Day one is in the books – I’m resting comfortably in Massachusetts’ historic Pioneer Valley and gazing out at the clearest night sky I’ve seen in ages. Before delving into the details of the opening leg, however, allow me to properly introduce our cast of characters.
On the left, equipped with a liberal arts education and the yearning to put off getting a real job, is yours truly. On the right, armed with practical skills that will surely save us at some point and the assurance of gainful employment, is my trusted and faithful companion, the Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote, Paul Shi. And behind us is our home for the next month: a sapphire blue Chevy Sonic (she’s still nameless, so feel free to provide suggestions).
We picked up our rental in the midst of another rainy Boston morning and set off for Kenmore Square. After snapping a photo of the first sign marking US Route 20 (seen above) we headed down Commonwealth Avenue, past the Boston University campus I’ve called home for the past four years and into uncharted territory. 20 was easy enough to follow on this first day, winding its way through Boston suburbs and the numerous small towns dotting central Massachusetts before reaching Springfield. There we detoured off the route to South Deerfield in order to see a former professor of mine, with whom we’re spending the night and from where I write to you now.
Our course took us across nearly the entire width of Massachusetts and hallmarks of New England lined the route throughout: innumerable stone markers informing passersby of some event from America’s distant colonial past; place names imported from old England; and at least a dozen Dunkin Donuts.
But the most obvious sign that we still hadn’t left the state were the numerous old Yankee towns. The best example of this was the small Boston suburb of Weston. First settled in 1642, home to still-in-use structures built in the 18th century, and possessing a quaint downtown, Weston seems to have been pulled out of a time capsule. Indeed, the Puritan spirit runs quite deep here: Weston was a dry town until as recently as 2008, when wine sales were at last legalized. In the words of one local, “It was bad, but now it’s good”.
Weston also provided a window into the past through its cemetery. Visiting what will be the first of many graveyards on this trip, I discovered a Revolutionary war veteran, as well as a point of contention with my travel buddy: he has little regard for my penchant to give my regards to the dead. A few towns later, trying to locate another graveyard with our smart phone technology, he muttered into his device “I can’t believe I’m saying this: a cemetery in Marlborough, Massachusetts”.
Finally, our detour from Route 20 briefly forced us onto the Interstate. Riding the Mass Turnpike for a few miles highlighted the grand differences between the route and interstate systems – one of the issues I will be exploring in depth on this trip. But it’s getting late, so that story will have to wait. Suffice it to say, one of the two is the scenic route, and it ain’t the toll road.