I had one of the most enjoyable vacations (with my children) that I’ve ever had. I’d like to give some love to everyone in New England, you all are some truly awesome people and your towns, countryside and cities are beautiful. We got back home to Pasadena and literally within a day everyone, kids included, wanted to go back to live there, but one of the problems with vacation destinations are they are not the real experience of living in a place. I’m sure that one does not, on a normal week of living in New England, go on a Whale Watch, visit three author’s houses, explore five different beaches, coves, and inlets, and eat out every day. Or maybe you do and that’s why the population is so very laid back and cool. But most of the time, the same essential problems are still going to be there, and if you live in a touristy place you also have to deal with tourists. While not always a bad thing, it can get annoying if you’re dealing with people who don’t know how things work where you live. And that brings me back to New England. I love ya, but we’ve got some things we need to talk about, so grab onto yer chowdah!
Driving in New England
I grew up in an old small town, with tiny roads that were in the middle of the country, where many roads were dirt and probably deer paths at one point, and this town was just outside of Pittsburgh, which is renowned for its wonky roadways, confusing highways, and bare-knuckle driving. None of that prepared me for what I encountered in New England. Now, I’ve heard that driving there was tough, that Boston was wicked (see what I did there), and that sometimes the backroads in Maine just ended. Hell, according to Stephen King (who has a lovely house, BTW), sometimes the roads might cause you to travel through time or visit another dimension. If there are thin places in the world, Maine is definitely one of them. But good lord, never have I seen roads like these.
After spending nine days there I’m pretty sure many of the roads in Massachusetts have been around for about four hundred years, that they started out as goat paths of the original colonists who then just decided to start laying cobblestones where their livestock shat, and the where there was the most manure became their town centers. Then the houses became bigger, and the towns got bigger, but those first roads? Still there and still as random. At one point while we were staying in Marblehead, MA, I came upon an intersection that had seven, SEVEN, different roads funnel into it! I have limited range of motion in my neck, so I couldn’t even see like four of them. I had to have my wife and kids in the back spot for me.
But here’s the thing, I didn’t see a single accident the whole time I was up there, nor did I get into one. New Englanders have developed a particular style of driving that is both laid back and aggressive. I’ve had so many people just pull out in front of me while driving, but they weren’t in a hurry about it. Like they just went, without even a second look at me, like they just expected me to slow down and let them in! Which of course, I did. As did other people when I had to do the same thing, because when you’re trying to merge onto a road from a 23-degree angle because some Puritan goat copped a squat there in the 1600’s, and there are two-hundred-year-old hedgerows blocking your view, you just cross yourself, preemptively swear, and go. People get that and let you in. It was refreshing! Around Maryland, which has some of the worst drivers in America per Allstate, if you try to pull out in front of someone who is like fifty yards away, they will speed up and attempt to hit you for having the gall of slightly inconveniencing them by making them tap their brakes.
Food – Hope You Like Lobstah
It’s in everything. Lobster mac-n-cheese. Lobster grilled cheese sandwiches. Lobster bisque. Lobster omelets. Lobster pancakes. PANCAKES! Look, I get it. I live in Blue Crab central and Old Bay seasoning is used as deodorant, but y’all have issues. And dangnabbit, lobster was up until recently food for poor people. Why was my lobster roll 25.00?! The secret is not to eat in town at any place that looks like it’s trying to get your attention. There were a few lobster pounds just outside of Bar Harbor that were absolutely brilliant and didn’t break the bank.
Segway: Imagine being the first person to catch a lobster, this giant blue-green scorpion looking sea creature with giant claws and a hundred legs underneath, and think, ‘I wonder what that tastes like?’ They must have been hungry because a raw lobster is not an appetizing thing.
Anyway, the obsession with lobster (and blueberries) notwithstanding, I enjoyed every meal I had. It wasn’t a lot of pretentious gastropubs and small plate restaurants, nor was it the gluttony of many American destinations, it was all good. In particular was the meal I had at Leary’s Irish Pub in Bar Harbor. I ate a burger that was transcendent. I believe I actually experienced a partial rapture, like I started to rise up to a column of light. It may have been a heart attack, like I said I’m overweight and I was hiking a lot, but damn was that a good burger. The wings were excellent, I had the Guinness Glaze, and even the simple salad had the most amazing dressing. The only negative, and I won’t say what happened, was a slight issue with an ingredient in my meal, which didn’t stop me from eating the whole thing, and they comped my meal. I asked them not to, repeatedly, but were so very concerned about my meal and our enjoyment they did anyway. They even brought out special items for my kids, and it’s not exactly a mac-n-cheese with hot dog kinda place.
Honestly, the most startling thing about eating in most of the small towns we visited was if you are someone who eats late, you better prepared to cook for yourself. Most of the restaurants closed by 9 or 10, and while I typically don’t eat that late, sometimes adventuring gets the best of us and we eat all of our meals late. Or first night in Massachusetts we went out to find a place to eat at 7:30, a wonderful place with a great view of the bay, and they were able to seat at table of eight with no problems. The reason was they were winding down for the night. By the time we finished our meal at 8:30, the place was already stacking chairs and closing up. Honestly, if you’re a late eater, or get the munchies late, be well stocked at home. And frankly, I love that idea.
Be prepared to eat well in New England, just not a lot and not late.
New England is Not Really Built for Us Fluffy People
Which brings me to my last point about visiting New England. Remember how I said that many places were hundreds of years old? They’ve adamantly kept many of those places they way they were, which means when you get an Air BnB in one of the countless quaint towns in New England, chances are that house has been through all the major world wars, the foreign wars, the Civil War, and maybe was built by people who still called themselves British. Ours was. Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful! I loved the old architecture, “quaint” was putting it mildly, and durable too. However, the people who were originally considered for many of the structures in New England were less, robust. More svelte and less Burger Melt.
For example: we visited the House of the Seven Gables, as made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose cousin lived in that house. One of the most famous features of that house was the Hidden Staircase, where the story had it that the young master of the house would disappear from one room and show up elsewhere and nobody could understand how. Our very knowledgeable tour guide popped open the hidden door and we looked into a small brick passageway about two feet in width. There is no side to me that is smaller than 24 inches. From shoulder to shoulder or gut to butt, I’d need a yard to feel comfortable. But do you think that stopped me? Hell no. I marched to that passageway, turned sideways, sucked in a big gulp of air, and slid in.
Now it should be mentioned that one of my teachers in high school, Mr. Noll, famously told us how he snuck up the stairwell in his youth to get pictures of the bedroom upstairs. Mr. Noll was not a small man. Well over 6 feet tall and thick. Not “Thicc” mind, but like he could change a tire and not use a jack. If he could do it, so could I. However, the people behind me took one look at my paunch disappear around the dimly lit corner and said, “Well take the stairs.” Well, I’ll show them, I’ll beat them up. And I would have, until I got stuck. As I tried to round the banister, I got stuck. I could hear the most famous house in New England groan and creak as I was lodged in it’s proverbial gullet. Wood, hundreds of years old, moaned. God dammit, thousands of people go up this damn thing every week, hundreds of thousands a year. I was NOT going to be the fat American to ruin another historical monument! With another gulp of air, I freed myself, and made it upstairs, just behind the judgey pricks that were after me.
Honestly, it wasn’t actually that bad, but it felt that way. It felt that way across New England, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault except my own. We descended rocks to see the shore next to Thunder Hole, and while I clambered down cautiously, these thin hikers bounded over me, parkour style. I was constantly in the way on the trails or being passed like a clunker in the slow lane. Literally every old house I visited creaked like I was about to fall through the floors. But not once was I made to feel unwanted or burdensome by anyone because I was plus sized. Okay, they lady at the House of Seven Gables raised an eyebrow, but that was it. What I learned is that I need to be okay with what I am and not to let my size be my limitation, because even though I’m fluffy, I didn’t let that stop me. I still did those things, and I need to be alright with the fact I’m not built for zip lining or river kayaking. And if I want to be, I’ll lose the weight.