Tuesday, September 18, 2012

9/7: #opwalkabout Old Saybrook, CT via New London

I got off the bus in New London, CT at around 9PM, hoping that the hotel wasn't booked up.  

When I called a few hours before they still had rooms available, albeit for on-season prices. I walked up to the hotel, a respectable four miles out, landing at the Red Roof inn at around 10:30PM and checking into their cheapest available room. I showered and unpacked my bag, hanging my pants still wet from the downpour in Providence.
Sans cannabis, in unknown territory, I slept fitfully. Tossing and turning throughout the night with visions of bedbugs and who knows what else invading my pack. I swore to myself that I'd get laundry done in the next day or so, hopefully drowning whatever vermin I may have picked up on the road. I woke late, heading out of the hotel at 9:00AM to the sort of mugginess that prompted all of the United States that could afford them to purchase air conditioners. Immediately I was drenched in sweat, and stayed that way.

Sticking to the Boston Post Rd through Central Waterford, up into Waterford, I saw the effect of the economic boom of the last decade gone wrong. Two in ten driveways had for sale signs, with one in ten of that number having sale pending signs. Rumors and word from friends who'd lived in Connecticut had told me that this part of CT was fairly affluent. I wasn't shocked by any means to learn that with the deflation of the economy, many families had moved to greener pastures without jobs to support them.

"Where are you headed?" Asked a gentleman filling his tank at a gas station.

"Old Saybrook, well rather Washington, D.C. but my stop's in Old Saybrook tonight."

"Huh, well what are you doing that for?"  I explained, then asked, "What do you think about all of the empty houses? I mean I've been walking through here and it seems like folks are pulling up stakes."

He chewed on his mustache a bit, thinking it over. "Do you really need a Wal-Mart in every town? A Chili's every stop on 95?" He asked in return.

"So you would say that this is a natural sort of deflation after a boom?" I responded.

"I'd say so" He replied.

We chatted a bit more after that, until one of his buddies pulled up on his motorcycle and they got to talking. I bid a polite farewell and kept walking. As I would soon learn, many towns in Connecticut eschew sidewalks for whatever reason. So I was walking on the side of the road, an action that seemed to unnerve drivers in the area. They would swerve wide into the other lane upon noticing me, leaving little or no time for drivers in the opposing lanes to react. I sighed and moved up onto the shoulder walking through the tall grass in the verge.

I was forced to increase the number of times I stopped to change my bandages and pick off little friends I'd acquired along the way. I'd been tucking my pants into my socks to avoid ticks, that didn't stop the bastards from attaching themselves to the insides of my elbows.

Finally moving out of the foothills down into the coastal hills, I stopped in East Lyme for a sandwich at a deli next to a firehouse. I talked to the woman working, learning that they'd been open for nearly a hundred years, and that the firehouse had kept them going through tough times. "Breakfast, lunch, and dinner those boys are in here..." I could tell it was about to get busy, with the UPS guy, and a couple locals she greeted by name having stopped by in the short time I'd been there so far. I finished my hoagie, strapped on my pack and headed South.

East and Olde Lyme provided no relief from the humidity, as I was crossing the Baldwin Bridge into Old Saybrook I took off my pack and put my back to the wind looking out over the water hoping to dry some of the sweat. Like many big bridges I've been over so far, there was a small memorial on the town side for those that died building the structure. I tossed a shiny pebble I'd picked up on the road and two pennies onto the base and kept walking.

"Stan" picked me up about a mile from the bridge landing, friendly greetings segued into him asking asking

"You're not one of those gun toting haters of the new world order are you?" I chuckled a bit, dissembling and scrambling for a way to answer that wouldn't get me tossed under a bush somewhere.

It turns out it wasn't a trick question, my host was as straight a shooter as they come. We talked about the top conspiracy theories, he asked for more details as to why I was walking and I told him.

After getting back to his place, he threw dinner together and we waited for his wife to get home. After eating we chilled by the fire and he told me his story. Stan was a licensed massage therapist, he used to have a booth at the county fair, and he would give out free massages a couple times a year to help build business.

He'd given away the freebies, completed the massages, and a couple weeks later was arrested for sexual assault. The two women he'd served turned out to be sisters, and the news spread fast in the small town where he's from. The news got ahold of it, and three or four other women came forward claiming that he'd touched them inappropriately while massaging them. His reputation was in tatters, he lost his license, his shop, everything. All that's left is the income his wife pulls in from a job at the bank three towns over and what he can make selling vitamin suppliments online. With two kids in college, and property taxes on the rise, there hasn't been much they could do except hold on, and keep trucking through it.

Details aside, the entire time I'd been at his house, short of the necessity of sitting next to each other in the car, he hadn't come within three feet of me. After he'd told me his tale he asked me if I was still comfortable staying there. I thought about it for a minute, "Yeah, I guess, I mean more than anything I think I would have been weirded out if you hadn't told me and I'd found out later."  We talked a bit longer, changing the subject I could tell that the events of the past were still too painful. We parted ways, me heading to bed and Stan to stay up until it was time to go and collect cans from local restaurants. "It's free money you know? Every little bit helps."  I agreed, and settled into my borrowed bed for the evening.

Morning came too fast for me, I scarfed down the pancakes put in front of me and hopped in the truck, tossing Stan 20.00 for gas and to help with groceries.  I could tell that they were strapped, and that even my meager offering would help. He dropped me off in Old Saybrook, giving me a hug and wishing me safe travels. I resupplied at a local grocery story, packed it up and pointed myself South.

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