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6 Cakes, 500 Miles, Go

by on July 09, 2014 6:15 AM

How does it feel, I was repeatedly asked, to be the Father of the Bride?

Never mind that, I said. Being FoB took a back seat to my far more august role as Cake Bearer.

Speaking of back seat, that is where the cakes – all six of them – spent a good portion of their natural lives.

Apparently, there are no good cakes to be had in the Lake Champlain region, where my daughter's wedding took place. And as everyone knows, before he left office Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned baking as part of his campaign for a fitter New York.

So Sylvie and Nick, residents of New York City, called upon their friend Kaitlin Barthmaier, a resident of State College, to bake the cakes, and called upon me, also a resident of State College, to transport them from central Pennsylvania to northern New York, nearly 500 miles away.

In July. In case you're wondering, the average July high in Newburgh, N.Y., the approximate midpoint of the drive, is 85 degrees. I could not help but question the wisdom of subjecting the cakes to such temperatures for eight hours. Baker and bride assured me that if I cranked the AC and made only the briefest of stops, all would be well in Cakeland.

Then there was the question of where to put everything and everybody. My car holds four people comfortably. It does not hold six people (and their luggage), two carrot cakes, two chocolate peanut butter cakes and two apple cocoa cakes.

My wife and I had dibs on the front seats. In the running for the two back seats were the bride's two siblings and her two stepsiblings. And, of course, the six cakes.

I briefly contemplated the Seamus Solution. Seamus, you will recall, is the Irish Setter that made the 12-hour drive from Massachusetts to Ontario in a carrier on the roof of Mitt Romney's Chevrolet Caprice station wagon. The cakes clearly were too precious to subject to the roof rack treatment (though I had a vivid mental picture of the top tiers of a traditional wedding cake getting whomped off by a low underpass). Perhaps the children could take turns.

The passenger manifest changed daily. In the end, three of the four potential back seatmates made other plans. That left Hana, my stepdaughter, as the sole occupant, to be picked up at a commuter train station near Newburgh. The Seamus Solution would not be necessary.

We fetched our delicious cargo at 7 a.m., arranging them in three stacks of two. Kaitlin suggested we avoid sudden stops. We sandwiched our luggage between the front seats and the cake boxes so that even if we did stop short, the boxes would have no place to go.

I texted the bride: "Mobile Cake Unit 1 is en route."

"Hooray!!!" she replied. "How's it working out so far?"

"Great," I said. "We've finished the carrot cake and are starting on the apple."

"Hahaha," she wrote.

In fact, I wasn't the least bit tempted to sample the wares until the early-morning fog burned off and, with the temperature rising, chocolaty aromas began wafting forward from aft.

This recalled the Brisket Incident. My mother had made me an offer I couldn't refuse: She would bring a brisket to our Passover Seder in State College.

From Florida. (It is apparently a Frank family tradition to transport perishable foodstuffs across state lines.)

The brisket barely survived. Not because it sat in a hot car for 24 hours. Because of my dad. Every so often, my mom caught him probing the cooler in the back seat for a little slice of heaven. If you could taste my mom's brisket, you would understand.

Just after 11 a.m., we met Hana, as arranged, in New Windsor, N.Y. To make room for her we reconfigured the cakes into two stacks of three. Would the added weight cause the upper cakes to crush the lower ones? Hana would monitor.

We were about to get on the New York Thruway when the powerful magnets embedded in the silvery walls of the Ikaros Diner pulled us into the parking lot for lunch. Thus did we violate the prohibition against long stops.

By now it was getting steamy outside. Visions of the cakes gasping like fish out of water interfered with my enjoyment of my Greek omelet. What if they truly collapsed into puddles of glop?

I knew: We could dash into a supermarket when we got to Plattsburgh, buy a couple dozen packages of vanilla and chocolate wafers, slather 'em with canned frosting, then play dumb when the bride expressed her horror.

"Don't ask me," I'd say. "This is what she gave us."

I am happy to report that it never came to that. The cakes survived. When it came time to serve them, I took the microphone and told about standing in the cake line at a wedding when Sylvie was 2 years old.

"Ca-ake," she whined. "Ca-ake!" The silly adults in the line took up the chant. "Ca-ake. Ca-ake. Ca-ake."

It was only fitting to reenact that scene 25 years later. "Ca-ake," everyone sang on the shores of Lake Champlain. "Ca-ake."

And there was cake.

And it was good.

A collection of Russell Frank's columns from the past 20 years, titled ÔÇťAmong the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," was published this fall by the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place in the Commentary-Non Daily category of the Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter 2017 Spotlight contest. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for 13 years. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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