Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chocolate Amish Eatting Cheese Steaks and Gambling in the Rain

Belgium is the land of Chocolate – but Hershey, PA – well it is trying desperately to win a little something back for itself. Hint: it's failing. Belgium also has beer.

Hershey, Pennsylvania is known for being home to the much beloved Hershey bar. We headed out bright and early to get to the magical wonderful land and see and smell all the chocolate. I grew up in a house across a giant field from a chocolate factory. This did two things to me. One: destroyed all ability to suspend disbelief when watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for I knew there were no rivers of melted goo – only smoke stacks and employees, normal sized. Two: made the smell of chocolate unforgettable. Real chocolate. Factory made chocolate.

The closest I got to this scent was from the candles in the gift shops. If there ever was a real factory here – or if there still is, well I saw no signs of it. Though I did see a library. Not really the same though, is it?

Our one stop to get out of the car, plant our feet on the ground, and mark this town as officially visited came in the form of Hershey World. We rolled up at eight thirty in the AM. It didn't open until nine. You'd think we were sad pathetic people waiting for a chocolate world to open, if only there weren't so many others doing the same thing, for what is really just a glorified shop, with some over priced attractions.

When the doors opened people rushed to their chosen and pre-determined places of interest. Some went for the 4D movie, others for the make your own chocolate bar, and others for the trolly tour. Each thing cost ten or more dollars – none were worth more than five. But the shop – the chocolate shop – this was the place to be. Do not get distracted by the five pound Hershey bar for forty dollars. Yes it may look novel, but it is not your best chocolate to dollar purchase. Not by a long shot. The 32ct boxes of bars, those are the ticket. You can buy one for nineteen bucks, or two for twenty. There's little to think about here. The two boxes give you six pounds of chocolate, for half the price of the big bar.

I was overcome with glee, and desire. Katherine said they would melt. I joked we would eat them faster. Then I did the math. If we each ate two bars a day, they would still take over two weeks to finish. Were we to up this to us each eating four bars a day, that would still take eight days to eat them all. And if one of us ever fell behind, or did not consume the requisite number of candy bars, well then – rage! rage! Still – at only thirty one cents a bar, it just seemed like such value to pass up.

I don't even like chocolate. I just like value. A lot.

When we finally left with only a back of York's mint m+ms, and some Good & Plenty (not for me – because, as a normal person, I hate those with the same ferocity as I hate candy corn) we headed off away from this town – bypassing the theme park (not chocolate themed though, clearly missing an incredible opportunity) – and made our way to Lancaster.

Lancaster was the capital of the country for like a day, once upon a time. The more you travel this area, the more you realize that just about every town can claim itself being the capital for an hour or so for some nonsense reason. But, it's true, this town had something going.

There was a market – the oldest market in the USA – that begged to be explored. It also claimed that I needed to buy a BBQ pork sandwich and one of the largest, most delicious, dill pickles I'd ever had. This was one you knew was a cucumber not that long ago. And the sweet sweet juices. Fantastic. Lunch was good – and filling.

Lancaster is also home to some great used bookstores, an old theater, one of the most well preserved hiding spots used during the underground railroad, and all number of Urbz sitting on their porches yelling at people. Often times shirts seems to be merely a suggestion. There are also a few galleries to be viewed. Two struck my eye. The first was on the second floor along Prince Street (this section of town is known for all the various art galleries) – the owner paints in her space every day, adding the new pieces to the wall, price tag attached. Her best piece – reminiscent of Death (Neil Gaimen's creation) – was long ago sold but for four hundred and fifty dollars you can still take home a print of your very own.

The model is the subject of many other originals, and I wonder just who she might be. Friend? Daughter? Lover? Hopefully not all three.

A few shops own you'll notice red umbrellas in the window. These umbrellas are the theme of the painters work. Every piece has a subject holding one. The paintings are from all parts of the world, as well as the parts residing only in imagination. At first I thought the theme tacky, an childish. But the more I saw, the more I thought I'd like some of theme. Then I began to picture a home where art could be displayed – what a terribly expensive hobby. It's right up there with smoking, car restoration, and heroine.

In this imaginary house, I'd also need tract lighting. Something to bring out the colours, make the images pop. This was not making the fictional abode any more affordable. It also made me think of the photo I took on the Brooklyn Bridge in the pouring rain, way back in March of two thousand and nine.

Lancaster could have been the base of a few days exploration, with a music scene illustrated by people handing out fliers for future shows. But we had to press on. Driving the thirty, we watched as highway gave way to farmland. Reaching Paradise, we set out north along the old roads for Intercourse (no jokes, none at all, about this town name were made. Truth.) The whole time we were on Amish watch. When finally a horse and buggy was seen, I can tell you what I didn't do. I didn't lean far out the window, holding camera astray, snapping as we passed at forty miles an hour. That would be crazy.

We saw Amish clothing hanging on the lines – fact, the Amish women wear blue panties.

“How can you tell it's Amish clothing?” I was asked.

“Well – all the shirts are basic fabric and one simple colour. Also –“ pointing out the clothes at the end of the line, “how many other people do you think need their three all black long pants, long shirts, washed during this summer?”

An event occurred where I may have screamed, causing a sharp left to be taken, at perhaps speeds a bit to high, in a road a bit too crowded. But I had seen a sign. A sign that needed investigating. The sign? Home Made Root Beer.

I love me some root beer. And home brewed? Perhaps in a tub somewhere? By real salt of the earth folks? Well how could I resist? Sure we drove down a long farm driveway, passing signs reading “root beer, this way.” I may have felt like the cartoon fool picking up candies from the ground. Finally stopping on the giant X, ready to be crushed from above. Even the final sign simply read “for root beer, stop here.” It was a trap – it must have been. But no, there was a cute blonde haired boy no bigger than eight, sheepishly selling brown liquid in glass jars. A pint jar for two dollars, a liter for four, or a big jug for six. The empty jars themselves would have been worth the ticket, but to have them filled with a cold mysterious brew? Well – it was delicious. It was flavourful, like no root beer I'd ever had again. And as I finished the last refreshing drop, it struck me, I'd probably never taste it again in my entire life.

But in the moment I both enjoyed and appreciated it. Real Amish experience? Check. Next!

Our next stop was Philadelphia. We had two things in mind. The Liberty Bell, and a cheese steak.

For four dollars and twenty five cents we parked in a lot near the bell, and made our way the bell centre. Sadly the barriers were too far away for the thing to be licked, but who would want to do that anyway? Still – there was all sorts of information about it, and to get in was free. But we were on a mission – see the bell. We saw it, took pictures, stood in front of other people to get shots with it, took shots for others, shot other families in front of it, and merged into family portraits, spoiling them (enhancing, I felt) for all of time. And then we were off. Back to the lot. Time was ticking. If we showed up too late, the ticket would cost eight dollars to exit. Not wanting to pay for an hour, when only thirty one minutes had passed, we hustled. No time to pay at the gate, we paid in the machine with cash. With seconds to spare we jammed it in, and made payment. Success. Liberty Bell? Seen.

Next up, cheese steaks at Jim's a mile and a half away. We were told by all sources that these were the best in town. I'd craved one of these for years – and biting into it? Meh. It was alright – just, kind of, some meat on a bun with fried onions. It's alright, but nothing to really care about. The fake ones at out of state restaurants tasted better, and were the cheesy mess I'd craved. These authentic ones? Well locals cover them in ketchup – but then they just taste like a burger. Eat a burger. I just don't see the draw, neither did Kath. But, she's starting to come around, “I'd never eat it again – but for the experience? That made it worth while.”

I also had some frozen custard, which I'd regretted passing up three states back. It's just soft serve ice cream. Disappointed. But with those experiences? Phillie. Check! Onwards!

We were to find a motel just outside of Atlantic City, so we could spend the next day in the sun on the beach, and popping into the casino's of Vegas' little brother. It wasn't until we were in down town AC that we realized the GPS was not set for the outlying motel, but rather the city itself. Hard to notice. As we passed through Pleasantville, doors were locked. It was, shall we say, sketchy. People walled into the road at random, and yelling was not all that unheard of.

Driving through Atlantic City, it is mostly run down housing, all grey and falling apart. The boardwalk has lost its shine, and to be frank, it was depressing. This was no place to spend more than an hour. I got out of the car to wander up a small hill to see the boardwalk, and thus claiming and experience, but that was more than enough for me. Just getting out of the city to the motel was hard enough.

On the way we passed ten (yes ten) motels in a row advertising rooms for twenty bucks. These were the murdered in your sleep places. We headed for the Knights Inn. Getting there with our thirty five dollar coupon, we were ready to sleep and make more miles tomorrow, getting as far from this hole as possible. It reminded me of Coast City with the cyborg Superman destroyed. All I could think of was how I doubt few would care if this place was ripped from the map. A terrible thing to say, I know, but I've seen the world – and few places are as “I am not getting off the bus!” as this one. The motel jumped in price due to 15% tax, but still prices didn't match up. When I questioned them again, I was finally told about a secret three fifty charge for phone use. Even though we'd not use the phone, and there was no notice of this, that was the last straw. With so many twenty dollar places around, I was not going to pay for anything more.

Back in the car, we headed out. Screw the twenty dollar places. Lets get as far from here as we can before sleep.

Lesson learned: Stay the hell out of Jersey. Most people seemed to have learned this long ago.

Off we headed to a fifty dollar a night motel in Delaware. Sure it would end up costing more – I make bad financial decisions when I'm upset... hidden charges! But with the magic of zero tax in DE, the difference wouldn't have been all that great. Still – we never reached that far. Ending up on a toll road (my GPS unable to handle routing if a toll must be paid, if avoid tolls is on – there's not way out of Jersey without paying. To be frank, I'd have paid anything. No price is too high to leave that state. Unless you're visiting the Cake Boss. He seems cool.) Kath tossed her seventy five cents into the bucket like a seasoned pro. Just like on TV. Getting within spitting distance of the state line, we pulled off to a camp site. The first of our trip. Why not start camping when sun has set and you'd never put the tent up before? Good a time as any.

With car headlights shining poles were arranged and arched, and snapped onto, and the tent came to be. This didn't take long, but it wasn't the thing of beauty our thirty second tents were in Africa. Those were the best tents I'd ever had. And everyone in ear shot was sure to know it by the time I stood inside this one. Mind you, the fact you could stand inside this one was something.

It was hot. So very very hot. A lot of sweating was done. Camping in the summer's desert now is brought into sharper focus. Time will tell. But this? This was hot.

We acclimatized, and I pulled my gear from the tent walls. Never leave anything by a wall. The tent will probably leak, and your things will be ruined. At two in the morning I was woken to the sound of rain, but rather than finding it peaceful, I was nervous, still not trusting the walls an roof that surrounded us. Still, nothing seemed to be leaking. Finally shut my eyes it was, at last, the end to a very long day.

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