Friday, July 18, 2008

Random Road Trip: Day 1

It began with a long, long, long wait at the border. (Okay, it actually began with me mowing the lawn, watering some plants and a tarantula, and tossing some bags in the car, but you get the point.) True to form, I was in a lane that was going nowhere while the lane to my right was moving quickly. I changed lanes, of course, and then watched while my former lane started whipping by. Such is my life...

Incidentally, does the Queenston/Lewiston bridge always smell like garbage? It was rather unpleasant. The customs fellow was quite funny,

Then I was off! I spent more time than I would have liked on Interstates (what’s with them all being similarly numbered? I was on the 190, the 90, the 290, and the 390 today. Of course, the Americans might take exception to our “400-series” highways, I suppose), and had I been more on the ball, I might have plotted a route that took me through more country roads and small towns. Still, along the way, I made some observations and drew some conclusions.

There’s an odd little state law in New York that says that your headlights must be on when you use your windshield wipers. Seriously. Hmmm.

It’s always a bit disconcerting to see emergency vehicles getting roadside assistance. As I drove past a fire truck getting a tow, I couldn’t help but think, “I hope that the truck broke down on the way back from an emergency, not on the way to the emergency.”

At one point, once in Pennsylvania, there were numbers spray painted on the shoulder. They appeared at regular intervals, each ten higher than the previous. 2340. 2350. 2360. Furthermore, they seemed to be more than ten yards apart, so I’m not sure they were counting off measures in that way. Perhaps they were ten yards apart, though. What do I know? To further complicate matters, every other number (those whose “tens” contained an even digit) was preceded by a little triangle. Any explanations? Anyone? Anyone? In any case, they abruptly stopped and were seen no more.

Speaking of Pennsylvanian road signs (sort of), they LOVE their signs! They must believe that Americans either have the world’s worst short-term memories or the world’s least attentive drivers. They sometimes overkill just a little in the sign department. “Right lane ends ahead.” “Right lane ends in ½ mile.” “Right lane ends in 1000 ft.” “Right lane ends.” These signs were on both sides of the road, sometimes close enough to one another that a person could probably spit from one to the other. It was a bit of a bombardment. And since there was a stretch of one highway with lots of closed lanes, they were insanely plentiful between left lanes and right lanes being blocked. (Come to think of it, there was a similar onslaught of signs in New York State, too. “Toll Booths 1 mile.” “Toll Booths ½ mile.” “Toll Booths 1/4 mile.” “Toll Booths ahead.” (And at one point I could read all of the latter three at the same time.)

Finally, on the subject of signs, there was a warning about a 6 3/4 % grade slope in the road. Percent of what? I am assuming they meant a 6 3/4 degree slope. [Edited to add: I saw tonnes of these signs the next day with varying measures, but all with a % sign. Odd.]

Before I get to the good parts of the Random Road Trip, let me point out one last conclusion I’ve drawn. People in “Small-Town America” are not as pure and innocent as they would have us believe. I saw THREE enormous Adult Stores, all in or just outside of teeny-tiny little towns. One was an “Outlet”, one was a “Superstore”, and one was a “Playtime Boutique”. And that boutique looked to be hopping with business when I drove by! Ha!

So, as I drove far too long along Interstates and major highways, I started thinking, “What am I doing? This is so random and an awful long distance to travel with little idea of why or what I’m going to do. Sure, there was at least one place (see below) that I was hoping to visit, but what a long trek to do that on a whim.

But before I did that, I stopped in a tiny place called Sonyea. That’s right, Sonyea. It’s like a very enthusiastic greeting for an old friend. It’s so small that, though there’s a sign for it on the highway, there’s no actual sign to say you’ve arrived there. As far as I can tell, the only reason Sonyea exists is so that a very large corrections facility can have a mailing address. Believe it or not, the sight of extensive chain link and razor wire glinting like chrome in the sunlight ... isn’t really that lovely.

Ah, but just across the road from the prison, there was a small cluster of abandoned farm buildings that I paused and photographed for fun.

There was also a lovely truck which appears to have exploded in its front end. Curious...

Then I arrived in the tiny town of Allenwood, PA. I grabbed the rather vague directions I had for a place called Alvira. (I hope to find out if it’s pronounced in a way that rhymes with Elvira or with Vera. So far I don’t know. I suppose it could also be “AL-vira”.) The directions I have don’t actually give a starting point, but I set out on the given highway just hoping I was heading in the right direction. For that matter, if I did hit my next benchmark road, would it be on the right or the left? And then I saw it, the road for which I was searching, and it was, indeed, on the same side as the directions. I must have started in the right place. I followed it along and found the location of Alvira as described. That’s when the directions get REALLY vague. No mention of where to find the remains of the town.

Did I mention that it’s located in a game park now? You know. Where HUNTERS go to shoot things? So I parked where the directions indicated (although there was no black Chevy or grey Aerostar between which to park) and followed the pathway straight ahead. Into a woodsy/fieldsy thing.

And that’s when I realized how ridiculous it all is. I’m in the middle of a game park in a US state and pretty much nobody knows where I am and I’m alone. If I get shot/fall down and break my neck/whatever, NOBODY will know about it!

Good thing that didn’t happen.

I returned to the road, realizing that wandering aimlessly about the grounds wasn’t going to be fruitful. I wandered up the road and realized that it was all going to be easier than expected, for there, on the left, was BUNKER ONE.

You see, the story of Alvina is that it was evacuated during the second world war, and by evacuated, I mean kicked off when the government took hold of the land to build a TNT factory. They originally said that the residents could buy their land back after the war, but that never happened. The built the factory and a number of bunkers in which to store the munitions, and then closed up shop before the war even ended, having overestimated the need for good old TNT. The bunkers remain, locked up and sealed, and two small cemeteries still remain from the old town. The cemeteries have mostly graves from the days of the village of Alvina, though some if their, um, residents died in the 70s. Some stones have been replaced with newer ones, but mostly original, weathered stones remain. What’s sobering are the number of child and infant graves from the turn of the century. Still more mark the graves of adults around the 20 year old mark.

But even in the midst of a cemetery, humour can be found, though it may well have been unintentional originally. Ah yes, the grave markers of the Canada family...

In the end, I had to give up searching for bunkers as the light of day was fading and I had yet to find a place to sleep. In the end, I found five bunkers (though I was only aware of four being there from my source) labeled 1, 3, 5, and two without visible numbers. None had open doors; one of the unnumbered bunkers appeared to have been newly welded shut. I also gave up the search for the reported church foundations, though there were a few stones “peeking” through the surface of the ground near the larger cemetery, so perhaps that’s where the church foundations now lay buried. Tomorrow I may return to see if I can find anything else before moving on.

On the way out of Alvira, the fireflies (or lightning bugs, as the case may be) were out in full force, blinking here and there as I walked and then drove. Do they blink all day, unseen because of the sunlight, or do they just turn on at night? In any case, it was lovely.

Since there’s pretty much nothing in Allenwood (and certainly no place I wanted to sleep), I went back to a place just up the road (past the Playtime Boutique) and asked at a trusty Quality Inn ... and was told that there were no rooms and probably none in town. Hmmm. It was back up towards Allenwood where I got a room at a tiny little family-run motel which was cheap and clean. Whew! Goodnight!


Misster Kitty said...

OK the headstone for BELL CANADA!

...all I can say is AMEN!

Jerome said...

Isn't that too funny? My friend June was over looking at my pictures and when she came to that set, she sort of went, "Hmmm," so I told her to read them out loud and that's when she got it and laughed.

It sort of reminds me of the Dr. Seuss story "Too Many Daves" in which the mother wishes she'd named one of her kids "Harris Tweed". Ha!

Anonymous said...

Hooray for Sonyea! And the World's wackiest random road trip - yeah!