“When Jed first took me to his house, which was 25 miles from anywhere, he said, ‘Awasiwi Odinak. Far from the things of man.’ What a jackass.” – Abigail Bartlet, The West Wing
You can possibly guess from the above quote, my main disappointment with New Hampshire is that I didn’t have a loveable Martin Sheen-shaped president to be my tour guide. My other disappointment is that the state almost definitely tried to kill me.
As I passed over the Connecticut River into New Hampshire I was lulled into a false sense of security by the peaceful vistas, the works of New Hampshire’s son Robert Frost and the charming “Live Free or Die” licence plates.
My initial drive through New Hampshire was, if anything, even nicer than expected. In particular, the charming town of Lebanon was far less disrupted by the Syrian civil war than I’d expected.
But then the road took me to a place a little less like the peaceful haven of Lebanon and more like, or rather, exactly like, Cabin In the Woods.
I had spotted a few signs for a place called Ruggles Mine. Not knowing what a Ruggle was and thinking it was a long time since I’ve seen a pit pony, I decided to follow the signs off the main (well, main-er) road. The road quality dropped a bit, but most of the roads I had been on in the US were pretty terrible, so nothing concerning so far. Then crunch as if I had just Back to the Future III’d to the Wild West, the road quality drops from “poor” to “left here by the last glacier”. The painted sign to Ruggles Mine aims off what was left of this road, a drop down onto what would, to insult dirt, be called a dirt track.
Then there’s a red metal gate swung shut across the road and padlocked a wooden sign with white paint (of course) telling me it was closed. Being logical, rational and not warped by media at all, I assume there are people waiting for me in the trees, so I screech a U-turn and get out of there.
(In hindsight, if I hadn’t seen the billboards and spontaneously decided to go check it out, I would have discovered on its website that, despite advert-appearances, it is indeed shut this time of year.)
As I peel out of there I come across several more wooden places that I actually hope are abandoned, as I worry what would be living there otherwise.
I end up heading towards Manchester, as the worst thing that’ll happen to me there is a punch from Ken Barlow. And it’s near Manchester that I discover what makes America so truly great.
First a bit of back story: I’m from Northern Ireland (or “Norn Iron”, as our vocal chords don’t really work), this is a country most famous for building a ship that sank on its maiden voyage. That we built a crap ship is actually one of our main tourist attractions. That it was a terrible tragedy is, for us, a point of pride.*
That’s because our other cultural legacy is our ability to hold grudges and kick seven shades of shite out of each other for 400 years. One manifestation of this pastime is to discuss the name of the second largest city in Northern Ireland, that is to say, Derry or Londonderry. The UK refers to the city officially as Londonderry, the Republic of Ireland refers to it as Derry, everyone else refers to it as “sure why’d you want to go to that hole?”
In the colourful history of Northern Ireland, even referring to the city by the perceived wrong name in front of the wrong crowd could get you into a spot of bother. Which brings us back to America, that great, glorious and altogether practical nation. Folks want a city called one thing and a city called another? Have two cities!
Eminently practical, no wonder we haven’t thought of it.
I now have what I need to go back to my homeland and heal the wounds, but instead I’m just going to head up to Maine, visit Acadia and, along the way, be haunted by the ghosts of my past (I end up in Belfast, Maine, hai).
*I would be remiss, of course, to write off Northern Ireland so harshly. It is also the country where we built the great DeLorean. Which, er, sank financially.