DC and New York, April 1991

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Travelogue: DC and New York, April 1991

By Roger W. Reini

This travelogue was written in 2007 based on my notes taken at the time of the trip in 1991.

Sunday March 31

Originally, this was to have been another Easter week visit with my sister and brother-in-law.  However, they were visiting relatives in Texas this week, showing off their newborn daughter Candice.  It would also be their last opportunity to go down there for a while, since they would be moving overseas for a couple of years.  I probably would have rescheduled my trip had I not had a ticket to see The Big Love on Broadway.

Today was Easter, and traffic on the road was light as I left town shortly after 8 in the morning.  I stopped at the Wise Owl bookstore and newsstand at Ford Road and Beech Daly to pick up a Sunday New York Times.  Then I found my way to I-75 and took that out of town, stopping at the McDonald’s on West Road in Woodhaven for breakfast.  It was a sunny day, though a bit on the cool side.  That’s not surprising for April in Michigan.

I took I-280 down through Toledo to Highway 2, one of my normal routes to the east.  I noticed that the Golden Corral in Oregon (a Toledo suburb) had closed down; I’d eaten there a few times.  I also noticed a new Mexican restaurant down the road from the old Golden Corral; I don’t recall if I ever ate there.  As I drove onward, the road appeared little changed from when I’d driven it frequently in 1987.  The crossing over the Sandusky River still reminded me of the Galveston Causeway, albeit on a smaller scale.  When I got to Huron, though, the freeway did not come to a halt as it had done before.  The gap in the freeway at Huron was closed, and I took the new section of freeway to the south of town.

At the Elyria exit, I left Highway 2 and made my way to the Ohio Turnpike.  This took me past the Midway Mall and the Holiday Inn, both of which I had visited or stayed at frequently in 1987 (I had been assigned to the Lorain Assembly Plant for a 3-month stint on its quality improvement team).  I noticed that the mall had a new wing and a new May Company store; presumably the store replaced the older location in Lorain.  The drive on the turnpike through Ohio and Pennsylvania was uneventful, and I arrived at my evening’s lodging at 2:30 in the afternoon.  Why was I stopping here, a Days Inn northeast of Pittsburgh, at this time of day?  I wanted to see some more of Pittsburgh than I had before, when I’d just driven through.  This hotel was convenient to both the turnpike and to Highway 28, a major freeway into town.

I took Highway 28 into town and drove up to Grandview Street, above the south bank of the Monongahela River.  Here, you could experience a wonderful view of downtown Pittsburgh and the Three Rivers.  I was busy with my video camera and my still camera recording the experience.  Nearby was the Monongahela Incline, the steep cog railway that went down to the riverbank.  My father had mentioned seeing it when he was here on a business trip not long ago; I don’t recall if he ever rode it, though.  I did not ride it today due to a lack of change.  Later, I drove down to Station Square on the riverbank, where I had supper at Houlihan’s.  I had a cup of baked potato soup (one of their specialties, topped with cheese, chives, onions and bacon), a chicken quesadilla and a slice of cheesecake for dessert.  I went for a walk after I got back to the hotel!

The weather forecast was for a mix of snow and rain tomorrow.  I knew the road to the east would be hilly, so I did not want it to snow.

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Monday April 1

The hotel didn’t have a restaurant, so I had breakfast at the nearby McDonald’s – a Sausage McMuffin, a hash brown patty, and some orange juice.  Then I hit the road at 7 in the morning.  There was some snow east of Pittsburgh.  It wasn’t sticking to the roadways, but the thought of being in the hills with snow and steep grades made me quite nervous.  I stopped for gas in Breezewood, then made the turn onto I-70.  That road had a major hill on it, and while driving through that section, it started to rain, and then it turned into snow, and then back into rain as I went down on the other side.  No problems getting through there, fortunately.

When I reached Hagerstown in Maryland, I did not take I-81 into West Virginia.  Since I wasn’t going to Culpeper, I had no reason to go that way, and so I stayed on I-70 through Frederick, taking I-270 as it branched south towards DC.  At some point, I got off the freeway and took the Rockville Pike.  That’s how I found myself at a Borders store in Rockville around 11 AM.  This was early in the Borders expansion; I still knew them as a Detroit area mini-chain.  Here, I picked up a Washington Post and a New York Times (DC edition).  A little down the road was the White Flint shopping center, described as upscale in a guidebook I got back in 1988.  It wasn’t too upscale for a food court, though; I had a slice of pizza from Sbarro.

I took the Capital Beltway to the northeast, since my destination was on the northeast side of the area.  On the way there, I stopped at the Washington Music Center in Wheaton, which I knew from past experience carried Rickenbacker guitars.  They had some today, including a John Lennon Limited Edition model, but I was not to buy any today.  Back on the Beltway I went, passing the intersections with I-95 and the B-W Parkway.  My next destination was the New Carrolton Amtrak station, where I paid for and received my train tickets for Wednesday.  I also got a $10 farecard for the Metro system.  Then I drove back an exit to Lanham, where I checked into my hotel for the next few days, the Days Inn.  I had stayed in Lanham on all of my previous visits to DC, though normally I stayed at the Red Roof Inn across the street.  The area was convenient to the New Carrolton Metro stop, which was my main purpose in selecting it.

For supper, I ate at the nearby Horn & Horn Smorgasbord, which was a buffet restaurant on the order of Old Country Buffet.  However, I was quite disappointed in it, for I didn’t think the quality of the food measured up to Old Country Buffet.  It was more expensive than OCB, too, worsening my experience.  I would never go there again.  Then I went to the Landover Mall and the Laurel Centre tonight, stopping on the way home for a milkshake at the Toddle House in Laurel.  This one was open late, unlike the one in League City, which kept breakfast and lunch hours only.  And what I get tonight from my trips?  A TV Guide and the CNN videotape on the Gulf War.

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Tuesday April 2

At this time, the Greaseman was a popular radio personality in DC, and I looked forward to hearing him whenever I was in town.  I saw an item in the Washington Post this morning suggesting that he might be leaving town to go to Pirate Radio in LA.

This morning, I set off towards Philadelphia, never having been there before.  My main purpose in going was not to see the sights, though; I was actually planning to visit a video store there.  I’d ordered a videotape and was getting frustrated at how long it was taking to arrive, so I thought I’d check for myself.  In going, I saw parts of Maryland that I’d not seen before, and I entered Delaware for the first time.  In fact, on this trip, I was going farther east than I’d ever been in my life before.  I’d not been farther east then the White Marsh shopping center in Baltimore, and I passed that on the way up to Philly.

I-95 was under construction south of town and going through town, but that didn’t hinder me too much from reaching my destination, Movies Unlimited at Castor and Knorr.  I was disappointed in what I saw, for the storefront was mainly a video rental store.  The mail order operation must have been in the back, and the store clerk couldn’t help me out.  They didn’t have the video in stock, either.  So I left, disappointed.  I drove up to Roosevelt Boulevard (US 1) and took that around the city.  I got to see some interesting sights and views as I went down the highway, eventually running into I-76 and the Schuykill Expressway.  Perhaps I would have been very familiar with these views, had I attended the University of Pennsylvania instead of Michigan State.  However, budgetary considerations had ruled Penn out, and I had become a Spartan instead of a Quaker.

I-76 ended at I-95, and so I found myself heading back through Delaware, where I had lunch at the Delaware Turnpike service plaza.  It seemed that every service plaza on the East Coast had a Roy Rogers and a Bob’s Big Boy.  When I went back to Baltimore, I stopped at White Marsh for a few items – an alarm clock at Sears and a copy of the latest Ikea catalog.  This was the only Ikea I knew about; it would be another 15 years before they came to Michigan.  Next came a trip to the Music Machine store in Owings Mills, where I picked up two CD’s (the names of which I didn’t write down back then and thus escape me after 16 years), and then a trip to the mall in Owings Mills, where I picked up a number of magazines – that week’s US News, Simpsons Illustrated and Theater Week.  Theater Week had a feature article about Tracey Ullman this week, and she was also on the cover, so it was a certainty I’d be getting it.  For dinner, I had a Mexican baked potato (at the food court, I think), and then it was back to Lanham and the hotel.

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Wednesday April 3

Today was the big day of the trip.  I was going to take the train to New York City, my first time in the Big Apple, and I was going to see Tracey Ullman in the matinee performance of The Big Love at the Plymouth Theater.  I had my tickets for the Metroliner train leaving New Carrolton at 6:59 in the morning and arriving at New York Penn Station at 9:20.  Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the train did not reach New Carrolton until an hour later.  The play didn’t start until 2, so the delay wasn’t much of a problem.  As we pulled out, I noticed that the train tracks ran right past the Days Inn.  The trip was supposed to have been nonstop to Penn Station, but we ended up stopping in Baltimore and Philadelphia.  As a result of all this, the train pulled into Penn Station at 10:30, over an hour late.  The station was all underground and had none of the grandeur that Union Station in Chicago or DC had.

My first destination today was the Empire State Building, where I went up to the observation deck on the 86th floor.  The views were incredible.  But I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t bring a camera.  I traveled extremely lightly, bringing only myself.  Cameras wouldn’t be allowed in the theater, and the one I had was not easily pocketable – this was before the days of small digital cameras, remember.  So I soaked in the experience as best I could.  I wrote out a postcard to Mom and Dad and mailed it from there.

I had lunch at the Stage Deli (grilled cheese and bacon), then visited some bookstores along Fifth Avenue.  I stopped at Rockefeller Center for a rest, noticing that the ice rink was still in operation.  Then I made my way to Times Square, making my way through the gridlock at Broadway and 45th Street in order to reach the Plymouth Theater (renamed the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater in 2005). My ticket was for the front row, slightly stage right of center.  Sitting next to me on my left was a rather young boy; his parents were on the other side of him.  He wasn’t there for long, though; an usher came down and offered to move them to another location.  This was not a children’s show, the usher explained, and Tracey didn’t want to have young children so close to the stage, for she’d be able to see them, and it could have adversely affected her performance.  Well, would YOU want to talk about adult situations and use foul language in front of a child? I wouldn’t, and neither would Tracey, who had a 5-year-old daughter at home and a son on the way (she was around 5 months pregnant at the time).  And so they moved to different seats.

At last the lights came down and the curtain came up, and there she was.  The theater seats may have been a bit small for my liking, and the noise of a car horn or two may have penetrated the walls of the theater, but I didn’t care.  I was enjoying myself.  And I was thankful I got to see the play, for it would close the following Sunday.  It had been savagely reviewed by the New York Times critic, and that may have hurt it at the box office.  But the theater was full today, and those in attendance saw a wonderful performance by Tracey.  She portrayed Florence Aadland, whose teenage daughter became involved with Errol Flynn near the end of his life.  Aspects of her portrayal would end up in another of her famous characters, Ruby Romaine.  At the end of the play, the ovation she received proved that the Times critic was full of it.

The train would be leaving for DC around 6, leaving little time to do anything else touristy.  So I made my way back to Union Station, had supper at a Houlihan’s in the station, then boarded the Metroliner for the return trip to New Carrollton.  I made some notes about my day, notes that proved very helpful in generating this travelogue.  As we passed through the New Jersey “countryside”, I could see the buildings of Manhattan in the distance.  There was a building or a combination of buildings that looked somewhat like Detroit’s Renaissance Center.  I had to look at the World Trade Center buildings to convince myself that it wasn’t the Ren Cen.  Later, I noticed that there was a Golden Corral restaurant near the tracks somewhere between Wilmington and Baltimore -- Aberdeen, perhaps?

At the end of the day, back in my hotel room, I was listening to a simulcast of Paul McCartney’s MTV Unplugged special on WJFK, and I was also watching the American Comedy Awards on ABC, and so I got to see Tracey accept an award in a pre-taped bit at a New York restaurant, served to her on a salad plate.

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Thursday April 4

Today I went into the District.  I took the Metro into town, stopping at a newsstand near the Farragut West Metro station.  Did I get anything there?  I don’t think so, for I made no note of it.  Later, I took the Yellow Line train across the Potomac, getting a good view of the city as we crossed.  I got off at the Pentagon City station and went to the shopping center here.  I noted that I bought a couple of videotapes, one of them being a tour of New York City.  I figured that would make up for not taking any cameras yesterday.  It did, at least until I made a return trip in January/February 1992, some 10 months later, with still and video cameras.

Later on in the day, after I’d gone back to New Carrolton, I drove over to Tysons Corner.  I didn’t take the Beltway around town.  Instead, I went through town via freeway as best as I could, which was difficult because few freeways run through the District proper.  But I eventually found myself on I-395, one of those freeways, and I crossed the Potomac into Virginia.  I took the exit for Highway 7, the Leesburg Pike, and took that to the northwest, through Falls Church and out to the Beltway and then to Tysons Corner.  I shot some video from the top of one of the parking garages out there.

At the end of the day, I was feeling rather tired.  My big day of the trip was yesterday, and the main reason for my trip was complete.  I’d seen the tourist sights and sites on my last few visits here; I’d been coming since 1988.  What else was there for me to do?

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Friday April 5

After yesterday, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t feel like staying an additional day.  I felt like heading home right away.  I’d done what I’d wanted to do on my trip.  So I packed up, checked out, and left the hotel between 7 and 7:15.  It took me 10 hours to make it home.

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THE END

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2007 R. W. Reini.    All rights reserved.

Written by Roger Reini
RevisedApril 20, 2008