Hell & Back...
Every year in Philadelphia, as you might well imagine, there is a spectacular fireworks display for Independence Day. Last year (1993) Amy and I saw it from perfect seats--the Vine Street Expressway. See, we'd been at a bar on the east side, and I live on the west side. Unfortunately, it was my first summer in this city and no one told me about the residents' long-standing tradition to sit on their cars along the Vine Street Expressway (THE major road that passes through town) in order to watch the fireworks at the Art Museum. It is--I must admit--a perfect view.
As I was saying, Amy and I were across town at a bar and decided to go home. We had to get across town, eh? The logical choice is the Expressway--a 10 minute hop. But it was July 4th. The fireworks had just begun. We got ON just far enough to have no way OFF when we were suddenly faced with 300 cars stopped dead--the owners were watching the pretty boom-booms.
So between sitting there for the display and trying to get home when everyone cleared out, we got fucked. We got fucked for 6 hours. I vowed to never be in Philadelphia for July 4th for the duration of my meager life.
Tom and I were both particularly broke. We'd both been surviving on a diet of potatoes, rice and pasta for a couple weeks.
One night, watching tv, we came upon a PBS program about Roadside Attractions in Pennsylvania. There were the regulars--restored dining cars across the state, the Melrose Diner here in the city, etc. But one feature made us laugh out loud: Potato City, PA. What the fuck? POTATO CITY? Yeh, Potato Fucking City. Sounded like our own personal Meccas, considering that we were each eating 10 lbs of potatoes a week.
A motor lodge located in Coudersport, Pa, Potato City's claim-to-fame is having been founded by Richard Nixon's uncle as a meeting place for the potato industry. Now, Potato City survives as a Motor Lodge and Roadside non-Attraction in North Central PA.
According to the PBS program, the house specialty is a dish called "Potatoes Fiesta," a mish-mash of potatoes, 3 cheeses, onions, peppers, and secret ingredients.
Oh, how we laughed and laughed.
I get no time off at my job. Sure, I guess I'm entitled to 2 weeks of vacation, but I just can't take a week off, you know what I mean? There's too much shit to do.
Back in February, I told my boss that instead of a full week of vacation--a week inevitably interrupted by calls from the boss and incompetent co-workers--I'd decided to extend the three 3-day summer weekends: Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day. Everyone was happy with my idea.
Well, wouldn't you know it? Memorial Day became nothing more than an extra day to drink late. Then June rolled around, and July 4th was approaching like an abusive trick approaches a cheap whore. I had to get out of Philadelphia, I knew, or face a miserable FOUR-DAY weekend, one-third of my summer vacation.
"Want to drive down to DC?" Amy asked me. "Or maybe even get a room down the shore?" / "No," I say. "How about Potato City?" Mustering up courage, I tell her about my great idea for the weekend.
Amy was sold. And don't let her tell you any different--she was excited by the idea. She may joke that I owe her a trip to somewhere SHE wants to go on our NEXT "vacation," but fuck that--we went in this together.
I called the Motor Lodge and got more information. The fellow there faxed me a flyer about Potato City, which explained the connection to Tricky Dick, and described the "most beautiful potato fields in Pennsylvania."
Fuck, who knew Pennsylvania even grew potatoes?
I made reservations for Saturday the 2nd. PLENTY of rooms, the fellow says. That, my friends, should have been taken as a warning.
Coudersport, PA, is located dead center along the north border of Pennsylvania. I figured on a 6-hour drive from Philadelphia, maybe 7 from Amy's place in Central Jersey. We decided to leave early Saturday morning, stay in Potato City that night, leave from there Sunday late morning, drive aimlessly, then find somewhere to stay along the way back on Sunday the 3rd. We'd make it back to her place sometime on the 4th and I'd stay there that night.
"No matter what, I refuse to be in Philadelphia on the 4th."
We packed some food and hit the road at 9am. We chose to take Amy's 4-door Honda Civic, a comfortable and gas-wise car. But mainly, it has a stereo--mine doesn't. We took 287N to 80W, which I planned to take straight into the heartland of Pennsylvania.
There is, simply, nothing of interest in New Jersey, so let's skip right to PA, which was FAR more exciting.
Route 80: Pennsylvania
Our first stop was to empty our bladders. The Holiday Inn at Exit 45 was very clean and well-kept. I took a picture in the parking lot, but my finger was over the lens. Photography has never been among my strengths.
We'd already clocked 112 miles.
From there, we continued for another hour before stopping for lunch at the Columbia County Roadside Rest Area, 170 miles into the trip. There, we at turkey sandwiches on--appropriately enough--potato bread which we had bought at the onset of the journey. Of the 20 cars in the rest area, at least 15 had NJ plates. Of these 15, at least 10 were filled with fat people. Not just large people; large people don't draw my attention. I'm talking people weighing in at least 250 on 5-foot-4 frames. Whole fucking families of them, rushing the candy machines, while Amy and I chewed on dry turkey sandwiches.
I believe that New Jersey, among all the states, is filled with the largest population of disgusting and distasteful people.
I should know. I lived there for 23 years.
When I was planning the trip, I checked the map for attractions between NJ and Potato City, figuring on a little sight-seeing to laugh at locals. The best I found were Williamsport, a supposedly pleasant, "antiquey" town, and the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Well, we passed right through Williamsport--never considered stopping; it's a hole. As for the Grand Canyon, it was 10 miles off the main road, and from what I'd been told by a friend of a friend, it's also a hole. Literally. Just a big fucking hole. Nothing to see.
We took 80W to 180N (through Williamsport) to 15N to 6W, where we came upon Wellsboro, a small town that thrives on the hunting and fishing trade. Wellsboro consists of one long road littered with motor lodges and diners. Every single lodge advertised a discount for AAA card holders. Amy is a AAA card holder. I guess a lot of hunters and fishermen are AAA card holders, too.
It seemed to me that if you want to make a living in Wellsboro, you do one of 3 things: lodge hunters & fishers; feed hunters & fishers; or sell junk to hunters & fishers & the people who lodge/feed hunters & fishers. I have never in my life seen so many fucking roadside junk sales
that were selling true junk. Five dozen "yard sales" and they all sucked ass, with one exception: Stefanko's, a small house turned junk shop. Here, for 25¢, I bought a 16-oz glass tumbler with drink recipes etched on the side. And as an added bonus, owner Joe Stefanko was a real jokester. One of those "Hot enough for ya?" jerks; an old man trapped in a 35-year old body. Inside that coffin they called home, it sure was hot enough for me. And Amy. And Joe's wife, Ellen.
Fuck the heat--I think JOE was enough for Ellen.
When Joe pulled his "You want that glass in a SMALL bag?" [holding a hammer menacingly] routine for what must've been the 100th time that day, I thought Ellen was going to grab the hammer out of his hands and smash in his goddamn chucklehead skull.
Still, for 25¢, it was a worthwhile stop.
Further up the road, we hit the Wellsboro Exxon. For those of you who have never bought gas in the Keystone State, we pump our own gas here; it's the law. And in Philadelphia, you pay BEFORE you pump; you have no choice--the pumps are controlled from inside. So naturally, that's what I did in Wellsboro; I went inside, told the young woman my pump number, and slid $7 across the counter. A confused look came across her face when she rang up the purchase. "Oh, you haven't pumped the gas yet?" she asked.
"You let people pump the gas FIRST?" I must've looked like a real rube.
"Of course. This is the boonies, mister." Daisy Duke chirped.
I spat out, "Man, you're a bunch of suckers." (I must work on that restraint thing). Daisy smiled condescendingly, like a priest to a repentant lad. "Ring me up for a bag of ice while you're at it," I added, sliding over a buck and a half.
Outside, I grabbed 2 bags of ice from the freezer, threw them in the cooler, pumped $10 worth of gas into the Honda, and hit the road.
Potato City Proper
The Potato City Motor Inn lies atop Denton Hill, elevation 2424 feet, towering high above Potter County, also known as God's Country, according to the local literature. I sure hope God likes to hunt, fish and sell junk to backwater hicks, because that's all there is to do in Potter County.
Potato City, unlike most of its neighbors across the fucking county, does not offer a discount for AAA card holders.
We hit Potato City at 3 o'clock. Not surprisingly, it was a dump--a step above the average fuck-me motel, a step below the average Motel 6, with worse furnishings. And everything about the room itself was average--the bed, the tv, the bathroom, the view. Hell, who the fuck am I kidding? There was no fucking view.
But, still in optimistic spirits, we had sex, showered and went to the dining room that had been so predominantly featured in the PBS special that suckered us there in the first place.
We were hungry, and boy, was I looking forward to trying those Potatoes Fiesta! Si! Si!
Potato City is owned and operated by Joe and Kay Bohn, a husband-wife team who bought the place a few years ago. Joe was a nice enough guy, but, right off the bat, Kay was a real cunt. Kay Bohn, if I ever meet you again, I'm going to spit on your shoes. You were a patronizing, typical, small town, close-minded fuck. Although we were about to plunk down $40 for one of your shitty rooms, drop another $40 at dinner and $20 at the bar, you still looked at my boots with a sneer, and at Amy like she was a dumb bitch for being with a jerk like me. Fuck you, you damn whore.
Let's cut to it: dinner sucked.
The menu was almost entirely fish. (I hate fish. Pull it out of the fucking ground, or feed it something FROM the ground, or I won't eat it. Nothing with scales, thank you.) We were expecting Potatoes Everything! Baked Potatoes! Mashed Potatoes! French Fried Potatoes! Fucking BROILED Potatoes, for christ's sake! Nope. We got a menu full of fish.
"And there's a buffet, for $14.95." Sold.
The $15 buffet was: a salad bar of lettuce, cucumbers and a dozen mayo-based dishes; a table-full of bread; a terrible teriyaki-style chicken; frog legs swimming in butter; more fish dishes; undercooked, white trash wedding-style prime rib; and, lordy, there were the infamous Potatoes Fiesta! Mary Mother,
I was saved! Whooee! I piled 'em high--$15 bucks' worth--alongside the stack of lettuce and cucumbers which were my main course.
Needless to say, the Potatoes Fiesta did NOT make the trip worthwhile. A hybrid of mashed and au grautin with peppers and onions thrown in, Potatoes Fiesta aren't even worth a 2 mile drive to Pathmark. During dinner, we overheard an obese gentleman at the next table whisper to his companion, "the secret behind the fiesta potatoes is feta cheese." Oh, christ, big fucking secret. Now it's out! Better close up the joint--now everyone knows! THERE'S FETA CHEESE IN THE POTATOES!!
After dinner, we drove to the local hotspots: the PA Lumber Museum and a Deer Petting Zoo that houses the mangiest, saddest-looking baby deer. If I were 6 years old, I'd've bawled my eyes out, because Bambi looked like she'd been through her own little Deer Holocaust.
We took some pictures, bought a six-pack, and decided to hide out in our room. So the big evening was "Operation Petticoat" and the best sex we'd had in weeks; we were obviously over-compensating.
Bright and early, we were so anxious to flee that we did not indulge in the complimentary coffee. Instead, we bought some merchandise (4 coffee mugs (2 for ourselves; 2 for gifts), a crappy t-shirt for Amy, and a baseball cap which I wore right out the door without actually purchasing) and got on the road.
The trip back was uneventful, with the exception of a Truck Stop along Route 80, about 50 miles from the Jersey Border, where that I saw the foulest candy made by man: bubblegum fudge. Rather than chocolate, they use marshmallow; and rather than nuts, they use pieces of gum. This slab of tooth decay is then coated with confectionary sugar. I imagine that before you can buy it, you need to produce proof of pick-up truck ownership, a barefoot child in winter, and a pet rotweiller. Of course, if you drive a semi, I'm sure it's free with the purchase of a cup of coffee.
We drove 708 miles. We took 24 pictures.
Ironically, the most potatoes we ate on the whole trip were in the loaf of potato bread we'd bought in the Grand Union in Jersey for $1.39.
WE DIDN'T SEE ONE SINGLE FUCKING POTATO FIELD.
I did, however, avoid the Fourth of July in Philadelphia.
Just the other day, Amy called for information on "The Corn Palace," located in Mitchell, South Dakota. Originally constructed in 1892, The Corn Palace grew so popular that they had to add another structure in 1921...
I think we've found our next vacation spot. And I bet they've got cheap flights out of Potato City International.
Hell & Back: