If that’s the worst that happens…

Hi folks. The last full day. Nothing terribly exciting to report in the scheme of things, but I’ll give you a spoiler right now, the Best Meal Of The Trip was consumed here…

Longhorn Nashua

Shots from today (there’s not a lot of ‘em) are already up on Flickr.

As usual, rather than litter the front page of the blog with the gory details, here comes the break…

Breakfast was taken in the ‘club lounge’ this morning, so no encounters with truculent waiters. I went back to my patented do-it-yourself sausage sandwich as pioneered on Friday and thoroughly enjoyed it. Washed down with OJ and lots of coffee while I tinkered with the photographs from the last two days. If you haven’t done so already, you may care to check the Flickr links on the relevant blog pages.

Domestic maters sorted, we walked over to the Silverline stop, heading outbound, for the first time, to Logan. Without doubt this was the fastest we’ve experienced these vehicles go all trip. Navigating our way on to the airport shuttle to the rental car centEr we duly presented ourselves at the Hertz garage. True to form, Nick has contrived to become a gold card holder, which meant we skipped a lot of the drudgery associated with taking possession of a hire car. However…

Our first allocated vehicle was a Ford Explorer SUV which could easily have performed double-duty as a military assault vehicle. It was huge. Not only that but it clearly hadn’t been cleaned very well as we found a load of the previous user’s garbage in the boot. All told it “didn’t feel right”, so Nick trudged back to the office to swap it. Next, we were offered a Chrysler 200, more of the sort of vehicle we were expecting. It had been cleaned after a fashion (with rain water, we thought), but Nick has pre-paid for Sirus satellite radio (almost an essential in the US these days, such is the pretty dire state of FM radio, unfortunately) and this vehicle wasn’t fitted with it. Third time lucky, we set off in a Dodge Journey  [Texas plates FWZ9255, start odo 23339 – 09:55], another SUV but not quite as, er, flippin’ big, as the Ford.

Dodge Journey

Nick skilfully navigated us out of the airport on Route 1A towards Revere – an option carefully chosen to avoid tolls: Not because we are too cheap to pay them (though we are!) but largely because playing cash tolls is increasingly difficult in the USA these days and we didn’t want to have to pay Hertz to use their toll transponders. If nothing else, there’s a principle at stake! Also, for reasons known only to Hertz (and, I gather, peculiarly to them), they charge for a second driver to be added to the hire agreement. That means I get to be chauffeured for the duration.

Forty minutes later, after a leisurely wander through Boston’s northern suburbs, we pulled into the parking lot of the North Shore Mall at Peabody. Still in Massachusetts, this was more of a coffee stop and brief mooch rather than a serious shopping expedition. Even so, we agreed to regroup in an hour in order to give it a good looking at. Thirty minutes later I got a text from Nick; “Can you come to food court asap – I have a bit of a problem”. Can you imagine the scenarios I ran through in my head in the two minutes it took me to stride back to the food court?

Turns out that during the shenanigans with the various vehicles we auditioned back at Logan, the keys to the second one managed to hitch a ride out of town in Nick’s fleece pocket. Fearing punitive charges, it was clear that we had no choice but to take them back…. and quickly, in case the resultant charges were to reflect the time the vehicle was out of service. I’ll draw a veil over the next hour or so to save Nick’s blushes. He was clearly kicking himself for what had happened and I absolutely have no cause to pile on. To coin a phrase, sh1t happens. See also the title of this post.

Take II.

We navigated a new course north, passing through Boston suburbs like Everett and Malden before reaching the Square One Mall at Saugus. The primary purpose of this stop was a food court lunch and it delivered to some tune. Nick had something disgusting from Taco Bell while I had a burger from Wayback Burgers. Food court fare it may be, but it was cooked fresh in front of me on a griddle and served to my specification (i.e. no gunk!). Perfect. But that’s not the Best Meal Of The Trip, of which I spake.

Way Back Burger

The Way Back Burger Itself

Onwards and northward. I carefully crafted a route northwards which avoided unnecessary Interstateness. This took us through the very smart township of Melrose, around the picturesque Spot Pond, which Nick vehemently insisted should be called Spot Bloody Big Lake, and on to Rt 28. This paralleled the interstate but took us through more oft-bypassed communities like Stoneham, Reading and Andover. Yes, there was the usual US fare of strip malls and plazas, but it was all interesting to take in and absorb as we passed by.

Andover, Ma

Andover, MA.

Once north of Andover it was evident we needed to get ourselves a bit further west, and while a non-interstate option was available, it would take us a fair bit further north than we needed, so we joined I-495 and headed west, skirting around Lowell. Before very long at all, we were approaching Nashua and navigating into the Pheasant Lane Mall.

It is no coincidence that this huge mall is about as far south in New Hampshire as it can get: Its southern periphery is marked by the state line. This is all to do with Sales Tax. As already moaned about mentioned, Massachusetts sales tax is 6% on everything but clothing. In New Hampshire (state motto: Live Free Or Die), it’s Nowt. First World Problems and all that, six percent is not a great deal but, clearly, it can be an appreciable amount on big purchases. Percentages can be troublesome like that. Equally, it is very much physiological: Why pay more? Don’t get me wrong, the irony of the fact that we’ve paid for a hire car and filled it with fuel, pretty much just to get stuff six percent (-ish) cheaper, isn’t lost on either of us. (Incidentally, I say “-ish”, as I am not convinced that there isn’t a New Hampshire tariff which sees prices a tad higher north of the state line to compensate… but I stress I have no evidence of this — before the New Hampshire Trader’s Association launch into apoplexy!)

All that notwithstanding, the American Express Corporation were left in no doubt that I was in New Hampshire this afternoon. In my defence, much of my spending was either commissions or presents, but spend I did. Most notable was my encounter with the Lancome counter in Macy’s in pursuit of my mate Audra’s shopping list. Bless her, she spelled it out and even provided pictures. She could barely have made it less painless for me, but me and make-up counters are not familiar with one another. The added pressure was the strong urging I had received to procure freebies. That, apparently, is the way of doing business in these matters. As it happened, ‘freebies’ were indeed proffered. “What colour lipstick does your friend wear?” I was asked. “Er, lip coloured?” I suggested. I am SO male. Sorry, Audra, if your freebies are not to your satisfaction when you get them, may I suggest eBay….?

Newbury Comics, Apple (of course – US iTunes topped-up) and FYE (three USB power packs for $10) all had my card introduced to their systems. Finally, the good people at Target also allowed me to walk off with a substantial amount of booty in return for electronic intercourse with my Amex account.

It was in Target that I met up again with Nick. Up to this point, our discussion in respect or our digs for the night was limited to “something cheap ’n cheerful in the Nashua area”. It turns out that as a result of his prodigious use of the hospitality of the Marriott family, he is owed a free night which expires in the not-too-distant future. Bless him, he has decided to use that and, as much to his amazement as mine, we watched in awe as the Marriott web site duly accepted his booking for the Nashua Courtyard at a rate of $0.

It had always been my intention to pick the tab up for our last night meal as a token of my appreciation for his making pretty much ALL the arrangements for this trip (and for being a Big Bruv!). His sacrifice in doing all the driving and for using a free Marriott night to bring the overall cost of accommodation for the trip down, simply reinforced my resolve in this regard.

Off we set to the Marriott, choosing to wander through downtown Nashua (which looks very interesting) rather than the freeway, and duly checked in. As an “Elite member” he was given a goodie bag on check in. This turned out to contain a bottle of water and a cookie (big wow!) but also a “free spin on the Marriott Wheel of Fortune”. When he later did so, he “won” 500 free Marriott points; so it’s win, win, win!

The room is as good as the previous few nights, though the view sucked by comparison. Looking out over woods (ignoring the plant equipment in the foreground, associated with some remodelling) isn’t bad, but it ain’t the downtown Boston skyline!

After a little while of relaxing (during which I took my shoes off, which it turned out, was not a really social thing to do!) we headed out for dinner. We’d discussed various options, several of which managed to take themselves out of the running by inexplicably being closed on Mondays. In the end the Longhorn Steakhouse (coincidentally opposite the mall we’d been at earlier) won the vote. This little corner of the Wild West here in New Hampshire was validated slightly by having our Texas registered vehicle in its parking lot!

I’d nearly vetoed the place on spec as they have seen fit to adopt the tagline “Craft on Draft” in their publicity. Ugh! That translated in reality as serving Dogfish Head IPA, of which I enjoyed a 20oz and 16oz serving. Very hoppy, as you’d expect from an American IPA. The 18oz Rib Eye steak I had was absolutely sublime. Another marketing tag line of this place is apparently “steak so tender you can cut it with a fork”. In this case it pains me to agree – it’s true! Probably for the first time in my extensive research into eating steak, I can say that the purpose of the chips was entirely relegated to soaking up the juice left over from the meat. Beautiful.

Longhorn Steak

After a memorable meal we split up briefly: Nick drove to a CVS for ‘bits’ and I walked next door to a very big Barnes & Noble where I again alerted the Amex system to my presence in New Hampshire. Luckily they’ve yet to seek to contact me to ensure it’s really me. (Incidentally, on that point, I am still completely at a loss to work out when I am likely to be asked to insert my card, or swipe my card, or sign for my card, or enter my PIN. The US Point of Sale systems are in a state of flux with the belated introduction of Chip & PIN, and it is astonishing to me that anything works! As for thinking of using Apple Pay, I’m pretty sure that will result in system meltdown). 

Another port of call was Shaws supermarket. Nick had in mind to get room supplies in lieu of breakfast tomorrow. I simply stood in awe of their beer aisle and quietly contemplated the cost of hiring space in a shipping-container. I did grab a pair of three-packs of yellow legal pads for a mere $7 from here. These are incredibly hard to source in the UK and when I can they are hellishly expensive. The point is that yellow pads are much easier on the eye than white paper for anyone taking notes over a long period of time (e.g. minutes at a meeting, in my case).

Shaws Beer Aisle

Back at the hotel for around 20:00, with the end-of-day trip reading of “Nelsons” (a cricket metaphor which I can’t explain = 111).

Nick went up for his traditional evening soak in the bath while I grabbed my MacBook and began typing this in the hotel bar, sorry, “bistro”. As you may have been able to tell with some of my choices of phrase, beer has been consumed while typing: Two Roads Road 2 Ruin IPA, Hennicker (something – the pump handle isn’t very informative) and Sam Adams Summer Ale. For much of the time I’ve been typing, three American guys in their 50’s sitting opposite me have been putting the world to rights quite loudly and, I have to say, passionately. The subjects they’ve been discussing have encompassed Palestine and Planned Parenthood, with all sorts in between. I’ve just heard a disparagingly quote Howard Stern, so it’s an interesting perspective, at least. My point of mentioning this is that it happily reinforces my view that beer fuelled Grumpy Old Men exist in all corners of the globe; and not just South Derbyshire – Chappers!

In the time I’ve been back and corrected typos in the above (yes, believe it or not, I try to!) my friends across at the next table (well, the one doing ALL the talking) has got louder and louder. He is reinforcing my view that free speech is great… except when it’s someone else’s 🙂 

Good night.



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