Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

A land of courteous drivers

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Greg Peck
Thursday, October 24, 2013

A notebook of thoughts collected while my wife, Cheryl, and I enjoyed a two-week visit to the New England states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

-- The drivers in these states are very courteous to pedestrians. Sure, more signs pointed out that the law requires braking for pedestrians. Still, it's the law here in Wisconsin, too, but too few motorists do so. You risk getting run over stepping into a crosswalk. But in those three states, if a motorist even sees you approaching a crosswalk, he or she will likely stop. We witnessed this time and again. Sometimes, we weren't even sure we wanted to cross as we were sightseeing, but we waved in thanks and hurried across whenever a driver stopped. Could it be that these New Englanders are simply happier, friendlier and more content with life?

-- Those states look much like Wisconsin in many ways. Wisconsin has beautiful countryside, hilly regions and farmland and a long shoreline. Trade our Great Lakes shores for that of the Atlantic Ocean, and stretch our hills and small mountains a tad, and you have these New England states.

-- That storm that rolled through the Midwest a few weeks ago, spawning tornadoes in Iowa and Nebraska? We drove through it in Ohio, where a daytime deluge was so overwhelming that motorists were driving with their flashers on so fellow drivers could see them. At one point, a semi passed us and splashed so much water on our car that I couldn't see for perhaps five seconds. Frightening, indeed. The storm slammed the mountains in northern New England, stripping most leaves of their fall colors. Soon after, we enjoyed great weather.

-- Though these three states are very similar and stir memories of “The Bob Newhart Show,” it was almost as if we transitioned three times while visiting them. In Vermont, we were photographing rural scenery and covered bridges. In New Hampshire, we saw more mountains and waterfalls. In Maine, we enjoyed harbors, lighthouses and quaint coastal villages.

-- In Vermont, by the way, it seems as though every other building in the rural countryside was either overdue for paint (if it ever had a coat to start with) or leaning or both. Perhaps it says something about the harsh winters, the laidback lifestyle or the lack of contractors.

-- Maine's architecture is interesting. Lots of roofs have elaborate soffits. Even more noticeable—many rural homes were connected to barns. Better, perhaps, to reach the animals and do chores without fighting your way through harsh winter weather. Many such barns, however, seemed to have been modernized into garages with separate doors for each car.

-- Big news kept emerging out of Washington as we wondered if the government shutdown would end and we'd be able to freely roam Maine's Acadia National Park. We chatted with a guy from Green Bay who said he was a lifelong Republican but, “Right now, I wouldn't vote for any of them.” The continuing story reminded me of that other big news that broke when Cheryl and I were in Ireland a few years ago—that GM would close its Janesville factory.

-- Spend enough time visiting these states, which attract many Boston visitors, and you'll pick up the New England dialect. Such as, “Afteh we pahk the cah, let's walk down to the hahbah foh a beeyah.”

-- Cheryl was impressed by the beauty of the flowers everywhere we went. Granted, these states enjoy weather similar to Wisconsin's and hadn't suffered a frost yet. Perhaps, however, the moisture in the air due to the ocean helped the buds maintain their beauty deeper into autumn.

-- We had read a story in The Gazette about Portsmouth, N.H., being almost spotless, without litter. That might be stretching the case, but compared to Wisconsin, litter does seem much less in these New England states.

-- Those states seem to have more porcupines than Wisconsin, based on road-kill observations.

-- I loved many of the coastal communities. My favorite might have been Camden, Maine. If you go, however, don't miss Bar Harbor, Portland (a larger city with a great district for restaurants/bars/shops near the harbor), Kennebunkport and Ogunquit/Cape Neddick in Maine, and Portsmouth (another great marketplace district), N.H.

-- New England is big on Halloween. Scarecrows were everywhere. Made me think Janesville should sponsor a public art project for scarecrows around Halloween. The best scarecrows we saw showed Michael Jackson doing his slide step and a batch of firefighters with a net trying to catch a witch who had smacked a tree while texting (lots of folks photographing this humorous scene). We stopped by happenstance in Keene, N.H., last Thursday evening, only to learn the community was gearing up for its annual Pumpkin Festival. Oh, my. Keene's downtown is quaint and inviting despite a couple of roundabouts. The city also is home to Keene State College, one of several attractive colleges we saw sprinkled around New England. Keene shuts its downtown to traffic for this fest, however, and reclaimed from Boston the world record by assembling 30,581 carved and lighted pumpkins.

-- We were surprised that New England had so few wineries. We took great delight in the one we did visit, Cellardoor Winery in a beautifully restored 1790 barn just west of Lincolnville, Maine. We saw many vineyards, however, while driving Interstate 90 through New York and even Pennsylvania.

-- Speaking of New York, here is one thing that stretch of I-90 has that ours doesn't: Text stops. That's right; spots where motorists can safely pull off the highway and send text messages. A sign of the times, I guess. Sorry, no restroom facilities at these waysides.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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