Trans-Atlantic Travelogue #3

Trouble in New York
Nanuet, New York (of course, vulgar out-of-towners like ourselves think we’re in New York City)
April 16, 2001

As I write these lines we have a loaded down station wagon in the parking lot that won’t start (the VW van won’t materialize until we get to Europe). Instead of turning on it goes whee-eeee-eeee-eee a lot, and overheating lights and such things turn on. This is a cause for concern.

It is also a cause for concern that we ended up running three hours late into the city, which forced me to miss a meeting with one of my editors.

Ok, so we’re sitting here with a vehicle that’s cause for concern, we’re in an absurdly expensive city going further over a budget that’s on the verge of absolute collapse, we’ve already blown the reason for coming here in the first place and even if we can set up something for tomorrow it will force us even further behind schedule….we have to be in Miami to catch the boat in 11 days, and we have to get there via Louisiana (a slight change in our travel schedule, perhaps I’ll try to explain later, it has to do with ESPN’s tennis schedule)…

What should we do?

Fortunately there’s a firm hand on the helm in this storm…I’d already noticed a Domino’s Pizza coupon. I also knew where a bottle of Magic Hat microbrew was packed…how bad can it be?

It’s been quite a week, and one which opened with everyone (except for Amelia) getting sick within a 48-hour period. I’ll spare the details, and statistical breakdown involving volume, pressure and duration, other than to tell you that the general outpouring was unmatched even in my bourbon days in college.

The Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester was nice, but they weren’t offering tours the day that we were there. The proprietor was good enough to allow us to wander around the grounds and pick up a few souvenirs including t-shirts for the girls emblazoned boldly with “Future President.”

Myles and grandpa

Myles sleeping on Grandpa

The visit to Grandma’s house in Pittsford, Vermont was more fruitful. Like any able granny she fed us way too much great food (quite a logistical feat in itself considering the big L-shaped Victorian dubbed “Grandma’s house” is home to not only grandma, but also grandpa, great grandma, no fewer than 6 aunts and uncles…and dinner hour is prime time for visits by friends, relatives and boyfriends), and took the girls out shopping.

For his part Grandpa took me and an uncle and a boyfriend out to the local playground basketball court and taught us a few things about boxing out and aggressive defense. I admit that I responded by fouling him repeatedly, but hey, grandpa’s bigger than me…

Toward the middle of the week the opportunity presented itself to visit Burlington. Burlington contains semi-sacred culinary ground in the finest American tradition. It is in Burlington that Nectar’s serves up its legendary gravy fries.

Democracy sculpture

Democracy sculpture, Burlington VT

Burlington is a great town, with downtown heading up a hill away from Lake Champlain. It’s a college town, chock full o’ politics. The leftists were out in full swing protesting the WTO meeting to take place in Quebec, the rightists were denouncing “tax slavery” and applauding a speaker from the local Libertarian Party. Nowhere did I see any evidence of the existence of the Democratic or Republican parties, even President Bush’s existence was acknowledged only in speeches denouncing him (by both groups). All of the demonstrators and attendees were respectful and dignified in the New England tradition (not counting Boston).

I chatted briefly, and amiably, with representatives of the various groups, but I was not to be deterred – Nectar’s was only blocks away.

Nectar’s is, of course, the bar where the legendary improvisational rock band Phish cut its teeth, feathered its gills, whatever. It’s a very cool place, with a cafeteria attached. I got there at late breakfast time and took to the cafeteria for a plate of the legendary gravy fries of Phish head lore. There’s a doorway allowing diners to enter the bar. Which I did, but I’m getting ahead of the story.

Gravy fries at Nectar's

The legendary gravy fries, Nectar’s

The gravy fries were served up by Nectar himself, the gentleman who owns the joint, and whose features grace the cover of the Phish album A Picture of Nectar. Nectar served me up and I got right to the business of eating the gravy fries.

Were they a disappointment? No. They were very good. In fact, for two bucks and change I would have eaten them quite nearly every day of my collegiate career. But they were more tour food than gourmet food. They weren’t like the pommes fritas and gravy I grew up with as a youth in Schwabia. What did I expect from a cafeteria attached to a bar? And for less than three bucks? Isn’t a legend enough?

It is, I’ll go get more next time I’m in town. Then I’ll go through the entrance to the bar again. That was good too.

Back at Grandma’s, everyone had caught whatever it was that we’d picked up coming across the country. Fortunately they have four bathrooms, but even that wasn’t enough and I hear that disgusting things were done in the sink on at least one occasion. The only good thing about that virus is that it blows out as fast as it comes on, and most everyone was better when I got back two days later.

Easter was an extravaganza with all the trimmings, including an enormous ham and an Easter egg hunt. I personally detest eggs and I can’t imagine why anyone would bother looking for them. Of course I guess once hidden you have no choice but to eradicate them even if it requires acknowledgment.

In any event it was a good rest stop, great food, good conversation, and Ghostbusters was even on cable one night. I consider that film the landmark in American art, and Rick Moranis’ performance the single greatest supporting performance in the history of cinema.

The Ghostbusters got out of their little dilemma in this city and we’ll get out of ours. Maybe the car will start right up in the morning. Maybe the AAA guy will show up and laugh and point out something that got disconnected. Maybe a kindly New Yorker will drive by and offer us a Rolls Royce full of Dalmatians to take down to Miami. Who knows, I’ve heard that all kinds of things happen in this city.

Tune in next week when, assuming we have a running vehicle, we drive southwest at breakneck speed towards grandma’s (my mom) house in Louisiana. From there we turn into the home stretch of the American leg of the tour: Disney World, the Coral Castle, and a big boat named The Grandeur of the Seas.