The Fiftieth Day!

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

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Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

           DAY FIFTY:  Ooh, day fifty.  There should be some sort of commemorative celebration for this striking accomplishment, but of course there is not, unless you consider every day on the road to be a celebration in itself!  Hoo-hah!

            Today we're a bit in flux, as we’re waiting for The Beard to let us know when and where he’ll be joining up with us after his brother’s wedding, but since he has no phone and is in the midst of his own celebration, we have no way to expedite the communication.  Rather, we drive toward history, pointing our bus to grand old Gettysberg, PA, in what would prove to be our first taste of the south.

            It’s immediately solid here, for not only is parking simple and free – a huge, empty lot is sandwiched between the memorial cemetery and the town center – but there is a souvenir shop/museum that is big and anonymous as to allow us to use its bathroom at will, which I do twice, washing my face there in the process.  To our right are two buffets, one Chinese and one domestic, the latter attributed to a slain Confederate general, but we go past these on our way to the cemetery, which was in fact the main battlefield for that which proved to be – correct me if I’m wrong – the biggest and/or most important battle of the war. 

            The sun is heavy today, while the precipitation is ever-present on our rubbery skin, and with that considered, battlefields are never good for sightseeing.  At the outset of our sweaty walk, we see the small white cabin that belonged to a freed slave, a gentleman with the last name of Brian, who was obviously displaced when the battle broke, leaving the central question of the war physically manifested at the center of the fighting, something so incredible that it has to be true.  Mr. Brian returned after the war to find his property quite destroyed, as so many farmers would have, and, like those farmers, he put in a property claim with the government, but of the thousand dollars he thought he’d deserved, he received only fifteen.  Nevertheless, the former slave and he family would thrive there for many years to come, if one is to believe the plaque that said so.

            The rest of the monument is fairly interesting, strewn about with a million obelisks and headstones to remember each regiment as represented by another state in the union, while it all caps with a massive white marble gazebo of sorts, one that could be perhaps compared to Paris’ Arc d’Triumph (sp?) in concept and execution but not in design.  On each corner of this construct is another chief figure in the war, mostly generals and the president – Abe holding out his hand peacefully, as if he were Jesus – while listed on the skirt below them are meant to be every soldier and officer involved therein.  One can even take a spiral staircase bound in hammered bronze up to the top floor to gaze over the whole scene, imagining the horrors that unfolded below, and so, all told, a rather fitting memorial.  Along the way back, you read of the High Water Mark – the copse of trees that marked the furthest ridge that the Confederates were able to reach, symbolizing an amazing effort and perhaps their best accomplishment of the war.  At each landmark such as this, there are vibrant, individual stories outlining what had taken place there, and in listening to the fervent and knowledgeable tourists walk by, spilling their own knowledge of the war in detail, it is incredible but easy to see how the minutiae manage to span time as they have.  My favorite story is of a young artilleryman, aged twenty-two, who manned his cannon, shooting at the oncoming Confederates in spite of being shot in the shoulder and groin, refusing to give in until a, "bullet entered his mouth."  Such inspiring bravery, and such a terribly written recollection, making it seem as if he were slain by a curious bee; in fact, all of the memorials here seem to be written by mental infants, and in reading them here so many years after that form of English was spoken, you might as well be translating them from Latin.  Now I have to keep my own English clean, if I’m calling out those guys: uh-oh.

            Kuntz and Shmark had long ago turned around – Shmark is in fact at Ping’s for a time, enjoying unlimited orange chicken and free wireless Internet – and so Cornbread (who’s on the phone with his girlfriend, anyway) and I turn back around.  Something comes over me like a shadow and I fall asleep the minute I enter the bus, but we’re waiting for the others to appear, anyway, so it’s a pleasant sleep while Cornbread plays piano in the shade.  Soon, the others join up with us and I am forced to peel my face from the vinyl bench, at which point we fortify Pearl with locks and march henceforth into the town. 

            Gettysberg, as to be expected, is all star-spangled and old brick, full of “Old Tyme” photo booths and military remnant shops to help glorify through steel and filigree all the atrocities that happened here from July 1-3, 1865.  We take the back alleyway into town to avoid the banner waving, and run smack into a building that’s stood since 1776, once a grade school, now a tavern and restaurant.  We try to stop in for a beer to find that it’s actually an old-style tavern, full of plank tables and tallow candles and families eating boar, and even if the hostess scowls at us, we at least force our way in to find the secret compartment that once acted as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and that’s pretty damn cool.

            Moving on, we see the old churches and hotels, and oh, Abe Lincoln passed by this tree en route to making the Gettysberg Address, he stayed in this hotel the night before, that place has a silly old name, before we find a pub within the Gettysberg Hotel which offers wireless internet and very, very cheap beer.  I get a club sandwich and stay sober while Kuntz tells us of how he needs to be back in New York City for a job interview, so that’s a pain in the ass – why’d you come to begin with, Kuntz? – and begins talking us into a plan leaving us just outside of Washington, D.C. to where he’d be able to take a train the next morning.  Whatever, Kuntz, whatever you need.

            We depart Gettysberg and find a fireworks shop an hour or so outside, so we stop there.  The guy running it is a young, knowledgeable meathead of sorts (I don’t think those were my words, but they suit him), and in this K-Mart of explosives he is able to describe any of the thousands of options we might ask him about.  Kuntz buys thirty-five dollars worth – “what are you going to do with these in New York, Kuntz?”  “Oh, no, I’ll just leave them on the bus and pick them up when I can.” – and we get going, feeling used and combustible once again. 

            We pull into the Park 'n Ride town of Fairfax, Virginia, and leave the car in a high school parking lot, where Kuntz immediately takes a dump (kids, Kuntz?).  He calls his old middle school friend, Patty, who picks us up in her SUV (which we do smell up instantly) and drives us to the closest part of town that boasts activity.  There’s a Safeway and a bar and grill there (called Glory Days, presumably after the Springsteen song), and considering that we haven’t yet had dinner and it’s already ten-thirty, we go get a few beers first.  There, the bathroom has old baseball game recording playing over the speakers instead of music, so I get to listen to Sandy Koufax’ perfect game while I pee.  After a pair of frosty pints of Budweiser that seem to cut through the heat, we’re booted out – closing time on a Sunday is eleven – and go to the Safeway for some dinner.  Sandwiches there are remarkably $1.99, and with that we also get some PBR, but though the cashier rings up our sandwiches in time, it strikes midnight just as he’s about to swipe the beer, and the manager, Ben, steps in and forbids any further purchase.  Ugh, so we’re stuck with bread and meat with nothing to wash it down, and spend the night cursing Ben, who’s probably a closet alcoholic, himself, for being so damn uptight.  Ah, well, a little less beer won’t kill us, though another night spent swathed in biting flies might. 

            With this entry I have reached my one-hundredth page of entries, ah-thank-you.  If you’ve made it this far reading, I salute you with profound gratitude. 
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Eitan on

Gettysburg was the largest battle, with the most fatalities of the Civil War. And it was the turning point. Sherman's March to the Sea, however, was the wound that brought the Confederates to their knees. Sherman and his men, for two months, trampled through Georgia and the Carolinas, pillaging and burning cities en route to the coast, eventually restoring shipping lines for the Union army.

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