Our fun(ny) day in Pennsylvania

October 25, 2002

Dear Friends and Family,

After pancakes (this time without setting off the smoke alarm) for breakfast with 100% pure Vermont Maple Syrup and Maine Blueberry Syrup, we got an early start on our day - leaving our campground ten miles north of Penn State at the crack of 1 p.m.

We were almost out of paper towels so we decided a Wal-Mart stop was in our future. Before we started driving we asked our trusty navigator, Nelly (really, DeLorme’s Street Atlas 2003, a computer program) to find all the Wal-Marts along our route to Hershey, Pennsylvania. She found two, one about 30 minutes into the trip and one about five minutes from our planned campground for the night.

So we start driving and soon found ourselves in fog so thick at times we couldn’t see any cars in front of us. The weather was a balmy 36 or so – an improvement over the previous day’s 31. While still in the fog, we find ourselves on a winding mountain highway with areas of such steep downgrades that the truck speed limit is 20 mph. Every few miles are truck runaway ramps. Comforting when you’re driving a ten-ton Ford.

As we approach the first Wal-Mart, the fog clears, but the exit we want is under construction, so we decide to skip it and go to the next Wal-Mart.

An hour later, we whiz by the exit for the direct route to Hershey because Nelly was guiding us to Wal-Mart. She indicated a turn, which rambled through a residential area including a house that must have been owned by Laverne (from Laverne and Shirley) because the big letter “L” was painted on the garage in the same style Laverne used.

After winding around in this residential neighborhood (which had “No Truck” signs – we never know if we’re a truck or not) we finally came to a traffic light at which point we crossed the main road that would have taken us directly to Hershey. Nelly sure messed up on that one, giving us a ten-minute tour of the real Harrisburg.

On the corner was a gas station that had the cheapest gas we had seen all day. However, we couldn’t get into it right then because all the pumps were occupied and decided to come back after shopping.

Wal-Mart was across the street. There was construction at the Wal-Mart, which limited the parking, and made it difficult to find a spot big enough for the motorhome. But we found a spot, far, far away. It was lightly raining.

OK, let’s face it; shopping at Wal-Mart can be fun. They have so much stuff. But this was a truly dull Wal-Mart experience – all we needed were paper towels. The store was packed, almost like the week before Christmas. We stood in a long line, and managed to get out for under $15 – perhaps a first in Wal-Mart history – at least for us. Looking back, it seems we didn’t need to go to Wal-Mart; any store would have been fine.

After shopping, we weren’t allowed to turn left which was the way we needed to go; and after winding around the shopping center and getting back on to the road, the gas station was still too crowded for us to get the motorhome into. Oh well, we really don’t need gas, it was just cheap, $1.37, compared with the $1.58 we saw in New York a few days ago.

We came to the campground and couldn’t get a full hookup. It was hard to believe, in 40-degree weather, a crowded, almost full campground. The site is not level so the front wheels are half a foot off the ground because of the jacks, and we’re still not level. Stepping out of the motorhome into the mud we need a small stepladder.

But we’re here and across the street from Hershey Park where we hope to ride some roller coasters tomorrow. We get comfortable and think about eating.

Too many days ago we bought a small London broil that we started marinating in Italian dressing. Not that either one of us was in the mood for beef or enjoyed the thought of grilling outside in the cold and rain, but it was time to cook it before it starting growing. Out with the gas grill with two temperature settings, very hot, and very, very hot. Not the easiest to use for a London broil. Not paying attention, Mike charred the outside and overcooked the inside so it made a McDonald’s burger seem rare. Lois made corn. A feast. (The dirty grill is soaking in a bucket with a Dawn solution outside, now being diluted with rainwater.)

Most parks we’ve stayed in have been peaceful. There aren’t too many fools camping in near-freezing temperatures. For some reason – maybe the free bite-size Hershey bar – or more likely, the Halloween festivities at Hershey Park – this campground is packed. And noisy. Kids, dogs, bikes, gas-powered remote-controlled dune buggies, boom boxes (the group across from us won’t stop playing a CD from the folk singer, Tracy something, who did “Fast Car”). And trains. The park casually mentions that they are located next to a main freight train line. The office didn’t mention that our site is only 20 feet from the tracks. And the trains seem to be coming through about every quarter-hour. At first it seems like distant thunder, then the dogs all look up, then the roar drowns out all our sounds and the motorhome begins shaking. Remember the “I Love Lucy” episode where they stayed in the fleabag motel next to the train tracks – that’s us tonight.

Every half-hour another camper arrives and struggles to loudly set up camp in the dark and rain. At least we set up well before sunset (we’ve been good about that this trip). But after a month of near solitude, the activity level here seems unnatural. Maybe it’s a Halloween thing. (Did we mention one motorhome has a 10-foot purple spider on its roof?)

It’s after 11 p.m. and the rain has changed from a drizzle to a steady pouring. The great news is that we’re warm and dry in our motorhome and the forecast for tomorrow is no rain in the afternoon, some sun and a high of – get this – 60 – perfect conditions for an amusement park. Our bellies are full, too full, and our hearts are warm, too.

This has not been one of our better days. But even our bad days aren’t so bad. We are truly enjoying the freedom of doing what we want when we want, with no schedule, no hard or fast plans. We simply meander toward interesting areas. And now that the sniper has been caught, we don’t have to avoid Washington DC, unless we choose to.

We wrote this together in the hopes that you would find it somewhat amusing – hopefully it isn’t one of those things where “you had to be there” to get it.

The moral to the story is: take a vacation – you deserve it.

Our Warmest Regards,
Lois & Mike