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Trip 22 -- NYC-Boston Walk
Day 9: Uxbridge to Milford
Today: 26508 steps/20.43 km/12.69 mi/4h 4m
"What are you thinking?" my body asks when I start moving this morning. I'm not hung over, despite having had a White Russian, a Tito's with soda and cranberry juice (OK, two), and a chocolate martini with dinner. I eat the beef sandwich, which has survived the trek from Woodstock and retained its flavor, though I wish it had a bit more spice than the horseradish I added. Or cheese.
My calves are feeling the effects of almost 200 miles in eight days. The little toe is putting up with the trip. It features a couple of colors normally not seen outside Jackson Pollock paintings, but I tell myself it's the lingering adhesive from the Band-Aid (the toe sticks briefly to the sheet when I get out of bed) and will return to normal.
The first hour coincides with this week's episode of "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me." Weetabix, the producer of a virtually tasteless British breakfast cereal that my dad and I grew fond of during a trip in the late 1980s, has conducted a survey and concluded that people who eat peanut butter in the morning claim to be the best lovers. I learn that the recommended action one should take upon encountering a polar bear is to distract it by disrobing. And a man in Pennsylvania was easily caught after stealing a pizzeria's tip jar because he had just filled out a job application -- and left his backpack at the scene, with his identification in it.
The first 500 steps stretch my body into gear, and then my body reverts from limp to normal posture. Uxbridge is pretty and has some curious sites. At step 3,000 is a store called "A Touch of Magick -- Metaphysical Gift Shoppe." The red Cornet John Farnum House, dating from around 1715, was the site of the first town meeting in Uxbridge, which was incorporated in 1727 after separating from nearby Mendon (itself 60 years older; a cornet is a defunct low-level rank of military officer). The Stanley Woolen Mill building was an old textile factory next to the Blackstone River; it's now an antique shop signed "Primitive Goods."
I'm now on Route 16, and I know I'm getting close to the end of my journey because Route 16 heads northeast to within a couple miles of my parents' home in Newton, where I'll stay tomorrow night. Today is just a short journey of 12 miles, and I look to break it with a lunch stop.
George's Surf 'n Turf looks fun and people are already arriving, but it's too early; my mind prefers lunch after the midway point. The Miss Mendon Diner, with a fascinating mix of old-time American and Bavarian typography, is hidden among car dealers off the main road, but it's revealed to be under renovation. I should stop in at the Imperial Gas and Country Store, but I'm too focused on progress.
As I approach Milford, I pass by the rail yard at Hopedale, part of the defunct Grafton and Upton Railroad, which dates from the 1870s but hasn't seen passenger service in almost a century. The line is being restored and may eventually be incorporated with Boston's commuter-rail system, albeit at a typically bureaucratic pace (though to be fair, Boston has added a lot of commuter rail since I moved to New York). I cross Route 140, which used to bring me to my piano lessons way down in New Bedford.
An old-fashioned diner really is what I want for lunch. Jr's has "Open" signs all over the place, but the one at the entrance says "Closed" and that's the one that counts. Johnny Jacks claims to be serving until three; the door is open, and I snap a photo of the building to capture the end of the first half of today's journey.
"We're closed!" the proprietor says, somewhat cheerfully.
"Oh, really?" I say with a tone of disappointment.
"Are you a surveyor or something? I saw you taking pictures and writing notes."
"I'm walking from New York to Boston. This was going to be today's lunch. But I guess it won't be."
There are plenty of options ahead, though. I find a Brazilian bakery -- Milford has a sizable Portuguese and Brazilian population -- and have an intriguing-looking giant slice of something that looks like a quiche but contains the ingredients of a pizza. I also have a beef croquette and a guaraná, a soda made from the fruit of the same name.
I have less than an hour to go, and most of it is on a bike trail. It takes me past the backs of people's houses and along a shopping center and then deposits me right at the boxy Doubletree hotel, just before it passes under Route 495.
The receptionist has a long explanation of what's open and what's not at the hotel; I wish it had been a podcast and I could have started it around Hopedale. He gives me two Doubletree cookies and a bag containing two water bottles, peanuts, Chex Mix, and microwavable popcorn (my having a particular Hilton credit card has earned me this snack spread). The breakfast has been reduced to grab-and-go items, and the pool is open but requires reservations. I commit to the 5:00 group, which gives me time for a half-hour nap and a shower.
I'm the only one at the pool. It feels about 50 degrees cooler than I want it to be. I make it halfway in and almost get accustomed to the temperature, but I can't muster the enthusiasm to get fully submerged. What I really should do, I decide, is soak my body, and particularly my feet, in warm water. I haven't taken a bath by myself in this millennium, but nothing sounds more appealing.
I look for a movie on TV that will be easy to follow from the bathroom without my being able to see it. I find one and don't recognize the actors, but then again, I see so few films that I confuse Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio and think anyone who mentions Ed Norton is really talking about Art Carney. Once I hear the characters' names I type them into Google and it spits out that I am listening to "Save the Last Dance."
The movie fools me. I'm in the bath for about five minutes when a baby starts crying. That is absolutely the worst sound in the world that doesn't involve the collision of vehicles or bad oboe playing. The initial whimper of a baby is like rain or turbulence -- it may seem quietly sweet at first, but it rouses my fear that it's going to get much, much worse. This time it's a complete cry, and I'm stuck in the tub without a mute button. Fortunately the scene is short.
Dinner is in a nearby shopping center, at the Red Heat Tavern. There are two cocktail specials: a Blueberry Squeeze and Parking Lot Punch. The Blueberry Squeeze, the menu says, is a combination of "Bully Goy gin, tonic water, housemade blueberry rosemary syrup."
My waiter introduces himself as Matt. I say I've never heard of this gin before. Bully Boy is a Boston distillery.
Matt informs me that the Bully Boy gin is the restaurant's proprietary blend.
I point to the menu; that's not what's printed. "Oh, that's a typo," he says, but he doesn't understand why it's so funny.
"Am I allowed to have this, as a Jewish person?" I ask.
"Well, if you want to."
Someone in back gives him an explanation. He brings me the cocktail, which is well-balanced and refreshing. "She's fixing the menu right now," he says.
I also have a Parking Lot Punch, which is predictably sweet. I'm craving some leafy greens, but the entire list of starters consists of tater tots, fried pickles, wings, chicken tenders, nachos, and skillet cornbread. All the salads are listed under the heading "Big Greens & Bowls."
"Do you do any of the salads as a half-portion to start?" I ask Matt.
"No, we don't. It would be nice if we did."
I start with a side dish of Brussels sprouts and bacon, and I order a burger with cheddar and barbecue sauce for my main.
While I wait, I read an e-mail message from Jodi. She and Jim, with whom I'd enjoyed those dinners way back in Stratford and Hamden, have taken a long walk around a lake near their place in Trumbull, and I inspired her to write up the trip. Her report contrasts their traveling goals -- Jodi is about the destination, Jim about the journey -- and has bits of personal and national history: Jodi used to catch pollywogs in the river as a child, and they have in their home a quartz arrowhead found in their front yard that dates from the time of inhabitation by the indigenous people.
I return to the Doubletree, eager to trace their route on a map. This is my last night in a hotel on this trip; tomorrow I'll arrive at my parents' house after a family dinner, and on Monday I'll walk the relatively short segment into Boston. The car dealerships of New Rochelle feel like months ago. I wonder how Leesha's 41st year is going. And I hope the new trooper in Chaplin didn't go looking for me on Route 198.