Yeah, that's me. The knees look shot already.
The calendar has clicked over again. The first day of summer was last week. And I am guessing families all across America started making plans.
I remember my days as a kid. For most of the summer, I never left the neighborhood and, luckily, neither did my friends. We developed our standard routine of playing baseball in the lot till it was too dark at night and then we waited for Coot, the Good Humor Man. Then we would sit on somebody's front stoop and yakked it up until it was time for me to curl up next to the fan with a good book.
Yep, that was my summer. But there was always that two weeks.
It was annual clockwork. My dad would take his two weeks of vacation every year at the same time. The last week of July and the first week of August. Smack in the middle of the summer. And this would be the time we would pack ourselves into a car and travel someplace. Loaded down with juice and lots of plums and peaches for the road. And usually Colorforms to keep me occupied. I couldn't bring comic books along to read in the car. I did that once. The decoration I upchucked onto the side of Dad's green Buick wasn't exactly Jackson Pollock.
We only went as far as a one-day drive could take us. Perhaps a long one-day drive, but one day nevertheless. So, essentially, our radius was about 300 to 400 miles. No more. No less. As a matter of fact, I never flew on an airplane until I got to college. I think about this every time I see some five-year-old throwing Cheerios around on one of my cross country flights.
Ideally, my folks and I would travel with another family. Another mom and dad to give my parents somebody to gossip with and perhaps another kid or two that I could hang with. There were a few times where we went solo and those trips tended to drag. After 50 weeks together as a family unit, we needed a break from each other as well. Invariably, though, there would be some point in the vacation with another family that something would happen. A sour word exchanged. A nasty look shared. And then the edict would come from Mom.
"Stay away from THEM."
I remember a bunch of these destinations.
Lake George, New York, was popular. They had a couple of Disney-like theme parks. Storyland where you walked around some nursery rhyme settings and then fed the wandering animals.
There was another gimmick called the North Pole and it was always odd to visit there in the sweltering July humidity. You got to meet elves and the complete Santa Claus clan. I was always curious why Mrs. Claus never had any kids. My mom would tell me that all the little workers were all the children they needed. I guess I was too young for the real explanation, which was readily apparent when you toured their house. Santa and the missus were sleeping in separate rooms.
The longest trip we ever made was to Niagara Falls, New York. All day in the car. Extra peaches and plums. Sheer boredom. But the view of the falls was worth it, especially when a wave knocked me clear across the Maid of the Mist.
In those days, my father was an amateur photographer and loved taking slides with his Argus Technicolor camera. I remember when these particular slides came back from the developer. Somehow, two got superimposed over each other and the Maid of the Mist was poised right on top of the Horseshoe Falls. Was the Fotomat guy fooling around or was it an accident? We'll never know.
I'll always remember Niagara Falls for the huge case of food poisoning I must have got. All I can recall is lying on a hotel bed with alcohol soaked washcloths all over me. There was a visit from a doctor. I think I was there for about two days. At one point, I was visited by Vivian Vance in a nurse's outfit. Sheer delirium without a drop of liquor.
One summer after I had become a baseball fan, our familial trip trooped up to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame. A great, great excursion for me. But, the little hamlet in upstate New York features few hotels and even fewer with air conditioning. One of my mom's pre-requisites for summer fun was the ability to go someplace and sleep in an air conditioned room. Without the cooling at night, my mom was even less impressed with Mickey Mantle's uniform pants displayed during the day.
Atlantic City, in its pre-casino days, was another popular destination over a few summers. The Boardwalk. The Million Dollar Pier. Salt water taffy. The Steel Pier where the Diving Horse worked and where I shook hands with Paul Anka after a performance. I was probably seven years old and already taller than he was. Another year, we saw the Lennon Sisters. Anything connected to the Lawrence Welk Show bored me shitless. I fell sound asleep in the aisle of the theater.
No trip to Atlantic City was complete without a visit to Zaberer's Restaurant. This place was such a big deal that you kept seeing the signs all along the road to Atlantic City.
"Ten miles to Zaberer's."
"Five miles to Zaberer's."
"Zaberer's right around the bend!"
Sort of like when the Ricardos and the Mertzes were driving west and looking for Aunt Martha's Pecan Pralines.
This was a total dress-up eating event and probably the biggest meal we had all year. You made reservations several days in advance and still waited an hour in the lounge for your table and the ultimate heart-stopping slab of prime rib. The big draw in the waiting room was a color TV, back in the days when nobody had one that worked correctly. At Zaberer's, Mitch Miller's beard was not purple.
On one Atlantic City trip, there was such a rift with THEM that my folks and I hightailed it out of there. Up the road to Asbury Park. Where there was nothing to do. And we stared at each other for what seemed to be an eternity. I ran to a bench and buried myself in the library books I had packed for the trip.
It was the last time we ever traveled anywhere as a family.
I was happy to go home and stand in the sandlot with my buddies again.
Dinner last night: Assorted Thai dishes at Galanga Thai Fusion.