Wednesday, November 11

Chasing the Leaves, the Tradition Continues

Every year since I graduated college my father and I pick a fall day to set out on a road trip and chase the leaves. We use foliage trackers to find peak seasons and have traveled all over the northeast. In the past we have gone to Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Our stops have included look out points off spiraling country routes, abandoned barns, fields with cows and horses, wineries, state parks and any exit off a highway that shows a stick figure man with a backpack and walking stick. We have met many strange, hick characters and sometimes run back into the car happy we still have all our teeth.

During the drive, there is plenty of time to chat. The first year, we talked about finding me a job. I had just graduated with an English degree and needed some guidance from my Dad. The years following had a similar tone, whether it was about making the most of the position I held, or striving for a new one, my Dad loves to talk business. We also talked about my boyfriends and my Dad’s business and our family, and music and leaf colors and pointed out different shaped clouds and hawks flying over head. At the end of the day each year, we are both exhausted, after hiking for hours and driving for more, and we are that much closer to each other.
This year was a little bit different. I had lost my job and due to the economy my father does not have that much business. Besides these facts it was harder for us to find a day to go for some reason. We missed the peak season of the north and even Connecticut had lost its luster by the time we found a date. We both felt the need to continue our annual ritual so we decided this year we would drive south. The top of Maryland and Delaware were peaking and we were up for the challenge.

My alarm went off at my parent’s house at 5:20AM, giving me just enough time to grab the coffee my Dad had made and walk out the door for 5:30AM. Off we went. Things were going really well and we were in New York on highway 87 in no time. My Dad prides himself on taking routes off the beaten path to avoid traffic. He calls them “short cuts” which is weird because they tend to be the opposite. That is the beauty of this day though. We are simply chasing leaves so every road we take brings its own adventure and we never worry about the time. However, on highway 87 we did hit some traffic. In fact, it was so bad that we turned the car off for an hour and waited for an accident to be cleaned up. All of a sudden Maryland was looking like a far off dream. We settled on Pennsylvania and picked up without missing a beat when the traffic began to clear. This being a foliage day, we try to keep the GPS to a minimum and use handheld maps to pick our routes, finding paths to State Parks.

As we drove, we listened to classic rock and Elvis and talked like we always do. This year I noticed that our conversations were less focused on me and my work and my romantic life. There was more of an equal balance, perhaps it is becoming a level playing field. We are two adults, a father and a daughter, two friends, rather than a dad and his child. Of course there was advice to be given, and I appreciated it, like I always will.

If you are picturing the scene and seeing red, yellow and orange foliage surrounding us with sunlight and blue sky, you are wrong. The day was overcast and the trees were barren. As we drove through New Jersey basically along the turnpike, I thought about why it was called the armpit of America. The towns we passed were run down with a lot of strange people out and about, clearly not working. The roads were ugly and the only fields we saw were littered with billboards. Finally after six hours of driving, we stopped at a New Jersey diner. It was the first place that did not have dirt on its door, or a hanging letter off its name’s sign. It seemed nice enough and my dad, who enjoys talking, was able to spark a long conversation about whether or not the crab meat in the crab cakes was fresh with the waiter. I could have easily answered 'no' for him, but he insisted on talking to the waiter who spoke English very well, but when I say that, I am lying.

“Is the crabmeat fresh?” My dad asked after exclaiming how great it was that there were so many options on the menu.

“Okay, crab cakes for you sir, and for you, miss?” The waiter turned to me.

“No, no, I just wanted to know if the crab was fresh.” my dad continued.

“Yes, yes very good”

“Yes, but is it fresh, or frozen crab?”

“Many, many compliments on the crab, sir.”

“Okay, but is the meat fresh or frozen?”

"Yes, delicious, one of the favorite dish."

"So, it is fresh."

“Ah, yes the crab meat is very fresh, from a can.”

That was the end of that conversation, but my dad thought he was very helpful and he enjoyed the Mexican dish he ended up getting very much.

I guess the reason I am telling you about this ridiculous diner experience is because it was really one of the highlights of the trip. My Dad and I got back into the car and decided we had gone far enough and it was time to head home. We would hike closer to home instead as the further south we went the trees just were not getting any prettier and it would not be worth the drive. We were both relieved to hear the other was happy with that decision and off we went. After driving some time we ended up stopping in Norwalk where my oldest sister teaches. It was her birthday and we made her day by showing up and surprising her. This was another highlight, seeing my sister’s classroom where she makes magic with her kids. In the parking lot of her school we saw the best leaf colors we had seen all day.

On the way home, we decided not to stop and hike anywhere. Exhaustion had set in and it was time to end the trip. My dad ended up confessing that he knew from the beginning we probably would not make it to Maryland, and he just wanted to spend quality time with me and continue the tradition. After hearing this, I realized I had thought the same thing. Our trip each year is not just about the leaves, but about each other. I am so lucky to have a dad I can spend 12 hours in a car with and actually enjoy it. (Once a year!) Although the sights were not spectacular, the ride was and I am so glad we went.


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tradition and relationship! You are a fortunate Sally. This blog posting brought tears to my eyes.

Becky said...

I agree with the previous poster. I have tears in my eyes too. We are so lucky to have such a wonderful Dad!! Sorry you guys didn't see any color, but it sounds like it was a great trip. I particularly liked the line about Dad's "shortcuts". Hehe! XO

Chuck Wolfe said...

I always dreamed that you would write about our trips because you are such a great writer. I enjoyed this so much, even the part about "my shortcuts" which to be correct I should call alternative routing. The day was great because you are great. I love you very much!


Lynda said...

What a great day. What a great tradition. These are the things that you will remember. I wish my father was still with us. Your wonderful writing makes me remember my Dad and all I have to be thankful for! Thank you.

Scott said...

Great blog... but to be difficult, you say the tradition started right after your graduation, but what kinda school has graduation in october?!

Sensitive Sal said...

It took me awhile to get a job, Scott!