I was depressed about Donald Trump winning the election, and I decided the antidote was apple picking:
I sequester two of my best friends, Annie and Joey, into joining my escapade. I borrow a car, plan the five-hour roundtrip route, and pow-wow an itinerary with my WASP-y friend Sam, who went to Bard College. It would be an Americana-ish adventure to distract me from feeling like a stranger in my own country.
We drive the 120 miles to Rhineback, NY. It’s cold and bright outside. The trees are fiery red, dying. “Look at that Insta-tree!” I joke. The colors are breathtaking. None of us take any photos. Joey’s hungry so we make The Matchbox Cafe, a small joint on the side of the road that Oprah declared had the best cookie in the country, our first stop.
I pull alongside the cafe and park our Honda Civic with a proud Hillary sticker on the bumper. A Trump flag flies high above the nearest house.
“Are they Pro Trump or Hilary?” I think. It could go either way. The woman at the nearest table is wearing an American flag sweatshirt. Annie, Joey, and I approach the nice lady and man at the counter and order two veggie burgers. Joey gets a meat burger. “Hillary Clinton is an American hero,” I overhear the counter man say to the veteran eating at his table. They are having a political discussion, and it sounds cordial and kind, the way I imagine people used to be able to talk about politics. It gives me hope that we have more in common than differences. My veggie burger is delicious, though it falls apart everywhere. Joey says his meat burger is OK. We get a single cookie-to-go and its dough is fantastic, just unbelievable, perfect! “Now, it’s time to pick some apples,” I say.
We drive ten minutes and pull into the narrow lane to Cedar Heights Orchards. It’s deathly still, and there are no other tourists or people like us around who want to pick apples. We pull past a sign; I don’t read it because I’m too busy looking for apple trees. Around the corner we see somebody’s private house and driveway, with a scraggly miniature group of trees in the distance.
Annie starts inwardly laughing, like she’s breathing in giggles, in the back seat. “There’s nobody here,” I whisper. I pull up closer to the house. I think, “Someone is going to come out and shoot us.” But I’m stubborn, and I want to know where the damn apples are. Annie is now cackling like a witch in the backseat. Suddenly, a large dog appears in the window, barking savagely at us! Are we trespassing? This doesn’t seem like a very happy place. I rev the gas and we’re off!
We pull past the entry sign I ignored on the way in. CLOSED FOR THE SEASON, it reads. I need more proof, so I google their website. And call their home phone. Everything is true: the apples are dead. We drove 120 miles to apple-pick and no one thought to first google “When do Apples die?” Disaster. “There must be some apples left,” I say, furiously searching ‘Apple Orchard’ in Google Maps and clicking link by link; all closed. “But, wait!” I announce, “This place up in Red Hook says it’s open!”
We arrive into a long wide lane of trees planted on either side. I can see the orchards here are as dead as the last one, so I keep driving down the road until we get to some kind of a visitor center. “Stay here,” I say, and get out of the car to go to the Information Desk. The doors are bared. I find a pamphlet blowing in the wind and take it back to the car. “The Montgomery Place!” I announce. It’s all a part of the historic Montgomery Mansion, now owned by nearby Bard college, open to the public. We drive past the “Do not enter unless service vehicle sign” because Joey doesn’t feel much like walking, and take a trip down what feels like 1920’s Great Gatspy lane. We arrive at the perfectly maintained mansion, a sculpted view of the Catskills and the Hudson laid out before us. I say outloud how I bet there were great parties here, but I’m really just thinking about apples.
We drive up to Bard campus to see the Fisher Performing Arts Center. It’s very nice and designed by a famous guy named Frank Gehry, who Joey tells me also did the Bandshell in Chicago’s Millennium park. There’s lots of liberal-looking people dressed like the 1970’s walking alongside the road toward the pavilion. “Let’s go in,” I say. Annie and Joey don’t look enthused, but Annie has to take a piss, so we go. I never think to ask permission to do things, so I just walk into the theater with the onslaught of people. “What’s going on?” I ask, giving myself away. “The President of Bard is going to talk about the election,” a pleasant Bard student says. Joey wants to stay now and listen, but I’m done with this adventure.
“We can stop by FDR’s house on the way home,” Joey says. He is terrible at directions and will miss giving me turn-offs eight times by the end of the day, but I trust him, and we drive. Sure enough, it’s a Memorial for FDR, with a museum and all. Joey seems very happy to be there:
We go inside. Reading the letters on display that children sent the greatest President our country ever had makes me very depressed. What will children right to President Trump? “Thanks for making it ok to bully bean counters?” I’m angry, but I laugh at one letter from a kid to FDR saying, “God is number one, but you are number two, Mister President.”
We walk through the timeline of American despair in The Great Depression to the anxiety and death we faced in World War II, and I realize maybe things aren’t as bad as this country has seen before, and we lived through those times and made it out ok.
We drive back to NYC in traffic, and Annie has to pee the entire last hour. We are a bit delirious; she asks us not to make jokes because she might piss herself. I offer her two differently sized empty water bottles if she wants to piss in them, but she says I don’t understand women, and she would never piss in a car anyway. We make it home, and she doesn’t have an accident.
I’ll have to wait till next Fall to achieve my fantasy of picking an apple off a tree, taking one bite out of it, and throwing it on the ground, as I hear you can do so. I don’t know why I want to do that, but I really do.
And yet, I feel restored by the fun times with friends on this road trip, and I got some new perspectives on our country. All thanks…to apples!