Saturday, December 16, 2006

Monday, November 13, 2006

Santorum! Kum Esse!

This past weekend I decided to venture into the wilds of Pennsylvania--totally unchartered territory for me, which is odd considering its proximity to my upstate homeland and the Germanic heritage I share with many Pennsylvanians. I have driven through Pennsylvania before of course--I have fond memories of visiting an establishment in Hazelton called "Mr. Donut," and many not-so-fond memories of near white-out driving conditions experienced both in my youth and during my collegiate life in upstate New York.

This trip was totally different though. First of all, it was a spur-of-the-moment, "the girls are hitting the road" kind of trip that promised wacky hijinks and Hunter S. Thompson comparisons...both of which kind of happened and kind of didn't.

We started the trip in the fine city of Bethlehem, PA. Bethlehem has a cruddy reputation which, based on my admittedly limited experience, is maybe undeserved. One of my favorite people in the whole world is a Bethlehem native, and I have enjoyed many years of tales of growing up there...some of which involved intriguing characters named "Lip-Lip" (who met a tragic end) and local haunts like Stahley's, which offers beer for a buckfiddy.

So, things were immediately exciting in Bethlehem, as we ventured out of our lodgings to be confronted almost immediately by...a skunk! I'm not kidding either--this dude was like a full-on unafraid urban-style skunk, hanging out right next to the Perkin's family restaurant! After escaping his stinky attentions, we crossed over a bridge into historic Bethlehem, where I saw a creature running up a lightpole. Thinking it was a chipmunk, I commented on its cuteness, which prompted one of my fellow travelers to run up to the beast to investigate. After a couple of seconds of cross-species staredown, the human side of the equation yelled, "Fly! Fly!" at the creature, which sparked a solid round of mocking from the rest of us.

The next day, however, said human looked the creature up in a local bookshop, consulting a rather dry looking book entitled Animals of Pennsylvania or something boring like that. After a heated discussion--which attracted the attention of a local dude who was almost like a movie caricature of a Pennsylvania Dutch farmer--we decided that the creature had actually been:

A flying squirrel! (Photo lifted from Wikipedia.) I have never heard of such a thing--say nothing of seeing one--so it seemed the weekend was going to be full of all kinds of exoticism.

And, yes, it sort of was. After scouting the town and noting picturesque attractions like the following:

We hit up the Bethlehem after dark scene, which featured lots of 1950s-style film noir-esque streets:

And legions of Lehigh College students, some of whom tried to lure us onto their roof to drink beer with them. We weren't having it though, as we knew that the next day brought a trip to Hershey, PA, with stops along the way at various flea markets (where two Pyrex bowls were purchased) and thrift stores (where an apron was). We also saw one of the most incredible sunsets ever, which I dangerously snapped through the front windshield while simultanously driving the car:

(If you look carefully there, you'll see that the restaurant on the right is delightfully named "Kum Esse!")

Hershey was totally cheesy, as one would expect, and featured lots of singing cows, Willie Wonka-esque factory tours, and a marching band competition that imported thousands of adolescents into the town to march around in the rain.

After a quick trip back through Doylestown and New Hope--which were both disappointingly bereft of flying squirrels and skunks--we returned to the Budget rental car office where the trip had started...and the nice people there accidentally undercharged us by almost $200 for the cost of the car. That, and the fact that I saw hundreds of discarded and dejected "Santorum for Senate" signs (enjoy your early retirement Prick, I mean "Rick"!), made this voyage through a much-maligned red state a total victory tour. Rock it in '07 Pennsylvania!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mein Vater ist supertoll!

Recently, trying to promote a little Vater-Tochter bonding, I decided that I was going to attempt to write my pops an e-mail auf Deutsch. My skillz ain't that great, so this was a chore, and I cringed to think of poor Karl-Heinz (ja, er heißt Karl-Heinz. Natürlich!) struggling through my terrible grammar and shaking his Germanic head in despair.

Days passed. Then today I opened my e-mail inbox and found this:

My father, earnest and hardworking German that he is, printed out my e-mail, corrected it, scanned it, and sent it back to me as a pdf file!

On a somewhat related note, this is awesome:

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Boogie Down: Washing Town

I have always liked the Bronx an inordinate amount--from the leafy confines of Woodlawn down to the gritty industrial corners of the South Bronx, it is just a great borough, and also, apparently, an "all-American city":

Who knew?

Actually, I think the guy on the right with the shiny fenders knows:

As we pedaled along through Soundview Park, he waxed eloquent about the beauties of the borough--and I was inclined to agree having witnessed scenes like this:

And this:

And this:

And perhaps most awesomely, this:

Perhaps I should explain. I was on the Tour de Bronx, you see, which is an annual event that I've missed for the last two years due to bad weather, flaky friends and my own general laziness. This year I finally got my ass up there again, and had a mostly fine time.

There were lots of cool bikes:


And little kids cheating while riding tandem bikes:

Weirdly enough, I didn't get tired on this year's ride--maybe because I was inspired by the local scenery (which included a very cleverly named laundry called "Boogie Down Washing Town"), the snacks, and the low dudes-wearing-bicycle-pants to normal people ratio.

There were a few mishaps however. There wasn't enough pizza to go around at the end of the ride, Crotona Park smelled very strongly of dog shit, and I was the victim of a multi-bike accident towards the end that almost involved me crushing a lady's head under my bike wheel. Luckily, all were unscathed, so I returned to my home borough lamenting only that I hadn't spent more time on my bicycle this fall. Ah well--there's always next year, right?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

PUP ist eine kleine Nutte.

Ach, meine Leute! Speading such filthiness on Brooklyn street corners:

I don't know who "PUP" is, but someone thinks he (she?) is a tramp.

Luckily, this young gent heading home from school seemed totally oblivious to the potty-mouthed Germans who've apparently invaded his neighborhood.

Isn't he lucky to live on such a scenic block?

(Williamsburg/Greenpoint border, right by the Acme smoked fish factory...)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I'm not fat; I'm husky.

This weekend I made a quick little overnight jaunt, auf dem Zug, up the Hudson River. The trip was ostensibly to attend the Warrensburg garage sales, but really it was just an excuse to ride on the train and see the fall foliage.

That part of the trip definitely did not disappoint. After the train chugged out of Penn Station, we flew past various run-down suburbs, lots of graffiti-covered trainyards (which is where I stole this post's title--some clever writer scripted the above on a cursive!), and multiple abandoned factories. Unfortunately, the train's window was super-dirty, so pics were terribly sub-standard...but I did like these:

I emerged from the train in Saratoga Springs, where I was retrieved by yet another Germanic aunt, who thrilled me by commenting that my Deutsches Haus-improved pronunciation was "excellent." (I think she was just being nice--but who cares?! I felt wunderbar!) We then drove up to Lake George, dropped off our bags in a local motel and set off--with my sister, two nephews, Scrawny Bits, and one other aunt--for the much-ballyhooed bargains, crafts and general wonderment.

Well. I don't want to knock Warrensburg, because I actually thought it was a lovely town. But the "world's largest garage sale," was more like a mile long crapmart, with a few gems of good stuff sprinkled in. The essential problem seemed to be that they allow official "vendors" to peddle their much so that the little old ladies selling record albums and yarn off their front porch have been usurped by pros selling ginsu knives and bundles of socks. If I wanted ginsu knives and socks, I'd head for my nearest Manhattan street fair, you know?

Anyway, there were droves and droves of people there, and the weather turned sodden and it was hard to get any good snaps. But here's one of a nice lodging house, which I thought looked promising, should I ever care to take a "tourist room" on a return visit:

I spent the rest of my time trying not to slip and fall in the mud, avoiding the legions of booths hawking "bloomin' onions," and trying to find a piece of pie. (Every single church or ladies' auxiliary selling homemade food was totally sold out. This gave me a little thrill--despite my own hunger--as it seemed to support my theory that people actually don't like mass-produced crap in some cases, and will actively try to avoid it when given the opportunity.)

So, the garage sales were sort of disappointing. Total haul? A bag of yarn purchased from a terribly nice man, a Polaroid Land Camera, and several patterns (including one for a bra! Who EVER made their own bra, I ask you? I feel certain that will be a disaster should I ever attempt it...but I had to have the pattern anyway, as I'm sure you all understand.).

Lake George, however, was very fine. I was shocked to realize that I have never been there before...which is kind of an unsettling realization for an Upstate Native like myself. What did I like about it? Well, there were steamboats:

And lots and lots of neon signs, which always make me feel like I am living the fabulous life, even when I am only walking around a tourist town in the off-season, in a huge downpour:

I didn't get a chance to eat in this restaurant (I opted for the Polish joint next door, since everyone knows that Poles=Raw Sexual Power):

but I pledge to go there on a future visit. You know, the one where I take a tourist room and embrace my inner huskiness.

(By the way, I fake-ified that last picture, since I was a little disappointed in the color quality. So sue me photo-purists!)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A cold in the head causes less suffering than an idea.

While we've already established that some folks in the South still like their mammy-themed restaurants (and Aunt Jemima, as astute reader KB points out), I hate to dwell on the negative. God knows I am nothing if not a ray of sunshine, correct? (Ahem.)

So let's move on, shall we? One of the things I like best about our southern citizens--in addition to their fine food offerings, linguistic innovations and general geniality--is their propensity to abandon their picturesque homes. A big chunk of William Christenberry's career has been devoted to examining such spaces, and I found one of my own right outside Aynor, South Carolina.

After driving down a dirt road with Scrawny Bits by my side (Scrawny Bits is generally amenable to photographic sidekickery, but this day was a little cranky and yelled "I don't like suffering!" when I started to sing in the car), I quickly came upon this place, tucked back in the trees a bit, and just waiting for investigation:

And investigate I did. I am generally intrepid, but this place was spookier than average. Maybe it was the clock laying on the floor in the front hallway (photos of that came out a bit blobby), the abandoned (and empty) box of chocolates, or the spine-tingling way the floorboards creaked. I made it as far as the kitchen:

before I got creeped out. I felt a little rude as well, as I had clearly interrupted someone's sweeping.

The rest of my explorations were thus confined to the outside:

where I had brief thoughts of somehow trying to transplant that spindly bush into the courtyard of my Manhattan apartment building.

Returning to the dirt road, my journeys then carried me into Aynor itself, which was hosting its annual "Harvest Hoe-Down." There was no hoe-down that I saw, and very little that indicated a harvest...but there were Ned Burgers:

Ned's was kind of the high point of this day's trip though--until later that evening when Scrawny Bits (who had apparently recovered from the suffering she endured at the sound of my voice) decided that she wanted to go to a nearby amusement park.

I remained quiet throughout her ride on the horse's ass, just so you know.

Friday, September 15, 2006

A peach, a wig and a dream.

After a nail-biting cab ride to LaGuardia airport yesterday evening, I arrived down in South Carolina to find much warmer weather, sunnier skies, and this gentleman, who greeted me upon my first jaunt out of the house this morning.

He was joined shortly after by a line of marching ducks, who seemed quite intent upon arriving at their destination...although it wasn't totally clear where that was.

This part of the South is full of chock full of Nature (although I have yet to see an alligator, much to my continuing disappointment), and also has its share of spooky trees:

Local hang-outs where beer is on tap and grits are served all day:

Where dudes play arcade games year-around:

Even after the tourists have gone home.

There is a thriving wig industry:

And even the light poles have style:

Some things, though, remain a little behind the times:

I know I am a Yankee and therefore hopelessly ignorant...but weren't mammies sort of, um, abolished in 1863?

Friday, September 08, 2006

No children were harmed in this post.

Lest I depress anyone, I think it might be time to update that somewhat downbeat post I made last Monday night. Even though I have still heard no updates on the poor girl's condition (somehow I thought that the power of the blogosphere would come through there, and someone would post a dispatch from Coney Island Hospital. Alas, not so far...), I'll move on.

The horrifying incident did put a damper on what was otherwise a very fun-filled day at Coney, which started with a viewing of everyone's favorite gender-bending politicos, Circus Amok:

They danced on platforms:

They flew through the air:

And they marched around in pink tutus while paying homage to Latin American leftist political leaders:

What more could an audience ask for? (Answer: Nuttin' Especially because it was free.)

Following this fine performance, I drank a smoothie, checked out the Bump Yer Ass Off! bumpercars:

and pondered receiving a homemade tattoo:

Then there was the ill-fated visit to Totonno's (which was still amazingly good, despite the fact that no one really felt like eating after the mishap noted in that downbeat post of last Monday...)

Following our pizza, I bid goodbye to my pal, and hooked up with another group of friends. We sat on the shore, watched the sun go down, and pondered whether we'd had the Best Summer Ever, or just a regular summer. (Consensus? Just a regular summer, although plenty good enough.)

We rounded things up by drinking a couple of beers outside Nathan's, where I spotted these two fellows, who reminded me that mackin' ain't easy. (Or so their jackets said. I was trying so hard to secretly photograph that I didn't have a chance to pose any queries regarding the difficulties of mackin'.)

The last activity of the night involved a pee-inducing ride on the Wonder Wheel:

The Wonder Wheel completely terrifies me, every time I ride it. Sure, it's beautiful up there and all, especially with the Verrazano bridge gleaming in the distance....but danging hundreds of feet above ground, slowly, slowly swinging back and forth, just makes me feel like I'm gonna pass out and then die in a puddle of pee.

Luckily, I've lived to see another day. What's next, post-Labor Day? Well, I'm going to South Carolina next weekend to visit my momma (affectionately known as Scrawny Bits. You'll be hearing more about Scrawny Bits later, I assure you...), and I bravely signed up for adult ed German classes at the Deutches Haus. The autumn practically gleams with promise, I think--especially auf Deutsch. Macht schnell, mein Leser! Das Leben ist kurz....