By: Noah Engelmayer
Living in New York, I would never have expected to find something as fun anywhere else. Here, I get to see it all, the lights in Times Square, great Broadway shows, the best hamburgers at Le Marais steak house in Midtown, and everything else New York has to offer. I take the subway by myself, I walk to my cousins’ home, and I can buy fruit roll ups at the store and get a pizza delivered at midnight. What more can I want?
While many of my friends had taken trips around the world by the time they were five, my parents decided to do something different. We chased storms and disasters around the country for fun. Instead of putting us on a 12-hour plane ride, we started with short car trips and worked our way up.
So we saw a slice of America that so many New Yorkers never get to see. I like to call it the Diners Drive-ins and Dives tour—kind of like the show my dad and I watch on the Food Network. The one difference: almost every place we went was destroyed right after. There is something weird about that.
We spent a week in Biloxi. Mississippi—Hurricane Katrina made sure that we couldn’t do that again. What I remember fondly, however, are the white beaches and the glistening waters off the Gulf. I know it well because when nothing else was on, my parents always had the TV on HBO, and Tom Hanks is yelling at his best friend—a volleyball.
Now, back to Mississippi.
We were on a hot beach in Biloxi, I was four years old and swimming in the ocean. All I can remember is my parents laughing as I kept yelling “Wilson” to my imaginary Wilson Sports volleyball friend from that movie. I also remember my oldest sister kissing a sea lion and holding a parrot —she had just gotten over her fear of animals. We got a dog that fall.
That same summer we visited New Orleans; what a shame, Katrina got that too.
I remember playing “New York, New York” on the rims of wet glasses as a street vendor taught me how to play. There were so many odd people, and a man—I think it was a man—in copper paint holding a torch and looking like the Statue of Liberty. He kept following me and would stop every time I’d turn around. I guess the fact that he was always behind me was the clue that I needed. I distinctly remember saying that it was “always Purim” there; you know, that Jewish festival often compared to Halloween? The main difference is that on Purim we remember a time when the Jews were to be destroyed, but were miraculously saved—let’s eat and be merry. Oh, that’s the theme of every Jewish holiday…
So, the next summer we found ourselves in Nashville, Tennessee. We city folk found fun at the Grand Ole Opry and learned to like country music. Nashville is still standing, so that’s a good thing. We went walking in Memphis (that’s a song) and spent a day at Graceland, where Elvis lived and died. What a house, what a life. It was great. What struck me there was that he was big into Christian gospel, yet some of his biggest checks to charity displayed on his walls were large sums written to the local Jewish organizations. I found that nice. I also like the peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches he made so famous.
It didn’t end there, though. We saw an Elvis impersonator perform a whole concert. We liked it so much, we saw it again the next night. We couldn’t help falling in love with his music.
The next year we found ourselves on a cruise. It was supposed to be a cruise to somewhere, but ended up being a cruise to get away from everywhere. You see, we were supposed to disembark from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but the wind was so heavy that we were shuttled from the airport to Tampa. After that four-hour ride, we met the boat and were to head to the Florida Keys, the Everglades and Cancun, Mexico. The mean Hurricane Katrina thought otherwise. She destroyed much of the Glades back then and our boat ended cruising 12 miles off the coast of Cuba to stay away from the swells.
I remember docking at port in Cancun, and it was a beautiful day. As soon as we were far enough from the boat, the skies opened up and it poured like I had never seen rain before. Yet the beer was one dollar a bottle and they served kids my age. That was a fun day.
So our boat rocked and rolled and bounced us all the way home. Royal Caribbean ended up giving us half the money back. So that worked out well.
In Phoenix, Arizona, one year later. Yup, we went to the Sedona Red Rock canyons and had to run away when the wildfires burned out of control. We were dead center again in disaster—and trust me, Arizona is hot enough without a big fire. Still, it was fun. My cousins joined us for that trip. We went to a Wild West city and got locked in a jail.
Let’s not forget Dallas, Texas, and the Fort Worth Stockyards. I rode a Longhorn—then I ate one. We saw our first real rodeo in Mesquite, and a real stretch pickup truck with the longhorns on the grill. That’s country.
Yet, little compares to my time in Monroe, Georgia. We have these friends with such a large property, they let me drive cars and golf carts all over. It was all fun. We have done so much. I bet not many of the people I know from New York have seen our country as I have.