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Travels With Tina
Travels With Tina
Published by Swampy Meadows
Travels With Tina

BEVERLY HILLS (MI) – Way back during the summer before my freshman year at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, MA, the good Brothers of the Sacred Heart sent out a summer reading list. My senior-to-be brother let me know that this was not a ‘suggestion’ like the similar list we had gotten from the Sisters of the Presentation when we both attended St. Leo’s elementary. The Bros meant business and you best be prepared to write about and discuss the tomes on that list come fall semester. Among them was “Travels with Charley” by John Steinbeck, a very intriguing choice. At 14 years of age I had yet to be exposed to Steinbeck classics like “Grapes of Wrath” or “Of Mice and Men" and here I was, tasked with reading the ‘Search for America’ account of a dying writer with whom I was totally unfamiliar, traveling alone in a camper with his poodle.

It turns out that like Steinbeck’s most famous novels, “Travels with Charley” was pretty much a total work of fiction:


In truth Steinbeck did not travel alone with his dog, as he was often accompanied by his wife Elaine; nor did he sleep exclusively in his camper, instead often bunking at motels and luxury hotels; nor did he talk to all of the people he claimed to have encountered. As his son John later related, “He just sat in his camper and wrote all that [expletive].”

Despite all of that, I still really liked the book. I told my wife soon after we were married that in the unlikely event something should happen to her that I was gonna hit the road with our beagle Kym, just like Steinbeck. Fortunately that never transpired.

So when it came time for my own later-in-life solo road trip to my high school class’s 55th reunion, I decided to honor Steinbeck and call my adventure “Travels with Tina”…Tina being my 2004 Ford Thunderbird convertible. Tina has 91,000 miles on her and is 20 years old, but is a superb road car that had been lovingly maintained by her previous owner when I bought her 2+ years ago.

The plan was to tackle the 11 hours from my house to my sister’s in Sterling, MA in one fell swoop. Head up to the reunion in NH. Back to my sister’s and a lunch date with Gus, my best friend growing up. Next would be lunch with UD grad and NBA writer Steve Bulpett. Then drive to Erie, PA for a visit with my BIL, Tom. And then home.

There are several options for getting from Michigan to Massachusetts. The shortest way is via Canada to Buffalo and then I-90. The alternative is the end-around Lake Erie to Cleveland, which takes an extra 90 minutes at a minimum. The leisurely (and cheaper) path is I-90 to Erie, PA and then I-86 to Albany, thus avoiding most of the $20+ toll on the NY State Thruway. I’ve done all three and decided to take the most direct route so I could arrive at my sister’s place at a decent hour.

Any modern travelog of a trip by car would be remiss without a tip of the cap to the E-Z Pass system. One of the reasons (besides Covid) I have not cut thru Canada on my way home was the humongous backups at the border, not to pass customs, but to pay the bridge toll. E-Z Pass was invented by a guy named Mario Cardullo who came up with the idea for a passive read-write radio frequency identification gizmo back in the late 60’s and later completed his doctorate at George Mason at the age of 78. Thanks Mario!

At this point in the proceedings allow me to provide a little background on my traveling companion, Tina. When I retired I was interested in acquiring a classic Hudson, MG Midget or Buick Riviera – cars that I had a relationship with in the past. My wife wasn’t too keen on the idea, pointing out my virtually non-existent mechanical abilities. I settled on Tina, as she was old enuf for me, but sufficiently new to get a thumbs up from my spouse. I found her online at a dealership in Grand Rapids and the Carfax showed she had never been in an accident and had gotten serviced and her oil changed religiously every 5,000 miles at a Ford store in Columbus. She is Metallic Merlot over Sand — one of only 1,361 made in that color combination -- with a tan soft top and a removable hardtop with portholes for the winter. Tina came equipped with a CD player, which I intend to wear out on this trip with discs from Alan Parsons, Pink Floyd, Don Henley and Steely Dan.

And we’re off!

The trip to Massachusetts from Michigan took 11 hours. Tina performed like a champ and even got great gas mileage–27 miles to the gallon. She does have expensive taste, though, as she will only drink the good stuff. Traveling through Canada in a 20 year old car with 91,000 miles on it is done with some inherent risk. Some of Tina’s parts are basically unobtainium, so if she broke down in the Great White North it could be a dicey situation. Fortunately, that was not an issue.

Another technological advance since my last trip home is Waze, the map app. In the settings you can select which voice you want to hear and my wife discovered that one of the options was Master Chief from the video game Halo, as portrayed by none other than my college roommate, Steve Downes. Steve would helpfully warn me “Police reported ahead. Did you call for backup?” and “Hazard reported ahead. Eyes up–this could be a trap.” Master Chief directed me to a shortcut around traffic in Hamilton, Ontario and again when I was exiting the Mass Pike in Worcester.

My sister Melinda and her husband Paul live in a house that was built in 1737 in Sterling, MA which is where the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” was written. One of the traditions whenever I come home is that my sister and I go snorkeling in the Heywood Reservoir, affectionately referred to by me and my friends as NC (No Clothes) Beach when we were growing up. I managed to see 28 bass, ranging in size from 12” down to 2”. It’s always good to see the tiny ones, because that means the big fish are making little fish. I also saw a really large, rather angry snapping turtle who started heading in my direction, so I noped out of there as fast as possible.

On my trip up to New Hampshire, Master Chief sent me on scenic route 153 that featured twisting turning roads that ran alongside several lakes. Tina and I really enjoyed that part of the ride, as there aren’t many hills in southeast Michigan.

My route took me through North Conway, NH, the site of the Eastern Slope Inn. When I was 15 and we were heading north to go deer hunting, my Dad made a comment while passing the inn that he had “gotten a young girl pregnant there once.” He waited a minute or two before informing me that he and my Mom had honeymooned there.

The reunion itself was a delight. We had 69 guys in our graduating class in 1968 – 11 of them made it to the gathering and 20 of them are unfortunately no longer with us. A lot of the stories centered on the Brothers of the Sacred Heart – the guys who sent out that reading list 59 years ago. There was Brother Paulus who took a misbehaving student out into the hall and decked him. Paulus magically disappeared after our junior year. Brother Leo Labbe just celebrated 60 years in the order. He was always my favorite, as we used to exchange dirty jokes in between classes. I had access to my brother’s Playboy magazines and he didn’t so I always had the upper hand. Brother Rene Tellier left the order, got married, had a kid and a successful career. Unfortunately, he just passed away from cancer.

Coming back to Massachusetts from NH, Downes directed me to the even more curvaceous Kancamagus Highway, which traverses through the NH State Forest. You know you are on the scenic route when you pass a sign that says “No gas for the next 21 miles” and they have gates at the lone entrance and only exit for those occasions when it is too snowy to attempt the passage.

Fortunately the rain held off until I had exited the State Forest and got on I-93. It picked up when I entered MA and then turned into a torrential downpour when I got onto Route 2. Traffic was slow and there were more than a few areas with flooding all the way to my hometown of Leominster. There I met Gus, my best friend from grade school and we watched the Patriots game and FaceTimed with Kevin, the other member of “The Three Musketeers” who now lives out in Western Mass.

On Monday, I had lunch with UD grad and NBA expert Steve Bulpett in Swampscott. Steve lives on Nahant, a small island off the coast that is connected by a causeway. I arrived early so I drove around Nahant and it is almost exclusively made up of single homes, many of them quite stately. I can see why Steve chooses to live there.

For those of you wondering “Hey Swamp, what does any of this have to do with basketball?” this is the hoops portion of the essay. Bulpett was glad that DaRon had followed the advice he had heard from NBA scouts and returned for another year. Steve was told that Holmes could make more money from NIL at UD than he would in the G League while working on his game under a coach who knows the NBA. Steve thinks the speedy makeup of the Indy lineup should work much better for Obi One than things did in NY. If you ask me, it can’t be any worse than it was playing for Tom Thibodeau.

Steve is pretty tuned into the UD to the Big East situation and is hopeful that there will be some movement sooner rather than later. Dayton has a big proponent to make that move in Dick Vitale, who underwent surgery for vocal cord cancer and is awaiting word as to whether he will need additional surgery. Steve feels that football might be the wild card in any potential change in conference affiliation.

What makes Steve Bulpett such an effective NBA insider is his extensive rolodex of coaches, GMs, players and league officials. He told a story of one media outlet actually asking if he would sell them his ‘black book.’ Steve was planning on having lunch later in the week with fellow UD grad Bob Socci, the radio voice of the New England Patriots.

My drive home from lunch with Steve was a real freakin’ adventure and not in a good way. I encountered a real frog strangler rainstorm on Route 2 and flooding in an underpass at the junction with I-190. The Nashua River overflowed its banks and my hometown of Leominster was all over the news, including nationally. One of the places shown as being washed out was Pleasant Street which is where my boyhood home was located. I had walked in Barrett Park that morning and over the dam that was threatening to breach and flood downtown. Hopefully the “Plastics Pioneer City” will be able to rebuild and recover in short order.

I took the alternate I-88/I-86 route on the way back, not to avoid the tolls on the NY State Thruway or to visit the Tioga Falls Casino or the garden universe that is Olean, but for Big Dipper’s BBQ in Apalachin, NY. You might say ‘Hey Swamp–it’s only chicken’ but this bird cooked in an outdoor pit over hardwood charcoal is to die for. I asked the pitmaster what the secret was and he said “no secret–it's the sauce.” As near as I could figure the ‘sauce’ was a combination of Italian dressing and vinegar that resulted in crispy skin and moist, tender meat.

It rained the last 2 hours on the way to Erie and was drizzling again the next AM when I hit the road for the last leg of my journey. The sun came out in full force literally right at the Ohio state line. Don’t know what that meant but it was a welcome sight. Four hours later and after roughly 2,000 miles, I pulled into our driveway.

It was a great trip, but even better to be home.

That’s it “From the Swamp.”
You can email me at: swampy@udpride.com
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By SoTier Flyer on 09-15-2023, 04:46 PM
Big Dipper BBQ is a favorite!
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