives a shaft with wooden gears that drives all the other equipment.
There are various clutches that determine just which wheels turn. There is some metal, but it is mostly wood. We saw wheat flour being ground, The dust was too much for Michele. The distillery was also in operation but I didn’t hear the presentation because I had dallied looking at the Mill. Washington was not only a general and President but quite an entrepreneur. After Mount Vernon we picked up some desert and went to Bobby and Danine and Elise’s house for dinner. They are the family I met three years ago who were taking a year to travel the country in an Airstream trailer. I mentioned their blog in Part One of this story. It is “www.ayearabout.wordpress.com”. I had enjoyed meeting them at The Valley of the Rogue campground, but I enjoyed their company and hospitality even more. They have wonderful stories to tell of their trip and great pictures and Danine is making books of the blog. Bobby offered electricity for the camper and Danine offered the use of their washer and dryer. Elise remembered Lucy, but me? Not so much. They have been following what I have posted about our trip. Danine commented on my disillusionment with nostalgia. She said the risk in going back is that you pollute your memories with visions of how it is now which has to be very different from how it was then. Which reminds me of the misquote of Gertrude Stein. About Oakland she said “There is no there there.” People often think she was knocking Oakland. She was not. She was saying “You can’t go back because what was there is no more, it has changed. We had a great time and stayed up too late because we had to get Michele to the airport by 5:40 AM!
Day 25: Monday, Washington, DC to Hazelton, PA: Up at 4:30, on the road by 5, dark roads, construction, tolls, confusion with the GPS but we got Michele to the airport on time. (I’ll fill in her adventure later, or I’ll let her fill it in.) The GPS sometimes gets a little behind or a little confused. It says turn right but the arrow on the screen shows left, or vice versa. I wanted to get out of Washington before the rush hour traffic made it difficult. I guess rush hour starts at about 6! There was traffic. And tolls! We don’t have tolls in Oregon. I experience them in the Bay area when I visit there but I have a “Fastrack” device that pays the tolls for me. I don’t have to fish around for money and change. The East confuses me. I asked George to plot a course for Blue Bell, PA. I had worked there for Univac in 1965, 66. I hoped to find the Cross Roads Motel and restaurant. George took me on the blue highways I had wanted. It was great. The roads lead us through Amish country, though we saw no Amish. The homes were old, the roads narrow. We saw horse country. I asked an old-timer I met in a Walmart parking lot if he remembered the Cross Roads. He suggested a road I should take but did not remember the Univac plant or the Cross Roads. So I chose to move on to where I grew up, Port Chester, NY. I didn’t want to go up the Jersey Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway so I told George to take me to Suffern, NY. That would get me close to the Tappan Zee bridge. Then I changed the command to Tarrytown, NY which is just across the bridge. First thing I know I’m on a road that is signed as going to the George Washington Bridge. I changed the command to Nyack, NY and tuned around to face away from the GW Bridge. George turned me around and again sent me toward the bridge. I shouted and swore at George. I pulled off the road and checked a map. OH! George was taking me toward the GW Bridge but not necessarily over it. I let him have his way, planning to abort if he didn’t turn on route 17. He had a better idea and got me to the Tappan Zee Bridge. I took an interstate to Port Chester, got off at Westchester Avenue. When I was a boy White Plains’ tallest building was the Bonwit Teller store. Now it has high rises galore. So does Port Chester. Where Russ Shaw’s funeral parlor and the Elks Club were are now high rises. Rocky’s Hardware store is gone, Frits & Tom’s restaurant and bar is gone. The old barber shop is gone. The local banks are now Chase and Wells Fargo. The Embassy Theatre is gone. The building is there but there is no marquee. I stopped at a nice park to walk Lucy but they had big nasty signs saying dogs were not allowed in the park. I took a lot of pictures on the street where I grew up.
The trees are all different. The two lots that we played in on either side of our house now have houses on them. Mrs. Rigney’s house is painted a lighter color that I don’t think fits her style of house. I got a picture of the wall in front of Helen Davidson’s house. When I was about 5 or 6 I refused to march around the dining room table with the rest of the kids at a Halloween party there. Mrs. Davidson said that if I didn’t march around the table I would have to leave and go home. I left and sat on the ground on the other side of that wall and cried. It’s not as big as I remembered it.
But then, I’m bigger. At the other end of Betsy Brown Road was a mansion where my godmother’s father had been the caretaker. I have pictures of me as a little kid on the steps of the mansion. The property has been split up and developed so there is nothing to show of the old estate except the old house which looks out of place on its small lot.
Next it was up to Bowman Drive where we moved after I graduated from High school. I did a lot of work on that house, finished the library, installed a safe in a hidden place behind the book shelves, insulated the attic and planted a chestnut tree. The tree is gone.
I tried to call Billy Davidson but got his voice mail. He was Helen’s big brother and I think is still a lawyer in town. I had tried several times to call Patti, my niece in Boston, but I never got a response. So I gave up on the trip to Boston. It felt complete when I left to start home. We let George plot us a course to Chicago and went back across the Tappan Zee Bridge and off across New Jersey into Pennsylvania. I had a lasagna in a Hollywood Diner and Sports Bar and we parked in a Walmart parking lot.
Day 26: Tuesday, Hazelton, PA to Toledo, OH: My calendar says spring but my eyes say winter. It was cold today. I even saw snow falling and accumulating on the north slopes by the freeway. Last night it started to rain just as we went to bed. At times it really poured but the temperature didn’t go that low. I drained the camper battery by using an inverter to power the computer. In the middle of the night I had to turn the heater off because the battery was too low to power the blower. It didn’t get unbearably cold. I had trouble today remembering “here and now, boys, here and now.” My mind got out of the present and went into the past and future. I kept catching myself and pulling back to the now. The now was interesting by not spectacular. Although, crossing one bridge I looked down into a deep valley and saw the cutest little town. I wish I could have stopped and taken a picture but the bridge was narrow with no pedestrian access and it would have been my last picture. For quite a way in Pennsylvania I noticed that the woods were strewn with rocks, from the size of bricks to basketballs, no boulders. Trees grew up through them. The forest looked normal except for the floor, covered with rocks. They were irregular shaped, not like glacier rolled round ones. There were no flowering trees, no sign of spring. The skies were gray or raining or snowing. As soon as we crossed into Ohio things seemed to clear up. The wind that had blown the camper all over the road let up and there were patches of blue in the sky. But it was still cold. We registered in a KOA and I pulled apart the electric cable between the camper and the truck to see if I could make the turn signals work. They did before and after dinner. We’ll see if they keep working tomorrow. On one of my distractions I got thinking about all my best friends over the years. Jimmy Griffin who was my best friend in second grade died in third grade (leukemia). Walt McGuire died in a car accident when we were in our twenties. Gary Nielson died of leukemia when he was 48. Ted Chatterton died at age 79. I have lost touch with my high school and college pals. I was thinking of contacting some of them and remembered what Danine said the other night about the danger of going back and finding things just aren’t the same and the memories may be damaged by new experience. When I get home and am not so insistent on being in the here and now I may revisit the question and decide then.
Day 27: Hazelton, OH to Geneseo, IL: Truly a long day. We passed from Eastern Time to Central Time and gained an hour. I overslept this morning. I had not been able to log onto the internet the night before so I found out how after the office opened at 9AM. We finally got on the road at about 11:30! It was more “there and then” then “here and now.” My mind kept wandering off what I was seeing and thinking about other things. I got distracted by a tower for high tension wires. This one was a tall round pole or pipe anchored to the ground in a piece of concrete, I got thinking about how deep you would have to dig to make such a pole stable. I guess it would depend on the type of soil around the foundation. How wide would the foundation have to be? How would the engineer know, how would he communicate to the builder? Suddenly I thought of how much that makes this world work I do not know. I have been criticizing the rough roads but could I do a better job of building them? Not a chance. I wouldn’t know where to start. How do they chose the route? Where does the fill come from that raises up the valleys? Is it the same material that they carve out to level the hills? We passed the Lordstown GM plant. I remember when that was being built and how advanced it was, how modern. I thought of all the skills that went into building it and maintaining it and running it and how many of them I do not have. It was a very humbling day. We passed Gary Indiana. It doesn’t look like the town sung about in the musical “The Music Man.” Then into Chicago. Have I said that I don’t like traffic? George guided me pretty well to Burton Place where I had lived in 1968.
It used to run from Wells to LaSalle but it has been turned into a Cul De Sac by putting a mini park at the Wells Street end. I had turned into it before I realized there was no way out! I was able to turn around but had a confrontation with someone who came in behind me and didn’t want to give me the room to turn. Eventually she saw that she was not going to get anywhere until she backed up and let me out. I found a parking place big enough for the camper on LaSalle Street across for the end of Burton Place! I couldn’t believe my luck. Until I saw that it was 3:30 and the parking lane would turn into a No Parking, No Standing bus lane at 4. Lucy and I walked around the old neighborhood and took pictures. I had lived in an apartment that had been built during the depression. Someone had given some artists a credit card at the junk yard. They used recycled mosaics, marble, tiles and bricks to build a unique house. I couldn’t get inside where the true art was but the outside demonstrates the idea.
The drug store that had swastikas in its tile floor was gone. It had predated the Nazis usurpation of that ancient symbol. But it didn’t survive the yuppification of Old Town. Just before four we got out of there and were surprised first by the route George chose for us and second by the lack of traffic thru downtown Chicago on Lake Side Drive and onto the Interstate. We hit heavy traffic further out of town, but it wasn’t all that bad. George got me good at the end of the day. I had chosen a campground in Geneseo, IL. We were almost there when George took us on a road under a railroad. The bridge was ten feet off the ground. The air conditioner on top of the camper was ten feet off the ground. I realized this about two feet too late. When I backed out from under the bridge some of the air conditioner fell off the camper in many pieces. To add insult to injury after I had found a way to get over the tracks a police car pulled me over. I asked “What did I do?” He said “Did you hit that railroad bridge?” I said “Yeah, but I didn’t hurt it!” He took my license and went back to his car. He asked if I wanted to file an accident report for my insurance company. He said he didn’t have to file a report if the damage was under $500. I said it was and he said he’d check with his sergeant. Then he said to wait while he checked for damage to the bridge. I told him that if the damage had rust on it, I didn’t do it. (The bridge appeared to have been hit by larger and harder things than my air conditioner, many times, and on both sides.) He came back and gave me back my license and wished me a good day. I’ll investigate the damage in the light of tomorrow. It was too dark to climb on top of the camper when we registered for our campsite. To add more insult to injury, when I tried to turn on the light over the table in the camper, it wouldn’t go on! Maybe my luck is changing. The camp store was still open and they had replacement fluorescent bulbs that fit. Dinner was eggs and cheese and apple and beer. When I walked Lucy before her bedtime the stars and moon were out and lovely.