One Pack. No Turning Back.

Number of miles driven today: 160

Total miles driven on road trip: 6,812

Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts? A shocking upset for Starbucks deep in the heart of Dunkin' country. I don't know where all the DDs were hiding, but all I saw on the freeway today were Starbucks.

Starbucks' record (# of days Starbucks was more common): 20-7-2

Dunkin' Donuts' record: 7-20-2

Cheapest gas I saw today: $2.55

Number of states visited overall: 18

Number of red states visited overall (as of 2012 presidential election): 10 (Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina)

Number of blue states visited overall: 8 (California, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York)

Amount I paid in tolls on the drive today: $35.10

Amount I had paid in tolls on the entire trip before today: $8.75

​I am hungover.

For this, I have three forces of nature to blame that all converged last night: New York City, my dad, and my college fraternity brothers.

After 6,812 miles of driving, I finally arrived yesterday at the center of the universe. New York is an entity of its own, a city so different and special that there should be another word invented for it. Perhaps there are other places (maybe Tokyo?) that transcend the definition as well, but my international travel experience is limited and after seeing every state but Alaska, I can say with confidence that New York is special. No value judgment there--I'm not a NY cheerleader--it's just special. 

Space is at a premium in New York. Driving one of the perilously narrow, perpetually-under-construction expressways choked with traffic, I passed old brick apartment building after building stacked together, dressed with steel fire escapes. I marveled at the mass of humanity contained within a single block, vertical rows of windows and air conditioning units. And this wasn't even Manhattan. This was Staten Island.

Whereas its west coast counterpart, Los Angeles, gleams with modernity, 8-lanes-in-one-direction-freeways, and expansion, everything in New York seems to have historical significance, as if you're driving through a giant outdoor museum. 

And then there's the people.

On this trip, I've experienced several major anthroregions (can we coin that word?) of the country--California, the southwest, Texas, the south, and mid-to-southern Florida. The people in all of them are generally considered to be friendly and polite. New Yorkers, and Northeasterners in general, are not. 

These are my roots--I grew up in Rhode Island, all the way through high school. I was spared the accent because my mom's from the Philippines and my dad's from upstate NY, but I am a product of the Northeast. And I'm proud of that--there are lots of things about the area that I miss living out in California. 

So pulling the Honda Accord into the Comfort Inn parking lot in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn felt like a bit of a homecoming. I was here to find the childhood of the next player in the wax pack, Lee Mazzilli, the son of Italian immigrants who blossomed into the New York Mets starting center fielder in the 1970s. I'll be meeting with Mazzilli later today, but wanted to do some advance scouting on the area where he grew up.

For the first time on the trip, I also had a research assistant. His name is Jim. He's also my dad.

My dad is what you might call "a classic," or in Canadian, "a beauty." Energetic and affable at 67, he has a certain magnetism that lights up a room and draws people together. He's an intellectual, well-read guy, but retains an endearing small-town naivete that comes across as charming (and sometimes frustrating). I'm a baseball fan because as a little kid, my dad was a baseball fan. I was also a Republican for the same reason. Parental idolatry is a dangerous thing.

But even as I approach middle age (wow, is that really true?), my dad and I have remained close, and get together once a year for a father-son weekend. This year, we decided to combine that trip with my book road trip, and so here we were yesterday, strolling the streets of Sheepshead Bay, for Lee Mazzilli's past. 

While I dripped sweat on to the pages of my steno pad and tried to write while walking and looking for where Mazzilli's childhood apartment would have been, my dad, never shy, decided to do some research of his own. I had wondered aloud moments ago how old these brick apartment buildings were, and he said, "I would guess the 1950s." One of the things I love most about my dad is his certainty about everything. He's like the human Google, and even though he's wrong a lot of the time, he answers with such confidence that you almost feel bad pointing out his mistakes.

He strode right up to a woman, mid-fifties perhaps, carrying two plastic bags and passing by us on the sidewalk. She looked like she had just done some grocery shopping. She had red hair and wore a summer dress.

"Excuse me, are you from around here?" my dad asked, startling her slightly. He wanted to fact-check his own statement about the apartment buildings. I grew up watching my dad talk to strangers, so I stood off to the side, curious and sweating.

She stared at him with the compassion of a pitchfork. The look was so hostile, so truculent, that I wondered if i had misheard him. Had he asked what kind of underwear she had on? How much money she makes?

He repeated the question, and her face hardened more. She glared another instant, spun on her heel, and marched off.

Welcome to New York.


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The Big Apple

Day 30: Aberdeen, MD to Brooklyn, NY, 7.18.15