Sunday, September 08, 2013

Road Trip Lunch c/o Penn Alps

What is it about certain places? How do they manage to lodge themselves into our minds as meaningful, as beautiful, as timeless? And how often can those places ever measure up to whatever strange hold they've had on a person's brain? I ask these questions because when I started planning my drive to Columbus in order to celebrate Cuz K.'s engagement I did not struggle very much in making the counterintuitive decision to drive south before west and north. This is not the first time that I have driven to Ohio and made a stop at Penn Alps. The first was pretty much three years ago. I drove to Ohio on the way to go down to Tennessee to be with my parents for became my mother's second and last extended stay in a hospital. That was the drive that began a reality that ended with my mother's death less than a month later. When I was driving there and while I was actually eating and walking around Penn Alps and its rather remote Grantsville, MD location, however, it was not entirely apparent that that was the circumstance. I haven't actually re-read what I wrote about the last visit. I know that I was generally reflecting on the same ideas of place and time and nostalgia. And that I was non-plussed by the change to the entrance and to the gift shop, both of which were expanded and made slightly less quirky and more in line with the 'tourists stop here and we sell them things' vibe that I don't totally love. The funny thing is that as I knew I was going to stop at Penn Alps, I also started thinking about another location that I'd been to a few times in my youth that strangely stuck with me in terms of shaping some element of something that I care about. It seems. Hancock, Maryland is a second example of a place where I never spent much time, but that I visited a few different times throughout some formative time in my life.

I took no photographic evidence of my last minute decision to peel off the highway and drive down Hancock's main strip. I hadn't actually been sure that the place in my memories was Hancock, but when I saw the roof of and sign of the orchard/farm market literally just off the highway, I was pretty sure it was a place I had been. I don't know when. As a four year old. As an eight year old. As a nine year old. As a 12 year old. I simply don't know if I've been to that town three times or ten. At least three, that is for sure. In any case. It was a surreal thing driving down Hancock's Main Street and having at first a moment of feeling like I was totally mistaken. If it wasn't that apple/farm building market thing, then what town was it? I was driving the same route that my mother would often take when we drove to Ohio, but I had never remembered any of the roads. It's a strange thing to see things you've already seen but not entirely on purpose or realizing you are about to do so. Hancock is like that. I remember the market. I remembered a diner that I kept thinking was going to be just a little bit farther, and then I started to think that it didn't exist, and then it suddenly appeared and was exactly as I thought it would be. I remembered a General/Discount store with some weird mix of cheap toys and groceries and asundry things. The kind of place where there really is dust on some of the merchandise. I remembered going entirely through the town and turning right and going who knows how far to a place to park in order to then hike a while to get to a cabin with my parents that was along the Appalachian Trail.

So this town is just a location I somehow saw a number of times up until the time I was about 13. It is 17 years later and I am still drawn to it. And why? It's just a pretty small town with no huge anything that I could tell. Just strangely fragmented memories of being there. Being struck by the small town-ness of it. Struck by perhaps the run-down-ness of some of the people I saw. I don't know and I've just gone on a considerable tangent when my main point is that I revisited an entirely different place that I totally associate with driving trips with my mother for the first time since she died. That may not be my main point, but it certainly is part of the fabric of the situation.

In any case. I got to Penn Alps around 1 after hitting just terrible traffic on 95 south. I went directly to the hostess stand (past the still weird-to-me cashier plaza) to get a table. I was seated in an area I'm not sure I'd been to before. Though there is an especially cobwebbed part of my mind that feels like the answer is yes, and there was hot chocolate with whipped cream involved. But I could be wrong. In any case, I knew that my meal the last time hadn't been a runaway success so I tried to choose more carefully this time around. I went with a sweet tea that totally won. And enjoyed taking a look at the place mat - or should I say place map? With its nicely illustrated landmarks and routes as well as a pretty interesting slogan...the photographic evidence of which is only on my phone. Oh man it was funny, perhaps in part because of its spacing. It went:

Come once & see what we 
have yet, still

That shit is deep. 
More thinking led to a far better choice in meal. Though I don't usually order Reubens (in large part because the sandwich reminds me of my ex-boyfriend's eating tendencies), this seemed like the place to get even more over something that is so far in the past as to be the kind of thing that shouldn't influence my eating habits. It wasn't the thickest of sandwiches, but the country style bread (I requested non-rye b/c that is just the truth of my preferences) really did add something to the mix. And what I believe was truly homemade sauerkraut was absolutely not your standard stuff. It was deep and dark in taste and not crunchy, which to me suggests it really did ferment and pick up a lot of flavor before landing in my sandwich. I really don't know enough about corned beef to say how it ranked, but I will say it was thicker than some of the Reuben sandwiches I've seen in my time. I also ordered a side of mashed potatoes and gravy even though the sandwich came with homemade potato chips that I shamefully ignored. The potatoes had some nice lumps that suggested being made not out of a box. And I liked the gravy regardless of its providence. Providence? Provenance?
And then it was time to take a stroll through Spruce Forest. I, again, somehow found myself too shy to actually go into any of the workshops. Honestly I think as a kid I never did go inside. I just loved all the little cottages and the idea of creation happening within.
In this instance even if I wanted to go in I couldn't "due to a weekend workshop in feather carving." Because THAT IS A THING THAT HAPPENS!!!!!!!
Then I went to the bridge/Casselman River to sit for a moment. The ground was a little wet so I didn't really do what I thought I might, which was take off my shoes and put my feet in the river. This was in part due to the squishy-ness of the ground and one part the fact that there didn't seem like there was a really perfect place to get in there. Also, I'm not sure if there are rules against putting your feet in a river right by a crafts village and don't want to be banned.
Yup. I haven't read what I wrote, but I have looked at the photographs. It's kind of terrible. It demonstrates an entire lack of creativity. I keep getting stuck wanting to capture the same exact view or a very similar one, which doesn't capture any more of the feeling or thoughts that I may have been trying to capture. How can you capture the feeling of just being a kid being slightly interested, slightly mesmerized and slightly bored by a place?
In the end I basically took the same exact photographs that I took the last time, only fewer of them. After my meal and stroll I continued heading west. For a while I was on a pretty solitary/small road, which provided me many a beautiful vista of the hills and mountains around me. I am still not entirely sure what the mountains would have been, but my car definitely enjoyed the challenge of driving up and down a few of them. Also: coal propaganda is the worst.

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