Join Tom on a rousing trip through New England

I spent four days in New England recently, and I never once ate at Dunkin' Donuts. Anybody who has ever seen me and/or been to New England will realize that's worth mentioning.

My daughter, Darlene, was flying to Vermont to get a cup of coffee. I've mentioned before that she and one of her college volleyball teammates, Jessica, have a contest going to see who can buy Starbucks coffee in the greatest number of states. The rules are simple: The participant has to actually be in that state, and must purchase the coffee and keep the receipt.

Jessica was winning the contest for a while, but when I visited Darlene at Cornell a couple of years ago, we used a long weekend to hit New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island. That gave Darlene a lead she has yet to relinquish. The only area state we missed that time was Vermont, because the only Starbucks outlets in the entire state were up in Burlington, near the University of Vermont, and it would have added too many hours to our trip.

Naturally, it's been nagging at her ever since, so she finally decided to go to Vermont, and I tagged along. I didn't want her being dragged off by Larry, Darryl or his other brother Darryl.

Among the trip's -lights, of varying heights and depths:

· Whenever she travels back East, Darlene wears her "Harvard Sucks" T-shirt on the plane. It's from her days as a rabid Cornell hockey fan (as though there is any other kind). Most people really like it. One Harvard grad disapproved and threatened to have his valet beat her up.

· We had a layover in Baltimore, which allowed her to make Maryland her 29th state. Inside the Baltimore airport, there's a Mexican-food restaurant named "Zona." I don't think so. That's like a place in the Tucson airport offering "authentic Sonoran crab cakes."

· I had an Arby's roast-beef sandwich in the airport. A woman sitting at a table near ours, devouring some poor plant life, looked over and asked, "How can you eat that?"

I said, "The bread makes it difficult. I wish there were some way I could hold the beef together with two pork chops."

I have to give her credit. She actually laughed.

Then she moved.

· When we got into Manchester, N.H., we got hammered by the remnants of Tropical Storm Hanna: 5 inches in three hours. Those people really know how to do rain.

· We spent the first night in White River Junction, Vt. It's right across the Connecticut River from Dartmouth, which is in New Hampshire. There wasn't one place in that town to get a soda. No Circle K, no 7-Eleven, no gas station with Twinkies way past their expiration date. The 24-hour Denny's closed at 10 p.m.

· The next morning, we learned a horrible truth: Apparently, there isn't one place in the state of Vermont to get a fountain drink. I understand that at certain times of the year, the contents would probably freeze solid on the way back to the car, but gee whiz! I don't know who's responsible for the ban on fountain drinks, but I suspect it's Ben and/or Jerry. Somebody needs to kick their aging hippie butts.

We ended up going into New Hampshire and spending $5 for two takeout sodas from Pizza Hut.

· On the way to Burlington, there was a sign that read "Bear Crossing." A few miles later, one said "Deer Crossing." Then, "Moose Crossing," and then, finally, in huge letters, "MOOSE." A couple of days later, when we were in Boston, we saw a sign that said, "Children." You can write your own punch line.

· Burlington was really nice, and Lake Champlain was beautiful. The last time I was there, I saw a woman seated at an outdoor café, and she was nursing twins. I know it's a natural thing, but so is taking a crap. I don't think nursing in public should be against the law, but ... y'know?

·The next day, we visited Dartmouth. In the Commons area off campus, there's a movie theater that's been there since 1916. I think I had some of its original popcorn when I saw Iron Man recently.

· Apparently, the Boston community doesn't believe in street signs. You can drive for miles on a street and not see any indication of what street you're on. It's maddening.

About a mile away from Harvard (which, as you may know, sucks), there's a Mayor Thomas W. Danehy Park. We got a picture of a public trashcan with the name "Danehy" stenciled on it. Yet another opportunity for a do-it-yourself punch line.

· Darlene, whose ancestors are Italian, Mexican and Irish, has dark skin, dark eyes and dark, curly hair. While on the trip, she was asked by different people if she was from Brazil, Cape Verde, Puerto Rico and Guatemala (but not Mexico!). I told her to tell the people that she was Irish, just like them, to maybe get them to suffer a facial tic.

I told her if she wanted to see them in a full-body spasm, just mention the word "busing."

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