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The Column: Road-tripping down memory lane during the pandemic

Road trip!

Oh, weren’t those the days?

I’m a little edgy about travel. This comes from my father, who considered a drive from Brooklyn to New Jersey the equal of Lewis and Clark crossing the Continental Divide.

Once my mother convinced the poor guy we should see Niagara Falls, which Dad may have figured was just north of Yonkers.

Long before we arrived, he was ready for a U-turn to Brooklyn.

Miles piled up. Dad chewed on the butt of his Dutch Masters cigar.

The magnitude of our trip had become clear. For a stay-at-home guy — even one with a patient nature and kind heart — this was pushing the limits of human endurance.

“Buffalo, 300 miles,” he said in alarm at a road marker. “Where we heading, the North Pole?”

As everyone in our house was aware, straying more than three blocks from 69th Street and Sixth Avenue, Bay Ridge, put you in the Arctic. Our Niagara trip was during summer, yes, but better bundle up and watch for icebergs.

Two-and-a-half days later we arrived and found what was then called a “tourist court” — roadside bungalows where, if you were lucky, the toilets flushed.

Standing at the New York side of Niagara, Dad spoke through the roar.

“Take a good look,” he said to me, tons of water plunging over the edge.

“Gee whiz,” I said. “Something.”

Dad brushed mist off his fedora. “Ready?” he asked. “Let’s go.”

Not so fast.

Mom wanted to step foot in Canada — her first trip abroad.

Dad looked like he had been ordered to cross the chasm on a tightrope. Instead, we took the Rainbow Bridge.

Mom was merciful. We tried the coin-operated binoculars, bought a few postcards, found gifts for the relatives and started home.

“Saw Canada,” I told my aunts, Rena and Dellie, who lived downstairs. “Beautiful.”

“How exciting,” said the sisters.

“North Pole,” said Dad. “We just missed Santa Claus.”

My father worked hard delivering Bond Bread to groceries in South Brooklyn. Off the job, he asked no more than an easy chair and a copy of the Daily News. Even Coney Island was a distant planet.

Me? I’m more mobile — willing to leave home, sure, but with caution. When possible, I duck airports, for instance. Ocean liners, only if I’m kidnapped and stuffed in a steamer trunk.

When it comes to road trips, Dad and I part company. Earthbound and in control, I’m happiest behind the wheel.

“Off we go,” I say to my wife, Wink.

“How far today?”

“We’ll see.”

Don’t you love that part — starting out, maybe, for Vermont or New Hampshire but deciding on Albany first and spaghetti at the terrific cafe hiding below sidewalk level? Or maybe touring Tennessee and reaching Asheville, North Carolina. Bluegrass music under the stars and breakfast at a spot called Early Girl. Nothing could be finer.

How about the unplanned stop in Clarion, Pennsylvania, not far from where crowds gather each Feb. 2 to see if Punxsutawney Phil throws a shadow on Groundhog Day? “A family came all the way from Texas,” the motel desk clerk tells me. From Texas. For a groundhog. America, America.

Last summer, Winky and I drove to Cleveland and then Chicago to visit family and friends.

In an out-of-the way Ohio town, we spotted — like water in the desert — a tiny falafel place, only two or three tables. The talkative owner and his Middle Eastern mom fed us big time, fresh food, delicious. “Great stuff,” we said. “Be well,” they answered.

We’ve been road-tripping since we were first married and continued — oh, the courage! — with four kids during our hippie-dippy Volkswagen bus period.

One year, we gasped our way Out West — total weight tested the VW’s overworked, air-cooled engine — and in eastern Colorado, blew a belt. A kindly mechanic named Walt pushed the bus into his shop and, an hour later, had us on the road again. The bill was next to nothing. Walt, if you’re still around, we remember.

“I miss them — the road trips,” Wink said the other day.

“Me, too — only way to travel.”

For now, we’re not leaving the driveway. No motels, rest stops, made-by-mama falafel or feathery Asheville pancakes.

“Maybe next year,” says Wink.

The other day, there was a note on the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club website.

“The Visitor Center is currently closed due to COVID-19,” it said.

Next year?

Let’s hope.

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