How Not to Take a Vacation

- August 30, 2011

"...(there was) the woman who walked into the water one night and disappeared..."

We should have had a clue the moment the tire blew out on I-25, just minutes from our home on the morning of Saturday, August 13. We were on our way to the Albuquerque International Sunport for a two-week vacation on Cape Cod and in Princeton, N.J.

I called my best friend Rachel and a tow truck. Rachel arrived 15 minutes later and offered to drive us to the airport so we could make our Southwest flight to Philly. The tow truck driver was willing to let us leave the car on the side of the highway and promised he would tow it for service.

We got to the airport with enough time to have lunch before we flew off on our great adventure. Arriving in Philly seven hours later, we tried to rent a car one-way to drive the hour to Princeton. We were told that we'd be charged a $50 drop-off fee and have to rent the car for two days, since the Princeton office was closed on Sundays. Instead, we said we'd drive the car back to Philly the next day to avoid the extra $100 charge.

Driving back to the car rental place Sunday morning, we hit a huge rainstorm, with heavy hydroplaning. We decided to leave for the Cape on Monday, hoping the rain would stop by then. We hung out on Sunday, watching it rain all day, ate dinner at the Blue Point Grill in Princeton then tried to sleep through the sound of torrential rain hitting the roof all night.

The drive to the Cape included rain the entire day, so much so that at one point I could not see the cars in front of me. And yet… once in Brewster, located on the elbow of the Cape, we spent a week and a half with my folks and had a spectacular time. Gorgeous weather, cool ocean, bike rides on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, running every morning, lobster and steamers, fried clam rolls (my favorite), lobster rolls, shopping, eating ice cream, playing miniature golf, cooking up seafood feasts and just hanging out.

Sure, there were reports of great white sharks off the Chatham beaches (they closed all east-facing beaches in Chatham while we were there), the chain that fell off my bike while I was crossing a major highway, the traffic, the woman who walked into the water one night and disappeared off Nauset Beach, the mosquitoes…but these were all minor annoyances. Basically, the time spent there was relaxing, restful and replete with fun!

So when we left, we had no idea what was in store for the remainder of our trip. Returning to Princeton, again in a monster rainstorm, we passed four accidents on the Merritt Parkway and the Garden State Turnpike. When we got home and turned on the news, reports of Hurricane Irene were flooding in.

The next day we hung out, watched movies and slept. Then we enjoyed a lovely dinner at the acclaimed Blue Bottle Cafe in Hopewell. The duo of pork, with maple glazed tenderloins and pulled pork served with a veal reduction and the hangar steak with peppers and potatoes were pure deliciousness. Then we stopped at the grocery store to load up on storm supplies, and the shelves had been swept clean of water, bread and batteries.

Friday morning I had coffee with an old friend whose teenage daughter was taking her first flight lesson at the Princeton Airport. I delivered some green and red chile to him as a birthday present, along with a New Mexican cookbook, caught up on the local gossip and then spent the day exploring downtown Princeton. That night on the news, everyone was battening down the hatches in preparation for Irene. New York City had taken the unprecedented step of shutting down all public transportation and evacuating 370.000 residents from the low-lying areas. Up on the Cape, my parents were preparing to evacuate on Sunday if necessary.

We discovered that our flight home on Saturday was canceled, so we rebooked for Monday at 6 p.m., though they tried to persuade us to take a flight on Sunday….exactly when Irene was scheduled to hit the area! Good thing we rebooked right away, though, as more than 10,000 flights were canceled due to Irene.

The rain began at 3 p.m. on Saturday, and continued into the next day. We braved the storm to see a friend play music at Small World Cafe, which had a good turnout despite Irene. The winds didn't arrive until later that night, and the next morning the area was flooded and cluttered with downed limbs and trees. One rescue worker drowned trying to save someone from the flooding water. We lost our power around midnight, and it would remain off until we departed for home on Monday. We had a flashlight and some candles, so we rode out the storm, sleeping downstairs just in case any trees came crashing into the second story.

Sunday we drove over to my stepsister's for coffee and brunch and spent the day there, as the rain continued to fall and the winds howl. They lost their power around 3:30, so we headed downtown to get a pint at The Nassau Inn's Yankee Doodle Tap Room. The place was packed with stranded guests who were charging their cells and laptops, their eyes glued to the news. This was one of the few places in town with power, and we would soon discover that thousands of New Jerseyans were without power.

The rain finally stopped around 5 p.m. and the sun came out. Blue sky! At home that night, we lit candles, ate come smoked oysters and honey roasted peanuts and went to bed early, back in the upstairs bed in the guest room. We left early the next morning, only to get stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic at a slow crawl on the only road open in and out of Princeton. Roads were closed due to flooding, we passed a motel sunk up to its windows in water, Carnegie Lake was at a new high and the D&R Canal was spilling out of its banks. We spent the day in Philly with my uncle and aunt, had a nice lunch in Center City then boarded our flight home.

No plane problems, thankfully, and the flight home was uneventful….thank God! But in the Albuquerque airport, we waited as the luggage carousel spun round and round and finally ground to a half, without depositing my luggage in the queue. Lost luggage….and here I am back in Santa Fe, waiting for Southwest to call me and confirm that my suitcase is on its way back to Santa Fe!

Maybe it was Mercury in retrograde, or maybe it was bad karma, earned over a lifetime. Perhaps it was just pure bad luck….I don't know. But after this vacation, I have no desire to get back on a plane or in a car, visit the East Coast during hurricane season, live without the creature comforts of electricity, get caught in a flood or swim in a shark-infested ocean. Now, all I need is a vacation from my vacation!