Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Commercial Break: The RelayRides Hallowe'en Road Trip

A recent flurry of publicity has come to this blog! All right, you have to define "flurry" as "two non-family/non-friend people reading the blog and finding something they like, though only one is paying for it" but still! Notoriety! Fame! A potential uptick in visitors that will lead to no immediate financial gain that I can foresee but is still pretty cool anyway! A good excuse to use more exclamation points!

First it was someone from the Ontario Science Centre asking for permission to use a photograph I took of fossilized giant sea snails in a cave in France, and this week it's a representative from RelayRides, the vehicular equivalent of Airbnb. I've been invited to write a post for them to link to, talking about my dream US-based vacation. My life is in many ways a permanent vacation, and I'm not going to be in the United States for Hallowe'en, but I've decided to take an imaginary road trip up the East Coast between now and the end of the month, checking out spooky and interesting places on the way - and eating cheese as well, of course. Since this is an imaginary road trip, I won't have to worry about my lactose intolerance, will I?

Opening narration for the RelayRides Hallowe'en Road Trip starts now ... and ACTION!

RelayRides is a carsharing service, but instead of sharing a car with someone else on a trip, you're sharing the use of someone else's car. In other words, you're renting a car from a private individual, brokered by the team at RelayRides. The company insures the car for the period of the rental so that the owner is covered, but the renter needs to pay for their own insurance coverage while they're renting the car (or decline coverage and take their chances), which adds between 15%-40% to the rental price. However, it's still cheaper than the average rent-a-car company, especially for the car that I've chosen to rent, a bright red Ford Mustang convertible belonging to someone named Andris - perfect for leaf-viewing, which on this imaginary road trip is peaking right about now.

To start the trip, I've flown from Heathrow to JFK and taken the AirTrain shuttle to Newark International, where the car is located; the company currently doesn't have cars at JFK, though they do have rental locations at many other US airports, to help people rent out their cars while they're on vacation themselves. The company even pays for the parking at San Francisco International, and hooks up local travelers with the people leaving their cars at the airport, which lets car owners continue to earn money even while they're on vacation, and that's pretty cool, too. Andris meets me at the airport, shows me the basics of the car, and hands over the keys. After reminding myself that I need to drive on the right side of the road (even in imaginary road trips, safety is important!), I set off up I-95 to my first destination: Fall River, Massachusetts.

Day 1: 210 miles, estimated time 3.5 hours, but let's be real here and say 5 hours. I'm not going to get any spooky sightseeing done today, but driving on the New Jersey Turnpike is scary enough.

I'm going to spend the night at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum. Besides notorious axe murderers, Fall River is known for its Portuguese community and cuisine. Since my imaginary road trip includes an imaginary unlimited budget, I'm going to go to dinner at Estoril and eat bacalhau é chouriço.

A picture of the axe possibly used to kill Andrew and Abby Borden, if the parties involved had been 9th-century Vikings. Photo taken November 2012 at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, Norway.

Having survived the night without being attacked by axe-wielding women, I've enjoyed a delicious breakfast and some strong coffee, packed my bags and loaded them into the convertible, and headed out to the next destination: Hollis, New Hampshire.

Day 2, morning: 97 miles, approximately 2 hours travel time.

About a hundred miles to the north-northwest, I arrive at Pine Hills Cemetery. Its nickname is "Blood Cemetery" because it's believed to be haunted by the ghost of Abel Blood, who was buried there (or was he? bwah ha haaaa) back in 1867 in what was already a century-old graveyard. Since it's barely 10am and the sun is shining, I'm not bothered by any spectral taps on the shoulder, and I've always enjoyed walking around looking at grave markers. If I planned to be buried, I'd be thinking about what should go on my headstone. Hmm ... my motto of "Onward to the next adventure!" would actually work quite well, come to think of it.

Old grave markers outside of St. Cuthbert's House of Prayer in York, England, October 2014

Just 10 miles away they're making goat cheese at Butternut Farm, in Milford, New Hampshire. Since I'm on a road trip, I can't stay and make cheese with this family, but it's going on my list of places to check out when I get back to the United States; it looks like they use and appreciate apprentices, and since they've only recently started making fresh goat cheese, they might be interested in some of the recipes I've brought with me from France. Today, though, I'll just pick up supplies for a picnic lunch: some fresh goat cheese, the last of the summer tomatoes, and a bit of lettuce. I'll make a sandwich with the gluten-free baguette that has magically appeared on the seat next to me, and set out for my next spooky stop: Kennebunkport, Maine.

Not Silas Perkins. Chinon, France, August 2013.

Day 2, afternoon: 95 miles or so, and another 2 hours on the road.

I've booked a room at the Kennebunk Inn, which is haunted by the ghost of a former employee, Silas Perkins, who occasionally makes his presence known by levitating wine glasses. The hotel started out as a private residence, built in 1799, but has been a hotel since 1928, and it has recently been in the news for its chefs and its food. Chef Shanna O'Hea has just won the Food Network's "Rewrapped" cooking show/contest with her interpretation of Chef Boyardee Ravioli as an ingredient, preparing and serving Spice Cake with Cashew Ginger Crumble and Raspberry Tomato Meat Sauce Coulis, which probably would sound better in French.

Her gâteau aux épices avec crumble noix de cajou/gingembre et son coulis framboise/sauce tomate-viande impressed the judges earlier this month, and although I don't think that's going to become the inn's signature dessert, they've also got a popular Maine Lobster Potpie that has been praised in local and national publications. I like lobster, but am not a big potpie fan, and since the inn's restaurant Academe has been nice enough to create a special "gluten-identified" version of their dinner menu, I'll check that out. Let's see ... I think I'll start with the steamed Prince Edward Island mussels, and then have the honey and almond grilled salmon.

                         Good night, Silas.

Day 3, morning: 75 miles, 1.5 hours. Photo of Tillamook Rock Light house taken December 31, 2010.

Another beautiful day dawns as I leave Kennebunkport the next morning, and I've put the top of the convertible down to enjoy the fresh breeze off the ocean. I'm going up the coast of Maine to my next haunted spot: the Seguin Island lighthouse.

George Washington commissioned a wooden lighthouse here in 1795, but a storm blew it down and a new one had to be built - of granite this time - in 1819. The current lighthouse, still in operation, was built in 1857. It's on an island off the coast about three miles, and the only way to get there is by boat or helicopter, but I'm enjoying my RelayRides red convertible, so I'll just go sit on the beach for a while, eating the gluten-free treats I bought from Wildflours Bakery. They don't have a retail space in Brunswick, Maine, but they do sell at markets and pop-up locations in the area, and imaginary road trips are perfect ways to be in exactly the right place at the right time to meet up with mobile businesses like this one. I'm enjoying their pumpkin whoopie pies, since I don't have to worry about dairy issues, and it's wonderfully seasonal as a midmorning snack.

Lighthouse keeping is a lonely job, but in this case having a spouse didn't help. According to legend, one 19th-century lighthouse keeper bought a piano for his wife so that she wouldn't get bored out there on the island, cut off from the mainland all winter. Unfortunately, she only had one piece of sheet music. And so that's what she played, over and over and over, day after day after day, until the lighthouse keeper snapped and chopped the piano into bits with an axe, after which he chopped his wife into bits, and then himself. Well, okay, that last bit is my own embellishment; the stories only say that he killed himself, but not how. To this day, people swear they hear the faint sounds of the piano, drifting over the lonely waves ...

Okay then! On that romantic note, I'll dust the last sweet crumbs off of my hands and get back into the car, because I'm headed for the home of the king of horror himself, Stephen King, and it's time to finish this road trip at my final destination: Bangor, Maine.

Day 3, afternoon: 111 miles, 2.5 hours. Pig blood photograph taken at Saint-Pée d'Oloron, France, September 2013.

King's 1974 novel "Carrie" freaked out even more people when it was made into a film in 1976. It certainly freaked me out when I saw it. Stephen King has lived in Bangor, Maine for decades, and I've already gone by his house, which is surrounded by a wonderfully creepy wrought-iron fence with dragons as finials. My father, who also lives in Bangor now, used to have coffee regularly with King, though I've never met him. When I was living in Alaska, my then boyfriend got me into King's novels, and I gave myself the collywobbles reading "Cujo" and "It" and "Pet Sematary." Several years earlier, when I was a freshman at St. Olaf College in Northfield, I watched "The Shining" with two friends, and it scared me so much - especially after we walked out of the movie theatre into the falling snow that made the campus look exactly like the final scene in the movie, to my fevered imagination - that I made them sleep on couches with me in the common room of their dorm, because I was too scared to go back to my own dormitory and open the door to who knew what!

I still get a little nervous, just thinking about that movie.

Me and my rental car and my dying camera, Cannon Beach, Oregon, May 2010.

Day 4 is cold and clear, and the bright orange red yellow leaves are beautiful against the blue sky. It's October 31st and I'm at the end of my imaginary rental car road trip adventure. I could do the drive back to Newark International in one long day (12 hours, 515 miles) and in fact I am required to take the car back to where I picked it up, which is the only disadvantage I can see to the RelayRides service - though again, it's not uncommon to have that requirement in regular rent-a-car services either, whether daily or hourly. There's also a mileage limit, which I have gone over for this particular rental, and I expect that will be extra on the bill, which is also normal for the industry.

But this is my imaginary road trip, and while I've enjoyed the red convertible, I'll now have to let Andris figure out how to get it back from Bangor, which is probably his worst nightmare come true - and therefore very appropriate for a Hallowe'en road trip. Sorry, Andris - I'm off to have coffee with Stephen King.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Note to the RelayRides team - I wouldn't *really* abandon a rental car. I'm very responsible. Really.

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