New England Road Trip 1999

“We traveled long, we traveled hard.” Hootie and the Blowfish, 1998 

June 18th, 1999 

The day began with the same nervous excitement that initiates most of our trips.  Though we knew when we hit the road that this trip was by far the largest undertaking yet.  

It was a beautiful day for driving and that we did.  It was about 11hrs and 600 miles to Price and Margies house in Voluntown Connecticut.  Unfortunately to get anywhere in that direction you must endure hours of boring Pennsylvania farmland.  We took I-287 up and over NYC so as to avoid the worst of the traffic.  This worked for the most part, but by the time you get across the Tappan Zee bridge you are close enough to the city to still feel the effects.  Crazy drivers, 75-80mph speeds, and 3 or 4 lanes all combine to give you the feeling of imminent doom similar to walking a tight rope over a lions den…one slip by any one of them or you and its all over. 

From 287 it was on to I-95 through southern Connecticut, where I’m convinced that at least half of the people who work in Manhattan must live.  It was between 2 and 3 in the afternoon when we hit that part of the trip and it was 5 before we hit Voluntown.  This was due to the rush hour traffic delays at every city along that route, Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven, etc.  Some as many as 5 miles long of stop and go driving.  It was on this leg that Steffie and I decided that the folks who drive this route twice daily to  make a living are either idiots or very unfortunate people. 

The difference between southwest Connecticut and the eastern border is tremendous.   The epitome of urban chaos slowly changes to  peaceful wooded tranquillity that would be a joy to live in.  Price’s place was like a dream after the first day of travel.  A great house on a beautiful wooded lot that seemed to us to be out in the middle of nowhere was the perfect place for us to rest ourselves to continue with the trip.  Getting to see Norm (named after the Cheers character of course) was quite a treat also.  I went with Price to pick him up our sophomore year.  He is now 10 and still every bit the character he was back then.  After a wonderful home cooked dinner and hospitality to rival even the best southerners, we sat around to hear stories and see pictures from Price’s recent trip to Europe.  And of course we can’t not mention their adorable 1 year old daughter, Teresa, who also provided plenty of entertainment.  I said it last time we met with her and I stick to what I said…If I could have a child that well behaved and that much of a joy to be around, I would actually consider having one. But from what I’ve seen, Teresas are few and far between.  Price and Margie are quite lucky.  

June 19th, 1999 

This was the day that Price and I had waited for since the Thursdays of our freshman year at WVU when Fritos, Miller Lite, bean bag chairs and Cheers were in our opinion of as much importance to our education as the classes that we attended.  The five of us left for Boston around 9am.  This trip wasn’t much more than an hour.  I played navigator while Price drove.  I can’t say that we took the most direct route to the Beacon Hill area after arriving in town, but then again have you ever looked at a street map of Boston?  While I usually consider myself to be a fairly good navigator, it was somewhat difficult to get your bearings in a town that appears to have been laid out by a village of drunken colonials. 

Another beautiful day provided for a nice stroll through Boston Common to Beacon Hill.  Some research had taught us that this area of Boston and was home to some of the nicest areas to explore on foot.  (And besides, that’s where The Bull and Finch was.)  The outside of the B&F is the same as on the show, but the inside, while similar is not exact by any means.  Of course, we knew going into the trip that the B&F was simply the inspiration for the bar in the show.  However, all the stars have been there and that’s where the party on the night of the final Cheers was held.  The bar was great and the food was great and Price and I finally enjoyed a couple beers in Cheers.  We explored for another couple hours and headed back to Melvilles (Hampshire House) for one final drink.  Here the bartender took our picture and hopefully it’ll be a keeper. 

The drive back took us through Providence, RI.  After arriving at the house around 7pm, Price, Steffie and I prepared for our visit to the Foxwoods Resort and Casino.  This place is fantastic!  It has every bit the size and beauty of a true Las Vegas casino only its stuck out in the middle of the woods in Eastern Connecticut.  And if you’ll remember this is where Price lives also…it was only 15minutes from his house!  I’m afraid Steffie and I might have some trouble staying away from that place if it were that close to us.  So we played the slots and bet some dogs for a little while, got some free drinks and ice cream and then headed home.  Oh yeah, as we were headed out, one of the bars (they have 24 restaurants if that tells you anything) was hosting a free show by Rare Earth!  I realize most don’t recognize the name but I’m forced to listen to classic rock where I live and I know several of their tunes.  Steph and Price did too once listening to a couple.  

June 20th, 1999

 Well after a great stay at Prices, we said our goodbyes and hit the road once again.  We hadn’t been on the road an hour before I stopped to get gas.  And due to the unusually short nozzle and lack of the lock thingy I somehow managed to pull it out of the car while it was still pumping.  A soaked shirt and pants were my reward for this goof.  This of course prompted Steffie to give me the old “This is why we bring extra clothes” line, which she used again when an extra day was unexpectedly added to our adventure.  I agreed and went to the convenience store to change clothes. 

We drove towards Boston again and got on I-95 north to Maine.  I have wanted to go to Maine ever since I started reading Stephen King when I was in high School.  Most if not all of his stuff takes place there.  Well, I had decided prior to the trip that I was going to take US Route 1, which hugs the coast most of the way from Key West to Northern Maine.  And while I knew this would add some time, I didn’t realize it would take 2 hrs extra!  But believe me, it was well worth the effort.  We got on Rt. 1 just above Portland in time to see Freeport, the first of probably 20, absolutely adorable little coastal Maine towns that we were to drive through that afternoon. 

What stood out about this one was that all of the stores were outlets.  Rather than an outlet mall or even strip mall, it was an outlet town.  And the best part was that the old buildings are still there to house these outlets.  They have maintained the original look of the town beautifully.  Since we were a long way from our destination of Bar harbor we decided not to stop, until we saw a McDonalds in an old house.  And I mean an old house.  It was the weirdest McDonalds we had ever seen and had to stop to eat and get a picture or two.  With the exception of the outlets, the rest of the journey up Rt. 1 was about the same in that it was full of these cute little towns like you would see in a movie or something.  Having always been one to try to make it places as fast as I could in my travels, one lesson learned this time was to stop and smell the roses.  That drive was unforgettable.  It took us around 4 hours to do it, but I really felt like we experienced a true slice of America.

We arrived at Bar Harbor around 5pm, totally strung out from the road and desperate to get settled again.  We stayed at a Holiday Inn about 1 mile from downtown Bar Harbor.  It was a great place with huge sliding glass doors which led to our balcony and a tremendous view of Frenchman’s Bay, and the grounds of the resort.  There was a pool, a putting green, tennis courts and a cute little Tiki bar by the pool.  Being sick of the car for the day we decided to eat at the hotel.  The value was a little lacking, but the food and the atmosphere were nice.  Having finally made it to Maine sitting outside on a patio overlooking the ocean and having dinner with my wife was just wonderful. 

Later in the evening and not so repulsed by the idea of getting in the car, we decided to venture down to town to find some milk.  What a pleasant surprise!  Bar Harbor is all those towns I saw coming in blended together with a bit of touristy stuff in just the right amounts.   It is exactly like I have described cruise ports (this is one actually)  bars, restaurants, shops, etc.  Really a nice place.  We spent quite a while enjoying the cool air and scenery. 

June 21st, 1999

This day was set aside for Acadia National Park.  What a place!  We only gave it most of a day, and I do feel as though we got a good feel for it and saw loads of magnificent scenery, but to do that park right, several days of hiking and bike riding would be perfect.  Sand Beach was the starting point for us.  Acadia has a bunch of trails of varying difficulty across nearly all of Mount Desert Island.  We chose one of moderate difficulty and a relatively short length of less than 2 miles.  Though considering the sights to be seen and the terrain, that distance took quite a while.  The trail varied from dirt/sand while climbing the hill from the beach area to nothing but rock out on the peak of a point which overlooked the ocean.  It was really a great trail because I would have thought in order to get the views we got at the top of the mountain it would have required a rock climber.  But Steffie and I were able to manage it in tennis shoes!  Since this hike really knocked the energy from our sails, it was time for lunch. 

It was back to Bar Harbor for lunch my third Lobster roll of the trip.  Basically lobster meat and mayo on a roll.  All three were great and quite different at the same time.  Lobster is so huge up there.  Even McDonalds sells Lobster rolls!  We still couldn’t bring ourselves to eat an entire lobster.  Just cant bring myself to eat something that is staring at me.  So after that and a brief rest stop at the room, we took off for Atlantic Brewing Co. for some samples of the locally brewed beers.  As could be expected, I liked them and Steph didn’t.  Imagine that.  From there we were back to the park where we drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the eastern seaboard of the US.  The view was absolutely amazing and the temperature was significantly cooler up there.  Sitting out on those rocks above the ocean was one of the most peaceful and beautiful places I have ever seen.  An absolute dream for me would be to plant myself out there on a remote rock with a good Stephen King book and a cooler of beer.  Acadia National Park is a perfect vacation spot if you like nature stuff.  We’re not particularly into that scene, and we even thought it was a perfect vacation place. The rest of Monday was filled with more food and fun in Bar Harbor.  If you ever get the chance, go there for a week.  Two days simply does not do the place justice.  

June 22nd, 1999

 Now comes the fun day.   Tuesday began rather uneventful.  We took to the highway for Bangor and I-95.  The US 1 adventure was great, but I wasn’t about to take the same route back.  All in all it took about 3 and a half hours to get out of Maine from Bar harbor on 95.  So that’s how we knew it was 2 hrs longer going the other way.  Outlets galore at Kittery Maine.  Fortunately neither of us we really in a shopping mood, but we needed the break from driving just the same.  Kittery is on the southern tip of Maine just across the river from New Hampshire.  After spending a couple of hours at the various stores, it was off to the highway again.  

This was the one day when we had not planned on a destination.  We had reservations in Atlantic City for Wednesday and Thursday and Bar Harbor is a long way from there, so we decided just to wing it and see where we landed.  Dinner was in Haverhill Massachusetts around 4:30.  It was about time to involuntarily land.  We were on I-290 just north of Worcester Mass when the car decided it was tired and wanted to stay there.  Oh boy.  It started stuttering on the interstate just before an exit fortunately.  We rolled off and into a Mobil Station where we were greeted by two complete dorks.  Basically we were on our own, the check engine light was on, the car had completely stopped and we hadn’t a clue where we were.  And of course the dorks that worked there were completely useless to our cause with the slight exception of coming up with a phone book for us to use.  Well, I called AAA and they said a truck was on the way.  I called the local Honda dealership (which wasn’t really too local) and tried to set something up for the morning. 

After what seemed like forever of standing in the lot of this Mobil Station, I called AAA again to see what the hold up was.  It seems she misunderstood my telling her I was in Boyleston Mass. for Boston Mass!  Man, it was getting fun.  So eventually the truck showed and I told him I wanted to go to the Honda Place in Auburn.  Then I find out AAA only gets you 3 miles towing or to the nearest AAA approved shop without a plus membership.  Anyway, he talked me into taking the truck to his shop which was of course closed for the night (any place would have been by that time).  Steph had already made guaranteed reservations at a hotel in Auburn and had to plead our case with them when we changed our mind. 

So now we’re riding in the tow truck with the car tailing along behind,  (A sight I really hoped I’d never see with my Honda) getting deeper and deeper into what we later found out to be West Boyleston Massachusetts.  The driver had assured us that there was a good place to stay real close the shop…what he did not tell us was that it was the West Boyleston Motor Lodge, an OLD Howard Johnson’s which apparently went under due to the economic conditions of the area as the shopping center across the street was nearly all abandoned as well.  While it went unsaid at the time, you can imagine our thoughts while trucking up this road in a tow truck realizing we would be spending the night here in that motor lodge that looks like it could be in any number of COPS episodes. 

I was quite thankful for one thing…there was a restaurant/bar right next door.  While its probably not the best way to keep from being upset, I have found that  a few drinks will at least get you thinking in another direction.  You know when you look at the people sitting on a bench outside a grocery store and feel kinda sorry for them because they have no where else to go?  Well, that was us.  We walked to the one remaining store at the center across the street and strolled through.  Finding nothing but a bag of chips and a snapple, we sat on the bench and watched a lady feeding cans into a recycle machine.  They get a nickel a can up there!  Next stop was the wooden deck outside the Black Orchid, the bar next door to the motel.  We had some pizza and beer and at least had a good time for a while.  Our situation was so pathetic at the time that there was really nothing left to do but laugh anyway.  

June 23, 1999

“It’s worse at night, Spirits flying all around you.  Without the light, they can take away your sanity.” HBF 1998

The night was hard.  In all honesty, it was one of the hardest nights I’ve spent.  I really struggled with a lot of feelings and worries.  What if they couldn’t fix it right away, what if it cost a bunch of money, what if they put the screws to us for being from WAY out of town, what if Steffie was forced to miss the Hootie and the blowfish show in AC that she had been anticipating for months?  It was getting to me to say the least.  Around four in the morning I found myself getting upset with myself for being upset.  I believe that as a Christian you don’t need to worry about anything.  If you believe what the Bible says, you believe that God “works all things for the good of those who love Him.” (Rom. 8:28) and “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.” (Eph. 1:11)  I realize that our being human hinders us a little, but at the core we must believe that He is ultimately in charge.  So why worry?  

Eventually I went back to sleep and called the shop at 8 in order to tell them the story.  He understood and actually did get the car in first thing.  The problem was that the news he told me was the worst.  It would be around $500 and could not be done til Thursday late morning because they couldn’t get the part.  Man, I was devastated.  Does anyone really think we stayed another 24+ hours in W. Boyleston Massachusetts?  Uh…no.  I knew rental car agencies only charged about $40 a day for a small car, so we pulled out the phone book and went to work.  Enterprise said they would come pick us up, so they were the winner.   Our spirits were lifted to say the least.  Steph and I discussed my spiritual struggles and came to an agreement that maybe this happened in order to make us appreciate things a little more.  Not that we don’t, but God has allowed us an awful lot of fun so far and maybe we do get to taking some of it for granted.  

We got the rental car and went back to the shop for the cooler and other items from the car.  Those guys too thought we were crazy, but at this point we really didn’t care.  He said, “You mean you are going from here to Atlantic City then back to here and then back to West Virginia?”  I said “Yep!”  “You guys are crazy!” is what he left us with.  We figured 6 hrs and about 300+/- miles each way.  It was without a doubt the most intense drive I have ever made.  190, 290, 90, 84, 91, 95, 80, Garden State Parkway and Atlantic city Expressway were the routes.  Not 40 minutes into the trip we were greeted with about 45minutes of delay due to construction on 84 in Mass.  95 was as crazy as I had described it earlier. 

Then we hit New York City at 4, which as I mentioned earlier, is right in the middle of their evening rush.  Woo hoo!  We figured stay on 95.  It cant be that bad right?!?!?  We sat and sat and sat on the Cross Bronx expressway till 5 or so anyway.  Stop, go and crawl through what is notoriously one of the worst parts of New York.  The Bronx is enormous and quite scary looking.  The movies don’t really exaggerate.   At one point there were actually folks walking between the cars trying to sell what I would assume to be stolen telephones.   I  politely said no thanks and we shook our heads in disbelief.  At first was a little chit chat, but then I later realized came probably 30 minutes of silence between us.  I think we were maybe both beginning to think the guy at the garage was right, but what were we going to do…spend another night at the West Boyleston Motor Lodge and risk missing the show Thursday as well!?!?!  At least making this crazy run would allow us to enjoy this night and the next. 

I know better than to drive through NYC at all let alone during rush hour.  Amazing is what it was.  Once across the George Washington Bridge we at least moved.  Slowly at times, but at least we moved.  The Garden State parkway is like 6 lanes in each direction, all packed to capacity.   Slowly but surely we proceeded to south Jersey where the lanes went back to 2 and I could make some time.  

At seven we arrived in Atlantic City.  After this morning Steffie and I both agreed to appreciate everything and Atlantic City was like a Utopia for us!  We checked in to the Sands and found ourselves in one of the nicest hotels and hotel rooms we had ever been in.  From a scene from COPS to the lap of luxury.  I know folks think we’re crazy but every minute we spent in AC was like a dream.  

June 24, 1999  

Hootie Day 1999 I don’t exactly know when Steph became a Hootie fan, but when she fell, she fell hard.  I liked HBF, but just in a casual way and always sort of looked at them as a rather “teenie bopper” band until I began listening to them and appreciating their all their work.  So anyway Hootie day began with the Epic Buffet at the Sands.  Enormous.  Not quite a Vegas buffet, but good nonetheless.  We then spent the day walking the boardwalk, walking along the beach collecting shells, and hitting some of the casinos.  Doesn’t sound like much, but considering what we had been through, Thursday was one of the best days of the trip and probably will be looked up on as one of the best ever. 

We played a while at the new Wild West Casino and came out about even.  The guy beside us actually got a royal flush, something I’ve never actually seen in person.  Too bad he was only playing nickels.  Our leisurely day was still tiring and Steph took a nap in the afternoon.  Now I don’t know exactly why, but it does appear that I have much better luck at the slots when I’m alone.  Came back after nap time with $150.  That’s pennies to the real gambler, but to us, it was enough to make us come out ahead for the whole AC visit, and that’s good enough for me!  So it was time, time to get ready for the Hootie show.  It was across town at the Trump Marina so we had to get a cab over and back.  We arrived around 6:30 or so and had some pizza and beer at a place called the Deck.  Its right on the water and they have a live rock and roll band playing.  Once again we were blessed with absolutely perfect weather.  The venue for Hootie was also outside and quite beautiful.  Sailboats all around, the skyline of AC in the background, and a cool summer night breeze from the Atlantic. 

By this time any remaining doubts about making this extra run to Atlantic City were completely erased.   I admit as a longtime concert goer, this was one of the best shows I have ever seen.  Or at least I should say that I enjoyed it as much as any other.  Our seats were only 6 rows from the stage in the center section.   And they rocked!  Having logged several miles as a passenger in Steffie’s Hootiemobile, I knew the songs as well as the veterans I’m sure.  Energetic, sincere, appreciative of the audience, anything that can make you enjoy a show was most certainly present.   We even got to know the folks around us a little.  And I was certainly glad to see that the average age was more in my range than the teenager range that I had expected to see.  After 2 encores and over 2 hours the show was over.  I must say that I did leave as a Hootie and the Blowfish fan and  Steffie actually enjoyed it even more than she had anticipated…which I wouldn’t believe was possible if I had not seen it with my own eyes.   We went back to the Trump Marina for Ice Cream and then got a cab back to the Sands around midnight where we called it a day. 

June 25, 1999

 Well, now was the time that we had to pay for the run to AC.  Backtracking clear to Massachusetts to get my car might have seemed a chore to some, but as I said, the time in AC was worth any effort.  We drove a different route around NYC, and saved ourselves a little traffic time, but the distance actually evened out the time overall.  We took the GSP clear to the top of NJ and then took 87 North to 84.  84 lead us diagonally across the state of Connecticut to near Worcester Mass.  We left AC at 9 am and arrived at the rental car place to return the car at 4 where we learned that we had logged an extra 700 miles, but it really didn’t matter at this point.  They gave us a ride back to the garage where we paid up what was probably a reasonable price for a new distributor and loaded the car for the road.  At first I was hesitant about the car, because once it fails you the relationship is never the same, but after a few miles we were back to normal. 

On Wednesday I had called Price and asked if he minded another visit, and we were quite glad that they didn’t.  So from the shop it was back to Price and Margie’s for the second time this trip.  Another wonderful evening of a homecooked dinner and hanging out on the screened in porch spending time with our friends along with the fact that the AC trip was enjoyed 10 times more than it would have been makes it clear to me that Tuesday’s events were really a blessing and nothing to worry about after all.  

June 26th, 1999 

Once again we said our goodbyes and headed for the highway.  Once again we drove 95 through southern Connecticut and once again it was crazy.  The message boards indicated 4 miles of traffic delay ahead and Steffie kicked in to emergency navigator mode again.  We got off  95 at Darian Connecticut and stopped for donuts.  Then we weaved through Connecticut Rt. 124 and some of the typical high dollar houses of those crazy folks who drive in to Manhattan every day.  Quite beautiful.  The Merrit Parkway is a beautiful wooded four lane highway through all these rich neighborhoods.  It parallels 95 but the rules up there state that trucks aren’t allowed on parkways so its not quite as bad as 95.  I really enjoyed that part of the trip home, but I-287 and the farmlands of Pennsylvania were just as described on the first day.  To tell you the truth, it really didn’t matter.  We were back in Stonewood at 8pm and happy to be home. “Lets go on…and remember where we’ve been” HBF 1998 

Mike                                       

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