Annie Lennox, Milky Coffee and Road Tripping Through America, or States 3 and 4: MA & NJ + Will Steve Pafford Make It To 50?

“The gladdest moment in human life is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton

My name’s Steve Pafford and I’m a travelholic.

Being a journalist with an infinitely curious eye and a wandering spirit, travel appeals to my restless, peripatetic nature. Wherever I go, whatever I do, I want to learn, to explore, to conquer.

In fact, ever since I stopped living in the country of my birth five and a half years ago (the so-called ‘United’ Kingdom), I’ve been consciously ticking off as many new territories as possible. In fact, I’m currently traveling the world and the seven seas in order to reach a bit of a personal milestone: just last month I visited Norway and Iceland, making them the 49th and 50th sovereign countries to have set those photographed feet in.

Then I flew from Reykjavik to Boston to tick off the remaining states of America that I’d yet to discover, and revisit a few that I couldn’t find photographic evidence that I’d trod in.

I’ve been coming to Uncle Sam’s land for almost a quarter of a century now. Despite Trump’s messianic machinations to drag it back to the dark ages, I’ve always had nothing less than an absolute blast every time I’ve been here, sometimes staying right to the very day my three month visitor visa was set to expire.

And as I became more acutely aware of that milestone birthday coming up in 2019, I became slightly obsessed with doing the 50/50: the goal obviously being to have walked in fifty countries and all 50 states (plus the District of Columbia) by my 50th birthday on June 26.

If you’ve been following my Facebook or Instagram you will know that on May 21, just four days after arriving Stateside, I had a heart attack while driving on the freeway from New Hampshire (state 38) to Maine (state 39).

Annie Lennox talks David Bowie at Mass MOCA, MA, May 2019

I’ve had to calm the schedule down a bit but I do hope you’ll follow my progress and see if I can get to Hawaii, the 50th and so far final state to join the union, on my 50th birthday at the end of this month.

In fact, being born back in the summer of ‘69 (thank you, Bryan Adams) I reach my half-century in exactly 24 days from now. I happened to have been born on the very same day the first stirrings of the Stonewall Riots and the entire gay rights movement started in NYC. Freaky uh.

Wish me luck, OK?

What follows on stevepafford.com this month are a series of short and snappy plate pictorials celebrating setting foot in each of the American states and Washington DC. So join me as I rewind to ’95 and a case of going outside of Europe for the very first time.

3. MASSACHUSETTS

First visit 1995, last visit 2019

Crossing interstate from Thomson, Connecticut to Webster, Massachusetts, May 2019

Continuing on from yesterday’s post, which covered the states of New York and Connecticut, on 16 September 1995 I visited Massachusetts for the first time, as David Bowie was playing the second of his Outside Tour dates at the Great Woods Arts Center in Mansfield.

I was still travelling with arch Bowie spotters Neville and Peter, and it wasn’t without its trials, to put it mildly. I barely knew either of them, but I knew how fussy Peter was about what he put in his mouth. This was all the more amusing as I’d sneaked a peek at Peter’s impromptu travelogue (on bog standard A4 paper, though he had beautiful handwriting)…

“Neville is the sort of person who gets food all around his mouth when he eats.”

Actually, he wasn’t wrong.

Peter was a strict vegan, you see. A militant vegan, in fact. He verbalised that he wanted to see every butcher forcibly put out of business. Yes, that kind.

When we arrived at Great Woods, which I have to say looked more like a large country shed than any kind of arts centre, we queued separately at the food counters, and I overheard Peter, immediately to my left, ask the young blonde girl serving:

“Are the fries cooked in the same oil as your animal products?”

She looked a little nonplussed.

With a slightly vacant fixed smile she eventually replied.

“The fries are cooked in oil.”

I struggled to keep a straight face, and it set off Cheeky Steve, as it was now my turn at the next counter. I was greeted by a woman of a certain age with large glasses and a subtle but unmistakably mauve rinse through her perfectly coiffured hair.

I was ready for the kill.

“Is your coffee made with water?”

“Why, yes,” she replied, looking somewhat surprised at my line of questioning.

“Oh, OK.”

She was smiling constantly and I started to feel like a silly schoolboy.

“You’re from England, aren’t you?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“So how do you make your coffee in England?”

Adams Inn alright, Quincy MA, May 2019

Oh gawd, what have I started? Trying to dig myself out of this large caffeinated hole I’d made for myself I suddenly thought of how my parents would ‘treat’ themselves to what they called a ‘milky coffee, when I was growing up in Buckinghamshire. They would heat a mugful of milk in the microwave and then stir in a spoonful of instant Nescafe. Back in the day would be the Paffords Sunday morning treat. Elevenses, if you like.

Well, we just didn’t know any better back then. And remember, this conversation in Boston took place the year before Starbucks opened any stores outside of the US, and for the first few years of their the Seattle coffee emporium’s brewing enterprise they sold nothing but espresso.

I described the oldies’ milky treat in nauseating degree, and it did the trick.

“That doesn’t sound too nice,” she replied. Her smile barely wavering.

Suddenly I didn’t feel too nice for taking the piss and wasting her time, but she wanted to chat and I was happy to oblige. 

“I like your accent. Where in England are you from?

“Oh, London,” I said, with as big a conciliatory smile as I could muster.

“Oh, I love London, and I love England. All the history, the old buildings. It’s so beautiful. Buckingham Palace, the Chelsea Flower Show…”

She looked wistful and nostalgic.

“Oh, you’ve been then?”

“No, but we’ve seen it on the television.”

She was still smiling broadly, mainly to herself by this point.

It was like a scene straight out of Fawlty Towers. Bemused, bothered and bewildered, I made my excuses and slunk off, completely forgetting that after al that, I hadn’t actually ordered anything to eat or drink. Still, at least Bowie was good. I’d yet to warm up to Nine Inch Nails though.

Fast forward to May 2019 and although there’s a few little aftershocks and side issues, I discharged from York Hospital in Maine – on the understanding I took things easy and didn’t drive more than I really needed to.

I’m now teetotal, not that I was a big drinker anyhow. There are other things I’m quitting, including stimulants such as Codral cold and flu tablets that I was stupidly using to help combat jet lag. I’m working at reducing my caffeine consumption too and aim to get back to being decaf only once again. I’m a bit self-conscious, slow and tire easily but I think I can do this 50/50 thing.

So I drove through New Hampshire (past two of David Sylvian’s properties, natch) and into Vermont to get to North Adams, MA for a longstanding engagement with the transcendent Annie Lennox, who launched her mysterious new art installation, Now I Let You Go, with an exclusive one-woman solo concert and talk at the MASS MoCA, similar in format to her Sadler’s Wells show in London last year, but this time the venue was America’s largest contemporary art museum, situated close to the tri-state border of Massachusetts, Vermont and New York.

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I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked with or interviewed the majority of my teen idols, but except for a brief chat about Bowie at the Brits (the year he won the Outstanding Contribution to Music gong but got totally upstaged by Jarvis Cocker stage invading Michael Jackson), the former Eurythmic always eluded me. However, at the post-show meet and greet she said something to me that has got me buzzing, though I tried to not get too excited with my dodgy ticker.

In an issue of Classic Pop magazine last year Annie mentioned how she’d read a feature on the Eurythmics Savage album and that “One journalist wrote this wonderful piece about it, how it’s a masterpiece and how people never recognised it as the most extraordinary piece of music of its time.”

She didn’t mention the journalist by name but I felt almost certain she was referring to my blog article, as I was the only one to pen something substantial for the album’s 30th anniversary a few months earlier. 

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Well, tonight Matthew, I got the confirmation I was looking for:

“Was that you? Steve? Wow. I loved it! You are a wonderful writer. There’s a real art to your use of words, it was like reading poetry. Thank you for writing it.”

After such a terrifying week, I cannot tell you how beautiful it was to hear such compliments from such a formidable singer songwriter.

What a woman. What a role model. What an inspiration. Sweet dreams everyone.

4. NEW JERSEY

First visit 1995, last visit 2019

David Bowie mural by Eduardo Kobra on a Jersey City apartment building, New Jersey, May 2019

Third stop on Bowie’s Outside trek was Hershey Park Stadium in Pennsylvania. Neville had departed and we wouldn’t see him again until New York. We passed though NJ, the birthplace of Frank Sinatra, John Travolta and Meryl Streep, to get there and would later stay in the state at Chez Solinski in Kearny just as OJ Simpson was about to be controversially acquitted of murder. 

That reminds me of a famous quote, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s lethal.”

Apt, very apt.

Steve Pafford, owner of a dodgy ticker, currently in Kentucky

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