Monday, May 30, 2011

Chapter Five - Spinning Around

Well, Eric wasn’t an axe murderer, or a murderer of any kind, unless it was his day off. He and his wife have a nice big house with a stereotypical American basement with recliners, a bar, a big TV and a pool table. So I’m able to regain my pride after the QM2 Table Tennis experience and reward Eric’s hospitality by stuffing him at pool. My glory is short-lived when the evil sod kicks me out into a storm! Well, actually he had to work a nightshift and leaving a stranger in the house with his pregnant wife would have been ridiculous. So it’s time for Hotel Roulette, which goes something like:
Sat Nav Search – Hotels
Pick a familiar brand within a few miles.
Follow instructions through increasing thunderstorm
Arrive in centre of city, meaning extortionate price for crappy motel and mad traffic in the morning.
Shed a quiet tear, or scream obscenities at the windscreen, spin the roulette wheel again.
Second time I modified the game by heading to the interstate first. This time I picked the Quality Inn and followed the instructions, only to discover there wasn’t a Quality Inn anymore! Arggh! However there was “America’s Best Value Inn”. Now clearly this must be a good place. I mean, you couldn’t just call your business “America’s Best Value” could you?
The receptionist was a member of the British Royal Family. She explained how she was 108th in line to the throne. She’d looked it up on the internet. I drove the hundred yards to Walmart and felt like a lazy American, but with showers like these a man could drown in a hundred yards!
Tuesday dawned a lot brighter and I headed back to New York. Not the city this time, but the Northern part of the state. How many people think of Niagara Falls as being in New York?
Arriving at the top of the Falls I felt a sense of disappointment. Yes they’re big, but not that big. However the Maid of the Mist tour is something special. I boarded a boat with a hundred people clad in blue plastic bags masquerading as ponchos. As we set off it felt comforting to be back on water, though odd to be so close to it after having a deck 7 floors up on the QM2. The atmosphere built as we sailed into the spray from the American Falls, and then onwards under the Horseshoe falls. The boat plunged deep into the horseshoe, with the power of the water crashing around us, the spray soaking us, and rainbows forming in all directions. This was more like it, and from there I appreciated the majesty of the Niagara Falls. Mind you it helped that the large Indian family next to me where cheering and shouting like crazy!
I walked round the Falls park, but nothing was as magnificent as being within the deluge. I briefly contemplated becoming a youtube megastar by yelling “watch this” and lobbing myself over the railing at the top, but then I wouldn’t be around to write the blog.
After the thunder of the falls it was really nice to drive along the serene coast of Lake Ontario, although what was even more serene was the Lake Ontario Parkway, a deserted dual carriageway. I drove the first 20 miles without seeing a car going my way! ..and this at 6pm on a Tuesday in New York state!
Unfortunately I couldn’t find a nice hotel on the lake, so ended up in Rochester. The receptionist didn’t reveal any royal connections, but she did have free cookies, and recommended the Italian restaurant across the street. Now people have poked fun at my choice of dining establishment on previous trips, but this night served to prove me right. The restaurant was very nice, the staff were polite and the food was excellent, but crikey it’s boring eating on your own in that kind of place. Give me a burger and chips, sports to watch and some nutcase at the bar any day!
I get up on Wednesday and I’m heading East! This doesn’t feel right, the idea is to get round the world heading West! But there’s six more states to visit in the North East, and I read somewhere that the Adirondack Mountains in Northern New York are beautiful.
Heading out of Rochester the sun is shining, I’m relaxed and cruising along the dual carriageway when I spot a black SUV at the side of the road behind the trees. Yes, there may be nobody in front of me, perfect visibility and a median to separate me from oncoming traffic, but in the Land of the Free the sign says 55. Officer Younglove fails to live up to his name and gives me a ticket. It probably won’t be the last, the money goes to the local cops so it’s in their interest to patrol stretches with ridiculous limits rather than by schools or playgrounds.
Still, the officer tells me that the Adirondacks are beautiful and that I’ll enjoy them. I refrain from pointing out that I’d enjoy them more if I got there sooner, with more money to spend!
When I do get there there’s nothing to see! It’s impossible to appreciate any sense of mountains as there’s trees everywhere. What I appreciate is the sheer number of lakes. At one point they run out of names, and just start numbering the lakes, until they get to ninth lake, when they decide it’s all getting silly and just resort to descriptions like “Long Lake”. I spurned the town of Old Forge and headed on to Blue Mountain Lake, simply because it sounded more exotic. A decision I regretted upon seeing the sign for Blue Mountain Lake Hamlet, and realising there was nothing there, as opposed to several hotels in Old Forge offering Pools and Spas! Oh well, I trundled on through forest and woodland, past lake after lake before spotting the Sandy Point Motel.
This time I’ve won at Hotel Roulette. It’s an incredibly quiet little place, with a screened back porch providing my own private, insect-free view across the lake. Bliss.
By the time I check out I’ve lost track of the outside world. It’s probably Wednesday. More lakes. They should call this place the Lake District. They re-used every other place name! I’m still heading East, so it’s Vermont next. I decide to get there via the bridge across Lake Champlain, only the bridge is out. It’s a 50 mile detour around the lake but they’ve provided an alternative so I’m given the unique treat of arriving in a state by car ferry. Other than this I can’t think of anything special about Vermont, it’s just on the way to New Hampshire. I stop in a restaurant but the staff are too busy to talk, so I reach for the last resort – the guidebook. Which has this to say:
Vermont – There’s nothing there.
So it’s into New Hampshire and the White Mountains. Trees spoil the view again so I stay at a place called “The Lodge” which has the winning combination of spa/pool and Laundry.
I’ve not had any random encounters for a couple of days, and I’m hungry so I head for breakfast at Flapjack’s. Turns out, the confused citizens of NH think pancakes are called flapjacks! However they make up for it by serving them with incredible Maple Syrup “pulled out of a tree 10 miles from here”
Next to me at the counter is John, who works for the National Weather Service in Boston. He invites me to come for a visit, but he’s not back in work until Wednesday, because it’s Memorial day weekend. I hope that doesn’t mean Bank Holiday-style traffic!
After brekkie I drive down the “famously scenic” Kancamagus Highway. Except it’s just more trees. Then up the incredibly steep Mount Washington Auto Road. (It really is incredibly steep – 25 dollars just to drive up and down!) The guy hands me a long document explaining how to drive up and down a hill, and a CD for the journey. At six and a half thousand feet the view is worth the cost. I finally get above the tree-line and there’s a great view across the White Mountains in all directions.
Somehow I make it down without overheating, destroying my brakes or plunging to my death (Have these guys even heard of the Alps?) and it’s time to head South. It’s Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend, but I still have the interstate to myself as I head back through Vermont, and into Massachusetts. I’m playing roulette again. It being Friday I decide to head for a bar and GPS tells me there’s a Hooters just off the I-91 in Springfield Massachusetts. By the time I get there I’m hungry, tired and desperate for the loo, but GPS is taking me into a dodgy neighbourhood, and when I reach “my destination” there’s nothing here but folks who look pretty hungry tired and desperate themselves. The cops are supervising a car being towed outside Mac D’s so I park next to them and nip in to use the loo. I’m so desperate I almost order a burger, but resist and get the hell out of Springfield.
Manchester, Connecticut actually does have a Hooters and I’m rewarded for persistence by a fun evening. First talking to Earl who makes airplane engines, and was lucky enough to move here when his company decided to move from Florida to Connecticut! Then I make friends with a lunatic.
I never did get his name but the loud guy next to me surprises me by announcing that he is Swiss. He’s a big fan of the Boston Bruins Ice Hockey team, who are as near as Manchester have to a local major league team so there’s a lot of interest in the bar in tonight’s playoff decider. However at 0-0 after 2 periods, which must be 90 minutes with so many ad breaks, I’m struggling and the Swiss is going mental. Still it’s worth it when the Bruins score and the place erupts. The Swiss nutter is alone in erupting when the Bruins score a suspiciously similar second goal, in slow motion, which confusingly doesn’t get added to the score. He then begins to chant USA, USA, USA followed oddly by CAN-A-DA, CAN-A-DA, CAN-A-DA, and I’m dis-owning him rapidly as the yanks get irritable. Helpfully the Bruins win and we can all be friends.
Full of food and empty of bladder I head off contentedly to another “America’s Best Value Even If We Do Say So Ourselves Inn” and attempt to confirm tomorrow’s random encounter with a woman I haven’t seen for eleven years…

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