A New England Odyssey

Thursday, August 24, 1995

     I’d like to apologize to everyone for taking so long in getting these last 4 updates out. The last few days of the trip were very hectic, and getting back home (and back to work) was even more so. Herewith are the last of my updates. Hope you’ve enjoyed them!

     What a day! For those of you expecting something Lovecraftian: Don’t. We’ve learned a little lesson – when on a Lovecraftian tour of New England, don’t do anything that isn’t Lovecraftian. Luck will turn against you.
     We got up fairly early today and had breakfast downstairs. George and I had some french toast, which was appetizing looking, but a bit chewy. Pam had some fruit, and we all had some bland blueberry muffins. First thing, we headed south on Benefit to Wickenden, and got on Interstate 195 towards Fall River and New Bedford. Just west of Fall River we crossed the Taunton River, which was a beautiful sight. The western portion of the city is perched on a hill over the river, and a large bridge crosses over the Taunton, whose waters reflected the bright sunlight. If only we’d had time to stop and take some pictures.
     Instead, we were in a hurry to get to the Whaling Museum in New Bedford which shows a 1922 film on whaling at 10:30. Entering the downtown area of New Bedford we had only minutes to go, and I made a wrong turn and ended up back on the freeway and two miles away from the museum. Eventually, I got turned back to the museum, found a parking space pretty near the entrance, and we made it in, missing only the first introductory minutes of the film. The museum itself is fascinating, with displays of scrimshaw and whalebone, whaling implements, a whale skeleton, maritime paintings, ship models, and a 1/2-scale replica of the whaler, Lagoda. You can climb abord this 59-foot replica, which is as large as some yachts. The museum also has a balcony on the third floor which overlooks the harbour, and across it, the city of Fairhaven.
     I highly recommend this museum to anyone visiting the area. It’s informative, inexpensive, and awe-inspiring when one considers the amount of effort required to work on a whaling ship. Across the street from the museum is the Seamen’s Bethel, the church immortalized by Herman Melville in Moby Dick. As in the book and the film, the pulpit of the church is in the form of the forecastle of a ship, although not as ornate as in the film. Melville sat in the second-to-last pew on the left side of the church, and so did I.
     When we were finished at the chapel, we also visited the New Bedford Visitor’s Center briefly, and stopped at a couple of small stores for drinks and camera batteries. Then, out we headed through Newport and towards Mystic, Connecticut. We didn’t have time to visit the mansions in Newport, but instead turned west before entering Newport proper and headed across the Newport Bridge. This is a fantastic bridge that spans the Narragansett Bay and leads to Conanicut Island. Once we had crossed over to the island, we stopped briefly to take some photographs and video.
     Continuing on across the island, we again crossed a bridge over another part of the bay, and were again on the mainland. We drove along the coast on Highway 1 and linked up with Interstate 95 just north of Pawcatuck. By now I was concerned that Pam and George were getting hungry (I ignore my hunger when necessary) so I made haste towards the restaurant we’d picked out in Mystic, the Seaman’s Inne. There didn’t seem to be any parking near the restaurant, so we parked further down the road near the entrance to Mystic Seaport itself and walked to the restaurant.
     The restaurant is very attractive, even somewhat atmospheric, and was recommended in two guides we have. However, once we were seated and had menus in our hands we noticed that the meals were unnecessarily expensive. For example, the Yankee Pot Roast, which I would consider a pretty simple, inexpensive meal, was $15.95! We quietly got up, told our waiter we were leaving, and walked back to the car. By now we were concerned about the time, since Mystic Seaport closes at 8 p.m. and it was just past 5. We traipsed back to the car, and drove back the way we came to an area we’d passed loaded with restaurants. The Steak Loft looked too crowded, Newport Creamery looked to touristy to George, Jamm’s was a bit expensive, and we just don’t eat at McDonald’s. Believe it or not, we decided upon Howard Johnson’s, and this is where our nightmare began...
     The side entrance we came in led us down a long, musty corridor into the restaurant. After we were seated, I ordered a bacon cheeseburger (nothing else sounded any good), and Pam and George ordered the all-you-can-eat shrimp. Their meals included a trip to the salad bar, so up they went. George made a joke about just having cheese, and then explained that he wasn’t joking – the salad bar was nearly empty, and what few things were there looked like they’d been sitting all day. Pam got a very small salad, and didn’t seem too happy with it. The food itself took forever to arrive, and we noticed the waitresses spending more time chatting with each other than serving the patrons.
     My bacon cheeseburger was pretty average, and the fries were small, limp, and nearly tasteless. The shrimp that George and Pam were having was over-battered, and George quickly wolfed them down after stripping off the breading. The vegetables that came with his meal were peas, and they were all various shades of green and badly wrinkled. At one point, the hostess came over and told us that we now had a new waitress; apparently, ours had quit on the spot. A later waitress instead told us that our original waitress had asthma and had to leave. The second orders of shrimp that George and Pam asked for never arrived, so he asked for it again. A couple of minutes later when I got up to play a video game, I heard one of the waitresses ask the cook for the extra order of shrimp, and also send back an incorrect order.
     And things went downhill from there. The service deteriorated rapidly, and other patrons began suffering as well. We began joking about it with the people at the next table, and our common predicament made it a bit easier to weather. Our original waitress then came by with the bill, explaining that she wasn’t working there any more – if so, then why was she bringing the bill? Obviously upset, she sniffled off and out the front door. When the second orders of shrimp finally arrived, they only brought one plate. Pam and George split it, and we finally took off without leaving any tip.
     By this time, it was a quarter ’til 7, and the museum would only be open another hour. We drove back down to the parking lot we’d been in earlier, and went to the entrance to the museum. George had decided that he’d wait outside, since he didn’t want to pay the $13 admission fee for only one hour at the museum. Imagine our surprise to find that the admission was now $16 and the museum closed at 7! Infuriated and dazed, I stumbled around for a few minutes, not quite sure what to do next.
     For those of you unfamiliar with the Mystic Seaport Museum, it’s on the eastern banks of the Mystic River, not far from the Atlantic. The museum is a mid-19th century seaport village with all the buildings you would have seen at the time. There’s “the shops of a shipsmith, ship-carver, and printer, a cooperage, model shop, bank, shipping office, grocery, hardware store, chapel, schoolhouse, pharmacy, rope walk, clock and nautical instrument shop, mast-hoop shop, ship’s chandlery, and tavern.” Hands-on exhibits may be seen, and staff members give demonstrations of the crafts and occupations of the time.
     Some of these crafts are carried out on the museum’s collection of ships, which need constant care and repair. These include the Charles W. Morgan (1841), the last of the wooden whaling ships; the Joseph Conrad (1882), a fully-rigged training vessel; the L. A. Dunton (1921), a fishing schooner; and the Sabino (1908), a steamboat which still carries passengers up and down the Mystic. The masts and spars of the tall ships can be seen from outside the museum, which merely added to my misery at not being able to visit them.
     We stopped in the museum shop briefly, but like most museum shops, they close at the same time of the museum, rather than staying open later and getting the business of those filing out of the museum. One of the women in the bookstore there told us to have a nice day, and I replied that, the way my luck is going, I probably wouldn’t. She asked why not, and George proceeded to tell her the above story while I went downstairs to find Pam. When George caught up with the two of us he showed the result of his relating our tale: the woman in the bookstore had generously given us a guide to Mystic Seaport (retail value $2), and two plastic bookmarks with the international code of signals printed on them ($1.50 apiece), along with her hopes that my day would improve. I’d have thanked her, but couldn’t find her.
     Upset that I couldn’t visit the museum, I stormed around for a few minutes, making a number of obscene (yet funny) comments. Up and down the street I ranted, amusing Pam to the point where I thought she would wet her pants, and George to the point that he claimed his lungs hurt. I looked up at the window of a house we were passing and saw the puzzled look of a resident, which made me laugh all the harder, and Pam and George followed. Further up the street we found a list of things one could do at the museum, and as I read each one aloud, I pretended to bawl pitifully, which raised more howls from Pam and George. When I spotted “Play Games” on the list, I fell to my knees in feigned sobbing, which was just too much for all of us.
     With little else to do, we drove into downtown Mystic, which is further down the river towards the Atlantic. We parked on the eastern side of the river, and had to wait to cross until the bascule bridge was lowered. On the other side of the bridge was a row of shops, many of which had “Mystic” in their name. Among them was Mystic Pizza, after the Julia Roberts film with the same title. We stopped briefly in a toy store, and also in the Army/Navy Store where I tried on a $250 leather bomber jacket with fur collar – I’ll probably regret not buying it.
     As we crossed one of the streets we saw the two people who had been at the Howard Johnson’s in the booth next to us. They joked that they had just gotten out of there, and that they’d also seen us at the museum. I guess they missed out too, and were enjoying their afternoon as much as we were. We went back across the bridge, which we had to wait for, and headed “home” towards Providence. The drive to Providence went pretty quickly, since I took Interstate 95 the whole way.
     Once we arrived in Providence, we stopped for a last look across the city at night from Prospect Terrace, a favorite haunt of Lovecraft’s, described in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward:
The nurse used to stop and sit on the benches of Prospect Terrace to chat with policemen; and one of the child’s first memories was of the great westward sea of hazy roofs and domes and steeples and far hills which he saw one winter afternoon from that great railed embankment, all violet and mystic against a fevered, apocalyptic sunset of reds and golds and purples and curious greens.
     The view from the park is beautiful, and from there you can see the downtown area, the well-lit State House with its marble dome, and the new Water Place park between the two. From the right angle, you can also see the First Baptist Church (1775), on whose organ Lovecraft attempted to play “Yes, We Have no Bananas” in 1923. Afterwards, we returned to our favorite bed and breakfast where I’m typing this now. George is out right now, exercising, while Pam and I get ready to go to sleep.
     Tomorrow, we’ll be getting up early again to head off towards Western Massachusetts. After driving through Wilbraham, Monson, and Hampden, we’ll be going up to the Swift River Valley Historical Society in North New Salem, for a hike into the Quabbin Reservior Preserve, and then up to Brattleboro where we’ll stay for the night. See you on the morrow!