Many people do not know, or are apt to forget (myself included), that I am in the military. I’m an officer in the Army Reserves. Thus, the higher powers mandate that once a month I attended training, formally referred to as Battle Training Assembly. Since I live in the boondocks of northern Maine, the closest unit for my branch (Medical Services) is a good five-hour drive away. So this past weekend, I shaved, trimmed my hair, put on my camouflage uniform and beret and headed off for the weekend.
My training days were pretty full starting at 0730, but by late afternoon, I was dismissed. Upon completing my drill Saturday, I decided I didn’t want to pass the evening counting tiles in the room I occupied in the barracks, so I changed into civilian attire and ventured off-post to explore. I hopped on the first highway I could find, and drove until something looked interesting. One of the exit signs advertised Concord. I figured there had to be something remotely mind-blowing in a town infamous for being in the vicinity of where the Revolutionary War began.
To be honest, I was hoping to find a nice, cheap place to eat dinner. I wandered through the streets of Concord, taking stock of the shops. At first glance the town was fairly non-descript. There were several plaques, a nice town square, and a strip of quaint looking shops, but nothing terribly eye catching. To my surprise, there were fewer restaurants than there were lingerie stores (two and three respectively). I found that the prices at both restaurants just about doubled my budget. As time progressed and I realized I certainly wasn’t going to be eating in Concord, I decided to try and fulfill another necessity: I needed to use the bathroom.
I went from store to store searching for restroom signs. Unfortunately, most of the probable venues (bookstores, visitor centers…) were closed for the weekend. One of the few that remained open was “French Lessons”, a lingerie store. I could only imagine how that would go:
“Excuse me, but do you have a restroom in here?”
“Bonjour…et no,” the lady would respond “Mais je pense que vous devriez rechercher bon dans cette…”
Uh…yea. “Pardonnez-moi, je suis un incompétent américain …”
So I continued looking for a restroom, and I continued to have no luck. The situation was getting desperate. I contemplated knocking on one of the doors in the historic district, and asking them if I could use theirs. But seeing as all the houses had plaques registering them as being from seventeen-sixty-something, I figured an outhouse was hardly worth the bother. I momentarily contemplated peeing in the bushes in a nice park off Main Street, but I figured something so primitive and barbaric in a state like Massachusetts would get me shot. Okay, not shot. That’s way too Republican. But house arrest with Martha Stewart or something. It wasn’t worth the risk.
Finally, I found a store that was still open, which sold sailing outfits and-you guessed it- lingerie. I approached the lady at the desk and asked her if there was a restroom in the building.
“A restroom?” she asked, as if searching for more.
“Yes…” I said. I didn’t think it should need more description.
She gave me a strange look. “There’s not one in the shop, but we have one in the basement. Would you like to use that?”
She led me to the back of a shop and opened a door. We walked down a narrow hallway, then she opened another door, turned right and opened another door. She pointed. “Go right, and down the stairs, when you get to the bottom turn left, go to the end of the hallway and the restrooms are on the right.”
My head was spinning, but I simply nodded.
Miraculously, I found the restroom, but only after taking a wrong turn a couple times. Afterwards, I returned to Main Street, relieved but somewhat baffled. In my head, I compiled a list of personal observations from my time in Massachusetts thus far:
1) In Massachusetts nice and cheap never co-exist.
2) Lingerie is a common souvenir for tourists visiting Massachusetts. They also enjoy sailing…in lingerie.
3) Using the latrine is not a necessity for anyone living within forty miles of Boston.
4) Gloucester is confusing as %$# to drive through.
Still hungry, and set on leaving town to find a fast food joint and cure my woes, I returned to my parked car. En route, I stopped to read a plaque that mentioned a fact I was ashamed not to have realized before: Concord was an English major’s paradise. More specifically: Concord is where Emerson philosophized, Thoreau wrote, and Hawthorne was his brilliant and oh-so-woeful self. Suddenly gleeful, I turned on my touristy side (distraught to discover I’d left the fanny pack in Maine) and set off to see the sights.
And such sights they were. In the duration of two hours, I visited the graves of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and a slew of other colonial writers. I saw the home where Emerson lived much of his adult life, including much of the time he was writing. I even saw Walden Pond, the famed sight of Thoreau’s quest for escape from society. This was my favorite in a dark, ironic sort of way.
Walden Pond is currently a state reservation area. Thus, there’s a parking lot, a visitors center, and several paved paths with picnic tables. These all surround and overlook the pond a forlorn social critic once found so remote. And here’s the real kicker: the parking lot charged five dollars just to park and walk around. That’s five dollars towards the government to look at a pond that is famous because of a man who spent time in jail due to his refusal to pay delinquent taxes (a sentence he was released from only after his aunt paid the taxes for him, against his wishes). Now, what do you think Thoreau would do if he popped out of his hand-made cabin one morning and saw a group of obese Americans, complete with fanny packs and cameras, waddling from their tour bus? Why, he’d take his gardening hoe and go right for them, that’s what he’d do. Now, if they were also waving American flags and sporting overpriced sailing clothes from Concord (or perhaps lingerie) then I think he’d just fall over dead on the spot, thus leaving Walden Pond to eternal obscurity.
Despite the mass of self-amusement, I simply couldn’t afford five dollars to join the parade of tourists, especially sans a fanny pack. So I snapped a picture of the pond from the roadside drove on.
I found my way back to the interstate, hungrier than ever. After asking directions several times from other people who, evidently, had no idea where they were either, I wound up just outside Boston. There, to my delight, I discovered an authentic, Bostonian Chipotle. After ordering, I sat next to a window as the sun set, enjoying a burrito of touristy proportions.
The only thing that was missing, of course, was the meat.