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July 29, 2014
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The plan was to leave Friday night to meet my mom up at Granddad Stuart and Elaine’s house in Vermont to celebrate my mom’s birthday.

I love traveling by train, and the thought of hurtling smoothly through the Vermont countryside seemed like a good one. I’d take a nice long train ride up from New York City and get some work done along the way. As it sometimes does, however, real life intervened, and it didn’t really make sense—only one train, leaves too early, arrives too late. I would have to rent a car.

“A walk-in?” The Hertz-Rent-A-Car clerk said with an eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, why? Is it cheaper if I reserve online?”

“Much,” she said with a little grin.

“OK, I’m a Hertz Gold member, if that makes any difference.” She shook her head. “So it’s better if I do it on my phone right here, right?”

She shrugged her shoulders, “Cheaper if you do it online.”

I opened the Hertz app on my phone. “Login and password?” I was prompted. I should pause here and say that the Hertz App is a terrible app, and I always remember this as soon as I open it up to use it. This time was no different. It’s terribly designed and counterintuitive; most offensive though is the fact that it constantly requires you to re-enter your member number and password.

I futzed around with it for awhile, the clerk watching me patiently. Internet service was spotty deep in the parking garage where the checkout area is located and I moved toward the door. Nothing. I rubbed my face in frustration.

“Can’t get it to work,” I said to the woman with as much of a smile as I could muster.

“I’ll make a reservation. It’ll just be more expensive is all.”

“No no no. I’ll be back,” I grumbled, and on my walk home, I decided to rent the car and drive up the next morning. I was tired and frustrated, and it didn’t seem like a great way to embark on a long journey.

I left at 6:30 a.m. sharp and with my online reservation in hand I scooted right through the Hertz line.

It rained off and on, but the early morning light was beautiful as Ira Glass’s voice escorted me up I-87 toward the Green Mountains of Vermont. I’ve traveled this road often.

Granddad Stuart and Elaine live in Killington right by two big ski spots; driving by, the slopes were green and the lifts were frozen in place.

They have lived in this house for as long as I’ve been around. I spent a week there every summer as a young kid and from time to time would be there in the winter when I would tear up the slopes with my grandfather. In the summers, Elaine would take me horseback riding.

Arriving, I am greeted by a big sweet dog that walks up to the house with me. Granddad Stuart is chipper in grey sweats and leather loafers. It’s always great to see him, and I don’t do it enough. We stand in the kitchen and I munch on a bagel, as he tells me stories of life in New York City growing up.

Once he bought a car before he knew how to drive and then got a license from the dealer for five dollars.

“How did you drive the car home?” I ask him.

“I figured it out,” he says matter-of-factly, adding with a smile, “and it was a standard.”

We talk about the World’s Fair and his garden apartment someplace in the 20s, of his days on the road selling kitchen gadgets and of listening to Italian radio shows with his mother.

A few hours later the guests start showing up. Granddad Stuart and Elaine are throwing a barbeque for my mom’s birthday. Soon there is a great mix of smart, colorful characters with good senses of humor spread out on the deck overlooking the greenery. I enjoy watching.

My Aunt Sarah and Cousins Amelia and Marina surprise my mom by showing up as well. We eat as many chicken wings and ribs as our stomachs can manage and laugh as we watch Rio and Rain (two dogs) argue over various sticks and bones and attention.

For her birthday I got my mom an iPad case for her new iPad. The case is basically a hollowed out notebook and looks unassuming (except for the glow of the iPad on the reader’s face). I enjoy the irony of keeping technology in things that seem handmade.

The theme of much of the conversation is technology, with the younger generations showing the older ones how to use various gadgets.

“You should download Skype.”

“See if it’s an iMessage; it sends over wifi.”

This is technology at its best.

Me having to walk home to reserve a car online rather than the clerk doing it for me, that’s the human race actively trying to replace itself.

Happy Birthday, Mom!