Articles by

Michael Gasparino

09/02/10 12:00am

When we pulled out of our driveway for our annual summer vacation road trip to Amish country, I was excited. We were leaving somewhat close to on time, the kids actually agreed on what DVD to watch and the Jeep was packed so perfectly I wanted to take a picture for the scrapbook.

Five hours later, I was driving into a tornado warning in a scene straight out of “Storm Chasers.”

It was going to be a long week.

We’ve taken these summer vacations for seven years now, and in that time I’ve learned a few things, which I will share with you here.

It’s not about the parents. Whenever someone asked about my vacation, I’d answer, “The kids had fun.” Which isn’t to say my wife and I didn’t enjoy ourselves. Any time away from work and bouncing around between play dates and swimming lessons and library programs is time well spent.

It’s just that when you have an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old, the itinerary revolves around them, not us. My wife wanted to carve out a couple of hours at the outlets and my kids reacted as if she’d asked them to walk on hot coals. Fifteen minutes and two pairs of sneakers later, the shopping was over.

Every activity was planned with our children’s happiness in mind: the two amusement parks, the nightly in-room videos, the hours in the hotel pool, even the dinner choices. Last year we went to an all-you-can-eat buffet that my son loved. This year, he made me promise we’d go back. Why? They had garlic bread. Exotic!

Americans are fat. We had dinner at two different buffet restaurants, a barbecue joint and a Bob Evans, and between them and the water parks we got an up-close look at our nation’s obesity epidemic.

Just because you’re allowed to eat all you can, doesn’t mean you should. But that didn’t stop some people from hammering the buffet like ocean waves during a hurricane. Why have one meal when you can have four? And then cheesecake, ice cream and pecan pie for dessert. Yum.

We’d then see these same people at the pool or the water park, wearing bathing suits that strained the limits of both taste and physics. Repulsed, we vowed to start dieting, but not before filling a bucket with candy at Hersheypark.

Traffic reports are useless. Especially in New York City, where despite the fact that you can get them two times every 10 minutes “on the eights” or “on the ones,” they never give you the information you need.

Example: We’re driving home on Thursday. No traffic from Lancaster to New Jersey, where we break for lunch at noon at a turnpike rest stop. I need to get home by 3 p.m. to pick up the dog at the boarder. At the rate we’re flying, it should be no problem.

The only decision is how to get through the city. Two traffic reports warn me of 30-minute inbound delays on the George Washington Bridge, and more delays at the tunnels. The clear choice is to take the Goethals to the Verrazano to the Belt, since there were no delays mentioned on that route.

I get off at Exit 13 and am barely through the toll when the traffic backs up. The bridge is bad, and it’s worse once I’m on Staten Island. Only then does the ensuing traffic report mention construction delays closing a lane on the Staten Island Expressway.

We’re talking hour-long delays. What’s worse is that it’s not because of an accident, but construction, which means it was a known issue. And they couldn’t mention it in the earlier reports? “Whatever you do, avoid Staten Island as you would a mall kiosk worker.”

I admit I lost my patience and may have said a naughty word or two (or 11). The only consolation was that once we were past the “construction” — where there wasn’t a worker in sight — traffic opened up like the Red Sea all the way to Brooklyn. To say I was speeding to make up the difference would be like saying LeBron James hurt a few feelings in Cleveland.

I will never own a GPS. Give me a map, a compass and the sun and I’m set. I’ve heard too many horror stories about people following GPS commands only to end up in someone’s driveway. “This doesn’t look like I-95! And who is that angry man with the shotgun?”

We took a different route to Lancaster this year and when I got off at the designated exit, the road signs didn’t jibe with what my compass was telling me. Throw in the tornado warnings and I decided to stop at a gas station before pushing blindly forward.

But I refused to ask anyone for directions. I flipped through a couple of local maps to confirm what road to take and went on my way. Was it me being a stubborn male? Perhaps. Would the GPS have helped? Maybe.

I like to think it was the spirit of adventure that had me forge ahead that way. After all, with kids too young to ride roller coasters, and the wife and I collapsing of exhaustion each night when we finally got some “alone time,” I took excitement wherever I could find it.

And did I mention gas was like 30 cents a gallon cheaper? Talk about exciting.

Mr. Gasparino is a freelance writer and former Times/Review Newspapers editor.

09/02/10 12:00am

My son is 8 years old, and as such doesn’t have an appreciation of how much pain his 40-something father’s body is in the day after a softball doubleheader. He doesn’t know or care that Thursday is a garbage day, which means the pails have to be taken to the curb the night before, and doesn’t get why I have to spend any time clearing the dishes after dinner when there are games to be played.

Wiffle ball in the backyard. Baseball in the front. Hockey in the driveway. “Tackles” on the living room rug. It’s always go time.

It’s just that as I get older, it’s tougher to get going.

Knee surgery in May didn’t help, although I take great pride in the fact that I made it back onto the field before the Mets’ Carlos Beltran. Then again, we are talking about over-40 softball, where the conversation over post-game libation is as much about everyone’s various aches, pains and pulls as it is about the games themselves. If you’re playing, you’re hurting. We’re old.

The soul is willing but the body is weak.

It’s not easy to concede to the realities of aging. A few months ago a few of the men in our office challenged a group from another department in a game of touch football. Other than my colleague’s 10-year-old son, I was the only one on our team under 50. But it didn’t matter, this was just going to be a fun game, a chance to throw the ball around and maybe briefly relive some past glory.

Then the other team showed up.

We knew that there would be a couple of younger folks on the other side, but when I saw three dudes just out of college — all athletes, all young, strong and fast — geared up and ready to go, cleats on their feet, I knew we were in for a long day.

I suppose at that point we should have acknowledged the age disparity and offered to choose up fairer sides. But we forged ahead with the original plan, us versus them, pride overriding common sense.

We got hammered.

The competitor in me thought the younger guys were enjoying it a bit too much, running a no-huddle, hurry-up offense to take advantage of the fact that we were having a tough enough time catching our breath, let alone catching a pass or catching one of these guys running down the field. This was supposed to be for fun, right? It was all I could do not to wait for one of these fellas to run a crossing pattern over the middle and, like Chuck Bednarik (or Ray Lewis for you young folks) just lay him out.

Whoops! Sorry, my depth perception isn’t what it used to be. Are those your teeth?

That didn’t happen, of course. We shook hands and said “good game,” and that is probably the last touch football game we will play for a long time.

I remember high school football practice, running quarter-half-quarters (timed quarter-mile, rest for a minute, timed half-mile, rest for a minute, timed quarter mile) and up hills with a teammate on my back, or endless laps around the athletic fields and thinking it was hell.

Now, I look at the local high school athletes getting ready for the season and feel nothing but envy. To be able to do all that again, to run, to play, where a sports practice was the toughest thing you had to face all day?

Not to mention the fact that athletes these days have a lot more than we had. We didn’t have performance clothing, or three kinds of Gatorade, or the variety of elite sports camps there are today. My son, in elementary school, can currently attend any number of sports training schools to improve his speed and agility. That kind of stuff used to be reserved for the top-level athletes, the college prospects.

Now? Kids who used to spend hours on the playground are spending hours at a facility getting measured and clocked, or training indoors and out year-round for one sport instead of whatever they felt like playing that day.

Progress? I’m not so sure.

I hope at least they recognize the opportunity they have, not just to win or even play at the next level, but to enjoy sports while they have the physical tools and ability (and time) to enjoy them to the fullest. Because in a few short years, time will be precious, the tools will get rusty, the speed will be gone and their kids won’t care.

They’ll just want to play. And you will.