Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thoughts from the Road

I'm just back from a quickie twenty-four hour trip to New York to attend the bris of my dear friend's new baby son.  I don't get the chance to travel solo much these days; in fact, it has been a long time since I've broken out of our regular routine, period.  So, flying up and down the highway all by myself, for four deliciously Wheels-on-the-Bus-free hours in each direction, felt almost illicit in its freedom.  It is amazing how much perspective stepping out of one's life can bring, if even just for one day.  This is what I've always loved about travel: the way it so easily shakes up your perspective and makes you see your own reality with fresh eyes.  Even though this was travel on possibly the smallest scale ever, it remained an eye-opening and thought shifting experience.

Some rumination about it all...
1) The bris took place in the town where I grew up.  My parents moved away fourteen years ago, and I rarely return.  I have a lot of mixed feelings about this fancy NYC suburb I called home for most of my childhood.  On the one hand, I had wonderful friends, the rich cultural experience afforded by our proximity to Manhattan, and a top-shelf education.  On the other, the town always struck me as, and was in my personal experience, a place where there is a ton of dysfunction, pain and chaos in existence, all of it consistently and dutifully swept under the rug in order to maintain an appearance of absolute superiority and perfection.  I tend to feel a little tense and claustrophobic when I even pass the exit for this place, which is ironic, because on the face of things, it is a lovely and aspirational little hamlet of plenty.

Yesterday, I found myself driving down the flower and Tudor-lined streets of my hometown, and felt the usual pinching in my shoulders begin.  But then two things happened:  one, I realized how small everything in town looked compared to the way it looms so large in my memory.  The stables that used to seem so shiny and fancy, the pool where I worked in the summers, the faux-Tudor shopping center... all of them seemed rather small, normal, and toothless to me, in a way that was totally disarming.  And then there was the reason for my being in town at all, which was that my childhood partner-in-crime had become a mother.  The striking reality hit me of us having our own kids, our own husbands, our own lives now... all built consciously, creatively and with a lot of tenacity, in places of our own choosing.  We're no longer defined by this place where I once felt terribly caged in, and can take from it all the good it had to offer and leave all the pain in the past.  In fact, being in her parents' home where we wiled away so many high school afternoons felt almost like an embrace.

I'm not used to being surrounded by much from the past.  My parents live in a different part of the country now, and we lost almost everything from my childhood home in a fire a decade ago, so that time in my life exists strictly in my mind's eye, without any objects or totems to ground it in reality.  Being back in my friend's room, where even the exact same stationery set she always had in high school was still sitting right where I last saw it in 1998, gave me a long-missing concrete sense of time and distance, coupled with an unexpectedly sweet sense of familiarity and belonging.

All of this is to say, the town still makes me a little twitchy, but that has been unexpectedly overshadowed and remedied a bit by all the joy and love surrounding my visit there yesterday.

Whew.  That feels better.

2) New York City is amazing.
I stayed there on Tuesday night with my sister and her husband, and I'm always struck by the energy and diversity of the NYC streets.  We strolled through her new neighborhood looking for a dinner spot that evening, and my mind was blown as it always is by just how much New York packs into each square block.  We wound up at a phenomenal Argentinian steakhouse where we talked for several hours over perfectly-grilled grass-fed, organic skirt steak and obscene "fries provencal" (can't recommend this place highly enough).  Tucked in on their cozy futon with the river sparkling out the window as I fell asleep that night, I truly felt "away".

3) Public Service Announcement: Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal is the ideal on-the-road travel breakfast.  In my sister's old neighborhood, I knew exactly where to go for a perfect latte and New York bagel, but this time around I was both flying blind and in a hurry in the morning hours.  I needed a sure thing: nutritious, fast, and inexpensive.  A grande iced coffee and oatmeal with all the fixings set me back $5, and I didn't know it was possible to do anything in Manhattan for $5.
A generous portion of oats comes with brown sugar, dried fruit and a nut medley, which pretty much covers you on all of your AM protein, fiber and sugar needs.  I know this is probably old news to many, but I try to avoid the 'Bucks and support my local joints unless I'm on the road.  Now that I've tried it, this is totally going to be my new airport/road trip go-to when I need some nourishment and want to side-step a large bag of Chex Mix.

4) Finally, it must be said.  I'm in love.  Truly, madly, deeply.  With this guy...
Can't take it.
His deliciousness leaves me speechless!  AJ, I love you and your mama very much (your papa ain't so shabby either).

As you can see, this was quite a bit of emotion and adventure packed into one brief, twenty-four hour jaunt away.  And the best part of traveling, of course, is coming home, where my boys and burrito night awaited me with open arms.  Thanks to the hubs for making it possible for me to feed my wanderlust and bond with our new little man for the day.  Being away just reaffirms for me how much I truly love being here on the daily.  To have the opportunity to appreciate both makes me feel deeply blessed.

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