The Hyundai Elantra is a decent car, but nobody ever called it exciting. We stand in the Hertz office by New Haven train station, and Orlando looks longingly at pictures of other, sexier, cars.
“I don’t suppose you have anything available in your Adrenalin range?”, he asks hopefully. We’d already tried and failed to book a muscle car online, but New Haven Amtrak Hertz didn’t appear to do anything but nice sedans. The young man shakes his head. “Sorry sir.” Then, “Wait, I think we might have a Mustang. Would that do?” Orlando looks hopefully at me. I nodded.
Ten minutes later we drive away in a dark grey Mustang convertible, Orlando at the wheel, me trying my best to look cool despite my sensible attire. Driving on the right hand side of the road for the first time in maybe ten years, Orlando handles the car like a pro as we head towards the freeway sans satnav. How hard can navigating be on decent roads with signs in English?
The I-95 is the main east coast highway, running all the way from Florida to the Canadian border. The Mustang purrs along, eastwards across the great Connecticut River and past the signs for Rocky Neck State Park. An hour later another river, this time the Thames River (as opposed to the River Thames) that flows, predictably, through New London.
Mystic is a pretty old seaport with a huge maritime museum and a pizza place made famous by the 1988 movie, Mystic Pizza. The museum precinct is full of beautiful old houses and military buildings, manicured lawns, centuries-old cannons and more flags than you can shake a stick at. Despite the drizzle, the Christmas lights and decorations and pretty shops make Mystic a welcoming little town. We park the Mighty Mustang (all the while hoping somebody might see us and be impressed by our choice of vehicle) and take a mini-tour of the main drag. Bookstores stand cheek by jowl alongside expensive clothes shops, navy surplus places and surprisingly few eateries.
Near the top of the high street stands Mystic Pizza, the restaurant that inspired the 1980s teenage movie of the same name. Given my obsession with food and specifically pizza, my craving for Christmas-themed spiced milky drinks accompanied by cookies shaped like Christmas trees fly out the window and we walk inside.
The booths are named for famous roads: Pacific Highway, New Orleans’ French Quarter, even London’s Abbey Road. The blurb on the menu reminisces about hordes of fans lining the streets during the heyday of the movie, but on a cold, raining Monday lunchtime we are almost the only diners. Two mugs of tea are served at less than scalding temperatures, but I suppose we are in America, the Land of the Lukewarm Beverage. I am momentarily distracted by the thought of a nice bowl of New England clam chowder, but let’s face it: in a week’s time will I look back and be happy with this menu choice in this particular restaurant? We order a large Meatza Pizza to share, extra jalapeños, well cooked.
Back outside in the freezing cold, we take another turn along the high street before retreating to the Mustang for the drive back. I take the wheel this time, heading westwards for a few miles along Route 1, through the pretty villages of Poquonock Bridge and Groton.
Back onto the huge iron bridge across the Thames River, Orlando falls asleep while I put my foot down and get a feel for the Mustang. I turn up the radio. Mariah Carey sings All I Want For Christmas Is You, the first Christmas tune I’ve heard on the trip so far. I sing along as the highway junctions fly past, surprisingly not waking up the sleeping beauty beside me. This is turning into a pretty decent holiday.