What I Didn’t Do On My Winter Vacation

Last summer I discovered a website called “Home Away,” on which are listed rental homes throughout the country and world that are often not priced greatly more than a hotel room. What a nice way to spend a vacation, I thought, in a peaceful place with amenities, perhaps like a hot tub or Florida room or fireplace, with woods in the back and lots of wood in the interior, a place in which we could cook, explore and de-stress. So, for my latest pilgrimage to Woodstock, I secured such a place for us, and off we went. An hour out of Woodstock, the skies opened up and thundershowers obscured the road. We checked the weather forecast, which told me: thunderstorms today, thunderstorms tomorrow, thunderstorms until you leave, you idiot! That sort of put a damper (no pun intended) on the outdoor hot tub and barbecue. So we had to call and cancel, sacrificing a fairly large deposit, decided to drive into Woodstock anyway, to introduce my hippie retreat to Marianne, get something to eat at Joshua’s, and meet briefly with my friend Nathan, whom we were supposed to hang out with the next day but was busy on this day conducting a tour of his Woodstock museum. And then we began the long journey home. We checked the traffic report, which, of course, told me that the Thruway was blocked solid until the next exit, and the one after that, and all the way down to close to where you would be exiting, you idiot! So we took the winding southwesterly, southeasterly, southwesterly, easterly, spiraling, non-progressing turnpikes, through  floods and virtual invisibility, for hours upon gruesome hours. And that was our first vacation.

Try again, why don’t we, I thought. So I arranged for a surprise mini-vacation up to Massachusetts, again using “Home Away” for our stopping point. But the real reason for the trip was that a brilliant singer-songwriter, Kenny White, whom I’ve gotten to know a bit, was finally touring in the area. So we got in the car, with Marianne having no idea of our destination, and drove to the ferry, and, once across to Connecticut, up to Swansea, Massachusetts. “A dusting of snow, maybe one to three inches” was the forecast for the next day, the day of the concert, but that we could brave… um, except that one to three soon became three to five, or possibly more, but it was still within reason, right? The weather on this day was cold but beautiful, so maybe we’d get lucky this time. (And maybe Donald Trump will turn out to be a fine President.)

We finally found the narrow back road that led to our “home away,” an endearing chalet, beautifully decorated, filled with labeled instructions, shelved with a wide diversity of books, and stocked with foodstuffs from a world of cuisines. It was owned by a wonderful man, Gary White (no relation), who was generous and accommodating almost to a fault, even offering to jeep us to the concert should the snow become too intimidating for my old car. Anyway, I didn’t feel like cooking, and had prepared a list of local restaurants, the brunch one being what turned out to be a pub called “Simply Simons.” Now Marianne chooses carefully, way too carefully. I, on the other hand, go for the gastronomic gusto, so how could I resist the “Dad’s Favorite?” (That should have been a rhetorical question, but, unfortunately, it was not.) So I chowed down on a greasy burger patty with a hunk of canned chow mein buried in crispy noodles, while we watched the doomsday weather predictions on the bar TV. By now, various websites were anticipating anything from six to nine inches up to twelve to fifteen, or possibly more. Well, what was there to do but return to the house, obsess about tomorrow, and make sure that at least we wouldn’t die, cut off from civilization by an unplowed, mile long path in some old woods that would have been fun to explore in the damned summer, even in the rain.

Now had my smart phone not been so stupid, it would have informed me, at, ironically, the precise time of our arrival, of an email sent by the venue informing me that the performance had already been cancelled. We then would have followed our ritual, and returned home on the same “vacation” day as we had left. Instead, that evening we got to hunt good old Swansea for a dinner restaurant. Marianne is allergic to seafood. Massachusetts is swimming in seafood. So I had my handy list, but even the one restaurant that served other things and didn’t appear to be a risk for cross-contamination didn’t seem particularly appealing. So we resorted (again, no pun intended) to the internet, and found a little Chinese place that seemed fine and welcomingly inexpensive. It had dumplings AND shumai, and the neon sign outside advertised sushi rolls. So I was set. Unfortunately, the menu inside bore no mention of shumai and the universally Caucasian staff at the counter knew nothing about any sushi rolls. So out we went, ultimately resigned, after much over-consideration, to go to that place on the top of my list after all. But then, on the way, we saw another Chinese place, one that actually looked like a quaint little restaurant, and u-turned to give it a try. As we opened the door, the Asian appearance on the outside gave way to the reality of a bar and pool hall with some booths and, yes, another all Caucasian staff. (I must have missed the century old sign, “No Chinese allowed” at the entrance to Swansea.) Oh, what the hell, we figured, let’s just eat here. That was until we saw the menu, which included the likes of eight dollar dumplings, something I had never seen in fancy, make that real, Chinese restaurants even in New York City. So out we went again, off to the restaurant I had intended from the beginning. It was kind of all right, and we took left-overs back (which might have been part of the reason I got so sick upon our return).

When we arrived “home away,” I finally checked my emails. And soon I came upon one from Kenny White, reading, “hope the postponement isn’t too big a drag for you.” (I had told him we were coming up. Marianne, on the other hand, still didn’t know what the hell we were doing there.) Uh oh, I thought. I quickly scanned down the email list in reverse chronology, and there was the announcement from the early afternoon. Was it better that they had cancelled than that I lose my advance payment in snowbound regret or my life trying to make it there… yeah, probably. Anyway, now seemed just the perfect time to make my own announcement, letting Marianne know why we had been up there. It was nine thirty, too late to catch a ferry back. So we decided to get up really early (you should know that these days, in retirement, “really early” generally means about noon to me, but here we were talking about rooster time) and hightail it back to Long Island before the storm hit. The flakes starting falling just as we reached my condo. And that was our second “vacation.” I’m pretty sure the Gods of Weather, working through this taunting website, are having a good laugh, literally at our expense.

I have been apprised of another, similar site that the young folk use called “AirBnB,” and I’ve perused it. But I’ll be damned if I let “Home Away” beat me. Someday we’re going to have a vacation that lasts at least twenty four hours! Meanwhile, my son is away on yet another ten day cruise, since my ex found herself a rich boyfriend. It hurts me that I can’t do more for him, but a combination of health and money issues make it very challenging. Maybe someday for that, too. Meanwhile, Spring Break is practically around the corner. And what kind of impending disaster could be left to mess with us? Oh, wait, I forgot, by then Trump will be President. Hey, staying in bed hiding under the covers is a pretty good way of getting away, too.

P.S. This was the very night of the postponed performance. Kenny White promised he’d do “Cyberspace” for me, and that he’d let me know when he’ll be back home performing in New York. I highly recommend his new album, “Long List of Priors.” With Leonard Cohen gone, we need to hold onto and support all the genius songwriters we have left.