Wrapping up the vacation tales, since August is only a distant memory and the urchins are back to school… When last we left our tale, we were heading back to the shore house from the crazy dayz at Wildwoods. The next day dawned hot, as August will, and as ripe with promise as a seabird flying out of an ocean sunrise. We heard tell of a trail for birds and shore viewing, and decided to let the younger few skip it in favor of the pool. SOBUMD, the HTR, and I piled in with the Very Industrious Uncle as he drove us to what I think is probably some state park or other, but should be known as The Great Meeting Of All The Herons Everywhere As They Prepare For The End Of Days.
I’ve never seen so many herons – gray ones and white ones, but mostly white – in one place in my entire life. In addition to the birds, there were more greenhead flies and gnats and mosquitoes than I would have thought a state the size of New Jersey could support. The were keeping up with the truck, flinging themselves at the windows, trying to bore a way in through the hood. Alfred Hitchcock could not have had a better ensemble cast than these bugs – they epitomized evil from wing to thorax.
But the view of the birds was worth it. You’re getting off easy – I’m only posting a few of them. Call if you need me to hook you up – I’ve got hundreds more!
As I type these words, I’m wearing a button that says “Ask me about my heron pictures!” (Why would that not actually surprise most of you? Yeah, well.) My favorite was probably the heron version of the Dirty Old Man, who seemed quite upset that we were taking his picture – he looked like he was up to no good. Catching a heron catching a fish was a nice touch as well. There were a few other good shots, with big grey herons and white ones flapping at each other, but these are the highlights.
The other really fun thing to watch as you drive anywhere in this marvelous country is, of course, the road – and the bits of flotsam and jetsam that accumulate around it on both sides. The Patio Drive In is a terrific example of a roadside business that didn’t know when to stop. They offer Italian, hot dogs, clams, pizza, hogies, Philly cheesesteaks, wings, ice cream, nachos, BBQ, and Mexican, all for dining in or taking out, with a set of benches and a brace of triangle flags that scream “notice me or my cousin will slash your tires while I’m scooping your kid’s ice cream.” Heck, they’ve got Philly Water Ice (as opposed to what other kinds of ice, I’m sure I don’t want to know), and an ATM for you to give them more cash. What’s not to love?
And then there’s a bottle for sale, just down the road from the Drive In. It’s filled with concrete, but hey, it comes with 3 acres of land! Who doesn’t need a 20-foot concrete bottle next to the side of the road? I was going to buy it myself, but SOBUMD didn’t think we could secure it on the top of the car too well. Spoilsport.
Seriously, who wouldn’t want that? I love it!
But eventually the bottle of our vacation started to run dry, and we turned around to head home. We bid the beach and the cousins and aunts and uncles a fond farewell, and set out for the New Jersey Pine Barrens. I was going to take a picture, but you’ve probably seen a pine tree, and there’s a reason they’re called “Barrens,” if you get my drift. It’s nice to see that there are still areas where people haven’t bothered to cut everything down and build, well, 20-foot concrete bottles everywhere, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It reminded me of some of the sights we passed heading down the shore in the first place. For instance, there’s a Museum of Rural Life in rural Maryland on the Eastern Shore. Hard to imagine why they’d need one. We drove past a field of grasses with an old dilapidated basketball hoop in it, still tall but leaning, covered with rust. How quickly nature presses full court to reclaim her own.
Rivers with names like Pokomoke and Wicomio remind me that Europeans weren’t the first people here, and the 78 Cracker Barrels we passed (plus a new one opening soon out by the bypass!) remind me that it just doesn’t matter anymore.
On the Eastern Shore of Virgina, we noticed right away that Virginia is much bigger into pushing tobacco – I don’t remember many, if any, signs on the MD side of US 13 for cigarettes. In VA, you can’t throw a rock 10 feet without hitting two tobacco discount outlets and a fireworks store. Closer to the shore, the signs start to morph – “Clams, tobacco, fireworks!” We also proved that if you drive far enough in any one direction in this country, you’ll eventually find a Walmart.
This proved even more true than usual when we were out of the Pine Barrens and approaching Philly. There are plenty of reasons to go to Philadelphia, including “it’s on the way to my house,” but our main reason was to perform a public service for that city, our great nation, and in fact the world. As we all know, as the Big Ugly Man Doll, I am the final authority on style and good taste in this country, and it had come to my august attention that there has been a debate raging in the heart of the City of Brotherly Love for many years: Pat’s or Geno’s?
In case you’ve been hiding under a culinary rock for the last 46 years, Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks are two Philly Cheesesteak walk-up joints located across the street from each other on 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia. As the final authority on style and good taste, I drove my family to Sowt Filly and tried them both. Just to make sure things were fair, we order the same sandwich at both places: “One wit, add onions.” The ‘wit’ tells them you want it wit da cheese on it. We started at Pat’s, split one sandwich 5 ways, and crossed the street to Geno’s.
Pat’s. The answer is, if you’re parachuted in to South Philly and you’re nearly broke and on the edge of expiring from hunger, spend your last few bucks at Pat’s. It costs 50 cents more than Geno’s. Pay it. Geno’s was dry, even with the cheese, and the bread was harder. However, if you’re NOT about to fall over from hunger, the real answer is that I’m damn sure there are better places to eat in Philadelphia, even South Philadelphia, than either of these over-hyped tourist destinations. They seem to be more interested in carrying on their longstanding granfalloon rivalry than in paying any attention to what they’re serving. They no longer even see their customers; they see only each other and the reflections of themselves. I’m willing to bet we’d've had a better and more engaging meal back at The Patio Drive In.
And so having eaten, and having found the answer we came for, more or less, we loaded back into the car and started down the long slow wending and winding that is southbound Interstate 95 on any given day. We wended through and out of Philly, wound around and about Baltimore, and eventually fell back to the old familiar sights and sounds of the US Capitol Beltway. The best reason to take the north path down and cross the Cabin John Bridge (as opposed to the south path and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge) is that as we near the 270 split, the Angle Moroni trumpets us home from the top of the DC Mormon Temple. Despite not being Mormon, I’ve always found the temple a breathtaking piece of architecture. Towering over the trees shading the road, it provides yet another testament to the constant element of surprise that you will find if you take your eyes from the eternal road, stretching in front of you forever homeward, and glance up as you pass the world.
As always, dear friend, fond relation, gentle reader, thanks for joining us on the journey!