Sometimes Connecticut is the best place. PART ONE

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After a crazy busy summer filled with a massive overhaul of my novel for my agent, house managing a sold-out run of an Off-Broadway show, and spending three weeks playing war for Army, a vacation was in order. 

An acquaintance of my gal Becca just bought a house in Fairfield, CT right by the beach and was going to be out of town for the month of August.  Take it, she said.  Use my beach pass, she said.  Have a good time, she said.  

Thank you, we said. 

So one Wednesday evening we rented a car, packed it up with our belongings, and drove north.  We knew that her son, a twenty-something who is normally off in school somewhere, was going to be present for the duration.  Oof, I said.  Human interaction.  Easy, Becca said.  It’ll be ok. 

When we arrived late that night, the son was not at home.  He had left the key under the mat for us, however.  So we grabbed our bags and went up to the door. 

We were a few feet from the front door when we heard a meow.  Suddenly, out from the bushes, springs a mangy cat.  Oh dear, I said.  Must be a stray.  Its fur was matted and scraggly and its meow was deep and scratchy.  

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This cat is more well-groomed than our Connecticut cat.

As we tried to open the door, the cat tried to go inside.  Hey there, I said.  Don’t go in there.  We shooed it away.  It didn’t move.  I walked away and called it so that Becca could at least get inside.  It didn’t move.  We set down the leftovers from our fast food dinner on the other side of the driveway.  It certainly appreciated our offering but came right back as soon as we went to open the door. 

Is it their cat, I asked.  It can’t be, Becca said.  She said nothing about a cat.  It must be a stray.  It has no collar and no tag. 

Finally we managed to get inside and slam the door in the cat’s face.  Thank goodness, we said.  Then we set about exploring the house, which was lovely.  We were offered the master bedroom on the third floor, which we gladly took.  We settled in for a good night’s sleep. 

In the middle of the night an incident occurred to which I was not privy, as I was sound asleep.  There was a knock on the door and a shadowy figure opened it up.  Hello, it said.  Becca, sleepily, responded in kind.  Did you feed the cat, it asked.  No, Becca replied.  OK, it said.  Have a good night. 

SO IT WAS THEIR CAT!  The epiphany may not be as profound as it was in person, but you get the idea.  We basically just told a cat to go screw itself because we weren’t going to let it in its own house or feed it either.  C’est la vie. 

The next day was a bit overcast, but we had already decided to do the beach.  It’s our vacation, darnit, so let’s start it off right.  After quietly taking the beach chairs from the garage (since the son’s bedroom was right across the hall from the garage), we loaded up our rental car and set off to find breakfast. 

Find it we did.  Siri, ever helpful, suggested Home On The Range, a small café in a quaint downtown area.  It had, without a doubt, the absolute best French Toast I’ve ever eaten.  The sweet little old lady that runs the place works there all by herself, taking the order, cooking up the grub, and clearing away your plates and serving as cashier when you’re through.  We would spend two more mornings savoring her wares. 

After we were stuffed, we went to the beach.  And there was nobody there.  Oh sure, there was a lap-swimmer.  And a couple strolling.  And an old man sitting on a beach chair.  But that’s it.  It was deserted.  The ominous-looking storm clouds may have had something to do with that. 

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Still, we were determined to have a good time.  Let’s not take the chairs, we said, as we may not be here long.  It’s a good thing we didn’t.  After frolicking a bit in the waves, Becca set out to carve words in the sand while I took pictures. 

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Artie plus Becca plus Rising-Tide Cat.

Then, after about ten minutes of watching the tide come in ridiculously fast, we skedaddled.  It was no more than a few seconds after we got back into our car that the clouds burst open and a monsoon began. 

What does one do on vacation in Connecticut at ten in the morning when it’s raining?  Why, go to the movies of course!  Eating popcorn and drinking soda for brunch, we sat with one other couple in a giant movie theater and watched The Butler (which I highly recommend, by the way). 

Back outside, the sky was no longer angry, but it wasn’t too happy yet, either.  What to do?  Go to the Barnum Museum, of course!  It’s so close, after all, in Bridgeport, CT.  Let us away, I said. 

Unfortunately, the Barnum Museum was hit pretty hard by a tornado a few years ago and is still not open to the public.  Sigh.  Back to the house to regroup. 

Upon arriving, we were met with a shirtless, skinny, tattoo-covered young man sitting on the front stoop smoking a cigarette.  The son, we guessed.  We guessed correctly.  After exchanging pleasantries and learning that the cat did, in fact, belong to the family, we scooted upstairs to plan our evening.

 We decided to venture north to New Haven, to The Original Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana.  It’s this amazing little pizza place for which people line up down the street to get a table.  It’s been around since 1925 in the same location and owned by the same family.  Check is out at pepespizzeria.com.  It was scrumptious.  Certainly different than our usual New York City pie, but amazing nonetheless. 

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Only slightly tipsy from the entire bottle of wine we drank, we decided then to stroll the campus of the Ivy League member Yale University.  We imagined ourselves in more scholarly pursuits than our art schools offered us.  We dreamed of singing in the Whiffenpoofs and eating in the Spoonery.  And we watched all the kids move into their dorms for the start of the semester.  None of them looked smarter than us, we decided, so we totally should have gone to Yale. 

Because Becca had never been, and because there was one right by the entrance to the highway, and because we had nothing better to do and because we were on vacation, gosh darnit, we went to IKEA.  This activity needs no greater explanation.  It was pure, unadulterated, built-it-yourself furniture bliss.  We didn’t buy anything, but boy howdy did we make some I-want lists.

Full of pizza, popcorn, French Toast, and tired from a fun-filled day, we made our way back to the house to sleep.

It was a good first day of vacation. 

Stay tuned for PART TWO in my next post!

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Sometimes your day isn’t the best one.

I am currently sitting on Amtrak train number 649 out of New York, NY heading to Harrisburg, PA. I am going home.
Not “home” in the sense of my clothes and my bed and my toys and my cat, but “home” as in that inestimable Homestead from whence I sprang oh-those-many years ago. Pennsyltuckey. Ma and Pa. The incubator of my impressionable younger self.
Normally, I take a rental car. Why, you ask? Well, because it ends up being cheaper, dear readers. To rent a car for five days is actually less expensive than a train ticket there and back for my lady love and me. (Oh, Amtrak, where has the hey-day of working-man train travel gone?) Plus, I get to drive right up to the house as opposed to making my folks pick me up at a train station 45 minutes away. So all in all, a better deal, no?
Oh, dear readers, today was fraught with peril from the first. I should have smelled it in the air but, alas, my olfactory organs failed me in this endeavor.
My gal and I went for lunch before I was to pick up the car (she has to work the rest of the week so she’ll be joining me and the fam on Friday eve to spend the weekend with us).
I put on my jaunty straw hat (heck – I’m going on a mini vacay!), strapped on my overstuffed backpack, and set out. Becca was dressed well because she has several auditions and meetings today in her very important arts-y life.Her hair was up and blown and her shoes were tall and suede.
We stepped outside in beautiful summer weather. This was going to be a good day.
We got on the subway and rode downtown. Then things got real.
We come up the stairs to find ourselves in the rain. Sigh. This is not what we wanted. Becca, ever-industrious, took out an umbrella from her bag. She took my poor little straw hat in hand and protected her hair and outfit as much as she could while we trudged to Panera Bread.
AFTER placing our order, our cashier informed us that all the tables were taken so they’d be giving us our food to go. Thanks, Mandy. Super helpful. I glanced out the window to see the sidewalk seating covered in water. Would we have to sit there? Or would we have to find somewhere else to go, under an awning maybe?
Luckily, the gods of NYC were still smiling upon us – or, at the very least, they were indifferent. We managed to secure the smallest table in the joint. It was at the back, crammed between the trash can and the restrooms. A swinging door about three feet led to the kitchen. By the time we left, a queue to pee had formed right beside us.
Forced out by an anxious young woman who had circled the entire seating area and who now asked us outright “Are you done?”, we left.
With the skies still spitting, my love and I parted ways. I carried my straw hat, trying to steer it clear of any noticeable raindrops. I walked a few blocks to Herald Square, where I picked up the uptown F. I got off at Rockefeller Center and walked another block to Enterprise Rent-a-Car.
Now, I’ve rented cars often before, but never from Enterprise. Kayak.com told me they had the cheapest rate this time, though, so I listened to the price-comparing boating craft and made the reservation. I paid for it with my debit card, as I always do with other rental cars.
Anthony greeted me dressed in a white shirt and tie. He shook my hand and wanted to chat about the weather. This was a far-cry different than, say, Alamo, where half-asleep polo shirt-clad workers ask for your card as a form of greeting.
(Side note: I much prefer the half-asleep ones. I don’t like chit-chat, and I don’t like smiley customer service where I’m meant to feel like I’m special. I’m of the New Yorker mindset of get-in-get-out as quick as you can.)
Anyway, he asks for my card. I give him the card I paid with. He says, oh no, not a debit card. A credit card. I say, oh of course. This has happened before. They always like that credit card. Even though one may have a million dollars in your checking account, they want the card with a twenty-dollar limit. Even though I’ve prepaid for the reservation and the money was already taken out. C’est la vie.
I hand him one. Ooh, I’m sorry – do you have another one? This one didn’t go through. Brow furrowed, I give him another. The same story.
Then I think back:
My gal and I had just come from a vacation in Connecticut (more deets on that to come), but I know neither of my cards are maxed out… I used the card on vacay since its easier to track purchases. In fact, at the end of this month, I will rectify those purchases by including extra in my credit card bill payment.
Anthony: “We need enough for a $600 credit hold.”
I furrowed my brow again. I didn’t have $600 left on either one?? Embarrassed, I stepped outside to check some balances.
One had $387 left on it. Boo. The other had $589. Double boo. If I would have spent $11 less on vacation by card, this situation would be non-existent, and Anthony would be trying to sell me insurance by now.
Then I came up with a genius plan. Chortling with glee, I called up the credit card company. I told them the situation. I asked them if I could pay off a few hundred right now. They said certainly, but the credit balance wouldn’t reflect it until next month. Curses!!
Then another idea crossed my mind. Rushing back inside, I asked Anthony if I could give him a credit card number. I know that I could get somebody to give me their card number so I could place a credit hold on it. After all, it won’t be charged (unless I total the car, that is, but that’s beside the point). He shakes his head. No. It has to be swiped. And you really can’t take this bank card, which has Visa on the side, WHICH IS RUN AS A CREDIT CARD EVERY TIME I GO TO A BODEGA? Nope.
Drat and double drat!
Curse my paycheck-to-paycheck existence! Curse my what-I-thought-was good planning by putting everything for this last vacation on the card and then paying it off. Curse not looking ahead to see this coming.
Defeated, I informed Anthony that I needed to cancel my reservation. I think he took pity on me and didn’t charge me a cancellation fee (that I know of) and said I’d get my money back in about 24 hours. (Again, since I had already pre-paid!)
Then I looked at a train schedule. There was a train leaving at 2:11that got in at 5:35, and one leaving at 2:44 that got in at 6:35. Why two trains, otherwise exactly the same, on the same track, going to the same place, travel at different speeds, I do not know. I looked at the time. It was 2:00.
I could never make the 2:11, I told myself, so I decided on the 2:44. I came to terms with the fact that I’d be getting in an hour later.
I walked the block (in the rain) to the subway station. I went back down to Herald Square (from whence I had just come, mind you). I walked two blocks (in the rain) to Penn Station. I got there at 2:13. I went down and bought a ticket for the 2:44.
Then I see that the 2:11 is still boarding. I could have gotten in an hour earlier.
SIGH.
I wait the half-hour. Then our track is announced – 13. How auspicious.
We begin to file toward the track stairwell when someone taps me on the shoulder. It is a policeman wearing body armor. “Please step aside, sir, so we can check your bag.”
Great.
I go up to his compatriots, who stand ominously beside their terrorist-detector. They wear white gloves and trace my shoulder strap with a piece of cloth. Ah yes, I think. That’s where most people keep their bombs. Of course.
The machine does not give a reading, positive or negative. The policemen look at me as though I’ve broken the machine telepathically. I watch the line of passengers all board the train before me. They’re all picking their seats, siting where they want… The machine is turned off and back on. They rub the other shoulder strap. We wait patiently. The machine beeps. I pass. I am not a threat to Homeland Security.
They tell me I can skip the line. Happily, I go up to the Amtrak employee examining tickets at the stairway.
She scowls and tells me to get to the back of the line. I say I had my bag checked. She doesn’t believe me. I can see it in her eyes. But she lets me pass.
Wet, defeated, and embarrassed, I board the train.
Now, in my seat, I watch the rain fall. My phone just buzzed. Flash flood warning for most of the east coast.
Harrisburg, my destination, is right on the Susquehanna River. The train station has closed before due to flooding.
Here’s hoping I make it there, but today’s track record hasn’t been great.
Keep your fingers crossed.

UPDATE:
Around fifteen miles from Harrisburg, the train slowed to a crawl. It took us an hour to cover this distance due to “signal problems ahead.” I arrived fifty minutes late. Still pouring rain. Oof.