I am, sadly, long back from vacation — that Great Narthern Tar I began telling you about a couple of weeks ago — the one where we piled into our Hertz with a supply of audio tapes (the first two, Angela’s Ashes and How the Irish Saved Civilization were outstanding, but left me tahkin fooney) and headed narth from Manhattan with a supply of restaurant-quality manual orange juicers I had bought in bulk, wholesale, to leave as house gifts at each stop along the way.
I told you about our first host, who asked us to guess what his dad gave him for his birthday (a shopping center), and a couple of others that got us up through Connecticut to Rhode Island. I’m not going to eat up the rest of your summer vacation telling you about mine, but a few more highlights:
- Saturday – drive from Tiverton, Rhode Island, to Truro, on Cape Cod. Truro is the most beautiful place in the world, with the added bonus, when things get a little too peaceful, of having its own quaint amusement park just a few miles up the road — Provincetown. Not to say Provincetown is literally owned or run by Disney (it’s a little too honky-tonk for that) or by the folks who run Coney Island (too many art galleries). It’s just this wonderful old fishing village, filled with little shops and restaurants and ice cream cone places — but almost none of it newly constructed franchises, none of it corporate. I love Starbucks, I love corporate. But not everywhere. Not always. In P-town, the only franchise is the old Dairy Queen on the way back from the beach, and that, of course, is no franchise — it’s an institution.
- So we’re strolling up Commercial Street after dinner with our friends Jim and Gayle — Jim, the rare coin potentate turned novelist I have written about before — they, thrilled with their new juicer, Charles and I enjoying the diversity of the passing parade, when I see, amid the tattooed and nose-ringed, my old investment banker college pal Ace. “Ace!” I shout over a couple of heads. (It was dark, but I’d know that cigar anywhere.) He turns and smiles and shows us the art gallery he and his wife have an interest in, or are major patrons of — whatever the connection, they get their own parking space, which in P-town in the summer is the last gasp.
- It is particularly good to see Ace, because he will know what to do about my knee. Other people, when they have an injury, call an orthopedic surgeon. I call Ace. He has torn more ligaments, undergone more orthoscopic procedures — the man shuttles between the golf course, the tennis court, the ski slope and the magnetic resonance machine. A few years ago, skiing in one of those places you have to helicopter into, he was the last man in a string of nine. An avalanche killed the seven ahead of him. And yet he still skis.
- “Your knee,” he said, pointing to his own two to show off his latest round of surgery. “You need to see Dr. Minkoff. He’s the best. If you have trouble getting an appointment, tell Diane you’re a friend of mine.” And that’s just what I did. (Anyone else out there ruptured his/her anterior cruciate ligament? Was the surgery worth it? All comments/suggestions welcome.)
- Monday – We drive from Truro to Boston in search of people to give juicers, and stop in North Quincy to visit a family I had last seen in Moscow. Now they live in North Quincy. I worry that their talent and energy are needed in Russia, but it makes me so proud of America — and happy for them — to see how they’re living. Dmitri came over first to get a job and earn the money to bring Tanya and their daughter Sasha, who after just one year here, aged 11, speaks perfect American and excels in school. They’re thriving. Tanya insists we eat some wonderful Russian things she has prepared. Dmitri pulls out the camera. They promise to use the juicer just as I instruct: leave the oranges in the refrigerator overnight — the Sunkist thin-skinned juicing kind — and then drink the juice straight from the stainless steel cup into which it flows. Gotta run.
- Later Monday – dinner in Cambridge at John Harvard’s Brew Pub, not because we like brew so much, but because we like the owner, who invited us to see it. He’s got 11 of them so far and hopes to have several hundred one of these days. His wife has to cancel at the last minute. She runs one of the world’s leading management consulting firms, but it wasn’t some crucial client meeting that ran long, it was emergency dental surgery. “Ouch!” as the campers gathered round the campfire the next night would say at every opportunity. (Tuesday we went to South Watafud, Maine — population 7 in the wintuh, 200 in the summuh. We were visiting Camp Wigwam, where my dad was Best Camper 1933, and I was a pretty good camper too, and where the tall pine trees stand patiently, majestically, quietly, overlooking Bear Lake. Richard Rodgers wrote one of the camp songs. Einstein visited for a little vacation. The trees have seen it all.)
- Finally Monday we arrived at the Ritz Carlton on Arlington Street, a stone’s throw from friends who would have been happy to put us up for nothing (well, maybe a juicer), but Charles had begun to panic, understandably, at the idea of staying night after night with a bunch of strangers (to him) and so, to make peace, I had booked us a suite (well, a junior suite) at the Ritz. This is not behavior that comes naturally to me. We arrive at the counter, guaranteed reservation in hand, and are told that, to the hotel’s great regret, some guests who were supposed to check out did not, and the Ritz was hoping we would allow them to put us up for free, with complimentary room service, either across the river at the Hyatt — they would take us over and back in the Ritz limo — or else upstairs in a “parlour room” with no shower. And herein lies the difference in a nutshell between Charles and me. I am thinking, Yes! A free room at the Ritz! Free room service! Charles is . . . well, really angry. (And you don’t want to be around the Irish when they’re angry. Ireland. Land of Ire. I think I’ve mentioned this before.) He was of course dignified in his handling of the situation, but it was the storm clouds in his eyes, I think, that got us the free room service. To me it was, of course, the highlight of the trip. For the lack of a shower, we saved $500. I invested it in Apple at $13 and now it’s $1,000! Well, no, it isn’t. I stupidly sold much too soon. But hand me $500 and a hot wet towel anytime.
There was a little more to our vacation — we saw two moose, we saw three loons, we had a magnificent panorama of the Rangely Lakes, where I had last paddled a canoe 38 years earlier. We gave juicers to my old high school soccer coach and his wife in North Belgrade, and to Bob and Carol in Rangely. We stopped in Freeport — the “factory outlet” theme park anchored by L.L. Bean (now there’s a zoo). We listened to The Runaway Jury on tape all the way to Southern New Hampshire, where we stayed with the estimable Jerry Rubin, the real creative genius behind a software program called Managing Your Money, even though I got all the credit for it. (Jerry and Marilyn are fine. Their two little boys are now both working at Rubin Associates, the family software business, both expecting kids of their own — time flies.) And we dropped the car at Logan Airport, where Hertz charged us $3.90 a gallon to fill our tank. The Delta shuttle, it being a Saturday by the this time, was half price — $90 less the $10 worth of frequent flier miles.