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Trip 22 -- NYC-Boston Walk

Day 4: Stratford to Hamden

Today: 43490 steps/36.42 km/22.63 mi/7h 1m
Total: 127011 steps/139.48 km/86.67 mi/25h 56m

My mind wants an early start; my body wants sleep. I wake up at the Quality Suites and see that the clock on the microwave oven says 8:03. I have no idea whether it's accurate, but it's light out and I feel as though I have enough energy to start moving.

I realize that I'm hung over. Did I have that much last night? A couple of glasses of wine with dinner, two little glasses of punch at the party. I downed four cups of water before bed. Why is my head smarting so much?

The Quality Suites offers a free breakfast. I don't usually eat anything before noon, but maybe some juice and a few bites of something will take the edge off last night's aftereffects. I pack up and head downstairs, where I find a gloomy unlit breakfast room and a family picking at the meager offerings. The spread has been scaled back in pandemic times, and it's especially unappetizing: a few dinky bagels, one doughnut, toast, and oranges and apples. It looks like the non-union hospitality spread at an amateur film shoot.

The family has claimed the toaster, and I don't feel like dealing with an apple or orange, so I gulp down two cups of sugary cranberry juice. A handwritten sign is taped to a chair: "Please! Prepare your Breakfast and Leave as soon as you can. Thanks."

I do. It's 8:58. I've finally started walking before nine, though I'd like to move that up even further. Across the street, they're taking down the tent from Leesha's birthday party. I hope she's feeling well.

It's delightful walking weather, 61 degrees, with the sun trying to penetrate a thin layer of clouds. Ferry Boulevard takes me past Outriggers, which I had mentioned as a dinner possibility, but Jodi says isn't worth the cost -- you're paying for the view of the Housatonic River. Soon I cross the river, and I'm in the Devon section of Milford. A sign points toward the East Coast Greenway, "Linking Cities Maine to Florida," and I start contemplating.

I'm back on the Post Road. On the left is Liberty Rock, a lookout site during the Revolutionary War. It used to be called "Hog Rock"; with an ambitious imagination, it resembles a hog. And what I really want for breakfast is a Chinese pork bun. But instead it's more car dealerships. U.S. 1 must be the best road to drive on between the Canadian border and Key West. If your car fails, just step outside anywhere and get another one.

I leave U.S. 1 where Connecticut Route 162 veers off to the right. At the intersection are the Lobster Hut truck and the Milford Diner; clearly I could be set for a day there. A few minutes up 162 are Devine's Bagels & Cafe and Mr. Mac's Canteen. I pop into Devine's and order one of their daily specials, a $5 bagel with pastrami, egg, and cream cheese: a hopeful antidote to the mild persistence in my forehead. It takes a while, but it works.

I'm on Route 162 for a couple of hours. At the Sundae House (today's step 13,000), an enormous sign celebrates, "Guess What It Must Be Spring We're Open." I reach a residential area and all is quiet except for someone practicing the piano in a white house. I can't make out the melody, but it sounds like a movie theme, in three-four time. The music is steady and unhurried and I decide my pace should match its calmness. The sidewalk winds uphill and around a building, but it's trustworthy and leads me where it should. At the intersection of Eels Hill Road, an ancient-looking carriage or plow is parked outside.

Route 162 is hearteningly short on chain eateries. The Dogtown food shack looks like an ideal lunch spot, but it's too early. Besides, I know where I'm going to eat already: the food trucks on Long Wharf in New Haven. They're impossible to miss from the highway as you drive or ride by on the way to or from New York, but the bus isn't going to stop there and even if you're in a car, all you can think about is transitioning between interstates 91 and 95. So you admire them and think, "Someday I'll have to have lunch there." And then you zoom by as quickly as you can.

Everyone to whom I mention the trucks tells me this. Either it's "They're wonderful; it's amazing what you find there" or "I know! I've always wanted to try them." But Eels Hill is still a good eight miles away, so I press on.

I reach the section of Milford known as Woodmont. A young man is sitting on the lawn, his legs stretched into the sidewalk. "Hello," I say. "How are you?"

"I'm waiting for my ride," he says. "It's coming at twelve-fifteen or twelve-thirty."

It's 11:45. "You've got a half-hour. It's a beautiful day. Cheers."

Shortly I come to Oyster River Beach, where a family is bathing. I consider a detour along Ocean Avenue, but I see that homes block the water view from the road, and the extra steps won't be worth it. I stay on Route 162, heading inland, where it becomes Jones Hill Road.

It's a long stretch of houses, almost an hour, but the birds are cheerful and there's an occasional train hoot in the distance. Some of the mailboxes are artfully painted. A public bus runs along the route, but in the bus shelters, the benches face the houses, not the road. How do people see when the bus is coming?

I reach West Haven and leave Route 162. Outside a store a speaker is playing "Friends in Low Places." It feels like a welcome home. The Long Wharf food trucks seem impossible to reach from New Haven itself, separated from the city by Interstate 95, but they're easy access from West Haven. The continuation of Elm Street takes me across the West River and deposits me on a footpath heading toward the Long Wharf Nature Preserve.

This is a delightful bonus: For ten minutes I get to walk the sandy shore, stepping across tiny footbridges and looking out for horseshoe crabs. This is reclaimed land, filled in around 70 years ago with sediment from the harbor to facilitate the movement of ships into New Haven's port. An ecosystem was born on this new land.

I pick my way along the path, squishing reeds. I startle a heron, and it heads off toward the highway. A few minutes later, I'm scouring the food trucks for lunch.

There are about 20 of them. They're overwhelmingly Mexican, with a couple of Cuban, one Indian, and one serving hotdogs. Behind them are an almost equal number of portable toilets. I've been walking for five hours and downed two bottles of sparkling water on Jones Hill Road, but all of the toilets are locked. They're not for the public.

One of the trucks advertises shrimp cocktail, and that will hit the spot. In Mexico I found extreme pleasure in sitting down to a ceviche or cocktail filling a glass that could fit a human head. This truck, signed simply as "Cemitas Poblanas -- Cóctel de Camarón," doesn't disappoint. The cocktail is $10 and comes in a tall cup whose depth would inspire one of those silly Italian words used at Starbucks for its sizes, and it's loaded with shrimp, tomato sauce, avocado, and cilantro. It's topped with slices of lime.

I bring it down to the shore and sit on the rocks. I have to eat it before the gulls do. The scene is full of people enjoying their meals, shooing away (or tossing bread at) seabirds, and, presumably, wondering where they're supposed to pee. The shrimp cocktail is fantastic, the horchata refreshing but short on cinnamon.

New Haven is one of those cities I've been to many times but have no idea where anything is. That's partially because I always seem to approach it from a different direction and by a different means of transportation. In college my Harvard Glee Club would have concerts with the Yale Glee Club, and we'd come down from the north by car or bus, see the beautiful university campus, and eat in the oddly frenzied cafeteria. A few years ago I'd come up from New York by train and play some auditions for the Yale Repertory Theatre, and all I remember is that there was a noodle shop a few doors down from the audition room and that the city is a hell of a long walk from the main train station. I'd disembark and aim between two parking lots, then see where I was when I found a road and hope for the best.

So I have visions of two very specific spots in New Haven, nowhere near each other, and nowhere near Long Wharf. I find the north access under the highway and make my way past Sally's Apizza, which a friend told me I should visit (food recommendations are the exception to the no-advice-requested mantra of trip planning). I've eaten, but I'd be happy for a slice of something wonderful. But there's a line, and they won't sell a single slice anyway.

New Haven is a much nicer place than its reputation suggests. There are fun-looking eateries, beautiful old New England homes (some with round towers), the oozing intellect of Yale, fine museums, a few parks, and that waterfront. It's all relatively compact and yet I still couldn't tell you how to get from one to another. I pass street names I remember well from ages ago -- Trumbull, Olive, Wooster, Temple -- and while I remember today that Sally's is at the corner of Olive and Wooster, I'm sure that in a week all the names will be a blur. New Haven is just one of those cities.

Fortunately my route is direct: I merely have to find Whitney Avenue and walk it for an hour and a half to reach my hotel. The avenue is named for Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin and a developer of the assembly line and the concept of interchangeable parts, which resulted in improved production of muskets around the turn of the 19th century. The site of his old firearms factory is on the Mill River, next to the avenue that bears his name.

I check into the Clarion Suites, just beyond the Wilbur Cross Parkway in the town of Hamden. One of the receptionists has bold arm tattoos and wears an AC/DC T-shirt.

"A grandmother has a twenty-four-year-old burger from McDonald's in her house," he says. "She says it hasn't rotted. What could it be made of?"

I'm not sure I want to know.

Jodi and Jim have offered to meet me again for dinner. They drive up from Trumbull and we eat at Eli's on Whitney. The talk turns to cars. I mention my dad's red '66 Ford Mustang, stolen in the '70s, and Jim tells me of another stolen Mustang from that time. It had been taken off the lot and recovered, but the dealer didn't want it anymore because it had been driven. However, it had a special 350 engine although the body marked it as containing the usual 289. When a driver of a Chevy Camaro with a 305 engine would pull up next to it at a red light, they'd power ahead on green and the Mustang would zoom off, leaving the Camaro's driver in disbelief.

We start with guacamole, which Jodi criticizes for its lack of cilantro, garlic, and lime juice, but we all enjoy our mains: Jodi a breaded macaroni and cheese with Cajun shrimp, Jim and I a crusted salmon with lemon-marinara sauce. And we have peanut-butter pie for dessert -- there are few more perfect combinations than peanut butter and chocolate. I've eaten well today.

And judging by the bumps around my ankles, so have southwest Connecticut's mosquitoes.

Go on to day 5