Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Course of True Like

You know the old saying about the course of true love never being smooth? Well, sometimes getting around to like is no easy bargain, either.

To get to Boston or Hartford--most any point northeast of me--I must run the traffic gauntlet that is {cue dramatic pause followed by menacingly dramatic music} I-84 in Waterbury. The dreaded Mixmaster, where eastbound and westbound are equally fraught with peril. It's a double-decked spaghetti junction that is half traffic misery and all poor road manners at most any time of day or night. The Mixmaster at peak commute times is, and I'm certain Dante himself would concur, a special and singular circle of hell. As one friend says, regardless of when I'm traveling through, "There'll be traffic in Waterbury."

My most recent passage through Waterbury, however, was incredibly smooth. There were no speeding cars from Massachusetts in the slow lane, no insane trucks hell-bent on merging in awkward places, and no Jeep sized potholes. In other words, it was nearly pleasant.

It's terribly unfair to judge an entire city by the couple of minutes--or longer--I spend traversing it and I realize this. I also realize that with the little I know of Waterbury, there's probably something I might find to like about it. As an old city with industry, clocks, watches, and brass in its history, it's possible Waterbury and I could even be friendly-ish.

A few things had caught my eye on my previous drives through town: interesting cemeteries I spotted from the highway, the Timexpo (a museum devoted to the history of Timex watches) and Harpers Ferry Road. The cemeteries and Timex museum have been recorded on my Nutmeg State To-Do List and I quickly looked up a little info on Harpers Ferry Road.

Why Harpers Ferry Road? Why indeed. I'd made a mental note to check on any Harpers Ferry connections many times, but I'd never followed up. Waterbury is nowhere near Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where John Brown's raid took place. But as the Internet would reveal, famous abolitionist John Brown was born in nearby Torrington, Connecticut (The Torrington Historical Society's site is  good for some background) and while Harpers Ferry Road doesn't seem to actually lead to Torrington, the John Brown revelation does make it both more interesting and more sensible.

Point: Waterbury. (For good historical interest.)

As I was hunting for more information on Harpers Ferry Road, I saw a mention of Rosalind Russell. Auntie Mame...Hildy in His Girl Friday. That Rosalind Russell? Connected to Waterbury? More digging.

It turns out that Rosalind Russell was born and raised in Waterbury, Connecticut. (I'm guessing this isn't so newsy to many others as it is to me, but I was intrigued.) Her pre-Hildy Johnson and Mame Dennis days were spent in the area--at Marymount College in Tarrytown, NY, in NYC itself, Hartford, and Boston. She was a local girl who made good, often playing women who had all the brassy wit and spirit of Waterbury itself.

Several points: Waterbury. (For Roz Russell.)

Full disclosure: I love Auntie Mame. The novel, by Patrick Dennis, is a go-to read for me if I'm having a blue day and I've seen the movie with Ms. Russell dozens of times and enjoy it more with each viewing. (I'm much less fond of the 1970s movie version of the musical, but the soundtrack of the 1966 original Broadway musical featuring Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur is a splendid listen.) That Waterbury--a town I'd written off from my (often not-so) quick breezes through on I-84--gave the world Auntie Mame incarnate? Magnificent. And if you add fast-talking hard-boiled Hildy Johnson from His Girl Friday to the equation, then I'm all in. Waterbury, you and I can be friends.

As with any new friendship, there's more to be discovered. But when you start with John Brown and Rosalind Russell it's bound to be an interesting trip. Perhaps the best friendships start off awkwardly and only when you start to really look and share your common interests do they begin to click. The Waterbury getting-to-know-you phase is in its infancy, but this might be the beginning of a lovely friendship. For a fun browse, the links below will send you to a great old map of the town and a charmingly old-school website devoted to Waterbury's history.

Waterbury 1917

Waterbury Time Machine II

And any Waterburians out there, if you know more about the story (if there is one) behind Harpers Ferry Road, I'd love to hear it. Know of a great place I'd love in Waterbury? Let me know that, too.

As a final thought, Waterbury was also home to Holy Land USA. And while the Holy Land aspect of it interests me not at all (loses points), I do so love an abandoned place (gains points back!) and this one looks like it might be wonderful to explore. (With permission, of course!)

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