As mentioned earlier, this is the first summer in five that my family hasn’t spent under the starry skies of the Catskills, and for me that means about six to eight hours a week back in my life that were often spent on the Cross Bronx Expressway, the New York Thruway, Rt. 17, and various other roadways with which I experimented. At 250 miles round trip, I estimate that I logged in the neigborhood of 10,000 miles in four summers making the trip to the blessed land of bungalows. Almost all of that was behind the wheel of a now 16-year-old Honda Civic, a fine automobile I purchased in 2005 from a Jewish Week colleague at the time, Gabrielle Birkner. Approaching 100,000 miles it’s still breakdown free, though a near-majority of important parts and all four tires (at least once) have been replaced.
Men who make these trips, often battling both traffic and the clock on Friday afternoon, like to grumble about it, but deep down, many of them have to admit that when the traffic is manageable, they actually savor those few solitary hours in the car, in complete control of the radio or CD player, with no one asking if we’re there yet. Here’s a link to a great YouTube video satire on the subject.
Outside of what my brother and Archie Bunker used to call "the parlor," it’s one of the few places to truly be left alone in the busy life of a family man. Fortunately, my 80-some odd trips back and forth were fairly uneventful, except for the morning I found myself so sleepy I had to pull off 17 and nap in a parking lot for an hour. When the sun came up, I laughed to find myself outside a chasidic yeshiva in Orange County, completely by coincidence, though it’s tempting to wonder if God deposited me there for safekeeping after my tefillat haderech prayer.
Most Monday mornings I would head home before dusk, and travel down 17 East just as the morning mist was rising all around the road, sometimes so thick I’d consider pulling over, but always made it by reducing speed and watching carefully for taillights ahead of me. It was like watching the world wake up,
I often think it would make a great story to trace the Jewish migration route of the Catskills from New York City through Rockland, Westchester, Dutchess and Orange Counties, through towns like Florida and Goshen, Sloatsburg and Middletown, to Sullivan County, where so many immigrants from Eastern Europe, former farmers, were naturally drawn to the rural lands and wide open spaces that reminded them of the old country. In all likelihood there are Jews who settled in many of the midpoints whose descendants remain today. Maybe I’ll do it one day.
In the meantime, I’ll just pretend during my regular visits to Brooklyn to see my mother that the Belt Parkway is Rt. 17, that Kennedy Airport is the Sloatsburg rest area (with its mincha station), that the Gateway Mall at Erskine Street is the Crystal Run Galleria in Middletown, and the gentle slopes of terrain over the former garbage dump at Spring Creek are the inviting peaks of the Catskills, until next summer, when, hopefully, a better highway adventure awaits.