Smethport, Ho!

Smethport, Ho!

Yesterday, I drove Roger up to Smethport, Pennsylvania, for a job interview. Smethport, it turns out, is the county seat — and therefore, the location of the county district attorney’s office, where Roger was interviewing for the job of assistant D.A. — of McKean County. Pittsburghers probably haven’t heard of McKean County per se, but they may have heard of Bradford, PA, home of a University of Pittsburgh branch campus. Also, they may have heard of Wooly Willy, invented and still produced in Smethport

It was a harrowing journey. We left at about 9:30 a.m., heading up 28 North. After 28 gets into Armstrong County, it actually becomes a simple, two-lane road, and after that point, we were never on a highway again. In New Bethlehem, a quaint Pennsylvanian town, we got onto Route 66 North, which in turn led us to Clarion. Interesting thing about Clarion: it may have been secretly invaded and occupied by Canada. Roger noticed that all of the street signs had little red maple leaves on them, inexplicably. I considered that the local college, Clarion University, may have something to do with it, but I believe their mascot is an eagle or something — it’s definitely not a maple leaf. No, we think Clarion, PA, was, at some point, very quietly — it’s their way — taken over by Canada. Furthermore, Canada has engineered it so that once unsuspecting Americans drive into Clarion, it’s difficult to get out; Route 66 just ended on us, without any signage. Though we finally found 66 North again and continued on our way, it turned out on the way home that 66 South actually takes a different path than 66 North, thus disorienting and alarming us (and, I’m sure the Canadians hoped, potentially trapping us in Clarion). Tricksy Canadians

Still, getting trapped in Clarion would’ve meant that we retained a grasp on a degree of civilization. After we drove out of Clarion, it was miles and miles of almost nothing on either side of the car. We drove north through Forest County, which is home to part of Allegheny National Forest (real, not-made-up motto: “Land of Many Uses”). In point of fact, the undeveloped sections of the world unsettle me. Don’t misunderstand: I am a conservationist, and I am aware of the many real physical and spiritual necessities of having wild spaces in the world. I just don’t want to spend my time in them. As opposed to the city, where everything is observed, quantified, and qualified on a daily basis by thousands of eyes, ears, and feet, the tracts of wilderness left in the world make me nervous in the way they go unwatched — anything could exist in all those trees along 66 North, unseen and unchecked. The undeveloped world is potentially full of mysterious forces, and their unknown and unseen nature makes me uncomfortable

Speaking of mysterious forces, Roger and I became convinced that the Devil is in Forest County; specifically, he owns a store there. For miles we drove along, reading a string of periodically placed signs enticing us to visit a store located on “ALT 666” where we would find a “magical shopping experience” at a store that “had everything you could want.” “Turn left in six miles!” and, “Turn left in two miles!” When we valiantly continued past the left turn to Route 666, we saw a sign that said, “You just missed the turn to a magical shopping experience!” We expected there to be, immediately afterwards and despite this, a sign saying, “Make the next left to Rt. 666!” The Devil, like Canadians but meaner, is tricksy.

Many winding miles (and many completely inert but massively inconvenient PENNDot workers) later, we arrived in … Kane, PA. It was still a goodly ways to Smethport (did I mention how far away from anything Smethport is?). We didn’t stop in Kane, but I bring it up so that I can quote to you from the Kane, PA, brochure I picked up in Smethport, titled, “Kane, Pennsylvania: A Star in the Forest.”

“Historically known as the ‘Ice Box’ of Pennsylvania, our summer days are warm and inviting, but leave the air conditioner at home, you won’t need it!

“Fall foliage is the most spectacular array of color that you will ever experience. During the winter months, you will feel like you’ve stepped into a Norman Rockwell print, especially while ice skating under the stars.

“Oh, yes, you won’t sneeze here because our pollen count is one of the lowest in the country!”

Well, heck, sign me up for a vacation in Kane.

In Kane we traded 66 North for 6 North, and another 25 almost completely uninhabited miles later, we arrived in Smethport at last. Our first order of business was lunch at the Route 6 Diner; I ordered the “Cold Turkey Sandwich,” which consisted of white bread and turkey — I had to order, for $0.50, a tomato slice, iceberg lettuce and mayonnaise. I also got sweet potato fries with brown sugar on them, and Roger got the chicken tenders and fries. This lunch, plus two coffees, amounted to $16 — I’m not sure if we got a deal or not.

While Roger went over to the Courthouse for his interview, I walked around the town to get a feel for the place. There is a bar, a coffee shop with wireless internet, and a Catholic Church, so technically, Roger’s bases are all covered. There are also two pizza parlors, a Chinese take-out place called “Food King,” and “The Hub,” a 24-hour convenience store. There is also the Smethport Visitor Center. Really.

At the Smethport Visitor Center, I met Karen and Les, but was mostly led around by a nice old lady who either didn’t introduce herself or whose name I didn’t catch, but I will call her Flo, because if that was not her name, it should have been. Flo was very happy to show me around the Center itself, which has continental breakfasts in the morning, a TV room, a computer, “With DSL high-speed wireless,” she pointed out, and a rec room in the back. It was all very … low ceilinged. They were eager to learn why I was there, and would I be staying there? Visiting? Have I seen the Jail and Historical Society? I got several pamphlets. Allow me share some of them with you here.

First, an introduction to Smethport, from the “McKean County Historical Society Old Jail Museum” pamphlet:

“McKean County was organized March 26, 1804, and was named in honor of Thomas McKean, the second governor of Pennsylvania and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It was under the jurisdiction of Centre County until 1814 and Lycoming County 1826 (sic). The first purchases of land were made by John Keating in 1796. Early villages were Ceres, Instander and Smethport.”

There is also a genealogy library and a “Loom Room.” Additionally, you can join the Historical Society for the annual fee of $10.00, which gets you 50% off admission to the museum, which would ordinarily be $4.00. There are also periodic programs held by the Society, including, this summer, “Backwoods Bootleggers,” described thusly: “McKean County — A hot bed of activity during prohibition … Step back in time and grasp what life was like during this era. Trial reenactment based on actual transcripts and newspaper articles.” The Bucktail News, the newsletter of the McKean County Historical Society (which you get with a membership, or, apparently, with a trip to the Smethport Visitor Center), goes on to point out that in “Bradford or ‘Little Chicago’ as it was sometimes called, the organized crime units of Bradford used their power and influence to run large operations transporting and selling illegal alcohol.” Little Chicago! Won’t Roger be glad to know, if he gets the job, that it is only a few miles away? It turns out that the author of the play “Backwoods Bootlegging” is none other than John Pavlock, McKean County’s District Attorney, and the man who, as I received this pamphlet from Flo, was interviewing Roger. Small world, ain’t it? Speaking of booze, Flo asked me what job Roger was interviewing for.

“He’s a lawyer.”
“Oh, no,” Flo said, “another lawyer in town.”
“No, no,” I assured her, “he’s a prosecutor. He’ll be keeping the streets of Smethport safe.”
“Oh!” Flo exclaimed. “Will he stop the drinking?”
“Um … no. No, Roger won’t stop the drinking.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Roger almost always increases the drinking wherever he goes.

After purchasing a Wooly Willy to satisfy Ted’s request for a Smethport souvenir, I continued my walkabout. Smethport’s … small. There were some nice older houses, and a peculiar tendency to elevate the sidewalks three steps up from the street. There was one apartment building, a converted house, called The Colonial, which Roger later told me the D.A. had referenced as “a good place for bachelors.” There was a bar, a coffee shop, and a Catholic Church. So … yeah.

At the conclusion of his interview, Roger and I headed for home, back through the winding forests down Routes 6 and 66. We passed two Hamlin Townships and a Hamlin Lake. (Me: “Who’s Hamlin?” Roger: “I guess he did something noteworthy around here.” Me: “I think Hamlin done dug the railroad factory.”) We also drove past a tiny bar in the middle of nowhere called the Dew Drop Inn, whose sign featured a jaunty turtle; there was literally five miles of nothing on either side of this bar, but about ten feet past it the state had a erected a sign on the side of the road that read, “High D.U.I. Crash Area.” I think we know who’s to blame.

We got back to Pittsburgh in time to get stuck first in the rain and then in traffic. I don’t know if Roger will get the job, or if he’ll be able to survive living in Smethport for two years (they required a two-year commitment, apparently to keep people from leaving as soon as possible). I do know that if he does get the job, he should watch out for the Canadians and the Devil. And Flo. She might be single.

Note: Roger didn’t get the job. But that’s OK, he has another job now, in Pittsburgh.

Salamanca, Ho! Part the Second

As I mentioned in my last blog, I was in Salamanca, New York, over the weekend before last, and while there was much, like magic blueberries and baby goats, to hold my interest otherwise, my primary reason for being there was to witness the marriage of Jennifer and Trevor, as the date of Sarah, the Maiden of Honor.

Sarah’s reasoning in inviting me was sound. On one hand, she could have invited a gentleman friend, but then he (and she) would have had to endure the whole “meet the family” fiasco, not to mention spending two nights in the Trailer/Chalet with Sarah’s parents. Not that Saundra and Neilbert aren’t pretty cool for grown-ups, but still. In lieu of all of this, Sarah decided she’d invite me to be her Plus One, thus ensuring that there would be no awkward “meet the guy I’m sleeping with” moments with her family; plus, I already know and like her parents, and don’t mind sharing a trailer with them at all.

So on Friday I picked Sarah up promptly at 1:00 as she was leaving work, and after fortifying ourselves with giant, fast food burritos from Qdoba (my fast food weakness!), we made great time flying up 79 North and then venturing on into New York, making it to Salamanca in three hours, in plenty of time for Sarah to get to the rehearsal at Holy Cross Catholic Church.

I tagged along, of course, having nothing else to do but take some snapshots and listen, instantly charmed, to the priest, a Polish immigrant of earnest good will who had picked up the verbal tick of asking “OK?” at the end of almost every sentence he uttered. (He also admonished everyone that if he smelled alcohol the next morning before the service on anyone, he would refuse to proceed with the wedding. See, this is why you should go for an Irish priest.)

I realized belatedly that I had walked into Church with a button on my jacket that had a small drawing of a man’s naked torso on it, with a small heart drawn at the end of an arrow pointing towards the penis. Gauche, I suppose, but apparently no one noticed it. Because it wasn’t, apparently, minutes after I left before Jennifer, who already knew the score on Sarah’s call to make me her Plus One, was fielding questions about whether or not I was Sarah’s lesbian lover. Now I realized! At the end of the rehearsal, when Sarah was chatting with the priest, he wasn’t staring at my little penis pin! He was sizing up my short, short haircut and my vintage Communist propaganda pins! Sarah had brought a Communist Lesbian to her cousin’s small town wedding!

The rumor only spread at the rehearsal dinner, hosted by Trevor at the restaurant, Myers, he co-owns. Uncle Howard caught me walking in with Sarah and asked, “Who are you?” I replied, “I’m Sarah’s date.” Pause. “Well that’s just great!” It sure was just great. It got even greater when it got out that I wasn’t just a Communist Lesbian — I was a Communist Lesbian who didn’t eat meat! Trevor, alerted by Sarah and Jennifer that I was a vegetarian, took care to make sure there was a plain cheese pizza on hand amongst the pepperoni. So there I was: a Communist Vegetarian Lesbian! Oh, how the Big City will change a girl …

I didn’t mind, of course, and several of Sarah’s family members were in on the gag. I wasn’t even the only vegetarian. Still, the next day at the wedding, there I was, Sarah’s date. The service itself was very nice. I’ve inveighed before about my distaste for weddings and the way people go crazy over them, but Jennifer is a very down-to-Earth sort of girl, and their ceremony, though bigger than one I would cobble together, was otherwise perfectly reasonable. Perhaps because Trevor is a Methodist, there wasn’t a wedding mass, only a ceremony, though it was presided over by the Polish priest. Trevor’s Methodist minister was there to help, and his youthful bemusement at the goings on of a Catholic wedding, complete with a foreign, heart-rendingly earnest priest, was fun. He looked alarmed when he accidentally made reference, in a jointly spoken prayer, to Original Sin, but otherwise, I think the Methodist God was as satisfied as the Catholic God. Jennifer, of course, looked beautiful, and Trevor looked charmingly excited and terrified, and I only felt sort of ridiculous as the first person to process out of the church after the wedding party. Communist Vegetarian Lesbian, coming through!

The reception was nice, insofar as I was at Table One and so got to hit the buffet first, though upon reaching it, I was greeted by no less than four meat dishes — and no vegetables! Why have green beans, I suppose, when you can have Kielbasa? That’s OK, as the carbs, I’m sure, helped me soak up the free beer. Sarah gave a properly odd toast, which you can see by clicking here and visiting my YouTube page, and I gave a present to Sarah’s cousin Smooth of a warm can of I.C. Light, in memory of his visit to Pittsburgh a while back, during which a good time was had by all.

Speaking of Smooth, if you thought I was done being scandalous, you were wrong. As Smooth was the only gentleman of approximately my age that I knew at the reception, I asked him to dance, and he took me up on it. Later, I heard from Smooth’s mom (who was in on the lesbian joke) that a relative had seen Smooth and I dancing and come up to her to say, “Looks like Smooth is going to get some tonight.” Apparently, if you didn’t think I was Sarah’s lesbian lover, you thought I was the slut from out of town Smooth was gonna get a piece of! I guess that makes me a Communist Vegetarian Bisexual? I suggested a threesome, just to add a little bit of incest to the mix.

We danced away anyway, secure in our scandal, while Sarah got tipsy and Jennifer got a bit tired looking — that dress must have weighed a ton. Lest you think I didn’t put a cherry on the top of the night, though, so to speak, I had one last scandalous encounter before we headed home after a fun day of nuptials. At the bar, I encountered Uncle Howard again, and he had also been partaking of the free beer, it seemed.

Uncle Howard: “You know, you are just lovely.”
Me: “Thank you.”
Uncle Howard: “I’m not hitting on you, though.”
Me: “Why not?”
Uncle Howard (laughing a bit nervously): “Well, my wife’s here for one.”
Me: “Then heaven forbid.”
Uncle Howard: Glances away and then glances back.
Me: Licks my lips.

Saundra says it’ll probably be enough to turn Uncle Howard vegetarian.

Salamanca, Ho! Part the First

Well, this past weekend was a doozy. Sarah invited me to Salamanca, New York, to be her “Plus One” at her cousin Jennifer’s wedding. Sarah was the Maiden of Honor, in fact, at the nuptials of Jenn and Salamanca’s most eligible bachelor, Trevor, but I think I will save the actual events of the wedding for Part Two of this blog.

Because certainly, Salamanca had more to offer than simply a wedding. I was a guest for two nights in Saundra and Neilbert’s Autumn Chalet (as Neilbert calls it) — or, The Trailer (as Saundra prefers). Regardless of its designation, what it is, is a … what’s the correct name for it? It’s not a “trailer,” actually, in the sense of like, an Airstream that you could hitch to your truck. And if it’s a mobile home, it didn’t look very mobile — it looked to be permanently planted in fact, complete with a deck. It’s a foundationless house, that’s what it is, and it is bigger, square-footage wise, than the apartment I lived in for two years in Ypsilanti, Michigan, so. Saundra and Neilbert maintain their vacation abode for weekends away in the scenic ski country of southwestern New York, visiting with Neilbert’s large family. I was generously assigned the big guest room, and Saundra even set out some flannel sheets for me, remembering my unusual aversion to even slight chills.

Using the Trailer/Chalet as a base camp, I struck out with Sarah into the Greater Salamanca Metropolitan Area. It’s wee. The Seneca, a First Nation tribe, operate a brand-spankin’ new casino up there that looks a bit like a fancied-up Borg cube. So there are reservation lands and some tricky politics, but I didn’t get involved in any of that. On Friday night, following Jenn’s rehearsal and rehearsal dinner at Trevor’s restaurant, Myers, us three ladies drove through the dark to Ellicottville, a town designed to cater, I take it, to the ski clientele in particular. There’s a main street with several bars and bed & breakfasts.

We ended up at The Gin Mill, a tidy, bright little bar, where I got to experience a draft from the Ellicottville Brewing Company. Ordinarily, I am opposed to fruity beers — there’s no principle behind it, I just tend not to like them — but in the spirit of my rule to always try the local draft, I ordered the EBC Blueberry. It came with blueberries in it! They were added by the bartender, and they danced around in the carbonation — it was like magic! Also, contrary to my expectations, the beer itself was good — it tasted like an alcoholic blueberry muffin, a bit, and the sensation of drinking it with the dancing blueberries was akin to drinking bubble teas at Asian restaurants, which I have always found to be super fun.

Also, we met a gentleman from Pittsburgh, who had permanently relocated to Happy Valley, another local village. Apparently, there’s a secret, underground railroad between Salamanca, New York, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that no one’s ever told me about. I think Sarah’s family started it, and now it’s spreading. In any case, the guy was standard bar guy — there by himself, talking to the “single” ladies, though we did inform him of Jennifer’s pending marriage. What was great, though, was that he bought us a round — more blueberries! — and then left. We didn’t have to labor through the obligatory conversation with him, and we still got a free drink each. Sweet.

As Saturday was a big day, we headed home after we finished our free second round. Just as well, for all the goodness that was to come on Saturday morning. Because before we headed off to Jenn’s wedding, Sarah and Neilbert and I went to … Pumpkinville.

Pumpkinville had been advertised liberally on small, handmade wooden signs all around the Salamanca-Great Valley-Happy Valley-Ellicottville area. Nestled off some back road, Pumpkinville had plenty of what it was named for: a field of pumpkins, arrayed in the best country fall style, with the rolling hills of New York just beginning to turn red and orange and yellow in the background. I purchased three wee pumpkins for $1.50, on the grounds that you can’t go to Pumpkinville without bringing home pumpkins.

But pumpkins weren’t all Pumpkinville had to offer. For one, they had plenty of apples, and an apple cider press on the premises. For another, they had a tremendous amount of unhealth, which Sarah and I partook in liberally for lunch. In point of fact, the weekend in Salamanca was about the most Carbtastic weekend of my life: as one of only two vegetarians in the entire county (the other one was from out of town as well, in for the wedding), it was a project finding meatless food (Trevor generously made sure there was a cheese pizza at the rehearsal dinner on Friday night, to supplement the pepperoni pizza and wings that made the rest of the meal) and a project, in fact, even finding vegetables. Ah well, I guess vacations are for unhealth. I tried an Apple Cider Float, made with Pumpkin Ice Cream, which was, in fact, an awesome idea. For lunch proper I had French fries made for me — I think I was the first person to order any that day in Pumpkinville, because I got to watch them slice the potato and deep fry the resulting curly fries. Sarah and Neilbert enjoyed the local delicacy of Beef on Weck, which is roast beef on some special kind of bun, liberally accompanied by horseradish.

Oh, and Sarah and I split a pound and a half of fudge. Not all at once, mind you, we bought it and sampled it, and took the rest home. I’m here to say, 1) Pumpkin Spice Fudge tastes awesome, and, 2) I am glad I am not on a low-carb diet like Sarah was prior to (and after) this trip to Pumpkinville.

But Pumpkinville didn’t just have pumpkins and carbohydrates. It had much more. It had … baby goats! They were so cute! Oddly, they were trapped in a large, wooden construction, meant to resemble a mountain, I think (Mountain Goats — get it?), but in fact resembling poorly constructed scaffolding. Some baby goats were sort of wondering from platform to platform nervously.

Other baby goats were down on the ground, over by the fence, asking to be petted. Freaky thing, though: they’ve got long rather than round irises in their eyes, like cats … but sideways! Goats look like aliens. But totally cute aliens. I want a goat. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before in this space my ambition to one day have City Chickens; the City of Pittsburgh allows you to keep up to three chickens (no roosters) in your backyard, for egg-laying purposes, and I fully plan, upon having a yard someday, to have two yard chickens. But what about a yard goat? I could milk it and make goat cheese! Ted is skeptical. In any case, I am convinced that regardless of what the song says, goats go to Heaven, too.

After we returned triumphantly from Pumpkinville, it was time to get ready for the wedding and the reception, the events of which will be recounted in a future blog. But the fun wasn’t over with the reception on Saturday night. For on Sunday morning, before heading home, Saundra and Neilbert generously treated me to breakfast at Eddy’s, a perfect little small town diner down the street from the Trailer/Chalet.

I love diners, and diner food, and this was perfectly in keeping with the unreconstructed lack of pretense that makes little diners great. We ordered our breakfasts at a window, and waited to be served basic egg fare. I ordered two eggs over easy with wheat toast and hashbrowns — the girl taking my order looked up at me with no little consternation and asked, “No meat?” perplexedly. No, no meat. By that time, I may have been the only vegetarian in Salamanca. Sarah and Saundra, low-carbing it, made up for my lack of meat orders, and we enjoyed out breakfasts heartily, including the self-serve coffee refills.

And with that, it was back to Pittsburgh, to resume our busy lives, while Jennifer and Trevor jetted off to Key West on their Honeymoon. More on Jenn and Trevor’s festivities in the next blog.