Thursday, October 22, 2009
MY WIFE and I went on vacation last week. I don’t have any amazing stories to tell, but there were some interesting and nice happenings. I’ll tell you a bit about those, if you don't mind.
Our first stop was Salem, New Hampshire. Not that the place is a hideous rattrap, but this is not a city usually given as a tourist destination. So, why were we in Salem? We were in Salem because Dollar Bill (cartooned above) was in Derry.
Dollar Bill is, fittingly enough, the proprietor of Dollar Bill’s. It is a store in Derry, just a few miles up the road from Salem. And Dollar Bill’s is a place where we’ve wanted to go ever since we first saw Dollar Bill on TV.
Dollar Bill does a 30-minute infomercial on a New Hampshire TV station every Saturday morning. It is extremely entertaining television. He goes from item to item in his store, extolling the virtues of the various and sundry merchandises, telling us the amazing prices being charged for said items, and occasionally making entirely lewd jokes about (and/or physical interactions with) the goods. There’s always a gut buster of a laugh per episode, sometimes multiples. For instance, in the episode that aired on the Saturday before we left, Dollar Bill was demonstrating a system for vacuuming the air out of pillows and such, in order to make them flat for storage, and he first feigned having the vacuum nozzle up against his crotch giving him some joy. I don’t know about you, but I can’t find anything to top that on Saturday morning TV.
(Watch an episode of the show by going HERE.)
And he really does have some great bargains at his place, so we decided to spend a day there. We figured we could get a whole bunch of Christmas shopping done on the cheap, while still getting some nice things for folks.
(Okay, now some of you are getting ready to deliver a load of grief to my doorstep. You’ve heard me go on and on about Thanksgiving Comes First and you think that I have somehow betrayed the cause. Well, if you believe that, you’re dead wrong. I seem to have to explain this every time I resurrect Thanksgiving Comes First, so I’ll do it again. I have no problem with early Christmas shopping or preparations. What I’m trying to battle are the ads and such that obliterate the less-mercenary holidays that precede Christmas. If you – or I – wish to get some shopping out of the way, who gives a damn? Certainly not me! I hope this explanation forestalls the grief delivery. If not, have at me [and you’ll be wrong] but in any case, that’s my tortured logic. If you feel that my logic is torturing YOU, my sincerest and most heartfelt apologies. To show you my good faith, I’ll see if I can get Dollar Bill to come over and vacuum your... place.)
We made reservations at a Red Roof Inn.
We chose the Red Roof because it was amazingly inexpensive. The Red Roof was amazingly inexpensive because it’s not the Ritz Carlton. It wasn’t absolutely hideous, though, so we were okay with it. It was a place with beds and cable TV, no noisy teenagers or violent domestic disputes in the rooms neighboring ours, free coffee in the lobby, and a parking space for Roddy The Wondercar. Other than those basics, I can’t say much to recommend it (but you probably aren’t going to Salem, so what difference does it make?)
I won't go into great detail concerning the things we bought at Dollar Bill’s. Some of the people who read me might be getting some of those things as presents, so I wouldn’t want to give anything away concerning what they might be receiving and I certainly don’t want to alert them to the tiny bit of cash we laid out on their behalf.
(I said "some of the people", so if you’re one of those folks who think what counts most is the price, rather than the thought, feel free to pretend we got your tube socks at Tiffany’s.)
What I will tell you is that Dollar Bill’s is a place where you can get, say, $450 worth of stuff for about $170. And no taxes, either, since it’s New Hampshire. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll actually see Dollar Bill inside of the store while you’re shopping. We did, but we were too star-struck to actually say hello to him. We did get insider information, though. We know what The Deal Of The Day will be on the next show. Since we got such great bargains, however, we will not divulge this sensitive tidbit.
Aside from the visit to Dollar Bill’s, not much else of import to tell you about concerning our New Hampshire leg of the vacation. We went bowling (which is interesting to one of you, and probably ONLY one of you – Hi, Urbie!) I rolled a 107 in one of the three strings, which made me feel pretty good (I rolled 85 in both of the other two, but let’s not quibble about particulars.) The 107 is not too shabby for candlepins, the only form of bowling New Englanders should ever admit to liking (and rightly so.) As a matter of fact, it is a decent enough score to give me the itch to try again to recapture the past glories of my candlepin youth, which I have gone into excruciating detail about BEFORE (and, you should fervently hope, never again beyond this small mention.)
That’s about it for Salem. Oh, I suppose I should tell you about our breakfast excursion on Tuesday morning. We decided to visit a place called Parker’s Maple Barn, located in Mason, NH. Mason is about 30 miles west of Salem and MY WIFE suggests that if any of you have outstanding warrants, you should go there to hide out. The reason she says this is because we took about an hour-and-a-half to find the place and Parker’s Maple Barn wasn’t trying to hide. If you actually put some effort into keeping yourself hidden in Mason, we’re willing to bet you could successfully evade the authorities for months. It will be especially helpful to your cause if the authorities are trying to locate you using a map printed in the touristy magazine you can get for free at a Red Roof Inn.
I thought for sure that getting to Parker’s Maple Barn would be a snap. The journey looked to be rather direct. Take this route to that route and then Parker’s was on another route. Problem was, none of the three routes intersected the way they appeared on the damned map. We got to see a whole bunch of interesting farmland and then MY WIFE met some nice people at a Catholic school when she went in to get directions after I finally gave in to common sense after driving for the better part of an hour in and out of Nashua and the towns that bordered it and MY WIFE threatened mutiny.
Parker’s Maple Barn is a swell place for breakfast, as it turned out, and even worth a 90-minute drive. I heartily recommend The Parker’s Special, which consists of two pancakes, bacon, sausage, ham, toast, eggs, home fries, and a future appointment with a cardiologist, no doubt, but I’ll still consider it a worthwhile part of my past.
We drove home on Wednesday and then hit the road again on Thursday. We were heading to Amherst, in the western part of Massachusetts, to visit a museum or two and - more important - to visit with my Cousin David and his family.
The ride out to Amherst is about two hours, depending upon what roads you take from the eastern part of the state. We took the Mass Pike, otherwise known as I-90, most of the way. It's quickest, but deadly boring and a toll road besides. Better scenery can be had by taking Route 9, which meanders through every small town along the way, but it costs you about an hour extra in driving time. We took that route on the way home - saving toll money, if not time - and saw some spectacular foliage.
We upgraded to a Comfort Inn for our Amherst stay. Not that they're spectacularly better than Red Roof, but the room was a bit more spacious, there was a pool and fitness center (neither of which we used while there), and we had 10 or 15 more channels on the cable TV. The room also came with a coffee maker, a big plus for a couple of caffeine hounds like us. Surprisingly, though, the clientele were more of a problem at the Comfort Inn. Perhaps it was because we were in a college town during homecoming weekend, but we had loud drunks running up and down the corridor at 2am, slamming doors and otherwise bringing me this close (I'm holding my thumb and forefinger less than an inch apart) to calling the front desk and asking them to send up some tear gas grenades. Before that could happen, all of the drunks either shacked up with other drunks or puked themselves into a coma, so it was okay.
We actually ended up visiting only one museum, but it was a dandy. The Eric Carle Museum Of Picture Book Art is located in Amherst, MA, and is well worth the $9 admission (less if you're a student or a kid or a senior, none of which we were except in our hearts.)
At present, they have exhibits featuring the work of Ernest Sheppard (Winnie-The-Pooh) and Tomie dePaola (Strega Nona, among others.) Both exhibits were fascinating collections of the artist's works, with helpful notes and whatnot, pleasantly presented. Of course, Carle himself has art on exhibit, and there are films, and a library, and... well, just go, if you have the chance. If you like picture books, you'll not be disappointed.
(As with our sighting of Dollar Bill, we actually saw Tomie dePaola while we were there. Once again, we were too awed by his presence to do more than gawk for the few seconds of the sighting.)
One bad thing happened while we were at the museum. Roddy The Wondercar was injured. While we were inside thoroughly enjoying the place, Roddy was scraped by a person trying to back into a parking spot alongside of him. I found this out when I went outside to have a smoke halfway through our visit. As I neared the car (where my smokes were) I saw some salt stains and scrapes on the rear driver's side. I looked on the windshield for a note. There was none.
I lit up my smoke. I could have lit it with my head, I was so burnt up. Poor Roddy is just sitting there, minding his own business, maybe scoping out a cute Honda or two, and he gets his exterior wapped by some clown who not only can't drive but also doesn't have the common decency to leave a note. I took a towel I had in the back seat and wiped down the damage, to see if it was all scrape or maybe more dirt than damage.
It was at this point, as I was stomping, smoking, cursing, and wiping, that a fellow came over and told me he was the one who had hit the car, and he was just in the process of writing out a note, and here it was. He introduced himself, apologized heartily, etc., and I felt much better. The fact that the damage was truly minimal under the paint scraped from his car helped a lot. I should have known that someone visiting a nice place like a museum of picture book art couldn't be a total asshole. After getting a good look at the small scrapes that were left after cleaning away the dirt and his paint, I told him that I doubted I'd be troubling him for a repair. Roddy agreed, and he was the one whacked, so...
(What? Your car doesn't talk to you? One of you has no soul. I won't say which one.)
(Actually, hearing your car talk is greatly facilitated by being at a museum devoted to stories concerning talking teddy bears and such, so maybe the possibility of your having a soul isn't such a longshot.)
Anyway, if that fellow is reading this (now, there's a longshot) he needn't worry about a phone call from me or a repair bill showing up. If he isn't reading me, the suspense of wondering if I'll report him is his payment for hitting me. He'd be less worried if he was a regular reader of me. All of you should remember that for future reference.
The best thing that happened on vacation was going out to dinner with My Cousin David and his wonderful family. That happened on Friday evening.
We met David and his wife, Lori, at their house in Leeds. Actually, the first person we met was the entirely charming Peter, their four-year-old, who saw us drive up and came out onto the porch to greet us. He said, "Hello, I'm Peter. I'm very pleased to meet you!" It was tremendously sweet. I stuck out my hand to shake, which he took, and I said, "I'm your Cousin Jimmy, and this is your Cousin MY WIFE."
(Well, of course, I gave her actual name. He doesn't read my blog, so the other variant would have been lost on him. At least, I sure hope he doesn't read this blog. I mean, I'm always trying to boost readership, but I'd be mighty ashamed if my four-year-old cousin saw some of this crap.)
(These are Peter and Matt, David and Lori's boys, about a year younger than now.)
We went inside and were similarly greeted by Matt, the six-year-old. I introduced MY WIFE to Lori, whom I had previously met while attending a Red Sox game. After a brief house tour, and after giving the boys a couple of very noisy but highly entertaining toys we brought for them and which I hope aren't driving David and Lori up a wall after a few days of playing with them, the boy's sitter arrived and we drove out to Wately, to The Wately Inn.
This is David and Lori's very special restaurant, where they celebrate big anniversaries and such, so we were thrilled and honored to have them choose this for our dinner. And what a magnificent four-star feed it was, too! I had an absolutely gigantic fillet mignon, baked potato, salad, lobster bisque, coffee, tremendous fresh strawberry shortcake, some very good wine, veggies, rolls, all the trimmings, and all served in beautiful fireplace-lit surroundings by very attentive, friendly waitstaff. I would recommend this restaurant, without any hesitation, to anyone wishing to experience truly fine dining at a very reasonable price. A gem of a place, hidden in what is relatively the middle of nowhere in Western Massachusetts.
(I'm serious. The bill for four of us, which included two bottles of a very good Cabernet, came to about $170, including tax, before the tip. And this was, with no exaggeration, a gourmet dining experience. Entrees, which are all-inclusive, run in the $25 range. An amazing bargain.)
It was exceedingly pleasant to share an evening of easy talk, good food, nice drink, and to have had the opportunity to meet two such wonderful boys. MY WIFE had never met any of these family members of mine before last Friday, but she remarked afterward that, since the talk flowed so comfortably, it was as though she had known them for many years.
And that's about it for our vacation.
As I said, nothing of an amazing nature to tell you about, but a few very nice things. Thanks for listening, and feel free to similarly bore me the next time you go out of town!
Soon, with more better stuff.