Over the River and Through the Woods: Tips from Thankful Road Warriors


How do you get from here to there?

Thank goodness for Thanksgiving.  The long weekend affords most of us a breather from modern life’s breakneck pace. We pause to focus on coming together with family and friends, preparing a meal, tossing a football and sleeping late in your own bed.

But,  if you are like my family – transplants – Thanksgiving means hitting the road. Or, heaven forbid, the airports. That is the only way the family-coming-together aspect of the holiday happens for us. 

In our case, traveling is not as idyllic as over the river and through the woods.  It’s more like Down the Thruway and over the Outerbridge Crossing to Staten Island We Go.  Where there are hardly any woods left to go through.

For eleven years now, we have traveled to see our family every Thanksgiving but one. This is another consequence of being Transplantednorth. If you leave the area where one’s family roots are still entrenched, the roads are rarely traversed the other way. It’s just expected. We are the only part of the family “upstate.”  We left. Everyone else still lives Home — the New York Metro Area. Or, in a term I only learned when transplantednorth – “downstate.” 

And on Thanksgiving, just as the larger planet pulls on its smaller orbiting moons,  down the Thruway we go.

One especially hectic year, we stayed in Rochester for Thanksgiving. The weather was beautiful – warm even —  and we spent a relaxing weekend feasting and playing into the evening at the Brighton Town Hall playground. I prepared perhaps the only Thanksgiving feast I will ever make. I made the turkey on the barbecue. I made a chestnut stuffing ala Martha Stewart. Everything tasted delicious. But the lonely looks on my childrens’ faces taught me a lesson: Thanksgiving tables are too empty without grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

So, after traveling for 11 years with two and then three kids in tow, I have become thankful for a thing or two on what I have learned and would like to share them with you, especially if you are a novice at parenting on the go:

  • I am thankful that cries for Sippy cup refills and diaper changes have been replaced by three contented souls in the back who can pass snacks to each other, operate the remote to the car DVD player, and participate in family sing downs and games of 20 Questions. 
  • I am thankful for every rest stop we have discovered between here and there, especially to kind workers who have supplied us with buckets, hoses and slop sinks for carsickness cleanups.  Really, if you do have a kid that gets sick in the car, find a truck stop like the Flying J Travel Plazas that have showers and washing machines. The folks there are all too kind to help you in your distress.
  • I am thankful that we finally come “home,” we have relatives who bound down steps and out into driveways to greet us, no matter the lateness of the hour.

In our 11 years of travelling down to New York City, here are my family’s dos and don’ts when traveling the Western New York-to-New York City Route:

  • DO strap everything down very carefully. On our first trip back to Rochester, on a windy, windy passage of Route 78 in New Jersey, our Peg Perego Stroller came loose and flew off our roof rack. One minute, there it was, and then it was on the side of the road, thankfully killing or injuring no one in its catapulted flight.
  • If you are traveling with very young children that might become carsick, but may not alert you at the most opportune time that they will become carsick,  DO pack a puke kit. This kit includes a roll of paper towels, a bottle of Lysol all-purpose liquid cleaner, and a change of clothes that is easily accessible.
  • If traveling with those same small children, DO invest in one of those Art Cart on the Go Tables that can be placed over a child’s lap. The Art Cart has legs that double as side pockets that keep paper, crayons and markers handy. Or, in the worst case scenario, those pockets also can come to the aid of the carsick child. I speak from experience.
  • For a meal break, DO stop in Scranton or Dickson City, Pa. It is exit 191 A or B on Route 81.  Home of The Office, it is a great little town to stop for meals. If we hit Scranton for lunch or dinner, we eat at Tonalteca. The place is clean, the decor features hand crafted carved booths from Mexican artisans, and there are plenty of choices for vegetarians. The guacamole is outstanding.  And, for those of you who get stir crazy in the car, they play great salsa music in the bathroom. If they have the security camera going by the sinks in the ladies room, they might have footage of me doing some salsa steps I learned in Zumba for all I know. Anything to work off that guacamole.
  • DON’T stop in the Poconos for any reason. There really is no place to stop. The gas stations for bathrooms have nothing more than outhouses or bathrooms around back that you have to carry in those huge keys for admittance. And, if you see a billboard for The Cheesecake Factory, don’t believe it. No, it isn’t The Cheesecake Factory, the upscale eatery. It’s just – a cheesecake factory. So, unless you want to sit in your car with your family consuming a cheesecake for a meal, ignore the sign and keep driving.
  • DO find the small village of Whitney Point along Route 81 and stop at Aiellos Italian Restaurant for the best pizza you can find in Western NY.  And I am not saying this is good pizza for Western New York. I mean, this is thin-crust Brooklyn Pizza that somehow found its way to Western New York. And, the quaint restaurant in the back will be decked in its Christmas decorations this time of year. You won’t want to miss out on this.

And as for traffic…..

  • DON’T be anywhere near Binghamton or Syracuse on Sunday afternoon if you can at all avoid it: college kids coming back from Thanksgiving break.
  •  DON’T go near the Delaware Water Gap if you don’t want to get stuck in traffic during peak hours
  • DON’T go over the George Washington Bridge or traverse the Cross Bronx Expressway.  Ever.

Safe travels to you and a very happy Thanksgiving.

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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a public relations professional and reporter -- and always thought I would live in the New York Metro area - before my husband took a job in Rochester, New York. Most in Metro New York can't find Rochester on a map,and neither could I before we moved. I am now a columnist and a freelance writer for Rochester's only daily newspaper, the Democrat & Chronicle. I also am passionate about gardening, fitness and most of all, Jewish education and Israel Advocacy. Here's my perspective on Western New York living - the good, the bad, and the snowy.

2 responses to “Over the River and Through the Woods: Tips from Thankful Road Warriors”

  1. Mom says :

    We can’t wait until you are”Down the Thruway and over The OB,to Grandmother’s House”,you come!!
    Can’t wait for our small house to be over -flowing with suitcases,favorite stuffed animals,laughter,spontanious hugs,and the warmth and love that only loved ones can provide.
    We know how exhausted you are. How cramped the quarters,,but when the table is set with all of my grandchildrend’s beautiful handmade decorations,the house is filled with wonderful aromers and beautiful noise(most of the time),we know that we are truly blessed and very thankful that you did go”Down the Thruway and over The OB

  2. thegeeman says :

    Sounds like fun. Happy Thanksgiving. Have fun and enjoy.

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