This year’s new destination is a state that stands alone, but it is shared with two distinct regions of this country.
There are plenty of places I have been to in this country. I can count 31 states that I’ve set foot in, plus the District of Columbia. Among those 31 states, 27 of them I have actually driven in. Certainly, there have been other states I should’ve visited sooner in my life, but that could happen sometime before now and whenever this life ends.
This is not bragging. It is a fact. I love traveling the USA. There’s so much to see and do. It also inspires me to seek out experiences I’ve never done before in places that only have been read in books and online.
There are two motivators for my travel endeavors. One, is to go someplace I have never before on a yearly basis. The other is to seek intelligent life at these places. If that sounds like “Star Trek,” perhaps Gene Roddenberry did his job in influencing popular culture for decades after the show was originally cancelled.
This year’s new destination is a state that stands alone, but it is shared with two distinct regions of this country. It is considered a New England state, because of its attachment to Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It is also seen as one of the Tri-States that is part of the New York metropolitan area.
I’m talking about Connecticut.
This is my 32nd state that I have visited. Yet, it is the fifth state to form the USA.
My trip did not start in Connecticut proper. With some negotiation, I began this journey by landing just a few miles from the state line in Westchester County, New York. There, I was greeted with this red velvet 2023 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe Summit Reserve SUV. OK, the official name of this color of Velvet Red. Considering the sticker price ($81,875), the luxurious content, and its nod to the sustainability that Connecticut is trying the achieve as one of the “CARB States” (a state that complies with the emissions standards set by the California Air Resources Board), this is perhaps the perfect vehicle to explore the state in.
The other challenge of this trip to Connecticut is to travel as a disabled person. After multiple surgeries, I was not 100% in the clear to travel as freely as I should. That meant traveling with a walker, finding seats to sit down to counterbalance other physical issues I’m having, and again seeking assistance from the Transportation Security Administration and the airline for assistance.
Some may say that I should not be traveling at all. If you know me very well, I can tell you that I will accomplish this no matter what. I’m too stubborn and determined to accomplish this.
With that said, I had an early flight to catch on the way to Westchester County via Charlotte’s Douglas International Airport. If you know American Airlines at CLT, that means crossing from one concourse to the other through the Atrium. Once that was achieved, the Grand Cherokee 4xe was waiting for me at the curb. I loaded it up with my luggage and headed east.
It is worth noting that I have never driven in the state of New York. That was a bonus I did not anticipate, but the climb northbound up to Interstate 84 was quite the treat.
Once upon Interstate 84, I was treated to a beautiful part of the state. It was an explosion of woods, trees, and rolling hills. I simply enjoyed my run across the western part of Connecticut all the way through to downtown Hartford.
Upon arrival, I was put up at the Marriott Hartford Downtown along the Connecticut River. My view was the river, which I found enjoyable. It also yielded some amazing morning views with a blazing sun coming right you.
That first day was spent discovering parts of downtown Hartford via Lyft. Stops included the Old State House and the current State Capitol building. The city welcomed a ton of people on select evenings for a concert, food and beer tents called Hartford Live at the Old State House Square. The energy was buzzing!
Pratt Street has always been the city’s retail center since 1814. It is going through a round of revitalization thanks to newer local tenants. That includes several food and drink spots along this pedestrian street.
The first night’s dinner was spent at what I can now call my favorite Italian restaurant in this country – Salute. One of the owners greeted my enthusiastically – maybe because he knew I was coming. It’s weird when things happen like that.
I could get into what I ate, however an interesting twist happened while I was dining at Salute. One of my PR contacts from The Allen Lewis Agency, Aida Phillips, was with her husband and daughter a few tables away. I have not seen Aida since the Nissan Z drive event last May in Las Vegas. It made for a great night at Salute to see her again, meet her family, and engage with other patrons, staff, and owners of the restaurant. And, spoiler alert, the food was terrific!
One more stop was on my agenda to check out an LGBTQ establishment south of downtown – CHEZ Est. They had a karaoke night that night, but the crowd was slowly coming in. It was a nice crowd – friendly, no attitude. I was getting tired from my early call, so I headed back to the hotel for the evening.
The next morning, a full sun woke me up. I was ready to go, as I also had an agenda to fulfill. The local news said that there was some weather coming through the state. That made for a change in plans, so I started earlier than my itinerary stated. An early breakfast and a quick “hello” to the Marriott’s General Manager, Tina Fleming, got me going for the rest of my day. She was really great to work with.
The morning started with a visit to West Hartford’s Elizabeth Park and its rose garden. You are greeted with a set of arches leading to the center of the garden. I understood that many weddings took place here. It’s a beautiful place to say “I do.”
Did I realize I was going to put my graduate degree to work on this trip? That is what happened at Real Art Ways in the Parkville neighborhood. This interdisciplinary space houses a cinema, along with exhibits and artist galleries. This space was founded in the 1970s and is demonstrating serious relevance for the community with engagement and thought-inspiring works.
Prior to my first interview for this trip, I made a few stops along the way in Hartford’s West End. Did you know that Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe were next door neighbors – and good friends? You can see both of their homes on the same block – and they’re stunning!
Close by is a converted food hall called Parkville Market. It opened during the COVID-19 Pandemic as a way to bring businesses together to get through the closures and challenges that healthcare crisis brought to the restaurant and hospitality sector. Once inside, you are pipped for choice of various cuisines from all over the world. Cuisines that reflect the Hartford community – and that is good thing. If there is something you have never tried, give one of the stalls a try!
After lunch at Parkville Market, the afternoon became free due to weather moving through the state. I took the Grand Cherokee 4xe eastbound on Interstate 84 towards Storrs – the home of the University of Connecticut. My way back was on US Highway 44, which was a treat in the wet. I drove through plenty of small towns that exuded a special feeling that is truly befitting of this state. Lots of rolling hills and trees – absolutely stunning!
Dinner was an early call at Max’s Trumbull Kitchen in downtown Hartford. That was a treat, as the meat loaf was given a special tomato jam that mixed sweetness with spiciness. Not to mention that bacon wrapping on each loaf. This was definitely off the chain!
From there, I took up the invitation to join Out Film CT for their monthly Queer Thursdays showing at Cinestudio on the campus of Trinity College in Hartford. After conducting an interview for the magazine, I sat down with a loyal and enthusiastic audience to watch a documentary on three Intersex people discussing the struggles of surgeries they did not ask for, as well as acceptance in society. It was a very good film.
By the way, if you venture into Cinestudio – and just happen to be film buff – you might notice the regal lion motif inside the theatre. This is a nod to Katharine Hepburn's role in The Lion in Winter. Hepburn is a native of Hartford and is buried there.
We're just halfway into the trip. There's a lot more in the next installment of this Travelogue, as we head southeasterly towards the water.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Stellantis North America. Travel arrangements and logistics provided by the Connecticut Office of Tourism
All photos by Randy Stern except otherwise noted