Thursday, September 28, 2017

Hurricanes Cause Change In Plans

So we had planned this vacation in Florida for the summer.

We were supposed to be going at the end of July, at least, that's when our timeshare week is normally scheduled1. However, on the day we were due to be setting out, Hurricane Zelda was just stroking Key West lovingly, and so on the night before I announced that while I was absolutely willing to continue with Operation Hell's Teeth I would only be doing so with two five gallon cans of gas and the chainsaw in the vehicle. I would also have opted for an inflatable dinghy on the roof but we don't have one2 (a rubber boat; we have a roof). We had already laid in a couple of cases of water and over a hundred protein bars "just in case".

Mrs Stevie, who was also undergoing some moments of doubt to judge by her Dark Looks™ and mutterings, took a moment to consider what it would be like to share a Honda Odyssey with such fragrant luggage and proposed abandoning the vacation plans, returning to work the next week and trying for a date later in the year.

I countered by saying that while she was free to do as she pleased, I was fried and six weeks overdue for some quality time away from work and already hanging on by a thread and by damn I was going to have my much-anticipated vacation because if I went back to work without it I would likely kill everyone with my bare hands before the day was out.

The conversation went back and forth in the usual manner until all the loose ornaments of suitable mass were either out of reach or hopelessly smashed, and I proposed that we consider altering our plans as to destination, opting on the spur of the moment for a trip to the Poconos3. In a trice4 she had called the people's timeshare soviet and arranged a transfer of lodgings, handed our mid-way stopover hotel room back to a rather flustered young woman who was apparently giving that same room to a Floridian evacuee as she negotiated the cancellation with Mrs Stevie, and we were good to go.

On Sunday.

So I took Friday and Saturday to do all the stuff that needed doing before we left rather than leaping around at two in the morning trying to do that - time had gotten away from me this month - and we set out for a leisurely two and a half hour drive5 without gas cans, chainsaws, amphibious landing craft and so on.

And had a quite nice time.

The place was a golfing resort, like our usual place is, but had me in stitches. Every green was surrounded by steep downward-pointing hills leading to even steeper roads running downhill. In Florida, you miss the ball and if it stays out of the lake you are basically looking at a short stroll over to it. In this place you missed a putt you could end up needing a car to go find the ball. It was like mini-golf designed by a seriously deranged person.

We nipped out the first day for a two-hour ride back towards NYC so we could visit Philadelphia. Mrs Stevie was sad about not going to see the Stevieling so in an effort to try and make everything a bit better I had suggested we go to a certain Artist where she had bough the hand-made glass earrings - the ones she was wearing on our last trip on the River Valley Rail Road when one of them fell out of her ear and was lost forever.

We found the place, which wasn't as I had understood an artists' market but a sort of artwork-in-progress called The Magic Gardens, located on South St. The work of Isaiah Zagar, it is an enormous mosaic of found items and tile arranged into a stupendous grotto. South St is littered with building that bear Zagar mosaic work, but this one has walls that soar three or four stories high. A bizarre work to be sure, but kind of cool. We couldn't match the earrings but found another pair.

Naturally this couldn't work out well, and Mrs Stevie had us walk ten blocks of South St before she would countenance a stop for what was now a very late lunch, by which time I was so dehydrated my legs had started cramping and my temper went even further South than the titular thoroughfare. The only upside of doing the Pennsylvania thing was that I wouldn't get "Theme Park Legs" and here that daft woman had engineered that eventuality on the first bleeping day. It would take almost the entire week before I could stand for any length of time without pain after that.

After about four days we decided to try and find the Frazetta museum, where many of Frank Frazetta's artworks depicting mighty-thewed barbarians infested with clinging, scantily-clad vixens are preserved6. Turned out it was hiding behind a screen of trees we had driven past literally twice a day. Never knew it was back there. It had an address, but since the road was really just Frank's driveway to his house, newly renamed so the emergency services could find it, it didn't show on the old GPS.

We spent quite a while in a state of artistic appreciation until Mrs Stevie was asked to remove me on a spurious trumped-up charge of “grunting in a lascivious manner in front of the exhibits”. Mrs Stevie also felt my occasional cries of “You don't get many of those to the pound!” were a contributing factor. We debated the point in our usual way, and after my nose had stopped bleeding we moved on.

Speaking of the GPS, it forwent it's usual practice of steering us through New York City, perhaps because we took the George Washington Bridge and so technically were in Manhattan for a very short time, satisfying the demented device's need for a visit. I was suspicious and on tenterhooks every time we went out with the damn thing switched on in case it decided we should visit scenic downtown Scranton, but it never tried to steer us into undesired metropolitan settings once.

Instead, it decided to capitalize on the number of roads best described as "single track unlit abandoned-then-paved roller-coaster trackbed of certain death" by eschewing three lane highways whenever one such death trap offered so much as a three yard as-the-crow-flies distance saving and steering us unerringly into an hours-long nail-biting trip up hill and down even steeper hill especially after dark. I imagine it was bored of all the urban route planning we usually asked it to do and was feeling its inner Shackleton juices flowing.

It did suffer a number of weird problems in one specific stretch of road, a giant Y junction cut through a mountain. Every time we navigated through that junction the vehicle position cursor would suddenly jump into a blank area of screen and wander around for a bit and the distance-to-destination calculation would suddenly add three miles. It was like the Bermuda Triangle, except that it was Y-shaped and in Pennsylvania and on dry land and was actually proven to be a repeatable thing not requiring a drunken captain, dodgy maintenance record and busted navigation instruments to happen. So not much like the Bermuda Triangle now I come to think on it.

Speaking of Y-shaped roads, this area seemed to have more than its share of roads that diverged in a Y, with both legs of the Y retaining the same road name or route number! Yes, you read that right dear reader. If you look at a map7 of the area around East Stroudsburg, Pa you'll see a number of places where three joined roads have the same designation. I commend state route 209 to the reader's attention as of particular note, it having two roads of that designation run side-by-side. I imagine that some time in the past the Pennsylvania State Commission on Sensible Road Names had a massive falling-out with the US Post Office and decided to screw with the mailman.

On the Thursday we went for a long drive east to find the Strasburg Railway and the Pennsylvania Railway Museum (conveniently located about 100 feet apart), which was absolutely great notwithstanding my leg problems. The train ride was about four and a half miles long, about the same as that on the River Valley Rail Road, but without a river to look at. The museum was ace. A huge selection of locomotives and rolling stock to look at, all preserved in a giant shed the size of a soccer field or so. There's more stuff outside too, but it was late and raining so we forwent that and went for dinner at a Dutch Smorgasbord.

If you are ever in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania you have to try one of these places. The Amish part of the state is littered with them under various names. Some are run by Amish communities, some by Mennonite families, but all have in common that they put on a buffet like you never saw before, both in terms of size and range of available things to eat.

These are typically all-you-can-eat affairs, and so draw the occasional Homer Simpson type of chap determined to get his money's worth and damn the consequences, but the food is out of this world. The vegetables and meat dishes are sourced from the seemingly endless farmlands that surround every town and village and each restaurant will feature specialty dishes unique to that particular place. Ours had a ham ball dish that was delicious and tasted like the tenderest ham in cherry gravy. I found the chicken pot pie to be especially toothsome this time. There must have been 20 different types of pie for dessert in addition to jell-o, ice cream and so forth, all home-made.

Definitely worth the experience.

On Friday we tootled around and swung up to the place where we honeymooned thirty years before, Champagne Towers at Who-The-Hell-Cares. This used to be part of the Caesar's group, and they had four similar resorts in the area. One was designed to appeal to DINKS8 - all sports and you needed an SUV to go from each highlight to the next. Another was family-themed, and had an all-weather ice-rink and stuff for kids to do. Ours was designed specifically for newlyweds. No feature or activity was more than five minutes from the rooms. Should the moment overcome a newly hitched couple there would be no tedious, mood-wrecking need to drive five miles over a peat bog. In a pinch you could sprint the distance should the car be disinclined to start. I found this highly amusing at the time. Still do.

The suites themselves were triumphs of architectural origami. On entering the small living area you had a fireplace in one wall, a giant champagne glass in another and a glass-enclosed area, ours was on the right, with a heart-shaped swimming pool, sauna and massage bed. Up the stairs to a bedroom with a circular bed, turn left for the bathroom and twin sinks on the right. On the left was the two-person shower/steam room, and to the left of that was an alcove that one entered, then stepped down into the balcony jacuzzi overlooking the living room - the bowl of the champagne glass9 when seen from below.

It is all great fun and Mrs Stevie and I enjoyed ourselves in each and every room10 and I don't want to talk about that any more.

On Saturday we ran over to Yardley to see our friends Ralph'n'Cate, who have a gorgeous house in Green Town, Illinois, or what I imagine Green Town looks like when Ray Bradbury talks about it in his stories set in the imaginary late forties/early fifties request-stop community. We love this couple, but hardly ever get to see them together since they have wanderlust and have been thousands of miles away for years, living in Georgia and Florida and I don't know where else since leaving New York with a merry wave and cries of “Good Luck, losers”.

Ralph'n'Cate have recently dropped anchor in the last piece of Ideal American Suburbia. We met the neighbours who were firing up a street barbecue as we were about to strike our tents and fade into the night, and I thought Ralph'n'Cate looked very happy and set, but they were talking about uprooting for France or maybe the UK. Gadabouts (or is it Gadsabout? Gadsabouters? Damn. Or possibly Zut.

Cate drinks coffee, but seems to deal with the side effects better than Mrs Stevie to judge by the lack of cauliflower ears, black eyes and limbs-in-slings showing on Ralph11. Either way, they were gracious hosts and treated us to a fantastic lunch at a very nice restaurant. I was going to treat them but Cate pulled a cunning "just going to wash my hands" runaround ploy on me and struck a deal with the waiters out-of-sight.

This wouldn't work on most people, didn't used to work on me, but after thirty years with Mrs Stevie such absences are excuses for me to flirt with the female staff without getting punched. Indeed, so distractedly good was the meal that when Cate excused herself I turned on the charm with the young woman pouring our iced teas and got roundly punched by Mrs Stevie, who I had forgotten was sitting not two feet away. Mrs Stevie disapproves of young female table servers.

The drive back to the timeshare was used to critique each other's performance at lunch, mostly to my disadvantage since I was too busy snoozing to fully join in the process. Mrs Stevie screamed vile things at me to wake me up, which I told her could lead to heart attacks and was a dangerous distraction when a man is driving. We were about to get into a heated debate on the matter when the GPS announced we should turn right and take the freeway to the Lincoln Tunnel, then went stupid as we drove into The Pennsylvania Y Shape.

On Sunday it was time to go back to New York, so, after an argument just to keep in practice, we did.

  1. We have two at the same "Country Club". One at the end of July and one at the end of January. We bought the July one first, when the Stevieling was on the drawing board, as a hedge against glum vacations. The second was a moment of madness
  2. It is only in the last year I have been able to shrug off the Canadian River Trip enough to even say the word "canoe" without screaming, the story of which I am not yet ready to tell but watch this space.
  3. Where we had honeymooned about thirty years before
  4. Defined as an hour or so
  5. Instead of the usual eight and a half hour hellishness, overnight stopover and seven hour more hellishness
  6. Many such paintings have adorned SF and Fantasy paperbacks and thus became a formative part of my adolescence not to mention the root cause of a muscular development imbalance between my right and left arms in my later teens
  7. Sort of like a GPS but made of cunningly folded paper which doesn't talk and nag you about driving into Manhattan and doesn't need electricity to work
  8. Double Income, No Kids. Keep up!
  9. Technically a perry glass, the sort John Steed used to toast Emma Peel with because everyone knows you drink champagne out of a champagne flute to keep the bubbles in yaddayaddayadda
  10. This was before she became addicted to coffee and shouting about every little thing like it was the end of the world and punching innocent husbands of course
  11. When I idly mentioned those facts on the way home Mrs Stevie said that Ralph never dropped a tree on Cate while she was parking her car or killed the front lawn in a bizarre rotary lawnfeeder accident or tried to run a model steam engine on her antique dining table but I didn't see her point and still don't know what she was getting at