So, this trip was about me and things I hadn't done ever (or not in a while). So first I went to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. That was old school, and exactly the kind of thing that makes subcultures - be they cosplay, or zombies, or model rocketeers - fun to participate in. It's the level of devotion and dedication and care that is so fascinating - care to keep something alive that would otherwise be ephemeral. This was two floors of a dusty store front in the mostly abandoned downtown of Amsterdam, NY. Clearly a bunch of fans had been comparing memorabilia, when it hit them, "If we put all our stuff together, we'd have enough for a museum!" And once they did, and people started coming, the visitors started donating and it grew. (The first thing it made me think to do was put together a donation of what I have and send it to them.) This was one of the funnest things I've seen in a long time.
Started driving east and a little north from there, heading into Vermont. Stopped in Bennington just to check out the stores and galleries, and totally spaced on the fact that John Goodrich, author and blogger extraordinaire, would be working in the game store there. But there he was, even bigger and redder than I remembered, so I got an unexpected visit out of the trip as well!
Continued on to Brattleboro where I checked in to the overgrown and musty Dalem's Chalet. Perhaps not as colorful as the Cassandra Overlook Motel from my trip in March, but verging on that level of dilapidation. I quickly drove out of town to see if Santa's Land was still in business as I had been promised. It was, though I was the only person on the property besides Santa and the elves, so we chatted some (they being friendly by nature). They've obviously spent some money on the place - everything has a fresh coat of paint, and the petting zoo animals look healthy, clean, and fed. The next hurdle will be some advertising, and I'm thinking some paving, as all the paths had been pretty much reduced to grass interrupted with some macadam chunks, and somebody's gonna trip on that and sue them and that'll be the end of Santa. But, anyway, why do I go to these places? Well, I'd go to the one I went to as a child (The Gingerbread Castle of Hamburg, NJ) but there's nothing but ruins left; same if I made the jaunt down to the equivalent place my wife went to as a child (The Enchanted Forest of Ellicott City, MD), except that's been paved over to make room for another Home Depot or something equally indispensable for our modern way of life to survive; definitely still existing but only as fenced off ruins, is the one nearby that did survive until 2003 so I took my children there twice, The Fairy Tale Forest of Oak Ridge, NJ. To me, like wrestling, these represent a connection to a simpler past. Though yes, I understand wrestling is thriving a good deal better than storybook lands, but really as I thought about it, the two concepts are both ludicrously simple by modern entertainment standards: the one relies on children being enthralled by statues and a couple real life people dressed up as the characters of the stories read to them each night; the other relies on men, young and old, suspending disbelief so thoroughly they will not only accept, but will be gripped by a raging fervor unknown outside of demonic possession, for the idea that two large men who are obviously pretending to beat each other senseless, really are doing so, and doing so in front of a backdrop of melodrama populated almost entirely by Jungian archetypes (evil twins, cackling villains, men [and now more women] possessed by envy or revenge, etc.). Again - simpler past. I will step back to it every chance I get.
Back from my idyll with the elves, I went to Brattleboro's downtown, which is a slightly different obsession of mine. I love when decaying rust belt downtowns remake themselves with a shot of art and immigrants. To me it is the other side of the kind of nostalgia my first two stops indulge in. It's more forward looking and dynamic. So a stop at the craftsy Beadniks and dinner at Shin La made me happy as well. Ended the evening with maple flavored soft serve from The Chelsea Royal Diner, which I ate while standing on the iconic Creamery Covered Bridge.
Up early the next morning, driving south to meet a friend from our days at Harvard Divinity School. (She doesn't have a website or blog that I know of, sorry.) She showed me around Northampton, MA, which I had never visited. More artsy-fartsy stuff, including Faces, a sort of Urban Outfitters meets Spencer Gifts, which I thought was a hoot, and the FOE Gallery, which was populated mostly with Kaiju and UltraMan inspired stuff (again making me giggle). Then I continued on to Newport, RI, a favorite destination since we first visited with friends from Villanova way back in 1999. The Dartmouth Motor Inn I can more heartily recommend than other non-chain motels I've stayed at recently: This is clearly an older property but they've refurbished all the rooms; $60 for a room in high season, this close to Newport - I don't think you can complain that it's not the Hampton Inn. I got there fairly late, which meant it was free to go to Horseneck Beach (I think one of the best beaches in the NE), and then dinner at The Bayside. (Only inferior meal I've had there, unfortunately, and not entirely explainable just by it being busy, as it's always busy in the summer.)
Monday was a morning of shopping in downtown Newport and I finally splurged on chowda at the Clarke Cooke House, and that was the best chowda I've had in a while. I got in a drive around Ocean Drive, a tour of the Breakers, and a walk along the Cliff Walk and down the 40 Steps in the late afternoon. Since I've always been impressed with The Bayside on every other visit, I gave them a chance to redeem themselves, which they did - dinner last night was way more up to my standards.
I broke up the drive home today with a stop at Old Sturbridge Village. That's one of the more thorough historical recreations I've seen since Sherbrooke Village of Nova Scotia. Not as flashy as Williamsburg, of course, but every house was doing something. And I'd never seen a sawmill in operation. So that was another good stop.
And now I'm home!