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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Candlepin Bowling, Hamburg, and Bad Coffee

Although six states comprise New England, it's just the size of North Dakota and is mostly about as intact culturally. Anyway, the subtleties that distinguish a Vermonter from a Mainer are fine enough that they're below this Oregonian's radar. The Red Sox are loved as dearly by citizens of Bangor and Burlington as Boston. In the wonderful old town centers that dot the countryside, you will find few McDonald's, fewer Starbucks, and generally none of the strip-mally blight that infect so many small towns in America. But you'll find a Dunkin Donuts in every wide spot in the road. New Englanders are mad for their Dunkin Donuts.

Over the years of my visits here to see in-laws, I have begun to catalogue some of the idiosyncracies of the region. (All of this, incidentally, will lead to beer--doesn't everything?--so bear with me.) When you get something from the basement, for example, you're "going down celllar." Hamburger is "hamburg." The best coffee comes from the very rare Starbucks or the occasional independent coffee shop. But mostly people get coffee from the aforementioned Dunkin Donuts, which has inexplicably made coffee a cornerstone of their business. This goes back decades, apparently, though the coffee is akin to the old Farmers Brothers you used to find in Oregon diners.

But in exchange for the bad coffee, New England offers certain delights--candlepin bowling, for example. According to the occasionally-reliable Wikipedia, it was invented in Worcester, Mass in 1880. Similar to regular bowling, but played with a grapefruit-sized ball and pins that are mostly cylindrical. You get three throws per frame, and the pins are not cleared in-between throws. It's substantially harder than regular bowling, even though the "deadwood" of fallen pins helps you clear out remaining pins (the highest score ever recorded was a 245).

The beer, however, is familiar to the traveling Webfoot. When I arrived in Boston friday night, I was offered a Harpoon IPA--a beer that has to make no apologies to the West Coast for its rich, hoppy flavor. Last night we stopped in at the Eaglebrook Saloon in Norfolk, had a couple of quick pints while we waited for three pizzas to go. I'll do a round-up of pubs soon, but it's worth mentioning that Oregon's pub culture shares the same inspiration as New England's--Old England. New England just does it more convincingly. The Eaglebrook is this fantastic wood-paneled pub that feels like the inside of a ship. It may have been built in 1990, but it feels more like 1790 inside (if you ignore the several flat panels showing NESN--the region's ESPN).

I'm about to head north of Boston to see the next in-law (we're trying to make as big a circuit as possible), and maybe there'll be a pub somewhere nearby. I'll keep you posted.

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