I've been lulled into a sense of security by the authoritative voice of our Garmin GPS unit. Turn in 10 miles. Turn in 50 feet. Turn now. Don't think, just follow. It's much like god except (a) both you and your passenger can actually hear the voice; (b) you don't have to praise it before you get directions; and (c) it never tells you to kill people who use competing brands. Alas, GPS is not infallible and sometimes leaves you wandering through cow pastures on unpaved roads.
We left Hoboken and headed south to Strasburg, Virginia.
We passed through Pennsylvania, a state where monopsonistic chain warehouses now cover entire counties and fleets of trucks fill parking lots once occupied by steel mills. To live in Pennsylvania is to be a warehouse worker, unless you are a waitress at the Skyview Restaurant in Krumsville.
Krumsville occupies a deserted exit along route 78. The empty, decaying Top Hotel (for sale) sits to one side, a gas station with two pumps and a heavily used phone booth on another, and the Skyview Restaurant on the third. A quarter mile further and you pass through Krumsville city center, a cluster of swaybacked brick buildings offering rusting farm implements under the banner of "antiques."
Despite it's location, the Skyview offers a large specials menu including Tilapia prepared three ways, two different stews, and several exotic meat dishes. We're the only customers and the waitress is pleasant and quick. She checks our table and quips: "Did ya know that Kutztown University is in the top five nationwide for STDs? How are your sandwiches? "
Our GPS leads us to Strasburg, then past Strasburg, up a sloping valley and to a U-storage location next to a horse farm. Here, it pronounces, is our hotel. Burqa Boy surveys the horse farm and announces this is not the Ramada Inn. A telephone call and a U-turn later, we are backtracking seven miles over the complaints of the GPS.
In planning Road Trip 2008, I'd mistaken Strasburg, Virginia for Strasburg, Pennsylvania. Instead of finding a famous railroad, we found a lone ice cream stand, and instead of the Amish, we encounter a group of teenagers who ask: "Why y'all stopping here?"
Our hotel offers an indoor pool. This implies, I believe, the pool to be in the hotel. We search the property to no avail until the desk clerk explains: "Leave the back door, follow the path across the field, and then look for the building with the large windows." A quarter mile from the hotel we find the pool.
The following day we head to Cass, West Virginia. Again we follow the directions of our Garmin unit which has been carefully instructed to only use paved roads. Two hours later and dutifully following directions, we turn onto a road which first loses it's pavement, then becomes heavily rutted gravel, and begins winding through the fields and cow pastures of local farms. There isn't enough space to turn around. The cattle seem amused by our tiny vehicle and amble over for a look. Burqa Boy and I cross our fingers and hope the oil pan holds out to real pavement. Strike Two for the Garmin.
Cass, West Virginia is one of my favorite places on the planet. Now owned by the state of West Virginia, this former logging company town is preserved much as it was for the previous 100 years. Visitors can stay in houses that once were home to company employees and ride behind antique locomotives to the top of a nearby mountain. Mobile phones don't work here and the only public telephone is on the corner of the general store where locals gather outside on benches to pass the time. On our first night, one local says: "Hey, aren't you that fellow who came through here a couple years ago with a Mini Cooper? You like 'em small cars, don't ya?"
West Virginians are largely unimpressed with the Smart Car:
Local #1: "What kinda rig is that you a drivin'?"
SB: "That's a Smart Car."
Local #1: "Smart Car? I never heard of that."
Local #2: "That's cuz you gotta be Smart enough to drive one, and you too stupid!"
(Everyone laughs and expectorates. Burqa Boy looks slightly terrified.)
Burqa Boy and I board an evening train up the mountain for the local Fiddles and Vittles festival. High above Cass we are served an amazing meal of homecooked food while a local bluegrass band has us tapping our tennis shoes (everyone else has boots - how poorly we planned our wardrobe!) in time to the music. We did remember to bring our matching rain ponchos and stay to listen even after a light rain drives the other city slickers back to the train.
Back in Cass, we're invited to join in a local cakewalk - a fundraiser to pay the medical bills of a mother whose infant son just died. If your unfamiliar with a cakewalk, imagine a hall full of adults who walk around a giant cicle in time to music. When the music stops, you grab a number and hope the announcer awards you a homemade cake. It's great fun and we are laughing every time we go around. We're the only folks who aren't locals and I'm the only male without a baseball cap. Twice around and I win a plate of cookies. Twice more and I win a cake frosted with cream cheese. I'm outdone by a preteen boy who wins four cakes and two bottles of soda. Next week I may need a cakewalk of my own to pay for the insulin.
The next morning we drive to Charleston, a brief ride that gives us time for side trips to see the New River Gorge - the less ostentatious east coast version of the Grand Canyon.
Charleston proper is not the kind of city we expect to be the capitol of any state. The downtown looks just slightly more kept than the slums of Oakland and completely devoid of life. We find our hotel (the GPS gets it right this time), only to discover the parking lot is covered over with construction debris, discarded bed frames and mattresses. The elevator is torn apart and lit by a single bulb handing from a bare electrical wire. A sign says "Pardon our dust while we renovate." The dust, however, applies less to the dirt and more to the product being sold by the occupants of the other rooms. They peer at us from partially opened doors as we make our way down a hallway lit only by the red exit signs at each end. Upon seeing the peeling wallpaper of our room, we decide it's time to find other accommodations.
We end our week at a Ramada located directly across the street from a sprawling chemical plant and a church holding an outdoor revival. We float in the pool while a woman at the revival belts out tunes in the manner of a failed Idol contestant. Later we'll watch the Governor of California as a secret agent on Mars before heading off to sleep.
Tomorrow we're off to Kentucky to sleep in a teepee, visit Mammoth Cave, and then on to the arch in St Louis.
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