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The Column: Feeling fortunate even for chilies in outer space

The government is going to shoot a New Mexico chili plant into space next year. This may seem peculiar until you consider that Washington once helped fund a project to digitize Grateful Dead memorabilia for an archive at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and bankrolled most of a million-dollar bus stop in Virginia. To be fair, the stop had heated benches and Wi-Fi, so no complaints, please.

Long addicted to Mexican cuisine, I approve of NASA’s bold initiative in rocketing chilies to the International Space Station as a means of testing food production outside Earth’s atmosphere. Though I am the last person you’d expect to enlist for astronaut training, it is comforting to think that if, one day, I find myself in orbit, there might be a Taco Bell or Chipotle nearby.

Meanwhile, can I make a suggestion? Could federal appropriators please consider some kind of contraption that would lift a car off the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx and deposit it on the George Washington Bridge?

I’m all for enchiladas at an altitude of 240 miles — that’s where the space station hovers — but it would be really nice to get to New Jersey in less time than it takes to figure your federal income tax.

All this occurs to me after a jaunt to the Midwest — Cleveland and Chicago — accomplished in just under a week.

My wife, Wink, and I had old friends to visit in both cities and the idea of a quick summer road trip summoned memories of old times when — ah, youth — we would think nothing of traveling 600 miles a day, and doing it again the next.

At our age, though, certain realities pertain.

One has to do with the whole concept of “morning.”

Forty years ago, we somehow were ready to roll by 7 a.m. Now “morning” is a more fungible notion. If highway-bound by 10:30 a.m., we are congratulating ourselves on an early start.

Also, let’s admit, the law of fluid mechanics pertain. You really are not going to travel 600 miles in one day — or anything close — if you have to pull into a rest stop or search for comfort at a McDonald’s every hour.

So, of course, we scaled down expectations. But first we had to get out of the Bronx.

That’s what made the Major Deegan such a worry. At midday, the thing was jammed. Construction delays, tractor trailers, bumper-to-bumper tie-ups — the whole honking, gridlocked shebang.

As we sat and stewed, Wink and I began to feel the first distant twinges of panic — not that our small car would be compacted to the size of a refrigerator between two semis (though the possibility crossed my mind) — but that we would be stranded until nightfall. What then?

At one point, I considered heading to Albany, which is not anywhere near Cleveland, because traffic in northbound lanes was moving. This would be a radical move, yes, but our options were few, prospects worse.

Then — phew! — the sea of traffic parted slightly, we squeezed, barely, onto the bridge and, soon were in a Jersey fast-food joint with other relieved travelers representing the AARP demographic.

From there on, we had a grand time cruising Interstate 80 through bright and beautiful Pennsylvania.

We stayed the night in Clarion, about an hour from the Ohio border. Dinner time we went downtown to the Clarion River Brewing Co. We chatted with our waitress, who showed us smartphone photos of her daughter and told us she was working at night and taking classes during the day because, gee, you know, in this world, that’s what it takes.

Checking out of our motel the next morning, I said so-long to the desk clerk.

“Where you heading?” she asked.

“Oh, no big deal,” I said. “Cleveland and Chicago to see a couple friends. And then back to New York. Quick trip.”

“Well,” said the desk clerk, “at least you can go.”

And, I thought, yes, that is entirely correct.

How fortunate to be on the road with enough money for gas and tolls and a beer at the Clarion River Brewing Co. We weren’t the same bell-bottomed kids in the Summer of ’19 that we were in ’69, for sure, but we were still motoring. Not everybody has such luck.

Oh, absolutely, there’s lots to distract us these days, plenty to second guess. The idea is to keep perspective.

Traffic on the Major Deegan? Remain calm.

Rest stop another half-hour away? Hang tough.

Chilies in space? Far out.  

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