Monday, July 04, 2005

Americana Found in the Coal Hills of PA

Note: this blog is about our adventure from last weekend. The reason for the delay was I just uploaded the pictures onto my laptop today (Geo had the card in his camera in the truck on the road out of state *whew*)

Geo, the baby, and I love to go on endless drives. No plans, no itinerary, no idea, usually no money. Many times on a Sunday afternoon after playing everyones favorite game of "What Do You Want To Do? I Don't Know, What Do You Want to Do?", we'll find ourselves loaded into the family sedan and off on an adventure to who knows where. If we play the game early enough, we go on ventures to places like Rehobeth Beach or one time we drove to St Michael's. This is all on a whim with not much more than a travel toddler bag and a debit card as our belongings.

So when we actually planned a trip, you can imagine the monkey wrench that put on our routine of no routine.

It was simple and he even suggested it. We all get up early, get ready, and head out the door. Total cakewalk.

I knew the plan was destined for doom from jump street.

I woke up at 6:00AM. For me, that's actually sleeping late. I get ready, brew some caffeine, threw a load of laundry in (that is just a sick neurosis of mine - later on that another day), and proceed to wake everyone (all two of them) up. The baby was no big since she wakes up frighteningly early on weekdays. All seemed to be a go.

Geo was a different story.

I did everything to wake him up short of throwing a spaghetti pot of water on his head. He was impossible. The man would not budge. At 7:15AM, he finally rose from his slumber.

O.K., now the thoughts running through my head were not good. I visioned us not getting out of the house on time, getting stuck in traffic, and getting to our destination so late we wouldn't enjoy it. Hence, I was in super bitch mode.

Geo thought I was PMSing. Ha! Little did he know that was the source of my mania in the beginning of the week.

I got the baby ready, packed her bag (diapers, snackies, drink boxes, SPF solar flare, etc), poured two coffees for the road, threw laundry in the dryer, and cleaned the dishes in the sink.

Geo woke up, put on clothes, and sat down read his e-mail. I couldn't believe he didn't do one thing to help me other than dress himself (I draw the line there).

In between my slamming doors and grumbling, we managed to all get ready and out the door at 9:00AM. We wanted to be out the door by 8:00 so in my mind we were already an hour late. More grumbling, a few knit-brow looks, and arms folded. I was not a happy person and the world was going to know it.

Our travels took us from the PA Turnpike to the Reading exit. From there we went north - what route? I don't know. Geo is the truck driver. He knows that stuff. I am in accounting. Give me a spreadsheet and an adding machine and things are safe to me. Sorry, I digress. So, we went north to route 61 and then to 54.

This route is awesome. Lots of coal-mining towns that would be the perfect backdrop for a motion picture based on life, opportunity, and lost dreams. That scene played out everywhere you looked. From outdated banners, still stretched over the road, informing of the town's founding festival to the stores now boarded up and closed, things that once were told tales of how it used to be.

And then there is Centralia. Yes, we saw signs for the town that has been burning underground since May 1962. I asked Geo if we could take a detour to check it out. I always heard about the dead trees everywhere and the plumes of toxic smoke that seep out of the ground. I wanted to see it. But we were already behind schedule and Geo saw a flea market he just had to peruse. So that will be a drive stop for another day.

A couple of cheesy purchases later, we were back on the road and only twenty or so minutes from our destination. This trip felt like it was taking forever. Looking at the clock in the Saturn, it was almost 2:00PM. It was taking forever. I was back in grouch mode.

We jump off 54 to 487 and there are the signs to our destination. Our end stop ...

Knoebels Amusement Park

This is the amusement park that time forgot. Aside from the ATM and Dippin Dots kiosks, you would swear this place fell right out of the 1960's.

There are many aspects of Knoebels which enhances its endearing nostalgia.

One thing is you can bring your own food and drink (no alcohol though). They have this huge picnic area decorated with giant wooden pavillons near the entrance of the park. A variety of birthdays, company outings, and family get-togethers were bustling inside the shell structures. Large chalkboards nailed to posts designated seating arrangements for all parties within. Children darted in and around the picnic tables as adults set up their edible wares from giant igloo coolers. It was a scene out of my own childhood of family church picnics I swore could only be replayed as reruns in my mind.

Everything about this park is free. Well maybe not everything. O.K., two things - the parking and the gaining of entrance. Everything else has to be purchased. Other parks in the area start charging you before you even get out of your car by way of parking fees. Fees to get into most local amusements range from $25 to $50. And that is just for the privilege to walk through the front gates. Mostly none will allow food or beverages.

We had to park way in the back because of how late we arrived. This bothered me at first, but, as Geo pointed out "we're closer to the exit so we don't have fight with the colorful word idiots getting out of here". Well put ... and that ultimately drained away my grouchy feeling for the rest of the day.

Did I forget to mention the rides at this place? Talk about a mixture of Coney Island with a little national park forestry thrown in. The rides are incredible. And cheap!!! A book of tickets cost just $10 and most of the rides are less than a $1 to ride. I'm not a economist but if you ask me, that surely is a good bang for your buck. They are divided into three categories: Thrill, Family, and Kiddie. We went on the Runaway Tugboat, Roto Jets (my daughter's second favorite), The Ferris Wheel, the Spanish Bambini, and, of course, The Grand Carousel (my daughter's fave). We had to skip the thrill rides - some stupid rule of 42" in height and people with back problems.

For the ultimate cost of one and a half tanks of gas, five hours drive time, and $20 in tickets (bringing home one unused book), the whole family got to enjoy a day outside and dig some good old fashion rides. All out two thumbs up from this crew!

And I finally got over my crankiness (thank goodness - it's a long walk back to Philly).

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