I can’t quite say I miss I-95 and the Jersey Turnpike. And yet…

This is the first Easter since 1999 that hasn’t involved some quality time on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Interstate 95, the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. My mom recently moved from northern New Jersey to the suburbs of Boston, and so our holiday pilgrimage took place in the sky instead of on the roads.

NJTP ticket at toll plazaThat is good overall. Those drives from D.C. to Bergen County for Easter and Thanksgiving routinely got bogged down in traffic, prolonging what should have been a four-and-a-half-hour schlep to six, seven, or eight hours. It was maddening, soul-crushing and usually inescapable.

I soon learned to break up the trip by segmenting it according to the sights. Beyond the service areas and the signs counting down the distance to NYC (what ever happened to the 100-mile sign?), my mental mileposts include Ripken Stadium, the Susquehanna River, the Our Lady of the Highways statue of Mary, the Delaware-toll detour (sometimes with a stop at what must have long been the northernmost Waffle House in America), the “Cruiser in a Cornfield” Navy testing facility, the NJTP’s split into car-only and car-and-truck lanes, the handful of crossings above or below Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line, and the urban gash the Garden State Parkway cuts through the Oranges.

(If none of this description resonates with you, please read Randy Kennedy’s December 2000 New York Times feature on I-95 in the New York Times and Hank Stuever’s fantastic August 2001 Washington Post essay on the Turnpike.)

I also quickly settled on a soundtrack: WRNR’s freeform rock from Baltimore to Delaware, then either Springsteen’s Live: 1975-85 or the first three discs of Tracks.

But even with those mind games and slight improvements over the years–EZ-Pass, highway-speed tolling in Delaware and New Jersey, the widening of the Turnpike between exits 6 and 9, and Google Maps routing us around traffic–the prospect of this trip still filled me with dread.

Departing DCAAnd then my last three trips on this route weren’t all that bad. Hauling some of Mom’s furniture back to D.C. in a rented SUV in November was less punishing than I expected (I outright enjoyed paying my tolls with cash, Tony Soprano-style, to dodge Budget’s EZ-Pass surcharge), and early-morning departures around Thanksgiving allowed for two traffic-light journeys.

In particular, the drive north for the holiday that began when we hit the road around 7 a.m. Wednesday was almost miraculous in its ease. And when Google advised we stay on the Turnpike instead of switching to the Parkway to save a few minutes, the magnificent hellscape of industry and transportation that is the NJTP around Newark Airport led to some unintentional hilarity when my wife asked “What’s that smell? Is it something with our car?”

That’s no longer a possibility, and our holiday travel won’t be the same without it.

Flying is safer and more scenic–especially going in or out of National Airport. But it costs more, and it’s not immune to disruptions of its own. Friday morning, American Airlines canceled our nonstop to Boston and re-routed us that afternoon through LaGuardia. That delay and the unplanned connection at Joe Biden’s favorite airport meant we arrived in Boston some nine hours after we left home, or about what it would have taken us to drive had the traffic gods smiled upon us… which they almost never do.

The holiday season, as seen by a tech journalist

To those of you with normal jobs, this time of year means things like eating and spending too much, long travel to see far-flung relatives, having to remember where you stashed the ornaments, and wrestling with wrapping paper.

WreathIn my line of work, however, the holiday season includes all of those things and then a few extras:

  • Gift guidance: We’re expected to reel off lists of what computers, phones, tablets, other gadgets and games to buy, even if knowing that CES will offer us a peek at the next year’s crop of consumer electronics discourages gadget purchases at this time of the year. (I have escaped that particular obligation so far this year, but my Yahoo Tech colleagues have been busy offering tech-procurement advice; won’t you please check it out?)
  • Watching people make purchases they’ll regret: You will inevitably see somebody you care for buy the wrong device or app–perhaps because they read somebody else’s misinformed gadget-gift guide–and you can’t get too bent out of shape over that.
  • Holiday tech support: Taking a look at issues on the computers, phones, tablets and other gadgets of the people we see over the holidays is part of the deal. I can’t say I mind, since I can count on getting at least a couple of ideas for my USA Today Q&A column every holiday season.
  • A break from business travel: December is second only to August for its paucity of tech events likely to land on my travel schedule. I’m okay with that!
  • CES is coming: My enjoyment of quality time with friends and family always gets eaten away by the realization that only a few days after New Year’s, I’ll have to leave all that behind and spend five or so hours in a pressurized metal tube on my way to Vegas for this annual gadget gathering. CES is a good and useful event, but I sure would like to see it happen later in January.

Things a freelance writer can be thankful for

Clients who say yes to your pitches–or at least politely say no and explain why they didn’t work for them.


Clients who offer you unexpected assignments, preferably near a dollar a word.

Clients you don’t have to invoice twice–better yet, who pay before you can get around to sending an invoice.

Contracts that don’t have work-for-hire or indemnification clauses. (How often does the latter form of legalese save any company from legal trouble?)

That moment when a crafty lede pops into your head, fully formed.

The state of flow in which words seem to fly onto the screen by themselves, and you only need to keep your fingers over the keyboard.

Having your reporting lead you in an unexpected direction, in the process reminding you that this profession should be roughly equal parts learning and teaching.

Catching a stupid error that you were thisclose to sharing with the world.

Discovering that you’ve written a phrase in a headline that Google has never seen before.

Editors who ask good questions that reveal flaws in your argument, or at a minimum don’t edit in mistakes.

Anybody on a copy desk who quickly fixes the mistake you discover after publication or posting.

Readers who appreciate what you do.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Pumpkin pie, from scratch

One lesser-known fact about me is how analog I get in the kitchen. One example: For the past 10 years or so, I’ve been making pumpkin pie from scratch–no pumpkin from a can, no pie crust from the freezer case.

See after the jump for the routine I’ve settled on. It started with Epicurious’s “Spiced Pumpkin Pie,” then folded in a Post recipe for pumpkin puree and Mark Bittman’s flaky pie crust from How To Cook Everything, my usual go-to cookbook. (The pie crust is the easiest part–seriously, if you have a food processor, never buy frozen pie crust again–and the recipe needs no alteration, so I left that out of the instructions below. Update, 11/24: After making this pie crust without a food processor on Thursday, I realized that Bittman’s recipe doesn’t address that situation and that I had also departed from it in a few minor ways, so I added my take on it, plus two photos from Thursday’s production.) Lessons learned from mistakes led to the rest of my pie procedure, although further mistakes may change it again.
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