Earlier this week, when I heard from the Weather Channel that it was supposed to be cooler and drier this weekend—and cooler and drier still in New England—I proposed that we drive to Connecticut to enjoy the weather and restock my supply of Decaf Chocolate Truffle coffee. (I mix it 3:4 with Starbucks Decaf Verona for a rich iced coffee treat, in case you're curious.) My original idea was that we'd stay overnight and then drive back on Sunday morning, but as Al's Fantasy Football draft was scheduled for Sunday afternoon, he wanted to make it a day trip. The draft was later postponed, but our daytrip plans stayed the same. After all, it only took us two hours and 45 minutes to get from Norwalk, CT to Philadelphia when we drove back from Maine.

We planned to get up as usual on Saturday morning. I'd take my walk and have a shower, Al would feed the Beaner and get him dressed, we'd throw a cooler, some icepacks, the Beaner's DVD bag, and the camera in the car, and we'd probably leave around 9:30am. Everything went pretty much as planned, though I took the time to burn a couple CDs of tunes to try out on the Beaner, and I also checked the diaper bag to make sure we had at least two spares and some wipes. I noticed that the extra pair of shorts in the diaper bag was too small for the Beaner now, so I grabbed another pair and a shirt out of the dryer, thinking of the major diaper malfunction that struck Al in Princeton a couple weeks ago. We pulled out of the garage at 10:06, and that's when the fun began.

Mmmmamama from Starbucks

11:45:09 ~ Grover Cleveland Service Area, NJ Turnpike
Al, the driver, is ready for some caffeine, so we stop between exits 11 and 12 on the Turnpike to get a Iced Grande Soy Chai, a Decaf Short Latte, and a Horizon Vanilla Milk. Whee, this is fun!

Al behind the wheel, stuck in traffic

12:49:50 ~ Somewhere on I-95, after the Geo Wash Br/Lincoln Tunnel split, but before the actual Geo Wash Br
Al catches me trying to take his picture and smiles. "Why are you smiling?" I ask. "I'm trying to get a photo of you looking defeated, exhausted, and annoyed at being stuck in traffic!" At this point the ridiculous backup we've been stuck in for about 30 minutes starts to seem funny. At the same time, it's so disheartening—so not what we had in mind—that we consider turning around. The only thing that's really stopping us is that traffic going the other way is just as bad.

  40 min upper/60 min lower: George Washington Bridge

12:56:20 ~ Still not to the bridge yet
Is this a good sign or a bad sign? Should we be encouraged that it's only going to take us 40 minutes to get over the bridge, or discouraged that holy freaking cow, it's going to take us 40 minutes to go about 5 miles?! Incidentally, it was pretty smooth sailing for us once the EZPass lane opened up on the left... about 5 feet before the actual toll booth.

OK, at this point, for some reason, I stopped taking photos for several hours. Maybe it ceased to be funny when we finally made it off the Cross-Bronx Expressway and over the line into Connecticut... only to be stuck again in stop and go traffic. The Beaner fell asleep at about this time, confounding Al's plans to have him sleep on the way home, and making us worry that even if we got there soon, we'd still be stuck driving around in an attempt to get him at least an hourlong nap. (What we didn't know at this point as that it was going to take us another hour to reach our destination anyway.) My theories about stupid Yankee fans were blown to hell (the first pitch of the game happened while we were on the bridge), and instead I started cursing all the people who were just out DRIVING AROUND because it's summer. Yeah, people like us.

The most likely reason I stopped taking photos was because Al had announced that he thought we should just get a room and spend the night. This announcement took much of the pressure to GET THERE off us, and so I think it didn't occur to me to document the crawl any longer. Instead of thinking about photos, we turned our minds to other topics: Was there anything we needed that couldn't be bought at a drugstore or mall? (Yes, some medications, but I determined that I could go a few extra hours without them.) And, more importantly, how were we going to find a hotel? We had no AAA Tourbooks, no laptops, and no Blackberry with us. (Funny that it's only occurring to me now that we could have stopped somewhere and asked for a Yellow Pages. :) I knew that there were some hotels in Norwalk because [a] I'd stayed in one for about a week in 1995 when I took a job in Westport before finding a place to live, and [b] I'd considered overnighting there on our way back from Maine last month (we ended up staying near my friend Sandy in Mass. instead). However, I couldn't remember where the hotels were or to which chains they belonged.

Somewhere around Stamford I asked Al if he'd be at all interested in seeing where I used to live in South Norwalk. I also mentioned that if he was up for it, I'd like to see if Sunshine Pizza was still just over the bridge on Washington Street. He said sure, and I instructed my bladder to hold on just a little longer. Now this is where I should really have gotten out the camera, but in my defense, I had a full bladder, dammit, and it was making me stupid. I neglected to take ANY photos of Washington Street, which looks as it did when I lived there, only a bit more vibrant, and with almost none of the same businesses in residence; nor did I take any photos of the river, with its cool drawbridge and colorful boat traffic; nor did I take any photos of the humongous new condo building that's going up behind what was, in 1995, the newly-converted-to-loft-apartments Corset Factory, where I lived for the first six months of 1996. I didn't take any photos of the Corset Factory itself (though I did point out the seven 7-foot windows that bounded my corner apartment), and I didn't take any of the place where Sunshine Pizza used to be (but where it is no longer, apparently; either that, or my memory is faulty).

Since lunch at Sunshine Pizza was now out, we continued on to Stew Leonard's, arriving around 3:30pm. Had we not stopped to tour South Norwalk (without getting out of the car, mind you), we might have made it to Stew's in just over 5 hours. Woo hoo! Only 2 hours and a few minutes behind schedule! The Beaner was still sleeping, so I just ran in to Stew's to pee, though on the way out I had the brillant idea to check near the exit for brochures for local attractions. I hit on something better: A free tourist map of the area, which not only had ads for local hotels, but also marked their locations on the map. By the time I returned to the car with the map, the Beaner was awake and cranky, so I had a bizarre conversation with the reservationist at the Hilton Garden Inn over which phone number might be associated with my HHonors account (it turned out to be my old Macromedia # from 1997-2003) while the Beaner screamed in the background. Reservation secured, we went back into Stew's to buy the coffee we'd come for, plus a few snacks.

Next stop: The hotel. On our way there, we noted the location of a couple drugstores where we could pick up supplies after checking in... and we also noticed that Norwalk seemed to have more than its fair share of places named for their owners. I remarked to Al that we should get some photos of said places on our way out of town the next morning. We then found the hotel (it was in the same area as the one I'd stayed in 11 years ago, though every hotel in the strip seemed relatively new), checked in, spent $62.90 at the CVS (luckily, it was all stuff we can totally use at home, too, like diapers and toothpaste and moisturizer), and then headed for the mall that our checkout lady at Stew's had recommended. Al and I each bought something to sleep in (the Beaner would sleep in the extra t-shirt I packed for him and then wear it the next day), and then we went back to the hotel and gave the Boopster a bath. Yep, I know—you totally envy us our lives of excitement and adventure.

the Beaner in the closet

20:23:57 ~ Hilton Garden Inn, Norwalk, CT
The hotel had a pool, but CVS had no swim diapers in the Beaner's size. No matter: he prefers playing in hotel room closets anyway.

fuzzy-headed boops

07:50:21 ~ Hilton Garden Inn, Norwalk, CT
Jeez, when did he get so BIG? Al and I were up before the Beaner, who slept soundly until after 7am. He woke up cheerful and tousle-haired.

breakfast of grapes

07:50:33 ~ Hilton Garden Inn, Norwalk, CT
Yay, grapes! The Beaner appreciates hotel-room picnics as much as we do.

Al's liquors

08:21:44 ~ Parking lot of Hilton Garden Inn, Norwalk, CT
Our first business named after its owner. I took this one out the driver's side window while at a full stop. Al took the remaining photos as we drove down route 123.

Bob's stores

08:25:01 ~ Route 123, Norwalk CT
BOB'S STORES. I think there's only one here, though.

Jerry's Artarama

08:25:09 ~ Route 123, Norwalk, CT
Al's quick (and almost indescriminate) with the shutter button. You have to be around here, or you might miss another name. Hiding behind the Panda Pavillion II is Jerry's Artarama.

Al's hobbies

08:25:31 ~ Route 123, Norwalk, CT
Apparently beer, wine, and liquor aren't Al's only interests.

Pasquale's Osteria

08:28:19 ~ Intersection of Routes 123 & 7, Norwalk, CT
Al curses the camera for not focusing fast enough. In the camera's defense, it was working under adverse conditions (namely, a moving car, a curved back window, early morning glare, and a trigger-happy operator). The object of this photo was Pasquale's Osteria, just to the right of the old chap taking his morning walk.

Tucker's cafe

08:28:27 ~ Route 123, Norwalk, CT
Tucker's Cafe out the driver's side window. Who had this stupid idea of taking photos of businesses named after their owners?

Bruno's barber shop

08:28:31 ~ Route 123, Norwalk, CT
Bruno's Barber Shop (and my head).

Stew Leonard's

08:30:37 ~ Route 1, Norwalk, CT
Stew Leonard's, the reason for the trip. We made one more stop for extra bagels, salmon cream cheese, and fried scallops before turning for home.

The return trip took the expected 2 hours 45 minutes (or would have had we not detoured to the King of Prussia Mall to pick up some pants at Nordstrom and a chair at the Crate and Barrel). Traffic was brutal on I-76 East, so we took Ridge Pike back home. Sadly, the camera was now buried under a mound of crap, and we couldn't dig it out fast enough to get any photos of the weird and/or interesting signs along Ridge Pike (like the billboard ad for a funeral home that showed a kid selling high-speed internet access for $.25 at a former lemonade stand and that said something about times changing... an example being that the funeral home had moved 7 miles down the road; and the bus stop bench that had a giant banner on it that said YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL). So I guess this entire boring story and its accompanying boring photos are by way of saying what I said to Al when he lamented that the Beaner wouldn't get to go swimming in the hotel pool: "Well, it's not like this is a real vacation or anything. It's just an errand that took too long."

Posted by Lori in parenthood and travel at 9:43 AM on August 14, 2006