Dateline: Freeport, Maine
This is my first dispatch from the Great White North on what will be a week-long road trip of exploration from Washington, DC to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and back. In recent years I have made annual winter pilgrimages to Tall Timber Lodge, in the far northern precincts of New Hampshire, and I was considering another such trip this winter. Then a new opportunity presented itself . . . a return to my favorite haunts in Maine, where my family has summered for the past quarter century and where Sally Ann and I have spent the entire summer for the past two years since my retirement. And from there across Atlantic Canada to Halifax, Nova Scotia which I visited for the first time in early August. And now I write this on New Year’s Eve from a motel on the edge of Freeport, Maine. It was a long day’s drive from Maryland, with a number of interesting stops along the way. Once again my traveling companion is my old friend and photographer extra-ordinaire Michael G. Stewart, the source of many of the fine photographs that have accompanied these postings (http://www.michaelgstewart.com). In the back seat is his son Spencer, whom we are taking back to school at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, and his girlfriend Anna, who came down from Manitoba after Christmas for a short visit before returning to school.
We were up at 3:30am and on the road within the hour. Soon we were skirting the northern fringes of Baltimore and heading north in the direction of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The kids were fast asleep in the back seat when Michael and I made our first stop of the day - at Maple Donuts, which has been peddling donuts and other baked goods in and around York, Pennsylvania since 1946 and is now one of the largest independent producers of donuts on the East Coast.
With a selected baker’s dozen in a box on my lap, we continued toward Harrisburg and had a predawn breakfast at the West Shore Diner (so called because it is located near the western bank of the Susquehanna River) in Lemoyne, across from Pennsylvania’s state capital. Dating from the 1930s (with very few improvements or upgrades since them, by the looks of it) Michael and I have eaten here before and I have described it in an earlier posting as has Spencer, the invertible Diner Hunter [www.dinerhunter.com]. “This is my go-to diner in the Harrisburg area,” Spencer writes. “And one of the best I’ve been to. It is one of the friendliest around. The food is excellent, and comes in enormous portions at bargain prices.” I have to agree with him there. It took several cups of black coffee to begin to pry my eyes fully open.
Spencer and Anna were awake long enough to join us, but they were once again fast asleep in the back as we crossed the river and headed northeast toward Allentown-Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley. Later this morning we passed along the edge of the Poconos and through the Delaware Water Gap, before crossing into New Jersey where we stopped at the now defunct Tom's Diner, near Netcong and Ledgewood. If it looks vaguely familiar, that's because scenes from Cyndi Lauper's 1984 music video "Time After Time" were filmed here. It is closed now and it has seen better days; it’s probably not able to compete with the newish White Castle franchise across the highway. We were all feeling a little peckish and we took the opportunity to sample a bag of sliders before we continued on our way. They are similar in size, shape and taste to the "Aristocrat of Beef" they served by the bag at the Little Tavern establishments around DC (Spencer is also a LT authority). They got me through many early mornings and late nights during my graduate school days.
Desiring to keep plenty of distance between us and the traffic around New York City, we turned north at Parsippany in the general direction of upstate New York before we eventually crossed the Hudson River on the Tappan Zee Bridge and began to make our way across Westchester County. As we did the sky began to close in on us; a heavy mist enveloped us and would accompany us for the rest of the day.
We nibbled on the morning’s donuts until we stopped for a late lunch at the Sandy Hook Diner (circa 1920s), in Newtown, Connecticut. Unfortunately, it had already closed for the day and we were obliged to move on down the road, continuing through Hartford and stopping next at the Yankee Diner (circa 1930s), in Charlton, Massachusetts. As luck would have it, it had closed five minutes before we arrived. I guess folks had to get ready for New Year’s Eve parties. A few miles north we found Charlie's Diner (circa 1930s), in Spencer, Massachusetts. It was open which was good because we were pretty damn hungry by this point. The diner is actually tacked on to the side of a more traditional restaurant and the food, although very good, is not your typical diner fare. So, for my New Year’s Resolution to eat healthier, I ordered the tuna salad. It looked and tasted quite good, but I still felt hungry when we returned to Route 9 through Worcester.
The rest of the day was spent covering the remaining miles across eastern Massachusetts before following the coast through New Hampshire and southern Maine. We ended Day One here in Freeport, Maine where we will quietly welcome 2012. I seriously doubt we will stay up that late; we are beat and we have after another full day in front of us. Tomorrow? North to Bangor and on to Calais where we will cross into Canada. Then across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to Halifax.
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