For the first time since I was seventeen years old, I went on vacation with my parents. As this is their first time visiting America, we wanted to give them an impression of the scale of America and the variety of cultures and architecture, landscape and food. A road trip was necessary. We picked Massachusetts because New England is tangibly different from Pennsylvania without being too long a car journey.
Mr Pict and I had booked the accommodation months ago, having researched to find the location we needed at a price that suited our budget. Then, with just days before we were due to set off, we were contacted to say that the boiler in our hotel had packed up and we would have to be transplanted – at the booking agency’s expense – to a more expensive hotel, though it was further away from the coast. We accepted this. Then, with under 24 hours to go, Mr Pict phoned the hotel to check that they understood all of the details of our original booking which had been transferred to them. That was when he discovered we had been billeted in smoking rooms. None of us smoke and we certainly did not want to stay in a room that smelled like an ashtray with nicotine-stained walls when we had specifically booked non-smoking rooms. During one road trip around Canada, we had made the error of accepting a mis-booked smoking room and the experience had been ghastly. It was so ghastly indeed that a few days later, when we were again mistakenly given smoking rooms, we refused to accept them and had to go off-piste and desperately scramble to find alternative accommodation. We ended up a a motel where the owner was sitting in reception beneath rows of hanging laundry wearing a grubby vest and yellowed underpants. When we went to our room, we discovered deep claw marks in our door. Perhaps from a werewolf. Despite that experience of refusing a smoking room, we once again refused to accept the booking. Finally, the evening before we were setting off, the booking agents found us some acceptable accommodation – again with them picking up the tab for the price differential – and we were back closer to the coast again. Phew. We could set off on our vacation knowing that we had a bed to lie in at the other end.
You may recall that my rule for claiming a new state is that you have to do two of three things in that state: pee, eat or sleep. Following those rules, I am able to claim 25 US states and Mr Pict is able to claim 47. On our journey to Massachusetts, we breakfasted in Cracker Barrel and by using the restrooms, my parents were able to claim New Jersey. A little later on the journey, we stopped to pee at a McDonalds in Connecticut. In addition to the bathroom break, my parents and kids had a milkshake which meant that technically they were all able to claim a new state. No new states for me on this vacation. That pit stop broke up a long and tedious journey with heavy traffic around New York and at spots along the I95.
Finally arrived at our hotel in late afternoon. Our accommodation for the next three evenings was the Fairfield Marriott in Middleborough. The rooms were nice. We keep busy on our vacation so all we really need is somewhere comfy and clean to sleep and shower and it exceeded expectations on that basis. My parents had a large room and Mr Pict and I had a room that was smaller but still spacious enough. There were two double beds in each room so the each pair of kids had to share beds, which was a bit of an adventure in and of itself. The best thing about the hotel, as far as the kids are concerned, is that it had an outdoor pool.
Within half an hour of arriving, the boys were in their swimming costumes and were splashing around in the pool. When we arrived, there was a poor guy trying to chill out on a lilo. He said he was happy to hear the sounds of my kids having fun – and they were very loud – but both Mr Pict and I were impressed by how zen he was, looking entirely relaxed and as if there was no chaos going on at the other end of the pool. They had a whale of a time in the pool.
We didn’t want to go far for dinner so we went to a Friendly’s just two minutes along the road. In all my years of travelling around America, I had never once eaten in a Friendly’s. This is somewhat odd since they were founded in 1935 so have certainly been around for long enough for me to have had the opportunity. The choice was actually apt since Friendly’s was founded by two brothers – Prestley and Curtis Blake, aged 20 and 18 – in Massachusetts, Springfield to be precise, so we were eating “local” in a way. Really, however, the choice was because of convenience. And because my kids really wanted to have shark drinks. The younger kids had been taken to Friendly’s by Mr Pict one afternoon a couple of months ago and had been raving about these shark drinks ever since. It was a cocktail of blue raspberry sprite filled with jelly sharks and then they pour raspberry syrup in to represent blood in the water. My kids are shark daft and love anything macabre so it was perfect for them. The kids had food on skewers: cheeseburgers or chicken strips on sticks, served in a metal cone that contained their sides and dips. They loved the fun presentation of the food. Dessert was then a concoction named worms in dirt. My first ever Friendly’s meal was fish tacos which were surprisingly delicious bu quite frankly any eatery that keeps my kids engaged in eating gets brownie points from me.
And now the vacation could properly begin.