To their credit, the Lucerne Inn was gracious about accepting our early departure. They offered another room when Becky told them we were leaving due to excessive noise. There were so many other things that bugged us that we declined.
We headed east on 1A towards Ellsworth in search of Curves since we weren't able to find one yesterday. A check of the phone book showed that there was one on Main Street. We figured we wouldn't have any trouble finding Main Street, but we were mistaken. 1A has seen extensive development of endless strip malls and there's hardly any signage for any of the original streets in the town. After a couple of u-turns (my specialty) we did get there and I was able to whip into a parallel parking space just a few feet from the door. While B did her workout I browsed a nearby toy store and a slightly-less-close-by used book store. Didn't buy anything, though I was tempted by a Bendo on clearance at the toy store.
From Curves we continued down on 1A and then 3 over the bridge onto Mt. Desert Island and on into the town of Bar Harbor. There were a whole lot of people there! We thought on a Tuesday it'd be pretty dead, but the joint was jumping with people walking around all over the place and other people driving around all over the place. We got out of there pretty quick. On the road out of town we went right past the Jackson Laboratory which Rachel specifically asked us to take a look at. It looked like a lab, Rach. (They breed lab rats there so it probably smells like rat food all the time.) Sorry, enough private jokes. Shortly after seeing the lab we stumbled onto an entrance to Acadia National Park.
Acadia Park is scattered across parts of a couple of big islands, a handful of tiny ones, and a mainland peninsula. The largest contiguous part is on Mt. Desert Island and our travels today took us through only about half of that. It's a big park. The island is called Mount Desert because some explorer guy saw its glacier-scalped summit and thought it looked like a desert up there. It's not as bare as all that. The whole island is heavily wooded, but as it's also largely exposed granite and other stone, there are stretches of bare patch as well. After a couple of days of rain, it was beautiful and clear today, perfect for appreciating the varied terrain of the park.
We started off at Sand Beach, and you can guess what happened there. A nice gentleman offered to take our picture so you get proof that I'm actually on the trip and haven't been replaced by some imposter. Half-a-mile around the park loop road from Sand Beach we found a nice rocky beach that's more what I think of as the ideal ocean experience. This is no doubt from my childhood visits to the rocky Northern California coast, which this strongly resembles except for the completely different kinds of rock. The sound of this beach was really cool. When the waves were going out, the stones would bounce and churn against each other. Imagine you're rolling half a dozen marbles around in your mouth. Now imagine that the marbles are the size of your head (and your mouth is commensurately larger!), that's the sound of this beach.
We stopped for a snack from our stores at a picnic area where we had to fight off ferocious chipmunks. I didn't take the camera there, but you know what chipmunks look like. These had a wicked gleam in their eyes that said they'd happily kill us for the nuts we were eating. They reminded me of monkey pox-infected groundhogs, only smaller and cuter.
We took a drive over to one of the other towns on the island and did a little shopping (very little), then headed back to the mainland.
We headed west (woohoo!) on highway 1 and fetched up in the town of Bucksport where a motorlodge set back from the road caught our eyes. Pricetag: $62 with tax and an end unit to boot. The walls are as thin as those at the Lucerne, but at this price point, it's a lot easier to take. The owner suggested a restaurant so we went to MacLeod's and split the two seafood specials. One was haddock in a very light pesto sauce, the other a combination of shrimp, scallops, and haddock in a cream sauce. Both were yummy. The scallops in particular were cooked perfectly and delicious. Becky had raspberry shortcake and I had lemon meringue pie. We split a half carafe of a nice Chilean Merlot/Cab. Total bill including tip: $65. A wonderful dinner and a night's stay for $20 less than last night's lame motel.
We were feeling stuffed so we took a stroll up the street and saw that there was a book store in town. Much to our surprise, it was still open (M-F 9-8). The store is called "BookStacks" and has an impressive selection of books and a mindboggling array of magazines plus a bookstore cat in training (cute little polydactyl kitten I had fun playing with). It turned out that the owner was sitting right across from us at the restaurant with his family and came into the store after us.
So, Becky's favorite kind of beach, my favorite kind of beach, lovely scenery, a decent motel room, a delicious meal, and a fine bookstore. Not too shabby a day for our fourteenth anniversary.
So the Holiday Motel turned out to be not $79, but $92! Apparently Becky misheard the clerk last night. It was okay, but we've had better for far less and certainly with far less attitude.
We started off the day at the recently-relocated visitor's center for the town of St. Johnsbury. Today was actually their first day in what appears to have been a train depot. The gentleman working the desk was quite helpful.
Our first site of interest was the Fairbanks Museum. The Fairbanks family made big bucks in the scale business (you know, those things they use to weigh stuff) back in the middle 1800's after one of them invented the platform scale. I wish I could tell you more about why the platform scale was such a big deal, or how it worked, but the part of this museum dedicated to the Fairbanks cash cow is woefully lacking in details.
Fortunately the bulk of the museum is dedicated to showing the immense collection of stuff the family accumulated with all that scale money. There's an extensive array of stuffed birds from South American hummingbirds to an enormous albatross. Most are presented alone, but some are in elaborate dioramas and one impressive "tree" (third picture below) which was evidently a uniquely Victorian display strategy.
The other artifacts on display include a smattering of primitive items from various indigenous cultures of the world, a small mineral collection, a small but wonderful selection of Japanese netsuke carvings, an array of children's toys including some doll furniture supposedly made by Mark Twain, a fair number of swords and daggers, a display of Civil War stuff, and on and on. Anybody who thinks stuff accumulation is a late 20th century phenomenon hasn't been to this place!
The building is an artifact in its own right with finely crafted wooden interior and an exterior festooned with arches and towers made from limestone and red sandstone.
If all that isn't enough, there's also a planetarium (only in action on weekends this time of year, alas) and working meteorology lab.
There's currently an exhibit of photographs by Zeva Oelbaum. She found a Victorian botanical journal in an antique shop and photographed the pages in an interesting multi-layered extension of the work of the young botanist who created the original journal. I didn't take any pictures in there (couldn't take another layer of indirection without having my head explode), but I'm sure there's examples on the artist's website, and the whole exhibit is available in a book that seems to be following us home.
After the museum we headed East on highway 2 and stopped in for the factory tour at Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, one of the largest distributors of maple syrup. The tour consists of a video about the maple syrup making process followed by a walk through the bottling room and the maple candy making facility (sorry, no pictures of me in my hair and beard net) The inevitable gift shop offers samples of the four different grades of maple syrup they produce and the opportunity to buy all their various and sundry products as well as all the other normal tourist kitsch. It's a quick tour and worth the $1 charge.
Last night we decided that we'd head straight up to Bangor, Maine within striking distance of Acadia National Park, so we headed east on highway 2. We saw some of the brightest foliage (a word that gets tossed around a lot in conversation in this corner of the country this time of year) of the trip so far on this drive across northern New Hampshire and central Maine.
I haven't taken a lot of countryside pictures on the trip. One reason for that is that I don't feel like you can really capture a sweeping vista with a 35mm lens, at least not without doing a panoramic mosaic, but also because I haven't been able to figure out how to compose a picture that captures the terrain we've been seeing. All this area from NY through VT, NH, and ME has been kind of softly crumpled, thickly wooded hills. There are very few hard edges, everything is blanketed with trees. It's lovely country, but nothing has been catching my photographer's eye (such as it is) Becky did take these shots of a stretch that was just thick with white birches, which are especially striking with the fall colors.
Maine is a big state, so it was a long drive to get to Bangor.
Becky's been carrying around a New England country inns book from the library and we decided to make reservations at one last night, so this morning Beck called and reserved a room at The Lucerne Inn. Our wedding anniversary is Tuesday (the 30th) so we thought we'd splurge and stay two nights at a nicer place. This one is charging us $140 a night. On the plus side, the furniture in the room is quite attractive with a four-post bed, comfortable reading chairs and classy artwork on the walls. The view out the window across the grounds to a nearby lake and the wooded hills beyond was very nice before it got too dark to see. Free local calls, and inside Bangor's local calling area so I can get to my ISP. But for $140, we expected a little more and certainly didn't expect to hear the TV from the rooms next door or every step the person in the room above us takes. We didn't expect the room to be a typical hotel room with slightly fancier furniture. We didn't expect the bathroom to be less than spotlessly clean. Add to this all the fancy crap we didn't want in the first place like whirlpool tub (with illogically placed jets) and heated towel racks (which don't actually work) and gas fireplace (with timed switch that ticks loudly the whole time the thing is on). We made reservations for two nights, but we won't be staying past tonight.
The last couple of nights' less-than-stellar accommodation experiences have led us to think about what we really want out of a motel room vs. what we expect to pay. We might put that in a later entry.
We had a wonderfully peaceful night in our cottage with all the windows open and the wind whispering through the trees. It started raining early this morning and kept up all day long with pretty heavy fall, about 2-1/4 Seattle normal (a measure I just created in my head).
We spent most of the day in the car. We drove south on highway 7 to Rutland, then east on highway 4 through Woodstock and on to Quechee (pronounced Kwee-chee).
Quechee is home to one of three Simon Pearce glassblowing studios. The site is an old grist mill that Pearce bought and converted to generate electricity with a hydroelectric turbine. Currently the site's electric glass furnaces are run from the power generated there with the excess being sold back to the local utility company. There are glass blowers and pottery turners working on the site so the tourists can watch them before they go upstairs and buy stuff. The products are quite attractive, but overpriced by at least 50% to my eye. The glass work in particular is all clear glass which I really liked in sharp contrast to the Seattle area's Chihuly-influenced unbounded riot of colors. I got a bad vibe from the place, though. Something about the mass-production methods coupled with individual craftsman pricing combined with the over-the-top self-promotion (Simon Pearce's name appears countless times) and the whole retail outlet as tourist attraction thing (a tour bus stopped in while we were there) all rubbed me the wrong way. Of course it could just be that I hadn't eaten yet.
Quechee's other claim to fame is Quechee Gorge, a narrow gorge 162 feet deep. It's an odd feature because the terrain is lower at either end of the gorge making it seem like the river somehow sliced down through a whole hill. My camera doesn't have enough of a wide-angle lens to capture the effect. It's really not much of a natural feature by West Coast standards, but it's touted as a "natural spectacle" and "Vermont's Little Grand Canyon". I don't mean to disparage Quechee Gorge, it's a pretty spot, I just found the advertising amusing.
After leaving Quechee we headed north on highway 89 and stopped for lunch at Eaton's Sugarhouse in Royalton. The joint was jumping at 1pm and still serving breakfast. We both had pancakes (Becky's with blueberries, of course), as they seem to be the place's claim to fame. And justifiably so! They were big fluffy cakes served with real maple syrup. We both felt kind of sick afterwards from all the sugar, but I guess that's part of why it's called the "Sugarhouse".
After our meal we continued north on 89 to Waterbury, home of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. The factory has tours seven days a week so we were able to take one on this Sunday. The place was packed! We had to wait about a half an hour to get on a tour. It cost three bucks and includes a movie about this history of Ben & Jerry's, the opportunity to look down on the production facility and see how the ice cream is made, and two small samples. Theirs is an inspiring story of a successful business with a social conscience. Even now that it's no longer publicly owned, but run by a big European conglomerate, they're still able to give 7.5% of their pre-tax profits to charity.
After the ice cream tour we backtracked a bit to the state capital, Montpelier, then east on highway 2 to St. Johnsbury where we are holed up at Holiday Motel, which is one of the more stuffy places we've stayed, and someone should explain to them that the word "soundproof" would mean that we wouldn't be able to hear people talking outside our room. They've got phones in the rooms, but they charge 50 cents for local calls. Bastards! It's also the most expensive place we've stayed so far at $79 plus tax.
When we got here I discovered that the leftovers of my lovely steak from last night had become waterlogged from ice melt in the clamshell box in our icechest :-( (what's the emoticon for the anime girl with tears gushing out of her eyes? That'd be about how I felt about that! Waah!) No more clamshell boxes in the "ice" chest without a waterproof wrapper.
After yesterday's orgy of webification and connection, tonight we're back in a place with no phone. This does not bother me particularly, believe it or not.
We started off our day searching for a Curves so Becky could get her third workout of the week. Becky was prepared with a list culled from the telephone directory. The first one was closing at 10:30am, so there wasn't enough time for her to do her required circuit before they turned into a pumpkin. They suggested another one on her list which was alleged to be open until noon. We set off to find it armed with the phone book notes. We got to the vicinity and drove through half a dozen completely disconnected strip mall parking lots, but there was no Curves. Becky called them and found out that they had moved but that the woman working there was new to the area and couldn't tell us how to get from the old location to the new. All we had was a AAA map of the whole state, so the few landmarks the worker was able to give us were not much to go on. But somehow Becky managed to wrest the info she needed out of the too-general map and we found our way there. Well, almost there. We actually found our way to another parking lot from which you could not drive to the one where Curves was. I had Becky walk to Curves (horrors!) and I took the car through the two traffic signals, two u-turns, and other random maneuvering that was required to attain the correct parking area for accessing the front door of the establishment. While Beck worked out, I sat on my ass and read The Lord of Castle Black like a good little geek.
From there we headed up 87 to Lake George which seems to be an extremely popular vacation spot based on the density and proliferation of places of lodging. It was pretty deserted as we drove through. The lake is long and lovely, and will be even more lovely next week when more of the trees have started to turn colors. So far on the trip the extent of the color has been a few isolated trees or parts of trees which have jumped the autumn gun. The color was just an added benefit of going at this time of year, it wasn't the reason for our trip, so we're just as happy to have less color and less tourists. At a turnout we chatted with a guy walking his dog from his RV. Turns out he was from Grass Valley, CA and moved out to Syracuse to escape the high cost of living. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for him, depending how you look at it), there's a new super mega Mall of America slated for Syracuse so property values have gone up by tens of thousands of dollars since he bought his house. You've got to work hard to escape it.
From Lake George we took Highway 9N up to Ticonderoga where we had lunch at "The Hot Biscuit". I was disappointed that we were there outside of breakfast hours but I ordered some biscuits and gravy to go with my grilled ham and cheese. The server asked whether I wanted turkey or beef gravy. I was so startled by this question that I answered it as asked, then changed my answer (from turkey to beef) before realizing after she had left that I didn't want either, I wanted that white sauce with sausage that is the only gravy I've ever known to be closely associated with biscuits. And indeed, when my order came my biscuits were drenched in beef gravy. The biscuits were quite good, the gravy less so, and the combination just wasn't what I had in mind. I didn't interrogate her about this strange culinary infraction, but Becky and I theorized that biscuits and gravy being a principally Southern concoction, and us being pretty deep into Yankee territory, it's conceivable that the dish hasn't made it into this part of the country. I'll test this later in the trip. The other possibility is that my server was especially dense. You'd think, though, that a place called "The Hot Biscuit" would know how to serve biscuits and gravy!
We proceeded out to Fort Ticonderoga after lunch. The Fort is privately owned and operated by a non-profit. It is also largely restored. The location is truly idyllic in its current peaceful existence. The Fort sits on a hill at the southernmost point of Lake Champlain where the waters of Lake George run into it through a short river. Lake Champlain runs north to the St. Lawrence Seaway. Looking at the location today it's hard to imagine how it could have ever been of strategic importance, but apparently it was. Many battles were fought there both before and during the Revolutionary War.
The Fort itself is open to the public for a $12 per person fee. Both the Fort and the museum displays inside are well worth examining, but the interpretive material could be better. Becky and I were both disappointed that there wasn't a high-level overview showing the importance of the Fort through its history. Neither one of us has much of a head for history unlike Becky's siblings so we were clueless about the big picture of the Fort's history. We got there between guided tours so we might have a different opinion had we caught that. I was especially annoyed by the lack of any indication of what portions of the fort were original and what reconstructed. I suspect that pretty much all of it is reconstructed, but it would have been nice to know when and by whom and using what reference materials.
After the Fort we headed to the Fort Ti Ferry. This is an automobile ferry that runs across Lake Champlain from New York to Vermont. The trip across takes all of 7 minutes. The ferry holds 18 cars. It runs across the lake on two cables, one at either side of the boat. It's propelled across by some kind of motor in the pilot house on the side of the whole contraption. Being from Puget Sound country where ferries hold hundreds of cars and run for hours, we found the thing adorable.
So, Vermont. New state for both of us (as have been PE and NY, and OH for Jeff). It looks just like Vermont should. Rolling hills, charming hamlets, cows. It's Saturday night and this is the first time we've seen "no vacancy" signs on the trip. We didn't have any trouble finding a place with space, though. We're in Brandon at The Lagasse's Steak House & Country Cottages. The cottages are a variety of little salt boxes back away from the road. When we inquired about them they just gave us keys for two available units and told us to go take a look. We chose the one farther from the road. The weather today is just perfect for humans. The air is the perfect temperature, just warm enough to avoid a chill, just cool enough to be refreshing. We availed ourselves of the steak house for dinner. Becky partook of the Saturday special all-you-can-eat prime rib buffet which, despite the name, also included roast turkey, salmon, pasta, potatoes and other tasty comestibles. I had a lovely delmonico steak. Both meals included their standard all-you-can-eat salad and bread bar, plus all-you-can-eat fresh jumbo shrimp (not an oxymoron in this case). Goodness, that's a lot of food. All good too. Most expensive meal on the trip so far, but we've been mostly only eating out once a day, so we thought a bit of a splurge was in order.
Got up at a reasonable hour and made our way to the Women's Rights National Historical Park, which was just a block away from our hotel. The Park is on the site of a Wesleyan Methodist chapel that was the venue for the first convention for women's rights on July 19 and 20, 1848. The convention drafted and adopted a Declaration of Sentiment modeled after the Declaration of Independence in an attempt to jumpstart a women's rights movement. With the help of well-known attendees like Lucretia Mott and Frederic Douglass, they were successful in starting a movement even if the attainment of most of their goals was still decades and decades away. In fact, only two of the signers of the Declaration lived to see the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution which finally gave women full voting rights in 1920.
The park preserves the shell of the old church where that first convention took place, and has an extensive interpretive display in an adjacent building. We arrived just in time to hear a park staff member give a very interesting talk about that first convention. There was a guided tour of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton house as well, but we skipped that in preference to spending some time exploring the displays.
After the National Park we also went to the Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry, a free museum with interesting displays about local industry. The town of Seneca Falls doesn't actually have a falls anymore, but it once did, and the museum has a series of dioramas that show where they went. They had a display of old tools on the bottom floor. There was nothing especially rare, but nice examples of broad axes and planes and other tools of the woodworking trade. One amusing mislabelling was on an Emmert Pattern Maker's Vise which was tagged as an "Inert Pattern Maker's Vise". The middle floor had an extensive display on the history of the Sylvania company, which had a manufacturing plant in the city up until 1985 for the production of glass tubes for aerospace and defense electronic display devices.
We grabbed some snacks at Pantusi's Bakery, then headed out of town.
We were getting a little worried about covering all the rest of the territory we were planning on for this trip, and thinking that we'd better work on getting the heck out of New York, we consulted our map. The only problem with that plan was that we still hadn't visited Lake Ontario, one of our must-see sights. We plotted a course that would take us up to Oswego for a quick visit to Great Lake #5, then head east from there, skirting Syracuse (for no particular reason but expediency) and heading back to the thruway for a quick jaunt towards the eastern Adirondacks.
This plan was quickly put into motion and after a quick stop in Oswego for provisions we soon found ourselves at Selkirk Shores State Park. There was a posted $7 day use fee, but no one to collect it so we proceeded to the "beach" despite the sign that declared it closed! The beach was a rocky one, and was populated by a number of salmon fishermen. Again, despite signs warning against wading, Becky dipped her feet into their fifth and final Great Lake. It was by far the least welcoming of the Great Lakes we have visited, though it's probably not fair to blame the whole body of water for the shortcomings of one short stretch of its shoreline.
Against a steady stream of salmon fishermen swimming upstate, we drove south back to I-90 where we buzzed out to Amsterdam and from there by a diagonal route to highway 87 which we followed north to South Glens Falls, NY and the friendly and feature-rich Landmark Motel whose telephone line I've been using continuously since shortly after we arrived in our large room.
Tomorrow, into Vermont.
Got out of Angola by 9:30. Becky did Curves while I secured fuel for the car.
In Curves, Becky talked to a couple of locals. One had lived in the area of Niagara Falls and had suggestions for how best to enjoy that spectacle. The other had a brother who lives in Issaquah! How small a world is that?
Headed off to Buffalo and had lunch at Frank and Teressa's Anchor Bar which purports to be the original home of Buffalo Wings, that bar food staple. We shared some medium wings (they come in mild, medium, hot, and suicide. I'd have had suicide, but to share settled for medium.) I'm sorry to report that they tasted pretty much exactly like the wings I've had in establishments on the West coast, my brother-in-law's opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. I had the "beef on weck" sandwich, "weck" being a local kaiser-style roll topped with coarse salt and caraway seeds. The table condiments included fresh horseradish which made a fine sandwich with nothing else but beef and bread. Becky had a chicken caesar which met with her approval as well. The service was abysmal despite the liberal ratio of wait staff to customers. I left a big tip just to mess with our inattentive server's head.
After a brief disagreement on directions (Becky was right as usual), we made our way to Niagara Falls. We thought to go to the visitor center to get the lay of the land and determine where and how best to see the Falls. Becky's acquaintance at Curves had suggested that the best view was from the Canada side, but we thought we'd check and see before proceeding. We followed the signs and found ourselves headed for a Native American casino. We asked the parking attendant where the visitor center might be found and he gave directions for a couple of turns. We followed them (in our own creative round-the-block way), but found no visitor center. We drove around some more, Becky consulting the AAA tourbook, me using my usual intuitive navigation style. We made our way onto Goat Island, an island just above the Falls on the American side. They seemed to have an interpretive center of some kind, but it was $8 just to park and we were really just looking for information. We tried following the signs to the visitor center one more time and once again found only a construction site adjacent to an enormous casino. At this point we were pretty disgusted with the US handling of the landmark so we headed for the border to see if our northern neighbors could do any better.
We determined that our passports were at hand and proceeded to the Rainbow Bridge border crossing. There is a $2.50 (US) toll to cross the bridge. The bored toll taker asked what our citizenship was and how long we expected to stay in Canada. At our answer of "a couple hours" he sent us on our way. Didn't ask for any ID.
Across the bridge, we turned right, then right again, following the signs to the Falls and we found ourselves on a road paralleling the cliff edge with a view that made it quite clear that here was the best place to view Niagara Falls. We proceeded to the parking lot which cost $12 (CAN. $9 US) which included a little souvenir guide book. The parking lot was a museum of US and Canadian license plates. We saw at least half the states without even trying.
We walked along the cliff edge snapping photos with all the other tourists. We started at the up-stream end where you can see the wide, fast-moving river and the edge. From the top, it's a gentle thing, the water moving swiftly, but smoothly along its way, then there is the edge, and it is just gone, quietly and smoothly following gravity off the precipice and into space. As you walk along you can look back and see the curtain of foaming water cascading down and down, lost in a cloud of white mist at the bottom where it all rejoins to become a river again. Farther along, you see that "The Falls" is actually two falls. The river splits around Goat Island. The first and more impressive is the one you've seen in endless photographs, the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. The other half of the Falls is on the other side of Goat Island and is known as the American Falls. It is a huge waterfall which looks puny only in comparison to the great torrent of the Canadian Falls. The American is not a single drop, but a more gradual descent cascading down a rocky slope. So next time you see the main Falls know that as much water as is streaming over that lip, just a few hundred yards to the left there's even more water from Lake Erie hustling on its way to Lake Ontario and the sea.
We bought some tourist junk at the gift shop (again paying with US money at not quite the prevailing exchange rate) and went back to the car. Our plan was to head east in earnest today and get into the northern New England states for the weekend so we didn't tarry in Canada. At the crossing back into the US we were again asked our citizenship, how long we'd been in Canada, whether we purchased anything while there (he was unfazed by my answer of "tourist junk"), and who owned the vehicle we were driving. The guy's entire interview was conducted in a goofy fake English accent that made me expect "What is your quest" as the next question (be assured I had my answer all ready), but alas it was not to be. Again we were sent on our way without showing any identification.
In the interest of alacrity we decided to get on I-90 to jet east to Seneca Falls, NY. In this end of the country the interstates are toll roads. When we got on I-90 in Buffalo we were issued a card showing our time of entry along with the toll we could expect to pay depending on what exit we chose to leave the highway by. Since you pay when you leave the road there is a strong disinclination to make idle side trips, and to further discourage you, the state of New York has established "service areas" at which you can find a gas station and 2 or more fast food chains sharing a building with a set of restrooms and a gift shop, all of which can be visited without actually leaving the highway corridor and hence without having to reset your toll-point. This is all very nice unless you prefer to patronize independent businesses. Apart from a couple of brief construction slowdowns we covered the 150 miles to our destination in reasonable time (while listening to Tim Curry read the first few chapters of The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket) and paid our $2.90 to leave the freeway (thankfully) behind. We proceeded south on 14, then met up with our old friends 5 and 20 for the brief jaunt east from Geneva (on the shore of Seneca Lake, one of the "Finger Lakes", so-named for their parallel elongated shapes) to Seneca Falls. Here we found the Gould Hotel, a building of early 20th century vintage with a few rooms to let.
This is our second night in an establishment without phones in its rooms. We hadn't checked in with home since leaving so I went out and tracked down a payphone (harder than you might think--I went through three minimarts before finding a functional payphone) and phoned home (using my newly-acquired phone card. Appalling number of digits, reasonable cost-per-minute). Unfortunately our housesitter wasn't in, but there were no messages on the voicemail which is a good sign and I left a message assuring whoever might hear it that we are alive and well. We'll try again tomorrow. Hopefully we can find somewhere to get on the net in the next couple of days so I can get some of this stuff uploaded.
Oh, I almost forgot, while on the Canadian side of the random line of demarcation we bought some of the Canadian KitKat bars that tyd of thenyoudiscover has been going on about. We got some takeout dinner at the Downtown Deli here in Seneca Falls and got a pack of American KitKats. After dinner I broke off chunks of each and fed them to Becky in single-blind fashion. She preferred the Canadian bars and so did I. They taste much more strongly of chocolate than the US version. What is up with that? The ingredients are in a completely different order for the two bars. Plus the Canadian bars are significantly bigger at 50g compared to 1.5oz. My only gripe with the Canadian candy is that, contrary to appearances, the packaging isn't water-tight so some moisture snuck in while the bar was in our ice chest waiting for its chance at a taste test.
Today we went along Lake Erie through Pennsylvania and into New York. I dub this region "The Land of Excessive Lawn Care". Seemed like every house had acres and acres of lawn and it was all perfectly green and carefully clipped. I lost count of how many people we saw out tooling around on their little lawn tractors or pushing their mowers around their yards. It's almost like there's a local ordinance or something.
We stopped near the city of Erie at the Presque Isle State Park. They pronounce it "presk" and say the name is French for "almost an island". It's a small low peninsula, little more than a really big sandbar, actually. I say "small", but it's got a 14.5 mile perimeter, so it's not insignificant. There's a road all around the perimeter and a parallel multi-use trail for bikes, blades, and peds.
There's some argument about how the thing formed. Some say it's a byproduct of glaciation 11,000 years ago, others that it's a purely sedimentary formation in the last thousand years. It's strange because it's the only obvious protuberance on the entire shore of Lake Erie. It was disconnected from the mainland repeatedly as the thin spit leading out to it washed away and reformed, but they took care of that in the 1950s with a whole lot of rock.
The shore on the Lake Erie side has beautiful sandy beaches, so anyone who knows Becky won't be surprised to hear that it was less than five minutes from the time we parked at one of the beaches until her toes were in the water. This was Great Lake number 4 for her tootsies.
The pictures show the intermittent breakwater they've constructed to prevent the erosion of the beach. It's an interesting effect. Sort of alien.
While Becky was wading, when I wasn't taking pictures I was skipping stones. This beach is a stone skipper's paradise. If you can't skip these stones then you can't skip stones.
Becky can't skip stones ;-).
At the visitor center they had some really interesting maps of the Great Lakes. Erie is the shallowest with its deepest point being only 210 feet. Compare that with something like 1500 feet for the deepest parts of Superior. Most of Erie is only 50 feet deep. The other fascinating map there was one showing all the "ghost ships" (meaning sunken) in the vicinity of Presque Isle. There's at least 100 of them! The dates were from 1800 into the middle of the 20th century.
At the visitor center we also learned that when Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge was a kid he was a lifeguard at the park. Apparently when he became governor a lot of money found its way back to the park. Glad to hear he's good for something.
We swung through the town of Erie and were going to eat there but we didn't have change for the parking meter. Instead we drove farther along the Erie shore skipping back and forth between highway 20 and highway 5, both of which run parallel to I-90. After way too much driving, we ended up in Westfield, NY where we ate at Vine City Restaurant. It wasn't terrible, but wasn't great either. Good onion rings.
From there we headed out 394 to Chautauqua whose claim to fame is having more "u"s and "a"s in close proximity than any other city. (Actually it was originally a training camp for Sunday school teachers. These days it's home of the Chautauqua Institute which does a whole passel of educational things.) It's on the shore of Chautauqua Lake which is about the same size as Lake Sammamish back home. Supposedly Chautauqua is home to boatloads of artsy antiquey establishments, but we didn't see any of them. We didn't hunt too hard though.
We crossed the lake on highway 86 and went down to Jamestown which is home of the Lucy and Desi museum which we didn't care about but thought was amusing (the fact that such a thing exists. We didn't go to it!). It's also the home of an Audubon Society nature preserve and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. These we would have liked to have gone to, but it was quarter-to-five when we hit town and both were closed.
We headed North on 60 back to the shores of Lake Erie and did more 20/5 skipping until we saw the Angola Motel. Hunted down a couple of grocery stores to supply our rarefied tastes in comestibles, scoped out the local Curves for Becky's morning workout, drove out to Evangola State Park, then headed back to the motel for an evening of picture resizing/cropping and blog writing. There's no phone in this room so the upload will have to wait.
Got up today at the absurd hour of 5am.
Collected the last few things we remembered that we "needed" to take with us on the trip when we were trying to sleep at 1am.
We kissed the kitties and Rachel drove us to the airport. (!) Got there about an hour and ten minutes before departure (USAir recommends 1 hour). Checked a bag, went through security, took the little train out to the terminal, and got to the gate 45 minutes before departure. Sigh.
When they started boarding they announced that there's no complimentary food service on USAir flights. So we found out that we could pay $7 for crappy airline food or go without it. Fortunately, we'd already stocked up on snacks.
Got ourselves installed in our dinky little seats (though they feel a little less dinky since we got more dinky). Chatted with the woman in the seat next to us who was returning home to the Pittsburgh area after visiting her great grandson!
Survived the 4 hours in the tin box. Pittsburgh is very pretty from the air with hills and trees and rivers all over the place only intermittently marred by malls and costcos and such.
Retrieved the bag and got the rental car. The Teamsters were asking for a boycott of Budget, but since we made our reservation a month ago and didn't hear about the boycott until today we weren't in a position to comply. We ended up in a Taurus which is sort of deja vu.
Headed west into Ohio and when we saw the sign for Heck's Restaurant, how could we not stop? We made an agreement that we'd avoid chain restaurants on this trip, and unless I'm sorely mistaken, Heck's is safe from franchising at least without a name change. But they're doing just fine with a half-full house at 3pm on a Tuesday and the food was quite satisfactory. If you find yourself in Columbiana, Ohio, you'll know where to eat. The turkey dinner is good.
Becky wanted to get straight up to Lake Erie (no surprise) so we took highway 11 up past I-80 (didn't turn left towards Sacramento) and I-90 (didn't turn left towards Seattle) and on up to the lake. It looks like a Great Lake.
It was getting on towards 7pm local time so we went hunting for a motel. Ended up at the "SunSet Motel" in West Springfield, Pennsylvania. After checking in we discovered that the place is within a stone's throw of I-90. It's like we never left home.
We're leaving tomorrow morning for a couple of weeks in New England. Flying into Pittsburgh and driving North and East from there. No solid must-see plans except for Lake Ontario and a scheduled stop in Portsmouth, NH.
If you have suggestions, fire an email or leave a comment. We'll be sticking mostly with the little roads and small towns.
I'll try to post an entry or two from the road.
Watch this for Jackie Chan's riotous fight choreography. Or for Owen Wilson's shameless goofball acting. But whatever you do, don't expect historical accuracy. The movie is fun to watch, but it doesn't have a serious bone in its body.
To expect otherwise is to set yourself up for disappointment. Chon and Roy go to England to rescue the Chinese imperial seal stolen from Chon's father. They're helped in their quest by Chon's adorable sister (who Roy predictably falls for) and Arthur Conan Doyle (who has somehow become a Scotland Yard inspector, but remember what I said about accuracy). Cool fight sequences ensue.
The DVD has an interesting interview with Chan about the fights. There's also a couple of commentary tracks and the other customary fill.
Comfort food. Heinlein's view of the future is so optimistic and stylized (in a very 1956 way) that reading his short novels is wonderfully soothing. In this one, Dan is an engineer in the old-fashioned nuts-and-bolts sense of someone who invents useful gadgets that can be easily manufactured to solve a real problem. He has no business sense and a weakness for pretty girls that land him in some trouble. He decides to eat his revenge cold by outliving his tormentors through suspended animation. This form of time travel is augmented later in the story by some travel in the opposite direction which allows all the loose ends to be tied up neatly.
The book is notable for having one of Heinlein's best feline characters, Pete. It's Pete who provides the title reference in his insistence on testing every door in the house when the weather he finds outside is not to his liking. Dan talks to Pete as if he understood every word, and Pete talks back in a way that makes it clear that he does.
I sympathize with anyone who can't take Michael Moore seriously. His work in Roger and Me had the feeling of a personal vendetta against General Motors, and that lack of objectivity permeated the film.
In Bowling for Columbine (a title I still don't really get), though, he does a much better job of making a documentary. He still does the in-their-face confrontation thing where he confronts people with issues they don't want to face and then acts surprised when they ask him to go away. But I had a hard time feeling much sympathy for any of the people thus confronted in this movie. I felt some sympathetic discomfort as I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of one of Moore's interviews, but everyone he confronted was a public personality who has to expect to encounter some opposition.
The movie is surprisingly even-handed about the issue of firearms. Moore doesn't take a stand on whether guns in and of themselves are a cause of the high homicide rates in the US. In fact, he points to strong evidence that the presence of guns doesn't have anything to do with it (Canada has 7 million guns for 10 million households, and a tiny fraction of our gun-related homicide numbers).
So what is the reason that Americans shoot each other so much more frequently than residents of other first world nations? There's no one answer. But two of the biggest factors, according to Moore, are our economy, and our fear.
Mainstream media reports violent crime first and foremost. This leads us to feel that we could be attacked at any moment. We buy alarms for our houses and our cars. We buy tazers and mace. We buy guns. We move to suburbs where we think we'll be safe. We avoid parts of town that we think are dangerous. We avoid certain people who we think are dangerous. This isolation leads to more ignorance of who our neighbors are, which leads to more fear. Fear translates to anger when we're confronted, and neither fear nor anger are conducive to rational thought. Shit happens.
I was talking to a friend about the movie today. He hadn't seen it, which didn't surprise me since he's a politically conservative guy and a gun enthusiast. I asked him the central question of why so many more gun deaths in the US than Canada. He opined that the high numbers were caused by ethnic minorities killing each other just like they do in the old country. I didn't follow up on that partly because I didn't feel like I had the facts I needed at hand, and partly because I'm not comfortable with Moore-like confrontation. But I've been thinking about it. The Canada counter-example works again for his argument. Canada has similar racial diversity to the US.
But the racial argument points to the other half of Moore's theory, the economic. Ethnic minorities are typically in the lower economic classes. They work for long hours at low-paying jobs that can't cover reasonable living expenses. They don't have health insurance. They can't afford daycare for their kids. In the movie, Moore gives an example of a situation where this recipe led to an unsupervised child discovering a gun which he took to school and killed a classmate. Both children were first graders. (One of my beefs with the movie is that Moore never chased the question of what the hell the child's uncle was doing with a gun lying around where a first grader could find it.) That's one way that poverty can lead to gun violence, but the other is the more direct route of hopelessness. When you work two full-time jobs and can't make enough money to provide for your child, how much does it take to drive you to violent means of attaining security?
Then there's that special case of gun violence: war. Is the argument that we should take military action against countries that we don't agree with a cause of Americans' tendency to violence or an effect?
Now, it's hard to make conclusions from the data that Moore presents, mostly because he doesn't present data, he presents blanket statements. There were several times in the film where he would present one side of the argument, then present facts that didn't quite refute them, but seemed to paint a picture with a different overall hue. It's hard to draw any strong conclusions based on this. What the movie is good for is providing a jumping-off point for discussion of the issues and suggestion of some theories about causes. The hard work of figuring out how the numbers shake out is left to the viewer.
The Red Green Show comes to the big screen. Unfortunately the movie suffers from the usual problems with translating variety show comedy programs for full-length features. What's funny when you're watching it for a half-dozen five-minute skits over the course of a half-hour becomes tiresome when stretched out to 90 minutes. There are bits that are amusing, but there's too much other stuff in between to make it worthwhile. Better to watch reruns of the show. The video tape we got from the library included a making-of mockumentary (all the actors stay in character) that was even more boring than the movie. It was fun hearing from some of the fans who got to be extras in the movie, but it went on so long I thought it would never end, and I finally rewound the tape without finishing it.
It's been a week or so since we watched this. It's a good movie. The casting is incredible (Streep, Moore, Kidman as the female leads, of course, but the supporting cast is impressive, too, with Miranda Richardson, John C. Reilly, Ed Harris, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Claire Danes, and Jeff Daniels). The story weaves back and forth between Woolf writing Mrs. Dalloway in 1923, a housewife in 1951 reading the book, and a 2001 editor who personifies the title character. Phillip Glass provides a score that sets tone and eases the transitions.
But while I enjoyed the experience of the film as I was watching it, looking back I feel like it could have been better. The cuts between the various timelines were rapidfire and frenetic, but when it stayed with a particular story for a while it felt draggy. The dragginess works for all the individual women's lives saturated with depression and despair as they were, but the contrast between the two speeds of the film didn't fit with the story for me.
I was also distracted by the makeup, not only the infamous nose they slapped on Nicole Kidman's mug, but also Ed Harris's AIDS makeup and Julianne Moore's old face at the end. They were all impressive, but they all looked like makeup to me.
But again, this is post-viewing analysis. The active presence of the film is engrossing. The emotions of the leads are a palpable experience. It makes Woolf's choice of suicide seem completely reasonable.
Interestingly, I ran across a discussion of depression and suicide just a couple of days after watching the movie. In a comment to her LiveJournal, Lydy wrote:
Did I ever tell you that I figured out a good answer to the question, "Why don't I just kill myself?" It's a perfectly valid question, and there are days when it's very hard to think of a good reason not to. My answer, though, is, "Next year, the medtech will be better." Life may not mean anything, but eventually it might stop hurting, and that would be an awfully nice thing.
The rate at which medtech improves can be cause for despair on its own, but certainly compared to 1923 or 1951, now is a better time to have screwed-up brain chemistry if you can afford to treat it.
The DVD has some interesting documentary material about Woolf, and a bunch of other stuff we didn't have time to watch since we had to return it to the library.
Rob and his friends at Cockeyed.com perform scientific experiments to determine how much is inside various things like a Sharpie, a pumpkin, a printer cartridge, and a beer keg. Funny stuff, and based on the pictures they have a lot of fun doing it.
(via Boing Boing)
Lust Over Pendle is fan fiction set in the same universe and with many of the same characters as the Harry Potter books. It is the special kind of fan fiction known as "slash" in which well-known characters from well-known works are paired up romantically in combinations that never occurred in their original incarnations. It's called slash because of the tendency to classify such stories by referring to the characters who are involved like "Kirk/Spock" or "Buffy/Willow" or "Archie/Meathead". As you might begin to suspect from those examples, slash often pairs same-sex characters, often in stark contrast to their original outward inclinations.
Lust Over Pendle is a Draco/Neville story. It takes place after the end of the seven years of Hogwarts that Rowling's books are slated to cover. Voldemort has been vanquished. Harry Potter has only a cameo in this book. Where Rowling's books are fairly plot-driven, Hall writes a much more character-driven yarn. There is a plot, but it's sort of unfocused and rambling. The characterization makes up for it. Neville's grandmother and Draco's mother play large parts in the story. Neville's grandmother kept reminding me of Granny Weatherwax from Pratchett's Discworld books.
This is a full-length novel that Hall will never see a dime for since zhe is playing in Rowling's sandbox, but if you can't wait for the next Potter book, it's a fine way to spend a couple of evenings.
Hall has a few other short pieces with these same characters available via the site behind the book cover, and there's rumored to be a second novel-length work on its way.
Donald Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things has an essay in progress on his web page entitled "The Complexity of Everyday Life" in which he ponders the proliferation of gadgetry and associated maintenance needs in our lives.
And yet his conclusion is that the problem will only be addressed through further complexity. First through social interactions with a new service industry aimed at maintaining domestic automation systems, and second through another layer of gadgetry aimed at integrating the various thingummies into a single supposedly self-maintaining whole.
He says "The increase in complexity is increasing, in part because of the natural, inevitable trend of technology to put together ever-more powerful solutions to problems we never realized we had."
And in so saying, I think he has identified another potential trend. Isn't it likely that people will rebel against the ever-increasing array of must-have thingamabobs?
This rebellion is already happening on a semi-fringe basis in the guise of the Voluntary Simplicity movement.
Becky and I became aware of this movement back in the early 90s when we read Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin's excellent book Your Money or Your Life. While that book is primarily about transforming your relationship with money, that transformation inexorably leads to awareness that time is money and that when you buy a thing you also commit to the effort it will take to maintain, repair, use, and eventually dispose of that thing.
Our epiphany upon reading YMoYL helped us to stop being slaves to our manufactured desires. We learned to live within our means, paid off our credit cards, and bought a house.
And in buying a house, took a step backwards into a slavery to material things that we had moved away from.
Buying the house wasn't a mistake. Even with the time it takes from our lives, we still come out ahead between not paying rent and the absurd tax benefits to giving lots of money to our bank in interest. But it's caused us to lose ground in the battle between more stuff and more time.
We're starting to regroup and work on these issues again so I'm starting a new category here for some of the things that we want to remember and share.
(Norman link via Seedlings & Sprouts)