The Fifty States: Massachusetts to New Jersey


Continuing my record of impressions of the fifty states, based on a lifelong journey that ended in early October in South Dakota.

Massachusetts: Several trips to Boston, a week trolling around Cape Cod, various stops around the ring road. People may tell you, “Never drive in New York City.” My vote would be “never drive in Boston.” The hassles of triple parking and narrow streets aside, a car is pretty useless in Boston. Between the T and the city’s walkability, what’s the point? Boston is one of the more unique cities in the United States and definitely worth a visit. The mix of modern and colonial may be jarring to some but I found it curiously refreshing. Newbury Street and Faneuil Hall are great places to hang out and shop; The North End is a great place to eat and drink. Fenway Park is worth whatever price you have to pay to get in, particularly if you can snag tickets to a day game. I remember sitting behind third base at Fenway when the early morning overcast cleared and the combination of the brilliant sunshine illuminated the grass and the more traditional uniforms worn by the Sox threw me back to a time when life was simpler in America and everybody talked baseball. Fenway fans know their shit and are effusive and witty conversationalists. The Cape is also worth exploring, from Yarmouth to P-Town, where great bookstores and the cinnamon scent of the Portuguese Bakery await. My gestalt of the rest of Massachusetts is dark green, as I was there in late summer just before the leaves turned.

Michigan: Several trips to the burbs surrounding Detroit. My favorite memory is sitting in the dark in a hotel room watching heat lightning ripple across the sky. My least favorite memory was a near collision while trying to land at the Detroit airport. I did not visit Detroit or any of the other major cities, so I’ll have to go back some day. The Upper Peninsula does not sound like my cup of tea.

Minnesota:Β Numerous trips (business and pleasure) to Minneapolis; long drives through Western Minnesota. I couldn’t care less about The Mall of America. Minneapolis is an amazing place: amazing because the people seem so happy with their lives despite what has to be the most atrocious weather in the U. S. I’ve been there when it was 4 below and I’ve been there when it was 90 with dripping humidity and everyone still acted like they were in a pretty good mood. Minneapolis has great theatre, is eminently walkable (if you’re dressed for it) and friendly bars. After experiencing severe outrage while watching a baseball game in The Metrodome, I am forever thankful that the Twins have a new ballpark. Western Minnesota is endless farmland and Route U. S. 212 is one of the most boring experiences available to the American traveler.

Mississippi:Β I took a day trip to Oxford and Tupelo in the early 90’s while doing a training program in Memphis. The first thing I remember is the SPLAT of bugs on my windshield as I crossed the border. As I drove further, the bug goo on the windshield mixed with cotton strands that drifted through the air to form a substance impervious to windshield wipers. I popped by the University and Faulkner’s home (even though I don’t think much of Faulkner). My general impression was one of darkness, not of skin color but of the general ambience. I also stopped in Tupelo (I’d already done Graceland) and remember the oddity of seeing only black and white people: no Asians, Hispanics, Mediterraneans. I wonder if that’s changed over the last twenty years.

Missouri:Β A few trips to St. Louis, a vacation in Kansas City, drives through the surrounding areas and Southwestern Missouri. I’ll take KC over St. Louis any time. Great museums, great food, fascinating neighborhoods and history. The pain of white flight seems to have hit St. Louis harder than Kansas City, leaving blocks and blocks of semi-abandoned buildings in the core. KC is trying to make downtown a living destination, and while they’re making some progress, the lack of proper public transportation will make this difficult. Southwestern Missouri is famous for fundamentalism and it shows. The place is a drag, but it’s their life and they can live it any way they want as long as they return the favor.

Montana: Drove over to Missoula and spent the night earlier this year. I’ve heard that the further east you go in Montana, the uglier it gets. I can believe it only because Western Montana is breathtakingly beautiful with its thick forests, lakes and mountains. I found the people in Montana to be some of the friendliest I’ve met (so much for gun owners being grumpy and paranoid). Missoula is a pleasant university town with some surprising street art and a pretty good restaurant scene for a city its size. I’d love to go back, even with its limited urbanity. It felt right to be there.

Nebraska:Β Spent a little time in Omaha and Lincoln while riding on a Greyhound from Chicago to San Francisco. All I remember is cornfields.

Nevada:Β I think I’ve covered this state pretty comprehensively: Elko, Reno, Carson City, Vegas. Great Basque food in Elko. Reno’s too country-western for my tastes, so I spend most of my time in Las Vegas. I think Las Vegas is the funniest place on the planet; I actually giggle a lot when I’m in Vegas. The grandiosity of the camp, the sheer outrageousness expressed by overdoing everything, the freedom to indulge one’s vices without judgment, the fabulous restaurants . . . Vegas makes me laugh. I’m aided in that mirth by the fact that I am a very conservative gambler.

New Hampshire:Β I hate the border with Massachusetts, designed as a tax-free shopping haven for overtaxed Bostonians. The rest of the state definitely lives up to its name as The Granite State: mountainous and rocky. The word “taciturn” was probably invented as the adjective of choice for Northern New Englanders. Portsmouth provides a welcome diversion with its Harbour Trail and some semblance of an artistic community.

New Jersey:Β When they tell me I only have three months to live, I’m going to spend the rest of that time eating in New Jersey diners. I’ve spent time in the urban sections both north and south and needless to say, places like Elizabeth and Camden are godawful. I’ll have to return to see the coastline and Atlantic City, something I won’t mind at all because of the diners!

Photo Credit:Β Β© Bazil8 | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

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