Oct. 29, day 7: Drive from New York to Ontario
Best Western (Liverpool NY, 2:46am). Yet another bill-under-the-door. Only $111.76 for a 2-queen room — and the pool is heated! Looks like we’ll be back here next time, although the side-by-side beds caused Kid #1 to be quite unhappy with Wifey’s breathing noises. When we were last here in 2007, the neighbouring airport was very noisy, but no problem this time.
US Postal Service (Liverpool NY, 10:43am). $4.17 for delivery
of an item to New Jersey and for a box to mail it in. The item is my old
E-ZPass transponder, which hasn’t worked
since 2009 or so yet they keep charging me $1/month for it. The return
address printed on the transponder is no longer valid, so I had to call them
to get the new address.
I just checked my E-ZPass account balance and an “adjustment” was made to my account on Nov. 4th. I now have a $50 credit balance. Anyone wanna place a bet as to whether I ever see that money?
Jo-Ann’s Fabrics (Amherst NY, 1:59pm). Wifey paid $46.91 for sewing stuff, mostly for Kid #1’s birthday present.
Tops (Amherst NY, 3:00pm). $134.87 to stock up on inexpensive American groceries for our Canadian pantry. Includes canned gefilte fish and mass quantities of turkey pepperoni, chocolate baking morsels, and AA batteries.
Tops (3:02pm). As a thank-you gift for our preceding purchase, the machine spat out a coupon for a 75¢ discount on our next purchase. Kid #2 noticed a pack of gum for 79¢, so we bought it to use up the coupon. With tax, the net cost of the gum was 11¢.
Key Bank (inside Tops, 3:02pm). Get $20 to ensure that we can pay for tolls on the way home, but it turned out that we already had (barely) enough cash — so now we have USD $20 to hold onto for our next trip to the States. No ATM fee for Key Bank, but $3 fee for our bank plus the exchange rate was $23.07.
Tops lottery vending machine. Once again, Wifey buys an instant ticket for $1 which wins $2. She also buys a $2 Powerball ticket for the evening’s drawing (it didn’t win anything).
Wegman’s (Amherst NY, 3:35pm). $52.63 for salad bar lunch. Still pretty good, but notably lower quality than last time. Robert Wegman died eight years ago. Things change after the founder dies: stores become less distinctive and more like every other store, because that’s the “safe” move for an MBA executive.
Wegman’s (4:48pm). $463.59 for even more groceries, including mass quantities of boneless chicken breast, peanut butter, horseradish cheddar, Hebrew National® hot dogs, and — as usual — 160 cans of “Wegman’s Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water” (which costs half as much as similar products in Canada). Wegman’s might not be as distinctive as they used to be, but you can’t argue with their prices! In fact, they have the same Sea Dog blueberry ale from Maine that I bought at Shaw’s in Massachusetts — but Wegman’s price is about 20% lower. Oh well.
Wegman’s parking lot. We bought too much stuff on this trip! Wifey spends considerable time jamming everything into the trunk. Eventually she gets it all in *and* leaves enough open space down the middle of the van so the rearview mirror will work. She is amazing.
Delta Sonic (Amherst NY, 5:38pm). $50 for gasoline. This station is very close to Tops and Wegman’s, so we generally stop here before beginning the long drive home. Once again, prepayment is necessary due to rampant American xenophobia. No zipcode means no right to a receipt showing how much gas you got for your money!
Canadian border (Queenston ON). Border guard waives us through, perhaps in part because we have Canadian passports. Once again, no sales tax on our declared $1000ºº of imported goods!
Our house. After bringing in the food from the car, I looked in the fridge and said, “Hey, know what we forgot to buy? Fridge light bulbs!” Both of them had failed just before we went on our trip.
Oct. 30, day 8: The day after
Country Paws (St. Agatha ON, 10:53am). $165.20 for a week’s stay at a dog kennel. That’s $20/day plus tax plus $1 per day to feed him a customer-provided chewable beef-flavoured arthritis pill that’s no trouble at all to administer because he likes it. And the dog came home with a limp, so either they didn’t actually give him all the pills or he overexerted himself (which he often does at the kennel).
Home Hardware (New Hamburg ON, 3:46pm). $5.53 for a pair of lightbulbs specially designed to provide “true daylight colour” inside a fridge.
Oct. 31, day 9: The day after the day after
Our house. Halloween party. We had only two guests over. After trick-or-treating and then some trading, each of my kids ended up with a gallon-sized bag filled solely with candies that they actually liked. What a nice neighbourhood!
Nov. 2, day 11: The last day
Carl’s Jr. parking lot (Waterloo ON). Presented the items to my furiend, but he didn’t want to do the Furry thing I had in mind, so the whole exercise turned out to be pointless. He gave me USD $12 for the Cheez-Its and Starbucks (even though he also had Canadian money in his wallet), so now I have even more US cash to hold onto for the next trip. I gave him the blueberry ale as a consolation prize.
Hawthorn Suites (Franklin MA, 3:27am). Slipped under our door, which is apparently what every hotel does nowadays. $546.90 for four days’ stay. At least this time the pool was working. But the entire hotel was taken over by a wedding party, so we got a “Bedroom studio” (which is not a 1-bedroom at all) rather than the “Bedroom suite” we had wanted for better separation between kidlets and parents. Staff wasn’t very accommodating, so it’s unclear whether we’ll stay here again. Perhaps we’ll try another look around online, but we keep coming back here because it’s the cheapest place in Eastern Mass that has suite rooms and (usually) lets us have one.
Shaw’s (Franklin MA, 11:15am). $44.17 for groceries, including three boxes of Cheez-Its with specific flavours that my furiend had asked for (he loves Cheez-Its almost as much as I do) and also another test-box of “original” flavour for myself (boxes with the same lot number that I tested on day 3 are now sold out). While in the check-out line, I notice that they are selling cans of “Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso+cream”, which the furiend had also asked for. It is the last item on my shopping list for him!
Shaw’s (11:20am). The test-box is fine, so I buy 18 more boxes of Cheez-Its for $31.41.
Hess (Franklin MA, 11:26am). $30 for gasoline. This is the
first time that a gas station in Massachusetts has discriminated against me
due to my unAmerican postal code. The receipt does not indicate
price-per-gallon nor total gallons purchased.
I used to like Hess in New Jersey. I do not recall when they started selling gas in Massachusetts. Wikipedia says it was before 2013, but I suspect it may have been after 2011 or surely after 2007. Anyway, all “Hess” gas stations will be rebanded as “Speedway” by 2017.
Massachusetts Turnpike. Tolls. No receipt.
New York Thruway. Tolls. No receipt.
Golden Corral (Colonie NY, 2:32pm). $41.41 for lunch. Not as good as we remembered, perhaps because the previous visit had been at dinnertime so they served steak (also it was a different franchisee). Golden Corral is very proud that they are the world’s largest purchaser of Brussels sprouts, but the sprouts were not cooked very well (or perhaps they would have been better at noon). The hamburger was quite disappointing. Still, the salad bar was good and worth the price on its own.
Museum of Science exhibit halls (Boston MA, 11:51am).
Finally, we’re doing something during this trip that Kid #2 can actually
enjoy! $92 for a family of four. The overly-geeky ticket machine announced
that it would be printing five tickets, but one of them was just a
ticket-shaped receipt. Oddly enough, I can’t find that receipt now, just my
Kid #1 spent much of her time at the museum off with some online friends she had never met before but who live in this area. We were supposed to meet up with them near the giant T. Rex statue, but the statue has been replaced with a less-imposing one that shows a more realistic stance for the animal. Later, I found that the old statue (which Wifey and I remember from when we were kids) had been moved outside to the station where you can take an amphibious bus tour of Boston. Even later, I learned that Hammacher Schlemmer is selling a T. Rex model that has been cleverly designed so you can pose it either way (“15' tall as if surveying the landscape or 12' tall as if lunging for prey”).
I did not speak directly to Kid #1’s friends. The two things they have in common with her are ⑴ nonstandard sexuality and ⑵ fondness for Star Trek. As the friends were preparing to leave the museum, I asked Kid #1 whether she had told them about Star Trek Continues. She had not, so she then launched into a description of the video that her uncle had found, which they thought was interesting. So we were all united by the love of geeky old TV shows!
My kids remember from previous trips the exhibit where you pedal a bicycle to energize a lightbulb — and a skeleton on another bicycle keeps pace with you. That exhibit is gone now. Instead, they now have wristbands where you can try out various health exhibits and then go to their website to see how you did. I did not like that you are forbidden to do the same exhibit more than once on the same wristband, although I can imagine crowd-control reasons why they wanted it to work that way. But the website’s behaviour is less excusable: you have to clear cookies in order to enter a different wristband ID number. You know, there’s such a thing as “trying too hard” to remember something the user once typed in! And there is no reason not to display the ID number that goes with the data you are currently showing. Anyway, to see my results, go to exhibits.mos.org/view-your-data and type in my ID number 01564722.
The 500 kilovolt Tesla coils and the 5 megavolt Van de Graaf generator are still just as sparky and noisy as ever! I am not sure whether they taught the Tesla coils some new songs to sing since last time.
For me, the worst exhibit was the live talk about Love Canal, which contained politically-correct lies designed to make Americans feel better about their country than it deserves. First off, the Superfund was not a “law passed by the EPA” because the EPA does not pass laws. Only Congress can do that, and the Constitution prohibits them from delegating that responsibility although they are constantly trying to. Second, the point of Superfund is not to “make those responsible pay for the cleanup”. Just the opposite, in fact: Superfund is a way of getting these things cleaned up *without* making those responsible pay for it, because otherwise nothing would ever happen except motion practice for lawyers. But the museum didn’t want to tell the kids that (perhaps in fear of losing some of their funding), so a science museum lied to children about the politics behind the science. This sort of thing used to happen all the time in the Soviet Union, and apparently still happens today in North Korea. I remember a time when the USA was better than that.
Museum of Science cafeteria “Wolfgang Puck catering” (3:20pm). $27.55 for crappy museum food. Chef Puck should be ashamed to have his name on this restaurant. I mean, it’s actually pretty good food for a museum cafeteria, and maybe the entrées are well-made on Donors’ Nights, but you can’t turn hamburgers and French fries into gourmet cuisine by slapping some famous chef’s name on your fast-food stand.
Museum of Science gift shop. $7.42 for a “Boston” fridge magnet and also some rocks for Kid #2’s collection.
Museum of Science parking garage (5:23pm). $17.75 for six hours’ rent of a parking space. Not bad for Boston!
Outback Steakhouse (Bellingham MA, 8:55pm). $79.28 for dinner.
Market Basket (Bellingham MA). $50 for a Christmas gift-card for BIL #3 and his family.
Cousins’ house (Attleboro MA). Visit my brother-in-law (BIL
#3), his wife (SIL #2), and their three kids. Also BIL #2 stopped by during
the visit, but without his wife SIL #3. I wish the BIL and SIL numbering
weren’t so silly, but that’s pseudonymous life for you.
Cousin #1 is now 13 and a fairly-stereotypical Asperger’s kid, given to loud self-centered speeches followed by storming off to play by himself. I kept looking at this kid and thinking, “I wasn’t that bad, was I?” but it is impossible to know. Anyway, I think he’s going to turn out just fine.
Although there had never been any mention of it by email, BIL #3’s household has been vegan for over a year now, so our cheesecake was rejected (but the cookies were okay as a special-occasion treat). Once again, SIL #2 served spaghetti, meatballs, salad, and garlic bread — this time the meatballs were faux, yet still tasty enough.
BIL #3 showed us his most excellent find: Star Trek Continues. It is amazing that one guy (Vic) built the sets, wrote the script, and cast himself as the chief BAD guy! Pretty much everything that is wrong with this show (implausible motivations, convenient mistakes by bad guys so the good guys can always win, etc.) is a faithful copy of things that were wrong with the original series. Too bad they couldn’t get funding for more episodes.
I played Apples to Apples: Disney with Kid #1, Wifey, Cousin #2, and Cousin #3. Some of the cousins’ moves were poorly thought out, such as playing an Evil Mommy card when my wife was the judge! But they’re only 11 and 9 years old and it takes a lot of experience to predict how others will feel about moves that seem right to you. We spent some time discussing what a great place Canada is. They did not mention how much they hate living in the USA (because you do not say such things out loud while living in a non-free country). At one point, Cousin #1 announced that he was moving to Canada when he turns 18, causing his father to say, “No you’re not”. So then Wifey and I went into our usual spiel about how it took five years to get permission to cross the border, and 12 years in total to go from “we should move to Canada” to “we have Canadian passports”. And I *still* have never held a local job!
There was some discussion about the pending settlement of my mother-in-law’s estate, but really there was nothing to say.
Wifey picked up some purchases that had been mailed to the cousins’ house to avoid Canadian-import difficulties. The Amazon.com package came with a nicely-itemized packing list, but the packages from Rainbow Resource Center did not specify how much they cost, which could have led to difficulties with sales tax at the Canadian border.
BIL #2 said that he and his wife were thinking of visiting Toronto next year to see a sports game. My house is “only” 90 minutes west of Toronto, so he might stop by for a visit. Hopefully he won’t get lost on the way.
A maze of twisty residential streets, all alike (Attleboro MA). We missed a turn leaving the cousins’ house and spent some time going in circles trying to get out of their housing development.
Panera Bread (Plainville MA, 7:00pm). $44.83 for dinner. I had read recently that Panera is now considered a better value than McDonald’s, which seemed odd because I used to think of them as overpriced. Well, times change! For only $7 I got a tuna sandwich, a bowl of chicken noodle soup, and a piece of tasty French baguette. We would never have found this place if we hadn’t missed the turn onto US route 1 in order to get back to Interstate 495 towards our hotel.
Interstate 495 (Franklin MA, 12:15pm). A₁’s house is north of our hotel, so I get on I-495 North even though our pre-printed directions stated that I should use I-495 South to get to I-95 North towards her house. (I-495 is a semicircle around Exurban Boston and so “North” actually means “clockwise”, while I-95 cuts through Suburbia.) It is a typical fault of dogs that they can’t grasp the idea of deliberately going the wrong way for awhile in order to get to a spot where they can more effectively go the right way — but humans are supposed to be smarter than that! It is a typical fault of male humans that they hate reversing direction, so I decide to continue on I-495 North for awhile and then cut over to I-95 — but Exurban Boston is much more built up now than when I was a kid and the roads all have a lot more traffic and stoplights than I remember. So once again the trip takes *twice* as long as Google Maps had predicted.
Golden Temple (Brookline MA, 1:49pm). $75.60 for Chinese food to bring over to A₁’s house. We had told them to prepare the food for 1pm pickup, but thankfully it was still warm enough to eat.
A₁’s house (Brookline MA). Visit with my aunt. Unlike
previous visits, she did not dismiss her home health aides for the day
because she can no longer function without them. She had a stroke last year
and lost much of her hearing. Also she had pneumonia earlier this year
(which was news to us) and has lost most of the remaining function in her one
good leg. But — just like her mother — the mind remains sharp
to the end.
We spent some time talking about her paternal grandfather, who remains relevant because Wifey likes to talk about genealogy online and keeps finding extended family members who are related through my great-grandpa; he was a Shochet who arrived in the USA as a penniless immigrant and then got heavily into real estate and ended up gifting a separate house to each of his children. To hear my aunt talk, Great Grandpa was also an inveterate liar who could never tell the straight story of why he no longer spoke to his siblings.
I brought up the subject of the lawyer who grabbed control of A₂’s estate. Apparently he is still dribbling money to A₁ to help pay for the heavy equipment she needs to help her get in and out of her wheelchair. He insulted me 20 years ago and I have been waiting for vengeance ever since. But he’s getting old himself and maybe he’ll die before A₁ does and I won’t have to figure out how to make that criminal let go of the money without having to go to jail myself. When you’re fighting an evil lawyer, the entire government is against you, even though that guy is associated with one of the largest tax frauds in the history of Massachusetts (according to one newspaper article I found).
It is unclear how much time A₁ has left, but it isn’t much. We told her we’ll try to visit again next year.
Shaw’s (Franklin MA, 7:01pm). $66.06 for groceries, including
salad bar for dinner, a cheesecake and a box of cookies for the cousins,
Chanukkah candles, a bottle of
Chardonnay (on sale for $5!),
a six-pack of
Sea Dog blueberry
wheat ale, and two boxes of
The Cheez-Its are BOGO; on these trips to the States we usually stock up on Cheez-Its at either Tops or Wegman’s in New York, whichever is cheaper, but obviously they can’t beat this half-off sale. The store clerk says the sale will run until day 8 of our trip, so we plan to sample these boxes and then come back for more. We still buy a “test” box of Cheez-Its before buying mass quantities of boxes with that same lot number, even though it’s been years since the last time Sunshine made a bad batch (with a metallic taste).
The ale is for a furiend whom I’m trying to soften up for (something); he asked me to get him a “surprise” when I visited the States. He once tweeted that “beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”. He often visits New York to buy beer, so I wanted to get him a Massachusetts microbrew blueberry ale that he couldn’t get for himself. But instead I got the Sea Dog (which is a widely-distributed product from Maine) because it has paw-prints on the bottle caps!
Herkimer Motel (Herkimer NY). A receipt for $124.49 for one night’s stay is slipped under our door in the wee hours of the morning, but the credit-card charge slip says it was run through at 9:54pm last night. This will be our last stay at the Herkimer, which will be changing its name to “Red Roof Inn” as of November 1st. The owner assures all guests that nothing will change because he is merely “affiliating” with Red Roof, not selling out to them. We decide to give this hotel another chance on our next trip, whenever that will be. We always stay here because the rooms are huge and “60% of the total trip” is just about right for one day’s travel.
Advance Auto Parts (Herkimer NY, 11:03am). I look in my car’s
owner’s manual and determine that it needs a type 9007 headlight bulb.
Replacement requires removal of three screws, a retaining ring, and the
electrical connector. Installation requires not getting any oily substance
(such as human sweat) onto the glass bulb. The store offers multiple models
of 9007 headlights at different prices, but I have no idea which one to get
so I pay $11.90 for the mid-range. My tools are all at home, so the store
lets me borrow a screwdriver — but the screws are all torqued too tight, so
they loan me a hex
ratchet, which is effective. Kid #2 helps with the repair.
While Kid #2 and I are at it, I am reminded of the phrase “working together on the car”, which was used by ozarque (Dr. Suzette Haden Elgin, b. 1936, fl. 1965‒2011, frontotemporal dementia) to invoke a scene where boys are working together towards an intellectual goal, rather than belittling each other or fist-fighting. You see, the car actually matters, so the boys actually think about how to make it work. But cars nowadays are too difficult for most boys. In my life it has usually been “working together on the computer program” but few kids today write their own software. So I don’t know what the modern version of this scene would be. Perhaps “working together on their MMORPG character stats”?
So anyway, I take the new bulb out of its packaging and place it next to the old one to demonstrate that it is in fact an identical replacement. Then I put it back in the package and place it on the engine while attempting to disconnect the old bulb, pontificating all the while about how getting any oil on the new bulb will drastically shorten its life. But while wrestling with the old bulb and its connector, I manage to jostle the wire-harness. This causes the new bulb to fall into the depths of the engine, which of course is covered everywhere with oily grime. Oops! Kid #2 is a polite fellow and does not laugh. But the day is saved because the bulb did not fall out of its opened package and remains untouched by oils. I make some comment about how important it is to keep the bulb in its package until use, then insert the bulb into the lens-assembly while thinking of the kids’ game Operation. Touch nothing on the way in!
Success! The new headlight works great!
New York Thruway. Pay toll; no receipt.
Massachusetts Turnpike. Massive traffic jam! As we near an exit, there is a sign announcing “bridge work ahead; seek alternate route”. We are unable to determine whether the jam will end soon when we reach a bridge or whether it will go on for many more miles, so we take the exit and pay the toll. We do not have a roadmap of Massachusetts in the glove compartment. The only relevant map is for “Eastern USA”. It suggests that we can take some minor-league state and national highways to get to MA route 9, which Wifey and I remember from our student days at UMass. The detour is only an inch on the map, but each map-inch represents 1,385,000 inches in real life. Two hours later, we finally locate Route 9. It would almost certainly have been faster to just crawl along with the traffic jam.
McDonald’s (Belchertown MA, 3:48pm). After finding Route 9, we stop at a CVS to buy a map — but they don’t have any. We try a gas station, but they don’t sell maps anymore because everyone has a smartphone these days. This causes Kid #1 to gripe yet again about how far behind the times our family is, with one crappy “feature phone” shared by the entire household. But she could just buy her own smartphone if she *really* wanted one. Anyway, we stop at McDonald’s to access Google Maps on our laptops. $10.67 for snacks. I get a chocolate shake, which gives me a brain freeze and then later I have flatus. Apparently I’m starting to get lactose-intolerant in my old age.
MA route 9. In Eastern Mass., this highway is a fairly straight East-West route, but in Central Mass. it is a winding road. I vaguely remember that I avoided this route when driving to my parents’ house from UMass because it took four hours (vs. three hours for MA route 2 further north, or only 1½ hours for the Mass. Pike on a good day). Anyway, we eventually get to Interstate 495 and return to our pre-printed directions from Google.
99 Restaurant & Pub (Franklin MA, 8:11pm). The girls get chicken broccoli penne (but hold the broccoli for Kid #1, add house chardonnay for Mommy), while the boys get the 9oz top sirloin (medium rare for Kid #2, medium for Daddy). This restaurant chain is named for the address of its original location at 99 State St. in Boston. Only $68.72 with taxes and tip!
Stop & Shop (Franklin MA, 8:20pm). $47.25 for 15.651 gallons of gasoline at $3.01⁹/gal. This was the only gas-pump during the entire trip that didn’t refuse my business due to lack of a zipcode!
Yup, I drove the family to Massachusetts and back again. First time since 2011. Kid #1 still has her “G1” licence, so she was not able yet to assist with the driving.
The 2011 trip was dedicated to my deceased brother-in-law, so this trip should be about my deceased mother-in-law. Initial dribbles from her estate paid for this trip (and have also put food on our table these past few months), but the bulk of the money hasn’t been released yet. Damned lawyers! The will is uncontested, so there’s no excuse for all these delays.
Oct. 23rd, day 1: Drive from Ontario to New York
(We ran into multiple traffic jams, so this drive took *twice* as long as Google Maps had estimated.)
Country Paws (St. Agatha ON, 10:55am). Drop-off time at the dog kennel is 11am; I make it with a few minutes to spare.
Our house (11:30am). Pack the car with things and family — and we’re off to the States!
US border (Lewiston NY). 40 minute wait, which is quite a bit longer than our recent average. It seems most cars with Ontario plates are getting searched — but they waive ours through, perhaps in part because we have US passports.
Wegman’s (Amherst NY, 2:53pm). $4 for a four-pack of pumpkin muffins on sale. (At end of trip, one muffin was still uneaten.)
Tops (Amherst NY, 3:28pm). $27.20 for groceries, mostly Halloween candy and snack foods that are on sale this week but won’t be next week when we stop back here on our way home. Also included is a box of Cheez-Its, which is going to be the “theme snack food” for this trip.
Tops lottery vending machine. Wifey buys a instant lottery ticket for $1, which wins $2! She also buys a $2 Powerball ticket for the Oct. 25 drawing (it didn’t win anything).
New York Thruway rest area (6:15pm). Withdraw $40 for US
spending money. M&T Bank charges me a $3 “withdrawal convenience
fee”, while my own bank charges a $3 “foreign exchange convenience fee”,
plus their exchange rate is poor, so it costs me CAD $52.75 to
get USD $40 out of the ATM. A good rate would have cost
perhaps CAD $44.
Wifey buys another lottery ticket for $1, which doesn’t win.
New York Thruway exit (New Hartford NY). The toll collector says, “You know your headlight’s out?” I thank him and tell him I didn’t know — but that sure explains why it’s been so difficult to drive tonight!
Olive Garden (New Hartford NY, 8:47pm). $80.35 for dinner.
Everyone gets “endless bowl of pasta” except me. I refer to it as the
“endless wait for pasta” because that’s one of Olive Garden’s tricks for
keeping down the number of bowls you actually get.
After the meal, I tried to buy some gasoline, but my credit card was missing. I drove back to Olive Garden to retrieve it. The manager wanted me to show photo ID even though I had the receipt with the matching card number and surely the waitress can remember my face from a few minutes earlier. Still, a lot less hassle than it could have been.
Sunoco (New Hartford NY, 9:10pm). Buy $50 of gasoline. Since 2011 it seems to have become much more common in New York to require entry of a zipcode in order to buy gasoline directly at the pump. But Canadian postal codes are not “zipcodes”, so I have to go into the convenience store, guess how much gas I will need, and prepay for it — because I am a shifty foreigner whose address lacks the all-numeric zipcode of a trustworthy human being!