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July 11, 2007

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 L.A. to NYC/CT to Toronto/Erie

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I love being on the east coast during the Memorial Day long weekend. In fact, it's my favorite weekend of the year and I always try and spend it with my family and friends back home in Connecticut. There's just something about late May that makes everything feel so alive back there. My theory is this: the trees are green, the flowers are in full bloom and everyone is in a good mood because they've survived yet another miserable winter. Besides that, it's the unofficial first day of summer and most of the beaches open up on this weekend, too. The people of Rowayton, Connecticut know just how to kick the season off right! It starts with a moving Memorial Day parade, followed by free hotdogs at the fire station. Then, while everyone else is running off to attend BBQs, my friends and I head to the community center to play an annual game of stickball. Every year, we have so much fun.

If Connecticut is too slow-paced for you, then New York City is just a one-hour train ride away. I love strolling around the city and Central Park this time of year. Obviously, there are thousands of fantastic places to eat in NYC but this time, I dined for the first time at Cercle Rouge in Tribeca. It's a trendy French restaurant with solid food and a popular outdoor patio; so popular, in fact, that you need a reservation to snag a seat. Cercle Rouge is known for its chicken wings, which, if I might say so, are damn good. But be warned: they don't come cheap. Four of these juicy things will set you back -- hold your breath -- $8! Ouch! Cercle Rouge, 241 West Broadway; tel.: 212-226-6252.

I grew up in Connecticut and after my mom passed away in 2000, my dad moved to Erie, PA. Just this past April, he gave us all a scare when he had to have emergency quadruple bypass surgery. It's not been easy, to say the least, and his recovery has been long. Since he wasn't feeling up to traveling to Connecticut for the holiday, I went out to western Pennsylvania to spend my birthday with him. And this time, I took a new route to get there. Instead of flying directly into Erie, which requires two flights from New York, or flying nonstop into Buffalo (105 miles away), Cleveland (112 miles) or Pittsburgh (134 miles) and driving the rest of the way, I flew into Toronto. You're probably thinking: what the heck!? That's right! Toronto's Pearson Airport (YYZ) is Erie's other, lesser-known alternate airport. I know; it's a bit further away (196 miles) but there actually is method to my madness. I had to be in Toronto for business the following week and my good friend Natalie lives up there and since she was going to Erie as well, it all worked out.

The trip to Toronto was smooth and easy; it's just an hour flight from New York's LaGuardia airport (LGA). After I landed, I had dinner at Sher-E-Punjab, a fine Indian restaurant (351 Danforth Avenue, Toronto, 416-465-2125) and the following morning, we drove three hours to Erie. It takes 90 minutes to get to the Peace Bridge, which is one of the U.S./Canada border checkpoints. It was just a five-minute wait and the agents asked a bunch of personal questions. I don't want to divulge the nature of the questions, just in case some cowardly terrorists are reading this! But I will tell you that they even checked the trunk for contraband. Fortunately, they didn't see the ... just kidding! Once we crossed the border, we were in beautiful downtown Buffalo, New York. And as my Canuck friend pointed out, the drive from Buffalo to Erie is actually much prettier than the first part of the drive, from Toronto to Buffalo.

When I arrived in Erie, my dad was just getting over the worst part of his recovery. He was so much thinner than usual; he didn't have much of an appetite and had very little energy. Fortunately, he was just snapping out of it and every day we were able to go for a short walk, out to breakfast and dinner (our favorite place was Pufferbelly's a restored firehouse), play Scrabble and even visit Waldameer Park to play (and win!) at some fun amusement park games. We had lots of laughs and memorable times and I think this was the first time that we didn't argue with each other at all. My dad is a great father and even before this trip, I thanked God every night that I have him as my dad. Pufferbelly, 414 French Street, Erie, PA; tel.: 814-454-1557.

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Pictures From

The Trip


Stick Ball Game


The "Old Guys" won


Grand Central Terminal


Only In NY


Lunch In The Park


NYC Friends


NYC From The WhiteStone Bridge


Flying Over Niagara Falls


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