Last week, Maria passed a huge milestone — her 40th birthday. Our plan was to try and do something special, and take a long trip to a faraway place. We’d considered Asia, or perhaps even returning to Africa where we first met. Maria’s boss was traveling, and David had a brief lull in his consulting work, so it looked as though circumstances had finally aligned themselves perfectly.
The last thing we had expected was for us to get sick, which (of course) was exactly what happened. It started with Maria, who’d been traveling a lot over the past weeks. This was partially a necessity of her work at this moment, and partially due to her mother’s visit in April. That movement, on top of an already busy schedule, conspired against her and helped to nurse what we’d thought was a tiny cold into a full-blown case of the flu. As the days closed in on Maria’s birthday, David became sick as well — just in time to wreck any opportunity to plan. By the time the special day arrived, we realized that it would be impossible to do any traveling. Even a long weekend would have been a miserable experience.
We’re still committed to that full week to ourselves, but it will have to come later, and will be somewhat of a challenge to secure. One of the challenges to being an “international couple” is that family can be greedy when we cobble together more than a week of vacation time. Any vacation longer than a week, they feel, should be spent in either Texas or Spain. We don’t mind this. In fact, we agree with them and try to visit our homes to the extent possible. That said, we need to save some time for ourselves as well.
Determined to at least get out of the city for her birthday, we rented a car with the plan of driving out to Mystic, Connecticut for the day. We’d passed it once on our way back from Boston, and had promised ourselves we’d return. The car rental was essential, as we don’t have one of our own. In fact, we haven’t had one since moving to New York. The city’s incredible public transportation system makes car ownership pointless, and it could even be considered a liability in terms of both time and money. Parking in the city is expensive, and apartments rarely come with parking spots (in most other cities, a parking spot is a given). This means that renting a spot in a garage is necessary, which can cost an extra two to five hundred dollars per month, depending on the location. On top of this, we learned that because of the horrible traffic in the city, the subway or the ferry (or even walking) is often much faster than taking a car. This doesn’t mean we never need one, but alternative options such as Uber, taxis, and renting a Zipcar by the hour free us from having to own our transportation.
We started the day with breakfast in bed for Maria: an omelet, english muffin, fruit, and chocolate milk. She was able to relax, resting in the morning surrounded by the furry beasts, who were less than happy about Maria not sharing her food with them. That said, they perked up instantly once they realized that we were preparing to leave. Yinga was bouncing around because she noticed we were packing her things and getting ready for a longer trip — and planning on taking her with us. This was unavoidable, as our late start mean that we weren’t able to find someone to watch her for the day. Luna was happy because while it was obvious that we were going somewhere, there was no indicator that she was coming with us. In other words, she was happy for the exact opposite reason as Yinga.
We hit a snag with the car rental that delayed our trip by nearly two hours. David rented a Zipcar for the day, and upon arriving at the garage where it was kept, discovered that the engine wouldn’t turn over. After some time with the company’s tech support, they switched us over to another car. Things were going well until half-way to our destination, when David realized that during the confusion of switching cars, he’d managed to take the keys to our original car with us. We didn’t know what the consequences of this would be. While we knew that nobody was going to be renting the car (it had been taken out of service by the company), we had no idea of how fast Zipcar would arrive to fix it, or whether the keys would be needed for the repair. We’d originally considered calling the company to inform them, but after a brief discussion over the pros and cons of the issue we decided to feign ignorance. If the company called us, we would acknowledge our mistake. If they didn’t (and they didn’t), we would simply return the keys when we got home.
We arrived at Mystic at about 2:00, and were pretty hungry at that point. This small town was the location of the 1980’s coming of age cult film “Mystic Pizza”, which starred Julia Roberts and Vincent D’Onofrio (the Kingpin in the Daredevil series), and had Matt Damon’s very first speaking role. The restaurant is still there, but we weren’t particularly interested in eating pizza on the Connecticut coast — being from New York, this seemed a little pointless.
We settled on seafood instead, and pulled into a tiny seafood shack on the bay called the Seaview Snack Bar — and we were very happy with our choice. The lobster rolls were excellent and the picnic tables provided great view of the bay, allowing us to watch the scullers gliding their way across the water as we ate. Afterwards, we played with Yinga in the parking lot to get rid of the excess energy she’d stored up in the car while Maria chatted with her father and other friends and family calling her for her birthday.
We spend the rest of the afternoon walking around the town, checking out the wide variety of bookstores, antique shops, coffee places, and jewelry stores that were clustered around the drawbridge that appears to be the center of Mystic’s activity. The “Mystic River Bascule Bridge”, built in 1920, has a huge concrete counter weight attached to it that hoists it into the sky whenever a boat needs to pass under. After a while, David’s cold began to flair up and he needed to find a pharmacy urgently. He headed off to the less touristy part of town on foot while Maria chatted with one of the jewelry stores’ owners before heading over to the Mystic pet store to buy some treats for Yinga and a little advice on which hotels accepted pets.
Afterwards, as the day began to settle down, we headed over to Stonington, the town bordering Mystic. To be honest, we liked it more. It was just as beautiful, but had less of a touristy feel to it. We wandered down Water Street to its very end — a small peninsula that offered a wonderful view of the ocean. We hadn’t realized until that moment how close the North Fork of Long Island was. If we’d wanted, we could have taken a ferry over there in less than a half-hour. We also discovered that a lot of the movie Mystic Pizza had been filmed there. In fact, the restaurant where the movie was shot was really on Water Street in Stonington.
We also met tons of friendly people there. One of them was the owner of a large “golden doodle”, which is a cross between a golden retriever and a standard poodle. Yinga and this golden doodle hit it off immediately, and began chasing each other around the park in front of the town library. After a while, the man walking Yinga’s new friend suggested we head to a place called the Dog Watch Cafe for dinner. It was another restaurant on the bay, and we’d expected to eat outside, but weren’t really happy about it, as the weather was beginning to get cold. The owner had other plans fortunately. He snuck us into a covered area that was nice and warm and advised us to just tell anyone who asked that Yinga was a service animal. Normally, we wouldn’t do this. We know people with service animals who actually need them, so we tend to get pretty upset when people claim their pets are service animals just so they can take them anywhere they want. That said, it’s a completely different story when the owner of the restaurant gives you permission. The food there was excellent, and we were really happy with our choice. We weren’t expecting much from a place called the Dog Watch Cafe, but the menu turned out to be pretty complex, with a lot of dishes you would expect at a much more expensive place.
We’d originally planned on staying for the night, but the Dog Watch’s owner suggested that going back in the evening would be a better idea. “Everything’s closed now, so there really isn’t anything else to do,” he advised. “On top of that, traffic in the morning will be a nightmare unless you leave at five in the morning or shortly before noon.”
We arrived home that night at about eleven, but that wasn’t the end of Maria’s birthday celebration. On top of the cake and party at work, she received flowers from one of her best friends in Spain — and we can’t forget, our future holds a more “serious” trip for her to celebrate the new decade of her life, which we hope to include years of celebration surrounded by children.