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Notes on the Valley: A trip back east

'Traveling is worth all the hassle if you either get to see people you love or discover people you would have loved all your life.'
Stock photo.

I don’t particularly love to travel. Airports were never my favorite place in the world and it seems like over the past few years they have only gotten more difficult to be in. If I could orient my life to never again set foot in an airport I would be happy.

Nevertheless, I recently found myself in a security line at SFO. My partner, her parents, and I were flying to New Jersey for a cousin’s wedding. I had been to New York City a few times before on business but never had much of a chance to explore more of the East Coast.

Since we were flying all the way to the East Coast, we decided to make a whole trip of it. My mother in law is originally from Connecticut and my brother in law lives in Boston. After the wedding we decided to drive up through Connecticut to visit the town she grew up in and then fly out of Boston.

This was the first time that I really got to spend some quality time with my partner’s extended family. Many of them had come out for our own wedding, including the couple who was getting married. However, that day was a whirlwind and I didn’t really get to know them.

We landed in Philadelphia the day before the wedding. After meeting up with my sister in law who had flown in from Chicago we drove down to a small historic cottage town in New Jersey called Smithville where the wedding was taking place. The whole extended family was hanging out next to a few booked hotel rooms. We were all starving so we grabbed some food at a food truck and walked over to greet everybody.

I barely took a bite of my food for the next two hours. There was a steady stream of family and friends who came by to say hello and talk to us. It was like they all had known me forever. It was an amazing experience being welcomed into my partner's extended family.

The next day we hung out with her Uncle Rob, the father of the bride, as he gave us a tour of the venue and relayed old stories. We took bets on the over/under of how many times he would cry that day. I don’t remember the exact line but literally everybody took the over. The wedding itself was beautiful and we danced until midnight.

For the next two days we stayed in a hotel in Atlantic City which was a quick drive to Uncle Rob’s house in the nearby coastal city of Brigantine. We spent nearly every waking hour we could on the beach getting pummeled by high waves. A bunch of cousins stayed back and we got to know each other further over beers and billiards late into the night.

The next day we drove up to Willimantic, Connecticut to visit the rural town my mother in law grew up in. Having largely grown up in suburbs and cities, this town felt like it was from another world. Willimantic had a small downtown which quickly turned to wide open land, dense forests, and occasional houses.

We had lunch at a great neighborhood pizza joint (Tony’s Pizza) with a few of my mother in law’s mom’s best friends. I got to meet the owner and she gave me a T-shirt celebrating their upcoming 50th anniversary party. I’m genuinely bummed I won’t be able to go.

Afterwards we went to a pond near my mother in law’s childhood home to visit some old family friends. The weather was gorgeous and the scene seemed like a literal fairy tale. We sat in an old gazebo built right outside their house while the older couple who lived there kept us fed with fresh fruit they cut that morning and “Lakeside Specials”. I asked our eighty year old host what was in the special. He mentioned it was good vodka and a bunch of other good stuff. Needless to say they were great.

The time I spent in New Jersey and Connecticut was truly magical. For the first time since our own wedding I really got to know the people my partner grew up around. Traveling is worth all the hassle if you either get to see people you love or discover people you would have loved all your life.

Editor's Note: The "Notes on the Valley" blog is written by Monith Ilavarasan, who grew up in Pleasanton. After a career in tech, he took a sabbatical to be a community organizer. He has continued to work in tech and shares his thoughts on the people, places and events that make up and shape the Tri-Valley.

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