The American Dream Lies between Exit 8A and Exit 8.

This past weekend my wife and I drove from Brooklyn to the Philly suburbs to spend Easter Sunday with my parents. It was a clear and breezy Saturday afternoon; from our view along the highway, the whole state of New Jersey appeared to have sprouted green overnight. Gorgeous is not a word I generally associate with the NJ turnpike, but Saturday afternoon was an exception. Light traffic led to a stress-free drive.

One of the many reasons I love my wife is that she’s got a thing for Cinnabon. So we usually take a quick break at the 2nd rest stop south of Staten Island, and indulge in some good ol’ gooey processed “bun” sugar. Sometimes I buy a scratch-off lottery ticket. It’s fun, this ritual of ours.

I’ve spent a good amount of time over the last three years traveling for YouVisit, which has meant lots of time at airports. And taxi lines. Hotel lobbies. Restaurants. Lounges. Rental car companies. You don’t have to look very hard while traveling to feel the growing gap between what I call the “normies” and the “smart ones.” The normies have to take off their shoes and belts at security. The normies board the plane last. The normies wait in an endless queue at Enterprise. The smart ones are either rich, or they travel often enough to gain “status.” Suddenly travel becomes a little more comfortable, a little less stressful. When I finally reached status with both Delta and Enterprise last year, I genuinely felt like I had made it in life. I was a smart one. LOOK AT ME, WORLD. I’m practically a golden god.

I crashed hard back down to earth when I quickly realized my newfound status was the lowest rung of six or seven status levels. Example: I tried to check in my bags for free, which was my fucking god-given right since I had gained my status. And I was denied by the Delta employee, because I hadn’t booked my ticket with a Delta credit card. Turns out my status-status was only true status-status-status if I’d purchased my flight with American Express, the airline’s partner. I flew into a rage.

This is a long-winded way to say that I’ve grown to appreciate the rest stops along the New Jersey turnpike. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re coming from or where you’re going; everyone’s gotta pee. Everyone’s gotta fill up the tank. Everyone needs caffeine. There is no status. No judgements. It’s the base line that the American Dream is built upon. So next time you’re traveling southbound between Exit 8A and Exit 8 on the turnpike, swing by the Molly Pitcher Service Area, where no one’s better than anyone else, and salute the Stars and Stripes waving proudly out front. We’re in this together, America.

The many sights, sounds and smells of Easter Weekend at a NJ Turnpike rest stop.

The many sights, sounds and smells of Easter Weekend at a NJ Turnpike rest stop.

Fire at Notre-Dame! WHAT??!!

I couldn’t believe what I was looking at yesterday. At first I thought it was something on my news feed about the Notre Dame women’s basketball team’s recent hot streak. Well, Nope! This was very literal. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame’s famous towering spire was splitting in half, crashing into a wall of flames and smoke. Centuries-old craftsmanship was tumbling into a pile of wet ash hundreds of feet below. Paris was once again mourning. I felt sick to my stomach.

I last visited Paris in 2015 and stayed at a hotel about five minutes from Notre-Dame. I remember taking my time walking around the sanctuary, reading each entry in the long and winding historical timeline on display around the space. Long before yesterday’s inferno, that building had been through quite a lot: an astonishing 850 years worth of history. It was already HUNDREDS of years old once the European Renaissance kicked into high gear. Most of the wooden beams tucked away below the led roof and above the vaulted stone ceiling were original, but not all that burned was as ancient. For example: the spire was designed and constructed in the 19th Century as part of a “modernization” of the cathedral. Who knew? It actually could’ve been so much worse.

So now what? I’m excited about what’s going to happen next with Notre-Dame. It’s an amazing opportunity to redesign the structure in a way that enhances it (like the flying buttresses and spire editions in the 1800s), but also modernizes it for the 21st century. I’m choosing to be extremely optimistic about this; it’s the ultimate “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” moment. A rebuilt (again!) and modernized (again!) Cathedral of Notre-Dame will make the whole world a slightly happier place. Is that too much to ask?

I think it might be. I will ask anyway.

Another unfortunate “this is where Hollywood gets its visual references for disaster films” moment.

Another unfortunate “this is where Hollywood gets its visual references for disaster films” moment.