8 October 2000
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We're back. We spent the week in New England, reconnoitering for a
place to which we might relocate. Alas, it seems that New England is not
for us. Short story:
There are very few houses available. We heard stories repeatedly about
someone who was pounding a for-sale sign in the front yard literally being
accosted by people waving money. The average home stays on the market for
something like two days. When we did an Internet search before leaving,
we'd see that a town of 8,000 people had three houses for sale. Barbara
did a comparison on realtor.com of six New Hampshire towns. In total, they
showed a dozen "recent listings" and of those only five homes
were still on the market when she checked. We figured that only a small
subset of the homes for sale were listed. Apparently not. That was all of
them. When we stopped at a realtor in Hanover (home of Dartmouth), there
were fewer than a dozen homes listed in Hanover itself. That was all of
them, from $40,000 mobile homes to multi-million dollar mansions.
Apparently, the only choice is to buy a lot and build your own. And new
housing costs something like $150 per square foot to build.
Heating was another problem. Natural gas is available in very few
areas. Most people--including those in large towns--heat with oil, bottled
gas, or electricity, all of which are extremely expensive, particularly in
a cold climate, and particularly this year. Natural gas won't be cheap
this year, but compared to heating with electricity it's a bargain.
Particularly in New Hampshire, which has very expensive electricity. Other
utilities are no better. We're accustomed to even small towns providing
city water and sewage service, and to that service being available outside
the town limits for some distance. That's pretty rare in New Hampshire.
Nearly all the listings we saw were for homes that used well water and a
septic tank. Another show-stopper was that high-speed Internet access is
available only in a few areas. And those few areas, unfortunately, pretty
much correspond to places that we'd ruled out because of high taxes or for
And speaking of taxes, they're hideously high, both those that are now
in effect and others that are likely to be passed soon. Some of those
weren't mentioned when we were doing research on the Internet, including a
statewide property tax, "donor" taxes from formerly
"low" tax areas transferred to subsidize higher tax areas, and
the likelihood that New Hampshire will pass a state income tax. The
statewide property tax is $5.50 per thousand, which means we'd pay $1,100
on a $200,000 home. That's about what we pay now in total property taxes.
Beyond the $1,100, there are local property taxes which vary from perhaps
$8/thousand to more than $50/thousand. If we bought or built a $200,000
home in one of the higher tax areas, our total property taxes would be
more than $12,000 per year, which seems ridiculous.
Vermont was even worse, tax-wise, and Maine didn't look any better. So,
regretfully, we've concluded that New England is not for us. It's
beautiful, and we'd love to live there. But not at the cost of hideous
taxes, high heating costs, and very poor Internet access.
So we'll drop back and punt. Tennessee, perhaps, or Virginia, or
Pennsylvania. Or perhaps just elsewhere in North Carolina.
For all of that, it was a worthwhile trip. It was the first time
in years I've taken more than two or three days off in a row.
Friday, 29 September: We finished
packing Thursday evening and transferred all but the cooler and other
last-minute items to the Trooper, leaving us little to do Friday morning
before heading out. Our target departure time was 9:00 a.m., and we missed
it by only five minutes or so. Our destination for the evening was
Princeton, New Jersey, where we'd arranged to meet Caroline Llewellyn, one
of my favorite mystery authors. One of my favorite people, come to that.
Barbara drove the first 285 miles, when we stopped for gasoline between
Richmond, Virginia and Washington, DC. I took over driving then, and got
us through DC, Baltimore, and Delaware, up to the New Jersey border.
Mileage-wise, that wasn't a very long stint, but it was the drive from
Hell, with incredible traffic. We got through half a dozen slow-downs that
weren't caused by anything obvious like an accident. Traffic would simply
come almost to a dead stop and then creep along for perhaps a couple of
miles at maybe 5 MPH, after which we'd be back up to running 65 or 70 MPH.
Until the next one.
Barbara took over driving again after we got to New Jersey. We finally
arrived in Princeton at about 7:00 p.m., after a total of about 525 miles.
We cruised up US 1 looking for a place to stay. We saw a Marriott
Courtyard Hotel that looked reasonable, so we stopped and checked in
there. I called Caroline Llewellyn and left a message on her machine to
let her know we were in town and going to go have dinner.
By that point, we were both beat and didn't want to go back out on US 1
to find a restaurant. Fortunately, there was a Ruby Tuesdays adjacent to
the hotel. We walked over there, only to find that there was a 30 to 45
minute wait. We left our name and headed back to the hotel for a short
After dinner, we went back to the hotel and collapsed. Barbara fell
asleep reading her book, so I just let her sleep until Caroline called at
about 10:30 to make arrangements for tomorrow. We agreed to meet for
breakfast at 8:00 a.m. at the hotel restaurant. Barbara and I both then
lost consciousness and slept straight through until morning.
Saturday, 30 September: Up at 7:00
a.m., startled awake by the wakeup call I'd left last night. Ordinarily,
we'd both have been awake naturally by that time, but this time I was
still asleep when the phone rang. Barbara, of course, had woken at about
6:45 and was already in the shower.
I showered and we got our stuff packed up and got down to check out.
Caroline (pictured below) was meeting us at 8:00, but we decided to wait
down in the lobby rather than the room. She was a few minutes early, and
we adjourned to the hotel restaurant, which serves only breakfast.
Caroline and Barbara chose the buffet. I, of course, had only coffee. The
waitress, a fine example of her profession, was perceptive enough to leave
the pot without being asked to do so..
After breakfast, we drove into Princeton itself and parked at the
Princeton Library, where Caroline volunteers a couple days a week. After a
short tour of her library, which is beautiful, we went off on a walking
tour of downtown Princeton and the University. Very picturesque.
As we walked, Caroline played tour guide, and did so very well indeed.
She also talked about her past novels, and told us a bit about the one
she's working on now. Until now, she's been turning out a novel about
every two years, but her agent and publisher keep hammering on her to do
one a year, and it seems that now her children are older she may be able
to write on that kind of schedule. I hope so. Caroline is one of the
finest mystery authors I've read, and I've read a lot.
I'd planned to leave about noon, but Barbara said she'd feel better
about leaving around 11:00. Barbara is usually right, so we reluctantly
left Caroline about 11:00 and headed for New England. When we made our
reservation in New Hampshire, the guy said it'd take about 6 hours to get
there from Princeton. Obviously, he thought we were taking the shortest
Barbara didn't want to drive anywhere New York City. Nor did I, for
that matter. So we decided to take the New York Thruway north to Albany
and then drive east through New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire to reach
I-93. We slightly underestimated how long that would take. We'd hoped to
arrive about 5:00 p.m., but it was actually 7:15 p.m. by the time we got
to our lodgings.
By that time, I was beat once again, and all the restaurants were
packed. We finally ended up getting takeout at an Italian pizza/sub place
and eating back in our cabin. The cabin itself is small, basically a main
room with a king-size bed and desk, with a small bathroom tacked on
behind. We were kind of expecting a kitchenette, but there aren't any
cooking facilities. Oh, well.
Sunday, 1 October: After two days
and 1,000 miles of driving, we decided to make today a rest day. We stayed
around the cabin all day, planning what we'll do this coming week. In the
afternoon, we drove into the village of Lincoln to see what was there. We
ended up stopping at a supermarket and picking up some edibles. Around
dinner time, we headed back into Lincoln and had dinner at a
Monday, 2 October through Thursday, 5 October:
We drove all over New Hampshire looking at communities and talking to
realtors. This entire period is a blur for me. We visited everywhere in
New Hampshire at least once, I think, from Hanover/Lebanon/Eastman in the
west on Monday to Concord/Loudon/Laconia/Plymouth on Tuesday, to
Littleton/Berlin/Conway/Maine on Wednesday, to Portsmouth and the
Southeast on Thursday. We hit every major road in New Hampshire at least
twice. Both ways. We'd originally planned to stay through Friday night and
leave Saturday morning, but by Wednesday evening it had become clear to us
that we wouldn't be moving to New Hampshire. Barbara suggested that, even
though we were past the advance notice period required to cancel Friday
night's stay, we talk to the owners, thinking that they might just as soon
have Friday night back for someone who would want our cabin for the entire
upcoming holiday weekend. I spoke to them, and they indeed did want our
cabin for Friday night and were willing to refund the charge for that
Friday, 6 October: We'd packed up
Thursday night, and got a 7:30 start this morning heading back home. There
was no way we were going to repeat the drive from Hell on Interstate 95,
so we plotted a different route home. Back roads through New Hampshire to
Interstate 91 at the Vermont line. I-91 south through Vermont,
Massachusetts, and Connecticut to I-84. I-84 west through Connecticut, New
York, and Pennsylvania to I-81. I-81 south through Pennsylvania, Maryland,
West Virginia, and Virginia to Roanoke, where we'd pick up US-220 home to
Being a man, I secretly planned to drive straight through from northern
New Hampshire to home, which is about 1,000 miles (~1,600 km). After all,
we were at point A and wanted to get to Point B, so it makes sense to get
from A to B via the standard male Death March. No stops for anything
except the absolute necessities--fuel and bathroom stops. We had a cooler
with food and drinks, so we could eat while driving. If our Trooper had a
larger gas tank (say 55 gallons instead of the girlish 22.5 gallons it
really holds), we could have avoided even fueling stops. Neither does the
Trooper have bathroom facilities. I was willing to use an empty 2-litre
Coke bottle, but Barbara draws the line well short of that.
We were planning to get into Winchester, Virginia about 5:30 p.m.,
which we'd have made if we hadn't run into one of those parking lots. That
was caused by a jack-knifed tractor-trailer in the right lane, and cost us
about an hour directly. It also caused us to hit Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
right at rush hour, which cost us another half hour. The upshot was that
we didn't get to Winchester until 7:00 p.m., and Winchester is about 5
hours from home. Barbara spotted a Hampton Inn right at the exit. Knowing
when I'm beat, I gave in gracefully and got us a room. There was a Shoneys
right across the street, so we had dinner there, went back to the room and
collapsed. By that time, it was about 8:00 p.m., so even if we'd driven
straight home we'd not have gotten there until 1:00 a.m. or so.
Don't tell Barbara (I'll deny it if you do), but I'm glad we stopped.
Things I could do when I was 25 are outside my capabilities at age 47. At
25, I would have thought nothing of driving 1,000 miles straight through
by myself, let alone with a relief driver. Hell, when I was 25 one of my
friends of the same age drove, by himself, from Pennsylvania to Kansas.
Straight through, 1,700 miles and 26 hours, stopping only for gas and
bathroom breaks. I remember thinking at the time that that was an
impressive feat, but certainly not beyond my own capabilities if I were
pushed. If I tried doing that now, it'd kill me. Literally.
Saturday, 7 October: We slept well
(except for Barbara's strange recurring dream that I snore) and were up
and off by 8:30 a.m., headed for home. We made it home about 1:30 p.m. to
the surprise of my mother, my brother, and the dogs, none of whom were
expecting us until Sunday. We got everything carted into the house, and
then collapsed. It's nice to be home. I planned to order Chinese delivered
or something, but Barbara said she wanted to cook. So she made a simple
meal of pasta and garlic bread.
In the meantime, of course, I'd fired up my computers to see what
awaited me. Surprisingly little, actually, given that I'd been away a
week. After sorting through the spam and listserv stuff, I had fewer than
100 real messages in my inbox.
Sunday, 8 October: Still trying to
dig out from everything that accumulated while we were gone. Barbara read
a week's worth of newspapers, which I ignored. I figure if it's important
I'll hear about it eventually. Barbara got some preliminary notes posted
on her page, although
there will be more to come. While Barbara cleaned house, I did laundry. As
far as work and computer stuff, I have so much backed up that I don't know
where to start. Oh, well. It'll all get done eventually. Or not.
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