Monday, August 3, 2009

Today included some misfortune but was still pretty wonderful. We began with a visit to the Tilt'n Diner in Tilton, New Hampshire. I'd not been too excited about this place, having read about its fifties-ification (you know, Marilyn Monroe posters, 45s on the walls, that sort of thing), but actually the Titl'n is pretty cool. For one thing, they have boxes of old magazine advertisements for sale at the entrance, and as an ephemera collector I think that's swell. More importantly the food is terrific. I had my first pot pie in ages, filled with tasty carrots, peas, and chunky chicken topped with crispy crust. Jenny and Vienna added some plums from a roadside stand across the parking lot to their meals and we all left happy, driving north to Lincoln to check out Clark's Trading Post.

Only then did some bad luck strike our trip. As we were departing the car, the camera somehow ended up on the pavement. One quick test and we knew: expensive repairs would be required to take pictures with that device again. This was one of those tests of patience and long-term thinking. It's just a thing after all, but I was pretty pissed and I wanted to get past this problem right away. So, after concluding that no camera stores were nearby, we drove south in search of a somewhat distant Wal-Mart to get a replacement. We anticipated a quick turnaround but got stuck in traffic and then at the counter of a "photo expert" who was, to be kind, less than knowledgeable. We got an overpriced snapshot digital model that promised little in the way of quality. Still, we returned to Clark's, determined to have a good day.

Clark's Trading Post has been around in various permutations since 1928; it's a mini-amusement park worth at least a half-day visit. The centerpiece is a bear show, the very thought of which made me feel uneasy. How do we know that these animals aren't mistreated for silly touristic pleasure? Well, we don't know exactly. But the folks there spent a lot of time explaining how three generations of Clark family members have dedicated their lives to ensuring that the animals are well fed, humanely trained, and ensured a longer lifespan than experienced by their cousins in the wild.

So on faith we committed to enjoying a show of cheesy well-worn puns and majestic animals tossing balls through hoops. It's all a bit guilt-inducing (YouTube video), but we did appreciate the chance to get close to the black bears. Oh, here's a hint for anyone planning to visit Clark's: arrive at the bear enclosure a half-hour before the show; seats fill up fast. Also, want to shoot video? Get on the second level for a less obstructed view.

Of course there's much more to see at Clark's. In fact right after the show we rode a train around the park, only to be assaulted by the famed Wolfman (YouTube video)! Actually he's a miner (I never did make sense of why he's called a "wolfman") who was apparently upset about the threat of us jumping his claim to a substance called "unobtainium." I say apparently because the guy's wireless microphone kept shorting out, leaving him sounding somewhat impotent as he raged at us, shaking his fists in blind fury, without making a sound for seconds at a time. Following each period of shouting, the Wolfman got into a car and raced ahead of us to shake his fists some more and fire a rifle and even some bombs at us (helpfully on both sides of the train to allow for easier picture taking). Throughout the ordeal, the train's host would encourage us to make the miner angrier and angrier. At one point I apologized to an old man about obstructing his view while shooting a photograph with our new crappy camera, but he smiled and assured me that he's seen this show dozens of times. Following our ride through Wolfman country we rode Segways (a New Hampshire export), experienced a creepy "rotating house," made candles, and even checked out old-timey nickelodeons, one showing a racy striptease via hundreds of flipping cards. Our last stop, following family custom, was a lengthy visit to the gift shop.

As the shadows grew longer with the approach of sunset we drove the Kancamagus Trail from Lincoln to Conway, said to be New England's prettiest meander, and made a brief pilgrimage to Maine's Lynchville Sign (a goofy reminder of the many cities nearby that are named after countries) before grabbing a motel room in Bethel. Arriving as dusk turned to darkness we normally would have taken a walk through town or settled into an evening of reading and writing, but Jenny and I were determined: We spent the evening researching cameras, set to buy a new one tomorrow.

All text copyright Andrew Wood.
Photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood.