Chasing Fall Colors
A road trip through New Jersey, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut
My tour of New England began with a smooth flight to Newark, New Jersey, on October 1st, 2017. My goal was to drive from state to state, hunting down the colors of the turning leaves of autumn. From the cool hues of Humboldt County, to the vibrant ambers, oranges, and reds of New England, I wanted to expand my painter’s palette.
The flight took only four hours from San Francisco. After picking up my rental car, I drove north out of New Jersey toward the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York. With absolutely no desire to deal with the traffic in Manhattan while driving, I stuck to the highway that was clearly west of the Hudson, a New Jersey highway along the Passaic River.
It took a while to get out of New Jersey. I stopped at several places to ask if anyone sold maps. Everyone I asked (mostly young people working in gas stations or mini-marts) looked at me like they had never heard of such a thing. I finally asked a man in a parking lot to help me with the app on my phone, which I don’t like to use. He gave me clear instructions. I had to give in to following the soulless voice of “Siri”, dictating my every move. No need to think anymore. Just do what Siri tells you. Being someone who is visually and spatially inclined, I find it annoying to not be looking at a map, figuring out directions on my own, or with the help of an actual human.
After a longer-than-expected drive through lovely green valleys, past endless deciduous trees that were about to turn to warmer hues, I came upon the sign for Woodstock, New York, my first destination. Only a few miles to the east of the main highway, a small community appeared along a country road. Old wooden houses, lush green trees, and a small town center welcomed me. The small village hub was full of people who were gathered for a Sunday evening ritual of community drumming. It felt like a familiar scene, much like Arcata.
I found my B&B quickly along the main road. Somehow, my reservation got overlooked and the room wasn’t ready. I told the woman who ran the place that I would go to dinner, giving her time to get the room set up. Since I had only eaten two snack bars and an apple all day, I was ready for a sit-down meal. I found a nice place called Joshua’s, ordered a plate of vegetarian appetizers and a glass of wine. Eating out is expensive, and I don’t like sitting in a restaurant by myself. But there I was. Relieved to have accomplished my first day of travel, I ate half of my meal, then returned to my B&B with leftovers for the next day. I settled into my cozy, quiet room and got a good night’s sleep.
I woke up with the sun around 6:30, got showered and dressed, and went downstairs and into a lovely kitchen that looked out over a grassy yard and wooded creek. More houses were tucked in beyond the creek, behind more trees in the thickly wooded neighborhood. With so many trees, I could barely see the sky. The forecast was for unusually warm weather. My hostess was up and ready to cook scrambled eggs for me. She had lived in Woodstock since 1990, and had a very strong Chinese accent. Communication was challenging. After serving the eggs, she walked out of the kitchen, then back again a few minutes later. She tried to tell me about a horrible mass shooting in “that city with a lot of casinos” at a music event. My heart sank. I was going to try to stay away from the news all week. I knew I would eventually learn more about this horror.
Quickly changing subjects, my hostess suggested I drive up to the Tibetan Temple on Overlook Mountain. She said there would be a nice view from there. I decided to go check it out. What she didn’t tell me was that I would have to climb a steep trail, which could take an hour to ascend, and another descending. Fortunately, when I arrived at the temple, there was a man stealing a smoke outside the entrance of the temple grounds who told me about the details of the hike up the mountain. He could see I wasn’t prepared to make that journey. (I think my sandals gave me away.) “Just enjoy the moment,” he said. Then he sucked a long drag off the last of his cigarette.
Across the road from the temple, just a few feet from the start of the steeper trail, was a level path with a sign that read, “Dharma Path.” I wandered into the forested trail. Draped throughout the trees, crisscrossing the path all along the way, were numerous strands of Tibetan prayer flags.
The sun was just cresting the hill. I took a short, quiet walk in the cool morning. Most encouraging were the patches of frost on the grass. This meant that the sap in the trees would slow, and the leaves would turn. It also meant that my toes were getting cold and wet, and that I had better return and check out of my B&B so that I could drive to Bethel. I wanted to see where the actual Woodstock music festival took place.
I knew ahead of time that the town of Woodstock and the music festival site were not in the same location. However, I did not realize that the festival site was fifty miles away, and an hour-and-a-half drive to the southeast of the town. Woodstock had been known for many years before the music festival as an artist colony. That was evident by the shops, galleries, and performing arts centers in funky old buildings along the main road. Somehow, the name “Woodstock” got attached to the festival. The rest is history. I thoroughly enjoyed my drive through the back roads of the Catskills Mountains, scarcely passing another car. New York City was less than 100 miles away, yet the continuously wooded, two-lane road was as rural and wild as any backcountry road I had ever driven.
By the time I got to Bethel, which is barely a town, I imagined the thousands of young people back in 1969 wandering down that road, hungry, high, and asking locals if they could use their phones to call their parents.
It was about 10:30 am when I pulled in to the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the location where the festival originally took place. This was the first open land I had seen in all of my upstate driving. Mostly, the landscape had been thick with trees. I could see why the city boys who put the whole thing together thought it would be great to have a concert there. It was probably the first open farmland they found as they wandered, like me, through forested roads. Maybe it was the first open farmland they had ever seen. Everyone was so young at Woodstock, including the organizers. It was all new, and all about living in the moment.
I parked in a big, empty parking lot and walked toward a well-designed building at the top of a hill, overlooking neatly mowed pastures. Entering a large lobby, I was greeted by a friendly, gray-haired woman who looked more like the older generation of locals I had seen in the movie than someone from my generation. Yet, she spoke about the festival site as if it was a blessed piece of history.
After paying the modest entrance fee of $15, I entered the museum part of the building and felt a rush of emotion. Empty of other visitors, the rooms were filled with bright and lively displays about the sixties, with all the colors, icons, photos, film, music, and stories of that time period. These were my formative years. The displays didn’t just cover the Woodstock event. They covered the cultural and political revolution of that decade. It was overwhelming, bringing back joyful, and sometimes, painful memories. For me along with so many others, coming of age in the sixties was complicated. The war, the protests, and the assassinations of those with forward-thinking ideas, impacted who we all became. The music of that era, and the event of the Woodstock music festival, were what so many of us naively thought would bring about a better world, the world we were going to create.
I couldn’t help but think that the current young generation needs something like Woodstock to lift them up out of the despair that now haunts so many every day. We had Nixon. They have Trump. We had Vietnam and the civil rights movement. They are coming of age with a normalization of domestic and international terrorist attacks, and an administration that wants to blast us back to the pre-Woodstock era. Injustice for people of color, gender, and religious identity continues. It is hard to watch negative history repeat itself within my own lifetime.
I had just watched the film about Woodstock in the days before my trip, so I was in tune. The displays were a barrage of music and commentary. Voices from large screens floated throughout the gallery. Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane, who had to sing in the morning because the rain had pushed the band’s performance back from the night before, woke everyone up at the festival by saying, “It’s a new dawn!” Joan Baez, in her confident, unfaltering voice, sang, “Here’s to the dawn of your days”. And even though Joni Mitchell wasn’t there, she was credited with writing the anthem that helped define the experience and its importance as that decade came to a close. The youthful optimism of those who were part of the Woodstock event was inspiring to me. Yet, the whole display also made me feel very old. I was fifteen when Woodstock took place in 1969. And look where are we now. The experiences of this museum made me feel a mix of hope and despair all at the same time.
Before I left Bethel, I walked out to the actual site where it all occurred on what used to be Max Yasgur’s farm. It was simply a big, grassy hillside that somehow held 500,000 people over the course of three days.
While standing alone under a clear blue sky, remembering images of that enormous mass of humanity, I noticed the flutter of butterfly wings on the grass. Instantly recalling Joni’s powerful lyric in the last verse of “Woodstock,” butterflies were landing and lifting off of the grass all around me. In my head, her voice sang about “bombers turning into butterflies.” I stood there on the sacred ground of three days of peace and music watching monarchs dance around in the empty, green field like spirits from the past. I put on the Woodstock T-shirt I had purchased in the museum store. I will wear it to bed at night and dream of the world we dreamt of then.
Having backtracked a bit in the direction I had planned to go, I had a longer drive ahead of me. It was around 12:30 when I departed and plugged in to Siri, my useful yet emotionally vacant companion, to guide me north to Vermont. I drove along tree-lined major highways for several hours, with hints of color along the hillsides increasing as I headed north. I passed through parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts until I finally crossed into Vermont, landing at my hotel by 6 pm.
The thick smell of firewood burning and the autumn chill in the air was reassuring as I checked into my room at a Quality Inn near Woodstock, Vermont. (Yes, there is a Woodstock in Vermont.) I was hopeful I would see more color than what I had seen from the highway. After bringing my suitcase and backpack to my room, I ate dinner at a roadside bar and grill next door. It was full and alive with people, young and old. After eating, I returned to my room and avoided the horrible news on TV, and watched a movie instead from my comfortable bed in my new shirt.
When I awoke the next morning, I avoided turning on the TV in my room. But when I ate the “free” breakfast in the lobby, flashes of reality blazed across a screen above the coffee pots. I quickly returned to my room, gathered my things, and checked out of the hotel. A very short drive down the road was Quechee Gorge. I took an easy walk and saw some lovely views, but missed seeing fall colors. Postcards in the visitor center revealed what the river gorge can look like in full bloom. A man behind the counter said the weather had become too warm, and that fall was turning out to be late this year. I must admit, I felt disappointed.
With hope of more color the further north I went, I headed up the highway. Finally figuring out how to play music out of my phone through the car speakers, I listened as I drove to Joni and Crosby, Stills, and Nash to stay in my Woodstock mood.
I found my way to the home of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream and went on the short tour of the creamery. After the tour, all visitors are given a taste of a new flavor. My group got something called “Full-baked Chocolate Swirl”. It was, of course, delicious. I toured their “flavor graveyard” of tombstones arranged in a small fenced area with the names of ice cream flavors they no longer make. Epitaphs such as, “Wavy Gravy- Just so there’s no confusion, we thought we oughtta warn ya: Wavy Gravy isn’t dead. He lives in California. No such luck for Wavy’s flavor, but we’ve been wrong before. We won’t give up if you won’t, so what are you waiting for.” It was the funniest graveyard I had ever visited.
The creamery is small for such a large distribution, but their business has a big heart. The Ben and Jerry’s Foundation gives money to many causes that make the world a better place.
Farther up the road, I stopped at an apple cider-making place. I realized I had followed a tour bus from Ben and Jerry’s. The bus let loose an army of white-haired couples into the parking lot. These released captives wandered around the huge gift shop with wives leading, and husbands following, rummaging through country kitsch, and lining up to buy apple cider doughnuts. It was time for me to find more remote adventures.
I drove up to a higher elevation where there was a lodge. They had trails for hiking in the summer and fall, and skiing in the winter and early spring. I was shocked when I was told there was a $10 charge to hike on the trails. I convinced the guy in the outdoor rental store to let me take a short walk into the tree-lined path nearby to take a few pictures. The colors there were just starting to emerge.
I stopped by a nursery to learn more about the variety of local trees, and what kind of weather they needed for their amazing bloom of colors. The nursery workers were very helpful. Their greenhouses had endless pots of chrysanthemums in full bloom in a wide range of gorgeous fall colors. As I drove along the road, every stand along the way sold apples, pumpkins, and maple syrup.
As I pulled into Montpelier, the state capital of Vermont, children were just getting out of school and walking home. People were busy doing what they do in this small town of fewer than 8,000 (the summer population of Arcata.) I find it hard to understand how such a small state has two representatives in the US Senate. This question applies to all the New England states. To me, that is too much power to represent so few people. California is so much bigger in land and in population. These states are about the size of California’s counties.
After stopping for gas, I drove out of the town on a road to the east, passing homes that looked welcoming and well-cared for. The community had the same feeling of small town, rural living that I remembered when I first came to Arcata over 40 years ago.
Just before the road opened to farmland, I saw a sign for Goddard College. Before I left on my trip, I had wondered about where the campus might be in Vermont, and what it might look like. When I was a senior in high school, I had inquired about applying there. At the time, it was known as an “alternative” college, emphasizing an experience-based approach to education. I sent a letter of inquiry, and they sent me a catalog back in 1971. I can only wonder what my life would have been like had I moved to Vermont and gone to college at Goddard.
Heading east through rolling farmland, I left behind lush and beautiful Vermont. As I entered New Hampshire, the colors were more abundant, and the landscape more mountainous. I crossed the border just after 5 pm, and with the sun low in the sky, the colors of the leaves started to glow.
As I drove along the outskirts of White Mountain National Forest, I realized that for most of the year, these mountains would be covered in snow (thus, the name). In this month, there was not a patch snow anywhere. Approaching my motel, I realized that I was staying at a ski destination. Near yet another town named Woodstock, I checked into my room at Parker’s Motel, right on the highway. I ate leftovers from the night before instead of eating out.
I finally gave in to watching the news, and learned the horrors of the Las Vegas massacre. It brought me down rapidly. I felt helpless and depressed. The lives of all who were there were changed forever. That was the first night I didn’t feel like I was on vacation. Along with trying to cope with the horrible news, I had an article that was due by the end of the week for my job. It all made for a restless night, with bouts of wakefulness in the wee hours.
The next morning, I was up and was checked out by 8 am. Driving a little bit south into the town of Woodstock, I ate a small breakfast at a diner, then headed north along the west side of the White Mountains. Veering northeast, I took Highway 3, then 115, and then 2. These roads wind around the northern edge of Mount Washington. This was where the season came alive. Northern New Hampshire was the mother lode of color. Because this part of the state is at a higher elevation, the nights in New Hampshire had been colder than in Vermont. The temperature difference made the leaves turn sooner. I was on the road I was meant to find. This was where the colors were gloriously in bloom.
The Appalachian Trail starts in the northern part of Maine, passes through the White Mountains, and eventually ends in Georgia. There were signs for the trail all along the road. At one point, I turned off Highway 115 and drove along a narrow road that was rich in yellow and gold. It eventually became a dirt road. I drove slowly under the umbrella of color for about a mile. There was no sign of civilization. The farther I drove, the more oranges and reds appeared. It was quiet and pure. I realized that, as the leaves fell throughout the next few weeks, this road would be covered in a thick blanket of leaves. The sight would be even more stunning. But I also knew that, with the right combination of rain and layers of slippery leaves, it could be a dangerous drive on a carpet of biodegrading debris, especially in a small, light car. Hesitant to go too far, I turned around at a fork.
As I drove along this hidden road, listening to James Taylor sing the obscure lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” the combination got to me. I stopped and got out of the car to watch the descent of weightless leaves lift and fall toward their gentle landing among other leaves. Now I know what it is like to be fully surrounded by the warm colors of autumn. Vast hillsides of it. Fall has always felt soft and comforting to me. I had arrived at the right moment and was embraced by the glory of the season. It was difficult to photograph, and would be even harder to paint. I was simply there.
Back on the highway, a short way down the road, I pulled off where a road sign simply read, “Trailhead.” I assumed the sign was announcing the Appalachian Trail, but I wasn’t sure. There were numerous cars parked at this roadside pullout, but no people. I attempted to hike in a little ways, but realized that no one had any idea where I was. It did not seem wise to hike in very far. After taking a few photos, I hiked back, got in my car, and headed southeast down the highway.
I noticed the colors starting to diminish and realized I was crossing the border into Maine. Maine seemed different. I got the impression this part of the state might be more working-class. Houses were not as orderly or well kept; more stuff was in people’s yards including abandoned cars. It looked like people lived in these homes year-round as opposed to what appeared to be vacation homes in some of the other states.
As I headed toward Portland, Maine’s largest city, I began to realize how tired I was. And, of course, getting closer to a city provided more traffic. When I finally found my hotel, the Inn at St. John’s, I was exhausted. However, I got there a little early (about 1:30) so my room wasn’t ready. I decided that what I needed was a vigorous walk around Portland to wake me up. I headed toward downtown, picked up a city map at the Greyhound station, and wandered around the brick-laid streets.
Maybe it was the pumpkin seeds I had for lunch that I thought would tide me over. Maybe it was the wakeful night before. But I realized I had no energy, and a hoarse voice as well, which seemed odd, since I had hardly spoken to anyone in days.
Portland, with a population of 67,000, was the first real city I had been in. Cities, in general, exhaust me. I’m never quite sure what to do in them. I also had to figure out how to get the article I had written submitted, with several revisions, to the newspaper back in Eureka. I found a small bakery/deli and ate something there, then headed toward the center of town to locate the public library. I was able to get on a computer, get my work done, and finally return to being on my vacation.
I kept trying to find a paper map of Maine, but no one sold them anywhere. Someone told me to check at a place called Renys. This seventy-year-old chain of department stores was filled with clothing and camping gear. Right as I walked in, there were endless racks of plaid flannel shirts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much plaid in one place. Flannel shirts, but no maps.
By the time I made it back to my hotel, I had walked a few miles. When I picked up my key at the desk, the guy said I looked like I needed to rest. Then he told me I had to climb three flights of stairs to my room with my all my stuff (no help offered). It was a nice, old place, but obviously had no elevator. I hauled up my suitcase and backpack and wanted to be settled in for the night. But after a short rest, I walked across the street to a pizza place and bought a salad and some cheese sticks to go. I asked the cook for suggestions about what to do and where to go in Boston if I decided to go there the next day. I was so tired at that moment that it was hard to imagine taking on another city. But I had also never been to Boston and had always been curious about it. I got my Gerontology degree from the University of Massachusetts, but all online. It seemed I should at least set my feet down there. I returned to my room unsure of my plans and ate half my food. I could hear trains and traffic outside my window as I drifted off to sleep.
My hotel room was small and, therefore, cheaper. I got up early to shower in the shared bathroom down the hall, packed up, and was on the road, once again, by 8 am. The leaves were on fire with color again along the highway as I drove south toward Massachusetts. With a delayed autumn, this felt like a bonus as I headed out of Maine.
I decided to go to Boston. The guy at the hotel told me where to park, so I programmed the destination into my phone and followed Siri’s directions. I was disappointed that the highway down the coast didn’t have views of the ocean. There may have been a more coastal route, but not according to Siri.
After a quick slip into New Hampshire, I crossed over into Massachusetts, the traffic was thick when I finally arrived in Boston, and the directions complex. I parked in a public parking garage. With a walking map of Boston in hand that my brother lent to me, I ventured out into Bean Town.
The weather was warm, but pleasantly so. The heat wave that had halted autumn for most of New England didn’t slow down the hustle and bustle of people, cars, and buses. The mass of buildings felt daunting, so I headed for the main city park to clear my head and figure out what to do next. About six blocks away, I reached Boston Common, which was right across from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts State House.
I wasn’t sure I had the energy for museums. I wasn’t up on my history enough to know where to go to see historical monuments. I had a few other notions, but realized it would be great to ask someone who lived here what to do.
My cousin, Michael, a Paulist priest, lives in Boston. I was hesitant to make any commitments to visit him prior to the trip because I wasn’t sure I was even going to Boston. I phoned him, and he answered. “This is your cousin, Maureen, and I’m in Boston for the day. I’m not quite sure what to do and see while I’m here.”
Michael immediately offered to take me to lunch, but told me he had to say Mass first. I asked where I should meet him. He asked where I was and, when I told him, he said to look toward the right for a building with red doors. The Paulist Center was literally right across the street from where I stood.
I was relieved to have a plan. I spent the next hour and a half walking around Boston Common, looking at the ponds, passing by moms with strollers, and listening to a saxophonist play jazz that echoed throughout the park. I even got to make a request for a song.
Glad that I didn’t have to explore more on my own, I allowed Michael to give me a quick slice of Boston life. After meeting up with him, he suggested lunch at Quincy Market, one of the largest market complexes in the US. Brick walkways led to what looked like endless street markets and restaurants. He took me to a long-established place called Durgin Park, known for serving classic New England food. Everything on the menu was either meat or fish, with the exception of one veggie pasta dish. The waitress strongly discouraged the pasta. I was glad Michael was paying, because everything on the menu was expensive. Michael ordered the mac and cheese with lobster. After some convincing, I gave in and had the same. There were only a few bits of lobster in it. I don’t know what all the fuss is about lobster. I felt like I was biting into rubber. But it was nice to have lunch with Michael.
Conversation was easy with my older cousin. We were never close, but we’ve always had the same politics, so it was comfortable to talk about that. Catching up on the basics of each other’s lives (we hadn’t seen each other in over a decade), we also caught up on news about siblings and cousins. He has four siblings. I have six. Together, we have a million relatives. I only ate half of my food, so I took the rest to eat later for dinner.
We walked back through groups of street artists, passed by cemeteries and monuments, and jaywalked through traffic. As we rounded the corner at Boston Common, the air filled with church bells and sirens at the same time. Ah, city life! Michael said goodbye, and I realized that I was ready to leave Boston. I walked back to the parking garage and drove onto busy Boston streets after paying a hefty $32 to park.
Siri was a little sluggish giving directions out of the city, and I made a few wrong turns. In much traffic, I finally made it out of Boston and drove south. The first hour was bumper-to-bumper. By 6 pm, I had arrived in Newport, Rhode Island. I settled into an expensive, but lovely, room in an old New England building called the Inn on Bellevue. Fortunately, my room was only one flight of stairs up. The man at the desk even carried my bag for me. After eating my lunch leftovers, I took a bath in their nice bathtub. Rain was forecast for the evening, and I was tired from the drive, and from the walking in Boston, so the day was done.
After a generous, lovely breakfast of asparagus and tomato quiche, French toast, fresh cantaloupe and strawberries, I packed my things, checked out, and wandered a couple of blocks to the harbor. What I hadn’t known about Newport was that the very rich live there, or at least have giant second homes there. The town is known for its mansions and harbor. (That explains my expensive hotel room, fancy breakfast, and good service). Many decades ago, wealthy families from New York and Boston came to Newport in the summer to play. They built huge, fancy summer homes. I didn’t know that I had landed in such an elite spot.
I had no desire to tour mansions. Wandering around town, I realized the shops were upscale, and the restaurants were all about eating fancy fish and lobster. I had already eaten lobster. The harbor was loaded with large private yachts. And the streets were full of white, older people. Although the town was lovely and clean, with narrow brick streets and sidewalks, the history and the culture did not interest me. It was too upper class. I felt very disconnected.
The only black person I saw in the whole town was a guy named Kevin. He was standing by the harbor. A man in his 50s, he started telling me about the fish in the water. He went on to tell me his life story. As I turned to leave, he asked if I could give him some money to get something to eat. I asked him to promise he wouldn’t spend it on drugs or alcohol. Of course, he said he didn’t “do any of that stuff.” I gave him ten bucks. I hope he bought food. I figured that, if I was going to spend money in this town, he might as well be the one to get it.
I drove west out of Newport and decided not to plug in Siri. I could not find a paper map of Rhode Island or Connecticut while in Newport, but I asked directions at a bridge tollbooth for the most scenic route heading west. I was told to stick with Hwy 1A. This road wound up and down short peninsulas, only to reveal more summer homes that were large and empty. The beaches were flat, as was the water. This was Long Island Sound, so I guess the tide is calmer, at least during this time of year. I am used to the raw and wild dynamics of the west coast, with a less inhabited and more publicly-accessible shoreline, and areas of steep, rocky cliffs. I am thankful for the California Coastal Commission and the protection of our coast from development.
Crossing into Connecticut, I drove past more flat wetlands, filled with summer homes. Just before I was about to turn away from the shore and head for the main highway, tiring of the vacation culture of this place, I rolled into Mystic, a town I had heard was a good stop. It was time for me to eat something. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to eat. Then, there it was. Mystic Pizza! This was the location of the movie with Julia Roberts from a couple of decades before.
The film is about clashes between working class and upper class, through the eyes of three young waitresses who grew up together in this small Connecticut town. I went in and ordered a small pizza, knowing it would also be dinner (and, probably lunch the next day). Having been the actual set for the movie, the place was filled with memorabilia, and the movie played continuously on a large screen on the wall. I remember that the saving grace of the film was that the three young women found out that the men in their lives did not define them.
The town was a mixture of artists, New York City escapees, fishermen, and tourists. There is an actual drawbridge in the center of the town. The people and shops seemed a little more down to earth, less uppity.
An element that was evident throughout the drive, especially as I passed along rural roads, was how much snow impacts everything, especially roads and highways. Even though there wasn’t a trace of snow anywhere in the unusually warm autumn, the roads and highways were ready for the winter. Because so many of the houses are not permanent residences, it looked as though the yards were all set for winter. There was no lawn furniture, half-finished projects, and rarely a garden. The houses in most cases looked tidy, but lifeless. When I was trying to get out of Boston, Siri took me through an industrial part of town to get me turned around and onto the right highway. I drove past a giant mound, stories high, of something covered in huge, white plastic sheeting. As I drove farther down the block, a section of it was revealed. It was a mountain of salt, used to melt away the snow on the roads, something we never see in the coastal parts of California.
The freeway became wider, and the drivers crazier, as I pulled into New Haven. Much bigger than I had imagined, it is a port, but not a luxury one. The town has a population of 130,000. The university is still the center of it all. I checked into my room at a Days Inn. The hallway smelled of cigarettes. However, my room was fine, and I watched movies on the giant-screen TV, never switching the channel to find out what was happening in the world.
After a good night’s sleep, I was ready make the final drive into New Jersey, and take the long flight back to California. But I wanted to drive through the Yale campus just to see the place. Having known people who went there, I was curious. I was able to park and walk around a bit. The architecture is fascinating. Some of the buildings look like they were built many centuries ago. The detail in the decor is beyond anything I had ever seen on the west coast.
I realized I should check in with my annoying traveling companion for the final stretch. I was ready to be done with driving, and hotel rooms, and ready to go home. As I traveled back into New York State, the colors came back again along the highway, as if to say goodbye. Even though fall had stalled, I still got to see it here and there.
As I got closer to New York City, the traffic got thicker. Skirting along the Hudson River, Siri had me driving, very briefly, in Manhattan before I pulled onto the George Washington Bridge and drove across onto the New Jersey Turnpike, then on to the Newark airport. When I turned in my car, I found out I had driven 1,500 miles.
Finally aboard the plane, I got settled in my seat by the window. I looked across the tarmac at the New York skyline, realizing I had just toured the playground of the people who live in that city. New England has some beautiful places, and wonderful colors, but I was glad to be returning to the wild west of the California coast and the constant beauty of the redwood forest.