Thursday, July 3, 2014

Drowning Cheyenne, Amputating My Finger And Other New Jersey Adventures

Let me start out by saying that today's story from the New England Road Trip 2014 is all true, and because of that I have no pictures staged or otherwise of the action that took place along the New Jersey Turnpike or Connecticut Highway 15. The photos I do have I took off the Internet later or at random quiet moments between the action of that memorable Monday, 30th of June.

Our story begins after lunch, we followed Jack Riepe's big red truck out of the New Jersey barrier islands and when he took off for Tom's River we peeled off to get back on the Garden State Parkway. Let me say this has to be the least interesting way to cross a state, driving at speed down a tunnel of tall green trees that eliminate any chance of seeing anything of interest for hundreds of miles. The tolls we solved by buying $25-worth of quarters at a Spanish (!) bank in Sea Ridge, a speck on the map much appreciated by the managers of Banco Santander apparently which let us through the exact change lanes every twenty miles. The traffic was chaotic and I found that if I drove less than 75 on a highway posted 65 we were going to die, no doubt about it. My wife had also pointed out it's been less than two years since my last speeding ticket and this vacation, to be completed on the cheap was not the place nor the time to get stopped. So we either got run over for driving too slowly or I had a heart attack not keeping up with the 80mph traffic flow while wondering how much begging might save me from a ticket to prevent execution at the hands of my lawyer wife. Sigh. Then I came over sleepy after the banquet we ingested that passed for lunch. Our prospects looked dim as we raced through the woods.

At some point in the early afternoon we found ourselves trudging along the Turnpike after the Parkway gets absorbed into the massive flow of traffic in and around New York City. The area looked to like nothing quite so much as the credits of The Sopranos, a television program that has, absurdly, become my guide to all things New Jersey. Sure enough we saw a sign at the southern end of the state for the Pine Barrens, and now we all know what goes on in there...Anyway we were in a gross industrial marshland zone of post apocalyptic nastiness when I saw the dreamy spires of The City. "There!" I shouted, claiming my million dollar prize for seeing New York first.

The Vince Lombardi rest area hove into view and we pulled in. Layne went to the loo while Cheyenne waited calmly for her turn after I finished filling the car with $3:80 gas. Then we went for a nice sedate leashed walk, she and I. It was hot and she was tugging me to the outer edges of the rest area. We crossed the truck lane and I let her loose in the grass. The bloody dog made a beeline for the reed line, reeds more than six feet tall and growing thick and wild on the edge of the grass. Cheyenne vanished. I heard crashing sounds then a splash then silence. I called, I gave my particular whistle which says "Come back immediately" and I heard nothing. Oh shit, I thought, something's happened. I started beating down a path through the reeds heading the same way Cheyenne had disappeared. I stopped and heard silence. I crashed on making a clear trail by bending back the reeds which looked just like these pictures from the Web:

I was literally in above my head until I broke out into sunlight on the chocolate pudding bank of a waterway identical to that shown above except it was summer green. My Labrador was delighted to see me, while I was utterly relieved and appalled to see her in equal measure. Striding up and down at the water's edge in thick goo she was black in the back and off white in front but I grabbed her collar and pulled her up the bank, slipping down myself as I did so, my black Crocs became indistinguishable from my lower limbs. Cheyenne was so panic stricken she blundered off the trail I had forced through the reeds and I had to grab her and redirect her which put more chocolate pudding about my person. We were a right pair as we staggered out of the reeds to face my astonished wife. All she could say was: you're bleeding! And so I was, copiously.

What a nightmare. In three hours we were supposed to have dinner in the elegant Beacon Hill apartment of two house proud gay friends, and I looked like a refugee from a badly made up minstrel show while my dog, now speckled with my bright red blood, resembled a living, panting Fellini symbol of magical realism. Our elegant dinner in Boston was set to become a goat fuck of epic proportions. And my finger, lacerated by a reed which gave me a paper cut bone deep, was hurting like a mother, with blood pouring down my hand dripping off my wrist. Photography was out of the question until I got the bleeding under control. Life itself felt like it was in the balance as my wife sets great stock by Van and Phillip's friendship and my momentary canine inattention looked as if it might set fire to the whole damned thing. Three days later the cut doesn't look like much but I'm telling you it should have been stitched it was that bad:

Well, I figured, the first thing is to control the bleeding before I pass out, second we get a hose at the gas station and shampoo Cheyenne clean and then we drive like we're being chased by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and we arrive in Boston only a little bit late with a dry white dog like nothing happened. That would have been too easy. They had no paper towels in the loo and as fast as I washed the blood off my hand and wrist more welled up to take its place. I went to ask the attendant for paper towels and I got a huge wad of paper, as big as half eaten cotton candy and staggered off in search of a water hose.
I rate the Vince Lombardi rest area the most useless stop in Western Civilization. I mean what's the use of a Turnpike gas station if it doesn't have even one water hose? I ask you, what's the world coming to when the employees look at you as though you have two heads when you ask about the possible existence of such a fabulous facility as a mere water hose? Screw this I said, let's drive, there's bound to be a gas station with a hose soon. I was a bit off base on that crucial point. We drove to New York City and took the George Washington Bridge, me clutching the wheel with my grossly swaddled digit stuck in the air as though I were making some impenetrable and critical point as I went, drawing attention to my brilliance with a big red and white bandaged forefinger, stabbing the air for emphasis. I must have looked demented but I was tired and in pain and anxious. What a drive. New York looked like a model in the distance, swathed in misty light as the sun fell lower toward the western horizon behind us. Cheyenne snored on the back seat well satisfied with a solid afternoon's work well done. My wife texted the boys in Boston moving our dinner date back as our progress slowed. Then we arrived on Connecticut 15 the road that would lead us to the Massachusetts Turnpike and Boston. Connecticut, for reasons known only to itself, prettifies the edges of its road signs with snazzy white edging thus:

Traffic ground to a halt. The phone GPS said there was a wreck up ahead and our forward progress concurred. We were stuck. I was still bleeding and the mud in the car was drying and caking. I started swearing like a fishwife for want of anything better to do. My wife wore a saintly smile, she hadn't loosed the dog in the reeds and she never recriminated with me for so doing.

"We have got to wash Cheyenne soon," I said. The Labrador has a thick coat to survive cold water swims when hunting duck in winter. It takes hours to dry properly. Worst case we show up in Boston's posh Beacon Hill with a mud Labrador reeking of New Jersey marsh, second worst case we have a clean wet 100 pound dog snoring on their Persian rugs. The traffic was stalled and as we inched forward my wife studied her GPS. "We could get her groomed at Petsmart," she said. Through the miracle of modern technology we found a store forty minutes away. Were we regular customers? No. We need proof of rabies vaccination. No problem we have her papers for entry to Canada...Ok, the woman said, grooming takes three hours. WTF? We just need her washed and blow dried. No can do...well bugger!

We got off Connecticut 15 to look for a gas station. With a hose this time.

You aren't going to believe this but they simply don't have water hoses at gas stations in these benighted states. I remember from my Iron Butt ride to Binghamton that New York gas stations don't have toilets, and let me tell you that discovery caused me some brown trouser panic moments in Binghamton. These places are weird. Anyway to deal with our present dilemma we bought three jugs of ice cold drinking water at three bucks a piece and doused Cheyenne's hindquarters. At that price it might as well have been gasoline and she appreciated the icy water about as much as if it had been petroleum spirit. I rubbed with my hand until I lost feeling in it from the icy water when two women strolling by stopped to observe our antics and those of our protesting dog. The question "Are you OK?" merited a pithy and none too polite response but my sweet wife was feeling gentler than me. "We really need a hose," she said to our fascinated observers, who flabbergasted me by offering their hose at their home two blocks away.

Now, I don't know what they were thinking but we must have appeared to be a small gang of desperadoes fallen on hard times with our mixture of mud, blood and generally disheveled clothing. Survivors of a devastated expedition would have resembled us as we staggered round the parking lot like inebriates at the end of our tethers. We could have been a couple of people who were returning from a more than usually messy body burial in the woods. Yet they gave us the run of their lawn where Cheyenne and I both returned to our natural pigments under the blast of a superb garden hose I wanted to steal and take home. Then the younger of the two women, whose names we never learned such was our mental fog, revealed herself to be a doctor's nursing assistant and she washed and dressed my wound so that it stopped hurting for the first time in hours and also stopped looking like a bloody toadstool was growing out of my hand. We were pathetically grateful for their kindness and these angels extricated us from a ghastly predicament.

That we were now three hours behind schedule was a problem of a different magnitude. We arrived in Boston horribly late, utterly exhausted and desperate to get out of the car which was starting to feel like a very small, crowded phone booth for three knackered occupants. We were grateful to be required to drink wine and listen to stories as sleep started to overcome us. We had arrived at last.

I took Cheyenne for a walk in the darkened streets and she loved the urban smells and the relatively cool night air. I was fascinated by the old brick buildings and the bright red 911 call boxes. In Key West they would be the preserve of the residentially challenged and their dramas, but here they were left unmolested.

It was a lovely introduction to a gorgeous city.

And thank God Cheyenne was clean and dry when we arrived and Phillip and Van were none the wiser as they showed off their lovely digs.

What a day I thought to myself, as I hunkered down in their spotless living room, my clean yellow Labrador snoring blissfully at my feet reeking of shampoo and not of swamp. A few hours ago I was a desperate bleeding mud covered stranger in a strange land, now I was an honored guest in a swanky Boston apartment just 15 blocks from Secretary of State John Kerry's mansion, sitting up in a comfortable armchair with a delicious glass of wine in my hand...

I love traveling. Your life spins in every direction on a dime as you move. It takes grit and experience to land on your feet. So far, so good.