September 28th, 2008

Whale fluke

Salem, MA, Sept. 1-2

With the taste of a lime-raspberry Rickey still on my lips…

Yeah, that’s poetic license. I only use it sometimes, but I have the license just in case. I wanted to write about my trip to Salem, Massachusetts earlier this month, when I visited octoberland and her friend grymdragon, and now (finally) seemed like a good time to write it.

Sunday, August 31st was a transportation day. slipjig and rafaela drove me from Glens Falls, New York (stopping along the way at a Red Robin for lunch) to Albany, to ride the direct Albany-Boston Amtrak line. (I’d considered going through New York City, but decided that was too expensive, not to mention I really wasn’t in the mood for New York. The city deserves its own dedicated visit. I wasn’t up for one.) We saw a dead ringer for theloriest in the train station. I looked at the Albany skyline with its three lookalike government buildings arranged in a row, and imagined power arcs spitting between them. Adam and Anna stuck around until my train was called, and I, with my coat tied around my waist, my backpack slung, and my suitcase rolling, headed through a corridor and down the stairs to the platform.

I was able to sit alone; my part of the train was about half full. I had a window seat, of course, but almost all seats in trains have good views so that didn’t really matter. The trip was uneventful: we passed woods, streams and small towns; I read, and tried not to think about the stuff that’s happened on trains in M. Night Shyamalan movies. No, merely annoying stuff happened: things were wrong with the bathroom in the back of my car. Smelly things wrong. The car was over-air-conditioned to keep the smell from cooking and thus getting worse, so my coat was quickly off the chair next to me and on me instead. Not conducive for napping, though I probably should have tried harder to nap. I did rest my eyes at times.

We pulled into South Boston a little early. Because I was a dumbass, I hadn’t arranged where I’d be staying Sunday night; part of me felt I’d be imposing were I to ask to stay with someone, as I hadn’t fully planned the last part of my trip. (I could have asked a few days earlier and not felt like I was imposing. Really, I can be smart like that.) I never considered just staying in the train station until morning (relax, Mom); it was a busy place and so I wouldn’t have been alone, but I knew I’d be beyond exhausted Monday if I didn’t get into a bed that night.

I found a place in the Financial District. Actually, first I found that place, learned that the price would be HOLY CRAP dollars, and talked to a hotel valet at the hotel entrance who told me that a place some blocks down might be significantly lower. I went to that other place and found that its price was HOLY CRAP minus 10. My thought: well, the first place is closer to the dock I’m going to tomorrow, and the worker at the first place was willing to help me; I’ll help him indirectly by getting a room in his hotel. Altruistic hotel hunting. Not the most money-efficient system, but I decided to use it. It made me glad I’d spent actually quite little on my trip until then; I could count it a splurge.

I dragged my sweaty self to the proper floor and to my room and (for a time) into a warm, warm bath. I also admired the view, including of the 1 Lincoln Street building, with its blue-neon highlights and mid-century style contrasting with its being recently constructed, all making it look like something from Batman Begins. I watched enough TV to get worried again about Hurricane Gustav, then turned it off worried I’d accidentally click on the pay-per-view TV options and get charged more.

Sleep happened. In a bed. A glorious bed.

Dawn happened, then: a clear late-summer day was brewing. I emerged onto the sparsely used streets for breakfast (hash browns, a muffin and chocolate milk c/o Dunkin’ Donuts) and brought said breakfast back to the room. Once I had a plan for the day in mind and the breakfast in stomach, I checked out. (I got in some internet time down in the lobby, getting in touch with octoberland and e-mailing my folks.)

For yet another time on that trip, I was cheered by my decision to pack light. I schlepped to the docks near the New England Aquarium, encountering ever more people on the way as Boston woke up. I bought tickets for the high-speed Salem Ferry and wandered, never too far from the docks. I spent minimally. In other words, I didn’t go into the aquarium, instead watching the seals in the public area near the lines. I ate. I read. I people-watched. I people-listened, enjoying the mix of accents. I saw a woman with an Oregon State University Crew T-shirt, so I thought of home.

The Salem Ferry high-speed catamaran is a civilized way to commute, y’all. Maybe going places in the Millennium Falcon would be cooler, but this is high up in coolness, too. It arrived amidst the dock’s hustle-bustle, and soon was empty of its Salem-to-Boston passengers and ready for us. We pulled out, and moved faster. And faster. I walked carefully outside, got plenty windswept and got splashed once, and started humming the action music from Waterworld because that also has a high-speed catamaran. I wondered if passengers every sight whales from the ferry, but then realized it’s probably too loud for the whales’ comfort, so they’d likely stay away. (This is not foreshadowing. I didn’t see whales. But wouldn’t it be cool if I had?)

The ferry trip went faster than I expected: I started scanning the maps on the cabin walls to figure out where we were, and I was looking too close to Boston as we’d already turned the corner towards Salem. Boston’s skyscrapers stayed visible across the flat land far longer than I’d expected, but we had new small islands and an increasing number of boats to navigate. So the ferry was going slower. No crashing.

The ferry’s Salem dock is next to a coal-fired plant, so my first close view of the town was of its sun-baked coal pile. Slightly in-the-past touch. I’d see more in-the-past touches later, as there are still 17th-century details in Salem. I crossed the dusty parking lot and happily saw a 21st-century sight: octoberland, who’d driven over to pick me up. We hugged. It’d been just over a week since we’d left Pi-Con, not managing to hook up one last time there to say “See ya!,” so the hug made up for that. We figured out logistics for the rest of my stay: Jen told me she’d found an inn with an available room, for much less than the HOLY CRAP dollars I’d spent the night before, and I said I’d definitely be able to afford it. She also had thoughts on food, as we were both hungry, as I’m sure her friend grymdragon would be, too; I told her I’d cover late lunch/early dinner. She then called grymdragon and filled him in on what would, or should, happen when, as they had errands they were going to run together later.

I’m glad I didn’t have to drive. Salem and cars don’t really go together, but that’s true of many New England towns. Some of its streets are one-way, in a non-intuitive way to boot. Good thing Jen knew what to do, where to go, and (eventually) where to park. We then met grymdragon, real world name Tim, and headed to eat. We were too late for the lunch place Jen had wanted to eat at, Red’s, so the second choice was Victoria Station on the Pickering Wharf. Fine choice: good food, good people, good view, good shade. The three of us started visiting: we talked about life, work, our Salem experience, and what entertains us. I referenced the Giants beating the Patriots in the latest Super Bowl perhaps a bit too loudly for a New England town (“18-1!”). The main dishes for Tim and me took long enough to arrive that I was about to ask if they were still coming, but they showed up. (Jen had gotten a salad, which had arrived much earlier.)

Errands can be so much more picturesque in a picturesque town. We ran errands after lunch: Tim needed groceries, and Jen drove us over through less pretty areas of Salem to a supermarket; but the burnt afternoon light made at least the sky pretty, so the picturesque aspect was taken care of. I needed to confirm the reservation Jen had made for me at the Stepping Stone Inn, a bed-and-breakfast on Salem Common, plus drop off not only my baggage but also my leftover food, and we achieved that as well.

And among our stops was one of Jen’s favorite places in not only Salem but the world: the Willows, a park and beach and pier and arcade in the far northeastern corner of the town. It pokes out into Salem Harbor with a view down the Danvers River (why yes, I do have a Salem map for reference), and as it was a nice, comfortable night, it was popular. Lots of families, lots of kids, lots of students finishing up summer vacation. And the sun was low enough that getting burned further was no longer an issue: we could simply wander. We got sweet drinks; Jen and I had lime-raspberry Rickeys, something I’d likely never had until then, but sweet-tooth me approved heartily. Sweet-tooth me who also like tartness even sucked on the lime in the lime-raspberry Rickey, wanting to wring out the maximum juiciness from the drink. We also let our kids-at-heart side out by riding a merry-go-round – yes, we all like merry-go-rounds – and playing early-Eighties video games at the arcade. Jen and Tim also played a vigorous game of table hockey, and by “vigorous” I mean “launching the round game piece off the table a couple of times.” We also walked along a seawall, the pier and an actual beach, scrambling over rocks to get to the sand and water. I reached the water, got my hands wet – nice to be reminded the Atlantic’s still there – and got treated to the unexpected sight of a tiny fish washing up in a small wave and then wriggling vigorously to get the heck back into the water. We all gasped, happily: animal life! I like to think that if it had gotten stuck on the sand, I’d’ve helped it get back in the water, but it managed that on its own. Nice to be reminded the Atlantic has life.

As night fell and temperatures dropped, we returned to the heart of Salem, parked at Jen’s place, and walked further through downtown. She introduced me to Derby Square Books (mentioned here), so full of used books that it’s like walking through a game of Tetris…a wobbly game of Tetris. The books are stacked in massive stacks, stuck into shelves as deeply as possible (to allow more books on the front part of each shelf), and exuding the older-book smell that’s one way to make me happy. I explored slightly; they bought books. Actually, mainly I boggled. This was my kind of store. I said “I can so imagine greygirlbeast liking it in here.” We also were the last people inside a comic shop for the night; heck, I’m sure greygirlbeast would like it there, too.

Our last stop as a wandering trio (not a Heroic Trio, but there was no need for heroics that night) was a circuit around Salem Common, the largest open area in the heart of town. Jen taught me a Wicca thing by pointing out that she made sure to walk around the common clockwise; as she explained it, moving clockwise in doing magick is like winding up a spool of thread. It has a positive, adding energy to it; going counterclockwise is a negative, undoing things, which is sometimes necessary but which can be counterproductive. So we gladly walked clockwise, around a large but safe-feeling space.

Throughout all this was talk. We talked, always with something to say. We talked well into the night, sitting on Salem Common benches across the street from the comfy inn where I would spend the night. So getting back to the inn was no problem, which was good because by then I was ready to sleep. And sleep well I did.

I hung out in Salem by myself on Tuesday morning, while Jen slept needed sleep. (She’s not a morning person; I’d kept that in mind when I declined her offer to drive me back to the ferry.) I made my last purchase in town at the CVS pharmacy (lotion in “Travel Friendly Size! Meets Airport Security Guidelines”; I’d gotten sunburned in Boston), and finished my previous day’s food in the B-and-B’s dining room. I think the owner of the inn was disappointed I didn’t hit on him. I went back to my room, showered, gathered my stuff, checked out, and slowly worked my way through town. I kept to shaded areas, like I was a vampire, so as not to exacerbate my burn. I watched another town wake up in the morning; I also read. Low-impact morning. By noon, I was waiting for the ferry, which arrived a little late but rocketed us back to Boston as scheduled. From there I wandered the docks area further, ate, then rode a water taxi across Boston Harbor to the airport. I wanted to do as much traveling by boat as possible, in a place where it was possible. I need to get out on the water more, just in general.

I survived the flights home. I survived the next few weeks. FINALLY I get around to filling in the gap in my chronicling of my Northeast trip. (I eventually had to tell myself Jeez, finish it this month!)

I’m glad I reached Jen in Salem.