Dateline July 14, 2003
Betsy Sue and I have just returned home in DC from a four-day tour of several specific sites in jolly old New England. First stop of keen interest was the Thomas Paine estate and cottage in New Rochelle, NY (up I-95 a few miles northeast of the George Washington Bridge in NYC), and a rather encouraging conversation with the on-premises caretaker there, a presiding member of the Thomas Paine Society. Always perfect timing, we were beaming when we learned that although the cottage was presently closed for painting and other renovations, conducted as an Eagle Scout project not due for completion for another month, we were offered and we made the quick tour and snapped a few pictures of the tiny man's cottage and what was left of his grounds, all to our patriotic delight.
Although this was not our first encounter with the small stature of most men of that era, it was still shocking to note how often we had to duck to get through doors and even the narrow hallways were notably menacing to the modern super-sized American tourist.
Then we continued on up through Connecticut where we stayed our first night in a quaint little Massachusetts motor lodge in a township called Stirbridge, where the wife swears she recalls staying as a child on family vacation. The next morning (July 4th) we drove the hundred miles up to Lowell, MA to breathe the air around that old milltown which was later decimated by the migration of the mill industry to Georgia and other parts south. Our leading purpose in Lowell was to check out the Jack Kerouac memorial erected in the deceased Beat writer's hometown. We were not disappointed.
Though nary a bust or portrait of the old drunk was present, a dozen or so marble tablets bearing excerpts from Kerouac's books were set length-wise into the stone plaza, clustered among welcomed benches and the handful of towering and smaller weeping willows on an unappointed edge of town seemingly frozen in dingy time still looking eerily like the period of young Jacques' childhood (the 1940s), all of which seemed to capture the desperate and mournful spirit of Kerouac's beat generation.
To the east spanned an old iron bridge, glistening silver in the morning sun but draped in an indifferent rash of predictable rust upon closer inspection. Due east and south, old mill warehouses now converted into luxury apartments were squired by narrow canals which zig zagged through the entire downtown.
It was sizzling even in the shade by now, but amply pleasant nevertheless as we watched the tourist trolleys whiz by with a few riders we would have joined but for other plans for that day. A quick gas-up at the green and white and we were soon cruising again, this time on the Interstate headed forty miles south into Beantown in anticipation of the annual starburst sky, a born-again patriot's holiday in the footsteps and lantern calls of where this country tis of thee all began, where we had reserved a room on the 27th floor of the four star 28 floor Sheraton in the fiendishly trendy and inviting Boston Back Bay midtown neighborhood marked to the west by the Charles River, to the north by downtown, and to the south by Fenway Park - home of the Red Sox who were then busy setting a home run record down in Yankee Stadium by sending seven pitches off pinstriped pitching into the stands. In a hundred years no team had accomplished this feat against the legendary Bronx squads. Look it up.
After checking in and grabbing some lunch, we rested a bit before shooting to the top of the Prudential Tower (50th floor, attached by an indoor mall to our hotel), where for seven bucks apiece we could view the entire Boston sprawl through the active gray haze of smog and 95 degree heat and humidity. But see it we did, and can't wait to view all the pictures. We later joined on foot some 700,000 headstrong revelers marching toward the Charles where after an evening of the Boston Pops and other special guests, the thirty minute fireworks display wowed many.
But Betsy was interested, and strangely enough, just as we arrived on foot back in front of the Prudential Tower which would lead back to the hotel, a strong breeze began blowing into the streets off Boston Harbor. The excruciating heat of a mere half hour earlier had vanished.
We decided to plop down on one of the handful of benches there among the modern sculpture installations, soaking up the city and the time. We chatted, and watched quick, pretty people flow across the stones for thirty minutes or so before making it back to the room, but not before Betsy almost ducked me for the hotel bar where the big screen TV had just announced the fireworks were to begin. Not me. I was flustered, fuzzy, and finished. I had to get out of my clothes and horizonstal, still not rested enough after two earlier all-nighters launching RADIO SCENEWASH, my online radio station of which I'll spill more beans later.
So, despite everything, we watched the historic display on television, can you believe it? Boston officials claimed some 700,000 strong had made it to the Charles River Esplanade for this year's festivities, topping the previous high count of a half million with room to spare, and than doubling last year's 300,000 visitors. The big news, echoed various forms of the media, was the influx of travellers from across the nation who had spirited specifically to Boston to toast her as the symbolic cradle of patriotism and freedom that marks this nation's birth.
On the way back, we stopped in Darien, CN for lunch. Quaint? This little nest of quaint is like some fairy tale. Had hot sandwiches at a busy little tavern where the men's restroom was plastered in nudes and other erotica from a bygone era. I asked the wife if she'd had a peculiar potty room experience, and she said no before I told her about the men's decorum. Very strange. And then we were off to Philadelphia where we visited the awe-inspiring Museum of Art, the tiny but delightful Auguste Rodin sculpture gallery, and lastly, the Edgar Allan Poe House, while visiting a friend (Yet Another Steve Taylor) who gave us the play by play tour since all these places are within walking distance of his apartment, although the Poe exhibit is more like a long hike...so we drove. Twas thoughtful of you Richard Waller to call my dear dear Betsy. Something eerie about getting a ring in Philadelphia standing in the EAP museum however. Congratulations on your continued energies. I know you are excited to still be going strong. Keep us informed. I'm tired as tigers with heavy eyelids today, Betsy's at work, but thought I'd let you know I got your note...
Most of this nation's general population of a certain age knows nothing of the struggles and successes of our beloved very first AmericanThomas Paine, Citizen Paine, critic of scroundrels and perfumed highbrows alike, instead we are taught from the overwrought spit-polished images of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, no insult to these men intended, but for the love of liberty, why is the reputation of this very singular mind and heart of the revolution allowed to wither on the vine of American culture?
Long live Citizen Paine! I was told by the Paine cottagemaster that the BBC was planning to cross the pond to film a feature on him. Let's hope so, and let's also bear witness to the desire that the egonomical fox Bill O'Reilly hasn't forever tainted the name of the very author of the American Revolution with his recent attacks on the so-called ultra left Tom Paine web site financed by staunch liberal Bill Moyers, and run by his son...