Oct 27, 2011
11:20 AMDiscover Connecticut
Hold Your Nose As You Pass Through
This week I had the pleasure, as I do from time to time, of traveling to Maine on a press trip: on this occasion, to Portland for a piece that will appear in the Spring/Summer 2012 edition of The Connecticut Bride. Whenever I travel there—even though I've gotten to know the state's southern coastline pretty well—I take the opportunity to stop at the state-run Maine Welcome Center situated on I-95 just as drivers are about to enter the Maine Turnpike.
Why? Well, it's just a beautiful, comforting place, set back amidst bucolic greenery with well-marked pathways indicating your way to entrances front, back and side; pristine restrooms; ample concession machines in their own separate location (you half-expect some of them to serve lobster bisque); and a huge main room with banks upon banks of information from every tourist destination in the state. A long table in the center is staffed with three or four hustling experts eager to answer questions, all I had to do was approach one and ask "What information do you have on Portland?" to be handed a stack of three vacation guides (one for the city's downtown alone) and, for good measure, a new road map of the entire state. The woman who gave them to me was quick to ask, "Are you sure you have everything you need, now?" as I made my way out. (I've had similarly good experiences in Massachusetts and Vermont.)
Cut to the trip home to New Haven when, just for "grins," I decided to pop in on the first Connecticut rest stop/tourism center along westbound I-84—one, oddly enough, you couldn't see from the road—located somewhere around Willington, well after I'd crossed state lines. While it, too, appeared to have pleasant enough walking areas for drivers passing through, inside was a different matter. A makeshift sign on the door informed me the place was out of hot water, so anyone wanting to wash their hands was out of luck. Most of the surfaces in the place looked like they hadn't seen hot water in days nor, more to the point, a touch of Clorox.
The only employee was a bored-looking woman who (once she learned I was from Connecticut Magazine) started lamenting the fact that we no longer sent the center "issues of the magazine"; I presume she meant the travel and culture guides we once produced in conjunction with the State of Connecticut, which ceased production in 2009. In their place were some makeshift pamphlets and a couple of not-bad publications from the tourism councils in Hartford and New Haven (but nothing for the Litchfield Hills or Mystic, our biggest tourism draws). A few concession machines stood in the corner; a lone local newspaper kiosk out front was trashed. In short, now I get where the expression "pit"-stop came from.
I know there are bigger welcome centers on, say, I-95, but . . . are we kidding? Do we simply lack the financial and spiritual wherewithal to bother making a good impression to people traveling the state from ALL our major highways? Do we just hate tourists so much that we'd rather they keep driving and leave us alone? Or does it simply suit our purposes better to leave the tourist greeting business mostly to random private companies like gas stations and McDonald's? Whatever the problem, I'd say it's time we took a few lessons from our neighbors to the north.Hold Your Nose As You Pass Through