Friday, July 15, 2011

Bike tour of Gloucester, Mass.

Brought the old hybrid bike along for our big trip to New England. We’d trailered the motorcycles to Gloucester, Mass., where we stayed at the Colonial Inn, an 1860s vintage mansion that is now a bed and breakfast. Great place to stay with good access to Boston -- highly recommended.

The bike rode east ignominiously strapped to a rack on the back window of my SUV. I’d learned from the last trip, when we'd stuck the bicycles between the motorcycles on the trailer. Both motorcycles bear vibration-induced scars from the bicycles on that trip. Not to put too fine a point on it, Mary’s motorcycle got beat to hell.

I took a few short bicycle rides in the mornings, just down the road to fetch a Diet Coke and a newspaper (New York Post headline on the Casey Anthony verdict: “Not Guilty As Sin!”). On Independence Day eve, I found myself with a few hours to explore Gloucester, America’s oldest seaport.

I stopped for the standard diner breakfast at Zeke’s Place. Classic breakfast/lunch restaurant, with a ten-place counter. The waitress called me “dear” (well, it was New England, it came out “deah.”). Food was good and not overly greasy. I ordered my scrambled eggs “super dry, burned to a crisp” and by golly, they came out nice and dry, the way I like ‘em. Thick-cut bacon, too.

Suitably fueled up for the mission, I set off to see the rest of the town. I headed into Gloucester proper, along the seashore. The core of the downtown area is the Gorton’s Seafood headquarters. There’s a large office building and a dockside facility.

 The Gorton’s fisherman, whom I don’t particularly trust, is loosely modeled on the target of my next stop: the monument to those Gloucesterians lost at sea -- “They that go down to the sea in ships” of the Bible verse. There are a lot. A lot. The monument lists their names,hundreds of them, from dory fisherman lost in the late 1600s to the crew of the Andrea Gail and even more recently. I hope the Bible verse comforts them.
Here's they that go down to the sea in ships
and he that go down to the sea on a bicycle.

 The young helmsman of the monument looks out to sea, wearing his slickers and confidently steering his ship into the nor'easter. I imagine most of the hundreds of names on the monument belonged to kids in their 20s.

 It occurred to me that I have been from sea to shining sea, from San Diego to Gloucester, and many points in between (not necessarily, and not usually, on a bicycle). I am a lucky man to have seen so much of our amazing country.

A few hundred feet down the road, another monument has been added, commemorating the wives and children of the fisherman who never came home. A hard life, made even harder. Perhaps even more deserving of our consideration: the dead don’t have to pay the rent or buy their kids shoes.

For some reason, it always seemed to be low tide.Makes you wonder how they get all the lobster pots from the pier down to the boat.

In the artist's colony of Rocky Neck I came across this scene. The boat looked like it had been the goal of a refurbishment, but the project had stalled years ago and the once-proud ship had become a sort of second garage for junk storage. I wonder if the magnum bottle of wine was once meant for the re-christening, but was drunk when the owner realized the ship would never again set out to sea.

One of the churches in town is Our Lady of Good Voyage. Here’s the Lady, protectively cradling a boat, on the steeple. I’d have taken some pix inside, but morning mass was in session. I was expecting something like Father Mapple’s sermon from Moby Dick:

And the Great Whale shuts to all his ivory teeth like so many white bolts upon his prison. And Jonah cries unto the Lord, out of the fish's belly. But observe his prayer, Shipmates. He doesn't weep or wail. He feels his punishment is just. He leaves deliverance to God. And even out of the belly of Hell, grounded upon the ocean's utmost bones, God heard him when he cried.

… But the modern sermon was the usual mumble blah oh lord i am not worthy to receive thee mumble blah.

At the the "Cut Bridge" on the way back to the inn, a fishing boat passed right underneath me. It was one of those steel-grate bridges that haunt the nightmares of motorcycle riders even though they're about as dangerous as cinnamon-scented unicorn farts. Anyway, I was jealous of those on board. I hope they has as great a day fishing as I had exploring Gloucester.