The Long Way to Erie, Part 2

We left Niagara Falls – an oddly quiet and yet noisy town, and drove through the fog toward Buffalo. We took 190 to North Street through a quiet area of historical buildings and more churches in a 3 block radius than I’ve ever seen in my life. North Street took us to the corner of Main, and the infamous birthplace of the original Buffalo chicken wings: The Anchor Bar.

Anchor Bar, Buffalo, NY

The Anchor Bar, Buffalo, NY Taraka, 2019

That’s right – we went to Buffalo for one thing and one thing only. The Anchor Bar, on approach, looks like a small, old house. Until you drive around to the left, where the entrance is and ample parking. The walls in the bar area are plastered with license plates from all over the U.S. and Canada. I loved the atmosphere – betcha it’s a fun place on the weekends too. We were seated at a small table against the outside wall that felt a bit like we were sitting uphill (old flooring = uneven flooring?) The menu is newspaper-format, with lots of options for stuffing yourself. The waitress was about our age and warm and welcoming.

We ordered the original wings, which are “medium” and absolutely delicious. According to the website, they will ship wings anywhere in the U.S., which sounds like a fantastic idea. I also ordered a Caesar salad, you know, for balance, and it was huge! Definitely big enough to share. SO glad we put this on our itinerary – if you’re a fan of hot wings, you must make the pilgrimage. Or even if you just like checking off bucket list things, like me.

There’s a small gift shop inside and so Todd stopped there while I used the bathroom. He bought a f@#%ing t-shirt, so that ups his collection to 84. But he also bought a bottle of the Buffalo sauce and a pint glass for the bar we don’t have. Woot! And then we were off to Erie.

I booked the Holiday Inn Express because we’ve always had good experiences there. It was right off the highway and, it turned out, was a few miles out from downtown Erie. Todd didn’t exactly complain, but when someone mentions more than four times that it would’ve been nice if we were closer to the bowling alleys….well…I guess I should’ve looked at a map.

We had a room at the end of the hall on the third floor overlooking the highway, and I really tried to hide my hysteria when Todd noted the noise from the trucks going by. I really did. But the room was nice and comfy! And ice cold. I’m assuming they save energy until someone checks in. There’s also an indoor pool which is really quite nice, if you’re not surrounded by thirty kids under 12 who are splashing and screaming like howler monkeys. Too bad I forgot to pack our suits. This time there was a Keurig in the room, so we could use our own coffee in reusable k-cups.

We rested a bit and decided to head out to the Brewerie at Union Station for a bite. Erie’s Union Station opened in 1927 and saw many travelers over the decades that followed, from WWII soldiers to FDR and Harry Truman, to Babe Ruth. There’s some really interesting history there, like underground tunnels, if you visit their website. The restaurant opened in 2006 as part of a revitalization campaign in Downtown Erie.

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The Brewerie at Union Station Taraka, 2019

We sat in a back booth and ordered an Erie Brewery’s Railbender Ale for Todd and the Misery Bay IPA for me. We liked them both so much, we brought three cases home (can’t get it here). We shared pulled pork bbq nachos and fried pierogies – both equally delicious. One can also purchase beer to go – including their own craft beer in crawler or growler size. The Brewerie at Union Station’s own HopMonster IPA is excellent and, sadly, I didn’t get to bring any home and they don’t currently distribute. (Side note if you visit: they are not open Sundays.)

The next day, Saturday, we got up early, visited the complimentary breakfast bar downstairs (why are scrambled eggs on a buffet always watery?) and hit the road to Cleveland. When I told my mom that I was excited to add another state to my list of states I’ve been to, she said flatly, “Ohio looks just like Pennsylvania,” which is kind of a pessimistic thing to say to someone.

In keeping with the ongoing theme of haunting fog, the skyline of Cleveland was shrouded in an eerie haze. The museum was easy to get to, and parking was also remarkably easy, overlooking Lake Erie. We walked the short distance to the museum and were approached directly by a homeless man and “former Vietnam Vet” who wanted us to buy a paper to help him support his wife and kids. Okay, so I felt a combination of annoyance and compassion, since I remember the homeless selling papers on the subway in New York and it was generally accepted as a legitimate occupation. But, as Todd said, we didn’t drive 300 miles to be solicited outside a museum for money. He also called bullshit on the sob story.

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, Taraka, 2019

So the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t even know where to start. The place was crowded, but nothing like the Majestic Theatre so I didn’t complain. Most of the exhibits were comprised of some iconic article of clothing, and other artifacts. I was completely enthralled by the clothes. It sparked something in me I cannot explain yet. There were art posters from the 60s. Tickets from Woodstock. (My mom and dad had tickets to Woodstock. But they decided at the last minute that this was no place for a two-month old, and so dad gave the tickets away.)

Some of the more memorable things: Jimi Hendrix’s brown suede jacket, Janet Jackson’s jacket from the “Control” video, a hand-painted guitar owned by Springsteen, a pair of Ziggy Stardust suits, one of Michael Jackson’s gloves (I’m not so naive to think that’s the only glove), ZZ Tops’ furry drums, Biggie’s Poppa jersey, and a disturbingly small shirt worn by Keith Richards. There was a disappointingly small case of items from Prince – featuring a set list from the only tour I saw and those lace gloves. And then all of a sudden I was fighting back tears. And of course there was little else, because it wasn’t what he was about.

The way out is through the gift shop, of course, and while there were some cool items there, we weren’t even the least bit tempted by the overpriced kitchsy merch … ie… a Woodstock t-shirt for $59. There was a good deal of vinyl for sale: one album I have owned for over 30 years they were selling for $49.99.

We returned to the hotel for some down time before the tournament, which started at 6 p.m. at a BYOB bowling alley. After, five of us went back to the Brewerie at Union Station for snacks and beer. Chris tried a Clarion River Pineapple Under the Sea, rumored to be very sour, but he said it tasted like pee. I don’t often pass up the opportunity to at least taste a new beer, but … no thanks. I didn’t ask how he knew what pee tasted like.

Sunday morning the previous three days of excitement finally caught up with me, about a half hour into the 8 a.m. tournament. I was finishing up The Night Bird (great thriller – should be a movie) and nodding off. I wandered out to the car, started the engine for a few, and then curled up under a blanket until the sound of car doors and voices woke me. The rain returned as we drove the long way home, making road conditions dicey along with monstrous traffic of no particular origin. 6-1/2 hours to home.

 

From top and left to right: Springsteen’s guitar, Keith Richards’ shirt (compare size to the album), The $59 shirt, Cleveland’s skyline

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On the Road Again: The Long Way to Erie

It’s PA State Bowling Tournament season again.  Todd and I took a long weekend, originally planning a side trip to Niagara Falls Canada, but the procrastinators in us didn’t get the passport situation handled so we opted for a 4-day tour through five states instead. Starting with our first stop – New York City. (This girl needed to “go home” for a day.)

We had tickets to see Phantom of the Opera, which I’ve never seen. I haven’t been in the city since I brought Veruca for her birthday six years ago. Todd asked me to drive, since he’s not familiar and/or not comfortable driving in the city. I made him promise me you won’t yell at me while I’m driving. Because truly, driving in Manhattan is not for the weak.

I tried to drive around Washington Square Park, which turned out to be partially blocked due to construction and now all I can think is they better move fast because graduation is coming up soon. In fact, there was construction everywhere in the village, making navigation tricky and frustrating and eventually Todd “gently” mentioned finding a parking garage. Forty five minutes later, as his voice creeped up to an edge where he threatened to get out of the car, I circled the theatre district trying to locate the garage.*

And then we sat there waiting to turn into the garage as 400 people continued to walk directly in front of my car halfway into the turn, without so much as a glance at us. AND THEN two girls stopped, right in front of my car, to take a picture. Todd was beside himself. Some things never change, but I curbed my natural instinct to roll down my window and start screaming.

We had a beautiful day in the city. The weather was perfect. Did some walking, got some pizza before the show. Stood in a monstrously long line at the Majestic, and then stood shoulder to shoulder with a hundred people inside waiting for the doors to our seats to open and I couldn’t help but wonder what the fire code was. A little girl ran in front of me and nearly knocked me down the flight of stairs I was standing on. Her mother grabbed her and… not so much as an apology. And then the two of them were behind us on our way to our seats, mom pushing against us with her bag until she could push past us to go to their seats. Which is when Todd finally snapped.

We had orchestra seats in row E, THIS CLOSE to the stage and it was fantastic. I was amazed by the way the stage and props move, and by how incredibly loud the music was. I’ve been to Broadway shows before but was still in awe of the production. We were also feet away from the closed-captioning/hearing impaired section and I was distracted by the closed-caption screen and the ASL interpreters who were literally acting out the scenes.

Afterward, we went to some non-descript pub for some light fare before hitting the road to Syracuse. I miss the city. I mean, I really miss it. Every time I go back, I tell myself I need to come back more often. For me. Todd, on the other hand, appreciates the city in small doses. It’s too densely populated with people. He’d go nuts here. He asked if I would move back. Most definitely. But I remember how easy it is to get burned out.

So we started on the long journey, but not before yelling at each other over changing “lanes” in the city to get to the Lincoln Tunnel. Todd was yelling at me to get over! And I’m yelling back, I can’t get over if there are cars already there! And don’t yell at me – I know what I’m doing! We had a great time.

I did the drive to Syracuse. It wasn’t planned, but once we were out of the city I just kept driving. It’s a long, lonely road, route 81. The route takes us back down into PA and then up into New York state. Did you know there’s a town in PA called Scotrun? If you glance at it quickly, it looks like scrotum.

Why did we go to Syracuse, you ask? We were there last year (see this post). It seemed a good stopping point from NYC to our eventual destination of Erie, PA. We thought we might make it to Kitty Hoynes – but we did not. We stayed at the Genesee Grand Hotel again, in a king suite which was lovely and cozy – which I only paid $7 and change for thanks to Hotels.com rewards. It’s under new management so no more complimentary coffee in the lobby. (We did attempt the coffeemaker in the room, but those are just terrible.) We ended up at a rest stop for Dunkin coffee a few miles out.

Next stop: Niagara Falls. Todd plugged it into the GPS but spelled it, Niagra – like VIAGRA. I found a single Oliver hair on my hoodie that morning – a hoodie that’s been washed several times since he’s been gone. It made my heart smile.

Niagara Falls was breathtaking. And crowded. It was chilly and overcast, and a little misty. The river is intense. You never think about the body that feeds the falls. I saw a black squirrel! I’ve never seen one before, and there were several, communing with the seagulls (or whatever they are – “rats with wings”). A black lab took off across the grass after a squirrel, and then doubled back to chase a grounded flock of geese. He was running with this big-ass smile only a dog can have, trailing his leash, as the geese took flight. Unbridled joy.

I took a dozen photos of the falls, marveling at the cloudy landscape that was Canada. Another bucket list item checked off.

We walked back to the car and I thanked Todd for bringing me here and for tolerating me lately. He gently stated that he noticed I’ve been edgy and grumpy lately. I told him to buckle up because the ride was just beginning. Welcome to Menopause! I said, I bet you never thought of this when we were 17. And he said, no, I just thought it’d be all sex, all the time.

We talked about bucket lists and doing things we’ve always wanted to do. I mentioned that meme: Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting Holy shit, what a ride! Which reminded Todd of that song from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Death by Misadventure…  face down in some dude’s pool. I prefer the former meme to this possibility.

Next stop: Buffalo.

 

*The Lincoln Tunnel is the way in if you’re going to the theatre district. I prefer the Holland Tunnel. It was always my point of entry, since I lived in the Village. And yes, it’s a thousand miles away from where we needed to park, but I wanted to go through the Village first.

**If you’ve ever driven in the city, you’ll notice that “lanes” are arbitrary.

***You wouldn’t have to pee so bad if you didn’t drink coffee all the way to New York. Just sayin’.

 

Photos copyright Taraka 2019

Destination Syracuse : Bowling, Irish Cannonballs, and Flying Monkeys

Presently in surgery. Please enjoy this ramshackle post in my absence.

Another road trip. Another bowling tournament. We stayed at the Genesee Grand Hotel. It was lovely: a beautiful lobby, Koi pond, and revolving doors, which I always use whenever they present themselves.  Except when I tried to drag my suitcase in with me. That made things a little tight, if not awkward, but thankfully no one was looking. Except Todd, who is well used to my shenanigans.

Our room was small but comfortable, and the bathroom was beautifully tiled in sparkling marble. We dropped our bags and changed clothes, and headed over to the convention center (where the National Bowling Tournament was) to check in. Apparently there was an issue about Todd – either whose membership number was in question and/or he wasn’t on the team roster. This looked to me like another one of those clusterfuck-type situations, and so I looked at my loving husband and asked him why he failed to mention this snafu to me.

(I was only mildly pissed that we might have yet another problem with something, because it’s always something, and I was still seething over the fact that he had no idea what times he was bowling until I asked him to find out. And it turned out that the expected usual 8 a.m. bowling times were instead 11 a.m. Tuesday and 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, putting us on the road quite well after dinner that night.)

We got it all straightened out, but not before the team captain came to rectify the situation and then Kathy wiped out on the escalator as we were leaving and thank God there were two men behind her to help her back up and she didn’t die. Seriously scared the bejesus out of me.

Todd and I ended up at The Kitty Hoynes Irish Pub for a late snack and beer. It’s the quintessential Irish Pub, all wood bar and carved back bar – the whole thing square-shaped with ample seating but two walls come into the center, lending it a very intimate arrangement. There is seating in the back of the restaurant, and a banquette with little cocktail tables and little stools for seating. Todd ordered a pint of Smithwick and I had Threes Brewing Logical Conclusion, which was a divinely citrusy IPA without the bitter back end. Ordered the Irish Charcuterie and Reuben Fritters (aka Irish Cannonballs); both were delicious and just the right amount of food for a late night bite.

Like any trip where we rush out the door, we forgot deodorant, my Tylenol Extra Strength tablets that are worth shit anyway, a jacket/hoodie/anything long-sleeved for the meat locker at the tournament and, most importantly, my meds. And this was so not the time to be without them for THREE days. I planned to be alcohol-free, but this horrific oversight was going to have to be remedied the only other way I know how. But – ya’ll’d be proud of me. I drank modestly, only at dinner, and only with food.

Day 2

The tournament. Teams. After a half hour or so of coffee in the cozy lobby, we get to the tournament and meet the crew. Everybody has to have their balls weighed. (Bowling balls, you fools.) Todd bought me a bright pink hoodie, and it was soon time to go find a seat in the stands and he went back to the waiting area. The oiling machines are like giant Roombas, except that instead of picking up dirt they oil the lanes. And then… the music started.

Imagine Dragons, Whatever It Takes… and the bowling teams start strutting out onto the floor in front of the lanes in a single file, and it was like we were at the fucking World Cup and these athletes were rock stars. Some of them were mouthing the words of the song, some were wearing sunglasses, some were waving their fist, … one guy was waving his bowling ball (in the sack) over his head, which seemed a little dangerous to me. Man down! Before the tournament would even start.

After the tournament everybody decided they wanted to go to Dinosaur BBQ, though all I really wanted was a salad. There were 9 of us and parking was a bear. We sat at three separate tables and, it turned out, one check.  The waitress sat my glass down on the table with her fingers inside it. When we ordered, I suggested Betty go first, and the waitress told me to go first. Mildly shocked at the Rude.

We all parted ways afterward, heading back to our hotels for a nap. I put on my collar of shame (as instructed to relieve pain I’m currently having) and left it on to enter the hotel and noticed how quickly the bellman jumped to open the door for me. Which made me feel alternately guilty and ridiculous.

Todd and I decided to go to the Yellow Brick Road Casino, in a little town called Chittenango where – it so happens – the author of the Wizard of Oz was born. It was small but whimsically fun… the Flying Monkey Bar had flying monkeys dangling from the ceiling. And the slots were paying out for Todd. I was being obstinently patient while he moved from one machine to another, until I hit a wall after 10 with no food in my stomach and barely a sip of water all day.

We returned to Kitty Hoynes but were late to dinner – so that there was a limited bar menu and even more limited IPA selection. They were sold out of Logical Conclusion (so upset!) and then two more I ordered they were also out of. Asked the bartender, so what DO you have? And he disappeared to attend to other guests while I perused the draft menu, and … didn’t come back for a good 20 minutes. If not for the late hour, we very nearly walked out. Eventually we got him to warm up and he was ever so friendly and somewhat more attentive… which, by the way, is NOT the way it’s supposed to work with bartenders.

Day 3

In retrospect, I’m beginning to wonder if the New York attitude creeps this far north of the city. It was bizarre, how standoffish the service was, everywhere we went. Except for Mom’s Diner, where we went for breakfast Wednesday morning. A small little spot on the corner of a well-worn street, where you order at the counter and they bring your food to the table when it’s ready. The four folks there were warm and friendly and the food was great.

We killed time at Destiny USA – which does not sound like a monstrous shopping mall with 3 floors of shopping, dining, and play. With the trend of malls going down over time, this one seems to be holding its own.

Back to the convention center for singles and doubles. Another freezing cold event and this time I carried my blanket in with me. And I wasn’t the only one. We were scheduled to start at 2:30 but by 2:35 there were still bowlers from the morning roster still finishing up. Our group didn’t start until after 3, and all I could think of was how late we were going to get home.

This day’s fight song was The Champion by Carrie Underwood ft. Ludacris. It’s funny how they all walk in like these great badasses of bowling. I watched a little, got up a few times to stretch (the pain is intense at times and the only relief is movement), dove into my journal and wrote 5 pages, and then cracked open my newest book.*

We were finally on the road by 7. I was beyond stressed and fighting back a complete mental breakdown from lack of meds and off-the-charts anxiety that kept me awake every night, and pain that returned with a vengeance just in time for the five-hour ride home. But we did it. We made it home in FOUR hours and for the first time in my life I was never happier to see our old hometown’s name on a highway sign, even though it meant we were still an hour from home.

*My latest book: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.  National Bestseller. Although I’m only 65 pages in, highly recommend.

On the Road Again – Destination: OCMD

 

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Copyright TaraKA & the Tara Chronicles, 2016

Co-pilot’s Log: Destination – Ocean City, Maryland

10 a.m. Finally on the road. There were fleeting worries that little bro wasn’t going to show up to dog/house sit, but in the end Todd wasn’t waiting on him – he was waiting on his co-pilot, who is terrible at leaving home for even a weekend. Co-pilots are supposed to be organized, thorough, and apparently on time.

Todd is discussing the vultures who are always looking for a handout. He has finally asserted – NO. He’s always the one they come to for money, a place to stay, etc. I suggested that at one time he may have set a precedent for this. He is generous of soul and spirit, my pilot, and easily gives of himself to others. But he has his limits, and the bank – and the inn – are now closed.

He tells me  that Bill (not a vulture) is anticipating a new job driving a waste management truck – full time with benefits and good salary. He will have to get up at 1 a.m. Ugh. Not for me. I asked if he has to take a drug test. Apparently not. Another bonus, I suppose. Old hippies die hard, after all.

10:57 a.m. Just passed the Kitty Knight House Inn. We passed this last year and I wanted to check it out, and like everything else in my life – I subsequently forgot about it.

Todd had a dream that God came to him and said, cut down all the trees in the horse pasture and build an ark. Todd said, can it wait until I get back from vacation? And God said, sure! And Todd said to God, can I have some sunshine too? God replied, sure! What a God.

11:23 a.m. Clayton, Delaware. After passing “Clayton Delaney Road” and ending up on “Clayton Greenspring Road” I wondered – so WHO the hell is Clayton? A Google later and … he was John Middleton Clayton, a prominent lawyer and politician in 19th century Delaware. (More history tidbits: Yale graduate. Raised his two boys himself after his wife passed away, two weeks after the birth of the second. Opposed the annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American war. Served as U.S. Secretary of State under the Whig administration of President Zachary Taylor. Laid the groundwork for the eventual building of the Panama Canal with the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty.)

A wrong turn in town took us past a beautiful old chapel I spotted through a gorgeous stone entry gate. St. Joseph’s Industrial School features the old chapel pictured above, built in 1896.

1:00 p.m. Stopped for food and fuel in Dover, home of the famous Dover Downs Raceway. TGI Friday’s seemed innocuous enough, and better than fast food. Weird, soft energy in there when we arrived. We were greeted by two employees upon entering, one who asked us, “two for lunch?” I looked at Todd and then all around behind us and said, “uh, yes.” I know better than to be this obnoxious, especially when everybody has heard what servers can do to your food if you piss them off.* But I just couldn’t help myself. I’m on vacation. *Disclaimer: I do NOT know this as fact. Statement based solely on rumor.*

Todd and I have said more times than I can count, that these chain restaurants always seem to be manned by aliens pretending to be human. They just seem off. Similar to that feeling you get when the sound is twenty seconds behind the show you’re watching.

Anyway, I highly recommend the Jack Daniels Chicken Sandwich – my fave. Also – the “For a limited time” endless appetizers.  Order what you want and they’ll keep bringing you more until you tell them to stop. Also, you’re not limited to just one choice – start with the boneless buffalo wings, and change it up to the BBQ chicken quesadillas. (The leftovers saved me the next morning when I woke up.)

3:45 p.m. In our room. Stopped in Rehoboth at the liquor store with “over 5,000 wines” to buy some hotel room supplies because – well – one cannot stay in a hotel without liquor. We were able to check in early. The pool is closed – there was “an incident” last night, and it has been drained and will be thoroughly cleaned and refilled. I’m intrigued.

Being a 47-year-old mother of two, I ran straight for the bathroom upon entering and noted the new, fluffy white towels. When I made to open the door, it wouldn’t open! Somehow I was locked in there, and I had no idea how. I started turning and pulling on the knob, calling for Todd, and trying not to sound hysterical. He suggested I locked it, which I did NOT. But alas, the joker who previously occupied the room must’ve thought it would be a fun prank. Haha. Very funny, asshole.

Let the adventures begin.