I may have developed a controversial opinion. Of all the places we’ve been this year, I…. am not finding New England to be on the top of the list. Maybe as a person I don’t mind it too much, but as a full-time RVer I’ve had more bones to pick with this area than anywhere else in the country.
I think one of the biggest contributing factors to this is the driving. When we got back to Buffalo in June, I swore up and down that the worst drivers in the nation were in Florida and Georgia. I retract that statement fully. In the aforementioned states, the driving is ignorant and annoying (like drifting across three lanes without signaling, for example). But here, these drivers are malicious. New Englanders drive like they do not have the will to live. We were cut off, pulled out in front of, dangerously passed, honked at and nearly run into more times than I could care to count. Their driving is terrifying and probably took several years off my life based on my stress levels during our time there. In Somerville MA, a car behind us laid on its horn when we decided not to drive head-on into oncoming traffic at a stop sign, then swerved to our left and drove around us straight into traffic itself instead. That was over a week ago and I’m still talking about it because of how crazy it was. It was horrendous and I won’t go within 50 miles of Boston in the van probably ever again.
Also, all the major roads have tolls, and they’re insanely expensive, (compared to NY, anyways) especially for a truck with dual wheels like we have. Sometimes we paid 3 to 4 $3+ tolls in a matter of an hour. I think we paid almost $50 in tolls in total in our week in New England.
Overall, Maine actually was wonderful, but I have a couple bones to pick with Portland before I talk about all the awesome stuff there. Firstly, the amount of homeless people in the city was staggering and super depressing. Secondly, the streets are laid out incredibly poorly and not at all friendly to a 20 foot box truck. Third, the following:
Only three times in the last eight months have I ever wished I still lived in an apartment. Once was the very first time our water system sprung a leak, and I was so new to van life and living on the road that it culminated in a lot of frustration and anger before I could fix the problem. The third time was very recently – our drain in our shower started draining very slowly and water from our sink was backing up into it. I had to disassemble part of our waste water system to clear the clog. I have NEVER been so close to vomiting in disgust. The smell… the grey sludge…. the SMELL…. (for the record, I’ve gotten pretty good at odd jobs in the van, and that was no exception – the drain is working perfectly once again).
But the second time was for reasons entirely different than maintenance. We pulled into a Planet Fitness to shower just outside Portland. The gym itself was fine, but the locker rooms were.. abhorrent. Poorly lit, uncleaned, dingy. The women’s showers had doors that didn’t lock, hadn’t been cleaned in god knows how long, other people’s toiletries still sitting on the shelves. Mold on the walls, swaths of wet hair on the floor. The kind of shower where you don’t feel any cleaner after having been in it. It felt like what I imagine a homeless shelter bathroom must be like. And I had a weirdly illuminating moment: I had a gig later, I needed a shower and this place was my only option right now. For a brief moment I sort of did feel homeless. It wasn’t pleasant, though I am surprised it took so long to feel something that’s technically the truth. It wasn’t nearly earth-shattering enough to change my opinion on how we’ve chosen to live recently, but it did make me a little introspective for a while about the social implications of this lifestyle.
This segues nicely into something else Greg and I have been talking about (though unrelated to the Portland Planet Fitness, that event did stiffen my resolve to put these plans into action) – summer of 2019 we’re planning on doing a van remodel. Triple the interior storage, add a second vent, fix the roof, redo the water system, totally remodel the shower; the works. The biggest thing for me is creating a usable shower so we don’t have to rely on gym locations or camp showers, along with more storage to get some of our things (like my bag of clothes that is forever having food dropped into it) off the floor. This is still very much in the preliminary stages, but it’s exciting to think about taking or good van interior and making it great for us.
Now ignore all of that for a minute while I tell you all the good stuff about Portland. It’s this tiny ocean side city in a really gorgeous part of the country that appears to be filled with a combination of tourists, hipsters and seriously sea-worn sailors still working the port. It’s interesting. Once again, the food was paramount in our experience. We had these donuts downtown from a place called The Holy Donut, where they use mashed potatoes as their base rather than flour. They are un-freaking-believable. They don’t taste like potatoes, they’re twice as moist as a regular doughnut but they’re not too rich to enjoy it in its entirety. It’s tied for best doughnut of my life with Voodoo Doughnut in Austin.
We also, of course, had to splurge on some serious seafood. I picked J’s Oyster Bar for its combination of popularity and dive-bar feel, which is often where our most memorable meals come from. This proved to be true once again – this was a top five meal of my entire life (which is saying something). We started with a half dozen raw oysters, something I haven’t had since I returned from France three years ago and absolutely love. Then, we were introduced to streamer clams. These are not the same as the standard little neck or quahog clams you typically buy at the grocery store. These have thinner, more oblong shells, are brownish in color, and have a very different method of consumption. You take the clam out of the shell, and first pull off the tough skin covering the clam’s siphon. Then you swish it around in a small bowl of water that it was steamed in to get the extra sand out. And only then can you dip in butter and eat it. They’re sweeter and more tender than little necks in my opinion, and I want to eat a thousand of them. Finally I had something I’ve always wanted to try: a lobster roll. It did in fact live up to the hype. 10/10 dinner, would spend another whole paycheck on a meal there again.
We had two shows in Maine, one in Portland and one just to the north in Lewiston. Our Portland show had every possibility of being a rough night (our opening act was a trio of pirate-costumed individuals singing sea shanties, which historically does not vibe with our typical style), but we managed to draw a very respectable crowd and ended up having a great night. The same was true in Lewiston, a slow start turned into a solid evening (plus, they fed and drank us thoroughly and I have mad respect for any venue who does so willingly – thank you Guthrie’s!)
After our gigs, with a few days off we decided to head up to Acadia National Park on the eastern coast of Maine. I had managed to snag us a couple nights at two campgrounds on the park grounds, so we had lots of time to explore what is basically a mountain in the ocean. It’s every bit as beautiful as it sounds, even though every day we were there was foggy or overcast. I’d love to go back in the fall or when it’s brilliantly sunny.
We did a small bit of hiking while we were there – we hiked up Gorham Mountain and the adjoining Cadillac Trail (for those who are familiar with the park, no – we didn’t make it to the top of Cadillac mountain for the sunrise, as RVs aren’t allowed to drive up the hill and I was not prepared to hike up a mountain at 3am for that!). But the hike up Gorham treated us to some stunning views nonetheless. Greg hiked up the mountain with his new camera, and it led to some pretty neat shots:
Another fun fact about Acadia – blueberries grow wild in the park, and you’re encouraged to pick and eat them. They’re a lot smaller than store bought blueberries, but incredibly sweet. I personally had a blast finding blueberry bushes on the various trails and chowing down mid-hike.
After Acadia we headed for our gigs in Massachusetts. We did arrive at both our gigs in one piece despite the general driving populations attempt to murder us at every turn. Our gig in Somerville was particularly notable as we played with some really amazing bands that evening (look up Visiting Wine if you’re into the modern pop/folk sound at all). We played in Springfield MA the following night (someone there said to Greg, on finding out we were from Buffalo, “that’s even worse than Springfield!” So apparently, people there haven’t heard that Buffalo is on the rise; also, maybe don’t go to Springfield?) Then we found ourselves looking at almost a week off.
Our absolute favorite thing to do when we have nowhere to be for a few days is to find a cheap campground with electric hookups and just hang out in the van. We’ve really gotten comfortable in this space, but that’s especially true when we don’t have to worry about running out of power. We’ve been running like crazy pretty much all summer, so we found an affordable state park west of Albany to spend just shy of a week at, kicking back and taking a bit of a break.
This break paid off handsomely; in the reprieve from the chaos of constantly moving, I had a chance to work with several months worth of half written lyrics that desperately needed completing. We put together four new songs in two days, and some of it feels like my best work in a long, long time. I’m very excited to start debuting these and gearing up for our sophomore release (also summer 2019 if all goes well).
In the midst of all this, the van has been doing some funky things mechanically. Our engine temperature gauge currently rises quickly to the max soon after starting the engine but always falls back to normal one time every drive, the various rattling and metallic clunking sounds in the front passenger side are acting up in the chillier (sub 70’s) weather, and something just might be up with the back breaks again. With the amount of money I put into this in July, I’m very disappointed to be dealing with all this so soon (if anyone knows a great truck mechanic in Buffalo who wants a project this December, give me a call). I intend to replace the thermostat to hopefully resolve one of these issues, but as someone who’s entire knowledge of cars comes from things I’ve read on the internet, it’s hard to say if that’s actually the problem. Driving has been an awfully stressful activity lately, and I’m hoping we can get things back on track sooner than later. But you know what they say about the devil you know, I suppose.
Yesterday we left the campground to make a necessary pilgrimage as a musician hanging out in this area of New York State. Bethel NY was less than an hour from our hideaway for the past week, and unbeknownst to many this town is home to the site of the Woodstock Music Festival, rather than the town that bears the same name. We spent the better part of the day walking the grounds and checking out the museum – nothing makes you want to be a better musician more than watching movies about some of the greatest of all time performing all in the same space, and knowing it happened where you’re standing.
Today we have a gig in Kingston NY and then another set of days off that are already filling up with plans. We have a handful of NY dates to go in August, and a few more in early September before we start to make our way south. It’s weird to be already running into some familiar places just six weeks since we left Buffalo. But as usual, time will fly and I’ll be writing to you from a state I’ve never been to in no time at all.