Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I've got to... get away!

With the dog safely boarded at Random Rescue, we packed a dufflebag of stuff and headed out early Sunday morning, planning to take advantage of reasonably good weather (not hot, but not cool, and the rain not expected until Monday) and the state holiday (meaning we'd have the day off anyway, but outside Vermont, no one else would, so it wouldn't be too crowded), to squeeze a brief stress-burning vacation in for minimal cost.

Unfortunately the great Mexican restaurant we visited once (actually twice) before, though their website is still up, has recently closed, so we had to settle for fast food for our first lunch. After that it was straight to the beach. We had to pay $15 for access to Hampton Beach, which seems pretty steep for a day-use area in a state park, but at least you can come and go all day for that. When we arrived around 2pm on Sunday the beach was pretty crowded, with the various "base camps" maybe ten feet apart and the crowd running the entire length of the beach (farther than I could easily see).

I don't know what it is about the sea that's so destressing. Often with things like that, it's not so much about the place as the fact that the place forces you to do other things: for instance, often when I go to a class, it's not that I have a teacher that makes me learn better than from a book, it's the fact that when I'm in a class people stop bugging me and let me focus. Maybe I'd get the same effect from sitting in the woods, or by a lake, or in a mall, as long as I made myself stop doing anything more taxing than reading or lazing, and what the sea really does is get me to do that. Maybe there's more to it than that.

In any case, all we did is watch the tide come in and then go back out, doze, and occasionally walk on the sand. I went in the water only up to mid-thigh; it was a bit too cold (though plenty of other people were swimming) and, once you settled down, the breeze off the water made it chilly enough that the last thing you needed was more cold. I did a bit of reading (and got to proselytize the Kindle to an interested passerby), but even that didn't last and I went to napping soon after.

As the tide was going out and it was getting on towards suppertime, the crowded beach thinned out remarkably quickly, even though it was still just as warm and sunny. But having spent about four hours there, we took off to look for someplace to eat, and someplace to sleep. Having no plans, we weren't sure where to go or whether to stay near the shore or further inland, since the next day's plans would be inland at Funspot NH. So we just decided to head in that general direction looking for restaurants that seemed promising.

However, the GPS software prefers to route us along major highways, which don't tend to have nice restaurants alongside them. Nothing promising showed up in Hampton Beach and then we were on the highway. I used the feature that highlights restaurants within a distance from the route in my GPS software, but without knowing anything but their names and locations, this wasn't too helpful. One restaurant it led us to no longer exists. We ended up already coming up to Lake Winnipesauke and getting pretty hungry, so we stopped at the first place we found that seemed vaguely promising. As we were now well into the resort community area, restaurants tended to be a little more overpriced and a little more pretentious than their decor and food would warrant, and Shibley's at the Pier was no exception, but it was pretty good and we managed to keep the costs down by avoiding their fru-fru entrées.

It was getting dark by time we were reaching the Weirs Beach area, and our listings of available motels were not much more complete than restaurants -- we had still not found a single spot of available Internet -- so we found one that claimed free wi-fi and was not far from Funspot, and called ahead. They gave us directions but too fast to record, but we had them on the GPS and what little we caught seemed to match, so we headed there, only to find no motel. Turns out they're not where the GPS says, and the directions to where they actually are sound almost the same as the directions you'd give to where they (I'm guessing) used to be.

It turns out they do indeed have free wi-fi, with the caveat that it doesn't actually reach the rooms. And our room wasn't even that far from the office, it was kind of in the middle. By this point Siobhan was so tired we just said "okay, we'll take it anyway," even though the free wi-fi had been (half-jokingly) the primary reason to go with them. Apart from that, it was a very nice place, with a well-appointed room, a charming central area with a fire, a hot tub (unfortunately closed), a dock with swimming and boating areas on the lake, and other amenities.

In the morning we set out for supplies at a local CVS and a serviceable if unspectacular breakfast at a local diner, then on to Funspot. This place is essentially everything Pizza Putt wants to be when it grows up. Okay, to be fair, Funspot doesn't have laser tag, and their indoor mini-golf is pretty lame (even compared to Pizza Putt's greatly scaled down mini-golf). But they have a real bowling alley, not just a few lanes of miniaturized bowling; about 10 times more modern video games and racing games (boy, are racing games popular!); an outdoor miniature golf course; about twice as much of everything else; and, most importantly, the American Classic Arcade Museum, which is why we were there.

ACAM claims to be the largest video arcade in the world, but my picture here, and the pictures on their website, really don't make it look like that. That's mostly because there's no angle from which to take a picture that makes clear how many games there actually are. Think of a classic arcade game, and odds are it's there (a few exceptions include Q*Bert and Joust, though they did have Joust 2 and Q*Bert Cubes). And next to it will be ten others you've never even heard of.

Unfortunately, quite a few of the most promising ones, including Tempest, Star Castle, and Star Wars, were out of order. (I want to take that oh-so-rare Tempest machine home and fix it!) A few others weren't in great shape; the Time Pilot had a screen so faded you couldn't make out the bullets, and the Make Trax screen kept flashing in an ominous way. Others had controls that could use some maintenance. But most of them are quite playable, and it's very easy to while away hours playing game after game after game, with hundreds to choose from. (Plus a wall of pinball, which I don't really enjoy, and of course all the rest of Funspot as well.) You can mostly focus on the games you remember (like I did) or explore games you never saw before (I did a few of those too -- found one very cool driving game that way) and either way pass a whole day easily.

Often when I see other arcades, they play monkey business with costs. You buy tokens that make it seem like you're getting a lot, but most everything costs two or more. At Funspot, almost everything was one token, with only a very few exceptions (Dragons Lair, for instance, and oddly enough, Gyruss). And at a base price of 100 tokens for $20 that's cheaper than the games were originally. But wait, there's more! Widely available coupons make that 150 tokens for $20, which is just over half what they originally cost. Which means you're getting hours of entertainment for a very reasonable price.

That it's also a "museum" is a bit of a goofy element that is probably some kind of tax dodge. They have one display with an old Colecovision, an Atari Throwback, and some Simons. And about a dozen of the games have one-page historical briefs on them, but not even the most historically important ones: there's one on Tempest, but nothing on Pong or Space Invaders. Still, if it makes them happy, as long as that means you can get to the games to play them I don't mind.

It's got me even more jazzed about finishing the MAME system. Also, their hits of the 80s soundtrack made me think I should also plan to make a "jukebox" for the game room. A lot of coin-op fans also have a similar nostalgia kick for actual jukeboxes, and make MAME-analogue jukeboxes that look like the old-fashioned kind but actually have MP3 libraries inside. Me, I'd be happy just hooking up a playlist to some speakers. But I think I'll want to put some dedicated speakers and a suitable playlist in there (though I won't limit the speakers to that playlist all the time).

We didn't see much more of Weirs Beach, though enough to see that massively kitschy boardwalk-arcade-resort-community feel must keep it positively swarmed with people all summer. I'm sure the lake as a whole is a lovely destination, though probably a bit more crowded and expensive than other lakes we could go to just as easily for a weekend getaway with Socks. We spent the whole day at Funspot otherwise, and then left around suppertime, stopped along the way in Bradford for dinner at Hungry Bear, and got home around 8pm.

Now that I'm back at work I can't shake the feeling that I had a day off and everyone else was here, and I have to keep reminding myself that this is the first day back from a long weekend for everyone. But while work is picking at the edges of my calm, I'm feeling like the weekend accomplished what it was meant to accomplish. Feeling much more composed and ready to face the challenges of the day.

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