Road Trip Dad - Lake Placid Chronicles
Day 1 - Anatomy of a Road Trip

Dan Witmer | August 3, 2015
The late great Harry Chapin had a song called “Greyhound,” which has a final verse that ends “It’s got to be the going – not the getting there – that’s good,” and I just cannot get those lyrics out of my head when I make a road trip like the one I did yesterday.

With three quick stops along the way, it was exactly a four-hour trip up here to Lake Placid yesterday afternoon. I made my annual stop at Garafalo’s Importing in Oswego for some Italian sausage for Mike DeRossi, I filled up the gas tank at the Valero in Mexico, and I stopped for a bathroom break at the McDonalds in Tupper Lake. The weather was gorgeous, traffic was cooperative, and, by leaving at 12 noon, I got to listen to an entire Springsteen show (August 2, 2003 from Gillette Stadium) on E Street Radio.

Really, does it get any better than that? I mean, the windows were down, the sunroof was open, and the gas gauge said I was averaging 33.3 miles per gallon. I had some iced teas in a cooler, a couple of slices of pizza left over from a night or two ago, and peanuts and pretzels were available should I really get hungry.

See, if you give me a couple of hours to plan out a road trip, I’m going to try to get it right. And especially since I’ve been writing these RTD articles for about three and half years now, I feel a certain amount of pressure to be the expert, so to speak.

Take last weekend, for instance. Instead of soaking up another Harborfest weekend of music and fireworks in Oswego, I decided to step in for my parents at the birthday party being held for my Dad’s sisters, who were celebrating their 90th and 95th birthdays down in Lancaster, PA. My parents had made plans to be there, taking the car/train from Florida to Virginia and then spending some time in Pennsylvania and New York, but unfortunately, my Mom’s health declined for a few weeks, and they cancelled their trip. Many of my cousins as well as aunts and uncles were going to be there, and since one of my brothers lives in Vermont, another teaches summer school driver’s ed in Syracuse and is in the process of buying one house and selling another, and the other brother was in Colorado, I figured it was up to me to make the trip and – shall we say – represent our branch of the Witmer family tree.

Not to be too morbid, but the last two times I went down to Lancaster were for funerals, and the three “northern” brothers all car-pooled, so I had never made the Oswego-to-Lancaster trip all alone. I looked at a map, loaded the address into my Sentra’s navigation system, and then decided to try to re-trace a route we took one time many years ago (I tend to frequently disagree with my GPS back-seat driver, the woman’s voice that constantly tells me, “When possible, make a U-turn”). My brother did all the driving that time, and I was in the back seat, so I was a little uncertain about directions, but it all ended very well, thank you.

There are no direct paths between Oswego, Syracuse, or Binghamton and Lancaster. I took I-81 all the way down to Exit 104, Ravine, and then made a couple of jig-jogs before I found myself on Rt 501, which goes due south into Lancaster.

Sounds great, but 501 goes through lots of small towns and the speed limit was 35 and 45 more than it was 55. I drove by a lot of farmland, saw a six-horse team pulling a plow in a field, slowed down to pass a few horse and buggies, and saw a church marquee that read “The Supreme Court cannot change God’s law.” New York has plenty of farmland, too, but I was definitely not driving through the Empire State.

While I was hopeful to make the trip in about four and half hours, this route got me to my hotel in about six hours. Oh well. I realized later that the four and a half hour time frame was from my brother’s house in Minoa, so really I didn’t do too badly.

Most importantly, I enjoyed the beautiful day. I had left Oswego about 2:30 and arrived at my hotel around 8:30. The weather again was beautiful, the scenery breathtaking, and traffic was as good as could be expected.

My biggest discovery was a new XM radio station, Channel 147 – you guessed it – Road Trip Radio! How could I NOT give it a chance? Their catch phrase is “Music that makes you want to roll down the window and turn the radio up!” The first few songs I heard were impressive – classics from Bob Seger, U-2, Billy Joel, and The Band. Of course, they played some clunkers, too – The Jackson Five, The Dixie Chicks, etc. They ask listeners to call in requests; apparently they don’t say no to anyone. My favorite so far might be “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Proclaimers; hit or miss, I find it fun to occasionally visit Channel 147 and see just what they’re playing.

After an enjoyable birthday party on Saturday, I got back in the Sentra and decided to try a new way home. First I drove north into East Petersburg to shop at S. Clyde Weaver’s, a favorite meat and cheese store on Route 72. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I decided I (once again) had plenty of time and figured I’d give my nagging navigator another chance. She took me almost all the way west to Harrisburg, but lo and behold I was home in Oswego in five hours, not six.

Look, whether you’re prone to the misadventures of the Griswold family, or just enjoying the company of friends making a Paper Towns-like 1200-mile trip in search of who-knows-what, take the time to enjoy the experience – and the scenery. You don’t necessarily have to stop, but do smell the roses. Last weekend it was Lancaster, PA. Yesterday it was Lake Placid. Earlier this summer it was Albany one weekend, and then Saratoga the next. Sure it was great to finally arrive at my destination, but I’ll always keep Harry Chapin’s words in mind:

“That’s a thought for keeping if I could / It’s got to be the going, not the getting there, that’s good.”

After spending a couple of hours yesterday afternoon helping set up operations under the main tent and catching up with many of the staff members, I went to dinner at Lisa G’s with co-worker Rich Gross, who oversees all the score table workers. We ate dinner and got back to our lodging by 9:00, which is probably the earliest we’ll accomplish that all week.

Today the games start at 9:30 – on 12 different fields... eight divisions of teams playing five games each – two games today, two more tomorrow, and then one final game on Wednesday.

That’s the journey. Drive safely, and enjoy it.

- Dan Witmer