Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fear And Loathing (Of Bridges) In Northern New England, Part Three

I've gone on at great length about my phobias for the past two days, interspersing a few weak anecdotes here and there in hopes of keeping you interested enough to carry on. If you were lucky enough to miss it on the first go round, you can read all about it here and here, if you're not smart enough to stay away from it now. And even if you were fortunate enough to avoid it the first time, I'm going to keep at it for another day at least and I probably won't stop until I've made you utterly phobic of my phobias, so you may as well resign yourself to it, read this helping of tripe, and get it over with.

(That's what's known in the radio biz as a "teaser". Makes you want to read more, doesn't it? Why, writing like this must make you fairly salivate at the thought of reading what lies ahead. Or, in this instance, replace "salivate" with "hurl" and "what" with "the" and it'll likely be more correct. However, I digress.)

We checked out of the motel in Portsmouth and hit the road for Thornton. I wanted to avoid the nasty bridges again, of course, so we headed south on Route One. Thornton was north of us, but I was willing to backtrack ten miles, take four different smaller roads instead of the one major one that a sane person would have driven, and cost us an extra hour or so of traveling time. I told MY WIFE it was an interesting adventure to see the sights we wouldn't see on a big road like I-93, rather than admitting it was sheer terror and utter avoidance sending us onto more picturesque roads like Route 101.

You may think I'm exaggerating what I was feeling. I wish that were the case. I spent far too much time on this vacation worrying about the next place I had to drive. As a matter of fact, I'm spending far too much time telling you about it, too. So I'll skip the actual drive to Thornton and pick up the tale when we arrived at the former Sullivan Lane.

(Now, you probably weren't aware that there even was a Sullivan Lane, or that it isn't called that any longer, but there was and it isn't. Does any of this matter to you, or to this tale, such as it is? No. But I've got a cute little story and I'm going to jam it in here one way or the other, so here goes.

My father's house in New Hampshire - the place now owned by my Cousin Joan and where we were headed in Thornton at this point - is at the end of a dirt road off of Route 3. The dirt road had no name when my father bought the place. Whenever he had to tell someone where he lived, he had to say "Behind Smitty's". Smitty's was (and is) an auto repair shop on Route 3, and my father's house was down that dirt road about a quarter-mile behind Smitty's.

My father got sick and tired of having to tell people that he lived "Behind Smitty's", so he petitioned the town for the right to name the dirt road. The town granted him permission and he named it Sullivan Lane. He went and had an actual street sign made and he was pretty damned proud of it.

The upshot is that from then on, whenever anyone asked him where he lived, he proudly said, "Sullivan Lane." When they then invariably asked him where that was, he had to say, "Behind Smitty's".)

(After I sold the place, the town renamed it. Why? I don't know. Maybe they were just waiting for me to pay the back taxes and were afraid I'd stiff them if they renamed it before I sold it. Who knows?)

We drove down behind Smitty's and saw the house for the first time in about two years.

I suppose I should once again recount how the house came to be owned by my Cousin Joan, in case you missed it in some of my other writings. I'll give the short version: My father died. I inherited the house. Tried to sell it for a decent price, thought we had done so, but the deal fell through. Rented it out for a while, first to strangers and then to my Auntie Ba. My Auntie Ba died. Joan (Auntie Ba's daughter) asked about buying it. We made a deal for a fair amount less than what it might have drawn if we went through a realtor, but with a proviso that MY WIFE and I have access to it once in a while when Joan and her family weren't using it.

So here we were. And I've got to say, honestly, that Joan and her husband, Eddie, have done a wonderful job with the place. It is immaculately kept up and they've added all sorts of wonderful homey touches. Eddie is a tremendously handy guy and he's put in a lovely flagstone walkway, built a nice new shed and garage that exactly matches the house, and done other repairs that I couldn't have done without a government grant and the Army Corp of Engineers to help. They get so much more enjoyment out of the place than we ever could have, that I'm spectacularly happy we made the deal we did. We went inside and made ourselves at home, which was easy to do since Joan has done equally nice things with the inside of the house.

On the mantel by the chimney, they had a couple of pictures that intrigued us. One was of a couple of deer walking by the railroad tracks that run behind the house. Another was of a family of black bears in the yard by the deck. Now, I wasn't too worried about the deer, but the idea that some bears might be wandering around some night while I was out on the deck having a smoke made for some interesting thoughts - and quick smokes.

While the other places we had been thus far were nice and fairly relaxing, Thornton is downright bucolic. And I love it. There is nothing quite like being able to go outside at night, look up at the sky, and actually see every star sharply and clearly. You can't get that in the city, ever. It's awe-inspiring, really. One night I stood out on the deck - bears be damned - and just stared at the sky for about twenty minutes. It was absolutely breathtaking and it also put things into perspective. You can start to think you're pretty hot stuff when all you do is hang around in your own little office or whatever in the city, but when you stand in the fresh cool air of the country, with no city lights to obscure your view of the universe, you realize that you're small potatoes, indeed.

Now, if this story had any real point to it, this would be where I have an epiphany that allows me to get rid of my anxieties about driving over bridges. However, this story has no point and I had no such epiphany. The next day, we drove up to Polly's Pancake Parlor, in Sugar Hill, for breakfast. Rather than take I-93, I chose to drive us over three or four mountains on various side roads.

Polly's is a great place for breakfast. As you might imagine from the name, they serve pancakes; great pancakes; pancakes that give wet dreams to maple syrup, whatever the hell that means. Suffice to say that it's a great breakfast and leave it at that before I try to come up with a more hideous simile, metaphor, analogy, or whatever the heck is the right word here.

While we were enjoying our pancakes, a man and woman at the next table were trying to win a scavenger hunt. I'm serious. They had a list and had shown it to the cashier and she was running all over the restaurant trying to get things for them to check off of the list. She had already given them a picture of the state bird and the lyrics to the state song. Those are the kind of folks that run Polly's. Nice people and excellent food.

(The best laugh of the morning came when the cashier asked the folks where they were from and they pointed out to the parking lot, just outside the window by their table, at what I assume must have been the license plate on their car. The cashier said, "Oh! What part of Montana are you from?" and the man answered, "South Dakota".)

Being naturally curious (read: nosy as hell) we asked if we could see the list. Unfortunately there was nothing on it that we could give them. One of the items, I remember, was a California telephone directory. Where they might have found that in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, I have no idea. Heck, you'd be lucky to find a New Hampshire directory in Sugar Hill, probably. It seems like the sort of town where you probably pick up the phone and ask Sarah to connect you.

On the way back, I took the Interstate, having not been overly fond of the mountains we rode over on the way there. Fortunately, there are all kinds of interesting things to see on the way from Sugar Hill back south to Thornton, so my irrational thoughts concerning the road weren't given much time to intrude. We stopped at The Basin and The Flume, but not The Old Man, since he isn't there any more.

Well, not a whole lot of exciting stuff to tell concerning the remainder of our time in Thornton. It was just a nice, relaxing, sleepy few days in the mountains; just what we expected, and wanted.

Friday afternoon, we packed up and headed back towards Boston. I was still having my (by now interminable to you, no doubt, but imagine how I was feeling about it) anxieties concerning driving, so we drove Route 3 all the way back down to Manchester. At Manchester, I had to decide whether to continue on Route 3, which would bring us into Massachusetts far west of where we would have liked, or to get onto I-93. I got onto I-93. I was just tired of driving and wanted to get home, and I was OK on the road, but I sure felt sorry for MY WIFE. By this time, my anxiousness was far too obvious for me to totally hide, so I was telling her about it openly.

I love MY WIFE because she listened patiently, said all the right things, told me to take everything at my own pace and said that we could even stop for an overnight someplace if I didn't feel up to continuing. I told her that if I reached that point, we'd better call a mobile headshrinker.

It is so extremely humbling to write about this. I've always considered my driving ability one of my strong points. As I've pointed out to you numerous times now, I've held many driving jobs, some of them involving very large vehicles. And cars and driving are so intimately associated with masculinity in our culture, that it's somewhat emasculating to admit any weakness in this area. But it has me so absolutely stumped that I needed to write about it, to see if I could get at the root of it in some way by verbalizing it. It hasn't helped me to understand why it happened, but it has helped me to regain some control of it. And I thank you for being my unpaid analyst.

Anyway, as we rode into Massachusetts and got closer to home, MY WIFE did a very smart thing. I had put some Who into the CD player, hoping to get into the music a bit and take my mind off of the road somewhat. As the music played, MY WIFE started asking me questions about The Who and about music in general. Very smart. Once I started pontificating on a subject I considered myself knowledgeable about, the driving took care of itself. I went on automatic pilot while I filled the car with hot air. Even after The Who CD played out, and I put in some Grand Funk, she continued the conversation about music. And she couldn't possibly have been that interested in Grand Funk. Nobody is. It got us both home without any further paranoia. Thank you again, love.

And that's it for our vacation. I'll be back on Friday. The story that won the vote (What vote? This vote!) was Mr. Suldog's Wild Ride. I promise you that it has absolutely nothing to do with bridges. Really. Honestly.

See you then with (easily) more better stuff.


Peter N said...

Memories flooded, gushed, whatever, but they came back to me when you mentioned Grand Funk...I loved their first three albums, back in the early 70s, and I happened to go up to Boston to see them when they were at the apex of their popularity. I loved it.....Thanks for bringing them back to me, if only for a couple minutes.

Ericka said...

you know, i've learned through the years that i pick up my friends' phobias. (yeah, like i don't have enough of my own.) so, bridge phobic person, stay away from me! i like bridges. i have a couple of books about them.

and they beat the hell out of tunnels. don't like tunnels. nope, nope, nope. it's kinda weird - i like caves, and caving. i just have substantial problems with tunnels, specifically the tunnels that you're supposed to drive your car through. *shudder* right, well, i'm off to a corner to rock.

Uncle Jim said...

Long ime since I was on "Sullivan Lane." What is it now named?

Suldog said...

Peter: The first four albums were the best. The 4th one was "Live Album" which has my favorite bass guitar sound, ever. The perfect tone for that instrument, throughout that album. After the 7th album ("Phoenix"), they basically castrated Mel Schacher, putting his bass way in the background of most tunes, and the group was much less interesting from then on.

Ericka: Don't worry, I'll stay clear. I wouldn't wish the feelings I was having last week on anyone!

Uncle Jim: It's now called "Conkey Road". That is SO much less lyrical than "Sullivan Lane".

Therapy Doc said...

I haven't read any other posts, just wanted to say hi, stop by, but here I'm reading about your rotten anxiety disorder, and feel pretty bad for ya'.

We'll talk. The music, the chat, the distraction-- those are your rules of the road (and maybe a little psychotherapy?)

Gotta' love your wife, right?

Best, Linda (TherapyDoc)