Friday, August 22, 2008

Adventures closer to home

Here's the problem with being an intrepid travel writer. No intrepid travels, nothing to write about!

The biggest adventure I've had lately was a foray to the HUGE mall with Sierra on her birthday. We try to avoid that madhouse at all costs, but have been known to make an exception on "Mommy, can I have this? Day," also known as Sierra's birthday. A hundred ladies will fall all over you to give you a free make-over (didn't know you needed a make-over? Just go to Macy's!), but good luck finding a cashier so you can pay for something!

Yesterday's big adventure was getting my annual mammogram (hey, take care of the girls and they'll take care of you ... hopefully). Does anyone else feel compelled to smile and say "cheese" when you have a mammogram?

Oh and how can I forget the recent Waite family get-together on Cape Cod? All 22 of us - in our numbered t-shirts - had a fabulous time at the Lighthouse Inn, where the Einhorn Family was enjoying their own family reunion. We scoped out the competition, figured we could easily take them, and challenged them to a kite-flying competition. The Waites are natural athletes after all, and now, well, suffice it to say, Ellen Einhorn Zerkin now wears Waite t-shirt #23. There's talk of trading her back next year ... but only if the Einhorns beat us in the three-legged race.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Would have been better if it ran

After giving you my own in-depth evaluation of the Waite family not-so-bio-diesel oddysey to Minnesota, I decided to poll the rest of the family to see if they agreed with me, er, I mean to see what they think.

I was pleasantly surprised by John's overwhelmingly positive analysis. I would have thought that he, as the founder of the 'let's all shrink our carbon footprint by living in tents club,' would have deemed the whole trip and its attendant carbon emissions a huge failure. But he actually thought we accomplished some good things - namely getting the kids to the Baseball Hall of Fame, seeing Niagara Falls, prying Sierra off the internet and cell phone for hours at a time, and burning more than a few marshmallows around the campfire. "And," he added, "the indoor water park and Seneca Falls were unexpected gravy." I was surprised he hadn't mentioned the Jello Museum (which is still high on my list of highlights).

Sierra's reaction was typically low-key. When asked what she thought of the whole trip she replied, "Huh? What? Do I have to get off the computer again?" But did finally agree that it was "interesting." Her fondest memory is the day at the indoor water park.

But Jeremiah may have summed it up best. When asked his assessment of the whole RV adventure, he replied, "It was FUN. Would have been better if it ran."

I'll keep you posted,

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Post Mortem

Well, it took the biggest, baddest battery charger from Taylor Rent-A-Center, two extension cords, and three good samitarans in the (thankfully) very friendly town of Great Barrington to finally get the alum-a-womb going again. Once we got the motor going again, we didn't stop again until we parked it back in David's driveway - where it promptly died. Today we're home - unpacking, picking the kale, cucumbers and tomatoes (and even more weeds) that have ripened in my garden and evaluating our trip. (Oh, we overthink, I mean process EVERYTHING around here.)

So here is my warts-and-all evaluation of the success or failure of our trip:

Goal: Bring family out to Minnesota while not using fossil fuels.
Did we achieve this goal? Absolutely not. Next goal.
Well, okay: Bring family out to Minnesota while using as little fossil fuels as possible.
That's better. Did we achieve that? Well, John figured out that the alum-a-womb averaged 7.5 miles to the gallon of diesel. Okay, we get to stretch that because half the diesel we used was bio-diesel (made from old vegetable oil, so therefore not a fossil fuel, less polluting and No, it's not responsible for driving up the price of corn). So John figured that into the equation (thank God, that boy loves math), and we still average only 12.5 miles to the gallon. Yeah, still nothing to brag about. Ah, but the good news is that we got 23 miles to the gallon once we ditched the RV and rented the mini-van. But of course that's burning regular old gas with all of its environmental impacts and unsustainability and that's what we were trying to avoid in the first place. So. we were a big fat failure on Goal #1. Well, wait a minute, I'm gonna give us half credit on this one. We did get the family out to Minnesota.

Okay, but as any good researcher knows, if you fail miserably on your original goal, what you have to do is revise your goal.

Goal #2: Have a fun vacation with some quality family time.
I would have to say we did much better on this goal. The alum-a-womb inspired LOTS of laughter (and I don't just mean from the little old ladies who zipped by us on the roads. Even Sierra's elusive laughter was heard. And we certainly spent LOTS of quality time together (all that slow driving and time spent stuck in parking lots waiting for a jump, and then of course, there was that lovely Ford Service Center. Well, you get the picture.) And everyone in the family got to do what s/he really loved. John got to drive - and read maps, calculate gas mileage, talk on the phone - usually simultaneously, which he does love. I got to sleep while John did all the driving. Jeremiah got to play endless video games while John did all the driving (oh, and he got to buy gumballs at vending machines in at least six states and two countries!). And Sierra plowed through an entire four-book teenage vampire epic, and eat nothing but junk food, while John did all the driving.

Now of course for John and I, everything has to have some redeeming value. Surprisingly enough, no one asked us to dig them a latrine or donate blood along the way. But we did get to tell a lot of people about bio-diesel and the importance of figuring out a way to drive across country without burning fossil fuels. This conversation happened a lot, really. Whenever anyone asked why in the world we would rent a 24 year old motorhome in the first place.

Well, that's my assessment. I'm going to poll the rest of the family and tomorrow, I'll bring you their reviews.

I'll keep you posted,

Saturday, August 9, 2008

On waking up in a parking lot

... it's not as comfy cozy as you might think. Certainly doesn't encourage one to sleep in. So we're up earlier than we have been in awhile. In fact, I've been up since 4AM beating myself up (mentally only, it's way too close quarters in the alum-a-womb for any actual flogging) for suggesting we stop for dinner at the way overpriced restaurant in Great Barrington, thus shutting off the iffy engine and thus getting us stuck in a parking lot for the night. Not to mention the way overpriced dinner (Did I mention that already? The sushi was superb, but I'm sorry, for that price they should have offered us overnight accommodations AND breakfast in the morning!).

But Jeremiah says this just might be the best campground we've stayed in so far! We ended up parking beside a walking trail and a rushing river, we woke up this morning and walked to a lovely town and had a great breakfast and best of all, we had Wi-Fi all night (well, at least as long as our battery power lasted). So not so much harm done, after all.

We might just make it home.

I'll keep you posted,

Friday, August 8, 2008

Parking Lot sweet Parking Lot

We're finally getting to spend the night in a parking lot - the consummate RV experience! Long story short: the battery died, got recharged and we figured let's not push our luck and headed toward home. But not wanting to end the trip on a sour note - and a six hour drive to get nowhere - and it being nearly my birthday and all, we decided to stop in the Berkshires for supper. It WAS a lovely (and expensive) sushi dinner at the world-famous Bizen and when we got back to the RV, well, the battery is dead again. So here we are at what John refers to as "the church camp ground" since the parking lot seems to be attached to a church. And here we'll stay at least until we can get a jump in the morning - of course, not until we've had breakfast and a mosey through this lovely town because once we get started - WE WILL NOT BE STOPPING AGAIN.

Well, time to bunk down and get cozy for the night. It IS a lovely parking lot.

I'll keep you posted,


We stopped at a service area on the NY State Thruway and that seemed to be our fatal mistake because we can't start the RV again. The alum-a-womb is DEAD. Maybe it's the battery. Maybe the alternator. Maybe borrowing a 24 year old motorhome from a guy who says "oh, don't worry about the smoke" was not such a wise thing to do. John just called for roadside assistance and now we're waiting for the verdict. Funny, but it's just not that much fun anymore. We're supposed to spend two more days in the Adirondacks before heading home. But I'm thinking when/if we get the RV going again, we should NOT pass go and NOT stop until we are home.

Besides, I'm out of clean undies.

I'll keep you posted,

Thursday, August 7, 2008

In the Wi-Fi Wilderness

HELP! John has dragged us off into the woods for his kind of vacation. That means we are staying at a state park campground without all of the amenities. Okay, it is beautiful and right on the shores of a lovely Finger Lake and you can fish and swim and watch the birds. But it has no miniature golf, no arcade, no swimming pool and worst of all, no Wi-Fi! But we rode bikes into nearby Seneca Falls and the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot. (Oh, also it's the home of the Women's Hall of Fame which is way cool and has all MY people (I was a Women's Studies minor, after all.) I got all verklempt reading about all these amazing women. Okay, I cried ... just a little.) Sierra was NOT impressed, but that's okay. See, she can take all this stuff for granted, in large part because of the mighty women lining the walls of the Hall of Fame.

Anyway, before we get hauled back off into the Wi-Fi-less wildnerness I have got to tell you about yesterday's visit to (okay, get ready for this) the Jell-O Museum. Yeah, you read that right. And I was afraid I hadn't, but the billboard on the NYState Thruway promised that it was just five miles off exit 41, just 13 miles away from Brockport. I know, I almost couldn't believe it. I mean my younger brother, Josh, spent at least four years at SUNY Brockport and never once mentioned his proximity to the Jell-O Museum. Could it be that he missed this jewel of Americanan kitsch? You might be surprised to hear that the rest of the family was not as excited about this as I was. But hell, they had already stopped me from getting my picture taken with Abraham Lincoln (Indiana), kept me from Carhenge (Nebraska) and weren't even remotely interested in tracking down the world's biggest ball of string. Whiners be damned! We WERE going to see America's foremost tribute to all things Jell-O!

We almost turned back once we got there and found the entrance fee was $4 per person. After all, we had already taken a picture of the bronze plaque outside which commemorates Jell-O employees who served in WWII (I'm not sure if they served by actually serving Jell-O). Wasn't that enough? But boy am I glad we paid (the now tax deductible) entrance fee. Who knew there was that much to know about Jell-O? Certainly our tourguide, Ruthie did. She was a veritable font of Jell-O factoids (although she seemed to be lacking in humor, which one would think would be a job requirement. But Jell-O is a serious business in LeRoy, NY!). Anyway, here's a little gelatine tid-bit for my in-laws: the Jell-O recipe was invented by one Pearl Bixby Wait - and there is some discrepency over whether his name was actually spelled Waite. Folks, we could be related to the genius who discovered that the connective tissue of bovines and swine (that whole thing about horses' hooves is apparently nasty rumor) could be made into a delicious food-like dessert! (Fear not my Jewish readers, Ruthie informed us that there is Jell-O available that "meets the dietary restrictions of those of the Jewish faith!")

Alls I'm saying is I can rest a bit easier now. Whatever becomes of my writing career, the Wait(e) name has already been ensured a place in history. (It may, however, dissolve in boiling water!)
Well, back to the woods now.

I'll keep you posted,

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Pick Your Poison

We're holed up in a Holiday Inn in Buffalo (where there REALLY is not much to write about) waiting for John. He got up early this morning to drive over the border, return the Pod to the rental place and retrieve the Alum-a-womb. He just called to report that it's still smoking (albeit less and, hopefully, a more benign color). I say, Thank God! We'll finally have some adventures to write about! Sorry, but we get bored when everything goes smoothly. Maybe that's why I spend so much time in "Third World" countries.

Just a few observations on our travels through the mid-west in our pod: if you want to see America, you better hurry. If Sandusky, Ohio and all of Lake Michigan is any indication, it's at risk of being swallowed up by strip malls, superstores and McMansions. People ARE friendlier in the mid-west - I swear. They are just so nice out there. On the other hand, the landscape is boring! Oh, sure, it's all green and cornfields and pastoral, but it's flat and goes on forever and after a few hours of that, well, I don't know about you, but I just get desperate for an edge! Frankly, and as a former New Yorker (emphasis on former, here) I hate to admit this, but coming from the midwest, the landscape doesn't get interesting again until you hit New York state. On the other hand, almost no one here will look you in the eye or say "good morning" to you! So pick your poison, I guess.

I'll keep you posted,
Ahhh... morning in Buffalo, NY. Nothing to write home about.


I'll keep you posted,

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

We find ourselves in a strange, strange country

Sandusky, Ohio, which the last time I consulted an atlas was thousands of miles from the ocean. (Okay, you caught me, I don't consult atlases, but John does). Yet, we were greeted with "aloha" and given leis when we checked into "The Maui Sands Resort" yesterday. Maui Sands is plonked right down between an Applebees and a gas station at a major intersection, yet the menu at their "Lagoon" restaurant is rife with Polynesian dishes and boat drinks served in coconut shells. I used to think it strange to be served horsemeat or sheep's eyeballs in Uzbekistan, or to be invited to soak in water with tiny, pecking pirannha fish in Turkey. But America ... you are by far, the strangest country I have travelled in yet!

I actually hear we are on the shores of one of those big lakes out here (Erie, perhaps ... if I ask John, he'll get out the danged atlas again!) and thus the whole resort-y theme. But I sure as hell can't see it for all the strip malls, highways and chain restaraunts around here. Besides, the kids are having too damn much fun at the giant indoor water park and ocean-themed arcade to let us leave this plastic paradise. And I have to admit, after I got over the wedgie I received from getting tossed around in the giant whirlpool flume ride, it IS kind of fun!

It is a rather strange country out here. Billboards along the highway advertise all these "Oriental" and "Japanese" spas. And I thought, ooh I could use a pedicure. And then I noticed that the road we were on was frequented by mostly truckers and the "spas" were all open until 2AM! Every road stop, gas station, restaurant and hotel lobby has a giant TV screen on which FOX news is blathering on about the latest tragedy, corruption scandal or movie star mishap and I'm wondering what exactly I'm supposed to do with this information. Seems like Americans really love their bad news. But we are travelling in the protective pod - the minivan we rented in Niagara Falls where our RV (remember the RV? That's how we started this trip.) is STILL being serviced. The pod bears Ontario license plates and at every rest stop, the kids and I hum "Oh Canada" and try to pay with Canadian money and hope everyone mistakes us for Canadians.

I'll keep you posted, eh,

Monday, August 4, 2008

Mission Meet the Misters Accomplished

Mission "Meet Misters in Minnesota" accomplished! We ARE still us - fatter, older and (for the most part) wiser. A gangly and gregarious group of folks who came together in the Peace Corps for many different reasons. The twenty years in between Peace Corps Ecuador and the rest of our lives changed - and mellowed - a lot of us in many ways. But the intensity of Peace Corps seems to have left an indelible impression on everyone. And the bonds forged between us are as stronge as ever. Okay, I'm veering dangerously into the corny here. Let me just say that when it was time to (reluctantly) say good-bye, it took me over an hour to make my way around the group - hugging and kissing absolutely everyone and never even caring that I hadn't even brushed my teeth that day! You see, that's how it is with your Peace Corps friends. We are there for each other - hung over, stinking breath, dirty clothes, bad hair and all. It doesn't matter.

I hope to see more of these folks in the future ... and I just may. They have all promised to come if I am ever doing a book promotion in their neck of the country ... and heckle me from the audience with THEIR version of how it went down. Everyone is an editor!

We're heading back to the Mother Ship being serviced in Niagara Falls.

I'll keep you posted,

Friday, August 1, 2008

Braving the next frontier

It suddenly feels as if we've left the relative safety of the "aluminum womb"as we've come to call it (hey, it beats the "giant rolling turd") and have ventured out in our docking vehicle. Next stop, The Misters 20th Reunion. Pardon all the space shuttle analogies, but it does feel a bit like we're heading into God knows what. For all the fun and misadventures of life on the slow road in our RV, I had almost forgotten that we were going to the reunion.

For those of you who are new to the story (and is there anybody reading this who is NOT my editor, my agent, or a relative?), I ventured into the great jungley unknown as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador 20 years ago. That whole adventure didn't exactly turn out exactly like I'd planned (and you can read more about my hilarious misadventures in my book: FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES MALARIA (Broadway Books, April '09) end of shameless self promotion) and seeing everyone again after 20 years, well, it's as diarrhea-inducing as it is exciting. 

Twenty years after those first shaky steps into the big world on our own (hey, we were nervous. Okay we were hung-over, too.) and the remaining Misters (so named because all the kids on the streets of Ecuador yelled, "Hey, Mister, give us something!" whenever we walked by) are getting together for a weekend blowout. It begs the existential questions: what have we done with our lives? are all the best parts over? can we ever recapture our glory days? and most importantly, will they think I've gotten fat and old? 

Seriously, I'm writing to you this morning from the absolutely picture perfect house of a couple of fellow Misters. I'm recalling one of our Peace Corps happy housekeeping ditties ("Dig yourself a ditch, for to take a shit ... at least a hundred meters from you house. Dig it nice and deep or when you go to sleep, your poop will be dinner for a mouse!") and now I'm staying in a house that is so gorgeous, I'm afraid to mess it up by using the toilet! How did we get here? And are we still us?

Ah ... but we are adventurers if nothing else. If not, I assure you, we would never have ended up with malaria half a dozen times between us, chasing mountain gorillas at six months pregnant, and being held hostage in a war zone. It's true and all in the book (okay, more shameless self promotion, I'm sorry. The end. Really.).  So onward we go to see what awaits us in the great beyond of Minnesota. It is a new frontier, one that I understand might not even have Wi Fi! but we will tough it out. Hey, we are RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers), a band of brothers and sisters with a tough-it-out mentality, not unlike the Marines (without the guns, of course, and all those bothersome rules ... and probably more beer). 

Anyway if you don't hear from us for a few days imagine us on a big, old farm - perhaps like Max Yasger's farm in a small upstate NY town called Woodstock. Yes, imagine us having a grand old peace and love, hippie kind of time. Imagine us holding hands and dancing in the rain. Imagine us singing Cum Ba Ya and closing down the New York State Thruway. (If none of this means anything to you, you are clearly under 40. Go ask your mother.) 

I'll keep you posted,