In Western Mass., the Only Potholes You Won’t Hate


Snowflakes have finally transitioned to raindrops, lawns are becoming thicker and greener, and thermometers are steadily on the uptick. The spring season is now very much here. In our little corner of the country, though, the focus is elsewhere: divots in the road have transitioned to potholes, potholes are becoming deeper potholes, and potholes, it seems, are generally on the uptick. I cringe for everyone’s axles just thinking about it. But there is one place in Massachusetts where potholes are a welcome sight, strange as that may sound. For those willing to trek to the foothills of the Berkshires, risking their vehicles’ suspensions and wheel rims on pothole-riddled roads, they are in for an idyllic treat.

Roughly two hours west of Boston is the unassuming town of Shelburne Falls, nestled upon the eastern bank of the Deerfield River. This community is a bucolic destination for New England tourists wanting to break from typical destinations down along the coast or high up in the mountains. Here they’re treated to a healthy dose of New England hilltown atmosphere along with views of what are called glacial potholes, etched by Mother Nature out of the rocky riverbed.

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Strange Massachusetts Place Names, Part 1: Satans Kingdom

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Satans Kingdom, MA

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is home to numerous cities and towns whose namesakes are of European descent dating back hundreds of years. It makes sense, of course, given that European powers claimed communities up and down the East Coast, with the British concentrating, in part, around New England during its earliest period of colonial settlement. Some of these weird Massachusetts town names, though, have a muddled origin; some have changed over time, as all languages do, while others remain unexplained to this day. Take, for example, the village of Satans Kingdom in Northfield, Massachusetts.

Satans Kingdom is arguably the strangest name of any area in Massachusetts. Consider for a moment that the state is overflowing with place names that are blatantly English (e.g., Gloucester, Leicester, Leominster, Worcester), are currently names of other more prominent places worldwide (e.g., Florida, Peru, Holland, Mt Washington), and are names of local historical figures (e.g., Adams, Hancock, Webster, Lowell, Revere, Winthrop). Others are comically odd (Braintree, Belchertown, Cummington).

You get the idea.

But Satans Kingdom is noticeably different. It injects an air of foreboding, casts a dark mystique over the area, implies the dominion of the devil. So how could Massachusetts name a place so eerie when it’s surrounded by places with names so endearing?

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Peter Pan Bus Lines Owns the Charlie Baker Administration

Peter Pan Bus

Image via danjo paluska/(CC BY 2.0)

On Friday, July 7, Massachusetts legislators came to a compromise on a $40.2 billion state budget that’s now on the desk of Governor Charlie Baker.

Though the budget slices government spending in the range of $400 million to $500 million, it’s not without its casualties. One such fatality has been touted as a potential boon for the western portion of the Commonwealth, which continues to feel the sting of the state government’s home court advantage in easterly Boston. That is to say, the budget compromise seems to favor Eastern Mass. at the expense of Western Mass.

“This budget is not without pain,” Senate Ways and Means chair Karen Spilka, Democrat, told the AP. “It is clear that the state is facing a shortfall in revenue that will have an impact on real people’s lives.”

Added Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg, it’s “the harshest state budget since the last recession.”

For residents of Western Mass. — the region of the state composed of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, and parts of Worcester Counties — the budget represents another instance of playing second fiddle to Greater Boston, this time though in the realm of transportation.

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An Afternoon in Cloudland: Plane Crashes, Transcendentalists, and Mount Greylock

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The author on the Appalachian Trail

Famed poet-naturalist Henry David Thoreau once stood atop a lookout tower on the highest point in Massachusetts above sea level and described the expanse of the vista using one overarching word: cloudland.

When Thoreau visited the summit of Mount Greylock, protruding 3,491 feet into the sky, the surrounding valleys in the earth far below as well as the scattered communities throughout the landscape were all completely shrouded in mist. Where on a clear day one can see as far as 90 miles in almost all directions, Thoreau was treated instead to an endless display of rolling, hazy clouds.

Wrote Thoreau in 1844,

“As the light increased I discovered around me an ocean of mist which by chance reached up to exactly the base of the tower, and shut out every vestige of the earth, while I was left floating on this fragment of the wreck of the world, on my carved plank in cloudland; a situation which required, no aid from the imagination to render it impressive.”

On our journey to Mount Greylock, the path took us in some of Thoreau’s footsteps before we struck out on the stoic Appalachian Trail, which spans more than 2,000 miles from Maine to Georgia, 90 of which pass through Massachusetts.

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UnChain AVL: Keep Asheville Weird

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North Carolina/ Image via the author

At a mom-and-pop bbq joint some 75 miles east of Atlanta we charted our course.

We had just arrived from Savannah, a nearly four-hour drive from the southeast.

We parked ourselves at two lunch counter stools in front of a window facing an Athens, GA sidewalk. The restaurant was small enough that, on busy days, a line forms out the door and stretches halfway to the University of Georgia.

The interior walls were plastered with autographed photos of past UGA athletes and upcoming team schedules.

At the rear of the place, which can be more accurately described as a cafeteria, was a display case full of homemade southern comfort food. The walls of the tin serving trays buckled under the weight of overflowing mac and cheese, collard greens, potato salad, mashed potatoes, wild rice, cole slaw, and baked beans.

In the back, a middle-aged couple tended to a stable of smoked, slow-cooked, dry-rubbed, and sauced-up meats; tender, juicy, and artfully charred. Wanna-be vegetarians, we willingly tossed aside our herbivorous morals into a pile of sustenance-stripped pork bones and drumsticks.

It was a no-brainer for us to order the sampler plate — in its own right a great smoky mountain of beans, mac and cheese, grilled chicken breast, pulled pork, ribs, and kielbasa. As we razed the mountain, we pulled up and pored over a map displayed on my mobile phone.

“We can either take this route straight north through the Smokies, this one that goes right along the foothills, or this one which is the most direct but skirts pretty much all of the range,” I said pointing to various points on the screen with a saucy finger.

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A Drive Through the Valley of the Shenandoah

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Broadway, VA/ Image via the author

The valley in which we rode was once a fiery battleground.

The rolling fields, like grassy ocean swells, which give way to imposing mountains on both the left and the right were just as scenic and stoic as in the mid-1800s. Men fought and killed each other on that very same ground over slavery and the preservation of the union.

It was upsetting to think such a beautiful landscape was formerly demeaned by the horrors of war. I couldn’t fathom what residents thought in the midst of it; the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Appalachian Plateau to the west illuminated with cannon and mortar fire, droves of ragged military men charging and hollering and killing, patches of farmland saturated with blood.

It sounds sensationalized but indeed the Shenandoah Valley was the crux of the Eastern Theater of the Civil War. At the mouth of the valley to the north, the town of Winchester, Virginia is said to have changed hands more than 70 times throughout the conflict.

Aside from the complete lack of 19th century militarization, though with the presence of modern technologies like telephone lines, paved roads, and automobiles, much of what could be seen from our roving vantage struck me with the feeling that most of it remains exactly the same as it was for generations past.

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Aunt Thelma: The Matriarch of Bermuda

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Front Street, Hamilton, Bermuda/ Image via the author

Hamilton is a modest municipality, the capital city of the modest British Overseas Territory of Bermuda. Its narrow streets buzz with scooters, compressed cars, and buses that look more like minivans in comparison to the larger caravans seen here in the States. Lining the roads is an eclectic display of architecture.

Front Street, Hamilton’s main thoroughfare, stretches along the northern edge of Hamilton Harbour and behind it the city sits perched on a gentle slope dotted with buildings that exemplify Hamilton’s blend of Western influence and native style.

Limestone storefronts are coated with vibrant, coral blues, yellows, and reds. Rooftops carved and stepped, designed to catch and funnel rainwater into underground holding tanks. Gothic Revival houses of worship standing stoically next to ramshackle take-out restaurants alongside cafes seemingly transported from the Iberian Peninsula.

Off of Front Street is a stout pier called Point Pleasant, home to a park of the same name canopied by slender Bermuda Palmettos. Standing at the tip of the Pier, known as Albouy’s Point, one has a direct view of the sailboats and luxury vessels anchored at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club to the right, the craggy Harbour islands just beyond, and a clear line of sight to the coastline across the azure water.

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Southern Charm Stories: Welcome to the Hostess City

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Savannah, Georgia, James Oglethorpe Monument, Chippewa Square

We arrived in Savannah in the dead of night.

It was a fitting time for reaching the milieu made famous and increasingly popular in recent years by the bewitching novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

The City of Savannah takes its name from the river upon which it sits which also doubles as the border between Georgia and South Carolina. The stretch of highway that connects the South Carolina Lowcountry to the oldest city in the Peach State meanders through several miles of marsh and tidal flats, over the river, and across the state boundary.

After the sun has passed below the horizon, the only guiding light from the exit off I-95 and along US 17 is emitted from the city itself, a distant orb that grows as one approaches.

The aforementioned description paints two distinct pictures of the Savannah area — one dark and gritty amplified perhaps by the assumption of ramshackle huts scattered throughout sparsely-populated and under resourced communities that live and die by the fishing industry; the other an isolated, gleaming, and welcoming destination from which it earned the nickname “The Hostess City of the South.”

Both notions of Savannah hold some truth.

Both are bound together by a common thread.

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A Jersey Shore Vignette: Password to the Ocean City Boardwalk

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Ocean City, N.J. Ferris Wheel/ Nick DeLuca

“Open or closed?”

The question is something of a secret password for nonnatives, or, conversely, a nod of respect to those who have tread the Ocean City, N.J. boardwalk before.

Johnson’s Popcorn, a Jersey Shore staple more than half a century, is celebrated for its decadently sweet, lightly buttered, pinch-salted caramel corn so saccharine it’ll give your dentist an anxiety disorder.

The sweet and savory ingredients act as an adhesive, creating chunky popcorn balls swimming in a sea of perfectly seasoned kernels.

Needless to say, it’s damned delicious.

The question, posed by the cashiers manning each of the four Johnson’s Popcorn kiosks on the historic boardwalk, is an on-the-spot test of your shore knowledge and acts equally as an identifier if it’s your first time.

And if it is, in fact, your inaugural visit, there’s only one answer:

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Portsmouth, N.H.: The Unpretentious Underdog of New England

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The author at Book & Bar, Portsmouth, N.H.

Mankind has a natural affinity for the underdog.

Endorsing dark horses is a humanistic trait, dating as far back as, and certainly beyond, the biblical showdown of David vs. Goliath.

It’s a psychological phenomenon that, according to research, helps explain the likes of the nation’s unbounded enthusiasm for March Madness, the worldwide popularity of Harry Potter, the meteoric rise of presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders and the surge of farmstand shopping over corporate supermarkets.

I would argue that the underdog role is one that can also be portrayed by locations, and that urban centers, for example, boast similar characteristics as those aforementioned. The Harvard Business Review described this twofold effect as having “a disadvantaged position… and a passion and determination to triumph against the odds.”

In that regard, Portsmouth, N.H. is the Northeast’s underdog city.

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