My Home Away from Home

I’ve spent these past two weeks with my brother Don and his wife Debbie, staying at the beautiful home near New London, Connecticut, and have had a great time.  The month of September was pretty frantic for me, as you know if you’ve been reading my website.  I spent much of the summer in Colorado working on my website, which put me behind schedule, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to visit the extreme compass points in northern Minnesota and northern Maine before the snow and cold weather set in, so September for me was basically "drive, drive, drive."

On September 1, I was in southern Utah and during that month, I put in several 400 to 500 mile days, trying to visit all the places I needed to get to.  Altogether I drove over 8,000 miles during September, which is about as much as I normally drive during an entire year, so I was pretty tired by the time I reached Connecticut on October 1.  Staying here at Don and Debbie’s house these past few weeks, therefore, has provided me with a much-needed respite from my travels.

And after being on the road since May, and constantly having to move from place to place, it was nice these past few weeks to stay put and actually have a routine.  Each morning I get up and have breakfast, then I spend the day working on various projects, involving either my website, my truck or planning the next leg of my trip down to the southeast.  The three of us eat dinner around 6 p.m. each night, then we go downstairs to watch the news, and around 11 p.m. I hit the sack.  It’s been nice to sleep in a real bed with sheets and blankets instead of my foam pad/sleeping bag arrangement in the back of my truck, and like I say, it’s been especially nice not to have to pack up every morning, nor wonder where I’ll be spending that evening. 

Most of all, though, it’s been nice to spend time with family.  Each night at dinner, Don, who’s a professor at the University of Connecticut, cheerfully boasts about the UConn women’s basketball team dynasty or talks about his latest project, and Debbie and I have always gotten along well – she’s more like a sister than a sister-in-law.  Don and Debbie have been tremendously hospitable and their house has been my “home away from home” these last few weeks.

Tacos, Burritos and Pepe’s Pizza

I’ve been pretty busy at their house working on my website, planning my trip and getting my truck ready for the next leg, but I’ve had some fun, too.  My niece Sarah, Don’s younger daughter whom I hadn't seen in 14 years, drove up from New Jersey during my first weekend here, so it was nice to visit with her and meet her husband, John.  They got married a few years back while I was in Qatar.

The five of us went to a Mexican restaurant in New London one night and had a nice time.  I love Mexican food but there aren’t any Mexican restaurants in Qatar, where I lived for the past three years, so I really missed it, almost as much as American barbeque.  I had a hard time in Qatar as an American trying to explain Mexican food to my co-workers from India – gee, what an international mishmash, huh?  “See, there’s this thing called a taco, which is like a crunchy sandwich.  And then there’s a burrito, which is like a taco but it’s softer and filled with beans and cheese…” After that convoluted explanation, my Indian colleagues gave me a quizzical look then went back to eating their biryani and samosas.

One sunny afternoon, Don, Debbie and I went to Mystic Seaport, which is a few miles away in the coastal town of Mystic, Connecticut (home of "Mystic Pizza," if you ever saw Julia Roberts' first movie).  Mystic Seaport is a reconstructed New England whaling village from the early 1800s and is well worth an afternoon, or even a couple of days.  I’d been to the Mystic Seaport once before a few years earlier, the last time I visited Don and Debbie, but this time we went to see a replica Viking ship that recently docked there after it had sailed across the Atlantic this summer, and we got to meet the crew.  Sailing across the ocean in an 80-foot open boat?  Better them than me, that’s all I can say.

And a few days later I drove into Rhode Island, which is only 10 minutes down the road.  I’ve tried to visit as many states as possible during this trip and tiny Rhode Island is nearby, so I got in my truck, drove across the state line, then turned around and came back, so I’ve now been to 33 states on this trip.  By the way, I’ve visited all 50 states on various trips over the years, reaching my 50th state, Arkansas, just before I turned 25.

One of the best experiences these past few weeks, though, has been eating Connecticut-style pizza.  I knew that New Yorkers like thin-crust pizza while folks in Chicago enjoy pizza with a thick crust, but I’d never heard of Connecticut-style pizza – which, as it turns out, puts both of them to shame.  There’s a popular chain in Connecticut called Pepe’s Pizza that the founder, Frank Pepe, started in New Haven many years ago, and it’s since expanded all over the state.  And lucky for me, there’s a Pepe’s Pizza at the nearby Mohegan Sun casino complex (one of the largest casinos in the U.S.), which is a half-hour away. 

The three of us drove up to the Mohegan Sun one evening and had dinner at Pepe’s, and I was blown away.  Pepe’s pizzas are thin crust and are baked in huge, coal-fired brick ovens, and they’re absolutely delicious, with a just a hint of scorching on the crust.  I ordered a large pizza – they’re not large, by the way, they’re ginormous – with pepperoni and black olives along with a large bottle of White Birch beer, a local carbonated drink something like a clear root beer.  It was the best meal I’ve had in a long time, and even better than my easternmost chicken a week earlier.  Pepe’s pizza is unreal and I’m a fan for life.

A Respite in Connecticut