Wow, what a trip! Judson gets his Ph.D., Martin's car breaks down, I throw over 50 gutter balls, and we almost freeze to death--but let me back up and "begin at the beginning" as Merlin used to say. I worked Tuesday morning to finish packing my office for a move to David King Hall and Monika helped me throw things out (always a weak point for me). We were done by about noon so Monika went back home to pack up for out trip while I found some bugs in the research simulation I was doing for the FAA. As usual that took longer than I expected (hoped?) and I didn't get home until after 6. Monika had finished packing all our clothes and cooked dinner, bless her heart, so we just ate and finished packing the small stuff before turning in about 8 pm, hopeing for a good night's sleep to get ready for the long drive to Boston.
Suddenly, just as I'm taking off my shoes the phone rang. The operator asked if I would accept a collect call, which was unusual, and when I said yes, I found Martin on the line. He was at a rest area just south of Breezewood, PA, and his car was making clicking/howling moises from the front wheels of the "getting ready to be serious problems" sort. We all did some quick strategizing and decided that the best paln was for us to join him in Breezewood, find a garage to repair his car, and then drive together up to Boston for Judson's graduation.
So we threw everything in the trunk of the Spirit (only car with working air conditioning), and charged off to the rescue. We got there in a little over two hours and I think he was glad to see us. I know only too well that breaking down on the road while driving alone is generally an unpleasant experience. We had seen a nice hotel and restaurant at the Town Hill exit just south, so I limped the car over there driving just at the 40 mph speed where the grinding and howling started--Monika followed in our car and we both ahd flashers on to avoid being run over by a semi. We checked into the motel and had a very late dinner at the restaurant just before they closed at 11 p.m.
While we were eating, Martin regaled us with his "Red Snapper" story about how he had bought 3 large frozen red snappers (on sale!) and prepared them for a meal for 15 at his coop. The problem was that he had never cooked raw fish before and we had never had it at home, so he didn have much of a clue about what to do with them. He settled for whacking off their heads and tails with a machete (crude but effective) and kind of stripping the meat from the bones as best he could. Lacking skills at this, he ended up with mangled strips of meat rather than filets and bones that still had a lot of meat on them. Ever pragmatic, Martin solved this problem by making fishcakes from the mangled meat and soup from the bones, which was good enough to satisfy everyone including the vegetarians who tucked into the fishcakes without a qualm.
From the hotel night clerk I found out that there was a good garage in town that worked on her parents' cars and even worked on large trucks. I was surprised as the town did not seem to consist of more than a gas station, a Days Inn, and a Four Seasons restaurant, but that was wonderful news! Sure enough in the morning we found a multi-bay professional-looking garage featuring NAPA parts at the bottom of the hill. It was the fourth and final building in the town, but that was good enough for our purposes. We dropped of Martin's Camry and arranged to call him later that afternoon to get an estimate and authorize the repairs. Then we added Martin's bags to our trunk and headed off to Boston.
Since we were already as far northwest as Breezewood, we decided to avoid our usual route through New Jersey to Boston and try a more northerly route. We ended up taking the Pennsylvania Turnpike east to Interstate 81, then heading northeast through Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to Interstate 84 and continuing across New York and Connecticut to the Massachusetts Turnpike and out hotel in Natick. But we noticed this new route would bring us just outh of Poughkeepsie where Judson and Sarah had their new apartment, so we decided to call and see if we could stop in just to get a peek at their new digs.
Since Monika had given up her cell phone when she retired from the U.S. Customs Service in May, we had to stop and call from rest areas using my calling card. At the second rest area we reached Sarah (Hurray!!) and she gave us directions to their apartment, which we found with only one wrong turn! The apartment was very nice, twice as large ast their old one and light an airy with brightly colored walls courtesy of Sarah and Robyn's painting. We were pleasantly surprised when Judson called unexpectedly and said he could leave work and would be home in a few minutes. We had some snacks until he joined us and then we chatted for a few minutes and admired his computer and new car. But finally we had to continue on our way to Natick-- it was late enough that we missed all the rush hour traffic and finally rolled in around 8 pm. We had a late dinner at the Natick Mall and Monika and I went to bed while Martin tried his luck at the pool table in the hotel's restaurant/bar. he was hustled by a local pool shark who appeared to be a somewhat better player, but Martin held his own pretty well since his opponent was suffering from too many beers.
The next day we met Sarah and Judson at her grandparent's house and carpooled in with them to Boston. MIT had a separate ceremony for the hooding on Thursday and the official graduation on Friday. We picked up Judson's regalia and had a quick burp at McDonald's before driving to the athletic center where I had seen Judson play hockery early on in his graduate studies. We were early enought o get seats right in front of the bleachers and saved seats for Gary, Robyn, and Loren who met us there. Streams fo family and friends of the graduates, every one of them with a camera of some kind, filled the rows behind us. Shortly after 1 p.m. a brass ensemble started playing "Pomp and Circumstance" and a double column of professors filed in followed by over 300 doctoral graduates. After a short address, which included some displays of academic regalia by faculty from different schools, the graduates each came forward and were hooded in turn. When Judson's name was read, we all cheered like crazy and I took a 15-second video clip of him walking across the platform and getting hooded. After the recessional, Judson came over to us and we oohed and ahhed over his new hood, which had only cost him six years of hard labor
I had invited everybody out to eat afterwards, and we went to the Berkshire Grill in Framingham, which, my son had assured me, had the best spinach-stuffed spring rolls he had ever tasted. That is as may be, but when we opened the menus we were dismayed to find that the spinach spring rolls had been removed from the menu! Our waiter explained that the company had stopped making them and they had not been able to find another vendor. There was much weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, and rumbling of stomachs, but we each swallowed our disappointment and chose what we could from the eight-page menu. Monika installed the purple and silver centerpiece we had brought from Fairfax (gaudy, but neat), and Judson opened his graduation card and gifts. One present was a wooden top set with a base and 3 small tops, which kept us entertained while we waited. I reconfirmed the classical rule of Physics that says that big fat tops tend to outlast small skinny tops in a crowded top environment. It was like the search for Top Quark, only different.
After a nice dinner we stopped off at a very odd furniture store before heading back to the grandparents' house. Entering the store we saw lots of Disney-like animatronics and a set of seats that looked like an amusement ride of some sort. A corridor straight out of New Orlean's French Quarter led to a movie marquee which proclaimed the feature "Spidermand vs. Ottoman", and the folks at the door were handing out Mardi Gras beads to each customer. I got a gold set. Somewhat bemused by all this, I really didn't know what kind of a store it really was unti we reached the end of the corridor where the display rooms began. Each display area had a decorating theme for the walls and ceilings and was large enough to contain several matched sets of furniture that played off that theme. >We searched through all of the areas for TV armoires that Judson and Sarah could use in their living room. Armoires they had in plenty, ranging from moderate to pricey, and we got a much better idea of what styles and features were out there. All together, it was a very interesting and quite unique store, but I can't help but think that all the overhead for the decorations has to show up somewhere in the prices.
Back at the grandparents' house, we chatted for a while before setting up a Trivial Pursuit game in the dining room. It was the old edition, so us old folks had a chance. Martin, monika, and I played Judson, Sarah, and Robyn, and at first we seemed to have an edge. Nut we gaot stalled hovering around a brown pie space when we shoul dhave been going for yellow, which wasted many moves, and Gary filled in on the other side which gave them a big increase in potential trivia. They kept us at bay at the finish by always going witht he pink "arts and entertaiment" questions that were our Achilles heel. At the end they caught up and, despite our killer instincts, we called in a draw in the interest of all getting to bed at some reasonable hour.
I would like to say that the next day dawned bright and sunny for Judson's graduation, but in fact it dawned cold, overcast, and rainy. Since Judson was limited to tickets for only 4 people, Sarah, Martin, Monika, and I carpooled in again. We dropped off Judson at the assembly point before parking the car and walking to Killian Court where the graduation was to be held "rain or shine." This walk was a bit different than anything in my recent past since mounted police and riot police were separating us from the World Bank protestors and we had to go through metal detectors at the end. I had ditched my pig sticker earlier that morning thinking it could be embarrassing, but Martin had brought his switchblade along, so he had to make a quick detour back to the car before rejoining us.
It was pouring rain, but the gate attendants were handing out free bottles of water (not necessary as it was only in the 50s) and plastic ponchos (very necessary, as it turned out). The outside seating area was already filling up, so we took some spots near the back on the right side where we could barely see the projection TV screen to our right. Judson called during the processional and we told him we were on the right side, but unfortunately he was in the line walking up the left side. We all waved, but could only ges some glimpses of him and partial head shots as he passed by. After the processional, the head of the World Bank gave a short address in which he decried the economic polarization of the industrialized versus developing countries of the world. The only question was whether the World Bank was part of the solution to this inequity or, as the protestors claimed, part of the problem.
Then we waited, and waited, and waited while the cold rain poured down and each of a couple thousand graduates walked across the stage and received his or her diploma. The ponchos at least kept us dry to the knees, but out lower legs were wet and our feet were soaked and ice cold. Nomika and Sarah were wearing sandals and had their feet go numb. Without the ponchos I'm thinking we would have gone into hypothermia and I'm not too sure we weren't almost there as it was. I had put on an extra jacket but still found I had to do some intentional rocking and unintentional shivering to keep my core body temperature up. Martin suggested going inside to some TV viewing rooms, but we stuck it out until it was Judson's turn.
As at the hooding Judson was in the School of Sciences which was near the end, so we had to wait from 9 until about 1 P.M. for his name to finally be called. When his name was called, we managed a frozen cheer and I tried to take a video of the TV projector screen of his receiving the diploma. Fortunately we had paid for the professional pictures of this because it really was not possible to take our own. In any event, he did get the degree in hand and we met back at his ild lab area (next door) where we all warmed up while he took care of some last minute details.
We headed off to Arlington for a celebratory meal, but the sushi place that Judson and Sarah knew was closed, so on Martin's reccomendation we ate at a nice little Thai restaurant instead. Although small, the restaurant was nicely decorated and had real yellow roses on the tables. We had an assortment of appetizers, all good, and particularly enjoyed the spring rolls, which were smaller thant the Vietnamese spring rolls and not deep-fat-fried, so I could eat them with gusto. The entrees were aslo excellent, and I should know because I had my own tofu stir fry, some of Martin's seafood curry, and much of Monika's pat Thai chicken.
having been thoroughly chilled and now being thoroughly fed, we were all feeling somewhat drowsy and drove back for some quick naps. We regrouped that evening with Gary, Robyn, Loren, Scott, Lisa, and Colin for a game of 10-Pins at a local bowling alley. In this neck of the woods, however the balls are small 7 or 8-inch balls that don't have finger holes and are thrown from the palm. The pins are slender columnar pins tapered slightly at the tob and bottom, which makes them fall somewhat more easily than a traditional bowling pin, which is a good thing because that little ball doesn't weigh more than a pound or two. Adding to the weirdness, you were allowed to throw 3 balls although only the first two would count for getting a strike or a spare. To top it off, after each ball the pins were just left lying about, which made it even more complicated to figure out exactly where you should aim the ball as it would rebound off the fallen pins and they would spin around and potentially knock other pins over. Lots of fun. We all completed one game (I beat Judson but Lisa beat me) and then some of us continued on pricticing. I was still trying to get the knack of the thing, which is how I ended up with 50+ gutter balls, but I'm telling you that just keeping that itty-bitty ball on the alley all the way to the end was a challenge in and of itelf. As I found to my sorrow, you had to aim very straight in the first place, and any twist of the wrist would put spin on it and make it curve off to the side.
To finish the night we repaired to the restaurant in our hotel and had a late-night snack which for us was dinner, but for Loren was the first meal of the day (poor Loren!). We were facing a long drive, and the party broke up around 11 as Lisa and Scott also had to get Colin home at a reasonable hour. Since Martin's car was fixed, we essentially reversed our route for the drive home and spent the hours playing CDs in Monika's new car player and talking with Martin. For rest area breaks, Martin had brought his Frisbee and we found that tossing in around for a while really loosened us up from the driving. That was particularly good for me because I was feeling the effects of all those extra practice rounds at 10-pins the night before and was stiff as a board whenever we got out of the car.
But the traffic was once again light on this route and we made excellent time, folling in to Town Hill about 3:30 p.m. There we were pleasantly surprised to see the doors to the garage open and the owner at work, which allowed us to get Martin's car out of hock right away instead of waiting until 5 p.m., which is what we had arranged. We had a final meal with Martin at the motel restaurant and saw him on his way before driving the last couple hours to Fairfax where we found the house still standing, a mailbox full of mail, our neightbors with our newspapers, and everything else just as we had left it. We had a wonderful trip but the main thing about this trip was simply this: