Onion Rings

This is the time of year that many take their children south to visit grandparents and get a head start on baseball season. I remember back to when we would pile our three sons in the station wagon and make the trek down I-95, and further back to when my parents would take us down US 1 to the Keys, before there was an interstate.

There was a fundamental difference in those two trips: I-95 is a self-contained ribbon, with its service pods of brand name motels and eateries, connecting two points on the map, while the trip down old US 1 was an adventure, taking us through worlds that we otherwise would never have experienced.

Nothing better illustrates the difference than mealtime. On I-95, the choices are no different than those at the local mall, completely familiar and risk-free. A Big Whopper is a Big Whopper, whether served with a New England accent or a Southern drawl. But get off the Interstate and a whole different world of eating opens up - from clam chowder (New England and Manhattan) up north to she-crab soup in the Carolina low country to conch chowder south of Miami.

Of course, venturing off the interstate entails some risk. Not every local diner is worth a visit, and a lot of “homemade” is best left to someone else’s home. But without risk there is no reward. The best order of onion rings I ever had was in a little waterside eatery in Port Royal, SC, an easy detour off of I-95.

My parents had no choice: there was no interstate, and back then travel was much more of an adventure. Betsey and I had to make a choice to take the exit ramp (or, on one wonderful trip, to eschew I-95 and take the coastal route from Savannah though Charleston, the Outer Banks and the Delmarva Peninsula). Of course our boys protested, but I have noticed how often as adults they, too, have chosen the road less traveled.

As parents and educators we have a choice: we can offer our children a life that is as risk free as we can make it for them, or we can help them acquire a tolerance for risk and the capacity to make good choices so they can experience life in its fullest. I know which option I wish for my grandchildren.

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