Our East Coast Trip

July 6 - 12, 2008

So one day, Terry tells me she has to go back East for a week, for a VA technology conference, and she suggests that I come with her. The conference runs from Tuesday to Thursday, and we can take Friday and Saturday to do a little touristing.

But somewhere along the way, I got the idea to take the opportunity to visit the area where I grew up, and visit Marcy. In the end, the whole thing sort of turned into my own personal nostalgia trip. I felt kind of bad about that, but Terry was very nice about it.

The conference took place in National Harbor, Maryland, a resort complex just south of Washington, DC. The place is so new that it doesn't even show up on Google Maps. In fact, it's still under construction. Terry found out about the conference a little late in the game, so she ended up staying in a hotel across the river, in Alexandria, Virginia.

Of course, the Feds paid for Terry's plane ticket, and made her reservation, so I had to make my own travel arrangements, and Terry and I had to travel separately. However, they did a good job of scheduling her flights to largely coincide with mine, so it worked out well.

Due to the short notice, my choice of flights was limited. I had to take a red-eye flight from LAX to Dulles Airport. My flight was non-stop, but Terry had to lay over in Chicago, so even though her flight left shortly before mine, I got to Virginia about two hours before her. That was OK, though, because it gave me time to collect our rental car, and drive from Dulles (about 30 miles west of town) to Reagan National Airport to collect Terry. On the way, I could see the Washington Monument across the river, and I drove right by the Pentagon - which, despite my mixed feelings about the military, I must admit is a very impressive building.

So we got to our hotel, the Monaco:

...in downtown Alexandria, a very "old town" kind of place. Lots of red brick, including the sidewalks. Lots of old buildings, many of historical importance. If you ignore the cars, and the modern signs and businesses (Starbucks, anyone?), it really has the feel of colonial times:

Even though we were there several hours before official check-in time, we were pleased to discover that they had a room ready for us. So we got settled in, and then went out in search of lunch. We found it at a restaurant right across the street, called La Madelaine:

...continuing the "old town" theme. Then we went back to our room, looked at some tourist guides for restaurant information, and took a little nap.

Later in the afternoon, after I moved the car (I had to move it several times, because there was a two hour limit on street parking, and I wasn't about to pay $20 for the valet parking at the hotel), we walked a couple of blocks to the Gadsby Tavern, an eighteenth-century tavern, now restored and operated as a museum and restaurant. Here are some pictures from the tour:

Typical tavern fare

The makings of rum punch

That big white cone is supposed to be sugar.

Political discussion

Apparently, things could get rather heated at times.

Private dining room, for more genteel guests

Apparently, George Washington was a frequent guest at the tavern, as well as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe.

Terry inspects one of the beds

More upper class accommodations

The grand ballroom

An old piano in the ballroom

The minstrel gallery

Mr Gadsby himself

Later that evening, we came back to the restaurant for dinner:

The food was good, but overpriced.

There were a number of blind and visually impaired VA employees attending the conference, and a lot of them seemed to be staying at the Monaco. So later that evening, a number of them got together for a social hour in the hotel courtyard:

...while I went for a walk. I rode a free trolley the length of King Street, the main street through the old town area. At the western end of the street is the George Washington Masonic National Memorial:

I would have liked to go up to the top of the tower, but it was closed.

When I got back to the hotel, I found Terry and several of her colleagues standing around in the hotel restaurant, discussing the possibility of going for a drink. Of course, there were other customers in the restaurant, but I paid no attention to them - until one of them got up from her table, came up to me, and asked "Do you recognize me?" And I said "My God - HOLLY!"

I was so focused on my nostalgia trip that I had forgotten that Holly and Mike lived in the area. So we made arrangements to go to their house for dinner the next night. Terry and I then went to a bar across the street with Carol, a colleague of Terry's from Minneapolis. Terry and Carol had wine, while I called Paul and Katherine to tell them the story.

The next day (Tuesday), Terry went off to her conference, and I went to work. The original plan was that I would bring my laptop, and work in the hotel room. But then I remembered that 1105 Media has an office in Falls Church, Virginia, just 15 miles from the hotel. So I went to work there.

Here are some pictures of the Falls Church office and its environs:

Makes the Chatsworth office seem downright shabby by comparison.

There was a small food court between the office building and the hotel next door, where I had lunch each day. The first day, I noticed a "California Burger" on the menu, and of course, I had to ask what it was. As I expected, it had avocado on it. They also advertised a "casadilla." I struggled with myself, but I just couldn't let that one go. I very politely informed the proprietor of the correct spelling, and she thanked me very much, and changed the sign immediately.

That evening, we drove out to Mike and Holly's house in McLean, about a 45 minute drive. We had a wonderful time, exhanging reminiscences and catching up on family news and gossip.

Yes, that's a holly tree by the front door.

On Wednesday, again, Terry went to her conference and I went to work. In the evening, we went to a BBQ restaurant called King Street Blues. The decor was interesting:

The train crashing through the roof is a nice touch. And the mouth on that bass player is incredible.

After dinner, we walked over to Candi's Candies. I was pleased to see a lot of candy varieties that I grew up with, but that can't be found in California: Sky Bars, Mallow Cups, Mary Janes, BB Bats... and Terry found a piece of chocolate in the shape of the state of Virginia.

That evening, I took this picture of a plaque on the corner of the hotel:

And I was intrigued and amused by this license plate. Of course, I knew that the issue of congressional representation for DC residents has been a hotly debated issue for some time. But I was interested to note that this sentiment isn't on a bumper sticker or a license plate frame - it's on the actual, official license plate:

On Thursday, same old, same old. After work, I picked her up at the Gaylord (first time all week I'd actually been there), and we hit the road. We drove through Maryland, across the Chesapeake Bay, stopped at the Hillside Steak and Crab House for dinner, drove up the peninsula through Maryland and Delaware, across the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and into New Jersey. Here's a map:

The original plan was to spend a little time on the boardwalk at Wildwood. But the drive took too long, and it was after 10 PM by the time we were in New Jersey. So we just went straight to our stop for the night, a low end but comfortable B and B called the Relax Inn, in Galloway, New Jersey:

Friday was Nostalgia Day. We began by driving to Vineland to visit Marcy. Here's a picture of the school:

...but of course, Marcy hasn't lived there for a long time. She lives in a group home on a street with the melodious name of Chimes Terrace:

...which turned out to be a very pleasant place, although I was a little surprised how far away from the main campus it turned out to be. We met Rita and Mona, two of the residential care workers, and then took Marcy out for a drive.

I was very pleased to see how good Terry was with Marcy. I think she was better than me. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, although that got better as the visit progressed. Of course, the fact that I hadn't seen Marcy for 33 years may have had something to do with it.

We drove around for a while, and Marcy kept up a more or less nonstop barrage of questions and comments, only some of which we could understand. She seemed to be fascinated by my briefcase - she asked several times "What's this for?" and "What are you going to do with this?"

Eventually, we stopped at Red Lobster for lunch. The hostess and the waiter were also very good with Marcy, and I suspect that they get a lot of women from the school in there, so they're used to it. After lunch, we walked over to the Penney's, where we bought Marcy a hair band, and a gift card. Then we drove around a little more, and stopped for ice cream:

...after which we took her back home, saw her room, talked to Rita a while longer, and said our goodbyes.

We then drove up to Trenton. This was the real nostalgic part of the day - although I was kind of surprised at how unfamiliar everything was. I mean, I knew intellectually that this was where I used to live, but it didn't really connect emotionally. They were right - you really can't go home again. Because the place you left just isn't there any more. It didn't just change, it's... not there. It ceased to exist the day you left.

I started by driving by Maple Shade School. Or rather, where Maple Shade School used to be. It's really not there any more. In its place:

Talk about mixed emotions. I have no great love for that school - it was the worst school I attended, and it's where I suffered through two of the world's worst teachers. But it's still a shock to find that a piece of your childhood no longer exists.

Robinson School was there, though:

...as was Grice Junior High, now known as Grice Middle School:

Then I drove by the Kerr Drive house:

...where I spoke for a few minutes to Mrs. Cope, who bought the house from Mom and Dad back in 1965, and still lives there. She told me the hydrangea bushes were no longer by the back porch, which made me sad.

(I can't believe I didn't take a picture of the water tower.)

Then I drove past the Elton Avenue house:

Next, I drove out Broad Street, into downtown Trenton. The "Trenton Makes, The World Takes" sign on the bridge is still there, but it's nearly obscured by another bridge that I swear didn't used to be there.

Then we drove over the river into Pennsylvania, and drove up the river to Washington Crossing Park, where I visited...

Bowman's Tower

...and was dismayed to discover that they've blocked off the stairs spiraling up the inside, and replaced them with an elevator. But you can still climb the narrow staircase to the top turret:

...although I'm fairly certain that all that electronic gadgetry didn't used to be there.

Next, we drove back to Trenton, and stopped for Tastykakes (of course). I was hoping to find some Drake's Cakes, too, but we never did. Then we drove up the Yardville-Hamilton Square Road (aka Yardham Squared), and on up to Princeton, where I visited the church:

I was pleased, and surprised, to find it open (it was about 5:30 by the time we got there), so I was able to go in and sit for a moment in the sanctuary, and contemplate the stained glass windows:

Matthew, Mark and Luke

Mark, Luke and John

Then we got on the New Jersey Turnpike, and headed up to New York for dinner. The drive up wasn't bad, but the approach to the Holland Tunnel took darn near an hour:

Once in the city, I meandered around a little until I found Grandma's old apartment building. We were actually lucky enough to find a parking place - one guy was pulling out just as I drove by. We walked through Chinatown, looking for Little Italy. I knew that I remembered, years ago, walking through Chinatown, and finding myself in Little Italy without even trying, so I knew it had to be close. We finally found it, and had dinner at a sidewalk table out in front of a restaurant on Mulberry Street:

After dinner, we stopped for pastry at another Mulberry Street restaurant, and then walked back to the car. We drove uptown, across 42nd Street, past Times Square, and then left the city via the Lincoln Tunnel. As far as I can remember, that's the first time I've ever used the Lincoln Tunnel - it looks just like the Holland Tunnel.

We then drove to Parsippany, New Jersey, where we had a motel reservation. Here's a map of the day's meanderings:

A long day, indeed. The next day we drove back to Alexandria:

We had time to spare, so we stopped for lunch at a deli in Old Town, and then went to a library, where I used an Internet terminal to print out our boarding passes. We drove around for a while to kill some time, and then I dropped Terry at Reagan Airport, drove out to Dulles, returned the rental car, and caught my own flight.

And, as so often seems to happen, I had one last adventure on the way home. On my return flight, I had to change planes in San Diego. I was supposed to have a 45 minute layover, but the first flight was delayed, so I had less than half an hour. I discovered that the San Diego to L.A. flight left from a different terminal. I got to the commuter terminal minutes before my flight was supposed to leave, to find that the TSA folks had closed up shop for the night.

I was afraid that my flight had already left, but it was still on the ground, and they waited for me while TSA checked my bags. They had to do it by hand, since they had already shut down the X ray machine. That was when I discovered that I had done something really dumb. I had remembered to take my Swiss Army Knife out of my pocket. But instead of putting it into my checked luggage, I put it in one of my carry on bags. They didn't catch it at Dulles, and I didn't even realize what I had done until they found it in San Diego, and of course, confiscated it. I was upset, and the knowledge that it was my own fault didn't make things any better.