EVERY CHILD'S MANDATORY GRAND TOUR
by Mark Scheinbaum
Angel Fire, N.M.
May 28, 2011
ANGEL FIRE, N.M., May 24, 2011 -- Now they tell me I have woefully failed in the upbringing of my children.
Today, one of my favorite children emailed me to indicate that he had finished up the Grand Tour of Europe.
Well, that's not exactly what he said, but he simply sent an email with a link to Wikipedia explaining the history of the Grand Tour and how it was the 18th-Century alternative to boredom for the British nobility and noble wannabes.
Later upscale global wannabes could simply book a (Thomas A.) Cook's Tour and return to Melbourne or Milwaukee and declare themselves cultured. The slight insult in the email was the implication that the datelines of his messages over the past year from all over Europe would confuse me. Perhaps he thought I would mistake the photos as those from an Orlando theme park.
The problem is that since on my first trip to Europe I celebrated my 50th birthday, perhaps I did not properly instill the importance of the Grand Tour in the formative minds of my kids during their younger years.
To be sure, my son got to visit the birthplace of my own grandfather, and the real places my haunts were only named after as a second choice. He visited Granada in Spain, while I went to the Saturday cartoon shows at the Granada theatre in Brooklyn.
He walked through the actual Alhambra while I passed the Alameda and Alhambra on East Cold Springs Lane, attempting to be a broadcaster from the Flight Three Studios in Baltimore. I had Danish with my coffee; he had Danish with his ferry ticket over to Norway. He rode the canals of Amsterdam while I only grew up in a borough of Nieuw Amsterdam.
He knows the shops for pastry in Vienna; I grew up placing Vienna sausages on toothpicks.
OK, my wife and I - mostly my wife - must have done something right, and he is surely on his way to being a better dad for his family than his old man. He has two and a half college degrees and counting, and of course, he has done the official Grand Tour.
But all of this means that I was deficient as a father. I never explained to my kids what mandatory venues a kid growing up in New York should try to see, for a well rounded education. They lacked the kind of education my own dad and grand-dad would be proud of calling their own.
So, hoping it is never too late to set the record straight, perhaps someday this handy guide for all my kids and grandkids will provide them with the true quenching of the thirst for knowledge most of the guys I grew up with would have craved. Your old man's recommended Grand Tour of the United States of America:
TWO THOROUGHBRED RACE TRACKS: You must visit one old, cruddy urban area racetrack with gum on the ground and the aroms of barf in the air. New York's Aqueduct will do fine, but you can pick others.
While Saratoga is historic and an optional extra credit pick, it is far too trendy during Travers Stakes Week, and does not count as an official stop. The second racetrack must have palm trees.
Gulfstream Park, or Delmar or Santa Anita will do, and Hialeah is fine whether or not horses are running.
TWO POOL HALLS: Note that "billiard parlors" or "family billiard centers" do not count. One pool hall must be underground, such as Spinella's in the sub-basement of Brooklyn's Albermarle Theatre.
The other must be above a store, a second or third story walk-up like Beansy's on Church Avenue in Brooklyn. You must spend several days, and perhaps nights in each pool hall. You might find apocryphal tales that a guy named "Beansy" actually owned the emporium.
But you might also find the patrons mostly call it that name because the place smells like what happens when you eat too many beans, thus the name "Beansy's."
INTERCITY BUS STATIONS: All Grand Tours must include at least one Greyhound or Trailways trip of 14 hours or more. "Rest stops" usually afford you the gourmet cuisine of a nearby White Castle, White Tower, or Waffle House.
Lest one think that stimulating conversations with fascinating "characters" is the purpose of this journey, you will find the best education comes for simply sitting next to a drunk whose head is slumped on your shoulder while he snores and drools for the entire ride.
NASHVILLE PUB CRAWL: While other kids head for the Grand Canyon, San Francisco, or Chicago, the truly educated American will go to Nashville.
The Grand Ole Opry is a fine plus but does not count. The informed traveler will seek out Salsa, Karaoke, Jazz, Rock, and Folk clubs in addition to the Country & Western honky-tonks.
My children can still covet Harvard or Princeton but they will also learn that America would be just fine with about a thousand schools like Vanderbilt.
It won't hurt them to walk the same sidewalks trod by Roy Acuff, Dinah Shore, Tex Ritter, Hank Snow and Alan Jackson and save the streets of Churchill and Kaiser Wilhelm for another day.
DOMINOES - NOT THE PIZZA: The Grand Tour must include a marathon game of dominoes. This game must preferably take place with old guys drinking out of rum bottles from paper sacks and smoking short, thick cigars.
Select locations for domino games are the following (choose one): Ybor City's El Circulo Cubano in Tampa; Amsterdam Avenue in New York; Saguesera (Southwest Area) in Miami; Nogales, Arizona; Slidell, Louisiana; Union City, N.J.; Questa, N.M., or Damascus, Virginia.
WHITE-TAILED DEER HUNTING IN NORTHERN LOUISIANA: No one cares if you kill anything or shoot anything. Just pull up to the Loaf n' Suds to meet the guys and gals at 5 a.m. and choose from the two varieties of breakfast fare on the menu: fried, and deep-fried.
Nod at the Parish deputies when they pull up to the store, just because everyone else does. Fill up your coffee mug with scorching black Community Coffee. Put the lid on a 48-oz. Dr. Pepper loaded with ice for later in the day. Also take the ladle and dip a quart of peanuts cooked in Tabasco sauce into a Styrofoam cup for your take out lunch.
Then go out and climb into a tree stand in the freezing rain until your butt sticks to the bark. For the rest of your life you will appreciate a warm bed and a significant other who tosses you a fluffy, dry towel when you step out of the shower.
None of the stops of my Grand Tour will require a $27 pocket guide which is only good for one city and is outdated every two years.
You will not need to know how to order from a wine list, and you will not be required to know the best time to dine on white asparagus instead of green.
Victorian youth needed the Grand Tour to learn about cultural diversity and broaden their view of the world and themselves. My tour does the same thing at a lower cost, and instead of a valid passport, all you need are plenty of Tums.
AR Financial Writer Mark Scheinbaum is not only a great dad but has circled the globe several times as a traveler, economist and veteran reporter.