A Road Trip With The Knucklehead

This week… a reminiscence. No more, no less.

It’s 2005, and The Knucklehead is ten. Easter comes early this year, which means The Knucklehead’s spring break from school falls before the baseball season, which means our ballpark trip will wait for the summer. But it’s been a long winter, and we’re up for a road trip, so we decide to head to Cooperstown, NY to spend a few days at the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s only about three and a half hours away by car, should be a fun trip.

Now, usually, when traveling with The Knucklehead, we’re not looking for luxurious or gracious accommodations. Generally it’s chain motels, and I keep a traveler’s eye out for the places that have an indoor pool or a free breakfast we can carb up on before starting the day. During the summer, we’ve even thrown up the tent at campgrounds to stretch the budget a little. Kid friendly and/or cheap, in other words, is what we’re used to.

But this is a shorter trip, and as I pore through the AAA guide before we go (2005, for me, is still pre-reliable internet) I notice the bed and breakfasts. Knucks and I have never been to one together, and I’m not sure that I’ve ever really been to one myself, at this point. I discover that there’s one within an easy walk of the Hall of Fame, and since the baseball season hasn’t started yet, they’re still offering winter rates, which brings the price down to motel-range anyway. Sure, why not? The Inn at Cooperstown it is. I call up and make a two-night reservation.

The plan is to grab The Knucklehead when school lets out, swing by his mom’s to pick up his stuff, and head right up to Cooperstown. With luck, we’ll get there around 7:00 PM, have a nice dinner somewhere (an after-school snack already packed in the car), and chill out with the hoity toity at our ritzy B&B.

Luck, at least for that evening, is not with us.

We end up getting hit with one of those late winter/early spring snow squalls the Northeast is known for. Only this one is determined to show us who’s boss, and as the inches start to accumulate, the traffic on the interstate slows to a crawl, and an eventual stop. Two and a half hours after we’ve left, we’ve traveled roughly twenty miles, and we’ve come to a standstill between exits. And since I worked all night the night before and grabbed about four hours’ sleep that day, I’ve been drinking coffee. Which presents us with a new problem:

“I have to micturate.”

(Note: Micturate is a splendid and useless word. It’s splendid because of the sound of it; you can’t say it without taking the time to precisely enunciate. Go ahead, try it. It’s useless because it means exactly the same thing as urinate so there’s no reason to haul it out except to show off (the word, that is). I discovered it, as all nurses do, in Nursing 101, after which it is immediately forgotten by most nurses and other medical professionals. I’ve never encountered the word since nursing school, except in the film The Big Lebowski (“Am I to understand that every time a rug is micturated upon in this fair city…?”). The only reason I remembered it is because before I was a nurse I was an English major, and so have a habit of collecting cool-sounding words like micturate and ineluctable which I’m going to work into a post one of these days. But I digress.)

“Can you hold it?”

“Doubt it. I have to micturate like a race horse.”

A handy thing about being a nurse is that instead of coming home with the odd purloined office staple, I come home with the odd purloined hemostat. Or urinal. One of which is stowed under the driver’s seat for just such an emergency. And since traffic hasn’t moved for the last five minutes, now’s my chance.

The Knucklehead is in the back seat, so he can’t see what I’m doing, except leaning forward a little. All he hears is “Ahhhhh.”

“Did you just pee?!”

“Yep.”

“IN YOUR PANTS?!”

“No!” I’m laughing now. “I have a urinal. See?”

I quick run out to empty it on the shoulder of the road and hop back in the car.

Knucks is impressed. “I wanna try.”

“OK,” I tell him. “Remember, you have to stay low so other people can’t see you. But lean forward a little so you make sure it all hits the urinal. Try to kneel on the floor if you have room. I don’t want you peeing all over my back seat, Mister.”

“Or micturating.

“Exactly.”

Can you tell that this is already a highlight of our road trip?

Eventually traffic starts moving again, but there’s no way we’re making Cooperstown that night. Fortunately I know of an unadvertised (from the road, that is) hotel a mile or two off the interstate, and in about an hour we’re there, lucky to grab one of the last few rooms. A call up to Cooperstown to let them know we’ll be there tomorrow (the people at the B&B are understanding of the weather and won’t charge us for that night), and we hit the sack. If tomorrow morning is anything like tonight, we may have to rethink the whole vacation.

But as we’re falling asleep, the snow is ending, and by the morning the road crews are on top of the situation. We even get a warmish clear day, so when the sun comes up, we’re a go for New York state. In fact we pull into Cooperstown by 10:30 AM, so we haven’t really lost much of our Hall of Fame time anyway.

The Hall is great. It’s holy ground for baseball fans, especially old-school fans like The Knucklehead and me. At ten, his knowledge of baseball history rivals most adults’, so it takes us a few hours to check everything off the list we want to see. We’re Red Sox fans, so the Holy Grail of The Hall is Curt Schilling’s bloody sock from the ALCS the previous fall. A few random malcontents on the internet had tried to accuse Schilling of painting the sock with ketchup for drama’s sake. I offered my professional medical assessment:

“That’s dried blood. See how brown it is? That’s how blood dries. Not ketchup.”

“Seriously,” Knucks agreed, as if he needed any convincing. “Where do people come up with this stuff?”

We spent the rest of the day haunting the memorabilia shops, souvenir stores, and bookstores of downtown Cooperstown. Even today, the internet is no match for what the shops of Cooperstown have to offer. Stuff you didn’t even know existed is around every corner. I was on the prowl for baseball books. I believe that baseball writing is among the most beautiful writing in all of sport – when you have to write about the game 162 times a year (not counting spring training and playoffs) you either throw up your hands in despair or settle into a rhythm. To read baseball history is to read the social, racial, and economic history of America. I came to Cooperstown hungry for the written word. I would not be disappointed.

In one particular shop, I found a treasure trove of titles I’d been looking for, some out of print. I stepped up to the register with a stack of books, on baseball history, baseball strategy, and baseball analysis, and a couple for The Knucklehead as well (who was also spending his own money on swag of his own). I pulled out my credit card and the woman behind the register of this tiny store said, “I’m sorry, sir, our credit card reader is down…”

Crap. I was irked. I didn’t have my checkbook, I really wanted these books, I didn’t have enough cash, and wasn’t thrilled about paying a fee at an ATM. I started doing the arithmetic in my head to weigh which of these I was taking home…

“… but these books are all from my sister’s shop,” the woman continued. “So if you’d like to take them there to pay for them, it’s just down the street and around the corner. She’ll be able to run your credit card there.”

I was stunned. Was I being treated like a grown-up? Was I being shown trust?

This is Cooperstown, New York. The Baseball Hall of Fame sits in a small town where small-town courtesy, honesty, and respect still thrives. It’s a place where people welcome and trust strangers because they’d rather not live in a world where they can’t. Where the occasional breach of trust is a small price to pay for expecting, and bringing out the best in people.

The clerk was smiling at me. “Oh, okay,” I slowly replied. “Thank you, that would be great.” I slowly walked to the door, arms loaded with merchandise. Surely this was a trick, or I’d misunderstood.

Nope. As I looked back at the register, the woman already had her attention on her next customer.

Knucks and I walked outside. “This is incredible,” I told him. “There is nothing to prevent me from simply walking away with – what – $80 worth of books. Her sister’s place isn’t even within view of here.”

“Wow. That’s amazing.”

We walked down the street and around the corner and found the sister’s shop. I walked into the store and explained what happened. “Oh, yes,” the proprietor there told me. “These are my books. We can check you out here.” I had no indication that her sister had called ahead, or that we were expected. I’m grateful The Knucklehead was there to witness that transaction. I think he got a glimpse of this country, maybe or maybe not how it was, but how it could be. If we just choose to make it that way.

After dinner (a sports bar/restaurant seemed fitting, and let’s face it, they’re hard to miss in downtown C-town) we head back to our lodgings for the night, where our car has been parked all day. We got a quick look in daylight when we pulled in, especially impressed by the spacious front porch on the place. When we checked in we were eager to hit The Hall, but now we have our chance to really soak up the inn. This has nothing of the motel/hotel vibe we’re used to. It’s kind of like staying at an elderly aunt’s house, only it smells better, and you’re not getting yelled at to help with the folding chairs. We like it. I like that there’s no television in our room, which I appreciate now more than I did when I booked our stay.

Motel rooms seem designed to insulate and contain you from the rest of the world; at a bed and breakfast, I learned that the common areas are half the reason to be there. This being March, we were deep in the throes of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and Knucks was keen on catching one of the games.* So we headed downstairs to the main floor to see if one of the communal televisions had a game on.

We needn’t have worried. It seemed like every guest in the inn was parked downstairs on the couches or armchairs. We felt like we were in someone’s living room, and there was a holiday feel in the place. In a bar, it’s too noisy to really talk, so you watch the screen. Here, you can’t help but converse with the people around you, “Where are you from, what do you do, first time in Cooperstown,” and so on. After a while you fell into honest conversation with your innmates, whether you meant to or not, something nearly unheard of in a motel lobby. Knucks and I had been on our feet all day, immersed in each others’ company. It was a great way to relax at the end of the day, to stretch out and trade stories with friendly strangers. There’s something about the ambience of an inn, we learned, that makes you protective of its atmosphere of warmth and civility. It’s a special place, and part of the enjoyment is in adapting yourself to its tempo and patterns.

At halftime at one of the basketball games (my boy and an older gentleman from Vermont seemed particularly caught up in the action), I stood up and said, “Hey, Knucks, I’m going to go up to the room and read for a while. Come on up when you’re ready, let me know how the game turns out.”

Translation: I trust this place, and I trust you. I trust you to be a considerate guest. I trust your judgment with people. So I’m giving you a little freedom. Try it on, see how it fits. You know where to find me.

The Knucklehead sauntered into the room less than an hour later, with the air of a young man experienced in the ways of the bed and breakfast. “Whatcha reading?” he asked me, and I told him, and he told me who won the game, and he jumped into his bed with one of his books. We passed the next hour or so, until we fell asleep, each absorbed in his reading, punctuating the quiet every ten minutes or so with one of us calling out, “Hey, listen to this,” when one found something particularly interesting in his book. There was a time for earnest conversation on this trip. This was a time simply to enjoy each others’ company.

I wish I remember what we were served for breakfast the next morning; I only remember that it was leisurely and excellent, and that my ten-year-old had disposed of his usual breakfast fussiness in favor of a more grown-up inclination to try something more sophisticated. We took one last walk downtown before we left that morning; after sleeping on it, Knucks had decided which baseball cards he wanted to spend his money on, and I picked up the FDR bobblehead you now see to the left of the bookshelf at the top of this post. (Honestly, how could I pass up something like that?) We grabbed hot dogs for lunch and headed home.

Thankfully, the ride home was unremarkable; the snows of two days ago were gone. We made good time, and managed to do all our micturating at rest stops. But there’s nothing like traveling with your kid. Something about you and something about your knucklehead gets unwrapped on the road that doesn’t at home. The unfamiliar light of a new environment seems to freshen up a subject you thought you knew so well. Or maybe it’s that in a strange place, there’s more comfort in the familiar. Either way. It’s our travels together that create the shared stories that nourish our relationships.

Stories like this one.

__________________

*Me, not so much. I don’t understand basketball rules or strategy, and a basketball game seems proof of Zeno’s Paradox; the closer you get to the end of a game, the more it seems to recede away from you, what with the ever-increasing fouls and time-outs. This from a fan of a potentially endless sport, mind you.

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