postaday 2011 topic: best road trip

A couple of years ago I was part of a totally unexpected road trip with 3 strangers, all of us in the same “boat” when Southwest cancelled our connecting flights. All anxious to get to our destinations, mine being my daughter’s home, an hour away by air. Not one for hitch-hiking, but wanting to see her smiling face after a 5 hour flight, I threw caution to the wind. Telling my hubby, “I’m catching a ride with Larry. Talk to you later.” I happily drove off with my newfound companions, a woman, and 2 men.

God blessed our road trip because our personalities gelled. We were all soft-spoken, laughing quietly at each other’s jokes, commiserating about jobs and families. We stopped enroute for a quick bite, but hurriedly continued on our way.

Arriving at the airport where we should’ve landed, I tried to press $20 into Larry’s hand for having rented the car. He refused, saying our companionship was more than compensation on what would have been a long, solitary, 5 hour ride to his home. I hugged him, tears welling  in my eyes because I’d been helped by a truly Good Samaritan. I will never forget his kindness in helping me get to my daughter, who likened the trip to the mom in “Home Alone 2,” when she hitchiked with musicians to get home to her son, Kevin. 

good people happen when you least expect them…hugmamma. :)

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been there, done that

Media coverage of President Obama’s recent vacation has put Martha’s Vineyard “on the map.” Not that it wasn’t already there. According to the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal “The release of  ‘Jaws,’ the 1975 movie about a man-eating shark, first drew the masses to an island that had been a some-time presidential retreat since Ulysses S. Grant. Celebrities such as Carly Simon, Meg Ryan and David Letterman own homes on the island. …President Bill Clinton’s frequent visits in the 1990s brought another surge of interest…” Though not celebrities, my daughter and I visited the island about 7 years ago. She had auditioned, and been accepted, to dance with “Stiefel and Students.” Because she was apprenticing with a ballet company midway through the summer program, Ethan Stiefel allowed her to attend the first 2 of the scheduled 4 weeks. She was delighted to train with an icon of the dance world, and have a great job lined up for her future.

The compound which housed “Stiefel and Students” was specifically built for the program. The owner, a wealthy contractor, was a patron of ballet, his teenage daughter dancing with a private studio in their home state of New Jersey. Because he’d guested as the Nutcracker prince to their daughter’s Maria, Steifel became a close family friend. Two beautiful homes sat on a couple of acres of prime land near downtown Edgartown. Each had several bedrooms and, baths, huge kitchen with living space, large patio and a sizeable dance studio. The student dancers, including my daughter, were in one house, while the instructors and guest dancers from NYC lived in the other. I don’t recall if one or more of the 4 chaperones lived with the students, or if they all stayed in the other dwelling. Needless to say this was  one of the best “dormitory” situations of my daughter’s summer dance experiences, which has included Banff, NYC, Atlanta, Chautauqua, Jacksonville, Portland, and Irvine.

Viewing this as the opportunity of a lifetime, and it was, my husband and I decided I should summer in Martha’s Vineyard while our daughter was there. So for 2 glorious weeks I lived among the rich and famous, and the middle class, myself being one of them. Having done extensive research, I settled upon a bed and breakfast called The Lighthouse Inn. The 1 bedroom, 1 bath, kitchen-living room combination was charmingly decorated and conveniently situated in the heart of Edgartown. My husband and I hoped he’d be able to take time off from work and fly out for a respite. But it didn’t happen, so flying solo, I poked around my environs leisurely, and with relish.

Being from Maui, I’ve never cottoned to the idea of vacationing on other islands. It isn’t so much that I’m a snob, although it might seem so, but there are other parts of the world which I’d prefer to visit before opting for an island vacation, other than returning to Hawaii to see family. Having said that, Martha’s Vineyard is an island for sure, but nothing like the tropical ones with which I’m familiar. The houses, churches, store fronts, flora and fauna, and yes, the people are a total reflection of New England which, of course, is where the island is located.

As with all popular vacation destinations, the population on Martha’s Vineyard swells to overflowing during the hot summer months. On days when cruise ships are in port, there are longer lines everywhere. Traveling alone was advantageous for without an entourage, I was seated for a meal more quickly, I could wend my way through a maze of people on sidewalks and in shops more easily, when to start and end the day was my choice as well as HOW to spend it. And having 2 weeks meant I could do everything without feeling hurried. Living like a local is always my idea of a dream visit.

My daily routine, more or less, would begin with rising (not too early), breakfasting at some quaint nearby eatery, and then going for a walk. Some days I wandered different paths through town or residential neighborhoods, other days I strolled barefoot along the quiet, sandy, white beach a few blocks away. But wherever I went I always spent my days people-watching, a favorite pastime. Just glimpsing passersby, their differences, similarities, relationships, habits, is always interesting. New England’s culture could not be further removed from the Hawaiian culture in ethnicity, spirit, dress, food, religion, architecture, and perhaps, sensibilities.

Of course the first thing I noticed was the predominant, if not quasi exclusive, presence of White, Anglo-Saxon Americans. Although my complexion is brown, I’ wasn’t “put off” because by then I’d lived and worked amongst Caucasians for 26 years, having moved to the mainland in 1977. While more formal than Hawaiians, there was a semblance of relaxed informality among those who dwelled in Martha’s Vineyard. Of course there’s no mistaking a New Englander by the way he or she dressed. More than likely they’d be striding along in loafers, sandals, or sneakers with socks, rarely flip-flops. If in shorts, they’d be like the bermuda shorts of the 60’s, often topped by Izod, Hilfiger or Calvin Klein. The ladies wore coordinated knee-length skirts in small prints and blouses in white, or some other solid color. Designer purses or pretty colored totes hung over their arms or on their shoulders. Perfectly combed blondes and brunettes sported ponytails or loosely coiffed hair that caught the ocean breezes. They all wore sunglasses, probably also having lotioned themselves with sunblock beforehand. Children were dressed like replicas of their parents. The only ones who may have digressed from the traditional New England “look,” were the teenagers. There were some in cut-off jean shorts, barely-there tanks, flip-flops or bare feet, and unkempt hair as if they’d just awoke.

From my recollection, the food was pretty good, but probably pricey since everything had to be shipped in. I remember dining  in a family style restaurant, cozy B&B bistro, fine Italian eatery, hamburger joint and a diner whose concerns for food safety seemed a little sketchy. Their late hours dictated my daughter and I choosing to eat there once, against our better judgement. We left full and satisfied, so the place suited our needs just fine. Sometimes I prepared my own food, enjoying a comfortable evening in the apartment, dining on a home cooked meal while watching a good television show. Perhaps my solitary time on Martha’s Vineyard encouraged my fledgling habit of speaking with waiters and sales people. They were companions of sorts, if only for a brief interlude. I’m glad I’m still very much in the habit of treating strangers like long-lost friends.

One weekend, a best friend from Redding joined me for some much-needed rest and relaxation. She always worked too hard, still does. It was a pleasure having her along on walks, sitting across the table at a restaurant, and perusing shops for souvenirs. But our ongoing conversations about everything and anything, as though we’d never been apart, were the best part of our shared time. Sometimes talking into the wee morning hours, we were able to scurry out the door in time to greet the dawn. Huddling against the chill morning air, we planted ourselves on the sand dunes revisiting our previous conversation, or we’d just as likely drift onto another topic. But we were always wowed by the brilliance of the rising sun. We didn’t need to make the long, arduous trek up Maui ‘s dormant volcano, Haleakala (“House of the Rising Sun”) to see what we beheld on a beachfront, steps away from our front door. After my girlfriend’s departure, I never saw another dawn on Martha’s Vineyard. I’m never awake at that ungodly hour, if I can help it. But I will always associate sunrises on that New England island with Laurie, my forever friend.   

Nothing screams New England more than its architecture. Martha’s Vineyard was no exception. Stately churches standing tall and erect on tree-lined country roads in residential neighborhoods, where traditional homes with rocking chairs on wrap-around-porches, sat alongside salt-box homes in shades of blues and grays, fronted by English-style cottage gardens. Everywhere I turned was like looking at a postcard with pictures of idyllic, pastoral scenes. They took my breath away. Though an island, Martha’s Vineyard is of a different breed, one that this islander could truly appreciate for its unique beauty. I don’t think my first visit to that charming location could ever be improved upon unless, of course, I returned with my husband and daughter. But then there are other places I have yet to visit, and so…

been there, done that…hugmamma.

redding ct, like the maui of old

When someone learns that I’m from Maui, she always exclaims “Oh, don’t you miss it? Why’d you ever leave?” I take a breath, preparing to answer what I truly feel in my heart.

Maui as it is today, even as it was 15 years ago, is no longer the island of my childhood. As with the neighboring  islands, in fact as with other popular destinations, tourism has transformed what was a less populous, less commercial, off-the-beaten-track locale into a mecca for the rich and famous, and even the not so rich and famous. Mind you, I came to terms with the drastic change some time ago. On one of my last trips to Maui, years ago, it was apparent that visitors to the island provided a livelihood for the majority of the locals. So I wasn’t about to admonish them as co-conspirators in the “ruination” of Maui, while I left to make my living and home elsewhere.

Before my daughter was born, actually before she was even a possibility, I was returning home to Long Island, New York from a business trip to Kansas City. Seated next to me on the flight was an attractive man dressed in cords and a sweater, appearing very much like a New Englander. Striking up a conversation, we spoke of many things.  One of the topics was where we resided. I explained that while my husband and I lived in Westbury, I wanted to move somewhere reminiscent of my birthplace, Maui. I desired the same small town atmosphere, where neighbors knew each other, where children played together, where there were town parades, fairs, picnics. Without hesitation, my traveling companion blurted “Redding, Connecticut! You should move to Redding, Connecticut!” 

I’d never heard of the town, so my new friend proceeded to describe it as a small, rural community isolated from the hubbub of surrounding towns by vast acres of pristine land, much of which belonged to the town ensuring that they would never be commercially developed. He went on to explain that to enter Redding, one either drove alongside reservoirs which supplied water to the town, or along country roads shaded by trees. The idyllic picture seemed lifted from a postcard. Giving me the name of the realtor who helped find this New York City writer a getaway home, I was convinced that my husband and I needed to make the 75 mile trip north of NYC, in search of Redding.

We got more than we bargained for, as a result of our hunt for a new home. Nearly bereft of hope that we’d be parents someday, Redding was the answer to our prayer. After 16 years of marriage, our daughter was born. The first 11 years of her life were spent in an oasis within the midst of suburban Connecticut. Watching her in those early years was like stepping back in time, into my own childhood Paradise. 

Topographically different, Redding had rolling hills, and a man-made lake in which to swim; Maui boasted a dormant volcano, and ocean waves upon which to surf. Redding’s landscape was dotted with sugar maple trees, whose leaves were seasonally transformed into the colors of the setting sun. So unlike Maui’s tropical palms swaying gently in the evening breezes, as the glassy Pacific waters below mirrored the shining  moon overhead.

In spite of their disparities, the people of both Redding and Maui were alike in their hospitality toward newcomers, and the friendliness within their communities. Schools were small, so while students didn’t know everyone personally, they were aware of everyone through friends or others. Children looked forward to trick-or-treating, door-to-door.  School plays were exciting affairs, as were school dances, and basketball games. Sleepovers were commonplace, as were play-dates and church picnics. Dads coached sports teams and led the Boy Scouts; moms were Girl Scout leaders and drove carpools. Children caught buses to school, or walked. Neighbors helped one another; they prepared meals for a family with a cancer-stricken mom; they cared for children when parents were tending to emergencies; they consoled those who laid loved ones to rest.

My daughter’s memories of an idyllic childhood in Redding  are just that, treasured remembrances. And so it is with the Maui of my youth. So when I’m asked “Wouldn’t you want to live there now?” I always reply,  “The Maui where I grew up is in my heart; it’s with me, wherever I am.” I know my daughter feels similarly about Redding, Connecticut, the town she still calls her home, though she’s not lived there for 13 years.

“home is where your heart is,” truly…hugmamma.

“vino, anyone?”

Have you noticed how airports around the country, and the world, have been transformed into “destinations?” Passengers who once shopped for last-minute trinkets, can now purchase Burberry coats, TUMI luggage, and Disney memorabilia for themselves. Grabbing a cold, dry ham and cheese sandwich, has been replaced by gastronomical delights like Wolfgang Puck’s 3-cheese-pizza, Sabarro’s spaghetti and meatballs, and Chinese delicacies. Bars have always been available for the business traveler in need of a “pick-me-up,” after a day of endless meetings. But according to a Journal article “Airports Blend More Spirits Into the Mix,”  “Alcohol has rarely been in short supply at airports, but some cash-strapped local governments are taking steps to open the taps further.”

Bars at Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports are open 24 hours, as are the 17 pushcart vendors selling beer and wine. A plan is in place to open a bar in the baggage claim of Las Vegas’ airport, while wine bars are expanding. “Vino Volo, a San Fransisco airport wine-bar chain that opened its first shop in 2005, plans to add its 14th location this month and hopes to have 50 in three to five years. Vino Volo, which means ‘wine flight’ in Italian, offers meals and wine-tastings and sells bottles to go from most of its locations.” HMSHost, part of Italy’s Autogrill SpA, sells bottled local wines at two California airports. The company also sells bottled wines at wine bars in several airports, and is planning to open more.

“Critics say the last thing needed in the skies is more tipsy passengers.” This week a flight, prepared to take off from Florida’s St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, returned to the gate because of a drunken passenger. While such incidents have occurred before, Joe Tiberi, the International Association of Machinists union spokesman feels that ” ‘Making liquor more easily accessible in airports will only exacerbate the problem,’…” Rebecca Rolfes, a Chicago publishing exec, who travels from O’Hare several times a month feels pushcarts would allow tipsy drinkers to roam concourses, bringing them into contact with families and non-drinking passengers. “That could create ‘some pretty sloppy situations,’…”

The obvious benefits to increasing the availability of alcohol are providing respite for passengers other than food courts, more revenue for airports and cities, and creation of jobs. Making a plea for those like himself who may find themselves stranded overnight at the airport, electrician Ray Mazzoni feels that with bars open 24 hours “you could have a drink and a snack and watch TV.”

It’s likely that if “you build it, they will come.” The question is do we really need IT? Just because we think it, does it mean we must give it life? There might be short, and long-term, consequences which we aren’t taking into account. Dispensing more alcohol in airports doesn’t seem like a proposition worthy of our support. It’s not of medical or scientific or even human necessity. It’s a luxury most can’t afford.

in my opinion…hugmamma