UP TO NEW YORK
Before returning to the Czech Republic after my first and only visit in 1995, I had good cause to be concerned for my mental state. When we had first arrived in Prague in 1995 – thirty years, almost to the day, after our 1965 escape – I’d spent a week literally in a dissociative daze. It wasn’t just that the dingy, socialist gray had been replaced by vibrant color of freedom and life. It was that I did, and yet somehow didn’t, see or recognize all the things and places that I had last known as a fourteen year-old. I must admit that I had some misgivings about going back, but the desire to see aged relatives whom death might take any day, not to mention the wish to show son Aaron “the old country,” ultimately carried the day.
And there was yet another reason to go. The second part of the trip was to be together with old high school pal Ken Murphy. We’d been planning some kind of two-man shenanigan literally for decades; and this proved to be the first real chance. When he mentioned that he’d long harbored a wish to “do” the Czech Republic together with me, it was a done deal. He would fly out of Tacoma, Washington, we would rendezvous in Prague, and together we would paint the country (figuratively) red.
The preparations were prosaic enough: check passports for currency, get international driver’s licenses, get maps and travel documents. To document everything, we got Lisa a Canon Elph camera and Aaron a Kodak Play-full still/video “toy” so we were more than ready to document everything we did. I was still missing a good telephoto lens for my Canon Rebel, since all the local stores had decided to be out of the model I wanted. But I firmly hoped that the Big Apple would provide.
We packed efficiently – two bags for three people to be checked, plus a carry-on for each. My relatives have washers, dryers and similar modern conveniences, so packing light wasn’t a dilemma. On the morning of August 7th, Mary the stalwart house-and-dog sitter arrived and took charge of things – to the extent that anyone can take charge of Jasper. (Mary later coined the moniker “monster dog,” which immediately stuck.). David showed up to say goodbye about the same time. We finished loading Lisa’s creaky old van (dreaming of an almost-new CR-V or RAV-4) and hit the road around 11 AM.
We took our usual route to New York: across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel ($12.00), up Highways 13 and 1 ($3.00) to the Delaware Memorial Bridge Tunnel ($3.00), along the New Jersey Turnpike ($5.75 or so) to the Goethals Bridge/Staten Island exit ($5.75). The Goethals Bridge was $8.00, the Verrazano $13.00, if I remember correctly. The tolls were somewhat annoying (we have yet to break down and get EZPass), but $45.00, plus 1-1/2 tanks of gas is literally a small price to pay for transporting three people to Long Island. And we got to eat Nathan’s hot dogs and other yummies at the turnpike rest areas. Try to get that on a Delta or USAir flight!
We spent the rest of Sunday and Monday the 8th sleeping, reading, watching TV and/or communing with Rexie, the star resident of Lisa’s parents’ house in Hewlett, Long Island. Great location, that, a mere 20 minutes from JFK International and no damn tolls! The next morning, Lisa and I drove out to gather up a few essentials (for the first time in my life, I’d forgotten my toiletry bag).
The Bid Apple did indeed provide, and not just the toiletries. The Best Buy in Hewlett had an open-box special on just the telephoto lens I wanted, and for a hefty discount, too. Satisfied, we returned to Lisa’s parents’ house where we took a deep breath, loaded up my father-in-law’s car, and headed to the airport.