Martha, her Vineyard, and Norwalk

Well, we got back from Martha’s Vineyard yesterday. In 6 hours we drove through 5 states – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and, you guessed it, New Jersey. I wonder how many others we could have squeezed in there in a comfortable day drive? Pennsylvania certainly, but New Hampshire? This is all very impressive to Californian me who’s used to driving all day and only making it as far as Barstow or Pismo Beach.

As for the Vineyard, or “MV” as the bumper stickers say, it’s a laid back beach town, not quite as laid back as a California beach town, less off-beach-bikinis and skateboards and more collared shirts, but pretty nice and charming. The beaches were great – nice soft sand, no waves, easy to just drift along in the water. There’s foresty nature, beautiful old wooden houses with big porches, and lots of yummy lobster. There were bike trails and not too many hills, on the other hand, way too many people were driving, and most were driving SUV’s. Why was this? Do people not want to feel the wind and smell the tress and move their bodies, even on vacation? I thought New Englanders were supposed to be progressive. So what’s with sitting still in all the big gas guzzlers?

On the way back we stopped for dinner in Norwalk, CT, where, my husband corrected me, was not the location of Yale.
But we wanted to see a real town instead of just a roadside Applebees, and I was curious about the East Coast namesake of the trashy So. California suburb east of Long Beach. Downtown Norwalk, CT, is no less a dump than Norwalk, CA. However, being an East Coast dump it was so much more interesting. The houses were all big and old and dilapidated and haunted-looking. The Main Street (Wall Street) was full of empty brick buildings, punctuated every now and then by the occasional functioning storefront, such as the delightful Mexican restaurant were we ate, the large tattoo parlor next door, or the pawn shop and bail bonds across the street, but also a holistic health store and an outdoor cafe. It was Main Street’s last stand.

Norwalk, CA on the other hand, was developed in the 50s with driving in mind. It is all 2 bedroom ranch houses, strip malls with “99 cents only” stores, all-you-can-eat Chinese, gas stations, liquor stores, and a casino, all spaced nice and wide so you can drive your car leisurely away from the last egg roll and have time to light a cigarette on the way to the gas station and then on to anesthetize that MSG headache with a pint of Smirnoff.

Norwalk, CT has not catered so thoroughly to the car culture yet. The old brick apartment buildings are 6 stores and close together. One can imagine a time in the 1920’s when it may have aspired to be New York. But Wall St., Norwalk never made it. And now the infrastructure is beginning to crumble. You can walk along the river and see the old iron gate, gaps patched with a ladder or ropes or tape, or old lawn chairs, rusting contentedly under its blue paint as the mayor pulls his hair out. There are black iron fire escapes on the side of most buildings. There is a large industrial plant or mill or some sort a few blocks away. Did it close? Did everyone leave? The place invites questions, and photographs.

Norwalk, CA isn’t so photogenic – yet, but someday it will be. Someday soon the California Blvds and drive-through and strip malls will be as historical and interesting as the huge brick and concrete bridges that span the Midwestern and East Coast rivers – but for now it’s just sprawl.

As for Martha’s Vineyard, it’s lovely. But you knew that already. As for me I’d like to spend a couple more days in Norwalk, CT photographing that old factory.

a bridge in CT