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Trip 22 -- NYC-Boston Walk
Epilogue: Amtrak #2163, Boston South Station to New York Penn Station
I sleep soundly the night after the walk, and the following day I don't make it beyond the grounds of my parents' house. I take just 719 steps, my phone says -- less than ten minutes of motion in total. The most strenuous activity I undertake is making negronis for pre-dinner enjoyment on the patio.
The day after, I'm ready to move again, at least mentally. Physically I'm not quite there (it'll take the weekend before I'm up to full speed), but my mother and I nevertheless stroll down to Newton Centre for lunch at Johnny's Luncheonette -- just over a mile each way. As we leave the house, we're met by a family of wild turkeys in the driveway. They've been found in increasing numbers in Newton lately, but this is my first sight of them.
My mother and I have done this walk many times, and as is our custom, we note the same things on the way -- there's a house on the corner with a pool, there's a winding driveway that curls upward from Commonwealth Avenue and looks impossible in the snow, there's a house with two boxy additions that looked terrible when they were added in about 1985 but have finally been painted not to stick out.
There are numerous houses with inviting second-floor porches that can be accessed only through the windows. How did I never notice those until my mother pointed them out, a year or two ago? I must have passed them for decades.
Last time we discovered the deep-fried avocado at Johnny's, so we start with that, and if that weren't enough of the green stuff, I have a pesto-avocado sandwich. And lots of Coke. Probably too much, but I decide I've earned it.
We have dinner with friends of my parents: two couples who have been extremely encouraging to me throughout this walk. Sue and Michael bring their well-behaved little dog, Lulu. Joan and Ron bring me a celebratory gift: a fold-up tote bag and a fold-up poncho that's the size of a pack of cards (and about an eighth the weight).
The restaurant is La Bodega, and the cuisine is modern Uruguayan. Highlights include grilled octopus, grilled provolone, wild mushrooms in egg, and a fried-flounder special. They offer a whole stuffed duck in a lavender honey glaze, but it requires two days' notice.
It's brought up at dinner that I drank a lot of soda on the walk. That aspect of my sweet tooth has been hard for me to curb: I eat generally less sugar than I used to, but the prospect of a giant fizzing glass of sweetness teases my mind as I approach a lunch spot. The prospect of guzzling it down and having it refilled is even sweeter. I've gotten to try a few local soda brands in Connecticut, and I consider that good for the mind if not the body.
The desserts are too tempting to pass up at La Bodega, though: a dark chocolate tart, a Basque cheesecake with berries, and dulce de leche shortbreads. I think that's all we're getting, but the staff come out with flan, above which is written in glaze: "You made it!"
I return to New York City on the Acela train Thursday morning. I like to stock up for the ride nearby in Chinatown, and as usual I pick up too much: a taro bun, shrimp in rice paper, a beef curry pie, and a roast pork bun at the bakery, and then a Vietnamese sandwich around the corner. And a Coke, of course. Nothing goes better with that lunch.
The Acela now has reserved seat numbers. These days they're selling only window seats -- and only one seat in four around a table, so I can spread out all my food and pick at it without the worry of possibly needing to share the space. I'm conscious of all the unwrapping, though. I'm in the quiet car, and every time I remove something from its bag it feels like the crinkling of a candy echoing throughout a theatre. Eventually I deal with all the noise at once by taking everything out and smushing up all the bags together -- like ripping off a Band-Aid, as they say, or at least it was like that until I found one stubbornly affixed to my little toe.
The Acela is in Rhode Island in less than 40 minutes, and another half-hour later we're already along the coast in Connecticut. I'm sitting on the seaward side, as I always try to do. The ride is just as refreshing as the walk: It's raining inside the train. The water misses my dim sum, though, and I merely move to the aisle across the table rather than find another row.
The tote bag has come in handy, because my dad has about doubled my weight: He's given me a bottle of Bully Boy gin and a copy of Lionel Casson's "Travel in the Ancient World." Most travel in the last few millennia B.C. was done for the purpose of trade or government work, but it astonishes me to read that there were tourists as far back as 1500 B.C., complete with their practices of scratching graffiti and collecting souvenirs. They traveled in Egypt, to see the tombs, temples, and pyramids built more than a thousand years earlier.
And the first travelogue seems to be from around the 12th century B.C., when an Egyptian named Wenamon headed to Lebanon to buy some cedar. The story has so many twists that its authenticity is in doubt, but I so want it to be true. He's robbed on the way and takes revenge by robbing in turn; he's denied entry to his desired port for a month; the prince in Byblos delays him until he can pay for the goods with additional cargo from Egypt; he's given a head start on the return journey, to outsail those he had stolen from; his ship is blown by the wind in the wrong direction, where the natives intend to kill him; he somehow finds the queen, who invites him to "spend the night."
And now my tendency to wait before reading the end of a travel account comes back to haunt me. Because that's all of the written story that remains; the rest has been lost.
The Acela pulls into New Haven, and now I'm perched on my seat, looking out at where I walked less than two weeks before. Cemeteries, churches, bridges -- I'm glancing at the map and then back out the window, checking off all the landmarks from West Haven and Milford.
There's where we had dinner in the Stratford train station. And two striking buildings I don't recognize: the Pet Hospital of Stratford, in a handsome red house, and the onion domes of the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church. What a beauty, that church. And I see that I must have walked right by it. But it was hidden by a tree, and also on my last mile of the day into Stratford, so I was probably more focused on the destination at that point. How sad, I think. On this journey where the whole point was to take my time and see the scenery at less than four miles an hour, I missed such a pretty structure. Well, I did the best I could.
The rest of the trip rewinds: Bridgeport, Black Rock, Fairfield (there's Gruel Britannia, across a field), Norwalk, Stamford, all the boring parts of Greenwich. Then suddenly we're in New York, and we head through Pelham Bay Park and snake through the Bronx. We roll into Penn Station; I make a quick stop at my fruit and vegetable market on Ninth Avenue, and I'm home.
The TV set is on for four minutes before that obnoxious ad appears. I'm on the couch, and the remote control is on a table by the window. My phone has a remote-control function (why has that feature mostly gone away, too?), but it'll take less time to press the mute button on the control device itself...if only I can get to it. I have to endure that awful beat for five whole seconds as I stand up and hie my tired body three steps over to the table. And that, my friends, feels like a long walk.