Mr. 511

As Willie Nelson would say, “On the road again!”

So we’re on the road, heading south to get away from Snowmageddon #2 (named Linus—who picks these names?). Got past New Jersey into Delaware, no problem. Spent the first night in Delaware at a Red Roof Inn which we saw on the “lodging next exit” sign. I pulled off at the exit, where we could see the inn off to the right. Next to a Chili’s, and we figured, dinner right there! Excellent!

Then we spent the next fifteen minutes trying to figure out how to get to the RRI, which WE COULD SEE RIGHT OVER THERE but which the convoluted roadways, while accessing approximately fifty other chain hotels, did not reach. Really. 15 minutes! Several times we could almost reach over and touch it but were blocked by fences, a strip of grass, a dead-end parking lot, etc. When we finally got there, the desk clerk said her father, when visiting, just parked his car at one of the nearby places and walked over the grass or whatever.

Anyway, we spent a decent night there and in the morning headed back south on Route 95. Ray wanted coffee, so I pulled in at a rest area and figured I’d do some research while he was getting caffeinated. I figured, why not check out 511, the national highway road system?

countiesI blithely dialed 511 on my cell phone, got the Maryland dude, and, using voice commands, asked for information on Route 95. So far so good. There were, he reported, three “incidents” on Route 95, and he proceeded to tell me that there was a winter storm warning In XYZ county, ABC county, and HGI county (no, I am no up on my Maryland counties). Well, that was helpful only in the sense that none of the “incidents” would affect our travel if we hastened away. So far, so good.

Then I figured, since the Maryland 511 dude offered information on routes, travel sites, weather information, and the like, I could branch out. I thought I’d get the weather report.

511 Dude said I should name the route, city, etc., that I was interested in.

We would be passing through Baltimore, so I told Mr. 511 “Baltimore.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand what you said,” he replied.

“Bal-ti-more,” I repeated.

“I don’t seem to understand that term…you may use your keypad to enter the name or route number…”

“BAL-TI-MORE,” I said with a bit more force.

“I don’t understand you” he said.


“There seems to be interference. Please roll up your window and turn off the radio, then try again.”

My window was up, my radio off. “Baltimore—it’s the biggest city in your state!” I sort of shouted.

“I don’t understand you,” he insisted.

So okay, I will try to do it by region instead. Going back to the main menu, I asked for weather.

Mr 511 gave me the opportunity to get the weather forecast for County A, County B, County C, County D, and Prince George’s County, among others.

I ashamedly admit I am not up on my Maryland counties (see above.) Really, what are they thinking? From what I see, many people in the US can’t name the Vice President, the capital of Vermont, or the square root of 4. Do they really know what county Baltimore is in? Sure, I could have Googled it on my smart phone, but I was already on the line with Mr. 511. I hung up in disgust, and for good measure, snapped at Ray when he came back, coffee in hand.

I doubt my opinion will sway the Maryland 511 people to take ordinary travelers into account, so I looked it up for you. You might think that Baltimore would be in Baltimore County, but it’s not. It’s in Baltimore City County. Better make note of that if you’re heading south from New England and want to use the swell 511 system.

Note to myself: Explore Maryland Counties that could be in other states, like Worcester County (MA), Carroll County (NH, VA), Allegany County (with alternate spelling, PA ,NY), Hartford County (CT)…


This entry was posted in Travel.

Who’s My Writing Posse?

It’s a little embarrassing for me to admit, but I have never taken a writing course, creative or otherwise. Well, there was that one Adult Ed course at Acton-Boxborough that I took in maybe 1980 or so, that evolved into the Central Middlesex Writers Guild, my first critique group, so I suppose that would count. But really: a liberal arts degree, a professional master’s degree—you would think that somewhere along the line I would have been forced to take a writing course. Nope. It’s too bad, too, because the UNH professor would have been Donald Murray, the late Boston Globe columnist. 20/20 hindsight. So clear.

But I have still managed to have millions of words of my deathless prose (and poetry) published, usually for some sort of remuneration (ego counts), so how do I do it?

I read.

Folks, that’s the whole story: I read. When the other kids were outside playing baseball or painting the dog or currying their horses, I was reading. Nancy Drew was my favorite character, Carolyn Keene my favorite author. I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder, too. I remember when I was in elementary school, I heard about the Library of Congress’ collection of every book published in the United States, and I wanted to go there to see the Nancy Drew titles I hadn’t read.

Fast forward a few decades. I visited the Library of Congress (twice) and totally forgot about Nancy Drew, although I did see their huge card catalog, still maintained in the back rooms, unlike card catalogs elsewhere, which have long gone as scrap cards sitting by computer terminals.

Then, after reading, I write.

That’s the second step. You have to write it in order to get it read. I never wanted some poor editor to be the first to see my articles/book manuscripts/poems/commentary. So I joined writers’ groups. After the Central Middlesex Writers Guild, I have been in a number of groups, notably the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Concord (Massachusetts) critique group. With a hiatus or two while I worked on cancer books and corporate history, I have been a member of that group for 30 years, and it turns out that it’s the oldest SCBWI crit group in New England and maybe farther afield.

Besides the SCBWI, I have been in (actually, started) several other groups. At the Lincoln Public Library, with the support of The Lincoln Review, we started The Write Stuff, which is still chugging along. After meeting other writers at conferences and workshops, a bunch of us formed a twice-a-year weekend critique group that met offseason at a ski resort in New Hampshire: hence our name, The Loonies. With another group of friends, we started a twice-a-year weekend critique group called Camp’n’Schmooze at Poland Spring Campground in Maine.

These groups provide networking, support, hand-holding, and excellent feedback (not always what I wanted to hear, but valuable…). My writer friends are amazingly talented and generous, so I have no qualms in dropping their names on my website to show the quality of people who are my writing community. You could do worse than reading their books. Trust me.