A fine-tuned nudge to my ribs is followed by a whispered, "Are you awake?" I roll over, trying to feign sleep while muttering some dreamlike gibberish. It's 4 a.m.

"Barry, you can't fool me, you're awake. Why don't we hit the road early so we can beat the traffic; I know how you hate to drive in traffic."

I nudge her in the ribs, and whisper back, "Sure, sweetie," knowing full well that I have no other option. The next hour is spent tossing and turning, intermittently staring at the clock, trying to freeze time to no avail.

As I merge onto I-95, my wife makes her usual road trip pronouncement: "We're in no rush, Barry. Let's try and make it a leisurely drive up to Boston."

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"Huh? You know a leisurely drive on I-95, no matter what the hour, is an oxymoron. The `I' stands for `insane.' A leisurely drive for me is on back country roads, except in Ireland, where as you well know the back country roads are incredibly narrow with insane hairpin turns."

My wife's like a second unit director: in charge of choreographing all lane changes, letting me know when I'm too close to the car in front or the Jersey barriers and most importantly, pointing out all driving irregularities and erratic lane switches going on around me. She is the quintessential back seat driver in the front seat. Immediately she brings the erratic, no signal, lane changing Hummer to my attention; I turn up the volume on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" and chuckle.

Ironically, when driving in Ireland, her country of origin, she tends to drive like Mario Andretti smelling victory in the Indianapolis 500. This, on highways that can suddenly become one-lane country roads, winding through a series of small towns. Put my wife on the left side of the road and she's a fierce road warrior with no regard to anything remotely like a leisurely drive.

I'll never forget the time we were driving into Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland, and she was pulled over by the Garda for speeding. What happened next was classic. My wife told the officer she was an Irish citizen, but had been living in America for more than 20 years, and forgot that the speed limits can drastically decrease when a national primary road passes through a town. My wife is quite charming and was piling it on; he let her go with just a smile.

Upon arrival in Boston, we head to the North End, Boston's oldest and most European neighborhood. Growing up in the Parkchester section of the Bronx, N.Y., neighborhoods like the North End have a special place in my heart. I love its character, the street energy and the narrow curving streets and courtyards.

We pop into Polcari's Coffee at 105 Salem St., one of my favorite places in the universe and the coolest grocery store you will ever visit. Walking in, you feel like you're in a general store from another time and place. It has great character and fantastic aromas. Polcari's specializes in coffees from around the world, carries well over 150 spices that are lined up in glass jars and has an equally incredible selection of legumes, flour, grains, rice and spring garden seeds.

Bobby, one of the owners, tells us about the store's history and shows me these absolutely fabulous coffee bins. We share some laughs and I buy a few of his spices.

We hit the street and start chatting with one of the locals, relaxing in a beach chair with his radio by his side, who waxes poetic about Polcari's and shares some old country North End wisdom. On my travels, I have always loved chatting with folks about the history of the place they grew up in and the changes they've seen over the years.

We head over to Hanover Street, stopping at Mike's Pastry, a sweet freak's nirvana, for its delicious cannolis, making a promise to ourselves to score some cannolis and fudge cake before we head home.

Every Boston getaway includes a stop at Solas Irish Pub in the Lenox Hotel on Boylston. This trip we lucked out; we had its incredible Thai mussels special. It was a perfect end to a peaceful, fun, relaxing weekend in one of our favorite cities. The importance of these getaways cannot be overstated.

As I'm waiting for valet parking to bring my car, I can't help but think of the hellacious Sunday traffic I'll be facing. I get in the car, grab my wife's hand, whisper "leisurely trip," put on the Rolling Stones' "GRRR!" CD No. 2 and I'm ready for the ride home.

Barry Halpin can be reached at barryhalpin@aol.com.