What one correspondent did on his summer vacation

This Just In...

August 07, 2002|By DAN RODRICKS

JOEY Amalfitano, bon vivant and cultural correspondent, reports from summer vacation: "I went to Jiffy Lube just before we hit the road and got the oil changed. Three weeks later, I'm due for another oil change, according to the little plastic sticker which they put on the inside of my windshield and which I pulled off, played with and mindlessly started chewing because I was stuck in traffic on the Tappan Zee Bridge and got bored.

"So I put about 3,000 miles on the van in no time. I haven't done that since 1974, when I drove my roommate Jack's purple Gremlin to Florida for Orioles spring training.

"Anyway, I drove with my significant others to Pennsylvania - through Harrisburg and up through Hazleton and Scranton, on Interstate 81, which is very beautiful and surprisingly free of huge, ugly billboards, like most of Pennsylvania. That state is really a contradiction - beautiful farmland, mountains, river valleys, Amish people, and some of the ugliest stretches of road anywhere, cluttered with signs, junkyards and adult video stores.

"We stopped for breakfast in this place called Granny's in Frackville, Pa. Outside there's a giant hollow statue of a 19th-century Pennsylvania Dutch farm woman and her little girl, and the little girl is holding a doll and the doll doesn't have a head. You go inside the restaurant, and I have just one word to describe it: doilies. I haven't seen that many doilies since I was 6 and went to a funeral where they had this old lady who looked like Eleanor Roosevelt laid out in her front parlor. Granny's had lots of Tiffany lamps and antiques. I would call the style doily-funky.

"Speaking of funky ... I heard the best locally produced radio show ever while passing through Wilkes-Barre, and it was hosted by a woman named Erica Funke. It was on WVIA-FM (89.9). It was an arts and culture show, but, despite that, it was excellent and smart and meaty. This woman took simple, local arts-calendar listings - like, say, the opening of a Monet exhibit - and turned it into a whole, fascinating piece about some aspect of Monet's life. As I passed through, she was discussing a place called French Asylum, Pa., where snuff-sniffing nobility, pals of Marie Antoinette, fled during the French Revolution. Good stuff. I wish there was more local programming like that on the radio. Most of what I heard on my trip was Rush Limbaugh.

"Went through Binghamton, Elmira and Ithaca, in New York, and we slept in Schenectady. We had breakfast at a place called Betty Beaver's, a kind of raunchy truck stop with one waitress in hot pants, and I saw a bony, old, chain-smoking trucker pat her backside when she was pouring coffee. Then a little kid stuck her finger in the return-change slot of a newspaper box and got stung by a yellow jacket and started screaming. The pancakes were good at Betty Beaver's, but the yellow jacket was kind of a downer.

"We went through Vermont to New Hampshire, and spent a couple of days in the White Mountains, which were green and cool. We saw a moose and her calf, and a bear and her cubs, and loons and their babies. Then we went down to Boston, then down to Connecticut and New York. I heard Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" a few minutes after we hit Jersey. We went toward the Delaware Water Gap on Interstate 80 but had to get off because they'd closed the highway to rescue some mountain climber who fell off a cliff. The detour was kind of neat, though, a blue-liner through the southern Poconos, and I saw a stretch of some of the most amazing lawn ornaments in the Northeast.

"On the way back to Baltimore, we cut over to Delta, Pa., to the Susquehanna Orchards. I bought a peck and a half of peaches. Red Havens are the best, with those little red veins running through the juicy flesh, and sweet as a kiss from your mama. In autumn, they harvest apples that are so juicy they spit in your eye and make you smile. They also carry jams, jellies, chutney. I like the pear butter, and just looking at the cherry preserves gives me a pimple.

"Once we got back to Baltimore, and threw out all my dead-from-no-water flowers, we stopped in the Book Thing, that book-recycling place in Charles Village. I turned in some old Book-of-the-Month Club selections, and the kids in my entourage brought in some kiddie books. We brought home something for everyone, including the 1973 Blue Jackets' Manual from the U.S. Navy, a Paul Prudhomme cookbook, a Joe Brooks fishing guide, a book on kayak navigation and some appealing fiction. We passed on The Story of Margarine. What a place. The proprietor claims 250,000 books. `But feel free to count,' he says. He admonished the kids to take plenty of reading material: `If you take less than 10 books, we cut off a finger for each one and make finger sandwiches.'

"Nice to be home.

"Joey."

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