How do you get to know a new town?
If you are Beth Sobiloff and Marcia Rothwell, you post your intention to visit on Facebook, and ask for suggestions as to where to eat and what to do when you arrive. That’s how the two of them ended up starting the day with a veggie omelet and French toast at Cowbells Café on Thursday, July
Sobiloff and Rothwell, known for their Facebook mission to visit every town in Massachusetts, record their adventures on a webcast travelogue called Two Grannies on the Road.
Something of a modern-day, high-tech combination of the late Scripps-Howard newspaper columnist Ernie Pyle’s Depression-era travels across America to introduce his countrymen to each other, revived on television by CBS’ Charles Kuralt in the 1970s. The Massachusetts mission is the latest Sobiloff has undertaken, with Rothwell as her third partner.
Whitman is the 56th Bay State community the vlog has visited and as they rattled of some of those towns, this writer couldn’t help but replay the vintage country tune, “I’ve Been Everywhere” in the back of my mind.
“We’ve been all over the state,” Sobiloff said as she began listing some of the towns. “Marion, Mattapoisett, Fairhaven, Dartmouth, New Bedford and then we’ve done a couple places on the Cape … we’ve been up in Newburyport, Newbury and West Newbury … we’ve also been out to North Adams and Adams and Williamstown and a five-day trip to the Berkshires.”
Quite a few towns in the greater Worcester area have also been destinations.
After breakfast, they had plans to head over to the Historical Society to chat about Whitman’s history and how they might add historical site drive-bys to the itinerary. They had an appointment to interview Josh Phippen, of the South Shore Boxing Gym on South Avenue and were going to fit in lunch at another Whitman eatery before stopping for an ice cream at Peaceful Meadows on the way out of town.
“We end our day with ice cream.” Sobiloff said.
They took photos of their breakfast entrees and video recorded their reactions to the menu items for their Facebook page before eating.
“I’ve got French toast made with French bread, which you don’t see all the time,” Sobiloff reported. “I’ve got real maple syrup, which is a must for me… Very good. I like the French toast, nice and thick..”
From the Plymouth area, Sobiloff said her son lives in Hanson and her daughter works in Whitman, so she is a bit familiar with it, but as always they let the community give suggestions for their specific destinations.
“We try to do something unusual,” Rothwell said, mentioning the boxing gym visit. “I hate boxing,” she laughed. She told gym owner Phippen the same thing in an often-funny interview posted the Grannies Facebook page: facebook.com/twogranniesontheroad.
That visit also included the ladies climbing into the ring to test their fighting stance as well as a round or two with the speedbag and heavy bag.
“We often will do drive-arounds to view historic buildings that aren’t necessarily open, monuments, parks, things of that nature,” Sobiloff said.
“This town seems to have a lot of things,” Rothwell said.
This writer interviewed them – and they interviewed me – it was a mutual meeting of the media mavens of the South Shore.
A native of Wethersfield, Conn., Rothwell is a retired nurse who worked at Hartford Hospital for 46 years, but Sobiloff, an Ohio native, still works as a web designer. Each of the women is a bona fide grandmother – with six grandchildren each. They also love to joke around that Rothwell is the third “second granny.”
“I actually started [her travels] in 2010,” Sobiloff said. “I’d had my business for about eight years and I was single at the time, my youngest son was getting ready to graduate from college … and I just started thinking about how I hadn’t had a vacation in eight years.”
Taking her kids cross county in an RV had always been a dream of hers, but she never had the chance to do it. Then she realized she had a job she could do anywhere.
“I thought maybe I could figure out a way to travel and work across the country,” she said. Not wanting to travel alone, Sobiloff asked friend Ginny Just, who, as a graphic designer, was also not tied to an office.
“That made me think of the name: ‘Two Grannies on the Road,’” she said. “I got together with her and told her my idea and she said, ‘I’m in.’”
Sobiloff’s first partner in travel vlogging created the logo and Sobiloff created the website: twogranniesontheroad.com.
“The deal was to get sponsorships from big companies like Winnebago,” she said. “We did some networking about it, we did some proposals to big companies for sponsorships, but we were coming out of absolutely nowhere – nobody knew who we were.”
RV life may be more of a thing now, but 12 years ago it was a strange notion to some of the recreational vehicle companies.
“We just evolved over the years,” Sobiloff said. The next idea was to interview Baby Boomers being forced out of jobs at a time of economic downturn and what they were doing to reinvent themselves, to inspire other Baby Boomers to go for their dreams.
She made that cable access program in East Bridgewater for a couple of years, before Sobiloff and her then-partner each met a new husband and boyfriend, respectively.
Sobiloff and her husband moved to Plymouth and her first partner retired.
“I had guest grannies a lot of times,” she said.
“She tells me these stories,” Rothwell laughed. “I’m worried about her freezer.”
Guest Grannie Debbie Phalen, a retired optician who had started candy business in her basement, agreed to come on board for the mission to visit every city and town in Massachusetts after she and Sobiloff had worked together on a few shows. Phalen moved to Florida to be near her daughter about a year ago.
Enter Rothwell, who met at a social luncheon when a mutual acquaintance introduced them.
“Here I am,” Rothwell said.
Once Rothwell writes down the responses to her Facebook inquiries about a town, she makes some calls to confirm schedules and it’s time to hit the road. She also calls each town’s historical society for an after-breakfast trip.
“Maybe there are sights that we need to see,” she said. “This town, it was interesting how much different things, historically have taken place. … It’s always exciting what we find.”
Then there’s the editing to do before an episode goes up on their web site.
Next week the Two Grannies follow their road back to Western Massachusetts to Shelburne and Buckland. Follow along on Facebook.
They also speak at senior centers. Libraries and over-55 communities on their travels. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, their websites and Facebook page.