July 18, 2020
Starting Location: Pennsylvania (Depart 10:00AM… woohoo sleep in!)
Ending Location: Kristen=Long Island, New York; Abby=Connecticut (Arrive 04:00PM)
Driving Time: Together=3 hours; Kristen=4 hours; Abby=5ish hours
Driving Miles: 215 miles (to
Long Strong Island)
Total Miles: 3,561 in seven days! WAHOO!
Today marks the grand finale of our journey and return to our east coast roots! Abby and I enjoyed a slower morning as our driving mileage today was 25-50% of our driving miles on other days and our bodies were calling for rest. Abby and I were planning to split in Allenstown, PA where she intended to rent a car and drive to Connecticut while I continued to New York. However, she got TWO car rental cancellations the morning of our departure because the rental facilities were over-booked. We resolved to travel together to JFK Airport where she’d rent a car. Once she got her “CAR-firmation” that her vehicle was going to be ready for pick-up, we were good to go! We were both excited to have a little more time in the car together and to drive into NEW YORK (the greatest city in the world, according to Hamilton… and every New Yorker).
Driving home across the country has been more than I expected it to be. It was eye-opening in light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, our country’s landscapes, and the differences between coasts. There are many things I’ve always looked forward to when getting to the East Coast, but I think the gentle and gradual progression from west to east allowed for growing anticipation and appreciation for the things that make truly feel at home.
Not gonna lie. For a little while, I was proud NOT to have a strong Long Island accent. When I went to college, people would ask where I was from and were surprised to learn I was from Lawn Guyland when I didn’t pronounce it that way. However, our “Long Island” accents come more from our origins in Brooklyn and Queens, so if you want to tawk about our accent, don’t fuhgeddaboud the history!
I’ve definitely held onto some of my most favorite words in my Long Island accent, most specifically Florida (flah-rid-uh) and Awesome (oah-suhm). I also will forever be “on” Long Island when I’m here and standing “on” line for a cawfee in the morning… never, never “in.” Never. And so, I officially surrender any previous denial of my roots, haha. During my time on the West Coast, a few people have pointed out these differences and I’ve learned to love them. I also appreciate meeting other New Yorkers who say “That’s Nuts!” Tell me, do you know ANYONE other than a New Yorker who says that?! If you do, I NEED to know. Watching Schmidt on “New Girl” (my fav sitcom) makes me feel right at home… and now I get to experience this glorious accent/attitude whenever I want… in person!!
Abby and I spent today driving from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to New York (…and Abby continued to Connecticut). We traded the “-burgs” of Pennsylvania (Mechanicsburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburg) for “-villes” in the armpit of the United States (AKA New Jersey), such as Robertsville, Stewartsville, Cruela De Vil, etc. We didn’t make any stops in New Jersey because, uhh, why would you want to? (Sorry, as a New Yorker, it’s only natural to act elitist over New Jersey. Since two out of three ‘New York’ football teams play in New Jersey, I’m not entirely sure why we continue to be such haters.)
We ended up traveling through the Holland Tunnel from Jersey City to Lower Manhattan because I missed an exit at some point. This saved us from traveling into the other stereotyped destination of Staten Island. In the midst of doing a lot of anti-racism work, I decided to try unpacking these random biases** against NJ and Staten Island. I just Googled “Why do New Yorkers hate New Jersey?” and “Why do we ignore Staten Island?” So far, I’ve learned the perceived (more appropriately ‘learned’) rivalry between NY and NJ is mostly one-sided (aka, New Yorkers poo-pooing Jersey) and the stereotypes against Staten Island are relatively unreasonable. I also just learned that Madonna and Christina Aguilera are from Staten Island! That’s cool. **I’m okay with Staten Island and New Jersey, for the record. I just like to make “they smell” jokes. Childish of me, I know. Is it harmful? Maybe I should stop.
Being that Staten Island is one of the five boroughs of New York, it’s rude of us (New Yorkers) to keep disowning the island. I think one of the most talked about contributing factors is the cost of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. Without an E-ZPass, it’s $19 (with an E-Z Pass, it’s $12.24), which you only have to pay once when entering Staten Island… wooooof, that’s a big hunk of change! Yet, the borough boasts authentic Italian food and has been talk about a building a giant wheel on Staten Island (which I literally just read about). I guess we should simmer down on the ignorance because Staten Island keeps threatening to secede from New York City and was the OG #Stexit in 1993 (prior to #Brexit). If we want to keep the family of boroughs together, it’s time to get over our differences.
Where was I? Oh yes, the Holland Tunnel. Sadly, we didn’t get to travel through the Lincoln Tunnel (and, thus, skipped the “seven levels of the candy cane forest” and “sea of swirly-twirly gum drops”). Yet, landing in Manhattan on Canal Street was immersive with immediate reminders of the bustle of New York. We were in our first true traffic of the trip (got a taste in Chicago) and horns became more audible. Also, my hamstring started cramping because I was using my brake a whole lot more. I loved seeing the New York City skyline from the Williamsburg Bridge – from the Freedom Tower and Empire State Building to the Brooklyn Bridge. Mmmm, feels like home.
We got to the rental car facility at JFK where Abby rented a certified clean vehicle. While we didn’t want to part ways at all, here we were… 3,500 miles later. Honestly, I could not be more lucky to have chosen Abby to make this journey with. While I already knew we traveled well together, being together 24/7 (literally) in a vehicle can offer MANY challenges. We were with each other on nearly every decision. We looked at each other in South Bend, Indiana and said “let’s get out of here” while we were each looking up hotels. Our music taste flowed well. We had a few moments of silence and naps. We also sang along to music – loudly, out of tune (yes, we were aware lol), and with our own interpretation of lyrics (or strange sounds to replace the lyrics). Conversation flowed effortlessly (not that I’m surprised there…) and we shared some tears deriving from emotional stories or side-splitting laughter.
Thus, at JFK, our mutual sight-seeing ended. Abby continued on her own journey of connecting with family and friends throughout the east coast while I journeyed further east to my home…
Abby and I JAMMED out to more old-school music! Thank goodness we had three hours because we had some serious work to do on our playlist. I wanted to capture the variety of music we listened to (mostly our throwback tunes). Sadly, I did NOT get a repeat of Abby’s Nelly-singing skills, but we did listen to songs from artists like Usher, Jason Derulo, Sean Paul, Gnarls Barkley, Smash Mouth Lady Gaga, Oasis, and Ginuwine. It’s wild how many years can pass between listening to a song, yet so many lyrics are retained in the memory! I remember recording really silly songs with my friend Lauren around 7th grade while studying for exams (using my boombox of course). This helped us to remember the information as we sang along to catchy tunes, triggering our emotional systems while trying to remember the semantic information for our courses.
My memory of “States in Alphabetical Order Song” definitely helped Abby and I play the license plate game! We saw EVERY U.S. PLATE on this trip, including Hawaii, Alaska, Rhode Island, and Delaware (…which we thought were kind of the hardest). Also, now that I’m in New York with Washington State plates, I am helping a lot of kids get bonus points in the license plate game. What can I say except… you’re welcome!
Of course, we also broke out the “If” book for good measure. Had to get those last-minute, meaningful conversations in!
I was also entertained yet again by the speeding on the highways, which continued to escalate through New York (well… except for the whole traffic thing). In comparison to my sheepish attempt at driving on the East Coast yesterday, I was met with far more confidence today as I weaved between people, decided who was worthy of being let into my lane, and started making more hand gestures at cars (“what is THIS guy doing?!”). You can take the girl out of New York… but you can’t take the New York out of the girl, THAT is for sure.
Today, we FINALLY got Dunkin’ Donuts. While I am more of a Starbucks gal, we couldn’t arrive on the East Coast and NOT get some DD action! As Abby always says, “America runs on Dunkin’… except in Seattle.” I noticed Dunkin’ Donuts now has espresso shots on their menu AND they had a delicious cold brew which did not default to loads of sugar & cream in it, but rather I was asked if I wanted anything in it (to which, I always say no… black coffee=yum)! Well done, DD. Way to grow.
I ate a light lunch upon arriving at home with the family (cheese & crackers… and cherries from Washington, of course). Our main attraction was DINNER from one of our favorite sushi places! My brothers and I shared an amazing assortment of sushi and my belly was very, very happy.
I cannot speak to Abby’s accommodations, but I stayed at a FIVE-STAR hotel this night! I mean, I was greeted with hugs and kisses from FOUR of my favorite people in the world, a comfy bed, and all the things I could ever need (AKA, 17 boxes I shipped to myself… haha).
Upon arrival, I felt so at peace. Having my car, Jazzy, parked in front of my family home was grounding. The hugs from my parents and brothers offered immediate comfort. It was just so DAMN GOOD to hug them, after over seven months of not seeing them! We don’t usually go this long, but COVID-19 prevented our reunions at two different weddings. Last time I was home was Christmas time and, while we spent endless hours FaceTiming and having virtual game nights during quarantine, nothing compares to THIS feeling. We also all felt like it hadn’t been SEVEN months since I was last home. It’s always so natural in our home. I love it. I freakin love my family.
After some time sitting in the family room, we migrated into the kitchen, then back to the family room as I shared some of the journey on my drive. When the doorbell rang, I wondered who it was. I opened the door to see my Nonno there, with a mask and button-up teal green T-shirt on. I opened the door and we gave each other a huge hug. It. Felt. So. Good… to be with him. To be with my family. To be talking about our Nana, my travels, our future. There is truly so much to be grateful for in a house of THIS much love.
Our evening entertainment at my accommodations was part one of Hamilton on Disney+. While I already watched it, I only saw it on my computer… so my family’s TV and amazing sound system is making for a serious upgrade to the experience.
I stayed up late talking to my brothers and would have stayed up forever, embracing every moment with them. Yet… I realize… I have endless moments now. I don’t have to leave in three days on a plane back to Seattle. I don’t have to think about staying in the Seattle time zone so I’m not jet lagged when I get back to work. I don’t have to pack in visits with everyone in a short period of time. I can enjoy, relax, and connect at a leisurely pace. I am free of time limitations and full of love.
This is the best move I’ve ever made. My heart is so full and I am anticipating all the beauty the future holds.
To all my family and friends who support me endlessly and boundlessly, I love you and thank you.
What makes you feel most at home?
KRISTEN: Home is a feeling I get around people I love, which can travel with me anywhere I go. Yet… I feel most at home when I’m in a room with my family and close friends. My mother’s booming laughter, my father’s chuckle. My brothers’ banter and debates. My Nonno’s gentle eyes and hand on mine, telling me stories with exquisite detail. Rolling meatballs and releasing the smell of marinara sauce to travel throughout the house. Being with all my family, laughing and speaking loudly. Home is definitely chicken parmesan (from Mario’s), lasagne (from my motha’s oven), bagels, and cawfee. Home is sitting on the couch with a comfy blanket and a glass of wine with my cousin, effortlessly talking for hours. Home is country dancing with my closest friends at the Nutty or visiting Mulcahy’s for Zac Brown Tribute Band. Home is the LIRR, Dunkin’ Donuts signs, snowy winters, and hot/humid summer days. Home is driving 70mph in a 55mph zone. Home is comfort, connection, and the people I love the most. Home is where my heart will always be and where I am to stay.
ABBY: I feel like I’m at home when I’m with my family, particularly with my niece and nephew, but also with my siblings, parents, and childhood friends. And when I walk around and see UConn Husky logos, Boston Red Sox hats and Whalers throwback gear. Home for me is people and memories and a little bit of an aching heart because it’s so far away. I may live in Washington, and truly live it there, but CT will always be home.