Ferries, Diners and General Dynamics

By Lenny Ackerman

It is July and my monthly trip to camp in Maine unfolds. This time Patti and I decided to break up the long drive north at the halfway point with a three-week stay in Kennebunk, home of the summer residence of President Bush. I thought we should alert the Bush family that we were coming but given that I have never met them Patti wisely talked me out of it. Maybe we’ll bump into them.

The gossip about the Hamptons being overrun by post-pandemic traffic proved true. The trip from home in East Hampton to the cross-sound ferry on the North Fork at Orient Point usually takes less than an hour. The lines were so backed up for the ferry at Shelter Island it added an extra hour to the trip.

The New London ferry was packed with vacationers, so we made our way to the upper deck to escape the unmasked crowds. We found a vacant bench and took in the water views, serene but for the noisy stream of dogs and youngsters running around the perimeter of the deck and up and down the stairs. The brisk winds kept me
from opening the New York Times, as did the heaving of the ship in rough waters. At least there was no traffic.

As we moved closer to shore, we could see the shipyards of General Dynamics with submarines in the process of completion. Pretty cool how they manufacture a submarine. They start above water then submerge the hull while they work the interiors. As the ferry pulled into port, we navigated the crowds back down to our car, finally making our way off the New London ship, into the New London traffic. The busy roads were a clear indication that people
are traveling post-pandemic.

Patti said perhaps next year they will drive to Europe. She is so observant. So far, it was a four-hour trip that should have taken less than three hours. Oh well–it’s vacation, not work, I guess. Now I had lunch to look forward to which for me is as important as getting to the rental house in Kennebunk. But then things took an unexpected turn. On Rte 490 near Worcester, Mass., we heard the sudden and unpleasant sound of metal dragging beneath the car. Could it have something to do with my backing up the car this morning, turning around in the driveway and feeling a bump? Whatever it was we had to pull over. I spied an exit with a sign for a body shop and headed for it.

We parked and I went in nonchalantly, pretending I needed a restroom—which I desperately did. A young man pointed toward a door in the back among the shelves of tools and car parts. “By the way,” I asked, “do you have a minute to look at my car? We ran over something in the road, and it damaged something underneath. I’m concerned it may cause an accident.” He agreed to take a look, but we would have to wait–and so would lunch. Seems something pretty large got caught under the tailpipe and tore it clean off. Well, an hour and a half and $100 dollars later–and a piece of the bumper in my hands–the car was repaired and, most importantly, we had directions to a diner up the road.

The best part of the trip so far was beginning. The diner was a throwback from the 1950s. Not a replica but the real thing. Six wooden booths and a dozen vinyl-covered stools at a counter. Behind the counter was a small grill used for everything from breakfast to dinner. It was the kind of place I recall from my youth in upstate New York

The counter at the diner.

and during the 1960s in the Hamptons. All are gone now, replaced by either fast food or fancy gourmet restaurants. Whatever happened to the great American diner? The crowd in this one was diverse and lively. The woman behind the counter represented the third generation of the same family of owners. Patti’s hamburger and my omelet were delicious and lunch for two was an exorbitant $25.

Before leaving I took some photos around the place and the owner didn’t seem to mind. We left Worcester satisfied. Patti was now talking to me after I damaged her car and my stomach was full. Oh––and I can’t forget to mention the French fries. They were the old-fashioned kind-hot and not greasy. These days what you usually get is oily and room temperature.

Anyway, the rest of the ride was uneventful and by the time we got to our house on the shore of Kennebunk, I was ready for a nap. As we unpacked, I noticed the tide was out. I took a deep breath of sea air and it was grand.

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