Looking for Redemption at Shawshank: My Own Amazing Race Without the Need for a Permanent Reminder

Sometimes you come across things by chance. The initial plan on the way from Cleveland to Columbus was to hit one of the many Amish buffets that populate mid-Ohio. However, I still super full from the previous day. Curious about the weather, I flipped on the news to look at the map and get the forecast and saw that the town of Mansfield, Ohio was about halfway to Columbus travelling down highway 71. After a quick internet search, I discovered two things; Mansfield, in particular the Ohio State Reformatory, was the venue for the 2019 Inkcarceration tour featuring the likes of Godsmack, Five Finger Death Punch and a whole lot of tattoo artists which, as a guy who’s skin is a blank canvas, wasn’t particularly appealing. Second, the same prison was the hub for the filming of the Shawshank Redemption which hit theaters 25 years ago. Based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, this movie, which follows the wrongful conviction Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) has achieved cult-like status. That year, it couldn’t compete with Forest Gump and the Lion King but surprisingly, it didn’t even crack the top 50 in box office earnings that year and was even beaten by the likes of Beverly Hills Cop III, Richie Rich and the Schwarzenegger classic Junior. Nonetheless it was nominated for 7 Oscars including best picture (at a a time when there weren’t 17 candidates), best adapted screenplay and best actor for Morgan Freeman. It failed to win any. Also, it seemed a fitting tour stop given the fact I stomped around Bangor, Maine last year posing near numerous landmarks referenced in Stephen King’s “It” so why stop now.

One can tour the reformatory for $15 and we got lucky because it was the first day it was open following the concert (they were still disassembling the stages and cleaning up the grounds when we arrived). The tour is a peek into the history of the Ohio penal system with a number of Shawshank references scattered throughout. One gets a bit gobsmacked (or is it Godsmacked) viewing things like the electric chair, shanks (made from spoons, pencils and other routine prisonware) and the eerie symmetry of the numerous cells stacked on top of each other. In regards to the movie, you can also the warden’s office, the infamous “Brooks was here” room, the solitary confinement area where Andy spend a lot of fine as well as the tunnel that was used for his escape. Cardboard cutouts of various characters including the ominous Captain Hadley are strategically placed throughout the grounds to recreate many of the movie scenes.

Other movie scenes scattered throughout the town of Mansfield itself which are identified by Shawshank Trail signs which made me feel like I was competing on the amazing race. These included the building who’s front facade was the movie’s halfway house and the green bench Brooks rested and reflected on after his release. There is also the Food Way(now a convenience/grocery store called the KV market) which was used in the movie. It was purchased by a Brampton family and now looks nothing like the market Red was employed at following his release. I had a nice chat with the owner’s son about life in rural Ohio and whether the Honey Jalapeno Fetty Wap chips were any good.

The Shawshank trail also scoots up to Upper Sandusky (which is south of Sandusky….). Here you can see the courthouse where Andy was originally sentenced in the movie as well as the workshop where many of the prisoners worked throughout the movie. Other than that, it is a quaint Northern Ohio place with a picturesque central street where you can get a decent coffee and a friendly small town smile at a place called Beca House Coffee Co.

Given I stumbled across Mansfield by fluke at the 11th hour, I didn’t have a chance to venture to Ashfield or Butler to sit under the “Shawshank oak tree” and ponder why I might want to get “Brooks was Here” tattooed on my forearms in sanskrit. I guess I don’t really have to; I bought the beer koozie which I can nicely tuck it away in a drawer when the novelty wears off.

From Massachusetts to Maine: Traffic, Burgers, Unattainable IPAs and Big Ass Desserts all Within an Area with a Single Republican Electoral Vote.

My annual summer pilgrimage usually involves a trip to the US to explore everything from geography to good eats. This year, I thought a venture to Maine would be a quaint way to travel the US for over 1100 km and only setting foot in a geography responsible for one Republican electoral vote. Other than Nebraska, Maine is the only state which can split electoral votes and the North part of the state decided to opt for a Trump agenda.  I would have gladly avoided it if not for my desire to live my childhood dream of to see Stephen King’s house and many of the inspirations for the many book of his I read as a teenager.

Before trekking too far east, our first stop was the small shopping town of Rhinebeck, New York which was my first indication that every friggin’ person in the Northeast drives a Subaru.  Every small town seemed to have a flagship dealership and the inhabitants have Foresters, Outbacks and Legacys crammed in their parking lots.   The main purpose was to check out Samuel’s Sweet shop.  As a Walking Dead fan, I first heard about this place when Jeremy Dean Morgan (aka Negan) was interviewed on Howard Stern.  Morgan, in addition to running a farm which includes rescued alpacas, purchased the candy shop along with Paul Rudd to prevent it from closing.  Although it’s tough to find many references to them on the shop’s website, you can purchase a custom made Rice Krispy square with their pictures on a canvas of edible icing.  There is also great coffee, many nostalgic treats and my personal favorite, handmade pecan bourbon caramels from local confectioner Lauralei’s kitchen.  They were ridiculously addictive, triggering the part of the brain probably related to sex, gambling and/or some kind of drug addiction.

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Goods from lauralei’s kitchen in the Hudson Valley

The GPS promised that the trip from Rhinebeck, New York to Bangor, Maine was about 6.5 hours but that was definitely fake news. The next stop was Springfield, Massachusetts.  Although many have pulled into town to visit the basketball hall of fame, my interest was White Hut, the iconic burger shack which has been around since the beginning of World War II.  Famous for their grilled onions, the burger here has been ranked number three on Thrillist’s top 100.  As I waited the woman at the grill said “Listen to me carefully.  What do you want on the burger?”  It made me wish that all people were that clear and politely blunt as I think it would make restaurant excursions a hell of a lot smoother.  I’m not sure it was the best burger in the US but the whole experience made me glad i veered off the highway.

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White Hut Burger Picture (taken from Thrillist Site)

What I wasn’t glad about was my attempt to score some IPA at the Tree House Brewing Company in Charlton, MA.  Like most of the ill-fated trip to Maine, this was a bit of a disaster.  I was optimistic with the Thrillist promise that “thanks to a recently completed expansion, it has finally become *that much easier* to get your hands on a few cans of their flagship IPA, Julius.  What I thought was going to be a quick in and out at 130 on a Friday afternoon turned into a jaw dropping experience.  There was a shuttle bringing people from the bottom parking lot to the top one and literally hundreds of people in line.  It was like a modern day Woodstock 150 miles further east with long beards instead of long hair, IPA instead of LSD and hops instead of hope.

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A line similar to the one I didn’t get into at Tree House Brewing…taken from Steve Garfield’s Flickr account

My plans to reach Bangor with remaining daylight were foiled by horrific traffic jams and a few wrong terms which turned into my most pronounced Clark Griswold  moment of the trip.  After heading west instead of east at a rest stop in New Hampshire, I bolted back to the Dunkin’ Donuts to let my mom run in and scold them for the baconless croissant sandwich she left with 10 minutes earlier. Better her than me because I would have made a pock hock out of a sausage. As a result of our grueling trek, I had to forgo a couple of planned DDD in order to hit Bangor before dark.  The one I did make was the Maine Diner in Wells.  Like everything else on the east coast in July it was jammed packed so I squeezed into a small parking space, dodged some old people and begged for some takeout. To keep it easy, I stuck with two of Maine’s mainstays; clam chowder and a whoopie pie.   The chowder was less than I expected.  The pie was bigger than a softball and weighed over pounds and looked like a Jos Louis on steroids. Although my pictures are notoriously bad, this one is worse and i didn’t take it.

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Maine Diner Whoopie Pie

When I finally got to Bangor it was about 4 hours later than I expected but not too late to hit up Brewster’s Fine Food and Drink adjacent to the Brewer Motor Inn to fulfill a promise to find the cheapest wings in town. It will never make a Zagat list but for good food, cheap beer and great service  I couldn’t complain.  The people watching was almost as good as the whales…if I would have seen of them in Maine.  The culinary gems of this place included “name that dip” and “balls on a plate (see below)”..both for under 7 bucks.  Combine that with the turkey bomber sandwich (complete with gravy and swiss cheese) and you have a meal for a (Stephen) King.

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Balls on a Plate

So after a day of slow Subarus, blissful burgers, beyond reach beer, whopping whoopies and balls on a plate I was ready for a good night’s sleep in the master of horror’s home town but unsurprisingly it ended in nothing but Insomnia.