the final stretch: Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine

19Jun11
Distance traveled: 671 miles (1,080 kilometers)
Route: From Bradford, north on Highway 219, then east on Interstate 86 until Binghamton, then switch to I-88 and transfer to 90, eastbound, at Schenectady.    Over on Interstate 90 until it crosses I-495, then north on I-495 until I-95, then north on I-95 until Portland, Maine. At Portland, take I-295 north, then transfer to 1 until Waldoboro.

My cross-country drive concluded with an incredibly long stretch of driving, all the way from western Pennsylvania to mid-coastal Maine.  I powered through the green New York countryside, and then into Massachusetts where, on Interstate 495, I discovered that all of the myths I’d heard about the infamous “Masshole” driver are, in fact, true; I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time getting cut off by Audis in the process of sweeping across three lanes at once (with no signal), or being tailgated by enormous SUVs even though there was a free lane on the left for them to pass.  The number of drivers who passed me, then got in front of me, and then proceeded to drive slower than I had been driving before was fairly high as well.  There must be something endemic to the character of drivers who spend a regular amount of time on five lanes because the only other drivers I’ve ever encountered who drive in precisely this fashion are LA drivers on the 405.  Who ever thought there could be such a transcendental connection between old-school Boston Brahmins and the polymorphous plasticity of Angelino culture?

For some reason, Bogulta, a bastion of the Osaka underground scene, seemed the obvious thing to listen to as I drove through Massachusetts, and at some point it struck me that I was probably the only person on all of I-495 — and potentially in all of Massachusetts — who had any idea at all of who Bogulta was.  For just a moment, that made me feel incredibly strange and alone, like a space alien who has temporarily forgotten that he’s 2000 light years from home.

As I drove through Maine it became foggier and foggier, and I spent the last part of my trip driving through a classic combination of pea soup and rain, impossible to determine where one stopped and the other started. Eventually I ended up in Waldoboro, at my grandparents’ home, at about ten at night.   I hadn’t been to the house in Waldoboro since the Creeley family reunion in 2000,  and since then both my grandfather and his sister, who lived just up the road, have passed away.  There was something appropriate about arriving at the house again in such a blanket of fog,which felt like a physical manifestation of time and change.

Penelope, who is my grandmother by marriage (there’s always a muddle when we’re introducing each other to someone new — sometimes “grandmother” gets used, and sometimes we simply settle for the quite accurate term “friend”), met me at the door and we decided quite quickly that what with the absolutely dismal weather, as well as my road weariness, that I should spend a couple of days at the house recovering before heading off to Swan’s Island.  One of the places that I was reacquainted with while staying with Penelope was Moody’s Diner, a classic roadside diner of the type that you rarely find in the US any longer.  We went there for lunch and I ordered the New England “steamed dinner,” a heaping plate of cabbage, carrots, turnip, beets, potatoes, and corned beef.  Penelope ordered Indian pudding, a New England classic, which was incredibly delicious as well.

I sampled another local specialty when I stopped by Waldoboro again on my way to pick up some furniture (including the amazing POÄNG chaise lounge, which turns out to be the most comfortable thing ever) for the apartment on Swan’s Island.  I had heard about Moxie, the official state soft drink of Maine, from my friend Graham, back in Osaka.  “When I think about a classic ‘old timey’ tasting soda,” said Graham to me, one night over a pint of Guinness, “I think of Moxie.”  Graham and I are both huge fans of Mr. Pibb, so I figured that Moxie would probably be right up my alley as well.  When I ordered a can of Moxie at Moody’s, the waitress said to me, “Are you sure you want to try it?  It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.”  To which the woman who was sitting a few seats down from me at the counter added, “It tastes like cough syrup to me.”  As it turns out, Moxie tasted not unlike a mixture between root beer and Mr. Pibb, a flavor that I found delicious in a kind of Jägermeister kind of way.  This makes eminent sense, since both Jägermeister and Moxie started out as medicines.  From Wikipedia:

Moxie originated as a patent medicine called “Moxie Nerve Food,” which was created around 1876 by Dr. Augustin Thompson of Union, Maine.[3] Thompson claimed that it contained an extract from a rare, unnamed South American plant, which had supposedly been discovered by a friend of his, Lieutenant Moxie, who had used it as a panacea. Moxie, he claimed, was especially effective against “paralysis, softening of the brain, nervousness, and insomnia.”

After a few years, Thompson added soda water to the formula and changed the product’s name to “Beverage Moxie Nerve Food.” By 1884 he was selling Moxie both in bottles and in bulk as a soda fountain syrup. He marketed it as “a delicious blend of bitter and sweet, a drink to satisfy everyone’s taste.”

President Calvin Coolidge was known to favor the drink, and Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams endorsed it on radio and in print. The company also marketed a beverage called “Ted’s Root Beer” in the early sixties. Author E. B. White once claimed that “Moxie contains gentian root, which is the path to the good life.” Currently, one of the ingredients of Moxie is “Gentian Root Extractives,” which may contribute to the drink’s unique flavor.

And, yes, the neologism “He’s got moxie!” does, indeed, come from the original advertising campaign for the soft drink.  It also turns out that there’s a kind of Moxie festival held every year in the parking lot of Moody’s Diner because Moxie has some sort of connection to Waldoboro (either someone major associated with the company was from Waldoboro, or one of the early factories was located there, or there was a major Moxie distribution node there in the past — no one could quite agree).  Moxie’s original advertising campaign also, apparently,  included a house that was shaped like a Moxie bottle.  Now that’s something I’d dearly love to see.

After a couple of days in Waldoboro it was time to head out to Swan’s Island, so I drove up the coast through the fog until I arrived at Bass Harbor, and took the ferry across the water.



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