Balling In Intercourse

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Sunday, August 8, 2010

           DAY FORTY-NINE:  Van Morrison is playing right now, and he feels good, from the dark end of the street to the bright side of the road.  Cricket.

            Listen, so after we wake to find our car pelted with this disgusting solution that looks like Orange Crush but smells like fecal matter, we figure we helped the kids have a little fun on a Saturday night (or whatever night it was), and use it to laugh at (though it might have been fun to get into a fight over, they strongly outnumbered us, and anyway, have you ever seen me fight?  No, of course you haven't).  It’s an appropriate decision, then, to get the hell out of New Jersey, and without much hesitation, we do so. 

            The first town on the way is Hammonton, a so-called "Historic City", which it may very well be, but it seems as if every town we’ve seen on the road is titled as such.  I mean, it was built more than thirty years ago, and people have lived in it, so naturally so history has occurred, etc.  Still, there’s something interesting about this place apart from that typical, quasi-Victorian antique shop one finds on main street, or the slow-moving and slightly oblong old man sitting on a crate outside of the convenience store: everyone and everything here is Hispanic.  The only market we find is full of tomatillo and menudo, its patron calls me 'papa’, and we’re in the middle of Pennsylvania.  Perhaps that’s the particular history right there, for it doesn’t seem to fit, does it?  Anyway, we buy a few groceries – grape Goober for sandwiches, linguiza (forgive this spelling) for pasta – and it feels good to be somewhat thrifty and fresh once again (though the Goober tastes exactly as it sounds).

            So from Spanish America we point our Pearl toward the touristic heart of small-town Pennsylvania, toward a culture so inextricable from the state that its origins are found in its name (though William Penn was a Quaker, wasn’t he?  If so, then this introduction is meaningless): Amish Country.  We’re driving around the farmland trying to find all the horse-drawn carriages holding stern women dressed in black with bras on their head, but start to realize that we’d mostly have to just stroll into someone’s backyard for that. Still, we do go to the outskirts of Lancaster (I hope theirs is better than ours in California, by the way), and find all the tourist infrastructure to clue one into being in the correct area: signs abound, making one scratch one’s head (one one one one: there, I got the tic out).  Weren’t the Amish those who’d believed electricity to be in conflict with their beliefs?  Obviously something was dubious here.  Nearby we see an handwritten sign cluing us into homemade root beer, which in itself clued me into my past, where some twelve years ago I had roamed these very grounds with my 8th grade class, and during which time I had been deprived of the drink, saddled instead with its slightly inferior cousin of sarsaparilla (I will not forget this), and so I swing the bus in a U-turn back up that narrow road with no outlet so that I might have another chance at refreshment.  The farmhouse lawn has on it a boy’s old and rusted bike that appears to be from the 60s, colored red and practically sporting Bakelite spokes, and just ahead there’s a tiny wooden stand sporting all sorts of nourishment wrapped in plastic: Whoopie pies, potato chips, zucchini relish, zucchini bread, cherry pies, apple butter, honey, even soap, if you’re so inclined.  We look it all over and ring an ELECTRIC doorbell, and after a moment our Amish mother arrives as imagined, bra hat and all.  She forces a smile, and though it’s clear that she doesn’t quite like us, she serves us what we ask for, and the root beer is cold and refreshing with a slight hot dog flavor to it.  One of her daughters, an adorable blonde girl with dirty cheeks wrapped in an old bonnet, stares at us with curious, sparkling blue eyes, and when I wave to her with a smile, she waves back, maintaining that wonderful and unapologetic childish curiosity that, once lost, can never be duplicated.  We sit in the bus, enjoying our treats to varying degrees – Cornbread and Shmark get a small apple pie, and are convinced that it’s anything but homemade – and when I’m backing the bus back out the narrow path, it sends the emergency BEEP, BEEP, BEEP well into the farmhouse, and so our departure is observed by some ten children, all in traditional homestead garb, pressed against the window clutching their dollies and softballs, blinking large globes of wonder, waving goodbye, perhaps never to know where these young men can from or why they’d come so far, these babies wrapped up tight in their heritage, cribs so secure as to keep the light out, diverting all outside influence into a simple over-the-counter transaction.  You stand to ponder if these little interactions might plant a seed in at least one child’s brain, he or she being born with that radical spirit that can’t be quelled, driving them to reject their family’s traditions in the interest of the road or the dollar or the smile, and are then charged with the quandary over whether these interactions, which ultimately have stood to disintegrate their very separatist culture, are positive, necessary, and unavoidable, or if they’re simply leading everyone down toward a world where everyone wears Nikes and drinks Coca-Cola.  That’s really the question in travel, in spreading culture into areas rarely trod upon, but it’s not a question as relevant here, as this is an area rather developed, considerably inclined toward tourists, and in that sense it leaves a rather bad taste in Cornbread’s mouth.  He thinks that they’re fraudulent for catering to tourists while maintaining other traditional aspects of their culture, such as dress and buggy, that it’s a contradiction to have the horse and the headlight, to isolate yourself on farms with signs that beckon outsiders toward you, so forth and so on.  It, too, is a difficult question; I don’t necessarily disagree with him, and again see this obligatory use of tourism as not only a contradiction of certain values (that I, admittedly as an outsider, shouldn’t pretend to understand to the end of accusation or assumption, yet still do), but as a kiss of death to their way of life as they know it.  It happens all around the world, from the Hmong in the north of Vietnam to the aboriginals in New Zealand, blah blah blah, and it’s tragic, but commerce and capitalism have seemingly proven, long ago, to be the strongest in the fight, or even in some cases, the only fighter in the ring.  Well anyway, chalk up yet another rant on the board.

            By now it’s around six and the linguiza is warming in the cooler atop a six-pack of PBR, so we decide to find a place to camp out for the night.  We circle the town of Intercourse, which was the source of many giggles twelve years ago when our actual school bus tore through it, leaving us to buy bumper stickers and other dumb trinkets making sophomoric jokes, unaware of what it really alluded to.  I find it now looking quite smaller and less humorous than it was in 8th grade, especially grim since it’s all shut down for the evening, and when we find an “adult campground”, really a crowded patch of RVs filled with randy geriatrics, we decide it time to leave. 

            Back from the way we came, we settle on a cracked parking lot behind a boarded-up diner, and thread Pearl in between two rusting big rigs in the interest of concealing ourselves from anyone on the highway.  There’s a nice strip of grass just behind us, or really in front of the little suburban neighborhood around the block, and Kuntz grabs his glove so we can have a catch.  Oh my, it feels great to throw the ball around, pitching, playing long toss, throwing him fly balls, whatever, and as the sun goes down, we’re joined by a field full of curious lightning bugs flickering and flirting under a very plump, very humid moon.  We’re thereafter called in for dinner – yes, cooking dinner, yes! – and soon the sausage, tomatoes and onion are chopped and tossed with pasta, which Cornbread drops while straining, then recollects and dusts off.  He asks me to slap him in the face for such a miscue and I comply, for it’s fun, but then I immediately feel guilty and we both have a beer and all is absolved. 

            With a few shakes of Frank’s, the pasta is great in its simplicity, and the two bottles of wine we discover – Tristan bought them for his lady friend, andthen forgot them on the bus – aren’t so bad either.  One is opened with a plug of Shmark’s thumb, wine splashing, cork bobbing, and the other we open with a screw and the claw of a hammer, and it’s a wonder to note that we have tool boxes full of screws and sandpaper and drill bits but neglected to bring a fucking corkscrew.

            Kuntz iz quite inclined to experiment, but more in a MacGuyver sort of way than in the Timothy Leary sense, which proves so indicative of the type of people our bus attracts in this modern age versus the type of trip it’d have been forty years ago, and so he defies our typical cot sleeping layout in hanging his lengthwise, his head facing the dashboard, and as Shmark falls asleep on the bus, Cornbread, Kuntz and myself analyze the positives and negatives of such a setup both in theory and in practice.  Ultimately, the fact that as this goes, the sleeper’s head is situated directly center of the porthole, so even if it’s inconvenient and even if it puts slightly more stress on the carabiners, it’s neither impractical nor stressful enough to worry about, so he sleeps that way.  I, meanwhile, sleep on the floor just below him, and try to scoot my head clear of his cot in case something unpredictable happens.

            We’re all resting and this and that, no one actually sleeping – one can now feel the humidity on his skin, even his pillow – and somehow the topic comes up about the concept of identity.  It starts as a discussion of how people (myself included) may or may not perceive my religion or ethnicity or cultural identity, whatever you want to call it, and it explodes like a canon of ideas, occasionally getting pointed but ultimately one of the best discussions we’ve had over the course of the entire trip.  For all of his flashiness, his nature of rubbing his knowledge in your face (something some might accuse me of, just the same; am I now excusing every slightly negative commentary I might write by turning it back upon myself?  How cheap and unattractive.), but tonight I see how thoughtful and intelligent he really is, and again I have to marvel at what an interesting and always ridiculous set of people that have trod the floorboards of our Pearl.  Something I feel to be worth writing, anyway.
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