I am spending June through September 2017 in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts – my first visit to each state! These are the New England Chronicles.
Read About Maine Here.
Vermont: Coming Soon
Ask Not To Whom To Pay Tolls; The Toll’s For Thee
Have you ever noticed the worst roads in America are tollways? You know, the turnpikes you are paying a direct tax to travel on? A bit ironic, but it makes some sense – most tollways are in the East, pounded by snow, plows, and salt in wintertime. What a guide in Minnesota once quipped holds equally true for New England, “There are two seasons: Winter, and Road Maintenance.”
If you’re coming from the West in a rig, keep your wallet out once you hit Illinois heading east, because you will pay hefty tolls to get to New England. Illinois is the worst, because there seems to be no rhyme or reason for the short distances between booths and the amount of the tolls. I paid as little as $4 and as much as $27 per toll in Illinois. This is the second time I’ve driven through Illinois, and when I do it again I will have an electronic transponder. The time it takes to stop at each booth, and squeezing my way through the booth lanes, mirrors in mortal peril, is vexing. States like Texas and Washington, that mail you a bill based on your license plate, are wonderful, but save Massachusetts, none of the states from Illinois to Maine have such an option.
Tolls seem fewer in Indiana and Ohio. By the time you get to Pennsylvania and New York, taking a ticket on one end and paying on the other is so much more civilized.
I thought about traversing only toll-free roads, and from Erie, Pennsylvania to Albany, New York, I took an alternative route to avoid Interstate 90. But, by and large, staying off the interstate takes much more time, and exponentially increases the chances of encountering a bridge, trellis, or railroad right-of-way for which I’m over-weight or over-height, especially in much older New England; can you say covered bridges?
All told, I spent over $200 in tolls between Illinois and Maine.
Yankee Country Dialect
Right away some phrases strike your ear and let you know you are in New England. In Maine, a “Lobster Pound” is not a shelter for homeless or stray lobsters, but a fresh seafood market. In some parts of the country “Lobster Roll” connotes sushi, but in Maine it’s lobster, on bread – a folded piece of Texas toast, brioche – whatevah’s clevah. Lobster pounds usually have a seafood shack/restaurant attached to them, for all your lobster roll and other “seafoods” (yes, they add the “S”) needs.
Pints aren’t just for Allagash beer; they are for seafood too, and you order fried clams or calamari or scallops by the half or whole. And by the way, it’s pronounced “skall-ups.”
New Englanders practice an economy of words. Why say “Lobster by the pound” when you can say “Lobster Pound?” Similarly, why say “Lighthouse” when you can simply say “Light?” At Cape Elizabeth and Portland Head, the lighthouse there is known as the “Portland Head Light,” evoking thoughts of automobiles rather than ships and treacherous rocks.
While woefully overused in film and television about the East Coast, “Wicked” is indeed a part of everyday conversation. The customer getting a pedicure at the nail salon warns that she is “wicked ticklish.” The bartender asks if you want the Bloody Mary “wicked hot.”
This is the land of “Bean Suppahs” hosted by churches and civic groups, so plentiful and popular that long lists of upcoming feeds are printed in the paper.
Weathering The Weather
I arrived in New England on the last day of May, assuming it was already high season. Not the case. Early June is “shoulder season,” and while the weather is more unpredictable, the price is right. Parking in downtown Portland is $10. I am paying low season prices at the campground eight miles from downtown Portland, where season starts on June 15. Weather has ranged from sunny and in the 70s, to rainy and in the 50s. Some days are sunny all day, and some days it rains all day. Hailing from Seattle, in all honesty the weather makes me no never mind. I’ve got a Gore-Tex jacket with a hood on it, and rubber boots. As I heard yesterday for the first time, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”