Richard and Suzanne's Big 2001 Road Trip
Stage 2: Seeing the Seaboard
Portland, ME to Laurel, MD
We lurked in our AmeriSuite for most of this day, catching up on sleep, e-mail, and sorting out our traveling lives. All was well, save for the minor problem that Richard's nose started giving him a few problems (catch it! it's running!) After this, we wandered out of the room and on into the wonders of South Portland, where we had a Friendly's lunch and scored some good nose drugs at the local Ames. Then off to the Holiday Inn by the Bay in downtown Portland, where we checked in with our friends at the registration for the week's National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) meeting and caught up on the latest traffic-related excitement from across the US. From here, we went on down to the harbor for a cruise out to Peaks Island for a very enjoyable sunset cookout. While others looked happy eating those big ugly red bugs, er, succulent Maine lobsters, we satiated ourselves instead on juicy steaks and chicken - prepared, fortunately, in a slightly different method than the lobsters. We then completed our evening with a nice cruise back to shore, and then a drive through the confusing, um, non-rectilinear streets of old Portland back to the room.
Sunset over Portland Harbor
Today we both headed down US 1 to the Holiday Inn in downtown Portland, our headquarters for today's activities (interestingly enough, in the past few days, we've been on US 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 9). Suzanne joined a tour organized by the NCUTCD/AASHTO folks to Kennebunkport and Portland for sightseeing and shopping, where she saw rugged rocky coastlines, some Bushy stuff (well, the older Mr. Bush, anyway) and looked at many Mainely cute souvenir and craft shops. Meanwhile, Richard was meeting with his NCUTCD cohorts, looking over the just-released & de-erratafied MUTCD put out by FHWA. In the afternoon, the NCUTCD Bicycle Committee convened, spent a long afternoon reviewing what FHWA had wrought, and then compiling and checking a whole big list of changes that still need to be submitted to the Feds to improve traffic control for bicyclists in the US. After all this hard work of shopping & standards-writing, we got back together and joined the Bicycle Committee folks for dinner at Katahdin, a downtown Portland restaurant.
Evening enjoyment after the hard committee work is done
On this dark and stormy day, we went our separate ways, with Richard heading downtown for his meetings, while Suzanne relaxed back at the Amerisuites, watching TV and doing a bit (OK, a lot) of laundry. At NCUTCD, Richard attended the morning general session representing the League of American Bicyclists as their voting member - nothing really exciting on the general session agenda, though. In the afternoon, however, things got a bit more exciting, as the Bicycle Committee engaged in a lively discussion on whether the US should develop standards on warning signs for pathways parallel to roadways, with Richard taking the "con" position that such signs may cause many more problems than they solve. After this bit of high-stakes bureaucracy going well into the evening, we got together back at the room and decided to go out for a late dinner (and Fribble) at the local Friendly's.
(day too boring for photo)
This was the final day of the NCUTCD meetings, with Richard once again heading down to the bay and Suzanne relaxing in our little Amerisuite. This day's meetings went well, with no major items of contention or dispute. After adjournment, Richard did a little sightseeing in downtown Portland, finding many interesting places, including saying hi at a local "self-service" bike shop, where customers can learn the fine art of bicycle repair while fixing their own trusty 2-wheelers. In the afternoon, we began packing up all of our stuff in preparation for the return trip, sorting out souvenirs, laundry, paperwork, and other fun stuff. In the evening, we both cruised through the fog down to "Pahtlund Hahbah", where we engaged in the local spectator sport - trying to find a parking place (of course being handicapped by our big ol' truck and our lack of local experience). We finally found a place to rest our wheels near the sweeping arc of the Casco Bay Bridge, near a small waterfront place called Becky's Diner serving the local fisherfolk. Here, we got great steak and fresh fish, great service and very reasonable prices, some delicious pie, and also enjoyed another feature of fine (or not-so-fine) Maine dining - the whole place is a non-smoking section! As we waddled out of the diner back into the foggy evening, we enjoyed the view of the waterfront as we carefully made our way back to the room. And then finally, as we snuggled in our room after this day, Suzanne turned to Richard and said, "Not tonight, dear - I had a haddock."
Becky's Diner down on the Portland waterfront
We finally hauled our stuff and our butts back into Truckasaurus and turned southwestward along I-95 and US 1 for the two-week journey toward home. But first, we stopped in the town of Wells at the Lighthouse Depot, where we stocked up on all things nautical as mementos of our Down East experience. Then down briefly through "New Hampshuh", and then into the maze of Massachusetts roads, where we chose to avoid the full-contact sport of Boston-area driving by looping around the area on I-495. Near Bellingham, we turned southward toward Rhode Island, where we wandered through Woonsocket and the small towns along along US 6. We eventually entered Connecticut (these small states sure seem larger than they look!), as we made our way along the winding New England backroads, far away from the bumper-to-bumper action of I-95. This was very nice, but eventually we had to get going, so we re-entered freeway fun near Hartford, with a brief stop for a rest and the obligatory Connecticard near Southington (one of the tons of "-tons" in central Connecticut). Then on through Waterbury and Danbury (now being buried by "-burys"), and finally into rainy New York, where we scooted through the northern suburbs along the narrow winding Robert Moses-designed parkways to the multi-lane fun of the Thruway and the 3-mile-long Tappan Zee Bridge, where the rain was so heavy it seemed like there was more water above the bridge than in the Hudson below it! Then onward for the final push into the farthest reaches of north New Jersey, where we looped back down the half-freeway, half-local street of NJ 17 to find a fairly nice room at the Fair Motel.
Another Mainely interesting lighthouse
This day started reeeeealy early, as we woke up at 1:30 Arizona time so we could catch the early Tarrytown train along the wide Hudson River (and the not-so-wide Harlem River) into legendary Grand Central Station to begin our Noo Yawk adventure. We strutted up Fifth Avenue toward Rockefeller Center, where we achieved our most recent 15 seconds of fame by being two of those goofy folks making their appearance in front of the Today Show on NBC. Fortunately, the Sunday Today Show is only a hour long, so we got some national TV exposure (all 1.5 seconds of it!) without getting too footsore. Then uptown up the Avenue of the Americas to Central Park, where we horsed around expensively but enjoyably in the back of a horse-drawn carriage, and enjoyed the greenery and the crowded-city-meets-open-space environment. We then popped down 7th Avenue on the #3 subway to Times Square, where we strained our necks looking at the buildings n' billboards (Egads! Supermodels the size of King Kong!), and stopped to nosh on sandwiches the size of Queens (and with Trump-scale prices) at Lindy's, right on Broadway & 7th. Filled with such delicatesseries, we wobbled back into the subway to take the #1 train down to recharge our spirits down at the Battery, at the south tip of Manhattan. Here we enjoyed views of the harbor, and caught the ferry (after a while waiting in line) to Liberty Island, where we joined the huddled teeming masses visiting the Statue of Liberty. Not wishing to brave the multi-hour wait just to get into the museum at the statue's base, we instead relaxed on the lawn under the big green gal, sipping lemon ices and enjoying the shady trees and the fresh (at least mostly fresh) breezes. We finally hopped on the ferry back to Manhattan, and rode the #1 up to Greenwich Village. We emerged to see some very amazing people and sights, as we had just arrived in the heart of the Village in the middle of the big annual Pride Parade! Here we saw many thousands of happy, proud, rainbow-festooned folks enjoying themselves, and we made our way through all the couples of all combinations, thankful that we were wearing more sensible footwear than some of the more breathtaking beehive-haired parade participants. Then up out of the Village toward 14th St., where we dined and stretched our legs at one of the numerous pizza joints, watching the bustle of NYC street life outside. After this, we decided to enjoy a thrilling amusement unique to the area - a trip in the back of a NYC taxicab! This can easily compare with any roller coaster ride, and was cheaper, too (providing that you have your wallet at the end, of course! ;) The cab dumped us off behind the massive bulk of the world-famous Empire State Building, where we made our way around the block, carefully watching for falling monkeys. After a not-too-bad wait in line, we rode the elevators up to the 86th floor, arriving right in time for a beautiful sunset over New Jersey and the Poconos. We took in this twilight high-rise view for quite a while, then plummeted back down to Fifth Avenue, where we showly and tiredly trudged back past the souvenir shops and delis to Grand Central, and plopped our behinds on the Metro-North Railroad train for the trip back to Tarrytowmn, the truck, and the short drive back to Joisey.
Fun in the really big city
We slept in late today, waking to the happy syncopation of the motel staff pounding on the door politely asking us to make room for the next day's occupants. Somewhat rested and packed, and after making nice with the Fair Motel folks for the lateness of our departure, we made our way back down through the expressways, tollways, and freeways of northeast Noo Joisey. We finally left the metro area on the Turnpike, then later choosing to drive the local roads through the piney woods in the central part of the Garden State. One thing we did notice while driving through New Jersey, though, was that our truck and its front & rear amber lights felt right at home here. It seems that nearly every other non-official vehicle in this state (and in a few other Eastern states) has some sort of warning light on it in various colors, whether amber, red, blue, or some other odd combination - whether for repair, volunteer firefighting & medical, or other useful purposes. We finally made it to the Atlantic City area, where we drove along the shore down thru the beach towns of Ventnor and Margate, stopping at that elephantine landmark of the Jersey Shore - Lucy the Elephant. Here we enjoyed a view of the blue ocean sky from an elephant's eye, and viewed the other interesting areas of this 6-story wonder. After stopping in the shop to look at all things pachydermical, we made our way back to Atlantic City. Here we took a walk on the Boardwalk, and Suz "passed GO" at the local ATM, collecting $200. We then enjoyed the hospitality of Mr. Trump and the Bally folks, and after suffering some minor food-related scheduling inconveniences (the Jumble slot got hot just long enough to miss the buffet), we instead enjoyed a dinner of chili dogs & soft-serve on the Boardwalk. In the evening, after driving the back streets of Atlantic City (so that's why Mediterranean Avenue is so cheap!), we found a little place to stay under the big neon sign of the Hampton Motel, where we got a bargain rate for the "honeymoon suite", complete with carpeted walls. However, we were too tired from our day's fun to do anything else but relax and watch the lights twinkle around the mirrors on the walls. ;)
Our new friend Lucy the Elephant in Margate
We left the little green houses and big red hotels of Atlantic City, and made our way through the gridlocked summertime traffic over the causeways and bridges of the shoreline roads southward to Ocean City, New Jersey, our next place for vacation fun. Here, we completed our Jersey Shore experience as we strolled along the beachside boardwalk, sampling the many fun yet delightfully tacky diversions. Lunch was at a nice little place called the Bashful Banana, which served delicious food that was far too healthy and nutritious for its location. We of course made up for this with lots of lemonade (with lemon chunks in the bottom of the cup) and Kohr Bros. frozen custard (this stuff was so good, we talked about getting a frozen custard franchise of our own, but realized that cleaning the place would always be "Richard's / Suzanne's problem"). No chance of being bored on this boardwalk - at one of the amusement parks that inhabit this place of fun (see photo), we inflicted upon ourselves a satisfyingly spinning Tilt-A-Whirl ride, and then saw our fortunes go up and down as we enjoyed the seaside views from a rather tall ferris wheel. Finally, we bought our beach passes (yes, they charge admission to the Atlantic Ocean, just like any other attraction) and wiggled our toes in that salty Atlantic surf, where we found lots of white sand, a number of interesting sea shells, and fortunately no syringes or other unexpected marine surprises. Then it was time to take our sandy claws back to the truck and head inland on the parkways and expressways, seeing the spires of the Philadelphia skyline as we rolled down the Jersey side of the river. We crossed into Delaware on the twin spans of the Delaware Memorial Bridge (we didn't know that Delaware had died, though) and made our way around Wilmington on the local highways. All too soon, at the Maryland border, it was time to do a "double sticker ceremony" as we added the colorful decals of DE and MD to our tailgate map, and we rolled onward into Maryland (recently judged by experts to have the second-best state flag design, after our own Arizona banner). At the service areas along I-95 in Maryland, we watched the human dramas of tired travelers unfold, as some unexpected behavior by cranky children in the restrooms caused much uproar and consternation between belligerent parents. Finally, as night fell, we tunneled under Baltimore, and saw how one inattentive moment by an SUV driver can close an entire freeway with emergency equipment trying to undo the damage (fortunately for us in the opposite direction). We turned off onto US 1 in the Laurel / College Park area, and after some driving up & down to try to find suitable lodgings (either too scary, too full, or too expensive), we found a somewhat affordable king size bed (complete with jacuzzi tub in the same room) at the Motel Valencia in Laurel.
Tilting and whirling in Ocean City, NJ
We began the day looking for a place to plop the truck while we commuted into the District of Columbia for the day. At the Greenbelt Metrorail station, we found a huge, multi-acre parking lot... but after 15 minutes of fruitless searching along with other desperate folks, not an open spot to be found. We went inward toward Prince George's Plaza in Hyattsville, and finally found a spot in a park-&-ride garage, at the expense of the rooftop antennas that took a beating from the low ceilings (but hey - it's a spot!). We rode the Green Line to the Red Line, and emerged on K St. just two blocks from Dubya's place, at the headquarters of the League of American Bicyclists. Here, Richard gave the staff a not-so-brief briefing on what was accomplished the previous week at NCUTCD. Farther down K, a low priced and satisfying lunch awaited us at Sholl's Cafeteria, and then back to the Metro for a trip to the Federal Triangle and the best view in Washington - from the clock tower of the Old Post Office. Here we enjoyed the open (but ozone-alerted) air, postcard perfect views (see photo) and far fewer crowds than at the Washington Monument (closed yet again!). After this and some Ben & Jerry's in the atrium, we mailed our DC postcard from the rural post office transplanted into the National Museum of American History, and then stepped out onto the warm (OK, sweltering) Mall. Here we caught the Tourmobile, and let it do the driving while we sat & rested as all the landmarks of this capital city rolled by. The tour's hours of operations ended abruptly at Union Station, so we disembarked and enjoyed a break in this brilliantly restored transportation hub. We then jumped on the Red Line to the Green Line that took us back to the still-intact truck, and then back to the room, where we enjoyed a good soak in the hot tub while watching the wackiness of that odd ABC game show, "You Don't Know Jack".
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