Hartford: Land of the Dead

Written by Jim Knipfel on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.



"I
can handle this," I thought, as I reached street level. So I left my cane
folded up in the bag. The thing I didn’t account for was the fact that,
while there was still light in the distant sky, none of it was reaching down
to the sidewalk.


"Yeah,
I can make this," I assured myself, as I started shuffling down the street
toward home.


Halfway
down that first block, I heard a couple voices approaching. I couldn’t
see them, so I stepped to the right and stood still, to let them pass. As always
happens, though, one of them ran into me. As I was starting to say, "Excuse
me," the man who’d run into me planted his hands on my shoulders and
gave me a firm shove backwards.


"What’s
your problem, friend?" he growled.


I informed
him that he was not, in fact, my friend, but decided against telling him what
my problems were, figuring neither one of us had the time for that right then.
Instead, I pulled out the cane, finally, chastised, and continued on my way.


A few yards
later, I heard an older man’s voice next to me.


"Yeah,
you gotta use the cane, son," he said. "Even the sighted should use
them, it seems."


"Yeah,
uh-huh," I replied.


It was long
past due to take a step out of the city. Just a little one. I’m not much
for traveling in general. I used to travel quite a bit when I was younger–pick
up and go on the slightest whim–but nowadays I mostly find it a frustrating
and exhausting ordeal. But New York had been frustrating and exhausting me lately
all by itself–I was getting knocked around too much. It was time to see
if the world outside–that other dimension that appeared on the television
so often–would behave with any more civility.


I know full
well that shovings and lectures and being knocked about are to be expected in
New York, they’re all part of the contract, but every few years, I just
get a bit tired of it..


Besides,
we–Morgan and I–had a good excuse to get out of town. Our friend Joe
had a big exhibit at a museum in Hartford. Neither one of us had ever been to
Hartford before, so Sunday morning we went to Penn Station and bought our tickets.


The train
was reasonably empty that morning, which was good. We settled in, and relaxed.
It was going to be a three-hour trip.


As we approached
the first stop, New Rochelle, a voice buzzed over the intercom. "Check
around you to make sure you have all your belongings," it suggested, "then
move towards the exits in the rear and get the fuck off the train."


I figured
I’d just misheard. I mishear a lot of things. But then Morgan turned to
me and asked, "Did she just say, ‘Get the fuck off the train’?"


"Yeah,
that’s what I heard."


Funny thing
is, our conductor, or whoever the hell it was, said exactly the same thing at
every stop. Nobody else seemed to notice. Or maybe they just took it for granted.


When we
finally reached the tiny train station in Hartford–it looked like a quaint
enough, lively enough town as we rolled in–we realized that neither one
of us really had much of an idea where we were going. We walked out the front
doors, and were confronted by a maze of freeways. There were no cabs around.
We went back inside. Hell, we had an address. The museum was on Main St.,
for chrissakes–how hard could it be to find?


We looked
around for a bit, trying to pick out someone who might know directions. Stood
in line at the gift shop for awhile, but the line never budged. So we moved
to the security station.


The napping,
uniformed guard in the closed glass booth slowly looked up from his immense
belly, looked through the glass and through us for a moment, then looked down
at his belly again and closed his eyes.


Fortunately,
just inside the back door of the station, we found what appeared to be a bike
cop getting the what-for from what appeared to be his girlfriend. Maybe that’s
why he was so helpful when we asked for directions–and why he doled them
out in such slow, painstaking detail, and for such a long time. When he was
finished, we thanked him, and stepped outside, letting him get back to his personal
business.


It was a
lovely day. Warm and sunny. Still, though, something seemed a bit strange. It
was almost 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, but downtown Hartford was…silent.
Stone-dead silent. The streets were empty. Morgan and

I looked at each other, shrugged,

and started following the policeman’s

directions.


We figured
we’d stop and get a bite and a couple beers before we hit the museum. It’d
been a long trip, and we were hungry. Sunday afternoon, quiet town, should be
simple.


But every
restaurant, every bar we passed was closed.


More than
that, though–every single shop was closed. Quite a few of them had "for
rent" signs in their windows.


"I
hope they don’t have those damn blue laws up here," Morgan said. It
was something we hadn’t even considered, because it was too horrible a
notion to consider.


We kept
walking, and finally passed a bum–our first human contact outside the train
station.


"I
like your hat," he said, as he passed.


"Thanks,"
I said.


"I
bet that hat is seven years old," he smiled. "How old is that hat?"


"Seven
years," I lied. He laughed, and kept walking.


Several
blocks later, we passed another bum with a soda, who asked us for change. Shit,
we didn’t even have a soda.


We grew
more hungry and more desperate as we combed the vacant streets of Hartford.
Everything was closed. It was a fucking ghost town.


The streets
were clean. The buildings were nice in a poured-concrete/glass-and-steel kind
of way. A few looked like trucks had slammed into them. Some of the store fronts
looked as if they’d been deliberately trashed–with light fixtures
dangling from the ceiling, garbage strewn about inside.


I’m
wrong to call it a ghost town, really–there were cars moving in the streets–but
they were apparently remote-controlled cars. Robot cars. Because there were
no people.


Those robot
cars, actually, were a bit of a problem–because the "Don’t Walk"
signs never became "Walk" signs–they just stayed "Don’t
Walk" signs. There were those "Push for Walk" buttons on every
corner, but, well, we all know better than that. Morgan and I ended up dashing
through a lot of intersections, never knowing which direction the cars would
be coming from.


We eventually
found the museum–the Wadsworth Atheneum, which was open, thank God–and
checked for a cafeteria of some kind. Nothing. So we decided to keep looking,
then circle back and check out the show later. We were getting woozy, and still
had a few hours before the museum closed.


We were
on Main St. Main St. in Hartford fucking Connecticut and there was nobody around,
and nothing but the museum was open. We kept walking, our feet sliding along
the pavement, the once warm and comfortable sun now blistering our backs.



Jesus Christ,
but this is a weird place.



Finally,
in the distance, Morgan spotted a sign. "Beer," it said. It may have
said something else, too, but as far as we were concerned, all it had to say
was "Beer." Still, we didn’t dare get our hopes up. We kept moving
toward it, though. Just in case. We were at the neat edges of town–there
wasn’t much beyond that beer sign. If this place wasn’t open, we didn’t
know what the hell we were going to do.


We passed
a storefront filled with a sloppy collection of Mark Twain memorabilia. The
place looked like it had been hit by a truck, too.


"Mark
Twain would be spinning in his grave if he saw this place today," Morgan
noted.


Then she
saw that the windows of the beer place were alive and bright with neon. We smiled.
Yes we smiled, despite the "Families Welcome" sign next to the "Beer"
sign.


Inside,
the place was beautiful, and nearly empty. A modern version of a German beer
hall. There were pool tables in the back. And we could get a meal here, too,
along with the beer. I got the "Oktoberfest Lunch." Three kinds of
sausage, applesauce, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, more beer and Apfelküchen.


I tried
to pass on the Apfelküchen–those sausages had pretty much done me
in, but soon a small, unsmiling, bird-faced woman we’d never seen before
appeared next to me, holding a small plate, upon which rode a brick of Apfelküchen.


"No,
thank you," I said. "I’m sure it’s quite wonderful, but
I’m very full." I patted my belly for emphasis.


"It
comes with the lunch," she said, matter-of-factly, as if there was no getting
out of it.


"It’s
okay, really–I mean, we’ll pay for it–I just don’t want
it–"


"Want
me to wrap it up for you?"


"No,
thanks anyway–we have a lot of walking and traveling to do today."


This went
on for a very long time, until she finally relented, snapping around in disgust
and stomping back

to the kitchen. A few moments later,

our regular waitress returned and

apologized.


"I’m
sorry," she said. "I told her you didn’t want it, but she insisted.
She said, ‘I bet I can make them eat it.’"


We paid
the bill and headed back to the museum, a few pints lighter, through the empty
streets of Hartford.


The Wadsworth
Atheneum is quite a nice place itself. And Joe’s exhibit was as it should
be. A pitch-black room, with each of the 12 paintings on the walls lit up like
a stained glass window with an intense spotlight. A few of the paintings I hadn’t
even seen before, and they were really something. Off to one side was a small
collection of objects from Joe’s "Odditorium." It was all well
worth the trip.


After an
hour or so in the room, we stepped back out into the light, a bit numb, and
took a seat on a bench by a fountain, where we found ourselves staring up at
the three smooth, white, alabaster asses of the Greek sculpture in the middle
of a shallow pond. From where we sat, it sounded like one of the three was pissing
something furious.


We had a
couple hours before the last train of the night left town. So we headed back
to the tavern. This time we sat at the bar with a few locals who were joking
around with the barmaid. Everyone was very pleasant, and seemed to be having
a good time. Of course, what choice did they have? They were the only people
left in town, and there was no other place to go.


Every once
in a while, a fellow off to the side of the bar would let loose with a long
toot from a steam whistle. It was very unnerving.


I found
it even more unnerving that the last train out of town that night was leaving
before the sun went down.


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