Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rhode Island in Real Life (Addendum to Part 2)

We, the three mutant mousketeers, went off to the movies this weekend. After much discussion and a reading from rotten tomatoes, we decided on Dan in Real Life.

When Dan packs up his three daughters and heads North on the Interstate, the sign looked familar. When the car was driving along the shoreline, also familiar. Next camera shot was an aerial view of that bridge, the really scary one we had just crossed ourselves a few weeks ago, and we knew - Dan's parents lived in Rhode Island.

Yes, North of Newport, along the harbor. We watched and laughed. It was completely unexpected.

When the Dan gets pulled over by the local police, he mutters under his breath "Welcome to Rhode Island." Our thoughts exactly.

In one scene, Dan (Steve Carrell) drives to the beach. You see him standing by a run-down clam shack that has been closed for the season. Looked like Misquamicut- probably just South of where we stayed, across the Westerly boundary line. There was the bowling alley and the water slide, circa 1975- we saw signs for the waterpark near our motel. Scary, very scary.

In their defense (just briefly), it is easy to understand why Rhode Islandites have a major chip on their shoulder. When the California wildfires were raging last week, CNN reported the area burnt was "half the size of Rhode Island." Think about that for a moment- our national newscasters were trying describe how incredibly large the fires were by comparing them to the smallest state in the Union divided by two.

Recently, an alternate lifestyle devotee from England got himself killed while engaged in extreme sexual play in Lynn, Massachusetts. His Dominant partner (who has since committed suicide) wrapped him head to toe in cellophane, stuck a straw in his mouth and locked him in a closet. He suffocated. His play partner panicked and, with a friend's help, dumped his body in, you guessed it, Rhode Island! Could they have picked a smaller, more obvious place?

My last thought on Rhode Island is a sentimental one. It really wasn't a bad place, it just wasn't our kind of place. There are some beautuiful vistas, amazing mansions, lovely shops, kind and generous people- including the owners of the Seashell Motel who have tried very hard to improve their property- and they deserve special mention.

If you are filthy rich (or bought a sailboat with the profits you made from pumping out Pocono Foods septic tanks every day for three years), the sailing looks very fine in the harbor. Just watch out for the fog- it comes in quick on little boogie-board feet.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Welcome to Rhode Island (Part 2)

Westerly, Rhode Island is a quaint town on the border of Connecticut. When you arrive there on Route 1A, you will be directed down a one-way street. We had been driving for 7 hours and a one-way street was like walking 7 hours through the desert only to discover a 100 foot cliff at the end of it. Please turn right and follow the edge of the cliff to the next intersection.

My navigator (Waterbunny) and I began arguing over the directions, the first of many tense mapping discussions while in Rhode Island. I wanted to continue on Route 1A North, she felt 1A south was the correct route. So I relented and turned around. Besides, Mapquest appeared to back up her argument. Never argue with Mapquest directions. We drove back into Connecticut. I saw the sign. It said "Welcome to Connecticut". I turned around again. We drove back into Westerly, Rhode Island. We went down the one-way street again. This time I simply followed roads that connected to one another, like a mutant mouse in a maze looking for the cheese. No more Mapquest tonight. To hell with Mapquest.

Finally, we found the turn-off for Misquamicut and headed for our motel. The Internet advertisement showed a normal looking seashore motel and the price was right. What I expected to see was to see a nice path across the street from the motel that led directly to the beach. They advertised online there was a pond behind their motel (and there was) and the ocean just off the front corner of their property, directly across the street. They even had their own sandy path to the ocean! We pulled in to the parking lot. Across the street was a motel. Just off the corner was another motel. Our motel was a motel. The Ocean was a half block away, across another street, behind a motel.

Everyone knows that feeling when they first arrive at their shore destination- the shops, the sound of the breakers, the salt air, the seagulls laughing in the breeze, and that sweet, tidy, perfect place to stay where you can enjoy all of the above. You aren't expecting a Hilton, but you are expecting the bathroom sink to actually be in the bathroom. Our motel? Our bathroom sink was in the bedroom. There was no mirror.

After driving 7-1/2 hours, how did I rate my first impression of this motel? One star, I'd give it one star. One lousy, crappy 1965 motel star. We had to hang a blanket over the shades to keep anyone walking by from looking right in at our bed. We had to hang the blanket to keep the street light from shining into our room . We had to hang a blanket which stopped all air flow. There was no air-conditioner. There were no curtains. There was no space. There was no privacy. Everything was very teeny and oh-so tiny. Welcome to Rhode Island.

At this point I will mention Booth Bay Harbor, Maine. In 2006, Waterbunny placed her finger on the map and it landed on Booth Bay Harbor, Maine. A beautiful, magical destination. *sigh*

But that was last year. We would try to get the best of out of Rhode Island. The next morning, we drove to Newport (warning:tourist trap with scary bridge) to look at the indecently large mansions of yesteryear. By the time we arrived in Newport, both Water bunny and I were having stomach troubles and we lurched from public bathroom to restaurant bathroom, sightseeing in between.

We also stopped by their million dollar visitor center and grabbed a few maps, courtesy of the Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce- and used the bathroom. It was hot. There was no wind. Perhaps another time Newport would be worth exploring - in dockside's and alligator shirts.

We retreated back to Misqumaicut-once owned by Native Americans and called "Pleasant View"- until it was sold cheap to whitey in the late 1890's. The white folks later renamed it, cough, after a Native American phrase-something about a good place to catch red salmon- I don't know, maybe you should read about it. In 1954 a hurricane wiped out most of the town. Native Americans pray to their Gods too. Actually, Westerly, Rhode Island's Indian name was Misquamicut, so that means the folks out at Pleasant View actually stole Westerly's name and used it for themselves. Once you visit here, it all makes perfect sense.

Thanks to the warm day, we changed into our bathing suits and drove to a nearby beach. We went swimming in the Atlantic (Block Island Sound, actually) on Columbus Day weekend. Who says global warming doesn't have its benefits!

Body surfing was the highlight of the afternoon. The waves and the beach were perfect for catching rides. Until.....during one of our better rides, a fog rolled in alongside us. Immediately, the beach became a surreal landscape, as if we were in a time warp, transported to an earlier era, like a faded postcard. It was downright eerie. People began packing their belongings and leaving. We soon followed.

That evening, we piled back into Roxy (WB's Ford Escape) for an hour's drive to East Greenwich and dinner at a restaurant called Lobstermania. Earlier in the day we asked the locals in Misquamicut if there was a good lobster restaurant nearby. We had read adverts for Lobstermania but didn't know if it truly was a cream de lobster establishment.

Me- " Are there any good seafood restaurants around here? We want to try Rhode Island lobster."

Salesperson - " Most restaurants are closed 'round here this time of year. Can't think of any unless you go to up to Providence. Plenty of restaurants in Providence. There is Champlains nearby, but they are take-out only"

Waterbunny - "Any restaurants you could recommend in the area that have lobster?"

Motel Owner - "There is Champlains, mostly take-out, but they also have a small dining room. If you don't mind the drive up to Providence, there are plenty of restaurants there."

Waterbunny - "What about Lobstermania? Ever been there?"

Motel Owner- " No, but I hear they have good food. We really don't have many seafood restaurants around here." Ah, a recommendation - of sorts. And now let's take a moment to read from an advertisement, courtesy of the Misquamicut Business Association, "Misquamicut has a wide array of great restaurants, lodgings, and fun activities. The nightlife is the best to be found along the shoreline."

After an hour's drive to East Greenwich, we found the restaurant alongside a small marina, climbed the stairs to the second floor dining room, and was escorted to a table for six. There were only three of us. Actually, it was two tables pushed together. They were two different heights too. Thankfully, the extra table provided the additional room we needed for the dirty dishes.

The dining room was long and appeared to lean slightly towards the marina. That made my vertigo-anxiety crackle nicely. The tables were typical, square fake-wood Formica tables with those cheap, wooden captain chairs that every dive seafood house in America uses. Your Uncle Leo has those same chairs in his basement- good enough for playing poker. Welcome to Lobstermania, one of Rhode Island's premier seafood restaurants.

The service was fairly decent, the ambiance charming enough for the nursing home crowd, the calamari was delightful-truly excellent, but the lobster was twice as expensive as Maine and half as fresh! The lovely state of Maine easily won the competition!!!

After dinner, we grabbed our new CoC maps and headed for Providence, just 15 miles to the North. Avoiding Interstate 95, we religiously followed the CoC map until we ended up at a dead end in a run-down industrial park. The map wasn't very good. It reminded me of an Internet map service I've used.

We backtracked to Interstate 95, and headed north. A few exits later, we again decided to try to follow the CoC map and exited onto a local highway. It wasn't long before we were lost in the slums. It was dark, the neighborhood was dirty, the windows on the stores were barred, and our nerves badly frayed and getting worse.

Waterbunny and I began discussing- let's call it an argument, shall we?- the directions. I could not believe the map was that incompetent. Where was the center city? Where the hell were we going? What does the map show now? You can't find this street on the map? It HAS to be there! We have to be somewhere on that map! There is no way I'm stopping in this hood and asking for directions. WB dumped the map in my lap. "You figure it out!" she exclaimed.

I was about to turn around when I saw the skyline ahead. Determined more then ever to get there, I drove us right into the heart of Providence-and right into the middle of a enormous Columbus Day event-The Umpteenth Annual Ring of Fire for Breast Cancer Awareness All-Night Boogie. The city's center was solid with cars, buses, and people. Tens of thousands of people roaming the streets- live music bouncing off the pink buildings, little kids wearing glow-in-the-dark necklaces. Cops trying to direct traffic. It was 10:30 on the busiest Saturday night of the year. Welcome to Providence, the capital of Rhode Island.

An hour later we were flying south on Interstate 95, racing back to.....our one-star motel..and the blanket over the window, It was at this low point in our trip that an idea began to form in my crazed, numbed-out brain.

"I have an idea. Why don't we get up early tomorrow and leave Rhode Island , drive north through Connecticut, straight through Massachusetts and into VERMONT!"

There was a moment of silence, a pause that can be described as 'the pause of incredulity'.

"You aren't serious", said WB.

We pulled into the crappy motel parking lot. We climbed the crappy stairs. We adjusted the crappy blanket over the window. The new people in the next room had little kids. We listened as their children chased each along the crappy, narrow balcony. Finally, we fell asleep in our crappy double beds.

The next morning dawned. It had rained. Everything looked wet. Everything smelled wet. Waterbunny spoke. "Let's get out of here." She smiled, Sweetie angel smiled, I smiled, and I think Vermont smiled too.

Next post- Welcome to the Always Awesome,Always Amazing Excellent State of Vermont (Part 3)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

How to Find Rhode Island Using Mapquest (Part 1)

I got lost. Somewhere in Connecticut (Connectapit). We decided to save a few bucks and time and spend our Columbus Day holiday discovering a new wonderland called Rhode Island. Last year we started the tradition with a Lobster and Chocolate weekend in Maine. Last year we also had three days vacation. This year, Waterbunny's new employer didn't recognize Chris Columbus as deserving his own day of honor. We had two days to make it work. Maine is 8 hours away, Rhode Island is 4 hours away and boasts their lobster is as good as Maine lobster.

Our mission: lobster comparison

My favorite web service, Mapquest, provided a nice map, adequate directions, and a 4-hour timeline to get from Eastern Pennsylvania to Missquamincutttttt, Rhode Island. At this point it might be a good idea to point out that the Internet is an excellent tool for locating mediocre places and barely adequate directions. That is why is very scary to me . What exactly are you getting for 99 a night? Don't expect that sweet, beautiful actress behind the counter. Her name will most likely be Ahmed and she will have short, black hair, olive complexion, and speak with a funny accent. She will look exceptionally male. Her brother runs the 7-11 next door.

Still, if we can cut the travel time in half, get a cheap room, and eat succulent lobster at Maine prices we are "in like Flynn". Ah, what tempest dreams we mortals have.

I preferred to take a more Eastern then Southern route but mapquest pointed us to the Tappanze bridge and Route 95 North. and as we already know, mapquest is never wrong. We had smooth sailing on Interstate 80 East and Interstate 287 North and East to the bridge, hit a slight backup before the bridge (why can't people drive on an Interstate without bumping each other in the behind?), and then had smooth sailing again- until we reached Connectapit- then everything ground to a complete halt. The traffic advisory sign said, "Warning, Traffic Delay Next 25 Miles". The road ahead was a sea of red tail lights. We weren't driving to Rhode Island anymore, we were marching, one, two, three, four, ahead ten feet you mapquest whore.

"Waterbunny, we need an alternate route." She looks at the map for several minutes.

"We could try the Merritt Parkway. That parallels 95 and might not be as crowded."

I negotiate the car to the next exit and Waterbunny gives excellent directions through Greenwich Connecticut and onto the Merritt parkway- or parkinglot way, as I am fond to call it now. We drove 3 miles in 45 minutes. We were able to observe a few things about Connectapit while cruising at an average of 4 miles per hour. The parkway is beautifully landscaped. They have rabbits. Golf courses too. Oh, that shot was a little fat. Nice putt, Sir. Rap music in Connectapit sounds like everywhere else. Excuse me, Sir, could you play that song again? There is lovely metal artwork on the overpasses, but they are rusted and need to be restored. This state doesn't seem to be in a hurry to repair their crumbling bridges like every other state. Guess they didn't see the news about the collapse in Minnesota.

"Captain, if we get off the next exit, we will have to backtrack to get to 95."

"Make it so, Number 2"

So we drove back towards Greenwich and 95, but found Route 1 instead. It was full of cars, trucks, shopping centers, intersections, and traffic lights as far as the eye could see, yet was clearly faster than the Interstate and Parkway. We had been in this state for 1-1/2 hours and had travelled about 25 miles. We were weary and hungry when we found a classic-looking Diner. This Diner had a big sign that boasted they were the "Best of the Best", and Lord knows big signs in Connectapit are worth trusting. We found a booth, ordered some Diner food, and I began scouring the maps. With the exception of Route 1, Interstate 95, and the Merritt Parkway, all back roads in this state go South to North. The only way to get to Rhode Island was to follow the merry red lights of the cars and trucks in front of us.

After the worst of the worst dinner, we popped back onto 95 and braved the traffic, finally reaching the reason for the backup- another fender bender - that backed up an major Interstate for 25 miles. How is that possible? Well, I have it on good authority that in this confused and confounding State of Connectapit, fender benders require that the police, benders and bendees, and tow truck operators stand around for a couple hours in order to figure things out. No dragging the darned cars off the road- who cares who bent who's fender- just get the junk off the road and keep the traffic flowing. Sorry, no. Standing around is the policy.

Finally free of the jam-up, we raced forward to the next traffic sign that said, "Warning, Traffic Delay, Mile marker 42-47, Accident". Oh my God. Not again.

"Waterbunny?" There was a desperate edge in my voice.

"I'm sorry, but there are no alternate routes I can be certain will be faster." Waterbunny was right, we would have to have a steely resolve and see this through.

Finally, we broke free of the clogged arteries and got our speed up to an acceptable rate. After sixty more miles, we found our exit, provided to us by mapquest-thank-you-very-much, and drove across the State line into the quaint town of Westerly, Rhode Island.

Then we got lost.

The Coyote Lyric Video