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On the road again

by Debbie Carini

I’m about to embark on a huge adventure; in fact, it’s a full-fledged, passport, visa, language-that’s-not- ABC-based adventure. And I am very excited.

I like to travel. Having grown up with a dad whose “Sunday drives” often involved entering another country (he really thought nothing of motoring from our small town just outside of Los Angeles to the Mexican border), I’ve spent plenty of time musing out the window about other places and people.

He called these jaunts “tulie” rides, and when the black-top ran out and we went on to a dirt road, he would study his Thomas Guide, a spiral-bound atlas; I would sit quietly, wishing I had not dropped out of Girl Scouts so that I might know what nuts and berries to eat should we have to abandon the car at some point.

My husband also likes to adventure off the beaten path. My most common question when we’re on a desolate road and wander upon a lone homestead is, “Where do you think those kids trick-or-treat?”

Somehow, my thoughts always turn to food.

I’ve been fortunate to have travelled almost all over our country, to Canada and Mexico, and even to a few places in Europe. 

In fact, my first big family vacation in the mid-1960s was to another country and the amazing sight of Niagara Falls. We drove there from our home, at that time in New Jersey. Unfortunately, on the late afternoon movie, I had seen the 1953 flick Niagara starring Marilyn Monroe, and so spent most of the ride through the Catskill Mountains wondering if a person could really be pitched over the falls in a tiny boat. 

Turns out, there are all kinds of crazy things you can do at Niagara Falls, including a horrifying steamship ride called “Maid of the Mist,” which takes you through the roiling waters and even into the dense mist of spray inside the curve of the Horseshoe Falls. (I did not do this.)

I’ve driven across the country—east to west—twice, in epic moves involving small children and back seats overflowing with pillows and snacks. The first time was with my dad, accompanied by an 8-year-old (me), a 6-year-old (my sister) and a pregnant wife (a sister-to-be). On this trip, my father proved his mastery of road rules by explaining to my mother that he could not pull over when the stereotypical jar of pickles she was trying to eat spilled in her lap. “Phyllis, that lane is only for emergencies!”

I flew once with my grandparents, who were born just a few years after the Wright brothers took flight. I remember my grandfather excitedly explaining how to use the fold-down tray table. “The stewardess will bring us a hot meal,” he said as if it were the most amazing thing ever that we were going to eat Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes at 35,000 feet.

And now I’m off to China! I hope my book of 1,000 Sudoku puzzles holds out for the 12-hour flight. And I look forward to reporting on our many adventures in food (my son, who is studying in Shanghai this semester, seems to always be eating some sort of brains—gulp!), language and culture (I have been practicing eating with chopsticks, but am so far only able to approximate a shovel-type maneuver). Stay tuned…

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