No Place Like Home for the Holidays

The popular song, “No Place Like Home For the Holidays” was published in 1954 and was made famous by singer Perry Como in 1959.  The lyrics talk about our desire to be home for the holidays, especially at Christmas time:

I met a man who lives in Tennessee, and he was headin’ for
Pennsylvania and some homemade pumpkin pie.
From Pennsylvania folks are travelin’ down to Dixie’s sunny shore…
From Atlantic to Pacific…Gee, the traffic is terrific!
Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays,
‘Cause no matter how far away you roam,
If you want to be happy in a million ways,
For the holidays – you can’t beat home, sweet home…

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Of course most years I take this to the extreme, driving from San Francisco to Massachusetts by way of places like Memphis, Virginia Beach and New York, but always reaching my destination in time to celebrate with friends and family. This year I’d planned to leave early on a Sunday morning, but on Saturday, my first full day at home following the end of the semester at my university, I felt like I just had to have one extra day at home, so I left on Monday morning at 5AM, putting pressure on myself to meet friends in Charleston, South Carolina by Friday afternoon. I enjoyed my leisurely Sunday, but I paid the price!

On Monday I drove 850 miles, from San Francisco through southern California to Phoenix, rolling in at about 8:00 PM, 15 hours after I’d left. The entire way, temperatures ranged from the 70s into the 80s in the California desert, feeling very in-Christmas-like, despite cactus decked out with Christmas lights. I had a great dinner at Blue Adobe Grill. I sat outside by a roaring fire and had chips with their homemade salsas, an enchilada plate, and a prickly pear cactus margarita, and that almost made the drive feel worth it!

 

Day 2 was a “lighter” day, only 8 or 9 hours from Phoenix to El Paso, Texas with only a few stops for “desertscape” photos and dinner in Las Cruces, New Mexico. But on Day 3, as I prepared to drive another 10 hours or so to Fort Worth, Texas, tragedy struck. When I was loading up the car in the hotel parking lot, a succulent with sturdy, long runners that extended into the walkway caught my right foot and down I went onto my right knee, with enough force to leave a denim stain on the concrete! Yikes! It hurt so much I just laid on the pavement for a good five minutes just trying to get my breath, and unfortunately no one even seemed to notice me sprawled out in the parking lot. Satisfied that nothing seemed to be broken, I hobbled to the car and painfully got behind the wheel. A few miles out of El Paso, I stopped for breakfast, my knee killing me and seemingly double its normal size, so I asked for a bag of ice, and when I resumed the drive I tried to balance the ice on my knee cap as I drove across hour after hour of Texas. There is a popular country song called, “There’s Just Too Much Texas and not enough time…” and I would concur. Thank God for cruise control! My knee was badly swollen and I tried elevating it and icing it the next couple of nights, but I am sure all that time in the car was the last thing it needed.

Day 4 saw me crossing 4 states: the rest of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and most of Alabama. I was trying to get to Atlanta that night, but by 10:30PM my knee and I were done, so I stopped an hour from the Georgia border and decided I’d just have to get an early start in the morning. I did make an interesting stop in Meridian, Mississippi at Weidmann’s, an historic restaurant dating back to the 1870’s. I ordered fried green tomatoes that were A+, and then had local redfish (which I had never heard of before) grilled and placed atop Hoppin’ John, another southern dish I had never heard of, which consists of rice and assorted vegetables. The whole thing was just delicious and I enjoyed chatting with the locals and the wait staff.

 

I was on the road by 6:30 AM Friday, lost an hour when I crossed into the Eastern Standard Time Zone but still managed to get to Charleston a little after 2PM. I was thrilled to get to the beautiful beach house my friends Chris and Angie had rented out on the Isle of Palms. It was a balmy 65 degrees, and I made a bee-line for a lounge chair on the deck, glass of wine in hand, and ocean serenading me. I was very happy to be able to get out from behind the wheel for a couple of days and very grateful to have made the trip safely, despite my still rather ugly looking knee.

 

We had dinner with my friend Brian, who lives in Charleston, at the famous restaurant, Husk where reservations weeks in advance are required. Had some simply amazing food and great conversation. The next day we hit the Fried Okra Grille in the suburb of Mt. Pleasant. Although Chris restrained himself admirably, Angie and I ordered just about everything on the menu as we just wanted to taste everything:  shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy… and oh my gravy, it was all absolutely amazing and confirmed my suspicion that the reason the South lost the Civil War was because of the rich food that weighed the confederate soldiers down!

 

The time on the Isle of Palms went way too fast and I wrestled with my demons. I can never seem to give myself permission to just have down time, and so with difficulty I allowed myself to simply recline out on the deck or to watch hours of a mindless but entertaining reality show that Chris and Angie introduced me to called “Parking Wars” in which officers from the Detroit and Philadelphia Traffic Divisions issue tickets and boot cars amidst the complaints of parking offenders.

On Sunday morning I gave my leg some exercise by strolling around Charleston for awhile and then met Angie and Chris for brunch at Husk, the highlight of which was an appetizer of mini-pancakes called Hoe Cakes made with chestnut and cornmeal flour and topped with a bacon jam. Wow! What will they think of next? All too soon it was time for me to head north, but I left with an even stronger attraction to Charleston, its quaint houses and beautiful gardens and window boxes, the horse-drawn carriages that show tourists around the downtown area, its art galleries and its amazing restaurants. It is really a beautiful town that should be on your bucket list if you’ve never been there.

 

I drove north along the coast toward Virginia Beach, spending one night outside of Raleigh before continuing on to see my cousin Marsha and her husband. It was certainly not feeling at all like Christmas with the 60 degree temperatures, but it did make for easy driving. I spent 2 days  in Virginia Beach, playing endless games of Upwords with Marsha, enjoying the company of her adorable and friendly dogs, and of course dining well both at home ad out on the town. Marsha made an innovative cake consisting of 8 waffles made from chocolate cake batter, layered with filling of mixed berries and mascarpone cheese. I swear it took her about 4 hours to build the whole thing, but it was very good!

 

My next stop was a night in Washington DC. I stayed in the burbs close to the city and drove in that evening to dine at Kraemerbooks Café in Dupont Circle. They make an amazing spicy crab cake pasta and I was able to park directly in front of the place despite fears that it would be a busy night in the city. Then I paid a visit to the National Christmas Tree and drove around photographing the city’s many monuments. Washington really shines at night and the monuments sparkled under dark winter skies.

 

The drive from Washington to Massachusetts generally takes 8 hours, and after stopping at a favorite restaurant in Annapolis, Miss Shirley’s Café, I pretty much drove straight through Wilmington, Delaware, Philadelphia, and skirting New York, crossing the Hudson at 3:30 just before rush hour. I thought I was home free, but thanks to a number of major car crashes on just about every Interstate highway in Connecticut, I was in for hours of grueling traffic in odd places like Danbury, Waterbury and just outside of Hartford. The Interstates in Connecticut need to be bulldozed and re-built; they wind their way through cities with endless curves, lane changes and construction, and despite multiple warnings that the speed limit is 50, Connecticut drivers, who I long ago decaled to be the most angry and reckless drivers in the USA tear through these old roads at 70MPH and higher, terrifying law abiding drivers and resulting in the ridiculously high number of accidents I ran into along the way.  I did not reach Massachusetts until almost 10PM, 12 hours after departing from DC. Ugh.

I had rented a charming small house nestled in the woods of Westport, Massachusetts through Air BnB. It was all hardwood floors and floor to ceiling windows looking out on the forest and I loved it upon first sight. The owner had supplied wreaths and poinsettia plants, and I had wrestled my 4 foot tall pre-lighted Christmas tree into the back of my car and dragged it cross country, so immediate set it up and decorated it with a box of special ornaments I’d also packed. Now if only there would be snow, it would be beginning to look a LOT like Christmas.

 

I do not want to bore my readers with my health issues, but for those who are curious, my leg never really got better and in fact the entire calf below the knee turned an angry red, nurt to the touch, and scared the hell out of me. After two separate visits to hospital emergency rooms, x-rays, ultrasounds and blood tests, the doctors could find nothing wrong and simply told me to keep it elevated and iced… not the easiest position to be in when one is trying to wrap Christmas gifts, write travel blogs, or just about anything else!

On Christmas Eve I spent a lovely evening having a turkey dinner at the home of my dear friends Joyce and Michael, and hearing rumors that there might be snow for Christmas Eve, I left their place at 11:00PM and with the aid of weather radar on my phone, I drove north toward what looked like bands of snow that had formed just south of Boston, listening to Christmas music in the car and sending up a little prayer for snow. Alas, after an hour and a half I was almost asleep at the wheel and had not encountered even a flake. So I headed back home to my cottage scolding myself that “if the snow wants to come, it will come to you; you cannot go searching for it!” I fell asleep as soon as my head hit my pillow.

I awoke to a commotion at 9:00AM. Opening my eyes I could scarcely believe what I saw out the window. It was as if God himself had opened a gigantic box of confectioner’s sugar and just waved it across the sky! EVERYTHING was covered in a beautiful blanket of white. I was so happy and scampered from window to window to get pictures of my Christmas gift. After a very quiet and peaceful Christmas Day with friends, things then turned ugly: our temperatures across the northeast plummeted to the single digits. High of 11, low of minus 2. High of 9, low of minus 8. This is NOT what I ordered, and it has been really ugly to be outside, though my “California native car” seems to be holding its own in this mess with flying colors. We have had another couple of light snows and things look beautiful, as long as you take pictures from the safety of the car!

 

And so I am still humming along with the song, “No Place Like Home For the Holidays” and feeling so grateful to have made this trip once again.  I hope the New Year will bring peace, health, joy, and lots more travel to me and to all of you who read my blogs.

Happy New Year, my friends!

Matt

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