From Sea to Shining Sea


This column has been absent from the Zephyr for a couple weeks while my wife Polly and I went east for her niece’s graduation from Cornell University then traveled some 1,400 miles in New York, Ontario, Connecticut and Massachusetts viewing a part of the country Polly had never seen.

Our trip encompassed Memorial Day, D-Day and Reagan’s Funerals. (It also encompassed the birth of a new grand-daughter, Lindsay Renee Gross, 8 pounds, 12 ounces to my daughter Laura in Fresno, California.)

We dipped into American history from the French and Indian War to Desert Storm. We heard speeches to graduates and eulogies to the Gipper. Docents told us about famous Americans and little-known battles. Meanwhile, television repeated the mythos of Normandy, the Fall of Communism, and Reagan’s presidency.

We literally went coast to coast, from Pacific to Atlantic (at least the Long Island Sound part of it). It was a journey from a brown state to green ones. The northeast was burgeoning with Spring. Drought-stricken California is worn and withered. Pollution is changing our rain patterns, scientists tell us – but you couldn’t prove it by New York state, where the streams are full and it rained on us or near us three days of every seven.

Winter takes its toll, however; and everywhere we went, nurseries were busy selling flowers. Many of the towns had freeze-fractured streets. Our rental car developed a rattle inside the dashboard from the potholes I couldn’t avoid.

Even I-90, the New York Tollway, had its pavement problems. In places, the sound of our tires was like that of a Pullman clacking on rails. When I saw all the trucks – including double semi- trailers – it wasn’t hard to figure what caused the unevenness. There were literally miles of them, sometimes two abreast, going 75 mph or more. We tried to skirt major cities – but there was no way to avoid the traffic around them. For the same reason, we avoided some tourist stops – like the Basketball Hall of Fame – in favor of places which might amaze us or teach us something. As a result, our list of stops became quite eclectic. Some places we practically had to ourselves – like Fort Stanwix, Johnson Hall, Schoharie Crossing, and Norman Rockwell’s studio. Others, we were part of groups or a flow of visitors – like Mark Twain’s Hartford home, the West Point Museum, and the USSSN Nautilus. A few were crowded – like the Corning Museum of Glass and the boat ride through Locks 34 and 35 on the Erie Canal at Lockport.

We missed out at a couple locations – all of Binghampton’s eight carousels were closed on the day we visited, and Mystic Seaport shut down early just as we arrived – but we discovered some serendipity in out-of-the-way places, too, like Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Stockbridge, Mass. and Stockington, Conn. Also the National War Plane Museum at Horseheads, N.Y.

At each, we tried to expand our knowledge of our country and our world. I studied the people, assessing their friendliness and hospitality. I eavesdropped shamelessly on conversations, seeking to sense values and concerns.

What I discovered left me somewhat troubled. I’ll try to share my thoughts with you about it in columns coming up.