Thursday, August 13, 2009

Road Trip USA

The Great American Road Trip is over. From Virginia to Boston and back again to see how far it is. Twelve hundred miles. Beloved Wife and I rented the cheapest Hertz rental car possible and ended up with a Ford Focus. Adorned with a suitably incongruous Georgia license plate (don’t need a front tag in Georgia) we set off to New England. My normal procedure, to pre-book and pre-pay the car rental in Dubai, turned out to have saved us about $500 over two weeks. Renting locally from the airport branch at Dulles would have been spectacularly expensive, and then insurance would have been extra.

I have been a convert to GPS highway navigation ever since I bought a Garmin GPSmap 276C many years ago. I’ve used the Middle East and Europe road maps successfully, except in Cyprus where most roads simply aren’t depicted. I bought the North America map for my GPS immediately prior to the trip, so was looking forward to the very prim and proper received pronunciation from Clarissa (who as we all know explains it all). I instructed Clarissa to take us by the shortest route, which turned out to be through some scary neighbourhoods once we got off the Interstate. I am assured that they’re nowhere near as bad as they appeared.

Our first stop was in New Jersey, about three doors down from Tony Soprano’s house, where my very old friend and motorcycling buddy Alistair and his wife Lois very kindly put us up. The original plan was to spend the night in NJ, thence to New York City the following day and then head on northwards. Unfortunately the weather refused to co-operate and we ended up spending all of Sunday sitting on the veranda, chatting and looking out at the rain that was hurling itself out of the leaden, featureless sky. Monday was much improved weatherwise. Alistair suggested that we travel into NYC by train, and then return that evening. We could then set off after a good night’s sleep. The train was surely less expensive than driving into the city and taking out a small mortgage in order to park the car.

New York New York

We emerged into the Big Apple from Pennsylvania Station. Yes, the one in the song. Beloved Wife forbade me to sing on the train, which of course brought the Chattanooga Choo-Choo to my attention, from where it refused to disappear all day. After walking briskly to Times Square, we grabbed breakfast bacon and bagels, and then returned southwards to climb the Empire State Building. Twenty dollars each, and a load of queuing to go through airport-style security, almost as if we were going to board an airship moored to the top. Views were predictably spectacular despite the haze. The tickets included adverts for the B&H photography toyshop a mere three blocks away. No prizes for guessing the next stop on our day trip.

I have now traded my 28-200 Nikkor zoom for an 18-200. I’ve wanted one of these for ages, and it was so very much cheaper than the same lens in Dubai. Beloved Wife bought me another lens, a super wide-angle zoom for architecture and landscapes, as a slightly early birthday present. Huzzah! She also renewed her underwater camera kit with a Canon set-up. I even got money back by trading my old lens, which was a pleasant surprise. I was horribly tempted by a new Nikon body too, but that was simply too much expense for one day. B&H is an Aladdin’s cave of camera kit. I picked up the latest mail-order catalogue while I was there, later described as ‘photo-p()rn’.

The Rockefeller Center was the next port of call. We checked out the sculptures and murals in and around the lobby, but didn’t find it necessary to pay a further $20 to go to the top of the tower.

St Patrick’s cathedral provided a brief respite from the bustle of NYC streets.

We walked up 5th Avenue as far as Central Park, pausing briefly outside Tiffany and Co. The interior is reassuringly and prohibitively expensive. Opposite the Plaza Hotel we gave ourselves a little comic relief in F.A.O. Schwartz toy emporium where I was confronted by, inter alia, a life-sized Lego Chewbacca and a load of muppets.

Cutting through the southern edge of Central Park provided some greenery and further respite. We were both by now tired, but I didn’t really wish to grab a cab for fear of missing some of the NYC experience. I refer of course to the sights, sounds and smells of the city, not being relieved of my wallet by some villain.

We headed south along Broadway, through Times Square and mercifully arrived back at Pennsylvania Station in time to take the train back into the suburbs. I haven’t walked ten miles in a day for as long as I can remember.

If this is Tuesday it must be Boston

I didn’t really fancy the I-95 all the way to Boston. Despite Clarissa’s frequent protests, I stayed on the parallel Merritt Parkway which was tree-lined, interestingly bendy and devoid of trucks. Eventually we ended up going in the wrong direction, so invited Clarissa to navigate us around the tiny lanes into Mystic. That extremely enjoyable rural trip included a car ferry, where Beloved Wife and I chatted to a couple of young teenagers out on a bicycle ride. They’d never heard of Dubai, and were hugely delighted at being given a Dh5 note. I can imagine the conversation that evening:

“Where did you get that?”

“Some bearded dude with a foreign-sounding accent gave it to me.”

Aroogah! Aroogah! Call out the National Guard!

Beloved Wife wished to drive around her old stomping grounds, and instructed that I should turn left here, up Memory Lane. There were plenty of comments concerning how that restaurant used to be a fabric shop, and wasn’t it a pity that Granny’s two-acre garden now had four houses on it. We had lunch in Mystic, watched the lift bridge do its thing, and then carried on our journey. Beloved Wife had arranged to meet various friends from her distant past who have recently been relocated courtesy of Facebook, and the first of these, Scott, was discovered in Boston. We went out to dinner and she and Scott reminisced before we retired to a motel and collapsed.

Public transport again on Wednesday morning. The motel was happy that we left the car in their car park all day, so we took a tram into central Boston and walked a further astonishing distance. We dropped into the meeting house where salty tea was invented and looked at any number of other historic buildings and commemorative statues.

Having planned to see Beloved Wife’s old friends Teresa and Rui and then to seek a motel, Clarissa took us straight to their house near Billerica. We were kindly offered overnight accommodation, meaning that we could now both drink the sangria. And then Teresa suggested that we could all go to Salem on Thursday in her Volvo. Thus three adults, two children and a dog piled into a huge car and off we went to see the House of Seven Gables. There wasn’t time to do anything ‘witchy’ in Salem, which (badoom, tsch!) was a pity. It does occur to me however the logical inconsistency of celebrating Salem’s witchy past. Witches, witches everywhere. If I’d been a witch in 1692, Salem is somewhere I’d have strenuously avoided.

Back in Billerica for bonfire and toasted marshmallows, we all went off to another great New England tradition: the ice cream parlour. This turned out to be way out in the sticks, and as there were pygmy goats to look at as well as ice cream to eat, it was a plan with no drawbacks. I’m glad I picked a small ice cream; I think the next size up was close to a gallon of the stuff.

These are the only ones of which the news had come to Hahvard

There is, apparently, only one place in the universe where Beloved Wife can obtain her favourite brand of hair brush. For this reason we found ourselves in the Colonial in Cambridge. And then went for a walk among the leafy shade of Academia, pretending to be checking out posh colleges for our ficticious offspring.

We had an arrangement to visit Dick and Frances some time on Friday. Old friends of my in-laws, they were pleased to feed us cake and dips, and to take us for a walk along the boardwalk and look at the sea near the mouth of the Thames (pronounced ‘Thames’ and not ‘Temz’) near New London. Like Teresa and Rui, Dick and Frances have a Toyota Prius, one of the new generation of hybrid vehicles. These Prii are disconcertingly quiet when being manoeuvred in the driveway or driven downhill because the petrol engine turns itself off and the electric motor is almost silent.

How useful is that?

Beloved Wife arranged for our friend Erika to obtain various culinary goodies from a shop in Vermont. Plan ‘A’ had been for Erika to return to the Magic Kingdom with these, and then to meet up in Muscat at the end of August. But now that we were unexpectedly in the States, we were able to meet at Erika’s cousin’s sprawling house near Hartford in Connecticut, where we were made most welcome. Instead of Erika submitting to the tender mercies of Amtrak, we agreed to drive her back to Washington where she had a rental car waiting.

The drive from Connecticut to Maryland, DC and thence to Virginia is a long one. Clarissa remained helpful, although was periodically overruled. The scenic route over Tappan Zee Bridge was deemed preferable to struggling through the Bronx. Clarissa disagreed until we were well past Nyack. And the Baltimore-Washington Parkway beats the Interstate all the way into Washington’s Beltway, past No Such Agency. Usefully, we were able to avoid traffic congestion on the Beltway courtesy of Clarissa, who was quite adept at finding an alternative parallel route past the accident and also past some cheaper petrol.

Sunday was of course wasted, sitting around indoors and blogging. I have an informal appointment at the Air and Space Museum in Herndon and there’s talk of taking in a movie, but apart from that I’m now jus’ chillin’.



R Bailey said...

Well done on the toy shopping, any trip to B&H is a good trip !

As for the train ride hope this helps ;-)

Pardon me, boy
Is that the Chattanooga choo choo?
Track twenty-nine
Boy, you can gimme a shine
I can afford
To board a Chattanooga choo choo
I've got my fare
And just a trifle to spare

You leave the Pennsylvania Station 'bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine and then you're in Baltimore
Dinner in the diner
Nothing could be finer
Than to have your ham an' eggs in Carolina

When you hear the whistle blowin' eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far
Shovel all the coal in
Gotta keep it rollin'
Woo, woo, Chattanooga there you are

There's gonna be
A certain party at the station
Satin and lace
I used to call "funny face"
She's gonna cry
Until I tell her that I'll never roam
So Chattanooga choo choo
Won't you choo-choo me home?
Chattanooga choo choo
Won't you choo-choo me home?
(C) Glenn Miller

Keefieboy said...

I just can't imagine you in a Merika, Goatboy. Is 'old friend Scott' the one who used to live in Do-Buy?

Grumpy Goat said...

Different, other Scott, Keef.

Mme Cyn said...

Yes, Keefie -- apparently most men I know but am not married to are named "Scott" (or so the Goat says).

Brady Cartee said...

Going for a road trip is a breath of fresh air for people who need to settle down and relax even for a few days. Also, it is a fun thing to drive along the country on your car with your friends and loosen up.


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