Saturday, August 31, 2013

New England Road Trip Pictorial

Friends, it would probably be more hilarious to tell you that my 12-day road trip from central Wisconsin to New England was a fiasco, that it was a series of misadventures in which everything went horribly wrong, but the truth is that it went very smoothly.

I drove there, I stayed a little while, I had some quiet thinking time, I saw some sights, I drove back.

That's how it goes whenever I travel by myself. Everything's fine when I travel alone. It's when I travel with other people that it's a pain in the ass and I regret ever leaving my house. When people learn about how much I've be-bopped hither and thither over the past 13 years, they almost invariably ask, "Who did you go all these places with?" And I say, "No one. I went alone." And then their faces melt into horror and they shriek, "Oh, I could never do that! That's so unsafe! What did your parents think??"

They say this to a fully grown woman, mind you. So because of my legal adulthood and everything, my parents really had no say in the matter. Not that they would've cared anyway. But who do people expect I should've done all this traveling with? Should I have had a chaperone? A body guard? A group of friends who always magically happened to have the time, money, and desire to travel everywhere that I wanted to go whenever I wanted to go there? Such a ridiculous question. Then again, it seems like a lot of people blurt out thoughtless questions without really even thinking about what they're asking or what the possible answers might be. And sometimes I myself am included in that lot.   

In the past there were a couple short road trips in which I had a companion, and a few longer school trips in which I was part of a group, but otherwise, all my travels have been solo. Mostly because the people I'd like to travel with are usually broke or tied up with work or school or custody arrangements. Other people I've asked have been a bit offended by my offer because they hate travel and see no point to it. And others say they like to travel but actually make very grumpy and unpleasant travel companions. Like, they break down every time some minor thing goes wrong, or they're allergic to everything, or they can't keep track of their wallets or phones or purses and spend the whole trip filing police reports and crying to their mom on the phone. Or they're scared of anything new or different, they can't cross a street without getting lost and confused, they're out of shape and can't walk or hike anywhere, they have to go to the bathroom every 5 minutes, they have a really shitty, negative attitude and can't open their mouths without complaining, or they feel "unsafe" if a person of color is anywhere near them.

So I generally prefer to travel alone. It's just easier and simpler and more relaxed that way.

Here's the car I took to New England:  

Yes, springtime in Wisconsin was a bit tardy this year.

I'm still getting used to owning a vehicle, because I couldn't afford one at all for the past 11 years. But with Dad dying and working as a trucker, I was able to cobble enough cash together to buy this Ford Taurus free and clear. She was such a good girl for the whole road trip--she didn't give me any problems at all, thank goodness. Well, she'd better have been a good girl, because before the trip I replaced the struts, spark plugs, ignition coil, cabin filter, engine filter, brake pads, rotors, wiper blades, heater core, and gave her two oil changes. And now she needs her tires balanced.

The cost of repairs is what used to really stress me out about car ownership. "Having a car is like having another mouth to feed," I used to say, "and it just continually depreciates. It's a poor investment." But now I realize cars are a fantastic investment. Especially being a single woman, I feel much more protected in my car than on a bus or bicycle. I can actually run errands without total strangers whistling and catcalling at me. It's great! So if you're a woman, a car is an investment against sexual harassment, and no matter what gender you are, cars open up all kinds of work opportunities. Don't believe me? Click here. Plus a car protects you from bad weather while getting from one place to another, and it helps you carry groceries and laundry and luggage and potluck treats and delicate birthday presents. I never, ever want to be without one again. Having a car is now THE most important thing in my life. It is my top priority. I don't care how much gas or maintenance or repairs cost. Nothing is more important to me than having a car.  

You might be shocked to read that if you know me in person, because for the longest time I was an advocate of public transportation and the car-free lifestyle. I have serious books on the subject, I used to argue with people all the time about their commuting habits, I've written papers and presentations about it, I've attended "pedestrian and bicycle committee" meetings at city hall, and have consistently voted for candidates who proposed more pedestrian-centric city planning initiatives. I'll continue to vote that way, and maybe in 50-100 years we'll live in a more pedestrian-friendly country, but right now the reality is that the Midwest, like many parts of the US, is extremely pedestrian-hostile. And I'm sick of putting up with it. So I've armed myself with 2,000 lbs of automobile and can now function normally in society.

Someday I may even live in a suburb.


I used to talk smack about suburbs because of how inefficient and cloistered and snobby they are, but now I drive through them and think, Ooh, I like that house. And that one too. That one's pretty nice--way nicer than the downtown apartments I've always lived in, where it's noisy and smelly and hot with no green space and all the neighbors are piled on top of each other. But you can't live in the suburbs without a car, because buses almost never go to the suburbs. Middle- and upper-class townspeople and their representatives don't want "transients" and "undesirables" (i.e. poor people) in their neighborhoods. Because, I am told, poor people like me and my family are "gross," "dumb," and "lazy," and our presence lowers property values.

Which may explain my secret, or not-so-secret, fascination with rich and stylish people like Jackie O and Grace Kelly and Duchess Kate, and with stories like Match Point and Pride and Prejudice and A Separate Peace, and books like The Official Preppy Handbook and the Debrett's etiquette and manners series. On top of that, my personal library is stocked with investigative journalism-type books and articles on social stratification, but I still haven't decided what side I want to be on. Do I want to be on the Bob Sieger side, or the Caroyln Bessette side? Do I want to enjoy my classic rock and take pride in where I come from, or strive for more sophistication? Do I want to accept myself as I am or make improvements? Do I want to hang out with people I'm comfortable with or explore a social world different from my own?

Steve Pavlina says that if you want to be successful, you need to hang around other people who are successful so you can have some role models for effective behavior and absorb some good attitudes. I already know a lot of depressed poor people who've given up on life, and I already know a lot of self-righteous upper-middle class people who get off on hating poor people, but I don't know many people who I think of as successful. A lot of successful people seem to come from out East, so I've long speculated that going out there to absorb some successful 'tudes would be good for me. Plus, I love Colonial architecture and history and I'd never been to New England before, so I figured, why not scout out the place and settle down there if I like it enough? So when I left the morning of August 10, I wasn't sure if I'd be coming back.

After two solid days of driving, the first stop was in Burlington, Vermont, which is consistently rated as one of the healthiest, prettiest, most progressive, least religiously backward states, and has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. It also passed a bill in 2012, which takes effect in 2015, to provide for a state-wide single-payer health care system. How amazing is that? And since I want to be a mom, it seems to me like the only way I'd ever be able to afford having a family is to be in a place where giving birth is affordable.

Lake Champlain as seen from Vermont's Mt. Philo, facing 
west towards the Adirondacks. Taken 8/12/13.

Vermont looked really good on paper and I was sure I would love it. I camped in a state park near the town and explored the area (as well as the state capital, Montpelier), and even applied for a job in Burlington, but after four days of prowling around downtown, the lake, the public buildings, the stores, and the nature areas, I concluded that the area was a little too granola and hempy and dreadlocky for my taste and I was itching to leave. So I headed south to Boston.

And oh, how I loved Boston! *swoons* Wow. That town is everything a city should be: oozing with history, packed with talented street musicians, studded with beautiful old buildings and cobbled streets and ancient cemeteries, and full of pedestrians of every kind--Caucasians, Africans, Hispanics, Buddhists, Muslims, gays, straights, pregnant ladies, preschoolers, teenagers, college kids, professional people hurrying along, wrinkly old people with canes taking their sweet time. Don't you just swell with love for humanity when you're in the middle of swirling scenes like that? Oh, and the streets! Just crammed with sweet little shops and boutiques and ice cream parlors and cafes. Streets where every little cranny is occupied--no space goes unused. Those streets are exquisite, is what. While camping at two state parks near the Boston suburbs, I took day trips and visited historic Salem...

And Plymouth...

However, I hate camping and was getting really sick of having bugs and spiders all up in my grill, so I also patrolled various Boston suburbs, which were so green and old and beautiful and visually interesting, and looked for a cheap place to stay. Aside from Salem, I toured Reading, Middleton, Lynn, Lawrence, Dorchester, Braintree, Quincy, Weymouth, Norwell, Hingham, and Rockland. The hostels I found were outrageously expensive, so I scoured "for rent" ads and signs and sublet classifieds but just could not find a place to stay that was reasonably priced. I even took an application to live in a halfway home for recovering addicts even though I am not an addict, recovering or otherwise, but ultimately decided against staying there, despite the cheaper price. I've lived in several other large metro areas in the US (mostly out West) and have always been able to find something, but in Boston my searches came up empty. I don't know if the East Coast is just a totally different animal, or maybe times have really changed and a single person can no longer just go somewhere and rent a little apartment without saving $10,000 first, but I could not find any reasonable accommodations.

And I wasn't looking to stay at the Ritz, you know? I have a long history of renting tiny, foreboding rooms in boarding homes, hostels, transitional housing complexes, cheap hotels, and have typically rented low-end studios and efficiencies, but even the shittiest, tiniest, amenity-free rooms for rent with no closets, no parking, no utilities included, no nothing, even many miles outside of Boston proper, were well over $1,000/month. Small 1-bedroom apartments in okay-ish neighborhoods were well into the $2,000/month range, and the managers all wanted the first and last month's rent plus a security deposit, plus a background check, credit check, fingerprinting, health report, DNA test, first-born son, etc. I wondered how anyone could live there until I saw several ads like "Five girls looking for sixth roommate." So apparently it's like in the barrios in California where 5-10 or more people pile into a 2-bedroom apartment and share a single bathroom. When I lived in SoCal I was one of 6 people sharing a 2-bedroom/1 bath, and that was HELL. No thanks.

So even though I hate camping and was really craving a private shower and a spider-free sleeping space, I wasn't willing to pay $2,000/month to rent a closet with no kitchen and a shared, fungus-ridden bathroom. Which was such a bummer because the more city stuff I experienced, the more badly I wanted to live there.

While in downtown Boston, I had a burger and fries:

I walked the Freedom Trail and toured Paul Revere's old house:

Boston Harbor:

The Massachusetts State House:

The King's Chapel Cemetery:

And some of the most charming, interesting city-scapes I've ever seen. Downtown Boston is candy for the eyes:

Most New England cities and towns were settled before the invention of the automobile and are therefore pedestrian-centric instead of car-centric, which is great, but I really wish I would've gone out East during my younger, car-free days. But, like I said, I'm not giving up my car anytime soon, not even for the thrills of living in the Great City of Boston. My car is the only thing I have right now that is saving me from being a loser. I don't have a fancy condo, I'm not a supermodel, I don't have a husband or kids. But I do have a car, so I'm only 85% loser instead of 100%. I can't give up the car until I acquire other nice status symbols.

Speaking of status symbols, I didn't get a chance to see Hyannis Port or the rest of Cape Cod. I did attempt a day trip down there, but the traffic was so horrible that after a few hours at a near standstill, I turned around and headed back to Boston. Dude, I'd probably STILL be stuck in that traffic if I hadn't turned around. Maybe I'll have to go back sometime during the off-season.

But, over the course of this whole trip, I saw a ton of really awesome headstones from various cemeteries. The reason they were so awesome is because not only were they fantastically old, but you could see the scrape marks from the hand-carving tools:

And the creative, symbolic scenes and archaic spellings:

Below, the angel (time) tries to stop the skeleton (death) from extinguishing the candle (life):

How bad-ass is this next one?? My fave:

The skull/flowers combo on some of these remind me of the vanitas style:

My jaw dropped when I saw this next one. So ornate and perfect and wonderful:

I really wish I could have stayed in New England, and although I have just picked up and moved somewhere across the state or country without a plan exactly 7 times before, this time I concluded that because of the wild expense of living accommodations out East, I'd have to leave and come back some other time with a plan. Or at least come back for frequent visits. Truly, I just loved it out there. I do feel like I got a fresh perspective, which I was greatly needing after spending the early part of summer trucking and then spending a month with Springtime Lover who had negativity issues. I spent a lot of time in solitude and quiet contemplation and came up with some ideas and some focus, and I felt better. And I got to see New England--yay!--which was on my list of places to see before I die. 

On my way back to Wisconsin I veered south to Lambertville, NJ to visit Stefan. That town doesn't look like much on a map, but holy crap is it ADORABLE! Don't take my word for it--just go there. It's a photographer's dream. And a romantic's dream. And probably an antiquer's dream too.

So here I am, back in America's Dairyland, the mecca of artisan cheeses. I have other news, but holy shit...look how long this post is already. I must be violating some kind of ordinance. Hope you enjoyed the photos, grasshoppers, and stay tuned for more adventures!