Ken had gifted us free use of his van for around-town trips, but then was generous enough to offer us the opportunity to take it to see my friend Dan for a couple nights, a three-hour drive south in Pennsylvania. Dan had made a few trips up to Skaneateles over the years to meet us when we were staying at Ken’s, but with our home-rootedness now reversed (he recently bought the house he’d been living in for years with his girlfriend Sarah), it was high time for us to make the trip to them. Swinging by on our ride from Chicago didn’t work out, so we were very grateful to take advantage of Ken’s offer.
For most of the New York portion of the drive, Google put us on a mad-as-a-hatter mix of narrow, hilly, empty, and gorgeous farm roads, sliding between two Finger Lakes. That’s not because Google was doing anything particularly crazy, or because I accidentally had it set to give bicycle directions, but just because that’s what the road network is like in this region. It would have been a great bike ride too though! On one of those farm roads on the opposite side of Ithaca (home of Cornell University), we stopped at Buried Acorn Brewing’s FLX (the way the cool kids are abbreviating “Finger Lakes” these days) Taproom. A greenhouse on a farm serving excellent Rett-beer (saisons/sours/barrel-aged) and intriguing whole-wheat-bread-crusted pizza squares, it was an excellent and extremely-FLX-y place to visit.
Even though Dan and I both have the Internet, we’d had no communication between us for even longer than the time we’d gone without seeing Ken. A year ago, Rett’s Uncle Jon told me about his college roommate that he still counts as one of his best friends, even though they’d regularly gone years out of contact; I’d been hoping that would remain true with the case of my college roommate, and the couple of days we spent together thankfully showed that it had.
When we arrived, I was caught off-guard when Dan’s ex-wife walked out the back door. I wasn’t completely shocked, and I figured she was there to pick up the kids or a pet or something, but I just hadn’t been expecting to see her here, and after so many years. But then a second later, after my brain had time to run several more loops of its pattern-recognition algorithm, it corrected its first determination and revealed that she was actually their now-15-year-old daughter. Whoops! While I feel the old-man status of Dan and I prevents shocking changes in us, it had been far longer since I’d seen his kids, and since they’re kids(-ish!), they had turned into almost completely different human beings in the interim. But even after understanding that reality, the pattern-recognition algorithm kept running the background hundreds of more times over the weekend, there were still several times where it got screwed up.
That nearly-adult girl got to talking with Rett, and learned that Rett would be thrilled to come help throw out the horses (I learned that’s not actually as bad as what it sounds like) at the stable she volunteers at. On the drive over, as Rett and I were ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the semi-rural sunset scenery, she showed beyond-her-years wisdom when, rather than rejecting our view as hopelessly-incorrect (as I might have when I was a contrary teenager), she instead incorporated our perspective as world-travelers and let it inform her default “my-home-town-sucks” perspective. That “my-home-town-sucks” view wasn’t just affecting the kids in the family though, Dan and Sarah have also been having an increasingly tough time feeling culturally isolated in a conservative region. There unfortunately won’t be much to change that, but hopefully getting a couple reminders of the positive aspects can make the place they’re at feel slightly closer to a “home” for the time being. I mean, c’mon, look at these photos!
After the horses, we went over to a really-impressive neighborhood 4th of July fireworks display. The next night we took a tromp down to the river, marveling at the clouds of high-altitude fireflies, and finding other critters. Between, we had a lot of good food, and a quality and density of catching-up that nearly made the years of at-a-distance silence worth it. Well, no, that’s still dumb, and hopefully we can find a way to see each other again with a shorter gap.