Getting Ready for the Next Leg

I’ve been visiting my brother Don and his wife Debbie in Connecticut for three weeks now and have really enjoyed my stay.  After traveling frantically around the U.S. in September and logging over 8,000 miles on my truck that month, staying here at their house has been a much-needed respite. But alas, tomorrow I’ll be leaving and resuming my journey as I head south and complete my final lap. 

After leaving tomorrow, I’ll spend a week driving down to Florida and plan to arrive there on November 1, when I have a reservation at St. George Island State Park on the Florida panhandle.  I’m not sure why I decided to reach Florida on November 1 – perhaps because “November” sounds cold and “Florida” sounds warm.  I’ve made reservations at several campgrounds throughout Florida for the month of November and know where I’ll be staying each night, so everything's all planned out.  Something I've learned these past few weeks while planning my trip:  Florida State Parks are packed from November until about April, so you need to make camping reservations there well in advance.  Sorry, you can't just show up at a Florida campground in the winter months and hope to find a spot.  

My main goal during my November in Florida is to visit the last three extreme compass points of the contiguous United States:  the southeasternmost, south-southeasternmost and east-southeasternmost points.  Those will be points #14, 15 and 16 in my quest to become the first person to visit all 16 extreme compass points in the contiguous United States (literally the 16 corners of the country).  All three points are in southern Florida, just north of the Florida Keys, so I hope to spend a fair bit of time camping and traveling in the Keys, which is one of my favorite places in America.  I haven't decided, however, what I’m going to do after I reach the final extreme compass point, having completed my mission.  I may decide to spend the entire winter in Florida and resume my road trip around America in the spring, slowly making my way back to the Northwest, or I may head straight back to Oregon and spend Christmas there.  We’ll see.

Since I last wrote 10 days ago, I’ve continued to enjoy my stay with Don and Debbie here at their house on the Connecticut coast.  Their older daughter, Katie, came up last week and spent several days with us, which was great because I hadn’t seen Katie in a few years and it was nice to visit with her again.  On a cool but sunny morning, the four of us drove into Massachusetts and visited Sturbridge Village, a huge, reconstructed New England village from the early 1800s with lots of living history demonstrations, like blacksmiths, farmers, and potters.  It’s like stepping back a few hundred years and seeing how life in New England used to be – sort of a New England version of Williamsburg, Virginia.  

I’d been to Sturbridge Village once before, when I was in high school and living in California.  That winter, at age 17, I flew to Boston to visit Don and Debbie for Christmas, my first solo plane trip, and stayed with them for several days.  Having grown up in a California suburb, spending a Christmas in snowy Boston was an eye-opening experience, and it was one of the most memorable trips of my life.  Everything was so different back east:  the old, brick buildings; the subways; the Boston Pops Christmas concert we attended; and of course, the snowy weather.  During my brief stay that winter, the three of us drove out to Sturbridge Village and had a nice time.  The weather was a lot warmer on this fall day, though a nip of cool air reminded us that winter was on its way.

Also while Katie was here, we ate dinner once again at Pepe’s Pizza at the nearby Mohegan Sun casino mega-complex.  Honestly, I could eat at Pepe’s every night, and I enjoyed watching the cooks slide the pizzas into the huge, brick ovens with their 10-foot long wooden paddles, sort of like playing “pizza shuffleboard.”  Once again, I ordered a pepperoni and black olive pizza and, once again, Don got the clam pizza – though after taking a few bites of mine, he admitted that I’d made a good choice, too.

Shanks Village

I’m planning to leave Connecticut tomorrow, a Sunday, because I want to avoid the crazy weekday traffic in New York City on my way out.  Today, Saturday, I joined Don and Debbie for a trip to a small college near New York City.  Don was planning to give a talk at the college this afternoon, speaking about literacy and technology (his focus at the University of Connecticut, where he teaches).  But before the speech, he wanted to visit a place nearby called Shanks Village, where he’d grown up, so I decided to tag along today on their excursion to New York.

During World War II, Camp Shanks was a large staging area for U.S. army troops; in fact, it was the main embarkation site for U.S. servicemen and women headed to Europe.  Located about 20 miles north of New York City near Nyack, Camp Shanks was called “Last Stop USA” and over a million U.S servicemen and women passed through there before boarding ships bound for Europe.  After the war, the hundreds of buildings and barracks at Camp Shanks were converted to married student housing for several universities in New York City, including Columbia University, and they named it "Shanks Village." 

My parents moved to Shanks Village in 1950 when my Dad enrolled at Columbia on the GI Bill – a program that provided free college education to World War II veterans – and they lived there for a few years with their then-three kids, including Don (I came along later).  Don’s first memories, in fact, were of living at Shanks Village, though he hadn’t seen it since they moved away in 1952.  My parents, who have both since passed away, had told me lots of funny stories about the primitive living conditions at Shanks Village for the thousands of grad student families living there in the early 1950s.  But despite the hardships, my parents always spoke about Shanks Village very fondly.  Neither Debbie or I had ever been to Shanks Village, and like I say, Don hadn’t been there since he was little.

The three of us left the house early in the morning and drove east on I-95, crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson, and then found the site.  There’s not much left of Shanks Village today, because virtually everything was torn down in the mid-1950s after the boom of the GI Bill had faded, and the area was redeveloped.  Where once thousands of students had lived in Quonset huts and military-style barracks crudely converted into "apartments," now only a single original building is left, which is a museum commemorating Camp Shanks and the later Shanks Village.  Unfortunately, though, the museum was closed today, this being late in the season. 

Our visit to Shanks Village was brief, since the museum was closed and given our schedule.  But just to be there and to finally see that place called Shanks Village, of which I’d heard so many stories while I was growing up, and to let my mind imagine what it was like for my parents who lived here so long ago:  well, that was wonderful.

Sturbridge Village, Shanks Village... and More Pizza