Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Under the Bridge

I knew it was there, because I’d seen a sign. It said, "Old Town Mill" and it vaguely indicated a direction, as if the specifics of how to actually get there were beneath it. I’d never gone that way before; it looked like the road to nowhere. I asked Mapquest, but Mapquest got confused. Maybe the highway bridges overlapping the roads below were too complex for Mapquest to understand. Maybe it's just that Mapquest is always a little confused. Left to my own devices (understand I don’t really have devices; I mean that in the old-school sense of devices, like intuition and a AAA map) I drove down every street that looked promising and a few that emphatically didn't. I found locked gates and "Private-Keep Out" signs and a few pickup trucks – empty, but suggestive of owners nearby waiting to yell at you for being there. I found a parking lot with a boat ramp into the Thames and a sign warning against littering, though it looked like the kind of place where littering would be the least of the city's worries. I stood in the parking lot staring at the sturdy columns of concrete rising from the river to the pale blue bridges above. There was nothing like an old mill here. But when I looked at the map, it seemed there must be. There was a "Mill Street", and it appeared to be right beneath the I-95. I wanted, with a desperation I reserve purely for coffee, chocolate and historical sites, to find it. So I kept driving: down other roads, towards other dead ends, back whence I’d came. Suddenly, impulsively, I made a left onto a small road I hadn’t noticed before. And then I saw it. It was hidden under the highway and down a small hill and locked away behind a fence and a gate, but it was there. The building was smaller than I’d thought it would be, and sweeter, like a small brown house. There was a bright little stream beneath a wooden wheel which seemed ready to start turning, and a wooden walkway leading to a well-maintained lawn. Around it was a sort of wasteland, like a construction project stopped before it began. Above it, cars thudded along disconcertingly. But the place itself was a little unspoiled piece of 1650, a trace of old New London, just waiting for anyone determined enough to figure out the way.

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