I wasn’t on the road long, before I saw the wild horses.
It sounds metaphorical, but it’s true.
The entire drive north, I was salivating, excited to buy some tasty indica gummies from one of the many weed dispensaries along the way.
But I waited.
I had fantasies, visions of eating a few tasty-treats in the airport parking-lot, having them hit in woozy-waves, just as I was settling into my seat, ready for a sweet-warm-fuzzy nap, until I woke up in Newark, New Jersey.
I raced to Denver so I could buy them, and have a nice meal, before I got on the plane.
Four + hours after I left home, I made it to The Clinic, right off I-25 at Colorado Blvd, and some tow-headed, blonde, chubby, frat-boy walked up to the door two seconds before I did.
I watched through the glass as he fumbled for his ID, before comically dropping the entire wallet; his money and credit cards scattering in all directions.
(They actually hit the floor.)
What a schmuck, I thought.
I’m so much cooler than that guy.
When it was my turn, I sauntered up to the counter to present my ID, and the guy smirked, before saying, “Do you by any chance have any un-expired identification?”
“Say what now?” I said. “What are you talking about?”
“Look right there, your ID expired in April. Sorry, man, I can’t let you in.”
“I don’t care about the weed, man. I’m about to go to the airport. If I can’t buy pot, how’re they going to let me on a plane?”
The weed guy was stumped.
I was dejected, and limped to the back of my SUV, where I sat down and sent sad-boy-texts, before calling my Uncle to tell him I wasn’t coming.
I was fucked.
He and my brother, though, on the phone, encouraged me to go to the airport and wing it, bc the pandemic meant they’d loosened up the rules on ID.
There was traffic, of course, so I sped to the airport as quick as I could, after grabbing a bad piece of pizza and even worse burrito at Whole Foods, in a mad dash to eat, as I’d skipped breakfast. (Shame on you, Jeff Bezos.)
Cut to the chase: I made the plane.
But only because the parking-guy magically waved me into the closer, more expensive garage, assuring me I wouldn’t be up-charged. And all the nice-people in the security-line let me cut to the front, frogger-style, as I begged apology, and swore I was about to miss my plane.
Yes, I was THAT GUY, on my first plane trip in nearly 15 months.
I was that guy.
I made the plane by exactly 1 minute.
I had nice nap, and oh by the way, THE ENTIRE FLIGHT WAS FULL.
Every single seat.
Sure, people were wearing masks.
But any prior concept of social distancing, or enforcing the need for personal space, went out the window.
That was Thursday.
On Friday morning, my cousin Dylan and I agreed to go the pool store with my Uncle, if Dylan could get some coffee, and I could get some pizza, once it got to be lunch.
(I skipped breakfast, in anticipation.)
On the drive West, my Uncle, who had been a professional photographer in the 70’s, told me he had a little spot we should see, maybe for pictures.
I had no idea what he meant, but we headed even further into farm country, from my hometown of Holmdel, NJ.
We cruised out past Marlboro, almost into Freehold.
Right there off the highway, there was a little road, and then a parking lot, and then a totemic 18th Century building.
Right off the highway.
It was radiating power, this old house.
Ironically, a local, professional photographer had just turned up, to take some portraits of a child, set against the creepy structure.
There was a little kiosk with information and literature, and I learned this was the Craig House, at the edge of the Monmouth Battlefield State Park.
The famed Revolutionary War battlefield!
At its edge, this, the former residence of a Scottish family, who colonized the area in the 17th Century, and owned slaves!
This was the place where George Washington fought the English, and drove them back in June of 1778.
I’d been here with Jessie nearly 20 years ago, from the main entrance, on the other side of the park, by the visitor center, so I really had no idea where we were.
Such a gorgeous, important place.
And we’d just casually drove up on it, on our way to the pool store, by the side of the highway.
My uncle says it’s normally empty when he goes there.
I live in a part of America that was founded by the Pueblo Native people.
The history, here, is of long-extinct volcanoes, ancient migration, Spanish colonization, and the Wild West.
Where I’m from, in Central New Jersey, those pastoral suburbs by the Jersey Shore, the history is completely different.
Holmdel, New Jersey, was founded by Dutch Colonists, in the 17th Century, but belonged to the Lenni Lenape Native people before that.
England battled for, and won, colonial territory from the Dutch and the French, to control the East Coast, and then of course America rebelled against England to become its own country.
Out where I live now, (home for most of my adult life,) Spain took the land from the Native Americans, then Mexico became independent from Spain, and finally America took New Mexico from Mexico in the 19th Century.
The Monmouth Battlefield has miles and miles of walking and hiking trails, across some beautiful country.
It is free and open to the public, so if you live anywhere in the Tri-State area, or the Mid-Atlantic or New England regions, you might consider a Post-Covid visit.
And the Shore is just up the highway.
This is the landscape that made Bruce Springsteen, these farms that rolled East to the Sea, in Asbury Park.
In addition to miles of beaches, Monmouth County has 18th Century architecture wherever you look, and small downtown main streets in which old churches have been repurposed as real estate joints, or lawyers’ offices.
Dylan and I took a few walks through public land.
One was nearly 7 miles.
We needed it because we ate some gut-bomb pizza on the way back from the pool store, after the battlefield.
Dylan was in a food crash, and anxious to check his work email, and I wanted pizza, so the three of us compromised.
We went to Marlboro Pizza, for slices, in a strip mall on the corner of Rt 34 and Rt 79, and I walked in the door assuming any average, Jersey-strip-mall-pizza-joint would be awesome.
This was not.
They had so many choices in the window, so many fancy pies to excite the eyes, but they could not deliver on the pretty visuals.
Let that be a lesson.
Maybe stick to a few things, and do them well.
I got suckered by the specialty pies, and strayed from tradition, ordering a vodka sauce w/ fresh mozzarella slice, and a grandma pizza slice.
Both were severely under-seasoned, and a bit greasy.
Dylan was also underwhelmed by his slices, and my Uncle’s piece left drips of grease on his plate.
On the plus side, we shared 1 slice of chicken-parmesan-pizza, (cut three ways,) and that was pretty great, but I only got a few bites, and it wasn’t enough to overturn the very mediocre review.
1 star out of 4
To burn it off, Dylan and I headed into the nature trails in the Ramanessin Brook Greenway, which connects swamp land, creek trails, and beautiful, public meadows & farmland across the entire town of Holmdel.
We walked 6.5 miles, all told, and barely scratched the surface, but it gave us plenty of time to talk about life, as Dylan is 26, with a great head on his shoulders, and just got engaged to his high school sweetheart.
(I gave lots of older-cousin-advice, but we’ll keep that between Dylan and me.)
We walked to the back of Bell Works, the super-fancy-redevelopment I wrote about in 2019, and they have restaurants and coffee shops in there now.
And plenty of parking.
You can check out the shops, (Exit 114 on the Garden State Parkway,) leave your car, and enjoy all the nature, for free.
At the far end of Holmdel, the public land connects, across a school, to Cross Farm Park, which has ball fields, walking trails, and an early 19th Century cemetery.
The massive Thompson Park, where we walked for an hour on Sunday, is across the street, linking further miles of trails.
So a trip to the suburbs in Jersey, these days, can be a day-vacation with hours of amazing walking, in the footsteps of Native Americans, Dutch Settlers, and Revolutionary War soldiers.
The Chinese food we had Friday night from Crown Palace, which has one location in Marlboro, and another on Rt 35 in Middletown, was brilliant, as expected.
It’s been there forever, and has always been great.
My Aunt ordered way too much, sticking to classics, so the table was covered in food.
Inhaling the egg rolls, with the ground pork and cabbage marrying perfectly with the spicy mustard and sweet duck sauce. Gnawing on the chewy, moist pork spare ribs.
Slurping down the lo mein.
It was one of the big reasons I schlepped across the country at the end of a pandemic; to taste the flavors, and remember the smells of home.
To see where I come from.
To reconnect with the people who’ve known me my whole life.
4 stars out of 4
On Saturday morning, Dylan took me for a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel at The Bagel Store in Colts Neck, the neighboring town famed for Mafia horse farms, but while at first he claimed he was bringing me to the best bagel sandwich, (to make up for the shitty Marlboro pizza,) he later admitted, under cross examination, that we only went there because his favorite coffee shop, Rook, was next door.
Still, it was a great sandwich.
The Bagel Store
3 stars out of 4
More pizza for lunch on Saturday, this time from Luigi’s Famous Pizza in Lincroft, (one of my traditional favorites,) as my cousin ordered a pizza margherita, and a half-meatball-half-plain, square-pie.
The margherita pizza was low on flavor, and it had cardboard crust. Not special.
The meatball half was great. But the regular pizza was just OK, and I actually left New Jersey without having eaten great pizza.
(Sad but true.)
2 stars out of 4
After a Saturday pool party at my Uncle’s place, I walked the half-a-mile to my friend Mandi’s house, as she was throwing a birthday party/ mini-high school reunion, at my behest.
(It was her birthday, but I suggested the party, as I’m not in town often.)
Everyone thought I was crazy to walk, even though it’s just around the corner.
I was almost there, rounding the bend, really when a shiny, white Tesla rolled by, and like something out of an 80’s movie, it suddenly stopped ahead of me, the tail lights blazing, and slowly backed up.
It could be anyone, behind the wheel, but I was sure it would be good.
Who would it be?
The window rolled down, and it was: Brett Frieman, my childhood-best-friend, who dumped me when I couldn’t attend his wedding, (because of a last-minute scheduling change,) twenty years ago!
We made-up at the official 20th HHS reunion in 2012, but I hadn’t seen him since.
He’s known me since I’m 4 years old.
Those bonds are old.
And so was the house.
From 1750, though it’s been updated since.
Mandi put out a feast, and the crowd was a bit random, (if I’m being honest,) but there was as much booze as there was food, and several people had not socialized indoors yet, post-pandemic, so they let loose.
Mandi’s Mac and Cheese was pretty delicious, and probably better than my version.
We drank and caught up for two and a half hours, but as I’d been partying for two days straight, despite the nostalgia, it was time to go.
Mandi agreed to walk me out, but I was in the lead.
Immediately, we stepped into an old, wooden, pitch-dark room, right off the modern kitchen, and I got the super-creeps. The heebie-jeebies.
The hairs raised on the back of my neck.
“C’mon, Mandi, that’s not fair,” I yelled.
“What,” she replied, “I’m right here with you.”
“Well, turn on the lights,” I said. “You might like getting freaked out in a pitch-dark, haunted, 300 year old house, but I don’t.”
On Sunday, before another pool party, my Uncle drove me to the beach in Long Branch, at Pier Village, which is 20 minutes away, but we were only there for 10 minutes.
Beggars can’t be choosers, so I put my face and feet in the Atlantic Ocean.
We walked along the water.
I felt the sun on my skin.
It was perfect, as I hadn’t seen the sea in nearly two years.
The last restaurant review has no photos, I’m afraid, as it was Sunday afternoon, on the third straight day of my bender.
I was no longer functional enough to get the photos. It’s true.
My Aunt catered the pool party from Livoti’s, and it was perfect Italian-American food.
Insanely good, so I finally ate too much, forgot to take that one final walk with Dylan, and regretted it later.
Chicken Parmesan, Eggplant Rollatini, Broccoli Rabe, Cavatelli and Broccoli, Penne with Vodka Sauce.
It’s a shame there are no photos, but we still have to rate them.
4 stars out of 4
Today, to gather my thoughts, I went on a big walk around the farm.
I listened to the birds.
I washed my face and hands in the stream.
I ran into my father-in-law, as he checked on the horses.
I asked myself, why do we travel?
Why make the effort?
Well, it’s super-fun, and that’s a huge part of it, for sure.
But I think the crucial thing is, travel makes us smarter, and better.
It challenges us, so we can grow at hyper-speed.
Having new experiences, encountering other cultures, getting lost and having to figure it out, it allows us to evolve into wiser, more capable versions of ourselves.
See you next week.
Original article: This Week in Photography: Going Home.