Monday, July 12, 2010

Eugene O'Neil vs. Michael Scott

We headed out without a plan, driving without a plan, and not really getting anywhere without a plan.

With a destination in mind, today was planned as being nothing more than a driving day. The main purpose was just to cover ground. I'm not really up for that, but with Katherine's dislikeament of our Woonsocket excursion, I thought it was best to just keep on heading on. But then, lo, a sign came into view. And the sign read, “New London, next exit.” I'd been to old London, and that was a pretty fantastic place. This NEW London must be even better. It seemed like a reasonable hypothesis, at any rate.

But how... how to get to New London without fear of it containing nothing, and upsetting my travel companion?

“Hey, I think we should get gas,” she spoke. A message from whatever divinity governs road trips. Hermes (Mercury) seems to make the most sense. So lets go with that. Her voice came as a message from Hermes, vipers copulating on his caducecus.

“Why, yes, what a lovely idea that is,” I replied. Though probably not in those words.

Off the highway I sped, well assured that even if the town turned out to hold nothing worthwhile, I would not be blamed for an experience gone awry, because – after all – we were just here to get gas. Anything else? That was just a bonus.

Actually getting the gas required twisting and turning through a number of streets. I saw a number of parking spots along the way, and was determined to make my way back to them to check the area out. It was some sort of sailing fest this weekend. A number of roads were closed down, and all sorts of activities and happenings were around. Not only that, but I saw a music shop. This could be my chance to pick up a ukulele.

But – focus – first, the gas. Filling to the top, we paid, and I started to drive back to the roads with the parking spots. But wait, why am I one level up, above the other roads? And what is this – why am I on the other side of the road barricades? A few odd turns later and I was headed back in the right direction again. But in the time it had taken me to get lost, the spots had all filled. Of course, one opened up just as I drove by. Hurrying around the block, and cutting through a parking lot to avoid a light, I was on aim at last to the spot – only three cars ahead of me. Fingers crossed, fingers crossed. Silver van? Passed it up. Black Jeep? Also drove by. Red truck. Red truck... no! The red truck pulled in, and again we were without parking.

Fine, whatever, that's it – I give up. Time to leave New London. I'm sure it's very lovely, with lots of wonderful qualities, but I gave it a go, and I failed. The potential ukulele haunting me as I drove away. But – on my way to the highway on ramp Hermes choose to smile on us once more. A brown sign with an arrow (sure sign of a local American attraction) pointed the way to Eugene O'Neil's house.

For those unfamiliar with American literature, or who some how missed this in high school, he is the author of Long Day's Journey into night. I could not – in good conscience – pass up the opportunity to see it. Also, it would be a one up chip in my pocket when other English teachers get snooty.

As we rolled up, the sign outside also claimed that this house was the setting for A Long Day's Journey into Night. Extra 1up points. “Ahh yes, but can you really understand the play without having actually been there? Walked around the very location, seen the rooms, the staircase, the town in which everything was brought into being?” I mean – of course you can. You don't have to have visited a place, or experienced something for your thoughts about it to be valid – but again, this is just if people start getting – and I say it again, snooty.

Now, the sign said there would be tours, but not until noon. It was now eleven. And remember, this was a driving day. We wanted to press on. But I could not pass this up. A quick trip to the O'Neil theatre centre, learning all the days plays would be far too late to stick around for, and then realizing that all beaches were private in this area, we headed back to the house. Outside, on the brick wall, we sat – reading more Scotty P.

When the old married couple showed up, relieving us of our seven dollars each, we stepped inside. Though there were days when no one showed up at all, today there was another pair – a professor and student working on his Masters. Also, a young family with thirty two year old California mommy, and her three kids ranging from thirteen to four. Husband had to wait outside with their screaming kid proclaiming it was too hot inside. Never mind that there was air conditioning there, and nothing but hot hot heat outdoors. Were it my child, in he would be. Once you bargain with them, it's over. Also, I wouldn't want to sit in the sun with someone complaining about the cool interior of a centrally cooled homestead.

All the rooms were set as they had been described in the play. Notes were taken, and the original sketches were adhered to. The room where the drug addicted mother paced back and forth – right above the sitting room where the family spent most of their time. Her haunting and disruptive footsteps, just as they would have been.

The brother's room, and the view overlooking the sea – beautiful today, but no doubt a depressing sight as winter's gray months took hold. And Eugene's room – complete with the desk he used many times throughout his life. While there are many pieces in this house that were not original, this important artifact was pure. And, if that professor would quit leaning over, sticking his butt out at us all, to caress it – well then, I might actually be able to take a picture of it.

The tour guides were a wee bit wacky, dotty as Katherine writes, pointing out things such as boxes by saying, “this is a box.” That's it – no further explanation. Someone asked about the basement. Nothing was mentioned. Seeing the door beneath the stairs not really locked, I turned the deadbolt to peek below. Sometimes you just have to act.

Leaving, I came clean that I wanted to come to New London to explore – and look at the unknown treasure we stumbled upon. I think I'll have more leeway with future diversions.

Still – we were now hours behind, with miles to go. Back in the car we pressed on once more. Our final destination for the night? Scranton, PA.

Scranton – for those out of touch with popular culture – is the home of Michael Scott – paper salesman, first class. He is a fictional character from the American version of The Office, played by Steve Carell. Was it important that I saw Scranton? Well – yes – I very much wanted to say I'd been here. Did it help that there was a 39.99 motel in the area? Yes. Yes it did.

Checking in, and learning a great deal about the history of India, we tossed our bags on the floor, and headed out into Downtown Scranton. It was just past seven o'clock on a Sunday night, when we rolled up. The sun, an hour from setting, was casting an ethereal glow on all the buildings – combining with the beautiful architecture to create something quite special.

Getting out of the car and walking a few blocks, we started to notice something. It wasn't obvious at first, but the more we wandered the more we realized, we were the only people around.

Cars were parked at the side of the road, and the city seemed to be its normal self, but it was completely unpopulated. An eerie feeling began to descend. A noise from behind. A loud moaning, a groan more, and turning we saw an old man stumbling towards us slowly, jerking from side to side. We carried on. Around the next corner another man stumbled out of a door way towards us, we side steppe him. When he and the one behind me, loud groans and shouts – a primitive language – could be heard. We carried on, trying to take in the Electric city (home to the first electric street car system) but could not shake the empty streets, the stumbling slow creatures, and the absence of life.

This was a town overrun, and unoccupied.

Slipping into our car, we still didn't know what to make of it. But there was no time to worry. We were hungry. Dead hungry. Hungry for...


Alfredo's Pizza Cafe, as mentioned on The Office. Yes, sure, the pizza was nearly twenty dollars (nineteen after tax and tip) and that was a lot – but when would we be back? Of course, when we finally saw the beast – the giant bigger than extra large pie (not their largest either) – it didn't seem so bad. And eating broccoli and sun dried tomatoes? Also a treat.

The pizza was delicious, and the restaurant was not all that bad, except for the terrible chairs, the waitress who had never eaten there before, and the tv showing Extreme Home Makeover – WWE edition. You know what, maybe it's best you just order for pick up.

Paying for the pie entirely in one dollar bills, we stifled school girl giggles as we headed back to the car, back to the motel, and back to sleep.

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