Pardon my haste, and the typos I’m sure will follow, but sitting here in the tranquility of the Grover Cleveland Service Area of the New Jersey Turnpike, hoping to pop off a quick post, I notice my computer’s battery is quickly draining.
Not mine, though. It has been recharged by my time in Baltimore and Philadelphia, reuniting with old friends and, I’ll admit it, hoisting a few, by which I mean beers, not friends.
During our Philadelphia visit, Ace and I stayed with my longtime friend and colleague Margaret, and her husband Will, and their three cats, Tammo, Cali and Papi.
They were but the latest of many cats Ace and I have stayed with as we continue to freeload, as much as possible, our way across the country. But Ace, who’s enamored with felines, hadn’t been amid three at a time before.
Each one had a slightly different personality, and a different reaction to Ace. Cali, the oldest at 15, was the most mellow, hissing once in a while if Ace got too close, but otherwise acting as if it were no big deal to suddenly have a 130-pound dog in a cat-specific house.
Tammo kept his distance, sometimes approaching Ace, then running off.
Papi was the most curious, not, I wouldn’t say, antagonistic — but definitely confrontational. On second though, maybe I would say antagonistic. He’d cautiously stalk up behind Ace and come up next to him and, during the first approach, gave him a good right jab, which Ace responded to by standing up and issuing one bark.
After that Ace, though still curious, kept a respectable distance, for the most part.
Seeing they had reached something close to detente, I left Ace and visited my old newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, which happens to be on the auction block today, if you’ve got a few million and are looking for a good investment.
Given all the insecurity, it amazed me that my former colleagues weren’t babbling idiots by now. Somehow, in that limbo, they manage to do their jobs and produce a pretty decent newspaper.
As in Baltimore, I was struck in Philadelphia by how much I’ve missed people with whom I’ve done a terrible job of staying in touch.
With 10 years having passed since I worked there, I was surprised to see so many familiar faces (and sorry I didn’t have more time), surprised as well when a colleague showed me a dictionary that still had my name written on it.
We’re headed now to Long Island, where we will hop three ferry boats tomorrow as we begin duplicating, at least for the time being, the route John Steinbeck and his poodle covered in “Travels with Charley.”
By tonight, we’ll be in North Merrick, have dinner with a Steinbeck afficianado and librarian and try to find someplace to stay before heading to Sag Harbor in the morning.
My hour-long Internet search for affordable (by my definition) and dog-friendly lodging was a huge waste of time, with little to be found for under $100 a night — a price we feel so strongly about not paying that we will sleep in the car for the first time if we have to.
Today, on my way north, I took a quick tour of Yardley, Pennsylvania, my hometown for about 15 years and noticed, despite continued upscaling — fancier restaurants, even more Realtors, a Starbucks and lots of hair salons — it was still pretty much the same quaint, one-stoplight boro.
Somewhere today, I think, we also crossed the Continental Polite Divide. In my experiences the southern half of America — whatever else you might say about it — is far more friendly. Baltimore is still mostly friendly. Philadelphia is kind of friendly. But somehwere along the way — possibly Princeton, New Jersey — we crossed the zig-zagging imaginary line across America into a place where people are more insular, where doors aren’t often held open, where conversations aren’t as likely to start up, unless maybe you have a dog and they want to know what kind of dog it is.
In Philadelphia, I felt among friends — old and new. My friend Margaret’s close-knit block, in the shadow of the old Eastern Penitentiary, was a wonderful slice of the city to hang out in, and an example of one of many neighborhoods — once mostly all ethnic enclaves — that have become little melting pots. This one boiled over with kindness.
Except maybe for Papi, who continued to most surreptitiously — and I’m sure I spelled that wrong — try to provoke Ace.
Deep down though, I think she was as enthralled with him as he was with her.
I think — gross generalization that it is — all these impolite northerners would, if they gave it a chance, be more enthralled with each other as well, if they took the time. More often, they are in a hurry, wrapped up in themselves, not seeing the world around them — like the one who cut me off with his car, or the one who let the door close on my cheeseburger and fries, or the three (out of five) men in the restroom that were talking on their cell phones while they urinated.
C’mon fellas. Even with hands free technology, it’s still bad manners.