Saratoga Springs, New York

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

After Albany, I headed north to Saratoga Springs to meet Nam. I first met him in in Boston when the Texans played the Patriots in the playoffs. He’s been here and there but finally rooted down in Saratoga Springs for work and got a charming Victorian duplex.

If Saratoga Springs had a minor league baseball team, it’d probably be the “Saratoga Spring Stables” or the “Saratoga Spring Seabiscuits” or something—anything—to do with horses.

I know this because when I came here, I found signs that gave much more love to horses than humans, outside the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame stands a statue of Seabiscuit, and Nam told me I’m barely missing track season when the city really comes alive.

Maybe next time, Nam. And maybe my beginner’s luck will carry over to the track. And maybe, I won’t call it horse season next time, because as we all know, horse season can be mistaken for something like…deer season.

Albany, New York

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

It’s a weird thing to see all the signs pointing you towards back to NYC where your friends are hanging out and where Ego, the dog, is laying on your bed, but you can’t go back home yet because you decided to do a Kickstarter project.

The residences in Albany reminded me of my neighborhood, Albany’s Washington Park was just a word short of being NYC’s Washington Square Park and I was getting harassed by kids wanting me to take their picture. Just like home.

On the other hand, NYC doesn’t have a concert hall shaped like a spaceship called The Egg and NYC doesn’t have the kind of street parking that is available in Albany.

I read about New York’s capital when I read about Theodore Roosevelt’s early career, so I retraced his steps by walking up and down hills through the park, though the Capitol, under the plaza, through the plaza, and into The Egg where the elevator wasn’t working.

Was this what Theodore Roosevelt saw when he was an New York State Assemblyman in 1882? Most likely not.

Would Theodore Roosevelt yearn to be back with Ego if he was just 151 miles from home? Yes probably.

But Theodore Roosevelt knew he had a job to do and he did it, and I think it was he who coined the famous phrase, “If you can leave NYC there, you can go anywhere.*”

So I left Albany and soldiered on to Saratoga Springs where my friend was living, and I knew I’d be back with Ego in a month.

*Citation needed

New England

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

When I was eating dinner with the family in New Hampshire, I asked if Maine was part of New England. It is.

Then I asked if New York was part of New England. It isn’t.

I asked why and they said, “Because New York’s too big.”

I wasn’t completely satisfied with that answer. Maine’s pretty big, too. After a little research, I learned York, where New York got its name, is about four hours away from Hampshire, where New Hampshire got its name, both in England, where New England got its name.

Coincidentally, New York is about four hours away from New Hampshire.

I’m not sure where that leaves New York from a region standpoint. Perhaps the Atlantic Northeast? In any case, New England was gorgeous and great, but Pacific Northwest, Southwest, Midwest, the South and Texas are to come.

Vermont poster

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

A lot of Vermonters in Sochi right now, which is nice, but how McDonalds is an Olympic sponsor and Ben & Jerry’s isn’t saddens me. Surely a “Gold Medal Caramel” flavor would make much more sense than the McNugget ad promoting their new Habanero Ranch sauce?

This is the world we live in.

Read the finer points of the poster at RapGenius.

Scratch off: Vermont

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

Just one of those days when it rains, you lose another dollar, and you try to document your loss while holding an umbrella in one hand and a camera in the other while trying to keep dry because getting wet AND losing a dollar is the worst.

Scratch-off Count: -$2
States Scratched: 6

Charlotte, VT to Essex, NY

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

My GPS hates me and is getting real tired of my shit.

We had a planned course to drive down the US 7 in Vermont and then hook west into New York, but when you see signs for a ferry that goes across Lake Champlain with a possibility of seeing Champ, who are you going to listen to, a robot or your heart?

Long story short, GPS kept recalculating and telling me to u-turn until I got to the ferry and she resigned and finally told me to take the ferry and look for Champ.

Like Old Man Mountain always said, “Never let a robot rob you of the opportunity to move your car on a boat over the sixth Great Lake and catch a glimpse of the ninth living wonder of the world.”

Winooski, Vermont

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

I met Mechelle and her friends before they were off to a drag king show, and her native Vermonter girlfriend, Rachel, described Vermont as a billboard-less utopia, whose capital is the only one in the nation without a McDonald’s, all smothered in maple syrup.

Also a two other interesting tidbits she told me: The same guy who designed Boulder, Colorado also designed Burlington, which explains why the street malls are so similar and possibly optimized for vagabonds, and that the cat likes to claw at your feet when you’re asleep, which explains why I woke up in the middle of night with a cat clawing at my feet.

Waterbury, Vermont

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

If you ever get New Hampshire and Vermont mixed up on a map, just remember that Vermont is shaped like a V.

But if you’re ever blindfolded then dropped into either one of these states and can’t tell whether you’re in a V-shaped state or not, just remember a couple things: 

Everything in Vermont is made of sugar. Fresh Ben & Jerry’s, maple syrup on pancakes, maple syrup soda, maple syrup in coffee and I’m certain if they could, they’d probably have their own Vermont Coke (like Mexican Coke but with maple syrup instead of cane sugar…or American coke and high-fructose corn syrup).

And if you see a giant see monster chilling in a giant lake, that would be Champ chilling in Lake Champlain. Take a photo for proof, sell to National Enquirer, and never be blindfolded then tossed into a random state ever again.

New Hampshire poster

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

"Living Free or Dying" was in the first draft of the poster but took it out. Then I thought about putting "Live, Freeze or Die," as my host, Rick, told me the motto should be but left that out, too. So this is New Hampshire.

Read the poster and its footnotes at RapGenius.

Franconia, New Hampshire

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

I had a theory just before I left for this project that you can tell how much pride people have in their state based on how many times you see a state’s outline on signs or things in the shape of the state. For instance, in Texas, you see the state on highway signs, you can buy Texas-shaped cookies and Texas-shaped soaps.

I didn’t notice too many these outlines of the first three days through three states until I got to Maine and Mainers happen to have a lot of pride.

New Hampshire’s obsession is not their state’s outline. Their highway signs, license plates, and even their statehood quarter features the profile Old Man of the Mountain, which I think is ridiculous.

A long time ago, a guy noticed that a rock cliff looked like an old man when standing at a certain angle, and years since, the state’s celebrated the guy ever since. When the cliff was in peril of falling off, there was a big effort to fight Mother Nature and save it using nuts and bolts. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last and the people built a memorial for him.

When I got to the park, an old couple was figuring out the memorial’s installation where you can stand at a designated spot and bring the Old Man back to the mountain. They asked me to take a photograph of them that’s just like the one they took years ago when they used to come here often.

And maybe that’s why New Hampshirites loved this old man so much, because like the old men in our society, we often use them as an excuse for the things we do, from farting in public and blaming it on them to convincing our darling to start a family because our old man wants to be a grandfather. This Old Man was always there when you needed him.

So maybe I’m the one that is ridiculous.

Hopkinton, New Hampshire

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

I was a little confused when I got to my AirBnB in Hopkinton, NH, and found out it was a farm and not an apartment. Then I was a little confused again when Patti, my AirBnB host said Socrates was probably out back in the farm and I saw Socrates killing insects in the garden and was a human and not a cat.

Rick and Patti told Socrates (who was helping around the farm from Florida) and me at dinner about Old Man Mountain (something New Hampshire is completely obsessed with even after its demise), their cheap liquor stores (so cheap that neighboring states cross state borders just to save money), and their small government (their state house is tiny).

Patti and her husband, Rick, named the farm Breakwind farm, and the more I talked with them while passing the fresh salad around, I learned that “breakwind” refers to what you think it refers to. Especially when you consider their website is and their specialty is baked beans.

I’ve never had a farm-to-table dinner where the distance the food traveled from a farm to my table was so short. On the flip side, the scraps were collected and dumped into compost bins right next to the table, perhaps giving the compost worms the shortest distance table-to-dirt dinner they’ve ever had.

So if you ever find yourself at Breakwind Farm, go ahead and break the freshest wind you’ve ever broken and come prepared with puns to have a pun battle with Rick.

Plymouth, New Hampshire 2

Added on by Nathan Hoang.
130706 plymouth new hampshire 2.jpg

I saw Confederate flags in Maine which I thought was weird but not peculiar.

Then I got lost in New Hampshire and saw windmills, which I thought was weird and peculiar because I’ve never seen them before.

Plymouth, New Hampshire

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

People who buy a car know they can choose the make, model and color, but they can’t completely control how their license plate looks.

For the most part, license plate designs are a point of pride for people. The last Texas license plate featured a cowboy in the desert, a couple derricks, and a space shuttle flying overhead through big, bright stars towards the moon. All this was a bit much but I guess it summed it up.

New Hampshire’s license plate, on the other hand, only has the Old Man of the Mountain and the phrase “Live Free or Die.” Sure enough, these two things sum up New Hampshire.

The Old Man of the Mountain, a geological formation off the side of a cliff, formed a profile of an old man if you looked it at the right way. This profile dominated everything from their statehood quarter to their highway signs to roadside replicas for storage units.

When I first saw the New Hampshire quarter, I thought, “This is what New Hampshire’s all about? A rock?” Obviously not, but everyone is obsessed with this Old Man, even after the cliff fell in 2003, people are still coming out to see where the Old Man once was. There’s even a memorial for this “man.”

The other part of New Hampshire, the “live free or die” part, is just as important and it isn’t always political. I took a detour because my GPS and I were fighting and I ended up driving through a covered bridge. Under the bridge was a rope swing, people kayaking and kids playing in the river.

Everyone had their clothes on, but you know what I mean.

So while the Old Man of the Mountain went with death, New Hampshirites are living free: No state tax and liquor so cheap other neighboring states cross borders just to buy some.

Scratch off: Maine

Added on by Nathan Hoang.
Maine scratch off.jpg

After lunch, the waitress asked if I wanted dessert. I tried to politely decline and said, “I was eyeing that pie but I’m a little too full.”

She replied, “Well you can always take it to go.”

I couldn’t make a legitimate argument and ate the damn pie right then and there without bothering to get it to go.

Then I lost another dollar to the lottery.

Scratch-Off Count: -$2
States Scratched: 4