Rockland Country Day School (actually just a large house that poses as a high school).
The Ramapo Diner in Suffern, NY. Open 24 hours. What a concept.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Mystic Pizza. I doubt very much if it was also open 24 hours.

After leaving New York City, we went to some more of Carina's childhood homes and schools, in Suffern, Nyack and Newburgh. We also toured the lovely Hudson River valley, where we passed Sleepy Hollow, but we were fortunately on the other side of the river and thus were safe from any pumpkin-headed horsemen. We saw West Point and a decommissioned Air Force base that had been taken over by the Marines, and we saw Carina's high school, or as Dirk calls it, the country school for Fauntleroys.

I now take a break from the prepared material to discuss something that only seems to exist in the upper mid-Atlantic states, but needs to spread like wildfire to the Bay Area, at least: the twenty-four hour diner. We first started seeing them in Maryland, and they started to peter out in Connecticut, and hit their height in New York. Apparently, they're all owned by Greeks, because I think we went to five different diners, in four states, and they all were. These things have menus like phone books. The food may not be great, but it's not that bad either, and where else can you get chili, veal parmigiana, waffles, or souvlaki at 4:30 in the morning?

From there, we headed eastward through Connecticut and Rhode Island. These states are small, and there's not much to say about them. At one point, we passed through Mystic, Connecticut, where it turns out that not only is there a real Mystic Pizza, it had been around for fifteen years before the weepy movie of the same name. Also, Connecticut and Rhode Island look like Dockers commercials (or, alternatively, Polo commercials) brought to life.

We ended up in Plymouth, Mass. There is a Plymouth Rock, although it's not as big as it once was, apparently. We knew we were in New England, finally, when we found there was nothing to eat but lobstahs and chowdah (touristy seafood places actually spell them this way to help with the authenticity). Carina was in seventh heaven. Dirk had something called a "lobster roll", which is basically lobster salad in a hot dog roll. We didn't see any Pilgrims.

Free Hat! Free Hat!

We were warned by our travel guides that Cape Cod at the height of the season was a fearsome thing to be seen. It turns out that it wasn't that bad. It may be that the true creatures to fear are Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, which are islands and reachable only by ferry or plane. This of course is the antithesis of our Shark-based road trip, so we stuck to the peninsula. Cape Cod is indeed very quaint, and seems to be almost nothing but antique stores and art galleries. Almost nothing but that, that is, until you get out to the very tip of the peninsula: Provincetown. There you have nothing but gay antique stores and art galleries. Having lived near San Francisco for several years, and having been to Key West, Greenwich Village, and the gay end of Bourbon Street, we feel qualified to pronounce Provincetown the gayest place in America. It was, therefore, a nice place to wander around.

We wandered out onto a rock wall that was also a path out to a lighthouse. We were coming back when a stiff ocean breeze blew Dirk's hat off and into the ocean and the base of the rock wall. When you're driving around the country in a convertible, you need a good hat. When you've travelled fourteen thousand miles in a convertible with the same hat, you become pretty attached to it. So, Dirk clambered down the rock wall and into the ocean. Fortunately, the water wasn't that cold, and the hat was only in about five feet of water and not really moving, so he was able to retrieve the hat with minimal difficulty. If he had been really smart, he would have kept the Tevas he was wearing on. Tevas, you see, are designed to be worn in water and on slippery rocks. If he had been wearing them, he wouldn't have put a two-inch cut into the ball of his foot. Instead, he chose to keep them dry until he got out of the water and put his wet feet into them. Good thing we had a wicked complete first aid kit ("wicked" is New England slang for "very").

We celebrated the retrieval of the hat by eating more lobstah and chowdah.

Leaving Cape Cod, we paid a call on our friend Chris Pandolfo who is in grad school at M.I.T. Apparently, M.I.T. requires you to take a wicked high number of classes at a time in grad school; I think he said he was taking seven at the moment. Then again, he's the one who chose to try to get an MBA and an MS at the same time. We were concerned about driving into Boston, since it does seem to have the reputation for the worst drivers in the country. Maybe we got lucky, but we drove straight in and found his apartment with no difficulty whatsoever. Chris took us to a fine Irish pub for a couple of drinks. Boston seems like a fun place, and it didn't even have the benefit of the 20,000+ college students that it has for most of the year. Of course, it wasn't hip deep in snow, either.

Salem's illustrious founder. Not a witch.
Phillips Exeter Academy®, the makers of StewTM.

What would seem like a fairly straightforward business description, "Liquor Store," has been perverted into all kinds of inexplicable labels across America. The "Package Store," which we at first took to be a regional variation of the Southwest, actually predominates in most of the country. But in northern Massachusetts, you will find another store name: the Bottled Liquor Store. You can only wonder in what other form Massachusans might be buying their liquor:

"Morning, Bob."
"Morning, Steve. What can I do ya for today?"
"Ya got any more cans of vodka, Bob?"
"Sorry, Steve, my shipment's late today. I'm fresh out of canned vodka."
"No problem, Bob. Just gimme a bag of gin, and that horn o' plenty o' scotch."
Thus you might hear the morning pass in a non-bottled liquor store.

Before leaving Massachusetts, we stopped to see the hilariously overdone Salem Witch Museum, which is not really a museum, but a room of dioramas featuring mannequins dressed a la 1692 and one Boschian devil statue. You stand in the middle of the room and various scenes depicting the witch trials are lit in sequence as a James Earl Jones wannabe describes the events that took place. The whole thing ends on kind of an odd note, with a little self-congratulations that the Salemites may have executed nineteen people (including one by "pressing,") but at least they didn't get nearly as carried away as those crazy Europeans. Then, you go to the gift shop.

We drove through New Hampshire, where we were glad to see the return of the Discount Fireworks Warehouse ("New Hampshire: Live Free or Blow Up Your Hand!"). They took the explosive theme even further with an enigmatic sign in front of a casket retailer ("Selling directly to the public!") which read, "Have you hit the C-4?" I don't know what they were thinking, and I'm not sure I want to know. The only state in the Union with the imperative form of the word "to die" in its motto got even more frightening when we drove down a stretch of highway that had been adopted by the New Hampshire Myopic Hunting Club. I'm not kidding.

The insanity only grew as we passed a car dealership named "The Corvette Center" which had dozens of cars parked out front, but not one Corvette; then there was the enormous lit-up sign, "Totally Nude Ladies!" which overlooked a cemetery. I had to imagine some poor grieving New Hampshirite reading the tombstone of their dearly departed by the glow of the Totally Nude Ladies sign. "Shocking!" they would think, "How can anyone be so crass? Have they no respect for the dead? On the other hand, I could go for some chicken wings."

We also stopped in Exeter, so we could see firsthand what kind of place could mold a boy into the man we know as Stew. Even the short distance we travelled through New Hampshire explains a lot. We continued to Augusta, Maine, a town that would have to borrow a horse to be called a one-horse town, yet where they feel free to charge you over a hundred bucks a night for a hotel room with no fridge and a broken shower/tub switch. News flash for Augusta: You ain't all that.

Was it foggy in Maine? Yes, it was.
The McDonald's lobster roll. It's not bad, but it ain't on the 99 cent menu, either.
Acadia National Park. Our picture isn't blurry, the park is.
West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. After this it's nothing but cold water and Canada.

The Arby's in Augusta, Maine, sells both Lobster Rolls (because everything in Maine, from McDonald's to Taco Bell to Le Restaurant d'Snoote all serve lobster rolls) and a "Crab and Swiss Melt," but they don't have diet soda. They have regular Pepsi, and they have Caffeine-Free Diet Pepsi, but if you want the caffeine without the sugar, you are SOL. It was raining on the fifteenth, and the forecast called for damaging winds and hail, so we made plans to drive to Lubec, Maine, the easternmost point in the United States. For once we didn't have to add the qualifier "continental." Alaska and Hawaii might hog the western-, northern-, and southernmost points in the country, but Maine gets the easternmost. First, we had to get there.

There's an odd phenomenon on Route 17 between Augusta and Rockland. When it rains, the road suds. Big frothy white suds. There's an even odder phenomenon going on at the Hilltop House restaurant on Route 3 north of Acadia National Park: it was having its "Second Annual Grand Opening." Owww, my head.

Acadia National Park is very lovely, but I don't think they're collecting all of the revenue they could. There are two major roads through the park, a one-way loop and a two-way road, and the "park entrance" is located halfway down the one-way road. So, if you want to see Acadia for free, just take Route 3 through the park, or take the Park Loop Road and get off before the entrance booth. They even warn you when they last exit is before you have to pay, at which point you've seen 75% of the park. What the hell is up with that?

The one real blight on Acadia is the adjoining town, or "insufferable tourist nightmare" of Bar Harbor. This ungodly conglomeration of upscale boutiques and self-indulgent souvenir shops would make Aspen blush with conspicuous consumption envy. To paraphrase The Daily Show, "it made me vomit in my own mouth!" We spent about three minutes in Bar Harbor before we fled in terror from the damage that just witnessing such an abomination could do to our immortal souls. I would like to propose the following motto to the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce: "Bar Harbor, Where Smug White Millionaires Buy Souvenirs That Reflect Their Own Self-Satisfaction. Isn't Life Grand, Poofy?"

Lubec, Maine: The Easternmost Town in The U.S.A.
North: 44 degrees, 48.908 minutes. West: 66 degrees, 57.057 minutes. At least, that's what our GPS receiver told us, but it wasn't getting very good resolution way up in Lubec. Of course, we didn't get there until well after dark, nothing was open, and it was raining. In fact, there was a tremendous electrical storm almost all the way from Ellsworth to Lubec, which lit up the whole sky with lightning that went only from cloud to cloud, never striking the ground. All lightning, no thunder, and the aforementioned hail accompanied us to Lubec. When you drive into the wind through a hailstorm at night on a completely dark road, it looks like the opening to Star Wars. We went out to the easternmost point in Lubec, which is the West Quoddy Head lighthouse (the East Quoddy Head lighthouse is across the Lubec Channel, in Canada). The lighthouse lit, the foghorn sounded, we looked at Canada, and then drove back to Bangor.

MOOSE!!! (Okay, crappy
picture, but we could see him really well with our binoculars.)

WE SAW A MOOSE! MOOOOOOOOOSE! Moose moose moose moose moose moose moose moose moose moose moose moose moose moose moose moose MOOSE moose moose moose MOOSE moooose moose moosemooooooooooose MOOSE moose moose MOOoooSE moose moose MOOOOOOSE moooooosssse moose MOOSE moose moose moose MOOOse moose moose moose moose moose moose moose moose moose moose mooOOOOooose moose moose moose mmmmmOOOOOse moose moose moomoooseoose MOOSE moose MOOOOOOSE moose moose moose MOOSE moose moose (actually we saw two moose that day!) moose mooooooooooose MOOSE moose moose moose moose moose mOOOOse moose MOOOOOOSE moooooosssse moose MOOSE moose moose moose MOOOse moose MOOSE moose MOOSE moose moose moose moose moose moose moose mooOOOOooose moose moose moose moose moose moose moose M-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O -O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O -O-O-O-O-O-O-O -O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O -O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O -O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O -O-O-O-O-O-S-E!!

July 16th marked two pivotal events:

  1. This is the day we stopped heading (generally) east and began heading (generally) west. We were now returning instead of going.

  2. We saw a moose, making the entire trip officially a success. The forests, the mountains, the prairies, the oceans white with foam, the petting zoos, the canyons, the boat rides, the food, the cities, the gift shops, the postcards, the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota, none of it matters without the moose. The moose is what counts.
Later that day we had the privilege of spending ninety dollars on a hotel room right next to the ice machine that had a funny smell and a toilet that flushed with enough explosive power to actually suck the air out of the room. We made them switch us to something further from the ice machine.

Forest, lake, meadow: northwest Maine looks like this all over. Maine is winning the Prettiest State award by a landslide.
Northern New Hampshire isn't too bad, either.
Notice how this sign doesn't use the word "authentic." Would you like fries with that?
Do people really need to be told this? Like people are seeing the moose, and deciding not to brake? People in New Hampshire will intentionally drive their cars into fifteen hundred pounds of moose meat because it didn't occur to them not to?

People in New England think they're eating Chinese Food when they go to the Golden Jade lunch buffet. In the case of many items, this is true. But I feel compelled to disillusion the good people of Waterville, Maine, of a few misconceptions they might have accumulated:

  • Not all Chinese rice is fried rice. Plain, steamed white rice is the primary food staple of China. The absence of white rice at this buffet would surely be noticed by the more diligent Chinese saveurs.
  • I know this one is a shock, but french fries are not a traditional Chinese food item.
  • Neither is macaroni salad.
As far as my own misconceptions, the Golden Jade restaurant did finally disprove my growing suspicion that there are no non-white people in Maine. In four days, I had yet to see anyone of African, Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Indian, Pacific Island, or Eskimo descent, whether as a tourist, resident, hotel or restaurant employee, street performer, police officer, National Park Service worker, or gas station attendant. But there is at least one Chinese woman in Maine, and she runs the Golden Jade. I stand corrected.

Not to make unpleasant generalizations about an entire state, and one that I really liked, but whoever determined that Louisiana is the fattest state in America has never been to Maine. Oooh, lordy. Thar she blows.

We drove up to the Rangeley Lakes, where we saw our third and final Maine moose. She was just chilling out on the shoulder of the road, but took off into the woods as we coasted up near her. Again, we got no good pictures. Those moose are wily.

When in Errol, New Hampshire, I recommend having lunch at the Beggin' Dawg restaurant. The service is nice, the food is very cheap, and best of all, you can get franks'n'beans. How cool is that?

Vermont has decided to name its streets by choosing three words at random and adding the word "Road" to the end. That is how you end up with streets like "Star Pudding Farm Road." Either that, or Vermont has pudding farms. Which I would like to see. Street name insanity aside, be forewarned that Burlington, Vermont, does not have enough hotels. Here's a tip for city planners: when your whole city sells out of hotel rooms on a Wednesday night when nothing special is happening, you do not have enough hotels. There was one hotel with rooms left, which actually turned out to be one of my favorite hotels of the whole trip. Relatively cheap, huge room, vaulted ceiling, and they let me have a free postcard at checkout. So, a super-special happy fun time gold star for the University Inn in Burlington, Vermont. For impartiality's sake, I should report the one real flaw. The alarm clock is on the same outlet as the bedside lamp. When you flip the lamp switch, the clock turns off. Someone didn't think that through very well.