My first port of call after leaving New York was its neighbour Connecticut, which dubs itself the Nutmeg State, proving that they ran out of ideas pretty early. Connecticut is, of course, most famous as a manoeuvre in Connect Four when you realise you’re about to lose and karate chop the game off the table.
I’m visiting in late Fall when most of the trees have been robbed of their leaves. The result is an enjoyable bleakness, with the more stalwart trees still displaying their vibrant colours. I’m up in the northeast of Connecticut where there is a pleasant, gentle atmosphere. Long, twisting roads work their way along rivers and bare trees, and, more importantly, lead to places called this:
The people of Gaylordsville were warm and welcoming, as I stopped in to have lunch in a quintessential American diner, complete with middle-aged waitress treating the two baseball-capped mechanics at the counter with wry humour. Our time together was brief, and soon I was pulling out of Gaylordsville and heading towards Kent. Not the expanse of southern England, with its majestic cathedrals and untrustworthy Australian expats, but rather the Kent Falls State Park.
Although I had heard of the many National Parks, I hadn’t realised how many State Parks there were. I was spoilt for choice travelling through Connecticut as there is approximately one metric arseload of state parks to pick. The falls were beautiful, but this park also gave me an insight into the psyche of the American people. They like stacking rocks:
I’m like Alexis de Tocqueville up in this shit.
As I drove around, the radio provided more questions than answers to American culture. For instance, what’s with the adverts for hospitals? A couple of ads every hour along the lines of: “[St Blah’s Hospital] has some of the leading cardiologists… when Bob had a heart attack … we got him up and back walking within a week. [St Blah’s Hospital], your heart is in good hands.” Is the idea that, when you have a heart attack, you shop around for Buy One Get One Free deals? Or if you end up in an ambulance, when they pull up outside an emergency room, you look up blearily, tear the oxygen mask from your face and yell: “not here, I want the hospital that is the only one to have been awarded the American Heartology Award for Excellent Hearting five years in a row.”
Everything Must Go
Actually, adverts in America just crack me up in general, particularly the ones for drugs. (As a side bar: based on the number of ads, America has a huge constipation problem.) American drug ads begin with about ten seconds of average looking people experiencing discomfort under soft lighting: “Are you feeling run down?” or “Can’t sleep at night? Try Taxiclaxiprofluben”. These average folk take the drugs and everything’s brighter, they’re dancing, they’re happy, they’re America’s Next Top Model. In the meantime, a guy who’s had too much caffeine spends the next 40 seconds saying: “Patients who took this drug suffered depression, explosive diarrhoea, suicide, lung-inversion, superfluous-colon, heart attacks, sleeplessness and panic attacks caused by worrying about what other side effects they were going to suffer”. And finally, after no rational human being would ever touch this drug, the ad finishes with a few seconds of: “Pyenodril. Making a better you. [that will explode]”. My favourite side effect though is always the heart attack one, which apparently every drug in existence causes, because the caffeine-spiked narrator helpfully suggests: “If you experience the symptoms of a heart attack, call a doctor”. But only if you’re on this medicine, right? Otherwise, just walk it off?
Drug-related ads are definitely the best, but the rest of the competition puts up a good fight. The classic infomercials offer the standard of (a) a product that seems faintly useful if you don’t think about it long enough, (b) buy one get one free, (b1) but wait, if you order now, your buy one get one free gets one free and finally (c) “order now at this historic price”. What the hell is a historic price? Two schillings? One goat?
One thing that does seem more prominent over here is negative campaigning. Now, most people are familiar with this in the political realm (“Congressman [Blah] likes to grind up puppies and snort them, do you want him in charge?”) and God knows, I was only here for the last week of the election season and I got to see several hundred of them. What I hadn’t been expecting was for this to spill over into other areas. With ads across the pond you’ll get things like “Flash cleans things up to 50% faster than other leading brands”. Well America isn’t afraid to call those slow cleaning bastards out. You end up with strange ads along the lines of “Our mouthwash keeps your teeth 25% fresher than Listerine. In fact, Listerine is shit. They told us they were glad when you got a filling last month. Listerine hates your teeth.”
Look at the Water
So when I’m rambling through the quiet country roads of a beautiful state, there’s only one thing I need.
Montville, Connecticut, is home to The Dinosaur Place. A place, with dinosaurs (I feel this description was somewhat redundant). Set around a small lake, the Dinosaur Place features a wide selection of our lizard king brethren hanging around, taking it easy. They had a selection of popular favourites, like the above T-Rex, raptors, a triceratops:
As you walked around the lake, a series of notices allowed you traverse the history of the Earth from its formation to—
I mean, what the hell, dinosaur? Is it doing this deliberately, like those mad folks who try to get that World Record for fingernails? All these freaks are dead, right? (The dinosaurs, not the Guinness people) Are we sure? Could we meteor this thing up a little bit just in case?
I decided to get the hell out of there before that thing woke up, so I set course for a slice of American life at the quiet village of Essex.
Yeesh. Give me back the dinosaurs. (Source)
White Picket Fences, Mercs and Bentleys Everywhere
Essex, confidently calling itself the “best small town in America”, is situated a couple of miles from the mouth of the Connecticut River and boasts of population of 6,500, but most of those are luxury cars.Far be it for me to entirely base a town on the first thing I see, but the first thing was an antique shop with the following offering:
This is a place where even the birdhouses are palatial:
It is also home to the Connecticut River Museum, which recently got a little too close to its namesake, as Sandy caused some of the bottom floor to flood. I was visiting on the first day they had been open since then and couldn’t really understand why they were concerned, as the museum is home to the first military submarine, the Turtle (da Vinci had sketched ideas for a submarine several centuries earlier, but da Vinci was a cheating bastard).
A simple affair, the Turtle nevertheless managed to launch an attack (albeit an unsuccessful one) against the HMS Eagle. Much like Alexander Graham Bell could only dream of what we do every day with our phones (Angry Birds, sexting), this sub does rather pale in comparison to its modern brethren. I don’t mean the state of the art subs with sonar and nuclear reactors, I mean the incredibly primitive subs that nowadays come loaded with cocaine.
As the day draws to a close, I head towards Rhode Island. Continuing what apparently is going to be a tradition, I’ll close this post with another bird-related picture, this time of a particularly unimpressed looking seagull.