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Road Trip — Part Two

2013.06.RoadTrip.BlogPostAs the summer of 1999 approached (Katie age 11, Jonah age 9, and Aiden age 5), there was no doubt that I would once again lead the charge into my family’s second road trip. Ellen was still not available (convenient, eh?) so it was all up to me. We were still in those archaic, pre-GPS days, and mapping out the journey was a necessity. Our destination was upstate New York, plus a jaunt across the border to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Motels and fast food restaurants were still the foundation of our expedition. And tolerating dad’s insistence on how fun this trip would be should have earned my children a Nobel Peace Prize for their calm and endurance.

We really did see some interesting sites. Howe Caverns, we learned, was actually discovered by cows, who frequently gathered in the same spot during the hot summers where, upon investigation, Lester Howe realized the cows had been enjoying the steady stream of cool air wafting up from below. Howe found the cave, dug out the shaft and opened up for tourism, building a hotel on top of it, and waiting for the Dreskins to arrive 157 years later. My kids enjoyed our excursion by small boat through the underground passageways, and we even got a photo with our spelunking comrades to record the event. Today, Howe Caverns sports a zip line, a rock wall and a ropes course. For us, I think, the caves had been cool enough without enhancements. But our next stop, Erie Canal Village, would definitely have benefitted from those additions.

Erie Canal Village is in Rome, NY. It’s an outdoor living museum that recreates 19th century life along the Erie Canal. For my kids, it was mostly v-e-r-y quiet. And although lovely, I wouldn’t say they were inspired by its displays of rustic Americana. Nevertheless, I don’t recall them kvetching but I figured I’d best find them something a bit more engaging, and soon. Heading up toward the Canadian border, we stopped to see the Erie Canal lock in Lockport, NY. The kids actually thought that was kind of neat, though I seem to remember the ice cream we stopped for while there being a bigger hit. Onward to Niagara.

Niagara Falls (sort of) August 1999

Niagara Falls (sort of)
August 1999

The Canadian side of Niagara Falls is quite the tourist attraction. Clifton Hill offers amusements, restaurants and hotels, and we were never at a loss for something to do. So in addition to the falls – which everyone thought were truly breathtaking – we wandered through Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the Famous Criminals Wax Museum, an IMAX ride over the Falls, and losing Aiden. That’s a story in and of itself, which I’ll write about in the next entry.

On our way home from Niagara, we hit the Corning Glass Museum, which we all loved. Jonah, of course, was entranced by anything that involved fire, so watching the glass blowers was a special treat. On a roll, I drove to Watkins Glen which offered us an exquisitely beautiful hike that even the kids appreciated. But our next stop at the Berkshire Bird Paradise in Petersburg, NY – knocked me down several notches. It was a weird encounter from the moment we drove in. And much as we tried to find something to love about it, that wasn’t happening. So we departed (escaped?) not long after we arrived, and this particular moment has now gone down in family lore as the worst activity to which I’ve ever subjected my family. Fortunately, the Amazing Maize Maze in Macedon, NY, provided a wonderful and effective distraction from their taunting. And even though we arrived too late to actually enter the maze, the kids enjoyed playing on the haystacks, navigating the mini-maze and, of course, eating the ice cream which was somehow still available even though the maze was closed. One of my favorite photographs ever taken of my kids comes from this part of the trip.

Amazing Maize Maze! August 1999

Amazing Maize Maze!
August 1999

On the final leg of our journey, we’d hoped (or I’d hoped) to visit the home of Frank L. Baum, author of “The Wizard of Oz,” in Chittenango, NY. Rumor had it that the town had been permanently done over in “Oz” motifs. Unfortunately (fortunately?), upon our arrival there, we couldn’t find any evidence of a yellow brick road, an Emerald City, Auntie Em’s farmhouse, or even a poppy field. So we headed home which, of course, there’s no place like.

There was definitely a magic to our family road trips. My kids’ lives were just getting underway. I was working way too hard and spending far too little time with them. Locked in such close confines may have been trying (and malnourishing), but the memories are still vivid and precious. They bring smiles to us all as we recall the fun and absurdity of our expeditions. And that, in my humble (pie-eating) opinion, is not too shabby an outcome for a dad’s earnest, if flawed, attempts to entertain his kids.

Billy

P.S. “Road Trip” is The Jonah Maccabee Foundation’s summer fundraiser for 2013. Remembering some of the fun Jonah had on these vacations, we’d like to help other kids to enjoy and to grow during their own childhood years. Please consider making your tax-deductible gift at jonahmac.org by Sunday, July 31. Okay, or any other time. Thank you.

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