Mike Kerrigan: How a childhood trip to Pittsburgh taught me to visit Paris whenever I want

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The Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure is a critical constitutional safeguard against unlawful government action. My parents afforded my two siblings and me no such sanctuary in our childhood.

I don't mean to suggest they were heavy-handed with unannounced room-checks, random backpack searches and the like. They kept that sort of skullduggery to a minimum. Generally it was enough for them to stay frosty in the common spaces. Eventually one of their children would cough up actionable intelligence, and then they'd pounce like barn cats.

One memory from August 1982 comes to mind. That was when the whole family drove from Virginia to Pittsburgh, work travel my dad had jerry-rigged into a summer vacation.


A quick word about that. Business-cum-leisure family travel was perhaps my father's signature parenting move, up there with his relentless monitoring of the home thermostat. When asked why we didn't take normal vacations like other families, dad's indignant response never varied: What are we, the Gettys?

As a result, his three children were led to believe taking a leisurely week at the beach was the effete stuff of Gilded Age dandies, not the habit of hard-working Americans. And so, to Pittsburgh we drove.


Dad tapped his fingers on the steering wheel while enjoying "The Gambler" on the car stereo. On road trips, we children were subjected to this particular Kenny Rogers cassette in durations that surely violate the Geneva Conventions.

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Boredom overtook us, and my older sister Brig, 13, suggested we kids play "I Spy With My Little Eye." My kid brother Jack, 9, went first, describing in detail an "Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips" sign we had just passed.

The truth is, joy is all around us, everywhere and all the time. It's in the quality of relationships we make with the people in our everyday lives. For in the end there are only two types of people in this world: those we love, and those we can love better.

Too much detail, it turns out. The clues he gave — something tall, green and yellow standing alongside the road — made my guess far too easy. "Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips," I shouted.

"No," Jack corrected. "Arthur Treacher's Irish & Chips." Perhaps he was influenced by the green and gold signage, which bore some similarity to the Irish tricolor. But what he thought could have been meant by Irish & Chips was anybody's guess.

My mom turned her gaze back from the passenger seat and said in the sweet tone she reserved for an ulterior motive, "Sweetie, did you just say 'Irish & Chips'?" She didn't wait for an answer. She knew what she had heard.

Mom made dad find an optometrist in downtown Pittsburgh, even before checking into our hotel. Sure enough, my kid brother had an astigmatism. The first act of his Western Pennsylvania vacation would be getting it corrected.

Years later, the irony of Jack incriminating himself during a game of "I Spy" would be surpassed by a quarrel my parents got into while driving on Arizona's Carefree Highway. For more than a decade, though, Irish & Chips was the family road trip medal-winner.

We capped off the Pittsburgh junket with a whitewater rafting trip down the Youghiogheny River. Everyone enjoyed themselves except Jack, who was still getting used to his new eyeglasses.

This half-week in Pittsburgh may not sound like much of a vacation by today's curated experience standards, but the truth is it was extraordinary. It was extraordinary because it taught me an important lesson: The best trip is the one you take with those you love. Can that be to Paris? Sure it can. It just doesn't have to be.

When you've got the "who" right, the "where" doesn't so much matter. Besides, it's the forgettable trips for me that generate the unforgettable memories. I can digitally visit or revisit Paris anytime I want. What I cannot find anywhere online is my kid brother Jack's hilariously crestfallen face, the moment he realized he was in for dreaded eyeglasses in Pittsburgh.

There is of course nothing wrong with seeing the world. But setting off in the belief greater happiness is a time-zone away is a fool's errand. G.K. Chesterton said the whole point of travel is "not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land." The goal, I think, is to see things anew where we are, the extraordinary in the ordinary.


The truth is, joy is all around us, everywhere and all the time. It's in the quality of relationships we make with the people in our everyday lives. For in the end there are only two types of people in this world: those we love, and those we can love better.

That's what a random childhood road trip to Pittsburgh taught me. When you truly love those around you, the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and Paris comes to you, no travel required. Bon voyage!