Tag: Pennsylvania

Would You Like to See My Sweet Caboose?

Would You Like to See My Sweet Caboose?

Sleeping in a caboose is one of the items that has been on my life’s To Do list for many years. How it ended up there, at this point I can’t say. It’s not like I’m not a railroad fanatic or anything. No doubt I stumbled across the existence of a caboose motel and said fun! and the idea stuck around.

When I woke up on Saturday morning, I hadn’t planned on that being that day that I would sleep in a caboose. But, a few cups of coffee and 200 miles later, I found myself in the belly of the Reading caboose #21. ::shrug::


Sadly, my car isn’t as photogenic as my motorcycle.

Upon check-in at the Red Caboose Motel, the friendly desk clerk addressed me as if there were an “us,” a “you guys” and a “you all.” As you might imagine, this place is popular with families, so I don’t blame her.

“Have you guys stayed with us before?”
“Nope, first time.”
“Well, welcome aboard! Woo woo!”

Yep. She really woo-wooed, pulling the imaginary cord that sounds the horn. It’s nice when people are excited about life.

If I had to guess, a lot of solo 40-something women don’t come wheeling into the caboose motel on a Saturday night. And so I didn’t bother to correct her on my non-us-ness. About an hour later when I saw her again, she said cheerfully said, “is everything okay with you guys in your caboo… you’re alone, aren’t you. Sorry. Habit.” I’m starting to get a complex. You can’t make this stuff up.

As I said, this motel is very family friendly. It has an arcade, a silo observation tower, playground, buggy rides, ice cream and a few barnyard animals for petting.

Though I felt a little out of place with no kidlet of my own, I spent some time at the animal pens with the mini horses. As gaggles of children descended to tug on animal ears and manes – there I was, trying to telepathically communicate with the animals. I felt it was important that they knew that I was only there to love them up gently and that they should stay with me ‘cuz I love them best.

But apparently, they don’t have time for small talk, even if telepathically, when you don’t come with 25¢ worth of yum-yum pellets from the vending machine. I never seem to have any change when I actually want it.

While trying to make nice with a fuzzy gray horse, I watched the families at the other end of the corral. Looking on, I wondered why any parent would just allow their tiny toddler to put their deliciously chubby digits into some strange animals face unobserved.

Maybe I’m overly cautious, but it seems to me that when your two-year-old is touching an animal that is at least four times their size, you might want to put your fucking phone down and pay attention. I watched one dad yap nonstop on his phone while his little girl, face plugged with a pacifier, ran up and down along the fence “petting” the other mini horses. Later on, I heard crying and the words “…is a nipper,” floating above the general conversation. Oh, well.

People move in and out of my office all day tugging at my attention. Maybe if I start biting they’ll leave me alone, too.

The interior of my Queen Couples caboose looked like a tiny log cabin. It was clean and comfortable with cable, WiFi, a table to write at, a microwave, comfortable bed, and no funny smells. As nighttime inked the sky black, the wind outside picked up. The lack of insulation in the train was apparent in both the noise and the occasional draft. Not that it was bothersome, just something I was aware of. It felt like a reminder that I was sleeping in unusual quarters.

I enjoyed the novelty of my stay in the caboose. Seeing them all lined up, end to end with their candy colors brings out a child-like cheerfulness. It was worth the trip.

The Red Caboose Motel
312 Paradise Lane
Ronks, PA 17572

Party of One – Wednesday Night in Breezewood

Party of One – Wednesday Night in Breezewood

In the past couple of years, I’ve cruised through the town of Breezewood, Pennsylvania a handful of times. Not because I was seeking it out, but just… because. If you’re riding along Route 30, it just happens. One minute you’re buzzing through nothing much and then whammo! You’re smack in the middle of a kaleidoscope of chain restaurants, hotels and gas stations.

Breeeeeeeeeezewood. There is something so lovely about the name. I imagine walking through waist-high grass wearing a floppy straw hat, with the wind tumbling the ends of my hair in Breezewood. The sun would gently kiss your golden tanned shoulders in Breezewood. You can twirl and twirl and fall down laughing under a bright blue sky in Breezewood. In truth, you’re more likely to have to scrape off the hot gum you stepped in, on the edge of the curb, in Breezewood.

As a northeastern suburbanite, the presence of so many chain establishments isn’t in and of itself strange. It’s more the juxtaposition of traveling along the bucolic rolling hills of Route 30 into an entire town that is essentially a highway rest area that is a shock to the system. Then there is the matter that Breezewood, as crazy as it sounds, is the onramp between I-70 and the PA Turnpike.


photo source – Wikipedia

On my way home from West Virginia, I found myself at both the proverbial and actual crossroads in Breezewood. I’d already logged 300+ miles in the saddle for the day. And since it was near dinner time, I was faced with a dilemma: do I continue home, knocking out another 300+ miles on the slab -or- just pack it in for the night and continue on the following morning? Something about the Bonneville helps me find my take it easy vibe and so I opted to stay in franchise-heaven.

Every motorcyclist who passes through town must ask if they can park beneath front door canopy of the Holiday Inn Express. While checking in, the girl at the desk made sure to include that I needed to park my motorcycle in an actual parking space in the stream of instructions that she recited by rote. I’m not even sure she took a single breath as the words flowed forth and she pointed to the direction of the elevator.

After getting settled and having a shower, I decided to set off on foot to grab some dinner. The nearest restaurant was a place called Bob Evans. I’d seen the name scrawled in cheerful white letters many times on highway attraction signs so I figured – what the hell.

Not knowing what to expect I was surprised to find that I had to run the gauntlet of impulse purchasing before finding the person who would seat me for dinner. If you told me that their retail maze lost three elderly ladies to starvation each week, I wouldn’t be surprised.

“Dearest Henry,

I am writing this from a makeshift shelter that I fashioned out of tea towels with wine grapes embroidered on them.

Things here at the Bob Evans gift shop aren’t looking good. Somehow I got separated from the group. One minute we were looking at miniature license plates and monogrammed umbrellas and the next thing I know I was wandering alone in a vast sea of Intercourse and Blue Ball shot glasses.

My dear, I fear the worst. Go on without me.

Ever yours,
Margaret”

Needless to say, the front of the restaurant was a store full of useless, folksy junk. The upside, of course, is that if I ever find myself in the market for a t-shirt that says “You are the bacon to my eggs,” or a jelly for any occasion, well, now I know where to go. Though at my age, my eggs just want to be left the hell alone.

What I’ve come to realize is that I really don’t like chain “diner” food. Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, Bob Evans, Waffle House… they all have a loyal following but the appeal is lost on me. Their food is meh, at best. Some towny diner’s omelet will always be better but how much of that better-ness can be attributed to the ambiance, I can’t say. I suppose like my penchant for Holiday Inn Express, people find comfort in knowing what they’re in for each time.

When the host made his way to the podium to seat me, he grabbed a single menu out of the stack and said with pitying flair that arced up to a squeak on the end, “just onnnne?” Indeed, Chip, it’s just me, a party of one at a Bob Evans in Breezewood, Pennsylvania at 8 pm on Wednesday. Maybe I should start saying No, party of two and then motion to an imaginary friend.

As a solo diner, you get to be a fly on the wall. As you sit in your silence the conversations that go on around you find their way to your ears. Because you aren’t focused on anyone across the table from you, your eyes are free to roam around the room and take in things that are overlooked when you have company.

When traveling, I like to bring my notebook to dinner. While unwinding from the day’s constant motion I try to record whatever I can remember. I find it therapeutic.

Have I ever told you that I have a deluded fantasy life? In it, I am far more interesting and important than I am in my real life. I like to pretend that everyone notices me writing and that they’re dying to know what I’m writing about. There are two stock fantasy people who write in my notebook at dinner – the novelist and my go to: the food critic. I don’t even know why that idea appeals to me. It’s ridiculous, really, especially considering the places I find myself dining. The Moons Over My Hammy had a slightly smoky flavor with a smooth finish.

When the waitress sauntered over to take my order, she said, “is it just you tonight, honey?” (what is it with these people?)

As I ate and scribbled, I watched the goings on of the restaurant. At the table closest to me was a couple in their late 60s, maybe early 70s. Throughout their whole meal, I didn’t see them exchange a single word. Not. One. And while it could be that they’ve elevated in their relationship to be able to enjoy a comfortable silence together, I projected my own feelings on what I saw. It was like two people sleepwalking. And at that moment, I realized though I was alone, I was not lonely.

Tales of a Second Grade Nothing

Tales of a Second Grade Nothing

In September while heading east on the Lincoln Highway in the Chambersburg area, I stopped to snap photos of two gas pumps that were part of the Pump Parade. The first was at Shatzer Fruit Market in Chambersburg. It features a Chambersburg peach motif.

A little way down the road was the “Nellie Fox” pump in St. Thomas, PA outside of the Oak Forest Restaurant. I just caught this pump out of the corner of my eye, slammed on the brakes and made a U-ey to take its picture.

The parking lot where I turned around at the Oak Forest had a row of buildings lining the edge of the property. They were small, bungalow-type houses. As soon as I saw them a flood of emotion came over me. This little cluster of buildings was similar to the place where I spent the earliest part of my childhood amongst the creeps, the drunks, the dregs and those of us with families who were just a little down on their luck at the time. And this, right or wrong, consistently fills me with a burning shame.

Why? Why should I care about something that was beyond my control as a child? I mean, I have come a long way from where I started. And yet, those meager beginnings still mark me with a stain that no one but me can see.

Growing up, our little bungalow community was bussed to an elementary school that intermingled us with kids who were comfortably situated in the middle class. We shabby kids rubbed elbows with the children of doctors and lawyers. But in school, kids were kids. We were all the same… until we weren’t.

In second grade, I got to invite a few friends over to celebrate my birthday. It was the first time someone from school who didn’t live in my neighborhood came to my house. My school friend walked into our two-room bungalow and said, “this is it?!” and incredulously noted that her living room was bigger than my whole house, which was true. I am 44 years old now and the sentiment still smarts. I didn’t know there was anything “wrong” with my life until someone else told me so.

I’ve been sitting on talking about my feelings after seeing those stupid little houses for months. And I’ve wavered on the idea that maybe there would be some kind of catharsis, or that I might absolve myself of the guilt of feeling bad about growing up poor. So far? Not so much. Now, I feel like I should be ashamed of being ashamed because as crappy as it might have been, there are people who are or were worse off.

It would be nice if I could adopt the wistful-sounding attitude of my mother. She talks of drying out teabags on the radiator and reusing them and being “as poor as church mice,” as an affliction that was triumphantly overcome. And I confess, in truth it was. But clearly, for me, there is a scar.

Get off the cross, we need the wood.

Photos: 2017 Post Office Pit Stops

Photos: 2017 Post Office Pit Stops

Stopping and snapping photos of post offices while traveling has become something of a habit. A post office seems to give clues about what a place is like. These snaps are some of the post offices I stopped at in 2017.

Rhodell, WV 25915

Helvetia, WV 26224

Vesuvius, VA 24483

North Matewan, WV 25688

Josephine, WV 25857

Onego, WV 26886

Rockfish, VA 22966 (former)

Fanrock, WV 24834

Cucumber, WV 24826

Odd, WV 25902

Rebersberg, PA 16872

Burke’s Garden, VA (former)

Panther, WV 24872

East Smethport, PA 16730

War, WV 24892

 

2017 in Review: Photos of Great Ghost Ads Seen in My Travels

2017 in Review: Photos of Great Ghost Ads Seen in My Travels

My love for the ghost ads of yesteryear is strong. While out and about in 2017, I saw some excellent examples: 

Mail Pouch Tobacco – Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Mail Pouch Tobacco – Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Mail Pouch Tobacco – Layton, New Jersey

Mail Pouch Tobacco – Grafton, West Virginia

Mail Pouch Tobacco – Beacon, New York

Battle Ax Plug Tobacco – Pomeroy, Ohio

Cubanola – Radford, Virginia

Bloch Brothers Tobacco | Rohrbaugh & Co. Furniture & Undertaking – Buckhannon, West Virginia

Mail Pouch Tobacco  | Golden Rule Department Store – Belington, West Virginia

Bull Durham – Buena Vista, Virginia

Uneeda Biscuit – Poughkeepsie, New York

Sloan’s Linament for Rheumatism – Grafton, West Virginia

Uneeda Biscuit | Gold Medal Flour – Troy, New York

Coca-Cola – Orange, Virginia

Wine of Cardui & Cubanola – Radford, Virginia

Mail Pouch Tobacco | Coca Cola – Renovo, Pennsylvania

Mail Pouch Tobacco – Mill Hall, Pennsylvania


2017 in Review Round-Ups

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