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I'm sitting in a Chili's, in Hamden, CT, a small town just north of New Haven, a bigger town best known as home to Yale University, where, this evening, an hour of searching for sustenance in and around the college has yielded magna cum nada. What the Hell am I doing in Connecticut and how did I get so hungry? Here's what hap- pened: at 10:26 this Wednesday May morning, I exit an airplane at Bradley International Airport, a modest strip that sits some miles north of Hartford. After a brief detour by the Connecticut Fire Academy-- a gorgeous facility adjacent to the airport, which I spotted while landing-- I drive south on I-91 toward the 'ford, where I'll be conducting training tomorrow at one of our company's regional offices. (I teach employees how to use their computers.) Now, by now, it's 11:15, maybe 11:30, and I'm gettin' pretty hun- gry. With the day's intake limited to my ritual two cups of in- stant oatmeal (circa 6:30), a pair of double-chocolate SnackWells, and one peppermint breath mint provided on the airplane, the engine is running on little better than fumes, if you know what I mean. Making matters worse, it takes an extra 15-20 minutes to get to the Interstate, 'cause I go roamin'. Now, here's where the problems begin: unlike North Carolina's generously labeled highway signs, which list any and all roadside services, the Interstate markings in Connecticut tell little, if anything, about nearby gas, food, or lodging. Worse, the roadside countryside contains nary a single truck stop, gift shop, Cracker Barrel, or Stuckey's. (Spreading in every direction are gently rolling green hills, nearly all the same boring color and shape, and neatly concealing any and all man-made structures.) Still a ways (I think) from Hartford, I roll the dice on an arrow for FOOD, exit the Interstate, and, after two miles of progressive- ly slower speed limits, end up at a Windsor Friendly's. (Think a sloppier Swensen's. Or, Shoney's with an ice-cream menu.) The food sucks, I leave hungry, and, by the time I'm back on I-91, I've topped off the tank with $3.27 worth of McDonald's. And, as I dis- cover, the resulting energy boost is so great that when I arrive at the office, I'm asked if I just drank coffee because I "seem so ex- cited." With a healthy dollop of unhealthy fat in my system, the next few fours fly by: making my preparations for the next day's training; a short shopping trip in West Hartford; snapping photos at a nearby apartment fire; and at least the first part of a Yale University walking tour, which I decide to do late in the after- noon, before a discreet evening rendezvous at the hotel with... my notes for tomorrow. New Haven is a relatively short hop from Hartford; only one major city away and I arrive about 45 minutes later. Needless to say, I swing by the central fire station first. (Only later do I realize that my innate ability to find a firehouse in any town does abso- lutely no good when I'm hungry.) Once arrived at the Ivy League school, I ask a passing student to point me in the direction of "interesting stuff." [Insert lengthy description of wonderful old buildings juxtaposed against mountains of trash in every doorway, alley, and courtyard, because it's Moving Day at Yale.] Okay, by now, late in the 5:00 hour, the ol' pangs have returned, so I begin my Quest For Food. I walk up Broadway, browse CDs, price pricey sweatshirts at the Yale Bookstore, drive over to a nearby indoor mall, and *still* don't find a damn thing. (If there's a Yale equivalent to Chapel Hill's Franklin Street, with rows of restau- rants, a Gap, and at least one Ben and Jerry's, I can't find it.) Without a clue where to go next-- *and* a bit miffed that I can't sit out rush hour-- I exit a parking deck, but not before asking the attendant where I might find a "mess of restaurants." She points back in the direction of the college and I reply "no, no. Are there any *farther* out of town?" She says "Hamlen." Barely escaping a traffic jam at the junction of I-91 and I-95-- and resisting all urges to just chuck it and go to New York City-- I hop up the Interstate by a couple exits and land in Yet Another Connecticut Town Way Off The Highway. Of course, I have to sniff around a bit. And, of course, I find the fire station without blinking. Finding a string of strip malls with recognizable restaurants takes a bit longer. (Unlike North Raleigh, these parts don't have shopping centers on every corner or after every second mile.) Finally, I find Chili's. And, at long last, some time in the 7 o'clock hour, I eat a satisfying meal. Well, that is, I *think* I did. Truth be told, I was kinda busy writing... Copyright 1998 by Michael John Legeros
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