Friday, August 7, 2009

Morning in Massachusetts, anticipating a trip first east and then west along the coast, started with a tasty brunch at the Miss Worcester. The crowd was memorable; there literally was a guy named Spike and a rotund guy called "Tiny." And the servers surely know the folks at the tattoo place across the road on a first name basis. We filled up on hearty fare as the place filled with locals. Everyone seemed to know each other, and while no one made us feel out of place this crew clearly marked us as outsiders.

An entirely different vibe met us at Sisson's Diner in Middleboro. Nick, the ebullient Greek owner of the place, exploded in emotion and gesticulation with his stories of refurbishing the diner, sanding the wood, uncovering original details, and weathering today's economic downturn (a handwritten note apologizes that increases in food costs require an addition of fifty cents to each menu item). We ordered basics, just enough to merit our places at the counter and an opportunity to enjoy time with a born storyteller. Nick talked about the local kids he "raised" in his kitchen, how he taught them to make pizzas and how he grew to anticipate their homecomings years later. With each memory of his story he'd fact-check with friends sitting at a nearby table with a confident affirmation: "Isn't that right!" Departing, we felt like we were leaving behind an old pal.

The afternoon was spent making our way to nearby Plymouth, expecting little from our visit to the infamous tourist trap. We could hardly complain though; the two-lane road eased along cranberry bogs and colonial style homes, along with plenty of Stars and Eagles (and now Suns, thanks to my recent victory in our new game). The ride was so pleasant that we didn't even mind the moment when we realized that we might be lost. Even better, when Jenny asked for directions we were told that we'd already reached Plymouth. Parking was an adventure, as promised by the guy who confirmed our location, but it's really not that hard. The trick is to remember that most folks overpay the meters, anticipating a longer stay than necessary. They then look at the rock and head out of town. Just get one of those spots. We found a spot with more than an hour left on the meter and saw several others in the same condition.

What can I say about Plymouth Rock? It's a small boulder, smooth and unremarkable except for the date 1620 carved onto its top. Under a stone canopy it's quintessentially underwhelming. I found myself imagining the frustration of a dad planning a three-day trip: "OK kids, we'll dedicate the first day to The Rock, and then´┐Ż" Nearby, a reproduction of the Mayflower awaited, yet I was wary of overpaying for pricey tickets. How nice it was to discover that entry was free (today). We joined the queue and quickly found ourselves on an exhibit whose small size is, in contrast to the rock, impressively small. Just imagining over a hundred souls voyaging across the Atlantic, unsure of their destination, abandoning plans for New York and settling in a place with no surety of success, was awe-inspiring. All the better, the Mayflower II included historical recreationists, most notably women who we'd call puritans (though they explained why the term could be considered offensive) and a sailor who bemoaned the overly strict ethics of his passengers while entrancing Jenny and Vienna with his dashing mustache and bewitching eyes. Shopping ensued, as it always does with this family, and then we headed southwest out of town.

Our next destination was New Bedford's Shawmut Diner, normally a BL (using the terminology for Breakfast and Lunch that helped me organize our itinerary), but open later on Fridays. Jenny dug into the Shepherd's pie, Vienna selected the Greek wrap, and I went for my new diner favorite, fish and chips. While I was a bit bummed that we couldn't stay late enough to see the diner's "Indian" light up in neon majesty, I knew we'd want to head further west to Fall River. Initially I wanted to photograph the now-closed Nite Owl Diner. Can you imagine a more perfect name? Then it was time for an even cooler spectacle, the glowing sign for Al Mac's Diner. There we shared a brownie overload and celebrated the coming of sunset of another day of travel, history, and conversation.

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