Monday, April 30, 2018

My month in Pennsylvania

My take on Pennsylvanians

Pennsylvanians are some of the most polite drivers I've ever seen.  Everywhere.  Statewide.  I can think of only one time in this whole month when I needed to merge and nobody would let me in.  This despite me driving a larger than usual vehicle that most people hate to be behind.  People would see my signal and intentionally stop to make room for me.  Over and over.

While they generally drive faster than the speed limit, they aren't a state of speed demons.  They didn't seem too upset at me going at or below the limit - they just went around me without making ugly gestures or even bothering to give me an ugly look.

They were tolerant of my parking needs, as long as I played fair and paid for the spaces or didn't use up too much room.

I've had a little experience with New York City drivers and I guess I assumed that attitude was spread over the region, but I was really wrong.

The People
Most Pennsylvanians are here because they want to be.  They're proud of their state, their weather, their sports teams, their colleges, their cultural backgrounds, their history and their place in history.

I had assumed they lived here despite their weather, but I was wrong.  They take a sort of pride in the squirreliness of their weather, and they enjoy it.  They go fishing and hiking when the temps are in the 40s.  They go snowmobiling so much they have clubs around the state and designated trails on state grounds.  They have ski resorts.  They're big on water sports.  They go camping a lot.  Equestrian activities are all over the state, and state campgrounds have specific camping areas and trails for them.

Politically, PA seems to be a swing state.  They voted for Trump in 2016, but only by a slim margin.  Generally here, as in many other states, the Democrats concentrate in the cities and Republicans dominate the rural areas, which is why I kept seeing so much Trump support in the farming communities I passed through.  But though PA ranks #5 in population among US states, only 3 of its 10 largest cities have more than 100,000 people.  So "city" here is a relative term.

My impression is that Pennsylvania's identity is formed around railroads, coal mining, farming and history.  Some of those things are influences from the past, but they're still very much here.  I found train tracks in the middle of almost every town of any size at all.  There are museums and historic sites dedicated to railroads statewide.  Trains were pivotal to development in most states but here, they're part of the identity in a deeper way.  Regarding history, PA has its own, of course, and is proud of it, but Pennsylvanians also are proud of the significant role they played in the formation of the US and in their continuing importance to the nation.  They say so.

I met almost nobody who was rude.  Everybody was at least polite and most were happy to talk about their town or their state.  People often went out of their way to be helpful.

What I didn't see that I wanted to see

The artificial construct of having only a month in each state means for most states I'll be missing quite a bit.  In the case of PA, the bizarre weather meant I missed even more.  I'd hoped to be able to see PA in the springtime, and I've seen tantalizing suggestions that it would have been lovely.  The extraordinary staying power of this winter, though, has meant I've seen mostly bare trees and little undergrowth.  I'll have to come back sometime and see PA looking more dressed for company.

The Pittsburgh area
I didn't learn until I was on my way out of town that pierogies are considered the signature food of the town.  I heard it on the radio as I was driving out of town.  I'll have to come back sometime for them.  Also there's something called the Heinz Pittsburgh Regional Historic Center, run by the National Park Service, which I understand is worth seeing.  I just had too many problems trying to figure out their roads to make it to that part of town.

The Tour-Ed Coal Mine has tours, and I wanted to go, but they're only open Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Southcentral PA  
It'd intended to visit Pres. Buchanan's birthplace near Mercersberg - there's a state park there - but the weather kept me from going into that area.  Ditto Jimmy Stewart's hometown of Indiana and a museum there.

In Harrisburg I wanted to visit the State Museum of PA, but the only real drawback to using my RV as my only transport is that it's too tall for parking garages, and in downtown areas that's about the only kind of parking there is.  Harrisburg also has a National Civil War Museum that I wanted to see but didn't find.

I had to miss spending time in York, where there's a Harley-Davidson Museum.  Doesn't that sound like fun?  York was the first US capital and many of the buildings are from colonial days.

In Lancaster, which I also had to bypass, is Lancaster Central Market, the US's oldest continuous farmers market.  There's also the PA Farm Museum, which I would have liked to see.  Mr. Woolworth opened his first store here.  In this general area are the National Watch and Clock Museum, which I would have loved to see, and the People's Place Quilt Museum.  This being Amish country, I expect there are many outlets for crafts that I'd been looking forward to seeing.  I just kept running out of time.

The nearby town of Lititz has the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery and offers tours.  You know you want to go too.

The town of Kennett Square is the center of mushroom farming in the state, and PA produces a LOT of our nation's mushrooms.

I was sorry to have to bypass the Liberty Bell and Constitution Hall and the nearby US Mint.  It was the parking problem that got me.  I've seen them all before, but it was many years ago and would like to come back sometime with the transportation problem worked out.  Elfreth's Alley is the US's oldest continuously occupied neighborhood - anything that has that kind of staying power deserves a visit.

Southeast PA
Near a town called New Hope is Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve; it's the only botanical museum in the US that's exclusive for native plants.

At Doylestown is the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, a national historic site and museum that I think sounds fascinating.

Northeast PA
It may sound odd but I'm sorry to have missed the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton; given the extreme importance of coal mining to this region, this museum probably explains a lot about why things are now as they are.  I have no experience that helps me understand why coal mining is a calling, as it seems to be in many parts of the country, rather than just a job and hoped this museum would explain it.  Maybe I'll learn more when I go to West Virginia, where I hope they have something similar.

Also in Scranton are the Scranton Iron Furnaces and the Steamtown National Historic Site and Museum, both of which I looked forward to.  A good reason to come back

Ricketts Glen State Park has 22 waterfalls; I'd hoped to stay a night in the park but ran out of time.

The town of White Mills is home to the Dorflinger Glass Museum, apparently a good one, and I could have squeezed it in except it won't open until May 1.

Northern PA
The week I ended up spending in Erie was time I'd planned to spend poking around the forests and parks and small towns all across the northern part of the state.  But the weather that kept me in Erie was much more severe in these areas - I heard it on the weather reports - and I just couldn't get to them.

I wanted to see the Allegheny National Forest, for instance, the Tom Mix Museum in Driftwood, and the PA Lumber Museum in Galeton.

The tiny town of Benezette is home to the largest free-roaming herd of elk east of the Mississippi River - as many as 300.  In Alaska I've seen large herds of caribou which, to me, are indistinguishable from elk, but that doesn't mean I get tired of looking at them.  I'd have had to leave Dexter in the RV, for sure.

I've clearly got another trip in Pennsylvania in my future.

1 comment:

  1. FYI, on our RV trip, we hit a couple of places we wanted to stay a few days or a week, including Albuquerque, and we parked the RV in a campground just outside of town and rented a cheap car to buzz around town in. It's one way to deal with the in-town parking issue.