- DEN KAT (on an RV)
- USE SUN
- TOLEDO (on a Connecticut plate)
- SCCRMOM (on an SUV)
- PR8 SHIP
- OUR SAAB
- IOWAN (on a Maine plate)
- NASS CAR (he was pulled over by the po-lice. Seriously)
- MRGUMPY (at first, I thought it said Mr. Grumpy)
- TRVLBUG (on a VW bug)
- RCE & BNS (yes, it actually had the &)
- TKL BOX
- TNKA TRK
Friday, May 30, 2008
Our last stop before leaving Maine was all Casey's doing. I'm not sure if she researched Edward Hopper's "Lighthouse at Two Lights" first or the lobster rolls first, but it was a stop that had something for both of us.
Sticking to our schedule to allow enough time both at Cape Elizabeth and to make the drive to Northampton, Massachusetts, by 5 p.m., we checked out of the Eastland by 10:30 a.m. and found our way to the point. There's little out that way other than the residences and the Lobster Shack, and at 11 a.m., there were just one or two other cars in the two parking areas. With no access to the lighthouse and at least half an hour until we could think about eating, we busied ourselves on the rocks. I did so by looking for fresh angles -- and tidal pool reflections -- of the East Light; Casey did so more by finding a spot to sit and watch me and the ocean.
I was a little disappointed that there was no closer access to the light, but at the same time, I'd give anything to have the means to own a house -- particularly the one with the West tower -- out at the end of Two Lights Road.
When it got closer to noon and we saw more and more cars pulling up to the lot, their passengers climbing the steps to the deck of the Lobster Shack, we decided to head there ourselves to order lunch and beat the rush we saw coming. By the time we sat down after placing our order at the counter, the line was out the door. (That only made it about five people deep, since there's not much room inside to stand if you're not at the counter ordering, but it was still better to get in before that line started forming.)
Casey's lobster roll was worth the trip, and my cheeseburger was passable, but I was happy enough with bagging another lighthouse, and one I've admired for a long time when it was a poster on my bedroom wall.
Our Maine odyssey ended shortly after we abandoned the remainder of our whoopie pies (otherwise known as gobs in western Pennsylvania, but seeing as how these had cream in the middle instead of icing -- and therefore weren't as tasty -- I'm referring to them as whoopie pies) and got back in the car. With enough time to spare, we detoured in Wells, Maine, to visit The Lighthouse Depot, if only to further my beacon nerd-dom, and then enjoyed a sun-splashed cruise through northern Massachusetts to the quaint town of Northampton for the wedding weekend.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
If you want to see several lighthouses in one manageable afternoon excursion, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, Maine, is a good place to start. (Monmouth County, New Jersey, is as well, but I've already done that one.)
After catching a glimpse of Mt. Washington from the seventh-floor elevator lobby at our hotel, we drove down to Portland Head Light, perched along the rocky shore at Fort Williams Park. The location reminded me of Sandy Hook, with the lighthouse nestled in among the crumbling ruins of the former gunneries and batteries of an early-century military installation. With so many recreational options within the rather compact park -- vast lawns for frolicking, sunning or kiting; an inlet for mild water play; the lighthouse for nautical interest; the fort remains for military buffs -- there wasn't one part that was overly crowded. We encountered more people at the lighthouse than any other part of the park, but I suppose that's to be expected. It wasn't crowded in any sense, either.
Most intriguing was the hulking frame of Goddard Mansion, an 1858 estate built on a hill overlooking the sea and the lighthouse. Trees now shield the remains from a wide-open view of the horizon, but it's hard to miss the site upon entering the park. All that remains is the stone shell of the building, the windows and doors merely open frames (with those at ground level fenced off to prevent entry). It's a stark contrast to what it once was more than a hundred years ago.
History of the mansion (beyond what is written on that plaque at the site) seems scattered and limited, but until 1981, there was more there. On March 11 of that year, the Cape Fire Dept. burned the interior, presumably to remove the dangers inherent in a neglected, crumbling 123-year-old structure. Stripped as it is, it looks smaller, not quite a "mansion," but the potential is certainly there. Or was.
We cruised northward again, back toward Portland (into South Portland) and found the Breakwater Lighthouse, or Bug Light. It sits closer to downtown Portland than the others, a last warning for ships rounding the point on their way into the harbor. Despite the modest park and vast parking lot, it was still a rather quiet, serene spot. No ships came through and the folks who were on hand sat quietly in their cars or along the waterfront. I found that throughout the day -- despite not going anywhere remote or being truly alone, these ventures were generally peaceful, solitary explorations for us. Perhaps a post-Memorial Day Thursday isn't such a hot time for tourists in southern Maine.
The final stop -- and the point at which I realized I was probably getting a bit of a pinkish hue on my arms, neck and the tops of my flip-flopped adorned feet -- was the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, propped up at the end of a long jetty resting atop the Spring Point Ledge, which claimed many a ship in the 19th Century. The jetty -- or breakwater -- wasn't always there. It was added in 1951 (so says an online history).
Not knowing when I'd have this chance again, I had to make the trek out to the light itself. Had I known I'd be crossing the rocky equivalent of nearly three football fields -- with large gaps between the hunks of granite and a stiff wind blowing across the water -- when I got dressed in the morning, I would've worn socks and sneakers instead of flip-flops. As a result, I spent the trip out there focused on my footing and refusing to look to either side, or even back to Casey. "You had the car keys," she pointed out later, "so I'm glad you didn't fall in."
At the end, I felt alone, abandoned, marooned. Sure, the hopscotch path of rocks connected me to the mainland, but when I stepped beneath the lighthouse's overhang and behind it, I had nothing but Casco Bay in front of me and the black base of the light behind me. The route I had just traversed was no longer visible and, because of my focus, not too fresh in my mind. By putting blinders on to watch my footing, I didn't take in my surroundings, so in a way it was as if I'd transported myself to the light without making the long, windy walk. My nerves got the best of me, though, when I tried to complete the circuit around the base and I chickened out when I came upon the largest gap I'd encountered on the breakwater. With my camera around my neck and the backpack slung over my shoulders, I didn't feel confidence in my balance should I attempt the short leap -- in flip-flops, with the swirling wind. I managed to get far enough around to see the speck of Casey sitting on the shore, so I visually completed the circuit, but I was OK with the fact that I didn't make it those last 10 feet to make the imaginary red line of my route meet in a lasso around the light.
Before returning across the breakwater, I put my camera back in its bag and bounded like Q-bert back across the granite. Casey and I got back in the car and returned to Portland, taking a quick walk around the neighborhood and taking showers before heading off for drinks and dinner (chauffeured, again, by the hotel).
We, of course, made it back to our room in time for the season finale of Lost. Well worth it, too.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
We left Whitefield in the morning to make our way down to Portland in a very meticulously planned day. The first stop was 45 minutes down Route 1 in Brunswick, to see the refurbished art museum at Bowdoin College.
(I guess, technically, the first stop was somewhere on Route 218, when a duck crossing the road forced Casey to pause. "It looks like it's carrying something," I said. But Casey noticed first: "No!" she said. "Those are ducklings! I just made way for ducklings!")
After visiting the museum and a few other campus buildings, we had lunch in Brunswick and then departed for Freeport in an effort to boost the economy at the L.L. Bean Factory Outlet and flagship store, plus a quick look at the J. Crew outlet that resulted in my purchase of a linen suit. Bring on the August weddings now, bitches!
We arrived in Portland a little after 4 p.m., checked into the Eastland Park Hotel and soon made our way to Hadlock Field for a minor league ballgame. (I won't bore you with the details, but if you're interested, apparate here.)
With first pitch at 6:05 p.m., we were out of there by 8:30 and on our way down to J's Oyster Bar on the waterfront for a late snack. In what seemed like a bit of New England hospitality, we were chauffeured there by a hotel bellboy. When Casey asked at the front desk if they could call a cab for us, the woman said, "I can take you." At first I took her literally, thinking she was about to finish her shift and would drive us down there herself. What she meant was that she'd check to see if one of the drivers was available, and he was. He took us down there and, after Casey called the desk when we were finished, he came back to pick us up. I tipped him five bucks each time, figuring that was both sufficient enough for him and still a bit of a discount for us had we taken a cab, which would've been fare plus tip. And he deserved it, having chosen to go to school at Vanderbilt instead of following his siblings to Boston College.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
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The beauty of the drive was that it rained. It rained while we were in the car, not on the rocks at Pemaquid, not in the morning in Bar Harbor, and not at any other point during the trip, except for when we tried to get from the vans into the reception after the wedding, but that story will come later.
We had no specific plans for this day, and my uncle and family wouldn't be home until the early evening, so Casey and I made Pemaquid our time-killing stopover. I must've shot this lighthouse more than any other, with every camera I've ever owned, beginning with my first -- a Kodak disk point-and-shoot. It may be 500 miles from where I grew up, I have to have photographed it more than Twin Lights or Sandy Hook, only minutes from home. But those, I'd visit on a whim, not always with a camera, and I always knew I could go back at any time to shoot them.
Pemaquid is always a planned visit, an outing on its own. On weekends in the height of summer -- and with calmer seas -- the rocks would be teeming with visitors. But none on this day. The sea was so violent (I should've pulled out my video camera, but neglected to) that many rocks I've ventured to or sat on pondering calmer waters were completely submerged.
We'd come and stayed for hours, splitting up to explore on our own time, at our own pace, setting a time and place to meet for a picnic or to head back to Damariscotta. I'd go from the rocks on the east side of the point and make my way around to the west side; I'd bound down to the end of a chain-link fence separating the park from a souvenir shop and restaurant next door and climb the steps to peruse the trinkets that way, rather than going around from the entrance to the parking lot.
On days the sea isn't so active, we'd sit near the edge, on sun-dried metamorphic bedrock, and look down into the calm, clear water and marvel at how far down we could see. I'd take routes less traveled, those not necessarily given over to walking, but areas where I'd need to find footholds and maybe reach up for a crack to grab for leverage, imagining myself a chalk-dusted free climber on the face of El Capitan. I'd spread myself out across the point and come across one family member or another, popping up beside them unnoticed, prompting a, "Where did you come from?" reaction.
Pemaquid without people is an eerie place. It was strange to hear nothing but the waves crashing into the earth, unnatural to see the rocks in such an unadorned, natural state. Thinking back to it now, it's my most unique Pemaquid visit, perhaps my most memorable. Yet at the time, I spent as long as I could sitting on the rocks, watching the frothing sea, bearing the cold May wind. I waited as long as I could before I had to get up again and start moving; now I wish I'd stayed five minutes longer to take it in just a little more.
After a few photos of the lighthouse with the rocks in the foreground, I noticed something unusual in the light tower: movement. A blue jacket moving. Someone was up there! I'd never seen anyone up there -- the light itself had never been opened in all those years of visiting -- so I immediately assumed what I would find out momentarily, that the tower itself was indeed open for exploration. Casey and I went in and listened as the volunteer explained the light's history to two older men, and then the four of us climbed the spiral staircase together. There was just enough room at the top for the four of us, but Casey got her 360-degree view and carefully descended. I remained to get the photos I wanted, then shuffled around to trade places with the two other men and see the view on the other side of the lens. Then I waited them out, letting them get their fill and start the climb down so I could have a minute to myself at the top. If I looked to the southeast, all I could see were the rocks and the small red shack perched atop them -- a view that had to be similar to that seen by the long list of keepers who served at Pemaquid Point.
We made our way back up to Route 1 and headed east a few miles to Round Top, darting between the raindrops for the best ice cream north of Four Seas. (I can't decide which I like better.) We stood at the window to the patio, watching the rain fall on the rolling hills that lead down to the Damariscotta River, out of sight from our vantage point. Years ago, my uncle has told me, those fields were home to the cows that provided the milk from which the ice cream was made -- truly a Maine touch.
From there, I took us to my uncle's through Head Tide, a cluster of 19th-century buildings along the Sheepscot River, just a few miles downstream from my uncle's property. Back in college, Bryan and I canoed from their house down through Head Tide (portaging around the dam) and a few miles beyond the village. I noticed a sign indicating some of the historic buildings were for sale -- or had been sold. Alas, if only I'd known (and had the money).
Uncle Johnny arrived home shortly after we pulled into the driveway (and sat in the car during the downpour, rather than making a dash for the porch), and we spent the evening eating and talking. With the soaking grass, I skipped my ritual walk through the woods down to the river, and when I walked out to the car to retrieve my camera just before bed, I took a few minutes to stare up at the sky. The clouds had cleared away and left only star-speckled space. I couldn't make out the Milky Way -- either because I didn't allow my eyes to adjust fully or the lights from the house washed it out -- but I did see a shooting star in the short time I stood there with my head cocked all the way back. I considered for only a moment setting up the tripod to attempt some star trails photos, but I was tired and not up for the work that would have been necessary -- finding a flashlight, putting on my hiking boots because of the wet grass, tromping across the field to get enough distance from the house and finding just the right spot. I regret the lack of ideal conditions, not the choice I made, and it only has me itching to go back. Soon.
Monday, May 26, 2008
It's also probably the first national park I visited. Somewhere along the way, on one of those childhood Augusts in Maine, Mom and Dad decided to make the long drive there and back in a day. They probably still have a picture of my sister and me along that rocky coast. I remember the stop at Thunder Hole, too, which, in my mind, was active that day. Johnny, despite his 30-something years living in Maine, doesn't think he's ever seen it crashing and frothing the way it does at its peak.
My last visit there was four or five years ago, when my sister, our cousin Christine and I drove up there and hiked the 3-mile trail around Jordan Pond. We also took the short but steep path up The Bubbles, which took our breath away on the climb -- as I was on all fours, reaching for a handhold on a rock on a particularly vertical part of the path, I wondered if I was really in such terrible physical shape -- and then again at the top. While Casey and I repeated the Jordan Pond hike, I wasn't about to force her up there (and I wasn't so excited about it myself), so we continued around the pond, covering the 3.2 miles in about 90 minutes.
We skipped the drive up Cadillac Mountain to see if Thunder Hold was active, but it was anything but. The sea was quite calm and a dozen people stood along the rail looking down into the hole, perhaps wondering what it was they were supposed to be seeing. We continued around the park loop road and made our way to Bass Harbor.
I've seen dozens of pictures of the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse and always wanted to see it for myself. It didn't disappoint -- a small, sturdy sentinel set in a remote point at the southernmost point of Mt. Desert Island. I only disappointed myself, not noticing the path at the eastern end of the parking lot that would've taken us to the east side of the light to get the view that is seen in many of the photos of the point that have been published. It reminded me of the Cape Meares Lighthouse in Oregon, which Matt, Dave and I visited on a quiet, calm August evening several years ago -- before any of us were married or even knew our current wives (at least that way, since Dave had known Mandy, but hadn't dated her yet). It would've been another quiet seaside visit to a remote outpost were it not for the obnoxious teens who were blatantly ignoring the signs about keeping off the grass and screaming and laughing as if it were their backyard. (And if, by chance, one of them is the spawn of the current inhabitants of the living quarters, then damn, I'm jealous.)
Bass Harbor Light became the beginning of a lighthouse odyssey I did not foresee becoming a chapter of this trip. I figured we'd get to Bass Harbor, Pemaquid and Portland Head. But in researching Portland Head (myself) and lobster rolls (Casey), we discovered three others that we incorporated into the trip. The final tally after five mornings in Maine was six lighthouses: one each on Monday and Tuesday, three on Thursday and another on Friday. (Not counting the one in the lobby of Portland's Eastland Park Hotel and the two or three others we saw scattered around Portland. Or the Lighthouse Depot in Wells.)
That evening, we walked into town, exploring Bar Harbor beyond the Thirsty Whale. We sampled the Bar Harbor Brewing Co.'s concoctions (not to be confused with the larger Atlantic Brewing Co., also on Mt. Desert Island) and added it to our itinerary for the next morning, when we'd be stopping at a few stores to pick up some things we didn't want to lug around with us the rest of the night. We got ice cream and explored Geddy's kitsch (buying a few license plates and reigniting the collecting bug in me; I'm now scouring eBay for any plates depicting lighthouses) in the basement shop before going upstairs to eat at the bar. Fabulous pizzas -- ricotta, pesto, onion and garlic for me; clam pizza (actually better than Frank Pepe's in New Haven) for Casey -- and a bathroom designation to remember.
We adored Bar Harbor. A town compact enough to be traversable without wearing yourself out, it still provides plenty of variety in shops, restaurants and bars. There was lodging aplenty, and I'd go back every May if I could, beating the crowds and enjoying the idyllic town on the cusp of the high season, rather than in the midst of it. We were also early enough -- or coastal enough -- to not even think of the black flies. If there were any, they didn't find us. From what the bartenders told us, mid-June is when the pace starts to pick up, and the Fourth of July is the true start of their summer season. New Jersey's tourist season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day; Maine's starts around the Fourth and -- my guess is -- finishes up around Columbus Day, after the leaf peepers have departed to chase the color south.
Mt. Desert Island isn't far from the Maineland (get it?), and if not for the name, you might not even notice it is an island. Yet with Bar Harbor as its hub -- capital, county seat, etc. -- the protected wilderness at its center and some of the far reaches, and the scenic coast encompassing it all, it reminded me a bit of Nantucket. MDI is far enough up there (nine hours from NYC, after all) to be as remote as the island two hours by ferry (well, car ferry) off of Cape Cod. And I love Nantucket. If I had the money for my own plane, I'd park it at Teterboro and jet up to MDI once a month, using it as a vacation getaway the way the Rockefellers, Astors and the like did in the 1800s.
Or so I like to think.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
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That's 8 hours, 49 minutes for those of you keeping score at home. And that map up there is the route from the police station in our town, which is close enough.
In an effort to conserve fuel, I stayed close to the speed limit and we were fortunate to remain at a comfortable cruising speed throughout the drive -- no traffic hiccups whatsoever -- and after filling up in Freeport, I had Casey do the quick math: We got 32 miles per gallon on the first 350 miles or thereabouts, a great number for my eight-year-old Grand Am.
I could do the drive without maps, even though it's been a few years since I'd been to Maine. Every August for 10 or 15 years, we'd spend a week to 10 days at my uncle's. Our trips would be a mix of the familiar and the new -- every year, without fail, we'd have the checklist of places we had to get to before the visit was up. Damariscotta Lake, Pemaquid Point, Wiscassett, Freeport, Elmer's Barn. Dad would get up early in the mornings and go fishing, and I'd try to get a ride in on the tractor (I think my aunt and uncle liked having someone else mow the expansive lawn for them) and we'd swim in the river. And each year, we'd add a new side trip or an every-other year destination to mix things up. Camden/Lincolnville, a county fair, Augusta, Portland, Boothbay Harbor, Acadia National Park.
This trip was to be a lot of the new and a touch of the familiar. Casey and I started with two nights in Bar Harbor, a chance to see the town and explore Acadia at a more leisurely pace (instead of the harried day trips sandwiched between a 2 1/2 or 3-hour drive from my uncle's and back). From there it would be on to Whitefield for a night with the family, then down to Portland for two more nights before moving on to the Massachusetts countryside for a wedding.
By lunchtime -- that is, the time we were hungry enough for lunch -- we were in Massachusetts (turkey chortle), so I suggested another old DC family favorite: Skip's Diner in Chelmsford. (And we stopped having no idea that it's been sold and will be gone before the end of the year.) Casey had a hot turkey sandwich with gravy and mashed potatoes and I deviated from my childhood standby -- grilled cheese and french fries -- for baked manicotti. Still damn good. And even with a 30-45-minute lunch break, we still made it to Bar Harbor in Google Maps' predicted time.
Casey drove after lunch, so I slept for a little, but I was awake as we crossed the Piscataqua River and entered Maine. Rolling north, I scanned the roadside for yet another landmark I recalled from those childhood summers: a small cluster of gravestones seemingly in the middle of nowhere, other than a few dozen feet from the Maine Turnpike macadam. I had my camera ready in case I anticipated it correctly so that I could capture it, but it wouldn't have mattered.
As I wrote in my road trip journal:
The small cemetery along the Turnpike in Maine is two miles before the Kennebunk service area, or just befor emile marker 24. It's much closer to the highway than I remember and, well, cleaner. Not as colonial and rustic as I'd pictured. It sits directly on the other side of the guardrail, its markers a brilliant white and a flag or bouquet or two. In my mind, it sat back from the road, among the trees, its stones grimy and gray, the grass high, no flowers or flags to bring a shot of color to the grays, greens and browns around it.
After the Freeport fill-up, I got back behind the wheel because I simply love driving the hills and curves of Maine and we made it to Bar Harbor before 6 p.m., passing Pirate's Cove miniature golf on the way. After checking in, that's right where we headed to spend an hour not sitting. And we weren't hungry for dinner, yet. On the way, my new Maine playlist for the trip was fortuitously timed right to play Howie Day as we left Bangor, his hometown.
Bar Harbor Manor is in a great location on the edge of town near Acadia, close enough to walk into the heart of the village and drink to our hearts' content. Which we did at the Thirsty Whale after mini-golf. But after a long day of driving behind us and a long day of exploring ahead of us, we didn't stay much past one post-dinner beer. We headed back to the Manor satisfied and eager for the start of our vacation in earnest.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
(And sadly, I've yet to write about that trip, despite a yearning to do so.)
The trip is simple enough: Sunday to Sunday, Maine and Massachusetts. Two familiar states, though we'll be in less-familiar areas. And so, with this combination of the known and the new, I can feel the urges -- to photograph, to ruminate, to carry around and pull out that Moleskin notebook -- pushing to the fore. It's a road trip -- yes, a road trip in tough economic, oil-driven times -- so that will allow for a little over-packing in the form of the laptop, the tripod, etc. Who knows how much I'll actually use it on the road (our first hotel does have WiFi), but at least it will allow me to upload photos daily and not have to worry about conserving memory card space.
I'm stoked to get away, though. The long break will be nice; getting back to Maine will be wonderful. Exploring Bar Harbor and Acadia more closely will be an adventure, seeing my family in Wiscasset will be fun and a couple of nights in Portland -- with trips to Freeport and a Sea Dogs game -- will complete the exploration of Maine's mid-coast. I've wanted to see Portland's Hadlock Field for seven years, ever since Derrick Lankford told me he loved traveling there and heading down to the harbor.
After Maine, we head to Amherst, Massachusetts, for a wedding -- and surely a lot of drinking. But the best part will simply be getting away. I've taken on more responsibilities at work in the past few months, so that even when I'm off, I kind of have to be paying attention to what's going on in baseball. But next week, I'm free to ignore all that.
I can't wait.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Saturday, May 10, 2008
But it was RED VELVET. Chunks of the best cake around mixed into Shake Shack's soft-serve vanilla. Available only on Fridays in May, and I don't work again on Fridays in May.
I went back and forth with the decision all afternoon. I could've used the extra hour at home to read or knock another show off the DVR, but when it looked like I might hit a pocket without rain -- or, at worst, a light drizzle -- by the time I got to the park, I decided to forge on. Once there, I got what I'd hoped for: no line and a quick order and dinner. With no place to sit (it did rain throughout the afternoon), I skipped the fries and allowed myself the extra patty on the burger.
Afterward, my intention was to take the M23 bus west to either Eighth Ave. (to take the subway down to 14th) or Ninth (and walk to Chelsea Market), but with no sign of the bus, the rain picking up and the ice cream making me cold, I decided to take another $2 off my Metrocard and take the R train down to Union Square, then hop the L over to Eighth Ave. Only, in my food coma I didn't think as I turned and descended the nearest stairs to the subway. It was only as I was finishing the swipe through the turnstile that I realized that this station has no access between uptown and downtown trains -- and I was on the uptown side, needing to go downtown.
But I wasn't about to waste the two bucks, so I took the W up to 42nd St., walked the stank tunnel over to the A/C/E line at the Port Authority, and took the E down to 14th and walked the block over to Ninth Ave. as on any other day.
Completely worth it, too. Looking at the photo now, I'm craving another burger.
Monday, May 05, 2008
A man sits on a step outside the corner branch of a Washington Mutual talking into the headset of his iPhone (sigh, New York) as people emerge from the subway.
A cool breeze blows east from the Hudson as the Cowboy Junkies' "River Song Triology, Part 1" plays a soundtrack dichotomous to rush-hour dusk in the city.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Thursday, May 01, 2008
I've also been in a car hit head-on by a drunk driver, one rear-ended by an 18-wheeler (a tap that was brushed off), and in at least two stopped by cops (one got a speeding ticket, the other was questioned because another driver called to report him when he alternated between driving too slow, too fast and weaving between lanes -- including a stop at a light at which he straddled the lanes).