Category Archives: Travel

In Quest of the Elusive License Plates….

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Larry skipping to our car after finding a license plate from Chihuahua, Mexico

“Delaware!” my husband Larry yelled as we drove past a line of parked cars on Galena Street in Frisco, Colorado. “We got Delaware!”

In our life, “Getting Delaware” is a big deal. Within the first ten days of our five week search for license plates, we had gotten the license plate of the elusive Eastern seaboard state. Could Rhode Island be far behind?

Road Trip Entertainment

Today, while heading for their annual family vacation, children sit in the back seats of a SUV watching Toy Story or Frozen from a strategically placed rear-seat DVD system. When our children Adam and Julie were young,  high tech electronic baby sitters were not available.  We resorted to supplying them with books and food and some random toys to keep them busy.  

We also had aces up our sleeve. On long trips, I read them books—Superfudge and Tales of a Four Grade Nothing were the most popular. At night, we played P’Diddle. The first person to see a car with a missing headlights would yell the eponymous game’s name. The winner could punch his or her sibling in the shoulder. (Of course, Adam and Julie liked punching each other.) And if all else failed, we would pull out our old radio show cassette tapes and listen to Burns and Allen, Abbott and Costello, and the Lone Ranger. Not a Disney or Pixar movie to be found. Amazingly, we managed to get through our trips!

A New Game

For many years, our annual family vacation was spent at parents’ cottage on the New York side of Lake Champlain. The four of us would often take a day trip on the ferry from Port Kent to Burlington, Vermont. During those crossings, Larry encouraged us to check out the license plates. It became a game for us to see how many states we could find squeezed between bumpers. We could pick up ten or twelve states, mostly from the northeastern part of the country. “Dad would become pretty obsessed about our finding those license plates,” Julie recalled. 

Our game continued when our vacations expanded to Cape Cod. We would find an occasional Georgia or even California, but most people who headed to the Cape were from the New England and Mid-Atlantic states. A family vacation to Acadia National Park gave us a chance to expand our repertoire. I think that Larry was as excited to find that license plate from Alaska as he was to see Cadillac Mountain and Thunder Hole.

We Pursue the Plates

The children went along with their father’s fascination, but it wasn’t until Adam and Julie were out of the house and we began traveling out west to several national parks that his interest in tracking down all fifty-two plates intensified. and I became his mostly willing Pursuing the Plates Partner.

Fifty-two? That is part of “The Official Rules of the Game.” We are obligated  to find all fifty states, including both the yellow and turquoise New Mexico plates, and Washington, DC. We also track Canada’s ten provinces and three territories—including its newest Nunavut— as a bonus. (Bet many of you didn’t know all that information about Canada! See how much you can learn  plate pursuing!) Larry, the statistician, is in charge of keeping track of all our finds in his head and categorizing them by regions. I, the writer, am responsible for writing down each state as it is found and keeping the tally sheet with me at all times. 

Sightings Vary

No matter how complicated the rules, we are always able to pick off the big states—California, Texas, and Florida— quickly.  Non-contiguous Alaska and Hawaii are more difficult because of the distance—but we have found them almost every year.  Washington DC may be small in area, but anyone who has experienced the District of Columbia during the summer can understand why its 700,000 residents head out every July and August for cooler climes.  

The small states are the most problematic. As noted above, a license plate from Delaware is a coveted prize, as is West Virginia and New Hampshire. And Rhode Island? Legend says that Rhode Islanders consider any drive that takes more than twenty minutes a road trip. The probability of a “Little  Rhody” driving all the way to Colorado or Utah is slim. They usually are the last plates we find—if they are found at all.  

Many of the plates have been spotted while we are on the road, usually with Larry—the designated driver— behind the wheel.  Example: “Wait! Is that Maine in front of us?” Larry shouts.  He then speeds up the car and gets closer to targeted car to confirm. “Yes!  We got Maine!” We are lucky we haven’t yet “got”  a ticket for speeding or tailgating in the process.

And speaking of dangerous situations: Larry views every parking lot as a plethora of potential picks. He often takes circuitous routes through rows and rows of cars in search of an elusive New Jersey or West Virginia. I live in fear that my “Plate Patroller” will be so preoccupied in his hunt that he will get hit by a car backing out of a space. And sometimes, I am not afraid—just angry. As he usually has the keys to the rental car, I often find myself standing next to the locked passenger door, waiting in the rain or blazing heat or wind until Larry finishes his final scan and returns.  

Bounty Hunter in Action

At times, Larry has resorted to tracking down the actual drivers. While carrying groceries into our Colorado rental, Larry spotted a family sporting University of West Virginia sweatshirts walking into the condo next to us.  Larry tore after them to ask if they were from the Mountain State.

When they answered yes, Larry immediately followed up with the second, and more critical, question: “Did you drive your own car?”

”Sorry! It’s a rental!” 

Darn!

Unexpected Treasures

A few times, our search has yielded hidden treasures. We were walking into a Kansas City Royals vs. San Francisco Giants spring training game in Surprise Stadium in Arizona when Larry saw a license plate from Canada’s Northwest Territories. Not only was it the first time we had ever spotted a plate from that far-flung Canadian region, but also it was shaped like a polar bear!

We had another exciting find at Bahai Honda Key in Southern Florida, when we spotted a license plate from Germany. The owners—a young couple from Munich—had shipped their old Volkswagen van over to United States. After time in the Keys, they were continuing their journey through Mexico and Central and South America.

Now that we have Delaware, we only have eight more plates to go: non-contiguous. Alaska and Hawaii; New England’s New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont; Washington, DC; and West Virginia. Luckily for us, we have three more weeks in Colorado to find them. Wish us luck!

Update: An hour before I was to send this out, Larry found New Hampshire AND Chihuahua, Mexico! Wow! Only seven more to go!

Onto Our Next Adventure

 

Now that Larry and I have become summer “residents” of Colorado. I have challenged myself physically more than any other time in my life. It is my Rocky Mountain boot camp. I return home thinner, stronger, healthier—and already thinking of our next adventures in the Colorado Rockies.

Our daughter Julie came out to Eagle County, Colorado, in 2003 for a one year teaching position at an environment school. Fresh out of college, she fell in love with Colorado, the Rockies, and Sam —not necessarily in that order. Fourteen years later, she, Sam, their daughter Sylvie and their dog Neva live in Frisco, Colorado, seventy miles from Denver on the western slope of the Continental Divide.

Until 2015, we would come out to visit them every year for a couple of weeks. Since our granddaughter arrived, we rent a condo close to their home for a couple of months to escape the Florida heat and to enjoy being Zayde and Gammy.

As Frisco is located 9100 feet above sea level, Larry and I take a couple of days to acclimate to the altitude. Once we have our mountain lungs, we take advantage of all the area has to offer.

Larry plays in a  pickle ball league three or four times a week—their motto is “We play with an Altitude.” On those days, I leave our condo, pick up my “granddog,” and Neva and I take the trail up to Rainbow Lake. It’s an easy one mile hike to the lake, only made a little tricky by its popularity. Neva and I have had to share the shoreline with up to twenty people and almost as many dogs. On quieter days, we have the lake to ourselves. We play Neva’s version of fetch: I toss a stick into the freezing water; she fetches it; I chase her down to retrieve it. Then we head around the lake, making our way back along a rushing creek home.

When Sam and Julie took us on hikes the first years we visited, I was intimidated by their longer excursions. Would we get lost? Could I handle the steep climbs? Would I fall off a narrow precipice, my body found by the rescue team a week later? Would we run into a moose or bear? After many years of hiking, my moments of terror are limited only to a few dicey paths that are a little too narrow or steep for my taste. “I’m scared,” I utter under my breath.

One of our favorite hikes, Lilypad Lake, takes us along a moderately steep path to a sturdy wooden bridge that spans a rushing creek. Climbing up the stream, we come to a section that overlooks Frisco and Lake Dillon. Another thirty minute climb through forest paths and wildflowers brings us to a lake on the left and a pond filled with lily pads on the right. As chipmunks beg for crumbs, we enjoy water and a trail bar before heading back down.

The longest, most difficult hike we took this summer was to McCullough Gulch, south of Breckinridge. The entire trip is in the shadow of Quandary Peak, one of Colorado’s fifty-three mountain peaks that have an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. A few miles drive up a dirt road took us to a parking lot and a half-mile hike to the trail head. The path up the trail got steeper, muddier, and—in my wimpy opinion—less passable. At one point, a short section of small boulders required some scrambling. Above us, two mountain goats grazed. About one and a half miles up, we made our way to White Falls, a waterfall that cascaded from the lake above us. The sky, up to that point blue with fluffy clouds, got darker. From the waterfall, we made our way up to the glacial lake above us.

While not difficult to follow, the path got steeper and required more scrambling around slippery rocks. At one point, we got slightly off trail and needed to climb over some boulders. “I’m scared!” I whispered loudly. Although we were never in any imminent danger of falling, I was saying prayers for our safety. I tried not to think of what our children would say if the broken body of their sixty-something mother was found at the bottom of my imagined crevice. Just as we got to the top of the boulders, a young boy bounded past me to meet the rest of his family on the trail. Pretty embarrassing for me to be so afraid when child regarded it as standard playground fare.

After climbing a final steep grade, Larry and I reached the beautiful glacial lake at the top of McCullough Gulch. Beyond the lake was the magnificent site of Pacific Peak, a 13,900 footer. We had made it! We ate our snacks, drank some water, and enjoyed the spectacular view. Although the wind was strong, the sun was shining and the clouds were fluffy when all of that suddenly changed.

Hail! The skies opened up, and we were being pummeled with pea-sized pellets. We put on  our raincoats and slipped our way down the mountain, this time avoiding the “rock climb.” By the time we got to the waterfall, the hail had turned to spitting rain. A mile further down, the sun came out. Four and a half hours after we had started, we had completed the hike, tired but so glad we had done it.

Larry and I completed a number of hikes during our eight weeks in Frisco, each one providing breathtaking views of mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and wildflowers. We experienced heat and rain and thunder and lightening and occasional bug swarms, but only once did we have to cut our hike short.

Our last weekend in Colorado, Sam, Larry, Sylvie, Neva and I hiked Black Powder Trail on Boreas Pass. Our two-year-old granddaughter soon tired of riding in her carrier on Sam’s back and decided to tackle the hike on foot. This worked until Sylvie and Neva found a pile of dirt created by burrowing animals that they regarded as more fun than further climbing. After a half hour of digging and snacks, all twenty-two pounds of her led us the way down the trail.

When I share my pictures on Facebook with friends and family, many comment on how strong and brave and fit we had proven ourselves to be. When I share descriptions of our hikes with native Coloradans, however, they are less impressed. “Oh yes! We did that hike in the winter with our snow shoes,” they comment. Or “If you enjoyed McCullough Gulch, you should try the thirteen mile hike up Meadow Lake Trail.” I can see clearly why GetYourFitTogether.com has named Colorado the most fit state in the country. And I know already that my  granddaughter and I will fit right in.

Never Forget

How does one comprehend the unfathomable? How does one grasp how six million Jewish lives were snuffed out by a world gone mad? For me, it was through the lives of Anne and Elie and Sophie and Pavel and many others. Thanks to brilliant writers, I have experienced the Holocaust through literature.

Neither of my parents spoke of lost relatives as their families had emigrated from Russia by the early 1900s. My first in-depth exposure to the Shoah came from reading The Diary of a Young Girl.  I was thirteen years old, the same age as Anne Frank when she started her journal. While I was worrying about acne and first crushes while living in a small, upstate town, Anne was worried about having enough food and not being caught by the Nazis while hiding in an Amsterdam attic. Her words were prominently displayed on a poster on my bedroom wall throughout high school and college: “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Her journal, found after she perished in Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, remains one of my most beloved books

As a  first year high school English teacher, I was assigned to teach Police State in Literature. It was a challenging course, made even more difficult for me as I was replacing a well-loved teacher who purportedly made Brave New World  fun.

Instead, the students faced a young, idealist Jewish teacher who had been told to include in the curriculum. Night, Elie Wiesel’s memoir of his life in the Nazi concentration camps The following June, two of my students handed me their yearbook to sign. They had drawn swastikas on my picture. Refusing to sign them, I sadly realized Wiesel’s shattering tale had not impacted them as it had me.

Anne and Elie showed me the Holocaust through teenage eyes. Sophie’s Choice forced me to see it through the eyes as a grieving parent. William Styron’s novel depicted the story of a young mother who was forced by  a camp doctor to make a heart-wrenching decision as she entered Auschwitz: She must choose which of her two children would die immediately in the gas chamber and which one would be allowed to live, albeit as a prisoner. Hoping her blue-eyed, blond-haired son had a better chance at survival, she sacrificed her daughter.  I read the book when I myself was a mother of two young children. Reading about the grief and guilt that haunted Sophie for the rest of her short, tragic  life broke my heart. Shortly after finishing the book, I woke up in the middle of the night screaming, “Don’t take Julie! Don’t take my daughter!”

Reviews of the subsequent movie were outstanding, and Meryl Streep won an academy award for her performance as Sophie. I myself have never seen the film. It was hard enough to read the book.

In 1994, a  collection of art and poetry provided a  way for me to revisit the Holocaust through the art and poetry by Jewish children who lived—and perished— in Theresienstadt concentration camp. A line in a poem by Pavel Friedman (1921-1944) provided the book’s name. “For seven weeks I’ve lived here/Penned up inside this ghetto/But I have found my people here./The dandelions call to me/And the white chestnut candles in the court,/Only I never saw another butterfly.

The butterfly became my symbol of the Holocaust.Even today,  each time I see a butterfly, I am reminded me of that young man standing behind a barbed wire fence wishing for freedom. In honor of Paval and the six million, I wear a chain on my neck with two gold charms: a Jewish star and a butterfly.

In recent years, literature helped me explore the Holocaust from the perspective of those on the other side of those camp fences: people who eked out their lives in war-torn Europe during Hitler’s reign  Kristin Hannah’s novel The Nightingale followed the story of two sisters in Nazi-occupied France. The older sister Vianne desperately struggled to do whatever she could to keep herself, her daughter, and her friends—including a Jewish woman and her child—alive. The younger sister Isabelle risked her life to work for the Resistance. The description of  physical and emotional deprivation experienced by those living through the four years of Nazi oppression gave me appreciation for the brutal,often deadly, conditions that were a fact of life for everyone—Jews and non-Jews— under Nazi rule.

Through a novel written by the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I came to understand how experiences encountered in death camps often haunted not only the survivors but also their children. The Speed of Light, a novel by Schenectady native Elizabeth Rosner, tells the story of two adult children whose lives were shaped by their father’s time in Auschwitz. While Paula tried to bring her father joy through her globe-trotting career as an opera singer. Julian a scientist, lived as secluded, highly structured recluse. ‘My father …carried his sadness with him, under his skin, Julien states.”It was mine now.” How the siblings moved past their father’s demons and redeem themselves was a fascinating read.

I am grateful that despite all that has already been written about the Holocaust, the topic still generates literature that gives us new ways of examining one the darkest periods in civilization. “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it,” wrote George Santayana.  I will never fully understand the horrors endured by so many. But at least through the extensive amount of quality of literature available, I can at least hope we can learn ways to assure “Never again.”

Wrong Way Shapiro

Larry and I met at a Purim party forty-two years ago. He was King Ahasuerus to my Queen Esther. All in all, it has been a successful match and a successful marriage. However, Larry has told me that if he realized how directionally impaired I was when he first met me, he is not sure if he would have pursued the relationship. In other words, if his Queen Esther had had to find her way to the palace, King Ahasuerus still would have been married to Vashti.

Larry is one of those people who is endowed with the ability not only to follow directions perfectly but also to intuitively know what direction he should go when lost. I don’t know if he is part bloodhound, but he knows when to turn right, left, or whatever and get us where we are supposed to go.

I, on the other hand, can get lost going through a revolving door. It doesn’t matter where I am going, I need specific, detailed instructions, including street names, recognizable landmarks—the Walgreens on the corner; the elementary school on the right; a Target store on the left—and exact mileage between all of them. And I would still screw up.

You would think things would improve with the invention of the GPS. Initially even that failed me, as demonstrated by my first attempt to use to navigate my way to a business breakfast south of Albany. The machine kept rejected the address I typed in, so I simplified the address to just the name of the road. The directions down the expressways were excellent. When I turned on to River Road, however, an annoying female voice—whom I already named Mappie— chirped, “You have arrived at your destination.” I yelled at her, “No, Mappie! I am not there yet! You need to get me to the building” I was now lost and encountering another problem. If there was a speed limit posted on River Road, I couldn’t find it. I didn’t know if it was 30 or 55 miles per hour. I erred on the side of safety and kept my speed to around 30. A couple of cars got on my tail and passed me, and I just kept looking for the building.

Suddenly, I saw a policeman’s flashing lights behind me. I pulled over, rolled down my window, and asked the policeman if I was speeding. He said, ”No ma’am, you were going too slow. You are a road hazard.”

“I am so sorry, sir, but it’s not my fault,” I explained. “It’s the stupid GPS! Mappie told me that I that I arrived at my destination, but she was wrong!” Thankfully, he took pity on me. “Look, lady, your building is a mile down the road on the left,” he said. “I’m not going to give you a ticket this time, but next time, print out the directions from MapQuest before you get into your car.”

Fortunately, Larry the Scout has been the designated driver for most of our married life. He was perfectly happy to drive while I would sit in the passenger seat, either reading a book or sleeping. After we retired, Larry and I started taking longer car trip, and Larry decided to give me more responsibility. On the way to Arches National Park, Larry insisted that I take out the map and keep track of the routes. Wrong Way Shapiro, who actually got lost going to my own apartment, found map reading a joy. Not only would I follow the map, but I also would plug in the GPS and accompany the two with one or two guidebooks. I kept Larry up-to-date on our location as well as geographic trivia. “We’re heading into Fruita, Colorado,” I reported. “Population is 12,724; elevation 4511 feet. Town is famous for Mike the Headless Chicken.”

I have unfortunately been known to rely too heavily on the route suggested by Google Maps without considering alternative routes. On a trip to Florida, Larry and I were driving up the West Coast from Sarasota to Dunedin. Google map took us on I 75 and west on Route 60, which put us right in the heart of Tampa and its gridlock. Larry insisted that he had told me that we were take 75 ABOVE Tampa and head west on 580. I either never heard him or his memory was wrong. The argument in our car could be heard all the way back to Sarasota.

Larry decided the only way to avoid future arguments based on the best route was to call up the directions on Mapquest before we headed out. I would then trace them on an AAA map. We used this combination on one of our last visits in Florida from the East Coast to Naples. We successfully navigated our way from Vera Beach, over the top of Lake Okeechobee (even finding a quicker route on the map not suggested by Mapquest), and down I75 to Naples. We made our left hand turn off 75, pulled confidently into the targeted community, and pulled triumphantly into the driveway. Unfortunately the wrong driveway. I had gotten the street name correct, but had written down the wrong house number.

Oh well. At least I didn’t have to act as the navigator for our plane back to Albany.