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February 28, 2011   

Traveling Light

On the train to Coney Island. My baggage. Sunset over Egypt.

Here’s what you missed from last week’s episode:

1. Got together with the young-at-heart gang from high school. A dose of reality sorely needed. This is the first time I’ve ever got together with a bunch of old friends that suddenly became new ones. Though I worry about my favorite sweethearts with idiot husbands. Astounding to me all the good that men will urinate on. In other news, I got drunk on a Sunday afternoon.

2. I did some work last year on a covert project for an oversized conglomerate in Cincinnati—designing a showroom that sells ideas to sellers about how to sell stuff better so that sellers can sell more of oversized conglomerate’s stuff. Last week I drove an hour or so towards Syracuse to meet up with Eric, an amiable partner on that project, and took the opportunity to meet all the animals on his picture-book farm south of Skaneateles. Goats, chickens, horses, dogs, cats and a couple of eccentric yuppie farmers. Their lovely daughter, Eloise, seemed proud of her mom, in a really embarrassed sort of way. Thank you Amy and your indentured servants for the scarlet cupcake and your Lucky Goat Soap. I used a bunch of it this weekend in the impossibly small bathroom of a Soho walkup.

3. Spent the past week servicing all the Macintosh computers in the house. Sue is a certifiable Apple geek with all different flavors of iDevice, but both she and my dad crash and burn when it comes to actually organizing and maintaining all that technology. Apple TV installed. Airplay enabled. Memory upgraded in the old MacBook and the professor’s MacBook Pro. Snow Leopard, and a nice spit and polish all around. Adobe CS, iLife 11 and Evil Office. As for me, I upgraded to the latest Final Cut Pro (ie. Rough Cut Amateur).

4. Packing a month’s worth of gear and clothing for two drastically different climates into one small backpack and a satchel was challenging despite my extensive packing CV. I had to make some tough choices. The electric razor is in, the power cord is out. The digital camera is out, 50 rolls of film are in. Parka is out, pajamas are in. I’d say I’m ready for luke warm.

5. Weekend in NYC: Diner breakfast with new and old friends. Coney Island. Chelsea highline with gelato. Glass of wine at Jimmy—for the view. Tofu veggie kebabs and peanut sauce on rice. Several slices. Post office. Fax machine. Sneezing fits. Dissing the Oscars. B&H pilgrimage. NJT to Westwood. Laundromat. Trinity church. Contorting myself onto precarious toilet. Good times. Thanks JB.

6. Arrived Cairo safely last night. Had fun navigating the airport madness. Mubarak’s former presidential palace surrounded by tanks and big guys with guns. Watched Manchester United vs. Chelsea game on an outdoor telly in a neighborhood courtyard. Disappointing. Made it back to downtown hotel in time for curfew. Small, dusty room compels me to go outside and see stuff. Not bad for $15 a night.

February 20, 2011   

Stairway to the Past

A set of stairs at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology), where I grew up.

February 18, 2011   

The Mad Professor

I visited one of my father’s classes on Wednesday night, one that included the successful launch of three rockets into the ceiling. All fire and smoke detection equipment had to be sealed off with rubber gloves by armed security officers at the university. No student was harmed in the making of those photographs, though not for lack of trying. Days later… I have just now completed the six hour drive here to Toledo, Ohio, for a conference he’s speaking at tomorrow. I’m no more than chauffeur to a weary legend.


getting ready for a rocket launch

calculating the speed of a rocket

February 14, 2011   

Mubarak out. Andy in.

It was a cold, meandering winter and I was coming to the end of my second month on the road, rounding the Great Lakes to my dad’s house in upstate New York. It was January 25th, but the spring was already here.

On the other side of the world from the cold highway I was on, heading south through Ontario, my car radio was fixed upon a revolution. Days later, dad, Sue and I were watching the dramatic images from the dinner table. I was completely fascinated and inspired by it all—the peaceful pride of the Egyptian people, and the passion and courage they demonstrated. Seeing their movement transpire in real time from this idyllic country place, didn’t seem real at all. Selfishly, I wanted to feel why this was happening, and I wanted to drink what they were drinking.

The news cycle would sometimes pan away from the battle of Tahrir Square to all the Egyptian tourist workers standing disconsolate in the midst of so many wonders of the world. The embassies were shuttered, and a groundswell of tourism unabated for hundreds of years, had now vanished overnight. I would half-jokingly say aloud, “Ya know, now is probably a good time to visit. Someone should go there.” As if I was talking about anyone else but me. I was testing out what I already knew.

Then it happened. The martyrs from Tahrir Square, along with the rest of the civilized world would celebrate. Conceding to the unity of Egypt’s citizens, Hosni Mubarak, their brutal dictator for three decades was now gone. It was at that moment, my decision was made as well. A week later I was walking amidst the intense and wonderful chaos of Cairo.

February 4, 2011   

The Old Home Place

After rounding Superior, a night in Toronto and some time at Niagara Falls this afternoon, we headed back across the border and an hour down the Thruway to Rochester, NY. I grew up here, yet ever since the day of my high school graduation, I have tried to stay away. I’ve made a couple of the reunions, Facebooked with some old friends, a few drive-bys barely long enough for a home-cooked meal and a sit by SP’s stone, but this time is different.

It’s a pale blue house on a few acres in the country, 20 minutes south of town. A couple old teachers, two horses, two cats and now, with Wes, there’s two dogs. Riley’s legs and hearing may be waning, but he’s still the smarter of the two. There’s a two car garage with two sensible cars, with room for little else amidst the kind of clutter that comes with staying put for so long. Sue knits, tutors, rides horses, cooks, plays piano and guitar, has season tickets to minor league baseball, and goes to bed early. Dad is proud of his snow blower.

A couple nights later we were sitting around the dinner table, Sue, dad, a good friend of his, Gunther Cartright, and myself. We talked of Sue’s upcoming Jeopardy interview, some politics and current events, Gunther’s girlfriend, and then of course, cameras. The old and the new. The salt and pepper figures made a handy subject for a test. We all had iPhones on the table. I regaled the group with some pictures and flat anecdotes from my road trip thus far. There was no Hungarian goulash, instead, it was grilled steaks, some sides and a salad—and a mushroom burger for myself. Which got me thinking, I love mashed potatoes.


Hungarian salt & pepper shakers


February 4, 2011   

Niagara Falls

The Canadian side of Niagara Falls

February 2, 2011   

Fresh out of ideas.

Cold, tired and fresh out of ideas at the Super 8 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

The bath tub faucet at the Super 8 motel


February 1, 2011   

My Best Westerman

Wesley in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario - Feb. 3, 2011

Today, Wes turned 11.

It was the summer of 2000, living in Atlanta, when I adopted Wesley from the Golden Retriever Rescue. He was abandoned by some fool outside a convenience store when he was little more than 6 months old. Since then, I have seen Wesley touch so many people’s hearts, make them smile, and invite even the most timid child to play and pull on his ears. He goes with me everywhere, never complains, and is always eager and curious. He is a sensitive soul who will go to the other room if I raise my voice. And yet, Wesley will find peace and contorted comfort in the tightest of spots.

Wes has swam on both coasts and in all the famous rivers—upstream, just to show off. He has chased geese tirelessly on Mirror Pond in the dead of winter; jumped in after a lobster trap in Maine; went skating on Lake Louise; walked down Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras; kissed hundreds of girls; peered over the edge of the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls; tried to pee in the Yukon at 40 below; seen bear, snakes, moose, elk, coyote, and armadillo; and been the ring leader at every daycare he’s ever been to. He has the most gold stars.

On behalf of the best dog on the planet, I can tell you that he’s doing great. He’s a wise old dog now, but in excellent health and still quick to smile—greeting all his friends with the same excited kindness he’s always shown. Wesley has been the best friend and road dog to me for more than 10 years now, and this trip is no exception. He loves to travel and has his own motel routine. A) Quick sniff around the perimeter of the room. B) Big drink from the ice bucket. C) Grab his bone. D) Jump on the bed, roll around, and knaw away the evening. He’s partial to Best Western, for obvious reasons.

Wes sprained his right paw about five days ago on our way north to Minneapolis. It was a long driving day and his bones may have grown a little stiff. When we stopped for a break, he pulled up a bit limp after jumping from the truck. So, Wes has been resting and a little bored these past few days. Most of today was spent in Duluth, then driving along Lake Superior, through Grand Marais and up to Thunder Bay, Ontario. We saw some wolves crossing the quiet road.

It’s below zero now, but Wes is sleeping soundly here at the Travelodge on Memorial Avenue.

February 1, 2011   

From Budapest to Duluth


The Port of Duluth on February 1, 2011

The Port of Duluth on February 1, 2011

Duluth, Minnesota. Aside from a warm bed and a decent breakfast, I didn’t give it much thought. But a quick reminder about an old family connection to this area, gave me something more meaningful to do.

My grandfather, Captain Andy, was a Hungarian Merchant Marine. In the 1930’s, he was a bright officer about 25 years old, sailing into the Port of Duluth through the very inlet and harbor pictured above—though not when frozen over like it was today. He would transport various goods aboard the MV Kassa to ports along the way, returning to Hungary with grain from this dock. It would have been an epic journey to be sure—a circuitous route navigating the Danube, across the Atlantic Ocean, up the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes, the Welland canal around Niagara Falls to Erie, Huron, and finally, Lake Superior.

I spent much of the morning and afternoon driving around the Port of Duluth, doing some research into what my grandfather may have seen and experienced during those arrivals and departures. What did the streets look like? Where did he have a drink with his mates? I spoke at length with a very nice woman named, Adele, in the Port office, studied some historical maps, and read profiles on all the docks and elevators currently in operation here. It was the old ones that interested me most. General Mills’ Elevator A, pictured above, was built in 1908 and would have been run by Consolidated Grain Co. when my grandfather came through.


Taken in 2001: The MV Kassa and my nagypapi, Captain Andy, of the Hungarian Merchant Marines

Taken in 2001: The MV Kassa and my nagypapi, Captain Andy, of the Hungarian Merchant Marines

My family’s migratory path is far too complicated for an abbreviated post, but the short story involves World War II, the Germans, the Russians, some gun ships and gold bullion, and my family’s eventual escape to Argentina via Allied ports in Western Europe. Then it was Boston in the late 50’s. My dad finished high school there before heading off to college at RIT in upstate New York, while my nagypapi moved the rest of the family to Seattle and continued his work as a naval architect. He would sail his grandson around Puget Sound whenever I came to visit.

The pictures of the Kassa were taken during a family reunion in Hungary back in 2001, on his birthday. He was interviewed around that time by a Hungarian yacht magazine. He died two years later at 91, and his hat (pictured) rested proudly upon his casket. Captain Andy is buried in the town of Kenders, next to another of Hungary’s heroes, Admiral Horthy.

January 31, 2011   

Brainerd, ND

Driving through Brainerd, Minnesota