Summer road trip shows what communities have in common

Posted9/20/2015 1:00 AM

When I was in grade school, classes began after Labor Day when the weather was cooler.

My back-to-school wardrobe always included a new lightweight jacket to wear while I waited for the school bus.


These days, seasons seem to have shifted. From my observance at local bus stops, casual clothing doesn't appear any newer than the old. And I'm reminiscing about skirts to my knees -- no shorts or slacks for girls back then.

I'm also remembering a special writing assignment that first week of school.

"What did you do over summer vacation?" was the topic I covered on several pages in one of those black-and-white marbled composition books.

Considering the timing, here's what I could write this year …

In August, our daughter Ashley and I took a trip on the road not taken since we'd moved to Naperville in 1993.

After visiting my folks in Muncie, Indiana, we headed east through Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, ending up in Chatham, New Jersey, where we stayed with our former next door neighbors, Diane and Jack. They live across the street from our first Penick family home, where we lived for nearly 12 years.

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I've flown back East a bunch of times since 1993, but this return trip was Ashley's first.

And what did I learn?

Ashley is a good driver on the interstate.

The transponder known as I-PASS in Illinois works like a charm on every tollway from here to New Jersey.

A well-marked exit to Washington, Pennsylvania -- a city south of Pittsburgh near the Monongahela River where we used to spend the night during road trips with our three young kids -- led us to overnight accommodations this time, too.

As we checked into the motel, the desk clerk recommended Angello's, a family-owned independent Italian bistro that had been in business since 1939, where we enjoyed a delicious dinner and their brand of gelato.

While in Chatham, a borough with about 9,000 residents, we visited former neighbors and the two Sept. 11 Memorials dedicated to 13 residents and first responders in the community who were killed in the terrorist attacks in 2001.


Following our quest for local history, we revisited George Washington's headquarters as well as museums new to us in Morris County. Diane was a wonderful tour guide.

And even after 22 years in Naperville, local politics attracted our attention one evening when the council agenda included a discussion about cutting down a 175-year-old scarlet oak tree.

Watching the Borough Council meeting live on cable TV with Diane, who had previously served on the Chatham Shade Tree Commission, I was impressed. More residents had packed the meeting to save the landmark tree than had come before the Naperville City Council to comment regarding the first proposed Home Rule Sales Tax and the increase of weekly trash collection.

Ashley and I took the train into New York City twice. We spent one emotionally charged afternoon at One World Trade Center, where we toured the National Sept. 11 Memorial and its large reflecting pools in the plaza.

Another day we enjoyed lunch with longtime friends Mark, Jackie and Frank. I'd met them while living in New York City and working in the creative department for adman Jerry Della Femina, back in the 1970s when the Twin Towers first opened.

We rekindled youthful memories and Ashley laughed along with us. Now she knows why I loved working with them.

During our 14-hour road trip home, we listened to news radio. That's when I heard a sound bite from New Hampshire where candidates are campaigning for the 2016 presidential primary. Hopefuls on the national scene seemed surprised how often they'd been asked about local heroin problems.

Coincidentally, a couple weeks after we returned to Naperville, a news story caught my eye about heroin addiction in Washington, Pennsylvania. Just as in Naperville and surrounding towns, that city also is trying to rein in the epidemic that is poisoning local communities.

What else did I learn on my summer vacation? When you pay attention, many of the local issues and patriotic remembrances that we find in Naperville are on the minds of Americans everywhere.

And more than ever, I'm remembering that when you make friends for a lifetime, you can go home again.

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