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On The Road To Who We Are

First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript November 26, 2014

Regular Readers may have picked up on the fact that my parents live in Miami. I strongly recommend having family some place warm when you reside in the Tri-Towns. If you don’t, perhaps you can borrow mine. They are friendly, flexible and understanding to those in need of the occasional thaw.

When I’m down there, it’s hard to remember that our life exists up here. Shearling wool in my boots? Wouldn’t the sand get stuck? But there is one thread of consistency between my life in Boxford and my time spent in the land where wild parrots fly. A thread designed to bring the full Americana of America into our life: behold, Route 1.

How fortunate that in both places I am but two turns away from Route 1.

Is there anything more disconcerting than flying into Boston Logan and driving north into the industrial blight? Cast your gaze upon the refineries and the distant views of the Deer Island sewage plant. Take it all in oh weary traveler, the visually breathtaking Kowloon restaurant and brand new Walmart rising up like the Godzilla of box stores. Lest you be too dazzled by these offerings, the signs for the Golden Banana and later, Bonkers, are just around the bend. Both are fun houses for . . . different populations. Both should be razed.

And yet it’s reassuring that when my parents pick us up in Miami and we head down Route 1, the same sense of industrial and retail funk exists. Yes, the road is dotted with palm trees, but the leftover 1960s strip malls, junk yards and exotic bars exist in equal abundance.

And while I despair, I also I secretly appreciate it. There is a time and place for tacky – it’s how we keep ourselves grounded. What would life be if there were only lovely Lynnfield Marketplace Malls with manicured grass and up-tempo music floating through the seasonally scented air? Who would we be as a society without the availability of a local Hooters? OK, we might be a better society without obnoxious restaurants named after, umm, owls. But Route 1 reminds us that so far, we aren’t there yet. Route 1 sees our oasis of Starbucks and Trader Joes, and reminds us that we are only a block away from faded miniature golf and watered down margaritas.

Side by side the two realities exist: who we hope to be and who we actually still are.

Take for example the stretch down in the Keys, near the end of route 1. My parents and I pulled into a gas station so I could get our girls some water (OK, I bought soda, call the sugar police). I found myself next to a lady who was profusely thanking the cashier for calling the police when, at that same gas station a month earlier, she’d been mugged and had her car stolen. Not who we hope to be.

But just down the road at mile marker 88 there was a beach-side shack called, appropriately, Marker 88. Palm trees rustled, pelicans soared and a colorful outdoor bar stood to one side advertising Mojitos and Hemingway’s.

The water of the the gulf-side bay was crystal clear, and we paddled out on my parent’s boards where we could see fish darting and seagrass swaying. Families came and set up picnics and kids frolicked in the warm waters – – all within ten feet of Route 1. Who we hope to be … if only for a Saturday morning.
Now we’re back home and the holidays are on. Nothing allows Route 1 to shine quite like this time of year. As we head into December, we will need to dash into the Christmas Tree Shops for emergency purchases and we will also head north to the land of outlets and Wicked Comfy where shearling is always an option.

Parrots and palms, twinkle lights and evergreens, living by Route 1 keeps our towns – both near and far – grounded in the grit, with glimpses of the great.