Day 14 (July 25th): DFW to EWR (NEWARK, NJ) via American Airlines! Big Ol' Jet Airliner
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Forget about the map for this one, folks.

You ever walk into a restaurant you’ve never been to before, and the moment you walk through the door, you just know you’re in the right place?

Let’s hit “Rewind” for a moment here.

Awaking at 4 AM, just three hours after having turned in, I began to load almost everything I’ve got onto either the bike or the trailer, carrying just a handful of things with wear to a wedding I was to attend later that same day, in northeastern New Jersey! I completed the loading process efficiently, getting only a little of the filthy grease from the trailer hitch ball onto my hands, and headed to the hotel lobby in time for the first airport shuttle of the day at 5 AM. Another group was heading there this morning as well, hoping to be able to catch a standby flight to Las Vegas. As their “real” flight was not until 10:30 PM, and since they were traveling with a youngster, I hope they were able to get on an earlier one and minimize the time spent at the airport that day.

DFW is gigantic in sheer size, and aside from the risk that the garage may have chosen not to let me park the rig had I attempted to get there on my own, the truth is I doubt I ever would have been able to find where I was going. After a medium-length wait to get to the security screening area, I was delighted to be waved through in probably the least amount of time I have ever experienced. I mean, I was through there in about two seconds, having caught no heat about the laptop, or my toothpaste/etc. not being in its own “sealed plastic bag”, or any of that other ridiculous, contrived garbage that help make it look as if the screeners would actually catch anyone who would be determined to bring illegal items onto a plane.

The other good news about the free shuttle is that, as of now, I’ve spent a total of two (2) dollars, for a housekeeping tip, on non-fuel purchases in the past thirty-six hours.

Once on the packed plane, I’m fearing that this may turn into the Screaming Baby Express…but not because of any infants on board. No, the screaming baby may in fact be me, because the drone of the engines just a yard behind my seat threatens to be worse than anything I’ve endured recently -- and since by now you know I’ve spent much of the last two weeks astride a fourteen year-old motorcycle, this is really saying something.

Sitting in the rear of the long, narrow MD-80, highlighting the fact that I am basically looking down a cylindrical metal tube, makes me think of what an absolute coffin this thing would be if it ever went down someplace other than a on runway.

Wheels up right on time, and the glacier-looking clouds over Dallas have disappeared. I am just now passing back over the Mississippi, this time in a plane! We’re low enough that a rather handsome-looking suspension bridge is easily visible below, carrying across the river a road that seems to lead mostly to nowhere on either side.

Forgoing much-needed sleep to use the flight time for web page updating, I crank out a few pages of narratives. I hear an announcement we are passing over Washington, DC, but it is on the other side of the plane so my view is of the bridge crossings over the Delaware and Potomac Rivers instead. On final descent outside of Newark, the weather looks gorgeous and we are low enough to see the  shops and restaurants of what I am sure is the revitalized city’s Ironbound District, a once-primarily Italian section of town which more recently morphed into a Portuguese/Brazilian enclave of culture and dining.

My father has popped over from NYC to meet me for lunch and partake of Ironbound for the first time as well. Alas, our plane lands on time, but rounds the corner only to find another airliner already sitting at our intended arrival gate (BTW how does that happen?) By the time it is sorted out and I am finally hustling through the terminal, it is forty minutes later than the original ETA, which will limit our lunching time before I need to head further north to the wedding.

Easily locating the District -- it is less than five miles from the airport -- we park and, noting what appears to be a reasonably safe dining possibility right nearby, we allow a few minutes to canvass the area. Coming across nothing any more compelling, we head back to the parking space and to the Iberia Tavern & Restaurant across the street. The moment I walked in the door I knew we had happened into the right place; sunlight through the front window illuminates a long, zinc-topped bar down the entire length of the room on the left, with white-tablecloth dining tables on the right, floor waiters dressed in black jackets and bow-ties, and a staff of about fifteen gentlemen on shift here for a Friday lunch. In short, pure continental-style décor and dining. Customers are clearly regulars and speak Portuguese to the four (!) barmen on duty. Scanning the lengthy menu, plus the specials list, my thought is that it is the establishment’s game to win or lose; if the food is even passable, the place is an absolute find.

Menu selections are made and, in the event, are fantastic -- pork, sausage, fish soup. The beers and sangria flow, and putting to good use the precious few minutes before we need to depart, The Chief (tm) even enjoys an espresso with Licor Cuaranta Tres as a sweetener. Total cost: thirty five dollars.

Are you kidding me?

Buoyed by our wonderful luck here, we head north to the hotel to rendez-vous with the clowns coming down from the Boston area (although one had flown in a few days earlier from the West Coast). Coming from 1,400 miles away and having already enjoyed lunch, I nevertheless arrive far earlier than they do, owing to a slight misunderstanding on the part of the driver of exactly when the wedding was slated to begin. When they pull into the hotel lobby at 2:50 -- or, just ten minutes before kickoff, in a church several towns away -- there is little surprise. Turnaround is quick enough, the GPS somehow does not mis-direct us, and we sneak in to the back of the church with no fanfare. Missing some of the prelims but taking in all the important segments, the ceremony goes swimmingly, and our friend Jim and new wife Terra are married. Smiles and handshakes all around!

In the few hours afterwards, before the reception, an ad hoc reunion with several college chums from decades ago takes place in the day’s second dining-related stroke of good fortune, as the nearest bar/saloon that the GPS identifies turns out to be yet another gem. Appetizers and beers for six guys over the stretch of two hours somehow sets us back just $65, and even better, I am able to convince one of the others to pick up my share of the tab. The best is yet to come, however, as we pile back into various rental cars and head to the reception hall.

The place is elegant looking, but that doesn’t stop our driver from whipping straight past the “Valet Only” signs and dropping anchor in one of the primo parking spots -- followed immediately in the maneuver by the second car. Fortunately the valets are barely fazed and we are only mildly busted for the stunt. There is at least one other function occurring within the facility, and naturally we offer a litany of stupid jokes about switching parties to the hostess at the door. We are soon to learn that crashing any of the other parties would have been a BIG mistake.

The food at our reception is incredible. More choices in every part of the room than imaginable -- seafood, meats, sushi, everything. Open bar beginning with the better brands -- Maker’s Mark bourbon, for instance, which fuel several bourbon & sours subsequently taken down by The Chief (tm). Mercifully not having eaten much of what we ordered at the saloon, I am able to enjoy plenty of the sushi, and a few of the other items offered by the roving waiters, but I’ve probably not had about 80% of the possible options.

Of course, it’s not even close to being over, with a three-course dinner, plus a sorbet, awaiting us inside the ballroom. More drinks gratis, wine, champagne, dessert, espresso, and holy mackerel I’ve probably just put back on all the weight that I’d lost over the course of the two weeks on the road.

I just hope the bike is still there when I get back.


Father of The Chief (tm)

They Do

This Way Out

All Over but the Shouting