Monday, October 16, 2006

Fear And Loathing (Of Bridges) In Northern New England

MY WIFE was not drunk. She was wearing slingback shoes.

Well, now that I've got that out of the way, I'll tell you all about our vacation. It was 10 lovely days, except for when I was driving. Also, 10 lovely nights, especially the one where I went in the hot tub in my underwear.

I think I should start at the beginning.


Our vacation began on Friday. We had a wedding to attend in Kennebunkport, Maine, on Saturday. From there, we would go south to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for Sunday and Monday. Finally, our trip would take us north to Thornton, New Hampshire, for the remainder of our time away from home.

We set out for Kennebunkport at around noontime on Friday. Now, there are three ways to get to the road to Kennebunkport. All of them involve going over large bridges. I hate driving over large bridges. As a matter of fact, on this trip my phobia was destined to evolve into something totally beyond reason, even for something that was already an unreasonable fear.

I've always been scared of heights. To be more specific, open heights. For instance, I'm not really uncomfortable in an airplane. That's much higher up than any bridge, of course, but flying doesn't bother me a lot. Put me on a fire escape, though, and I become almost paralyzed. The same goes for especially long or high bridges.

Why? I don't know. I might actually begin looking into analysis of this now. On this trip, which started out with just my general fear of bridges, I morphed into a person uncomfortable with driving, period, and I've never been anything less than a very good and confident driver. I've had many jobs where the main activity was driving - cab driver, delivery driver for a fruit and vegetable company, package delivery - and I've held a class 2 license in Massachusetts, which is one allowing me to drive extremely large trucks; basically, anything other than a tractor-trailer. Now, I find myself becoming nervous on any road that I'm not familiar with and at any speed over about 45 miles per hour. As you might imagine, this could make travel on interstate highways a problem.

Anyway, there are three bridges from New Hampshire into Maine along the seacoast. The bridge on Interstate 95 is the highest and longest. Then there is a bridge on the Route One Bypass that is about as long, but not quite as high. Finally, there is the Portsmouth Memorial Bridge, which is shorter and lower than the other two. We planned our route to traverse that bridge, which is part of Route One.

MY WIFE is tremendously understanding concerning my paranoia. She has no choice, really, since she doesn't drive. She did, at one time, but she let her license lapse. I admire her greatly for that decision. She felt that she wasn't a safe driver, so she stopped driving. I wish the thousands of others who have been granted licenses by the state of Massachusetts but who have no real driving ability would do the same.

There are precious few who are willing to admit to an inability to drive well. It is an axiom of American life that, just as almost everybody believes that he can manage the local baseball team better than the man paid to do so, almost everybody thinks he can drive better than the guy in the next car. As of now, I know I can still outmanage, say, Don Zimmer, but I no longer have confidence in my ability to outdrive him.

I should explain something about the bridges in Portsmouth. I've driven over all three of them at one time or another. I was petrified while doing so. The only one that I feel any degree of comfort with is the one we planned on crossing, the Portsmouth Memorial Bridge on Route One. MY WIFE deserves a deal of credit for my ability to ever reach the state of Maine without becoming a total basket case. I'll tell you why.

We have spent a few nice mini-vacations in Portsmouth, as we did during the second leg of this trip. It is a very pretty town with good restaurants and a lovely park, Prescott Park, which I'll tell you more about later. Anyway, during one of these trips, MY WIFE decided to try and cure me of some of my bridge phobia. She took my hand and we walked across that bridge. It is the only one of the three I've mentioned that is also a pedestrian bridge.

The middle section of the bridge is a drawbridge. It raises straight up, via huge counterweights, to let ships pass on the Piscataqua River. The middle section of the bridge is somewhat like a fire escape. That is, a grid made of criss-crossing metal. When we got there, my knees went weak. I willed myself to just look in front of me and take a step at a time. I probably gripped MY WIFE's hand so hard that it hurt quite a bit, but she never complained and we made it to the other side. Then we had to cross back, of course. That was no more fun than the initial crossing, but at least I could say that I had done it. It made driving across it much more manageable, in general. I'm still not fond of going over that bridge, but I can do so with only a minimal amount of terror. The other two bridges remain the stuff of nightmares for me.

We crossed the bridge, MY WIFE lightly holding my right hand for support, and then we continued towards Kennebunkport. There was a problem, though, and that was that the directions we had been given included the words "After crossing the bridge..."

The bridge being referred to was one in Kennebunkport. Having never been in Kennebunkport before, I worked this unseen bridge into one of Golden Gate proportions. I tried to mostly keep my fears to myself, but I was spectacularly unsuccessful. I made a number of self-conscious self-deprecating jokes that didn't help either of us. I told myself that I'd be brave when we got to it, since whatever it was, we had to cross it to be able to attend the wedding. I know I didn't completely act brave, by any means. I was expecting this behemoth of a bridge to rear itself at any moment and I was fairly shaky.

It turned out to be about fifteen feet long and maybe ten feet high. The river, or whatever it traversed, was about the size of a large mud puddle. It was like worrying about a King Cobra and finding an inchworm. I felt like a total dumbass.


OK. We were in Kennebunkport and now I knew there were no more scary bridges. It was time to find our hotel.

In order to get to our hotel, a lovely little place called The Rhumb Line Inn, we had to drive by Walkers Point. You may not be familiar with the fact that this is the Maine residence of the Bushes. Well, now you are.

There were constantly vehicles stopped by the seawall near the house, which was about three hundred yards away on a stony outcropping in the bay. The driveway had a guardhouse, with well-posted stop signs and various warnings about not getting any ideas concerning disturbing the occupants. Still, for some damned reason, loads of people kept stopping and looking at the house, as though it were holy ground and they half expected to see a sacred apparition appear. Each time we drove by, I told MY WIFE to roll down the window and pretend she was pointing a gun. She wisely declined.

(I knew that the area was no doubt inundated with security cameras and the woods were full of secret service agents with no compunction whatsoever about shooting first and asking questions later. I also knew that MY WIFE's window didn't roll down - it is broken - so I knew my little joke would never evolve into a tragedy.)

(I suppose I should make it clear at this point that I have no more against the Bushes than I do against any other royal family. That is, I feel that they are parasites and a scourge on society. But I feel the same way about the Kennedys, for instance, so there's no partisanship involved. I just generally despise those who think elections are the same as coronations. However, I digress, as usual.)


After we checked in, we found out that The Rhumb Line had both indoor and outdoor heated pools and hot tubs. We dearly wanted to hop into one of the hot tubs. However, we hadn't bothered to pack bathing suits, assuming that the weather would be too cold for swimming.

MY WIFE had a pair of shorts and a sleeveless top that could pass muster. I had my underwear. They were a pair of black mid-thigh boxer briefs, which might pass as a tight fitting pair of swim trunks from a distance. We decided, as the hot tub was only a few steps from our room, to be daring and go in and hope nobody else came in the meantime.

We left our room with towels draped around our waists and made our way to the indoor hot tub, which was in the same room as the indoor heated pool. Nobody else was there. We dropped our towels by the side of the hot tub and climbed in. The water was wonderfully warm and relaxing. We laid back and felt great.

After a few minutes, I stood up - I forget why - and MY WIFE looked at how my underwear was now wet and conforming to my... shape... and she rightly suggested that I sit back down in the water. She then stood up and asked me if I could see her goodies. The answer was "Yes, a bit". Her shorts, without benefit of underwear beneath, had become somewhat see-through with the addition of water. Her top was also sheerer than she would have liked. So, there we were, in the hot tub, with both of us showing a bit more of our naughty bits than we would have preferred, but it was quite relaxing and somewhat late in the evening, so we stayed in, expecting that we were probably going to be the only ones there.

After a few more minutes, MY WIFE decided to take a short side trip into the swimming pool. She splashed around a bit. Just as she was getting out of the pool, two more couples came through the door into the pool area.

Well, MY WIFE had been smart enough to take her towel to the area of the pool where she had climbed in. As she climbed out, she put the towel around her waist and made her way over to the hot tub, which the other two couples were now approaching. She handed me my towel just as I rose up out of the water. I think I got it around me without the other folks seeing any more than they needed to see. We smiled at the four of them and made some sort of comment about how relaxing the water was as we made our way out the door and back to our room.

(The other folks, what with bikinis and speedos, were showing more than we were, even in our underwear. However, they didn't have "Fruit Of The Loom" written in large type on their waistbands, so...)


The wedding was lovely. As a matter of fact, outside of our own wedding, I think it was the best wedding I've ever attended.

Matt and Aymie are both really good folks and they make a lovely couple. The ceremony itself was held outside, in the garden of the Colony Hotel. The weather was perfect. The skies were clear blue and it was about 72 degrees. They couldn't have ordered a better day from a catalog.

Matt is Jewish and Aymie's family is, I have to assume from the ceremony, Christian. The ceremony was performed by a female minister of a protestant faith, but included such Jewish staples as the breaking of glasses and shouts of "Mazel Tov!" The music selected by the couple for the processional included Sinatra (Once In Love With Amy) and Armstrong. It was a short, sweet, and beautiful ceremony.

We sat next to Fred, my long-time softball buddy, and his lovely girlfriend, Gina. Also in attendance were other softball teammates from the Bombers - Scotty, Eric, Mike, and significant others, as well as Matt's dad, Stu, who was resplendent in his tuxedo. In 12 years of playing ball with him, I had never seen Stu in anything other than a sleeveless t-shirt and jogging pants. In his tux, he looked like - and I mean this in the nicest way - a successful mob boss.

Immediately following the ceremony, there was an open bar on the veranda. Waiters circulated with yummy treats such as scallops wrapped in bacon, huge shrimp, chicken fingers and other gustatory delights. We had a few drinks each before being called into the dinner.

Now, MY WIFE had a couple of white wines. She insists she was NOT drunk, at any time. Fred thought otherwise and I'm sure he still does. This is because when we were called to dinner, MY WIFE got up from our little table and immediately stumbled. MY WIFE insists that this was because she had taken a xanax earlier that day and she was wearing slingback shoes, which made it difficult for her to keep her balance once or twice. I personally don't care if she was drunk or not. Whatever she was, she was also having a great time and that's all that mattered to me.

Further evidence of her possible drunkenness might be had in the fact that we danced three or four dances. We never dance. We hadn't danced three or four dances in our entire married life before this wedding. However, MY non-drunk WIFE kept wanting to drag me onto the dance floor. OK. I didn't embarrass myself too badly, I suppose. One time, Gina asked MY WIFE if she wanted to dance, so they went up to the dance floor and cut a rug while I watched. They made a nice couple.

During the reception, Scotty found out that the Yankees had lost and were eliminated from the playoffs. He asked the DJ to announce this. When he did, a huge cheer erupted from the assembled guests, the great majority obviously Red Sox fans. The DJ then played Sweet Caroline, which everyone sang along with and during which MY WIFE and I joined the dancers again, thrusting our fists in the air at the appropriate moments.

(We both wondered, afterwards, what any guests from outside of New England might have thought of this whole thing. It has to be totally unfathomable to someone from, say, Wisconsin, as to why this whole room full of people would know all the lyrics to Sweet Caroline, and would have a choreographed dance to go along with it, and why it would be the song played in exultation following the announcement of a Yankees loss. It's fairly unfathomable to me, and I live here.)

(By the way, I have this strange little bit of trivia and no better place to relay it than right now, so here you go. When Corey Lidle's airplane crashed into the building on New York's upper east side, the engine of the plane ended up in a woman's bedroom. She was unhurt by it, as I understand, but here's the extremely weird thing. A little while back, this same woman was at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and, when one of the gigantic balloons deflated and knocked down a utility pole, she was the one hit by the pole. If I'm this woman, I'm getting out of New York as fast as I possibly can.)


Well, I'm back to work now and there's a lot of it to do. Being away from a small office for a week tends to make the work get backed up a bit. I'll leave you now, with us tucked into our beds in Kennebunkport, and resume the story of our vacation tomorrow.

(There should be some good little joke here, ending with "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it", but I can't quite get at it. Sorry.)


Peter N said...

Great story. And when I heard the story last week of the lady who was doubly cursed, and survived, I frankly could NOT BELIEVE IT. But it's true...every little bit of it. And boy, that pic of Maine on the day of the wedding proves what a perfect weather day it was. Picture postcard beauty. Thanks for the great read!

Anonymous said...

Hawesome story, Suldog.

/go Tigers!

Uncle Jim said...

Uncle Roy would have loved you!

James Cooper said...

Sounds like a fun and plenty exciting time was had. Your wife sounds about as understanding and supportive as spouses get. You're very lucky to have eachother :-)

I take it then that I shouldn't bother inviting you to the next time I go bungee jumping, huh?

That wedding I attended in August in Maine for my girlfriend's sister had a fair bit of wine, champagne, and other fermented beverages flowing at the reception and there was some tipsiness from some of the attendees. The bride herself put down quite a bit and my girlfriend had no amount of envy for how she expected her sister would feel the next day. We never did ask if she was right about how the new wife fared the first day of that honeymoon (in Boston no less).

Glad you had a good time, glad you're back. Next time though, bring some swimsuits ;-)

The Omnipotent Q said...

I loved hearing the DJ playing Sweet Caroline at the Yankees loss. Sweet.

At Professor Thom's that night, a Yankee fan wearing a Judas Damon shirt took it off, gave it to Jim the bartender, who promptly stomped on it, wiped it on the bar, tore to pieces and put part of it on one of the TVs, where it still is. Jim rewarded the Yankee fan by giving him a free drink.

Great story, Suldog...

Melinda said...

I totally don't understand the Sweet Caroline thing (to me it's just a fun song to sing), but as a hockey fan, I do understand how fun it is to share an inside joke with thousands of other people... there are certain chants that you will only hear in the Sudbury, Ontario arena - some of which have been around for so long that I don't know why we do them.

I love how the love of a game can bring people together :)

great story - looking forward to hearing more...

Suldog said...

Thanks, folks. More to come tomorrow. I'm a comments slut, so keep 'em coming :-)

Elaine said...

OMG!!! I'm not the only one who has a fear of high open spaces! Every time I'd mention being scared out on fire escapes and such, people would raz me about it.

I'm okay on planes and in upper floors of tall buildings... but put me on a fire escape or standing over a large grate over a city street, and I'm petrified... and I've been like this since I was a little kid.

Suldog said...

The folks who raz others about their fears are generally asswipes, because everybody is scared of something. Some of the folks who raz you may be trying, in their own way, to help you overcome a fear, so I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt the first time. But if they keep it up? I see no reason to keep seeing those people.

Thanks for reading!