I took the train from Brat to Hartford, CT (where I’ll be flying out). It seemed weird to do it this way, but it was essential for me to be able to get home at a decent hour. Also, I’ve never ridden on a train, and this was a perfect opportunity to do so.
Well, riding a train is only marginally more comfortable than riding a bus. But that margin does include better seats and a snack car where you can buy a drink and some peanuts, so it’s a big deal. Otherwise, the vibration of the tracks very closely mimics the horrible suspension systems in your average Greyhound.
I got out at Hartford, CT, and after a little gawking, chose the hotel closest to the train station. There wasn’t a clear advantage; the airport is far enough away that all of the taxis charge a flat rate to take you. So, after dumping my stuff in the Holiday Inn, I asked the standoffish kid at the desk what I should take a look at, since I’ve only got a half-day here.
“Well,” he said, snorting, “there’s the park, there.” He waved at the front door, through which could be seen lush green lawns across the street. “That’s our capital.”
Having lived in Austin for fifteen years, I wasn’t real impressed with capitals. “What else you got?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “there’s the Mark Twain house...”
I perked up. “Yeah? Is it close?”
“Oh, sure,” he said. Then he looked me up and down and hastily amended, “I mean, it’s a bit of a walk.”
Ignoring the once-over, I asked, “Define ‘bit of a walk.’”
The kid scrunched up one side of his face, pirate style, as he thought about it. “Oh, only a couple of blocks.”
“A couple of blocks I can do,” I assured him. He looked dubious, but he gave me quick directions for getting under the underpass and then he left me to my fate.
I’ll show him, I thought, as I walked down the busy street. Only a couple of blocks. What a maroon. What does he think? I’m too fat to make it? Little asshole. I crossed the street, muttering darkly to myself, and then walked under the underpass as instructed. Up ahead, about a half a block away, was the street in question, veering off at a diagonal from the rest of the thoroughfare. There’s no way he could have meant a literal couple of blocks from the hotel. I mean, this is still industrial stuff, here. So I crossed the street again, now on the correct avenue, and proceeded post-haste to the Twain house, which I was now certain was only two blocks away from this goofball intersection.
I counted one block, and then two blocks. No house. No problem, I thought, walking quickly (it was around 4:30, and I was sure the house would close at 5 PM). It’s probably just up in the middle of the next block. A couple and a half of blocks.
No house. I walked another block. Big, huge buildings holding what looked like an insurance company on the left side, and small, low-income businesses like washeterias and convenience stores, pawnshops and dollar stores, on the right side of the street. Weird. But no Twain house.
I spied a guy waiting for a bus. I walked up to him; he clearly worked at the insurance company he was standing in front of. “Excuse me,” I said. He regarded me with angry indifference. “I’m trying to find the Mark Twain house, and I—”
“Keep going,” he said, indicating the direction I was already traveling. “It’s just a couple of blocks.”
Sure it was.
I didn’t believe him, but I kept going, figuring that I’ll get there eventually. It’s on the street, at least, so I had that going for me, if nothing else. I started counting blocks again. One block. Two blocks.
Now I’m standing in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts/Taco Bell combo, and I’m certain of two things: this is unequivocally not the Mark Twain house, and “a couple of blocks” is Hartford-speak for “I have no concept of distance; ask someone else.”
It was another two blocks before I spotted the enormous Mark Twain house. Easily as large as the Kipling house in square footage, also meticulously restored, with a long, sloping walk to the street. I hurried up the steps, grabbed the knob, and pulled.
It was closed.
I looked at the time: 4:45. I checked their sign. “Open from 9 AM to Sundown, Mon-Fri.” Maybe they just can’t hear me. I pounded on the door. Made a wide circle around the porch, peering into the windows. Nope. They were closed, all right. Sonofabitch.
By now, I needed to use the bathroom, and there was no way I was going to cross the street and attempt to get into any of the charming local businesses with that request. Thankfully, the bus line was right outside the Twain house and took me straight back to the hotel. On the way back, I counted the blocks—9, total, not including the funkiness at the underpass. As I trundled back into the lobby, the kid who gave me the directions was noticeably missing. It was probably for the best.