I’m back in my office in Mondoville, after spending a week in Terpville visiting the Spawn and her Main Squeeze. It was the first time that Mrs. M and I had gotten together with the girls since Christmas, and was just the thing after both Mrs. M and I had taught extra summer courses.
We took a different route than we had in the past. Mrs. M typically handles bookings for our trips, using the standard travel search engines. However, it hadn’t occurred to us until recently that a well known low-fare airline doesn’t use those services, and a bit of digging revealed that the airline in question flies out of Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP) to Baltimore-Washington (BWI). This saved us an hour’s drive each way compared to flying out of Charlotte, and the flight was less expensive than many we’ve taken before. When we added in the fact that the flights were nonstop and that there were no charges for checked baggage, it was a win all the way around. It’s really handy having a hypercompetent wife.
So last Wednesday, I drove us up the Interstate to the airport. I dropped Mrs. M off at the terminal with most of the baggage and made my way toward the airport’s long-term parking lot. I found a space and was walking to one of the lot’s shuttle stops when my phone rang. It was Mrs. M, who had just discovered that the shuttle stop was fool’s gold, as the shuttle wasn’t running, a casualty of COVID. Oops. So I hopped back in the car and parked in the more expensive garage, but at least I’d be able to make it to the terminal in short order, even with my gimp knee.
We checked our baggage, got our boarding passes, and went off to play TSA Theater. At least Mrs. M got to. I, meanwhile, was told there was an unspecified issue with my pass, and was sent back to the ticket counter. The agent took a look at my pass (or more accurately, at whatever information the pass evoked on his computer.) A second agent joined him, and said, “I think I see the problem.” She pointed at the screen.
The first agent said, “Who booked your ticket?”
“How long have you been married?”
“It’ll be 28 years in October.”
“And she still doesn’t know you’re male?” Some of those pull-down menus can be sneaky. But they got me squared away, and my second trip to the security checkpoint was uneventful. Thank goodness. I hate going through those checkpoints. Because I’m big, clumsy, and slow-moving even under the best of conditions, I always feel like I’m slowing everyone down. That makes me nervous, and in turn that slows me down even more and makes me feel like I’m getting in everyone’s way. But in fact, I made it to the gate and found Mrs. M, with time to send a snap to Terpville.
Because we flew peasant-class, we were separated on the flight, the higher-priority passengers having chosen their seats before we had the chance. However, another passenger was kind enough to give me his aisle seat and moved to the middle. I appreciated it, and made sure to give him as much room as I could.
Upon arrival at BWI, we caught the shuttle to the rental car terminal, where we were told there would likely be a two-plus-hour wait for the car we had booked. As you probably know, the rental car industry took a big hit from COVID, and many of the rental services had liquidated much of their fleets. Of course, now that demand is returning, shortfalls in vehicle supply are pinching a bit. Fortunately, the desk agent’s estimate was premature, and I had just enough time to drink a soda and split a bag of party mix with Mrs. M before it was time to mount up and plunge into the maelstrom of Maryland traffic.
In the half-hour or so it took us to get to the Spawn’s place, we had two or three near-death experiences, most notably when a truck with a flatbed trailer passed us on the shoulder and pulled into the gap in front of us, despite the space being Tetris-small. That’ll teach us a lesson about leaving a reasonable distance between vehicles, I guess — namely that we shouldn’t, because no one else will. There were also several spates of horn-honking, but we weren’t sure they were directed at us. But we survived, and even picked up a few items at the local supermarket before we reached chez Spawn.
We stayed with the Spawn and Main Squeeze for the first half of the trip. Their place reminded me (as it always does) of the scruffy apartments from my own grad school years, but the girls keep their place much tidier than I ever did; they not only have a carpet, but they vacuum it regularly. O tempora; O mores! Indeed, their tidiness meant there was room for the air mattresses that Mrs. M and I used while we there. That meant, of course, that there was significantly less space in the living room than usual, but having been a source of clutter for much of my life, I welcomed the chance to be the clutter. My evening was rounded off by a meatball sandwich and fries from the local Greek deli.
The next day, the ladies went out to visit some thrift stores, and dropped me off in the Hyattsville Arts District. My first stop was at My Dead Aunt’s Books, which shares space with a vintage clothing shop. The young woman who owns the shop/s and I chatted a bit — she writes science fiction, and has a wonderfully eclectic range of books. She also told me the store just evolved naturally from her own interest in vintage style, and it seems to be thriving. Go entrepreneurism! I found a paperback copy of G.M. Ford’s first Leo Waterman novel, and then made my way up the street.
The whole week was pretty sticky, so when I saw what appeared to be some sort of restaurant/bar, I thought I’d stop for a snack and/or beverage. That’s how I discovered Franklin’s Restaurant, Brewery, and General Store. As it turned out, in addition to the craft ales and such that one finds in these places, Franklin’s also makes a really excellent root beer. As root beer is among my favorite drinks, this made for a serendiptous stop indeed, and their ice cream sundae also makes the place worth a visit.
The next stop was at Busboys & Poets, where I picked up a copy of Camus’s The Stranger for my shelf. I was also delighted to see my friend Shaun Cosby’s Razorblade Tears on the shelves, as one would expect of a New York Times Bestseller. It’s really great to see good people succeed. That’s where I was when I met up with the girls, and from there we went back to the apartment, ordered out for some Korean BBQ and dumplings, and relaxed for the evening, talking, reading, and enjoying being together for the first time in months.
The Spawn and Main Squeeze had work to do the next day, so after breakfast (including a tasty shakshuka that the Squeeze prepared for us and some challah bread the girls had made the previous night), Mrs. M and I drove around the campus and the surrounding neighborhood, looking at houses we are highly unlikely ever to afford. We’re particularly fond of the neighborhood known as University Park, which also happens to be the home of the late James M. Cain, one of the fathers of noir fiction (and an influence on the Camus novel I mentioned earlier). No wonder I dig it. At the other extreme, it’s also where Jim Henson grew up. Go figure. The town also includes a historic district, and has a nifty stock of early and mid-20th-C. architecture. We did notice that more than a few houses in the area appeared to need some rehab, and it reminded us that being “house broke” doesn’t necessarily involve where pets use the bathroom. But there are lots of lovely houses there, and it looks like a really lovely place to live. That evening, Mrs. M and I went to the College Park Diner, which is a fine example of its type. I had a roast beef Manhattan and mashed potatoes for the first time in years, and it was exactly what I wanted it to be. I told Mrs. M that it was the sort of place and cuisine that belongs not just in a college town, but in a movie set in a college town. Recommended.
The four of us decided that Saturday was a good day for visiting Ikea. I’m always happy to go somewhere that has both recliners and meatballs, and the ladies seemed to have a good time as well.
Sunday was moving day, as Mrs. M and I migrated to a hotel for the remainder of the trip. But even more important, it was the Main Squeeze’s birthday, so we headed up the highway to have Sunday lunch with her mom and dad — the first time the four parents have gotten together. We gathered at the Montgomery County location of Founding Farmers, a restaurant owned by a union of farmers in North Dakota, and carrying the idea of “farm-to-table” over a longer distance than usual. We all seemed to hit it off, and I think I can safely say that the Squueze’s people are good company. A good time was had by all (and country-fried steak was had by me), and we didn’t even notice until Monday that the Main Squeeze’s wallet was missing. But more on that later…
Later that evening, Mrs. M and I got settled into our room at the Holiday Inn, and while we love being around the girls, we had to admit it was nice to give everyone a little more room. I know that a lot of people like to jeer at the sameness of chain hotels and such, and I certainly have enjoyed some independent places, but another way to look at that sameness is to think of it as reliability. There’s a certain comfort and security in knowing there will be a clean, safe place to stay at a reasonable price. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the good things to which we’re accustomed.
We had talked about going to DC on Monday, but honestly, we were having such a nice time with the girls and wandering around the neighborhood that we decided to just stick around with them for most of the day — they were the reason we came, after all. We did find time to get away for a bit and try some Thai-style ice cream, made on the spot with condensed milk on superchilled metal plates.
Later, I was able to make it back to CDepot, the used media shop I had discovered last year near the apartment. I bought a couple of albums from Toronto roots-rockers the Sadies, and then Mrs. M and I had a really good dinner at the Chinese restaurant next door. The girls, meanwhile, were searching the apartment for the Squeeze’s wallet, to no avail. They called the restaurant, but that was unsuccessful as well.
Tuesday was our last full day, so Mrs. M and I hit a thrift store, where I found a copy of Hilary Mantel’s Booker-winning Bring Up the Bodies, the second volume of her Wolf Hall trilogy. I read the first book last year and had been looking for a copy of Bodies at used bookstores since then, but had missed out until now. Thanks, Value Village! From there, we hung out with the girls, trying bubble tea, visiting a comic store, and wrapping things up with dinner at an iHop near the hotel and dreading the hassles that accompany the loss of wallets. We dropped the girls back at their place and went back to the hotel.
That’s when Mrs. M said, “I think I’ll call the restaurant we all went to one more time.” So she did, and sometimes the Universe lets you roll a seven. Yes, they did have Ms. Squeeze’s wallet, and yes, they’d be open for a while longer. Mrs. M drove over, picked it up, and went to the girls’ place for our version of a going-away present, which was met with much acclaim and relief. Like I said at the very beginning, it’s good to have a hypercompetent wife.
Yesterday morning we swung by the apartment onw last time before going back to BWI to catch our flight home. Unfortunately, as I stepped off the shuttle bus from the rental car place to the terminal, something happened. I don’t know if I misstepped, had another fit of my usual awkwardness, or if my knee buckled, but I wound up in my traditional crumpled heap on the pavement between the bus door and the sidewalk. I have a knack, I tell you.
But at last we made it back to GSP, and from there to Mondoville, sore knees and all. Apart from my demonstration of the effects of gravity and/or arthritis, it was a terrific trip, and we’re already thinking about getting back up there this fall.
But for now, I’ll leave you with one of the songs I bought the other day. From their 2007 album New Seasons, here are the Sadies, with “The Trial.”
See you soon!