Tuesday, October 17, 2006

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

After the lovely wedding, which came after the hot tub, which came after the ride over the least terrifying bridge in the world, we...

Wait a minute. Do you have any idea what in the hell I'm talking about? If not, go here and get an education.


OK. We awoke in Kennebunkport on Sunday morning, packed our bags and checked out of The Rhumb Line. We then went in search of breakfast on Route One.

There's a place with a great reputation called The Maine Diner. We drove into their parking lot, parked (duh), and went inside. We found out that there would be a 45-minute wait. That's what happens when a place has a great reputation. I figured that we could find breakfast in less than 45 minutes at someplace without so great a reputation. We got back into the car and drove down the road.

After 44 minutes of stops and starts and u-turns and red lights and side trips down side roads that led only to farmhouses, we went to a Chinese restaurant.

Yes, a Chinese restaurant. It was called, and I'm not making this up, The Asian Grill Meets The Captains Table. I've never before come upon a more double-jointed name for a restaurant and I'’m willing to bet you haven't, either. Anyway, the sign out front said they served breakfast from 8am until Noon. It being after 11am, and I being hungry, we decided to try it.

I wish I had a really funny story to tell you about breakfast at a Chinese restaurant, but I don't. I had a swell scrambled eggs, toast, bacon and coffee breakfast that didn't include noodles, chopsticks, egg rolls, or anything else that would have seemed unbreakfastlike to my American palate. MY WIFE had French Toast, for goodness' sakes.

Well, OK, there was one thing on the menu that puzzled me. It was something called "Raisin Oat Milk". I assume it was a misprint - probably raisin oatmeal - but we didn't order it and I didn't want to court disfavor by asking the nice waitress if it was indeed a misprint, thus implying that she and her countrymen were somehow idiots for having it on the menu that way. I wonder if anybody ever orders it? If we go back there someday, I'm going to ask for it, just to see what I get.


After the lovely breakfast, we continued south on Route One. MY WIFE wanted to stop at a couple of outlet stores we had passed on the way up, to look for some shoes. I had no problem with that. What I did have a problem with, increasingly, was driving.

I mentioned in part one that I've always been a very good driver; that I've held many driving jobs, some involving very large vehicles. I have a problem with bridges, but I've never had any other problems associated with the road. Now, however, on this trip, I was becoming increasingly uneasy behind the wheel. As we traveled down Route One, I could feel myself entering the first stages of some sort of panic attack.

I truly have no idea whatsoever why I was feeling nervous. It was a road I had already traveled on, albeit in the other direction, and I knew there were no bridges between Kennebunkport and Portsmouth, so no problem there. For some reason, I just felt a great sense of foreboding. I came close to pulling over to the shoulder and stopping, a couple of times, but didn't. And I didn't let on to MY WIFE that I was feeling anything less than my usual self. I didn't want to worry her in any way, as she doesn't greatly enjoy being in a car to begin with. The last thing I wanted was for her to feel more nervous than she already might have felt.

We made it safely to the outlet stores. While we wandered through a couple of them, looking for her shoes, I tried to puzzle out just what was happening to make me feel so edgy. Couldn't for the life of me figure it out; still can't. It was vacation time, we were going places I enjoyed, I was with my favorite person in the entire world, the car was in good shape, the weather was swell, there was nothing I could think of that would add up to anything more than a pleasurable experience.

We ended up buying no shoes, but we each bought a new belt. We got back on the road to Portsmouth. I was OK, but not perfectly all right. I was still a bit nervous and now I knew we'd have to cross the Portsmouth Memorial Bridge again.

As we neared Kittery, across the river from Portsmouth, I knew we were on Route One and that the bridge I wanted to cross was on Route One, but I kept worrying that I'd somehow take a wrong turn and end up irrevocably headed towards the gigantic bridge on I-95.

So I slowed down and took a side road that headed nowhere near any way to cross over into New Hampshire, which meant I had to then reverse direction and try to get back onto Route One without taking a wrong turn that would send me to my DOOM on I-95. It was getting beyond silly into an area where MY WIFE finally began to lose some of her infinite patience, so much so that she finally told me, firmly, to go here, go there, bear left, etc., until I got back to the "friendly" bridge.

I have to tell you one more story about that bridge. The first time I had driven over it into Maine, we drove a little ways and then turned around. We were just entering the bridge to cross back over to New Hampshire, when the horn that alerts drivers to the drawbridge going up went off. I almost drove over the side into the river right then and there. I pictured us being in the middle of the bridge, rising higher and higher until we were some forty feet above the roadway, stuck there for ten minutes while some freighter made its way through. MY WIFE had more sense than me, as usual, and quickly assured me that the horn was sounding only to warn us of the impending raising of the bridge, not because they were going to DO IT RIGHT NOW AND KILL US GOOD GOD GET ME OFF OF THIS FUCKING THING!!!!! I calmed down a bit and we made it over a good five minutes before the bridge actually was raised.

Anyway, this time no horn sounded and I drove over the damned thing again with only about a gallon or so of sweat running down from my armpits. It was getting better with each trip.


Our home for this portion of the trip was The Port Inn, a very nice motel. When we went to check in, the man behind the desk told us it would be about ten minutes before the maid finished cleaning the room. We waited in the lobby, having complimentary cups of coffee and discussing how nice this furniture might look in our living room. I had a good conversation with one of the housekeepers concerning the Red Sox prospects for next year. The man who had been on duty when we got there was now going off duty and he said he'd check on the status of our room. He did, and said it would be another five minutes or so.

Finally, after a good 20-minute wait, the new desk person called us over and apologized, saying that our room was now ready. She handed us the keys and we drove over and parked in front of it. I put the key in the door, opened it, and... it was not the room we had ordered. We had made a reservation for two queen beds in a housekeeping unit, but this was a small non-housekeeping unit with one bed. We went back to the office.

"Um, excuse me, but we ordered two queen beds and that room has only one bed."

"Oh, my. Let me check your reservation."

She did.

"Oh, my. I'm so sorry. We don't have any more smoking units available."

"That's OK. I don't have to have a smoking unit. I can go outside to smoke."

"Oh, OK, in that case, I'll upgrade you to a suite, at no extra cost, but it IS non-smoking."

So we went to the "suite". It was the type of room we had originally reserved - two beds, housekeeping - except now it was a non-smoking room. Fine, I'd just have to step outside to have a smoke. The fresh air would do both of us good - the fresh air inside for MY WIFE and the fresh air outside for me.


What can I tell you of interest about our stay in Portsmouth? I guess the lovely public park and the Italian restaurant will do.

Prescott Park is probably the most beautiful green space within a city that I've ever visited. First, it sits right on the waterfront and affords beautiful views of the Piscataqua River and the Maine coast, including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. You can just sit and watch the Portsmouth Memorial Bridge go up and down, if you wish. Though I find it scary to ride over, it is actually quite a sight to see it operate. Second, there are marvelous floral displays throughout the park. These are maintained by local students, as well as botanical and environmental organizations. We spent a good hour or so just walking around and looking at the beautiful flowers.

In the summer, Prescott Park has a stage for performances every night and also some afternoons. There is open air theater on most nights and we've seen some wonderful productions there. Occasionally, these productions feature interesting stars. For instance, we saw Jamie Farr in Damn Yankees one summer. We also saw Henny Youngman perform his stand-up routine, which was as expected - tremendously corny and therefore enjoyable to the extreme.

The other great thing about Portsmouth is the food. There are all sorts of good restaurants there. Our favorite is an Italian restaurant called The Rosa. Excellent food, friendly service, warm atmosphere, reasonably priced.

We were there on Columbus Day. While we were waiting for our orders, a young couple with a small child came in and were seated in the booth next to ours. When the waiter came to take their order, it became apparent that they were French Canadian. They knew more English than the waiter knew French, but it was still rough going in spots.

They said something about this being a holiday, and he replied that, yes, it was Columbus Day. They didn't know who Columbus was and the best the waiter came up with didn't enlighten them much. They then explained, or tried to explain, that it was a holiday for them, also, but not Columbus Day.

"It is... how you say... thee turkee en thee craneberry, no?"

The waiter, I believe, thought they were trying to order.

We both said, somewhat loudly, "Thanksgiving."

The waiter remained oblivious, helpfully saying, "1492!"

I could go on with a hideous dialect story, but I'll cut to the chase. The U.S. Columbus Day is also Thanksgiving Day in Canada. I don't know what our Thanksgiving Day may be to them. I hope, in the spirit of international brotherhood, they have a similar opportunity to confound Americans trying to order dinner in Quebec during November.

(We weren't at all sure that the family got what they actually wanted to eat, but we don't know enough French to have been of any real help, anyway, so we just shut up from then on and ate our own food.)


And that will do it for today. Picture us tucked into our beds in The Port Inn - or, perhaps, me outside in my PJs at 2am having a smoke while watching cars cross the scary bridge on I-95 - and we'll pick up the tale tomorrow, when we head off to Thornton, New Hampshire. See you then!


Anonymous said...

Wow, sounds like that bridge phobia might just do you in long before any bridge actually does. The majority of that leg of your trip seemed very nice, however. I should send this entry's link to my girlfriend, Maniac that she is, and see how much of it all rings a bell.

Looking forward to the next installment.

Melinda said...

Great post - I particularly enjoyed the part about the conversation between the French Canadians and the waiter - I've always found it strange that we celebrate the same holiday on different days of the year.

With that being said, I'm pretty sure we don't actually celebrate anything on the American Thanksgiving - from my memory there isn't a Canadian holiday on that day. Maybe we need to think up one...

I'm thinking National Poutine Day - just to add to the confusion ;)

Anonymous said...

We have a Japanese Italian place here but I don't think it even comes close to your Chinese restaurant!

Peter N said...

I loved part two....these on the road memories are so great. I'm going forward. Right now on a Wednesday morning, a warm (thank goodness) day with a touch of humidity. This time of year that is great. So onward....great stuff.