Sunday, August 9, 2009

This was a day I'd dreaded -- with some good cause it turned out: the last full day of our Diner Tour. We awoke relatively early, Jenny being enthusiastic to get the most out of this day. I'm gratified that my family has enjoyed this trip, the result of months of planning. Sadly though, I concluded that the day's length of travel, especially the fact that we needed to get close to Philadelphia to catch our flight tomorrow, required that we jettison two diners from our final day's itinerary. Jenny urged that we push ahead and finish the whole thing anyway. So we avoided the easy interstate and took the narrower path toward Newington, CT, past Cindy's Diner whose animated sparkling neon sign demands a return one evening, to briefly visit the Olympia Diner before heading south to Middleton for a photo of the thronging crowd waiting for seats at O'Rourke's. Our goal afterward was Abbot's Lobster in the Rough in Noank, requiring a sharp turn eastward once more.

As soon as we reached the interstate we hit traffic and were quickly stuck in a dead-stop. You know, I read how AAA estimated that 1 out of every 100 U.S. road miles is under active construction this summer (Reuters article link), and I think we saw a healthy percentage of them this day. At least I suppose I did. We saw lots of construction signs but we tended to shift off the interstate and onto Highway 1 before gaining proof that our stop was related to some rational cause. Surely many of the delays were also caused by rubber-necking after an accident or when someone was pulled over by police, sometimes by overcompensation to the rain that fell in light bursts, and Jenny reminded me that many of the cars represented weekend travelers finishing vacations of their own. No matter, I lowered my head toward the wheel and inwardly proclaimed that we would reach Noank at noon or midnight, but reach it we would. Eventually we found our way past assorted speed demons, road boulder slowpokes, and single-lane left-turners, smiling to discover that the line at the famed lobster shack was pretty reasonable for a Sunday afternoon in high summer.

Was it worth it? Put it this way: The view of sailboats bobbing in the harbor and the feeling of happy people being just where they wanted to be, some even sharing bottles of wine on the tables outside, was truly a treat. And yes the crab, tuna, and lobster rolls we shared were pretty good. But Red's Eats up in Wiscasset maintains its reputation (to me, at least) as the home of the best lobster roll in New England. Returning to the road, we soon concluded our lunch with a visit to Old Saybrook for sundaes and impossibly thick hot fudge at the James Gallery and Soda Fountain, following the recommendation of Vienna who found this classic parlor for us.

Even though the weather was still pretty lousy we then stopped at Guilford to visit a town green said to be New England's largest. Upon our arrival we found a festival of Jewish music and culture in full swing, so we walked the paths to enjoy a relaxing break from the traffic, digging a band advertising its affinity for Kabbalah by playing jazzy fusion tunes that garnered no more than polite head-nods from most of the audience. Walking around the square we then dropped by a local bookstore and loaded up with more luggage stuffers (I can't imagine how we'll get our bags into the plane) before pouring back onto the frazzled highway.

Our goal was a place called Super Duper Weenie World in Fairfield, despite the fact that no one in the car could eat another bite. But when it comes to a place known as building some of the best hot dogs in America, well, attention must be paid. Jogging back and forth from interstate to surface streets as traffic demanded, we fretted that we'd get to Weenie World (I just love saying that name) after closing time, finally arriving with 15 minutes to spare. As I tucked into Chicago Style and Dixie Style dogs, the place became packed with about 15 more hungry folks. A fellow even called from the interstate in New York, asking when they close. "Five minutes, dude," was the reply. What a meal! Though truthfully I must admit that Vienna and Jenny were underwhelmed. Still we had to celebrate: Our diner tour was over.

We've survived an adventure from Philly through Montreal and back through two-lane roads and winding streets to this point. We aim to break past the New York metroplex and settle in somewhere in mid-New Jersey in a couple more hours, anticipating our return tomorrow. In the morning we'll fulfill our promise to the owner of Claremont's Daddypops Tumble Inn Diner and visit her dad's diner in Hatboro, PA. Then we'll return to the airport and to our regular lives, a world where fruit pie does not constitute a food group. The rains have cleared and the sun has begun to set in New York, glowing red and hanging low over the horizon. We're heading west, our trip now over, but my mind drifts back to the roads we've traveled, living a fantasy of diners that sell more than a meal. In the words of that old commercial that floats in and out of memory, I can't believe we ate the whole thing.

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