Sept. 21, Tilton, N.H. – At long last having escaped the clutches of Maine, which I must remind you is open for business, I squandered most of the day in New Hampshire.
Which is where I am now. Once again I sit in a wifi-friendly Golden Arches Cafe.
This one is buzzing tonight. As it does twice each year, the circus came to Tilton, N.H., this weekend.
This particular circus is the sort that features the heavy-metal roar of supercharged engines and the prevailing aroma of petroleum. Tilton, you see, sits just 12 miles away from Ground Zero of Nascar’s North Pole, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
Occasionally I must close my eyes and remember I’m well north of the Mason-Dixon line.
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing put on a show in Loudon this afternoon. A 24-year-old son of New England, Joey Logano, won the Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In addition to qualifying him for the second round of NASCAR’s season-ending playoff “Chase,” Logano’s victory disappointed the legion of fans who flock to Sprint Cup ovals in droves to root for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
One of them, Jim Dejana, drove five hours from Dix Hills, N.Y., on Long Island, with his son. This is a regular trip for Dejana. He sat at a table here, sunburned face and salt-and-pepper beard beneath his No. 88 hat.
The McDonald’s has been overrun with race fans since I got here.
I asked him how the race went.
“It went,” he said. “The wrong guy won, but what are you going to do? At least it wasn’t boring.”
Turns out I share a small kinship with Jim Dejana. He was born in Port Washington, N.Y., as was my dad. Both sets of my paternal great-grandparents lived in the Long Island hamlet. When I was young, we occasionally visited my great-grandmother, Blanche Olive Decker, in her home at 14 Carlton Avenue.
Anyway, this place has been jumping all night as McDonald’s associates frantically try to keep up with a hungry mob, most of the clad in NASCAR regalia. An employee was wiping down a table next to me. I gave her a smile and said it’s a nuthouse, eh?
I looked at the swollen staff behind the counter in their black uniforms and asked her how many extra workers they needed to summon to handle the crush.
“It looks like they brought five people down from Concord to help,” she said, turning her head toward the counter and silently counting faces she didn’t recognize.
I drove south out of Saco on Route 1, admiring the enormous American flag flapping in the wind above Frank Galos Chevrolet and Cadillac. After 10 days, it was time to say goodbye to Maine. I decided to head back to New Hampshire because I feel like I gave the Granite State short-shrift on my way from Vermont to Maine. Also, I hoped to get a look at the splendor of fall in honor of the Autumnal Equinox.
And so I steered the Behemoth south and west on Maine 4, which eventually dumped me out in Dover, N.H. Once home to a booming textile mill on the Cocheco River, Dover seems to have weathered the end of its industrial age in style. The downtown area bustles with independent restaurants and small shops.
I guess I liked Dover, because upon arriving, I proceeded to circumnavigate it for a half-hour of absolute cluelessness. Recently I was talking about talking to myself, and sometimes the give-and-take gets a little heated when I’m lost. And make no mistake, getting lost is a hazard of the road. It happens all the time, and when it does, you just have to ride it out with a minimum of Sturm und Drang.
Route 3 up from Concord is a bumpy, nerve-jangling road. It smooths out nicely when you emerge from Tilton proper and ascend toward the I-93 junction. Perched at the apex of the hill there is, of course, a Walmart. Franklin is a bit of a mess. The downtown is Before Tilton, Route 3 passes through another old mill town, Franklin.
Franklin chose a handsome enough spot for itself. It sits at the spot where the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee meet up to form the Merrimack River.
I’m sad to report that Franklin hasn’t made the transition from industrial glory as nicely as Dover. Economically speaking, Franklin is gasping for air. I did see something in Franklin I’d never seen anywhere else: a tangled mass of flora growing from the top an old smokestack.
How bad a shape is Franklin in? Well, it is the first town I’ve come across that’s achieved the dollar-store trifecta: Family Dollar, Dollar General and Dollar Tree all operate stores in Franklin. As I made my way north, I had marveled about the ubiquity of the pizza shop across the American landscape. Perhaps it’s the one constant feature from coast to coast. I should’ve gone into the pizza business, not the writing business.
But in gritty, hardscrabble Franklin, even pizza cannot promise you prosperity. On Route 3, a pizzeria with the Orkian name Nannou Nannoo is no longer open for business.
Speaking of going out of business, I nearly reached the end of the road this afternoon. How sad it would’ve been to die in the Fort Eddy Plaza shopping center. When I contemplate death, which I try not to do often, I don’t imagine it find me when I’m surrounded by old friends such as Staples, Rite Aid, Supercuts, Five Guys, H&R Block and Game Stop.
To perish in a stripmall is a disagreeable thought for sure. It would be so much more dignified to fall off a cliff at Yellowstone or drown in the Atlantic while in a booze-soaked stupor. But, as they say, you never know.
Upon arriving in Concord, N.H., I pulled into the Fort Eddy Plaza, stopped in at Shaw’s and decided to treat myself to a hummus-and-broccoli snack. Because I found the prospect of cleaning a cutting board and knife objectionable, I opted to just rip the florets off the crown and eat them in bites. They were indeed large. In a moment of regrettable haste, I guess I tried to swallow the last one whole.
That was a rotten idea. Next thing I knew, I had a shrub-sized chunk of broccoli lodged in my throat.
I don’t want to engage in hyperbole, but I was a trifle worried. Worry soon gave way to panic. I was standing next to the Behemoth when it dawned on me I might be in a spot of trouble. I looked desperately to the cab for water, but the doors were locked and the keys were in the back of the camper. I didn’t know if I should expend the time and effort to retrieve the keys and water. It seemed like time was becoming critical.
I decided to go looking for a hero, in case it turned out I required one. I lumbered toward Rite Aid/Shaw’s, punching myself in the stomach as I went.
Two-thirds of the way there, desperation rising, I stuck two fingers down my throat. Just like that, out came a monster floret drizzled with roasted red pepper hummus.
Man, I was surprised at how much hummus there was. I had stains on shorts and T-shirt. There is a pithy message on front of the T-shirt: “Life is Good.”
And so it is.
Damn, it feels good to be alive.
As I walked to a neighboring shopping plaza, I called my mom and sister. I figured someone would be glad to hear I’m still alive. My mom keeps telling me I’m not eating enough. Guess I showed her.
I bought a pair of glasses and two pens at the Dollar Tree, then trudged back to the Fort Eddy Plaza. There, in an effort to disgust the few readers I have left, I retrieved the camera from the front seat and found the lonely, hummus-and-saliva saturated broccoli floret lying prostrate in the parking lot.
And I got a nice little photograph of the offending bush with the golden dome of the statehouse in the background.
I’m not sure about New Hampshire. I don’t think I feel safe here. That whole “Live Free or Die” thing is worrisome.
Perhaps someone is concerned I’m not living free enough.