By the time we finished paying our respects at Frederick Douglass’ gravesite, we agreed Day Two had dragged on for far too long and needed to end. We had to wend our way out of one upstate New York city before we could finish the evening with a stroll around another.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events 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. Normally we’ll choose one major locale as our primary objective, drive that-a-way, and concentrate on exploring the vicinity for a few days before retreating.
We crafted this year’s itinerary with a different approach. Instead of choosing one city as a hub, we focused on one of the motifs that’s recurred through several of our trips: grave sites of Presidents of the United States of America. Our 2018 road trip would effectively have the format and feel of a video game side quest — collecting nine American Presidents across ten presidencies, four states, seven days, and 2000 miles…
We had no more time for stops in Rochester, but noted a few bonus sights as we drove through their South Wedge neighborhood on our way back to I-90 and another round of tollbooths.
Ninety minutes east of Rochester was the city of Syracuse. We’d originally chosen it as a stopover for a particular museum Anne wanted to see for its historical significance. We arrived in town well after closing and were let down when we learned it was one of many NY tourist attractions closed Mondays, meaning it was a no-go for the next day. That effectively left us with no specific reason to be here. We figured we’d see what we could make of their downtown anyway.
Our arrival dragged on a bit because I had precise directions to our hotel and imprecise notes on their recommended parking garage two blocks southeast. A confluence of one large and very imperfect sign, a few unexpectedly one-way streets, and hours of travel fatigue sent us on a merry chase that ended once I realized my head had spun ’round and my mental compass directions were ninety degrees off. After many minutes and turns we found our way to the garage, mostly empty save a handful of rando teens on bikes riding around and laughing amongst themselves. The surrounding streets were otherwise devoid of life and features.
We grabbed all our luggage and trudged the two blocks northwest to the hotel, only to find no visible entrances on the side of the building facing us. Another two-block walk to the opposite end revealed the front door and one disinterested, irrelevant valet. Still bearing several pounds of bags, we had to walk through the doors, up one more flight of stairs, and through the population of a robust Indian wedding party to reach the front desk and check in at last. Thankfully our room for the evening was both spacious and secluded from the festivities.
By this time we still hadn’t had dinner. We’d saved our appetites in hopes that downtown Syracuse would surprise us. It did in the sense that the options were mostly closed, and the remaining contenders were not next door. Our hotel had three restaurants (only one of them open) plus room service, but the past several minutes’ worth of inconveniences left me disinclined to hand them more of our dollars. We instead scraped up just enough energy within ourselves for one last bit of city exploration before bedtime. The restaurant that spoke most loudly to us from the Google Maps roster was six blocks away, still less of a grind than our Buffalo lunchtime experience.
Other pedestrians were scarce as we walked past numerous small storefronts, indie as well as corporate. A stray teen here, a couple there — heartbeats were few and far between around us. Stray litter dotted the concrete landscape — possibly normal ambiance, possibly leftovers from July 4th the week before for all we knew. It might as well have been Main Street of any Midwest town.
We found signs of life among the well-to-do in the Armory Square neighborhood at Pastabilities, a thirty-year-old Italian eatery As Seen on TV — i.e., in a segment on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Far as we could tell, Syracuse nightlife existed nowhere but inside Pastabilities, where we waited at least twenty minutes for a table. We were seated next to the kitchen, either as a special treat or as a form of detention for dressing too casually. We never bring formal wear on vacation and appreciate those businesses that don’t mind. Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s tolerant and who’s snickering at us in the back room.
A metal wall covered with word magnets was provided as dinnertime entertainment.
Our appetizer: fried summer squash blossoms, an item we’d seen previously only on Chopped.
My dinner of choice was in our lead photo, the decidedly not-Italian Thai beef short ribs — topped with ginger, soy, and lime crema, served with angel hair pasta tossed with sweet bell pepper and chili-lime vinaigrette. Suffice it to say I was in a funny mood, but appreciated the tasty creativity. Anne opted more simply for cheese ravioli because sometimes she and I decompress after long days in very different ways.
Service seemed slow at times, but that may have been our exhaustion talking, as well as our desire to return to the hotel and our disinterest in living Syracuse After Dark, without knowing whether or not the blocks beyond Armory Square had a reputation.
The return journey was calm, bordering on dull except a few key places that looked as if they might be enjoyable when they’re open.
Later back at the hotel, the wedding party had relocated inside a main ballroom, leaving the lobby as empty as the streets apart from security guards. We could hear much music and dancing and delight pouring through the ballroom doors as we headed toward the elevators and put Day Two and ourselves to bed at last.
To be continued!
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