New England 1
A nice little Galant awaited us at the Alamo car hire depot this morning.
Our lodgings in outer Boston were a long subway ride away from the ‘depot’ at Logan International Airport, so on the train we went, with all our gear in tow. This jumping on and off trains and subways is fine once one cottons on to the fact that a whole range of facilities have been provided for wheelchairs in stations. In New York – still novices at this dragging bags thing! – we hurled our heavy luggage over the subway turnstiles. Now we use the disabled lifts and exit through the wheelchair gates.
Driving an automatic compact car on good wide US roads is far easier that pushing a manual motorhome around tight medieval European streets. So our previous lefthand-drive experiences were far more harrowing than the past couple of days have been.
US drivers are unquestionably good! In general they are courteous and (so far) patient and tolerant of slow and hesitant drivers like us.
Small towns like the pre-revolutionary war settlement of Marblehead in Mass. are easily accessible this time of the year when the locals and the few crazy tourists like us have the place to ourselves.
Housing styles in New England have remained much the same since the 18th Century. Clapboard two to three storey homes, 90% of which are painted white or off-white, sit in mostly unfenced yards nestled amongst now winter-bare trees. Very few people are out and about, even though it’s been much milder the last couple of days, mostly just above zero.
Last night, we had a lot of trouble finding a motel. A few lessons were bitterly learnt as we paid well above market price for a fairly ordinary place simply because it was all we could find. Having spent some time on the Interstate, we now realise that the cheap chain motels cluster around the exits, as fortunately, do the fast food outlets and supermarkets.
Tonight (Dec 11) we are in the village of Bar Harbour in northern Maine preparing for a lobster and clam dinner.
If any group is broadly accepted in America, it must be the millions of veterans of the many wars that this nation has fought. Like their counterparts in Australia, veterans here have an association known as the American Legion. Chapters of the Legion can be found in every village, town and city across the nation. Unlike their Aussie compatriots however, these poor souls have not yet discovered the Poker Machine.
Walking through the snowy streets of the small town of Bar Harbour, we happened upon an American Legion Post. It was a poorly maintained double-storey timber house on a side street. Compared to any suburban RSL at home, the poor vets of the USA seem very badly done by. Admittedly we have seen some small halls in other towns that are a little more grand than the poor old Bar Harbour Post, but even these are a long way from the Twin Towns RSL at home! Ah, the benefits of the evils of gambling and booze!
Our purpose in visiting Bar Harbour was to visit the Arcadia National Park which boasted the best views of the rugged Maine coastline. Sadly, the tail end of a snow storm hit us during the night, closing access to the park and limiting visibility to 200-300 mtrs. All was not lost however, as a nice feed of famous Maine lobster at a pleasant little restaurant down near the harbour made the trip well worthwhile.
Today we stayed off the Interstate and enjoyed a stately drive through snow-covered New England towns and villages, stopping for the odd wander in through snowy streets and a visit to that pinnacle of American fast food chains – Dunkin Donuts. With a cream cheese bagel welded to the insides of our stomachs and a not-so-flash coffee over the top, we were sated for the remainder of the day.
Americans are devoted to two things – the Stars and Stripes and special holidays. The flag flies from homes, fences, cars, kids’ prams, just about anything- and the Christmas holiday season is in full swing with Christmas wreaths and red bows attached to anything not nailed down; electric candles in every window, Santas hanging from beams, and house and garden displays to make Clark Griswald green with envy. But…. We can’t call it Christmas. Oh no!! It’s holiday time. We say “Happy holiday” now instead of “Have a nice day”, but we can’t mention Christmas – it seems it’s now politically incorrect - big time!!
US Country folk are great!
We have often been told that the US is in fact a number of different countries. To this point, this is proving to be the fact. While New Yorkers were far more civilized than we had anticipated, they are not a patch on the ‘country folk’ of New England. People say ‘Hi’ on the street. Drivers stop to let you out of side streets. The slightest brush against someone elicits an ‘excuse me’. Every door is held open for those following.
A bright day greeted us again this morning but, after spectacular views in the Franconia National Park, we were enveloped in heavy, frosty fog.
Mid-morning we were back in tax-free New Hampshire. Cheap booze at the state-run liquor shops was gleefully taken advantage of. Then on to the villages of Grafton and Chester. Covered with clean snow and lit by the fog-filtered sunlight, they were as advertised – the best in New England!
Very few Black Americans seem to live in the rural areas of New England. Replacing them as the generally poorer group in the community are poor WASPs. Some of these communities have very obvious socio-economic divides. Shopping in a ‘Dollar Tree’ shop (where nothing is more than $1) is an amusement to impoverished Australian travellers, but to many locals, it is survival.