One thing we struggle with whenever we’re planning our vacations is, once we’ve settled on our ultimate destinations, what do we do when we realize said destination is not too far away from something equally cool? Or even cooler? Possibly even iconic? Say, monumentally so?
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, marvels, history, and institutions we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Beginning with 2003’s excursion to Washington DC, we added my son to the roster and tried to accommodate his preferences and childhood accordingly.
After the record-breaking nine-day epic that was our 2009 trek to the farthest reaches of South Dakota, we decided to scale back in 2010 with a shorter drive in a different direction. We previously drove through the corners of Pennsylvania in 2003 and 2004 — through Washington in the southwest corner on our way to Washington, DC; and through Erie in the northwest corner on our way to Niagara Falls. This year, that extra-large wooded state would be the center of our attention.
As one of America’s original 13 colonies, Pennsylvania contains multitudes of U.S. history and authentic places and things from centuries past. For the three of us, we figured it would do well. Anne is a big history buff. I’m willing to drive just about anywhere within reason. My son would be dragged along for whatever ride until such time as he developed a separate life and identity.
We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.
DAY FOUR: Thursday, July 22nd.
Our hotel breakfast was free, continental, and the same size as yesterday. My son lost his mind and developed a temporary tolerance for Raisin Bran that to this day he still can’t explain. Anne was now addicted to their Belgian waffle maker. I tried a self-service microwaveable bacon-egg-‘n’-cheese biscuit, which could’ve used six or eight more slices of bacon for my tastes.
On previous trips we’ve taken brief detours into other states with limited attractions for the simple purpose of checking them off our list. Some states such as Minnesota and Texas had so many missed opportunities on our initial forays that we knew we would have to return to them someday to pick up where we left off. A few other states such as Wyoming and Arkansas appeared as special features on past road trips and are unlikely to merit their own devoted trips.
If we loved state parks to death, if we were desperate for beachfront access, if we had any use for gambling, or if we were massive fans of Bruce Springsteen, perhaps we would’ve only needed to spend minutes researching the contents of New Jersey instead of futile hours. It’s a small state adjacent to the east end of Pennsylvania, where Philadelphia just so happens to be. It made sense to drop by while we were in the neighborhood. Despite decades as an easy sitcom punchline, we made a good-faith effort to find at least one memorable New Jersey locale that might suit our sensibilities.
We were lucky to find one: that tiny ol’ thing in our lead photo.
In the hearts of minds of the average American, the Statue of Liberty is typically considered the legal property of the state of New York. If you stare at a state map long and hard and up close, after the hallucinations fade you’ll see the dynamic duo of Liberty Island and Ellis Island have two points of ferry access — one from Manhattan’s Battery Park, the other from Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike connects to the New Jersey Turnpike, a straight shot up New Jersey’s spine. The tolls added up, but they were a fair trade for a two-hour drive to a major landmark. When we exited the Turnpike and switched to I-78 for some prime New Jersey rush-hour stop-‘n’-go, we could already see the world-famous New York City skyline from miles away. Eventually we neared the Hudson River enough to see the Statue itself, a proud knick-knack compared to the massive Manhattan monoliths across the water. Honestly, it’s much taller on TV and in movies.
We’d never been to New York City. I would’ve loved to spend several days exploring it and seeing every single distinctive location that’s ever appeared in a movie, TV show, or Marvel comic. In previous years Anne refused to research it on the assumption that it was populated by eight million gangsta-muggers. As a kid, my son thought it would only take half an hour to tour in toto because the whole place was just one legendary Empire State Building surrounded by infinite boring office space. Someday it deserved to be seen, but that would be some other vacation in some other year.
I have no idea what the Battery Park ferry station on the Manhattan side looks like. In my daydreams it was a gleaming ten-story castle with 22nd-century architecture, state-of-the-art turnstiles, and an elegant Italian restaurant on top. Meanwhile in reality, the Jersey side was an abandoned train station that reminded me of the Indiana State Fairgrounds, complete with an Asian vendor outside selling Italian ice.
We arrived early in the morning and shared the day’s first ferry ride — and the day’s first lengthy weapons search — with a large German family carrying BundesRepublik Deutschland passports, as well as several Boy Scout troops, one of which had traveled all the way from Orange County, CA, just to crowd around us by the dozens and incur my son’s predisposed disdain for teens in matching uniforms.
During your gentle ferry ride, you can buy treats and souvenirs from their snack bar, meet new strangers, enjoy the breeze from the water, or just stare at all those buildings and businesses, looming and daring you to abandon ship and come visit them instead.
New York City appeared daunting even across the distant waters, but it didn’t look right without the garish corporate logos that mar every other American city over three stories tall. That’s because Times Square was further north and out of sight from where we were.
Before the feature presentation, we were required to dock at Ellis Island, the once-bustling immigration center that for decades would welcome millions of hopeful Americans-to-be and triage them into separate clannish neighborhoods. Today it’s an immigration museum with a series of educational exhibits about where the American melting-pot experience began for countless ancestors.
To be continued!
1. The original version of this miniseries was written before we later decided on New York City as our 2011 road trip. Or, for that matter, our 2016 vacation. Don’t be surprised if we make more excuses to head there in future years, Lord willing.
2. New Jersey also factored into our 2011 — a great experience in classy Whippany and about 15 minutes’ worth of surprise nightmare detour through Newark.
3. Regarding the quick references to prior road trips: we made a stopover in Arkansas in 2005 on our way to San Antonio; and Wyoming was a full-day diversion on our 2009 road trip to South Dakota. Eventually we’ll reprint that one on MCC.]
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[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]