I wanted to be back at my home base in the DC area for a Halloween party and a horse race weekend, so I had a little less than a week between leaving Vermont and aiming to be home. I used my day traveling through northwestern Massachusetts to stop at, yes, roadside attractions! I’m not sure what my obsession with ridiculous sights like these is, but I’m guessing the combination of bizarre, not super useful, and silly speaks to my nature (I myself am all these things sometimes). I’m coming for you one day, giant ball of yarn.

On the agenda of crazy side trips over a few days in MA:

  • A grave marker of some couple with a fantastic sense of humor- an expired parking meter. Time’s up for everyone some day so why not laugh about it
  • The plaque and sculpture commemorating the giant block of cheese the town of Cheshire sent to Thomas Jefferson at the White House, which I was so excited to see because of the West Wing (if you don’t know, watch this now please: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPl9zPuqj_U; and later it was back! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ex_jJlv5HKk). The stature is of a cheese press, I’ve read. Who knew?
  • The bridge of flowers, connecting two towns with a lovely pedestrian garden walk
  • The leaning tower of pizza- that’s good marketing
  • The original Dunkin’ Donuts location, which is outside Boston and felt super sketchy in the parking lot. Had a maple donut and coffee at the counter and it was the delicious sugar rush I needed to drive a few more hours
  • The grave of Lizzie Borden’s dogs, because why not? Just because you may or may not have murdered your family with an ax doesn’t diminish your love of pets. The inscription reads ‘sleeping awhile’

While in the area I got to catch up with my godmother’s nephew in Salem, where I got Indian food, a tour of the Salem sights like an old ship, old graveyard with witch history, and a cool fountain of the town’s layout, and to plot the next trip we want our “Jane family” to take. This town goes all out for Halloween and it was pretty fun to wander at the tail end of ghost/witch tours and feed the tourists false information. I met a nice guy there, too, wasn’t very chatty but I feel like we really connected.

The next day I visited Concord and walked through the picturesque cemetery, home of several notable graves, many placed together on ‘author’s ridge’. One notable inhabitant is Henry Davis Thoreau, so I stopped by his headstone, left an origami bird made from a page of Walden, then headed to nearby Walden Pond. The pond is serene in fall since no one is swimming anymore, there were just a few people fishing and walking. The parking fee is steep so I should have just walked the mile and a half from town but alas. I walked the path around the pond, stopped inside the replica cabin (small, for sure, but still bigger than the van), contemplate at the cabin site, dip my toes in the clear water, and have lunch on a rock by the water. I was about 3/4 of the way through re-reading Walden and some essays (yes, purposefully planned to coincide with the visit) so it was all fresh in my mind. Beautiful spot to spend a year of not-so-solitary funemployment, so I obviously felt a connection here.

My mother’s family is concentrated in this part of the state, so I got to visit with some of her cousins. We looked over old photos and caught up on news before having dinner at the oldest operating Inn in the country now known as Longfellow’s Wayside Inn. Longfellow once visited here on recommendation from friends (then called something else I don’t recall) and was inspired to write “Tales of a Wayside Inn” set here, so the name stuck. On the adjacent properties are also an old grist mill, church, and one room schoolhouse which claims to be the site of the school inspiring “Mary had a little lamb”. A beautiful space on a beautiful fall day.

Spending time with my family I haven’t seen in probably a decade was nice and I hope to get better at keeping in touch with everyone more regularly. I swung by the home my grandmother and her family grew up in and in which she lived with her sister in her later years. Around the corner is the cemetery where many in the family are commemorated, so I stopped by here to chat with my grandparents and clear away some leaves. The last time I was here may have been when we buried my grandmother’s ashes, so I had some guilt bubbling up about that and for resenting her needing so much care and forgetting me in her last years, so there was some crying but mostly just remembering special moments from my childhood.

I crossed into Rhode Island and stopped in Providence to watch the baseball game and made some buddies who were amused by my excitement at what was a random game for them (except the one guy who had bet on the game and was less than pleased by our 12 runs). I may have texted my friend who went to school in the city to ask whether I was going to be murdered since the street was kind of creepy and had some broken glass and looked industrial, but I guess this is just what the area is like. All was well and man did they have cheap drinks, and free microwave popcorn! My favorite conversation was that the bartender had some fancy organic IPA on special for $2 because, as he said, “no one here wants that fancy weird stuff, we just want Bud light and stuff we know, so it’s make it cheap and move it to make room for the good stuff”. Ha.

As the bartended gave me extra drinks to celebrate the win, or maybe just saw someone who would take some of his ‘fancy’ stuff off the table, I was hurting the next morning. Overshare alert: There’s nothing like the magic of coming across a public bathroom in the parking lot of a marina when you’re gonna puke. Bonus, it was right next to the roadside attraction of a stone with runes carved into it. Mysterious. Hung out here and conquered nausea, then hung out in Newport for a while by the beach. Had a great nap with the sea breeze here, then hit the road and suffered though many hours of too much traffic through Connecticut (too much to stop anywhere I wanted to) to get to New Jersey.

I have made fun of New Jersey a lot in my life. And I will continue to do so for the rest of my days. But, that said, this particular area of New Jersey was nice because it looks at Manhattan. I visited a friend there for the night, which was cool because I’ve only ever seen this guy when he comes to DC to visit so seeing him on his own turf was fun. After leaving I stopped at the world’s biggest light bulb, which is set at the top of a tower at the sight of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park workshop site. Inside is a bulb burning constantly, and across the street is a lightbulb sculpture and museum. Further down the road, past many stinky farm fields and other stuff, I also made a pit stop to see a giant cow statue in a field of real cows that seemed like little mini-cows in comparison. Not a bad surreal ending to this leg of trip before getting home.

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