You rejoin me setting out from Boston for 2 weeks of adventure.
Before that though, and barely out of the garage:
I passed too close to a parked car and heard a loud “bang” which immediately instilled panic. I went to hit the brake but unfamiliarity with the pedal setup meant that I landed back down on the accelerator.
And we leapt across the road before I righted my feet and brought us to a stop.
The owner of the car I’d hit was right there. He took a look and waved us off, saying “no damage done.” The bang was the sound of our wing mirrors hitting, and somehow they both remained intact. It was something of a miracle that we hadn’t hit anything else in my panic.
Beforehand Chris had been laughing at the prospect of me having to drive. He was still laughing but now it evidenced nervous terror rather than amusement.
Things were safer on the highway. I was fine on the open road (these things are relative, it took an hour for my foot to stop shaking). It was navigating the traffic in built up areas that was the problem.
We looked at the road signs and headed for Cape Cod. With no more planning than that we just stayed on Highway 6 until we ran out of land.
Turned out we were in Provincetown.
We found a campsite which we had entirely to ourselves. It was beautiful, a mix of small quaint town set against the desolate nature of the dunes and sand with the Atlantic as backdrop. I noticed that a lot of the people we passed were same sex pairs. My powers of observation deduced that perhaps this was a popular spot for the LGBT+ community. There were two of us and we were both men so in that sense we fitted right in.
We got speaking to the doorman to a bar who Chris questioned for local insight as to where would be a good place to meet women. The doorman found this hilarious, telling us we were in the wrong town for that. There were two nightclubs; one where all the men went and another where all the women went and if we were lucky we might just find a woman in there that was bisexual.
As ever with Chris, hope reigned over expectation. His desire to promote cross-Atlantic relations led to him pestering me until I agreed to go with him to the club for women. It about summed up our friendship: once he’d had a drink, there was one thing on his mind, usually requiring me to make sure he made it home safely at the end of the night in my role as the sensible one.
Once again, we did not fit in.
There were around 20 women, all in a tight knit group and all of whom looked mid forties and up. We may as well have been invisible for all the notice they took of us.
We had one drink, Chris admitted defeat and we headed back to the previous bar so the doorman could have a good laugh at us returning so soon.
Leaving Provincetown, we invested in a road map and set off on a haphazard tour through Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York state. A mix of picking places we’d heard of or just randomly hitting the road and deciding along the way to stop somewhere or following a road sign that took our interest.
We started off driving back the way we’d come, past Boston and onto Salem. We’d heard of that thanks to the witches. Sadly, none were around. Chris harbored a desire to visit Maine – that was, until he told a bartender who’d picked up on our accents and asked what we were up to. The mention of Maine provoked the crushing response “Why the f— would you want to go to Maine? There’s nothing there but lobsters.”
Neither of us were keen on lobsters. So Maine was out.
We drove round in loops, cut back across ourselves and if we’d had a GPS it would have looked like we were trapped in a maze. There was Woodstock, The Catskills, Watkins Glen, Saratoga Springs, Bash Bish Falls (we liked the name) and Lake Placid. I’d heard of Lake Placid due to the 1980 Winter Olympics and the miracle on ice. Chris had seen Lake Placid the film about the big crocodile. One of us was more disappointed than the other at the reality.
Looking at the map, we saw that it wasn’t all that far from Lake Placid to Canada and onto Toronto.
Neither of us had been to Canada so may as well cross the border
When you rent a car over here, you normally have to specify if you intend to take it to another country. I’ve no idea if we were breaking any clause in the rental agreement by leaving the US, but we weren’t about to let that stop us. After all, Chris was now doing the majority of the driving having decided that the risk of him driving without insurance outweighed the trauma of sitting in the passenger seat.
We crossed into Canada and broke up the drive stopping at a small town I’ve long since forgotten the name of. We picked up pizzas and onto the supermarket for snacks and beers to take back to the motel. We walked up and down the aisles wondering where they were hiding the beer.
A staff member gave us the unfortunate news that to buy beer in Ontario we had to go to a registered LCBO outlet, then he looked at his watch and delivered the final blow that they would be closed now.
What kind of a civilized country was this?
In Toronto we went to see the Blue Jays, where I met The Who’s number one fan, selling hot dogs. It made his day to find that I lived in Leeds and had seen many gigs at the venue where Live At Leeds had been recorded. Over the whole of our trip there was always a positive reaction to locals hearing our accent.
And, especially in some of the more out of the way towns we passed through: wondering why we were there.
There’s a perception over here that Americans think that Britain = London and can’t comprehend there’s more than just the capital. That only happened once. Checking into a motel the owner asked:
“Are you from London?
“So whereabouts in London is that?” ”
“But you’re English?”
And so it went on as we were required to detail the geographical layout of England for him.
Supermarkets also highlighted another big difference between Britain and the US. Seeing a wall filled with guns available to buy alongside the toilet roll, coffee and ice cream really drove home how far apart we are in some respects.
From Toronto it was only a short drive to Niagara Falls so off we went. That was another surprise.
Literally no idea there was a whole town right next to it, all geared up for parting tourists from their money.
They don’t show you that angle on the photos.
We stayed on the Canadian side and went wild with the accommodations. So far, we’d either stayed on campsites or motels of varying quality. Some little independents with attentive sweet elderly owners, or that one in Saratoga Springs alongside a busy highway which lured us in with a sign mentioning a swimming pool.
We checked in, went round the back and found the pool was drained and had become an ad hoc storage unit for whatever they couldn’t be bothered to take off site.
We spent about as much on one night in an actual proper hotel with a room overlooking the falls as we did the rest of the time driving round. Still, we did pick up a voucher giving us 2-for-1 at the all-you-can -eat buffet, which we more than took advantage of, in an effort to consume as much back as possible.
Crossing back into the US it was back to campsite living. Another overnight stay in a small town on the way to somewhere else. There was one other tent pitched, which had a middle aged couple and an elderly woman in it with a Trans Am and small trailer parked next to it. They didn’t look like typical campers. As we sat at a picnic table in the evening the couple came over. Just as we were curious as to what they were doing there, they had the same thought about us.
Turned out the elderly lady was the woman’s mother. There had been a fire at their apartment a few days before and they were now in effect homeless and that trailer contained the entirety of their belongings that they’d managed to rescue.
They’d been given a tent and left to their own resources. They were going to church the next morning to appeal to the congregation for assistance, whether financial or some place to stay.
Despite the bad hand they’d been dealt they were trying to stay positive, once we’d heard their tale they had plenty of questions for us about Britain.
Maybe it took their minds off their predicament for a couple of hours. The next morning we said goodbye, gave them a few dollars from our meagre funds, feeling like it didn’t really amount to much, and wished them luck.
It was time to get the car back to Boston but before that one last detour.
Provincetown had been so nice. Even though it was in the wrong direction, it was back to Cape Cod for one more night. This time we found a campsite near Chatham and decided we’d go to the movies. While we were in there being underwhelmed by Pearl Harbor there was a torrential rain storm outside. We got back to the campsite to find the tent now an island surrounded by a huge puddle of water. A motel it was , then.
Next morning we got the Windstar back to Boston. There was a lady in front us returning her keys and arguing about the excess miles she’d racked up and was now shocked to find she had to pay extra for.
Two weeks of driving uncoordinated loops round the country had seen us put an impressive 2000+ miles on the clock. Chris gave me a look that resembled the one when we collected the car and I had lurched uncontrolled across busy traffic. How much is this going to cost us?! I assured him not to worry, that I’d selected an unlimited mileage package. Internally I was bricking it that there would be some clause I’d missed that meant we were about to be presented with a hefty bill.
Having eventually persuaded Mrs. Angry in front of us that she had to pay up, it all went smoothly for us. There was a raising of the eyebrows at our mileage, but it was all covered. They looked round the car and there wasn’t a scratch on it. Not even on the wing mirror.
Not that they noticed anyway.
We got a coach back to New York and checked back into 110th Street for one more night heading up to the roof to enjoy a few beers and the view over Central Park. It had been an adventure.
Next summer we’d be back on the road, this time through Europe on an another Magical Mystery Tour.
Though maybe not so magical.
As it would see a parting of the ways between me and Chris.
That’s for next time…
(to be continued…)
Let the author know that you liked their post with a “heart” upvote!