Traveling Man …

I took a trip this past weekend via the crowded freeways of Southern California. I drive so little these days (I literally live a block from where I work, so I “commute” each day via my feet), that the traffic in SoCal, particularly the Los Angeles area and Orange County, is a huge shock to my system. I don’t know why … it’s always been this way.

But for some reason it made me think back to childhood vacations, particularly the two or three years we journeyed north to Canada for a fall weekend at the 1000 Islands. Our normal vacation spot was the Jersey Shore, where we visited each and every summer from the time I was a toddler to the time I could almost have toddlers of my own (my last visit with my family was 1976, I believe, when I was 21). But one fall day my dad got the bright idea to go to Canada for the weekend.

It was right after Interstate 81 had opened. I-81 (or if it was in California, THE 81), runs north-south from Canada to Tennessee, where it hooks up with Interstate 40. I-81 ran pretty much right by my hometown of Tamaqua, so driving up to Canada only took a few hours. My dad had fished a lot in Canada (specifically Northern Ontario, in a town with the somewhat-frightening name of Calabogie, which somehow became “Calla-Boogie” in our family discussions), but instead he decided we would stop and stay at Gananoque, a small town just across the Canadian border.

My parents would pick me up after school on Friday and we’d make the journey northward. The first couple of years we went, we experienced some delays in Syracuse due to continued construction on I-81. But once that was done, it was smooth sailing to and from Canada. We stayed at a little motel in Gananoque called Appleby’s, run by a little old man who always remembered us in subsequent visits. The motel was old and drafty, but clean and convenient.

Gananoque was a small town with three Chinese restaurants in it, the Century, the Modern, and something else that I can’t recall (the restaurants appear to be gone these days). We tried all three, but we were not a Chinese food-eating family. Ordering food such as hamburgers and fries was a risky business at some of these places, and we quickly decided on one restaurant as our main one … the Modern, if I recall correctly. All three restaurants were run by families, and they would sometimes have titanic battles with each other, yelling and screaming in Chinese. Usually this was between the waitresses, who never wrote anything down, and seemed to understand little or no English. The restaurants were old, with wooden booths with the coat hooks on the pillars between them. I remember getting ice cream for dessert served in a stainless steel dish.

Usually on each trip we’d take Saturday and drive to the next biggest town, Kingston, Ontario, and shop there. I recall being taken aback by how different everything was. Cars had different names in Canada; our Chevy Impala may have been the exact same model and look, but it had a different name; Sears-Roebuck was Simpsons-Sears. (I kept fretting about what happened to Roebuck … where was Roebuck? Little did I know he’d soon disappear in the US, too.) I remember encountering an early comic book shop in Kingston, more of a head shop really, and the shock of my parents over some of the comics for sale there (“Let’s go, Gary. NOW!”) I saw my first traditional fish and chips wagon on the street there, too, selling the greasy fries and fish fillets wrapped in the traditional newspapers. I was shocked … all that grease and all that newsprint, soaking together?

One time, as we drove along the St. Lawrence River, dotted with small islands, my mom asked the question, “Why don’t they float away?” My mom was like that, a little dotty at times. My dad gently explained the island concept to her, but I don’t quite think she got it, to be honest.

On Sunday, we’d make the long drive home (I recall it as 4-5 hours) and we’d stop in Cortlandt, NY, at a large glass and chrome diner right off the Interstate. It was about at the halfway point on our journey. My parents were big on diners and cafeterias when we would travel. We’d eat lunch and hit the road. My favorite there was turkey croquettes.

I don’t quite recall how many years we traveled to Canada like this on cool fall weekends. I think there was a time when I hit ninth grade or so and thought I was too cool to go away with my parents for a weekend, and I stayed at home, and that may have been the last time they went. I remember my brother only going with us once and being terribly bored with the whole thing.

I’m not sure what triggered these memories in me. Sitting in traffic on a hot day in Orange County on the 405 is about as far away from the placid and chilly fall-like atmosphere of southern Canada 45 or so years ago. Either way, those are fond memories of a time long gone.

I hope none of those 1000 islands floated away. Has anyone counted them lately?

A Walk By Any Other Name …

My walking was slightly curtailed this weekend due to inclimate weather … namely temperatures above 80 degrees. I normally take a long walk on Sunday morning, but when I got up at 7:15am, it was already 78 degrees, so I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Luckily I had instead opted for a slightly cooler walk the night before, around 5:30pm, and this was one of the photos I snapped while “hiking” through Seaport Village, the perfect (if I do say so myself) juxtaposition of restaurant, water, sun, and prop, one of the weapon-like telescopes positioned around the bay.

I think about lots of things when I walk. Most of it is stuff I don’t understand, like skateboards. I understand skateboards as a sport—competition, stunts, etc.—but I don’t get them as a means of transportation. They seem … lazy. I’ll just coast here for a little bit, then use my foot once or twice to coast here for a little bit more. And the pack of teens I saw “marauding” their way through Seaport Village and the Embarcadero on their boards made me understand the whole skateboard thing even less.

Other things I think about when I walk: Work, and why I still have to do it; vacation-time, and why there isn’t enough of it; books I’m reading, along with movies and TV shows I want to see; what’s for lunch or dinner; and women. I think a lot about women, both those that are in my life, and those that aren’t. And I have come to the rather startling conclusion that I will never understand women, but that’s okay … I don’t think they’ll ever understand men, either.

Neither Here Nor There …

I took some time off last week (in fact, a whole week) and did a little bit of traveling. I visited Seattle (as the above lovely photo shows) for a few days. I wanted to visit this city for once without a comics convention to go to … because it’s a great city, and I’m always looking to find someplace new to add to my travel portfolio.

Besides the usual touristy things (Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, the EMP Museum), I got out and saw some of the area surrounding Seattle, including Ballard, which I loved. In the city, I visited both Georgetown and Capitol Hill (home of a great bookstore, the Elliott Bay Book Company). I walked a lot and had beautiful weather.

I’ve traveled almost every year for the past decade or so, usually to New York City, San Francisco, and twice to London, but over the past 2 years, the travel bug has really bitten me. While I both love and hate the process of getting somewhere, I mainly just love being someplace else. One of my favorite things is walking through an airport with just a backpack, no laptop bag, no luggage (I always check a bag, despite it being a major pain in the ass most of the time). Somehow that feeling makes me feel totally free and unencumbered, like I’m leaving life behind. What do I hate about travel? The giving up of control, the unexpected schedule changes (I was lucky this time with both flights being exactly on time leaving and early arriving), the crush of people with kids and pets at the airport, the lousy food choices. (Seattle BTW–thankfully–has a very nice airport.)

I travel alone and there are some long stretches where the only people I talk to are those who wait on me. I prefer it that way. I don’t think a lot of people I know would put up with my vacation quirks (read: constant visits to bookstores, occasional late afternoon naps, lots of cookies), although I’m sure I could adapt (sorta, kinda) to someone being with me. (Those of you who wonder why I don’t get in touch when I visit your town: Sorry, but I’m just not that social a person these days … not that I ever was, but particularly THESE days. My apologies.)

Travel, unfortunately, takes a lot of that green thing they call money, which isn’t too difficult for me to make, but I’m getting tired of the process of making it these days. I have to find a happy medium, where I can make money and spend it and not have to work as much, because as that great Western philosopher, Chico Marx, once said: “Being of sound mind and body, I spent every damn cent while I was alive.” I’d like to travel a lot more before I can’t travel a lot more, if you know what I mean. I have no desire to see exotic, far-off lands. I just like what I like and hopefully it’s a place where they speak some form of English that I can mainly understand (re: London), and they have bookstores and cookies.

For more of my Seattle photos, please visit my Instagram account (@gg92101).