What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I am a creature of habit. Imagination has never been my strong point. Somewhat like a fire horse I tend to plod the same route every day. When the bell rings in the morning I start. When it rings at night I stop.

Until recently this has been especially true of my vacation habits. For more than thirty years my summer vacations consisted of throwing as many of my children as would stand it in the back of the station wagon-remember the days before the capital punishment car-seat legislation-and heading out to visit my in-laws. They lived in Evansville, Indiana, a city on the banks of the Ohio River, best known, I contend, for its annual Humidity Festival. We always got there in time for our entire family to break out in seven continuous days of unabated perspiration, interrupted only by periodic visits to the walk-in freezer at my sister-in-law's convent. The highlight of each trip, my children remind me, usually came outside of Covington, Kentucky, typically late in the afternoon, when to end the bickering and caterwauling I would bring the car to a screeching halt and scream, "All right! That's enough! I'm not moving one more inch until all [some number between 4 and 7] of you shut up!" That usually worked for about an hour.

There was, for many years, a similar routine in the springtime. This one usually with my sons. Again an adventure in motoring. This to various baseball spring training sites in Florida. Too cheap to spend money on a motel, we pitched a tent on the fringes of a trailer-oh, excuse me, motor home-park outside of Winter Haven. These annual sojourns had their own challenges. When would we get to South of the Boarder to buy back scratchers, key chains and bumper stickers for those we'd left behind? And would we be able to consume enough at the "all-you-can-eat" places to make the manager come out from the kitchen and demand that we stop? Those were the challenges for my sons. Mine-which for a number of years I pulled off with surprising success-was to convince them that, "Boys, anyone can go to Disney World, but you have to be special to go to spring training." I am informed that the scars still remain.

In any event, times have changed. I now have children that reside for a semester or so in foreign lands under the guise of academic pursuits. Thanks to knowledgeable friends I visit them and, by osmosis, minimally expand my horizons. [Having run out of my own children I am told I will now visit the children of others next year.]

In any event, without an Evansville obligation this summer, the Mrs. and I were left to our own limited devices. We took on Gotham. I have always been terrorized by New York City. I would drive across the George Washington Bridge, fearing a wrong turn would cause a re-enactment of The Bonfire of the Vanities. The FDR, The West Side Drive, The BQE and The Bronx Whitestone Bridge, names I'd heard on the WCBS traffic reports over the years, struck terror. The thought of traveling on any one of them was frightening.

We decided not quite to take the bull by the horns, but to circumvent it. And that we did. And so in mid-August we ventured into The City, found our way to the 79th Street Pier, and took a Circle Line Tour around Manhattan. We joined countless other American rubes and foreign tourists for a three hour riparian adventure. What a kick. The City-So-Nice-They-Named-It-Twice actually made some sense from this perspective. An upbeat guide who, though he'd probably done this a million times, made it interesting.

But that was just the warm up. Somehow I'd learned about the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. The folks there have preserved an actual tenement at 97 Orchard Street, a four story, un-air conditioned walk-up where they give you guided tours of cramped low-ceilinged flats and tell you stories of real families who lived and worked in the garment industry, one in 1897 and the other in 1918. Each family lived there with scads of kids. They worked in the apartments in which they lived, together with co-workers that made the already-cramped spaces even more confined. And if you go on a tour with 12 other people on a hot August day you get the idea, and then some. The claustrophobic atmosphere, to me at least, is so much more intense and impressive than Sturbridge Village or Mystic or Williamsburg. A count your blessings experience.

Of course you can't legitimately spend any time in this area without visiting Katz' Delicatessen. [You remember. When Harry Met Sally. Meg Ryan in mock ecstasy. And the lady at the next table says, "I'll have whatever she's having."] The people at Katz's put the P in pastrami.

In any event, it was only a day, but an interesting one. But what's a vacation without family conflict. I managed to fit that in too. A series of miscommunications resulting in completely botched family dinner plans magically produced an angry spouse and made the day complete.

Another flawed deposit into the family memory bank.