I drove North from New Jersey over the George Washington bridge, through the Bronx, Connecticut and Rhode Island on my way to Massachussets. They are not compelling parts of the USA, although Rhode Island, officially "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" has the the longest name of any state in the USA. I hadn't sorted out anywhere to stay or even what my plan was except that I was driving to Houston to meet up with my family, and I would visit Cape Cod - a destination that had eluded me in many trips to New England.
I checked out a few places to stay, hoping that I could catch a deal by turning up on the doorstep and negotiating a rate. But no, it doesn't seem to work that way - even at 9pm places preferred to keep a room empty than discount. Indeed the reverse seemed to be the case, and the rates were far higher than I could get on Bookings.com.
So on the first night of my adventure, I drove until I had run out of motels and road and parked up on the beach on the very tip of Cape Cod, beyond Provincetown, with nothing between me and Europe except the Atlantic Ocean.
Cole Porter claimed "cold Cape Cod clams 'gainst their wish do it" in the song "Let's Do It". I don't know about the clams, abundantly on sale, but I must admit to not falling in love with Cape Cod. It is pleasant enough, with some charming villages and beaches, and I suspect it is a welcome retreat for urbanites in the hot and humid North East summer. Now, with Labor Day passed and grey skies, the peninsula is quiet, and the people who live there, because they like it that way, go about their business.
However Provincetown, on the tip of New England, is the right place to begin my first great North American road trip, because it was in Provincetown harbour that the Pilgrim Fathers anchored when they first arrived in the New World, or at least what was a new world for the Europeans who were about to recalibrate the history of the continent.
I always wondered why Americans celebrate Columbus Day, since he never actually got as far as what is now the USA. Indeed never even knew he had got to the Americas at all. The arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers seems to fit in more with an American sense of when their great nation began, and tradition says they landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620, and there is a rock to prove it. Plymouth is a pleasant town and over a decent cup of coffee and a pretty reasonable bagel in Kiskadee Coffee Co I booked myself in at a motel in Williamsburg, in the Berkshires - an area which is overwhelmed with tourists when the fall colours appear on the trees but makes for a pleasant drive off-season once you escape the traffic round Boston.
One of my intended destinations en route was Concord. This played another important role in the making of modern America, because here the American War of Independence really kicked off with a successful armed defence by the settlers against the Red Coats in 1775 just outside of Concord. The event has an almost mythical status, made famous in Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride" and Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Concord Hymn" with the comment about "the shot heard around the world".
Concord is a lovely town with some stunningly elegant houses and more history and literary associations than you can take in with a short visit. However the sense of history really comes to life when you walk over the North Bridge in the Minute Man National Historical Park and contemplate how momentous the events all those years ago would have seemed. You won't have long to wonder, because there are an army of elderly volunteers who seek out visitors to talk to outside the busy periods. I was to find this a feature of a lot of places I visited, retirees who choose to do something useful with their days and often display an astonishing detailed knowledge of their subject and an almost religious affinity with the historical characters they describe.
The weather outlook in the North-East seems dreary and I decide not to head further into New England or upstate New York. After Massachusetts, I will start heading South. I drive through the drizzly but beautiful Berkshires countryside until I arrive at my motel in Williamsburg. Ready for a well-earned shower.
Next stop: Pennsylvania.