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September 7, 2004

TT: Loosely wound

Where was I? It's a long story, but I'll tell you the good parts (there aren't any bad parts).

To begin with, I was supposed to go to Chicago last week to hang out with Our Girl and cover a couple of shows for The Wall Street Journal, but my editors decided at the next-to-last minute that I should hold off until later in the season. Since I'd already cleared my calendar to make room for the trip, I found myself with a totally blank week on my hands, something that hadn't happened to me since, oh, the Battle of Hastings. I briefly considered staying in Manhattan and telling all my friends I was somewhere else, but it didn't take long for me to write that idea off as harebrained. Aside from the obvious problems, I didn't relish the thought of being in town for the Republican Convention and its attendant chaos.

The more I thought it over, the more I began to suspect that the universe wanted me to improvise a vacation--something I'd never done. Longtime readers of "About Last Night" will recall that I took a week off last August to visit Isle au Haut in Maine, scene of one of the prints in the Teachout Museum, and wrote an article for the Journal about what I saw there. But that was a work-related excursion, carefully planned for months in advance, and I am, as you all know, a degenerate workaholic whose hands start to tremble whenever he spends more than a couple of hours away from his desk. Could I possibly force myself to toss together a pack-and-go trip, unmotivated by anything other than the simple desire to get the hell out of town?

Duty whispered low, "Thou must," so I revved up my iBook. Two hours later I'd booked a rental car and gotten in touch with bed-and-breakfasts in Uniontown, Pa., Toledo, Ohio, and Buffalo, New York (all of which turned out to be excellent, by the way). The deed was done. Nine blissful days ago, I drove across the George Washington Bridge, singing along with Fats Waller as I watched the New York skyline shrink in my rear-view mirror. I was--to my ongoing amazement--off and running.

What did I do? I visited two Frank Lloyd Wright houses, Kentuck Knob in Pennsylvania (just a few miles down the road from Fallingwater) and the Martin House in Buffalo. In between I stopped at the Toledo Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Buffalo's Albright-Knox Art Gallery. All these places are far from my beaten paths--the only one I'd previously visited was the Cleveland Museum, where I spent a hasty afternoon several years ago--and the idea of seeing them in one fell swoop struck me as wildly adventurous.

Did I have fun? More than you can imagine. I plan to write about my cultural adventures during the week to come, but the best part might just have been the journey itself. Though I drove a lot--1,538 miles, all told--I did so in a leisurely, unhurried manner, taking back roads and scenic bypasses whenever I felt like it. (Five minutes after I pulled off the interstate at Albany, I saw a hand-lettered sign by the side of the road that said BULL FOR SALE.) I ate tasty breakfasts, feasted my eyes on Kentuck Knob and the Martin House, and looked at dozens of great paintings, including Frieze of Dancers, my all-time favorite Degas. I got lost in Pennsylvania for about twenty minutes, and a gust of wind blew a dollar bill out of my hand at an Ohio toll booth. Otherwise, nothing whatsoever went wrong.

I had such a good time that I stayed on the road for an extra day and night. Instead of coming back to Manhattan on Thursday, I called the Hudson House Inn, my Cold Spring retreat, from the road, and spent that evening dining in style on their front porch and gazing at Storm King Mountain from my favorite waterfront park bench.

I returned home on Friday afternoon to find three hundred e-mails in my private mailbox. You know what? I still haven't answered most of them--and I haven't even peeked at the no doubt burgeoning contents of my "About Last Night" e-mailbox. Instead, I've been taking it nice and slow, if not totally inert. I went to a press preview of Slava's Snowshow on Friday night. On Saturday a friend called me up and suggested we spend the evening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which turned out to be all but empty, most art-loving New Yorkers still being out of town. We dined on wine and cheese, listened to four very good musicians play the Brahms G Minor Piano Quartet, strolled through the Childe Hassam retrospective, and congratulated ourselves on having had such a brilliant idea. (Actually, it was her idea, but I had the good sense to say yes.)

On Sunday I watched a Gary Cooper movie, Vera Cruz, on TV, then had dinner with another friend and went to see Garden State a second time. On Monday I ran a few low-grade errands, read a book, got a haircut, took a nap, ate sushi, and watched another Gary Cooper movie, Man of the West. Today I'm going to paint my first watercolor (about which more tomorrow, maybe) and dip a toe into my accumulated blogmail. I have no deadlines of any kind until next week. I'm so unwound that a puff of smoke could knock me over.

So, could I get used to this vacation stuff? I think I already have. Everybody says I look and sound much happier. And I know I'm going to do it again.

Posted September 7, 2004 12:03 PM

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