Sunday, October 19, 2014

God, I Love Hotels

Meets all my basic needs
I am in a room at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs, New York to visit my son during Parents' Weekend at Skidmore College. I find there are few things better than a hotel room and time on your hands.  This room meets all my basic needs. It has a coffee maker, it has a microwave oven, it has a refrigerator to store my orange juice and water, it has a flat screen TV, it has wireless. Plus, this room is huge. There is a workout room one floor away where I did the StairMaster yesterday and might do the stationary bike today (unless that bike hog is there again). There is room service. I just treated myself to breakfast in bed--granola, fruit and milk. The total was $8.50 including tip. 

Parents Weekend offers the maximum time to spend enjoying yourself and your child. I get up early, he gets up late, So for four or five hours I get to do some of my favorite things, read and drink coffee in bed (without the nagging feeling that I experience at home that I should jump up, put in some laundry, unload the dishwasher or start doing the bills), write, watch TV with full control of the remo, workout without leaving the premises. There is an assortment of wildly Technicolor trees outside my window. It's heaven.

I used to call business trips the working mother's vacation. This stay reminds me that I don't have to be at a luxury hotel to be happy. The gifts of time and freedom work in a variety of venues.

Here's what I really came to see--my thriving son, now a senior, music director of the Skidmore men's a Capella group, the Bandersnatchers:

Private performance for the visiting parents (Peter, right)

Monday, October 13, 2014

US Open Love-Love

 Billie Jean National Tennis Center awaits
The first thing you see on approach to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center complex is a big “Globey” (ref. Pee Wee’s Playhouse) which was built for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and not, in fact, as the gateway to tennis heaven. And make no mistake; the US Open is tennis heaven.

Pee Wee's Globey
As a fan of both tennis and travel, I have always dreamed of going to all of the Gland Slams. But even the small goal of getting to the US Open in New York was not achievable until I emptied the nest. By the end of August, the school system has us by the throat. But this year the nest emptied just in time to make my first slam dream come true.

My friend Kathleen, who is both a good traveler and companion, with a fine sense of direction, jumped on the idea. She lined up the hotel and the transportation. I bought a ticket package called the “Premiere Wrap-Up Plan” to attend five sessions Wednesday through Friday of the first week. That’s key, because all the players are still in contention and the prices are somewhat reasonable. Our seats in Arthur Ashe Stadium were in the nosebleed section, but somehow it didn't matter because we were rarely there. You only need the reserved seats for that one stadium. Beyond that you are free to roam to any of the 16 side courts, and see some of the finest tennis players on earth at close range.

The vibe of the US Open crowd is high end. It helps to have some sort of corporate affiliation such as American Express (all cardholders receive mini earpiece radios which stream the live broadcast. This tool was a multitasker’s dream. I could listen to the announcers in one ear, my friend with the other ear, while walking, talking and even eating). Chase Bank members (Kathleen) were granted entrance to  a big beautiful air conditioned lounge with cold beverages and salty snacks. All I had was a membership in the Starwood hotels chain, which entitled me to spin a wheel of fortune for a chance to win a free trip. No luck.
Kathleen and I and "the thing in my ear"
The food plaza had offerings you won’t see at many other sporting events. Like Moet & Chandon and Gray Goose vodka, oh and pretty good food too. The only thing I have ever been offered at a Redskins game is a free topping on Papa John’s Pizza for every touchdown scored.

A little something for the high flyers
And the bubbly crowd
The tennis lovers

Being there is completely different from watching tennis in the comfort of your home on a big flat screen TV (most people’s default excuse for not attending live sporting events). I have always preferred men’s tennis to women’s. So kill me, I like men better. But being in the stadium when Venus Williams is playing brings out the pride of a (largely) US  crowd with tens of thousands of people cheering and willing her to win. It’s powerful. And when you think about it, the Williams sisters have done more for American tennis in the recent decades than anyone else, Even if they are women. I like them now.

Venus is down there, I swear
The first question everyone asks when you return is who did you see? I saw Venus, I saw Andy Murray, I saw Djokvic, I saw Sam Querrey. We also got a good look at the broadcast set-up for Hannah Storm and Chrissy and Brad. Tony Bennett took a bow for the crowd at an evening game. 

As we were leaving the stadium the final night, I saw Geraldo Rivera posing for a picture. He attended our alma mater, the University of Arizona when he was Jerry Rivers. So I tugged on his blazer and said: “We went to U of A.” He looked at me and, genuinely interested, said “Oh yeah? Bear Down.”  “Bear Down Arizona” is our football fight song. All you have to do is say “bear down” to prove your legitimacy as a Wildcat. It’s like a secret handshake. My mother was always amused by this phrase because she thought “bear down” was something you would more likely hear from a birthing coach than a football coach.

But the best thing I saw was not the pros, broadcasters or celebs. It was the thousands of people who care as much about tennis as I do. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Whirs and Growls

The helicopters pads are started to fill up again, the blades are starting to whir. The gentle purring of the the tigers is beginning to turn to a low growl and the claws are slowing emerging.

Walt Whitman High School opened a few weeks ago and for the first time in seven years I do not have a student enrolled there.

My children attended the high school about which The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids was written. I can’t provide you with a review. I think my bookmark is still at page 10. My son was about to start freshman year, and the book simply made me too anxious.

Walt Whitman  is known as one of the best public high schools in the country. People move to neighborhoods with the sole purpose of being in the Whitman “cluster” thereby ensuring their children’s academic future. Sometimes they buy houses they don’t even like, but, by God, they are in the right school district. College recruiters light up when they see an application from Whitman. Students get a few extra points just for going there, in addition to the fact that their grades are very high and their SAT scores off the charts. The student body is dense with genius and sparse on density.

I have nothing but praise for Whitman. My children got an excellent education there and made friendships that will last a lifetime.

But Whitman is stressful. Being so smart and self-aware, even Whitman even knows it is stressful and is doing something about it. There is a “Stressbusters” committee for parents; and last year a period of mindfulness was incorporated into several classes.

There is something for everyone at Whitman, drama, robotics, fashion design, computer science, business internships, student government, international community service trips and a range of academic offerings sure to satisfy any brainiac and his or her helicopter or tiger parents. The kids have a tremendous sense of school spirit, and regularly break records for fundraising efforts.

Once in the Whitman community, you receive on average 15 daily emails: did you pay your PTSA dues, did you subscribe to the student newspaper, did you eat at a certain local restaurant to raise funds for x y or z club, did you pay for the parking pass, did you know the boys’ volleyball team is the playoffs, did you get your health forms in and have your baseline concussion testing, did you want to sign up for a trip to France during spring break, have you paid senior dues, returned all your books? Will you go to club night, international night, homecoming, prom, take the spirit bus to support the girls’ soccer state championships? Do you know a good physics tutor, a chemistry tutor, how about a writing coach for college essays? The artistic talent flows in that school just as thickly as IQ points. The annual student-run Talent Show approximates a Broadway production, and can sell out a 1,000 seat auditorium for up to three nights.

The County has developed two tools of torture that can cripple a stress-prone parent. About as much fun as water-boarding, Edline is a program that lets parents access daily reports of every grade in every classroom. It fluctuates wildly like the stock market. This can be a blessing and a curse, there is kind of mother (whirring sound) who checks Edline every day and confronts his or her child about a missed homework assignment or a poor grade OR the kind of mother I became with my second child, unplugged from Edline. He shot my helicopter right out of the sky. I have to thank him, there was a corresponding drop in my blood pressure.

Whitman hosts a meeting for parents and juniors on how to navigate the college search process. At this meeting you are handed a sharp and dangerous tool called Naviance. This program allows you to compare your student’s GPA and SAT to the records of how Whitman students fared in college admissions over the past five years. My favorite moment at Whitman was when I left that meeting and was followed by a member of the Stressbusters committee who went into a tirade about why that meeting is always geared to the student with the 3.75 grade point average. I wanted to tell her that’s who the audience is; if a kid who attends that meeting with a parent, there’s no doubt he or she has at least that kind of GPA. Most parents come alone.

When the bell rang on the final day of senior year, I felt as if I had finished a marathon. I felt as if I were the graduate, flooded by relief. When I see the WHSS bumper stickers on cars I can only read the acronym one way: Whitman High School Survivor.

Friday, September 19, 2014

How things are different since the boys have gone to college, month one...

These two are in college???
  • There is nobody to ask to take out the garbage...and ask and ask.
  • There is much less laundry.
  • The dining room has never been used again.
  • The dishwasher only needs to be run every other day.
  • There is nobody to ask to mow the lawn...and ask and ask.
  • Savings on water, electricity, food, clothes, gas. Oh scratch that. No savings. Two tuitions.
  • No one plays the piano.
  • There are not six to eight pairs of shoes left in the entryway as admission tickets to what was once considered Bethesda’s Best Basement.
  • There is no reason to buy 2% milk. Only skim.
  • We keep the doors to their rooms closed so that we can pretend they are just in there sleeping.

Today I am flying to Memphis to see one of them. Bet you $100 he has not made his  bed once.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ten reasons I [remembered] why I love New York

Ahhh, the chaos

I hadn’t spent time in New York City recently and it took me more than a New York Minute to remember all the reasons I love it. Here are some.

They walk at my pace

The density of primo people watching

Someone on the subway can yell “Shut the F Up” and no one does

Cousin Fred lives there and he is funny. Together we are hilarious. At least we think so.

Cousin Fred

You can measure your morning run by blocks

The US Open is there;  tennis has the respect it deserves

Arthur Ashe stadium

A band of mariachis may appear on your subway car

A crew in your hotel is shooting The Good Wife, you see Julianna walk by

There is often a visiting relative or a friend in town whom you encounter unexpectedly

With California Beisers Frank, Jane and grandson Dean
30 Rock

Frank Sinatra is played loud and often in public spaces

Saturday, August 30, 2014


I’ve been on the road since August 20 and traveled more than 2000 miles in 10 days.

Rhodes College--Franky picked a beauty and so did they

College Drop Off--A 15-hour drive to Memphis  (878 miles

Tennessee is one long state. It's a good thing the Mississippi River is there to bring it to a halt. The bridge over it goes to Arkansas, I was told, a different state. The long drive had a happy ending for the weary travelers. (Weary except for Franky, who true to form, slept most of the day.) We arrived at the soothing Peabody Hotel and were eating ribs at the Rendezvous by 8.

Next was move-in day for Rhodes College. There was a great deal more spirit about this process than we found at Skidmore. On the long stretch of road waiting to get in the main gate there were several groups of kids jumping up and down with glee, shrieking and holding signs that said "Honk if you love Rhodes."

Well, we don't know yet. But we hope so.

Franky's dorm
Franky's dorm room pre-decor

Post decor
My son is in a triple with roommates from Arlington, VA and suburban Memphis. One bathroom adjoins another triple where we met a couple of nice guys from Atlanta. The only thing that makes dropping your child off bearable is the desire to get away from stressed out parents sometimes 10-12 deep in a room designed for three.

He's officially convocated

Trip from Memphis to Louisville (429 miles)

With Carolyn and Paul Williams
I only agreed to drive to Memphis if we could stop and see our friends who live in Louisville “on the way” home.  Was it on the way? Not exactly. Was it worth it? A thousand times. We met these friends who were in the TV news business in Tucson in the 80s. The media in Tucson were tight. We bonded with Paul and Carolyn  immediately and spent a couple of lovely years together during the pre-kids, early-career nonsense days. But then they started moving up the media market ladder, had three children, while we moved to DC and had two. And suddenly 20 years flew by while they lived in the fly-over states. And we hadn't seen each other.  

Together again
Thanks to Joe Rhodes...

,,,Who uses this as his profile photo with me cut out

and Facebook we felt that this reunion was possible after the last child was dropped at college. But we knew we could pick up where we laughed off and we did for two fabulous days. I demanded a tour around Louisville because I had never been there.
And found this important intersection

Trip from Louisville to Bethesda (601 miles)

Let’s skip this 11 and a half hour drive. Let’s just say that about an hour outside of Washington, with the end in sight, the highway was closed, which I referred to on Facebook as a blocked party, and we lost 90 minutes.

Then round trip on Vamoose to New York City to the US Open (464 miles)

So if I did my math right, and I rarely do, so check it, I have traveled 2,334 miles in 10 days. Maybe the nest will launch a travel blog after all, if the first 10 days are any indication.

(US Open deserves its own blog post, look for that later.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Dali Really Melted the Clock on this Country"

I was invited to submit a guest travel story to and it ran today:

...Spain runs on caffeine. It has to. Because everyone there walks fast, talks fast, drives fast, and takes high speed trains. Spaniards ignore the night and never eat dinner before 10 p.m. My son reported that clubbing goes on until at least 5 a.m. Because of its time warp, Spain is a great place for travel if you want to see five cities in eight days, and never feel rushed. We saw MadridToledoGranadaCordoba, and Seville and had time to enjoy them all...

Madrid from above

Read the rest: