Journals, April 2003
Wednesday, April 30, 2003 | #
I'm still trying to figure out why some big movies here aren't released in the rest of the country. "A Mighty Wind" is one of those big-deal limited-release films, which means if you're in New York, all of your friends have already seen it, and if you're outside of New York, you're saying "A Mighty Wha-?" Here's the rundown: This is the latest mocumentary comedy by Christopher Guest, of "Spinal Tap" fame. Like his other movies, the actors in this one improvize their lines to give it the feel of an unscripted, true-to-life story. It's filled with jokes, in this case largely about folk music. The autoharp is featured prominently. (I have a history with the autoharp.) There's a public TV producer who broadcasts a concert live via a weather satellite ("I have a friend at NOAA"). There's a running gag about a guy had a comedy show called "Wha' Happened?" Plus there's actually a pretty touching story running through this film. So why is the movie so heavily promoted in major cities, but nowhere else? Why can't you see it if you live in a small town? Do the movie distributors really think this kind of movie is too sophisticated for audiences outside of the big cities?
Tuesday, April 29, 2003 | #
I'm callin' you out
Before we get to today's journal, consider this observation from Japhy's annual birthday e-mail: "A great rift in society is forming: Those who blog and those who don't." Discuss.
Now, speaking of rifts, we simply need to have more rivalries in country music. Consider the richness that great feuds have brought to other forms of entertainment: pro wrestling (Stone Cold v. Vince McMahon), hip-hop (50 v. Ja), NASCAR (Gordon v. Earnhardt), and almost any sport (Maryland v. Duke). Now imagine the same sort of oneupmanship going on in Nashville, like cowboys and outlaws. I can imagine Darryl Worley dissing Tim McGraw for recording "Red Ragtop," a hit song about a couple deciding to have an abortion. Then maybe George Strait could take Garth Brooks to task for singing "That Summer," about a young farm boy having sex with a leathery old woman. Faith Hill v. Shania Twain could get ugly fast. Perhaps some sort of temperance movement could develop to protest all the songs about drinking, like Tracy Byrd's "Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo." And maybe Travis Tritt and Toby Kieth could gang up on the Dixie Chicks for saying something mean about the president. Wait! That actually happened!
Monday, April 28, 2003 | #
So there's this really cool band, right?...
I don't usually write "this-band-is-so-cool" journals, but I ought to say something about Wilco. Saturday night, we went to the free "Movin' On" concert at Penn State, an annual show that attracts a couple of big-name acts every year. Free outdoor concerts are prone to problems. For one thing, bad weather can wreck the show. For another, sometimes the sound quality is awful. And finally, sometimes the crowd just mills around and doesn't really care who's playing. Not only did the Wilco show avoid all these problems, it was a great performance. Jeff Tweedy, as the legend goes, helped invent a style called alt-country music when he was part of the band Uncle Tupelo. Uncle Tupelo split into two groups, Wilco and Son Volt, with Tweedy taking charge of Wilco and turning it into a great rock band. Wilco's last album, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," was caught up in some sort of record company dispute before it was released, so the band just posted it on the Internet. It went on to be one of the most acclaimed albums of 2002. One of Wilco's earlier records, "Being There," was one of my favorite albums when I was at Penn State. It was really something to see the band play three songs in a row from that album during the encore.
Saturday, April 26, 2003 | #
This is going to be a fun weekend. We're on a trip to State College, PA, with several agendas. Tonight, Wilco, one of my favorite rock bands, is playing a free show on the HUB lawn. Jess is coming along, too. Betsy is riding along so she and Jeremy can see each other. Kelly R, another New York friend, coworker of mine, and former Collegian person, is also riding with us. My longtime roommate Brian, who taught me how to read, is going to be around, so we hope to meet up with him. And most likely, we're going to hang out with Renée, Lynne, and some other Collegian party people tonight. Then Sunday I have a regular Lutheran Council for Campus Ministry board meeting. On top of all that, it's the Blue-White football scrimage, which means the whole campus is flooded with alums with their blue and white RVs and their Penn State Starter jackets. Those alums, nothing but trouble.
No journal Sunday.
Friday, April 25, 2003 | #
We drink Sprite ReMix so you don't have to
I got this e-mail at work yesterday afternoon:
Guess who is currently drinking a bottle of Sprite Remix? Guess who also bought an extra bottle? Now, guess who she'll give it to this evening if he wants it...
Some of you know I had been tirelessly searching for a bottle of Sprite ReMix, Coca-Cola's newest soft drink, since last week, and without success. The ever-astute Jess beat me to it. She found a 20-oz. bottle at a Duane Reade store in midtown. And so, here's another in my occasional series of soda reviews:
The bottle says this drink is "Sprite with tropical flavors," but the flavor doesn't really pack much of a punch. Instead, it's the smell that overwhelms you. You get a whiff of coconuts or strawberries or something as soon as you uncap the bottle. It's like opening a tube of sunscreen. The drink is nothing special, and it's certainly not the next Vanilla Coke. I only recommend it if you're really fond of the smell of shampoo, or maybe if you're planning to mix it with something. Even if this new drink is kind of a lemon, it's the thought that counts.
This weekend: In State College. More on that tomorrow.
Thursday, April 24, 2003 | #
Good eats from the streets
Some general wisdom I learned in Washington and Baltimore is: Don't eat food from a street vendor. It's bad, so bad it is really a last act of desperation when you're starving. And so, I've been groomed to view street carts with suspicion, and avoid them. Yet here in New York City, the street vendors are of a whole other grade. Now that the weather is getting warmer, the carts are on every corner, and everybody buys food from them. Apart from hot dogs, the carts sell foods such as falafel, kabobs, chicken, bagels, etc. A sandwich runs $3, a rare bargain in New York. Add a Coke for $1. And the food is actually tasty.
Elsewhere, here's a link the text of the controversial AP interview with Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a champion of ignorant people. I love the part when the reporter interrupts and says, "I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about 'man on dog' with a United States senator, it's sort of freaking me out."
Wednesday, April 23, 2003 | #
N P O R C O P
What a dummy. I invited some friends over for Scrabble last night, and I decided to pop popcorn for them. I put a handful of kernels into a big cookpot with a little vegetable oil. Unfortunately, the heat was too high, and this first batch of popcorn got scorched. No good. I picked up the hot pot by the handles and carried it over to the garbage to dump these charred rejects. Keep in mind that this pot is plenty hot. As I tipped it out over the trash can, the pot slipped from my fingers and fell straight into the garbage. When I reached in to try to fish it out, my problems went from bad to worse. The plastic trash bag had melted to the outside of the pot, thereby sucking the pot deep into a tangled cobweb of gooey plastic strands. As I tried to wrestle the pot free, the bag disintegrated further, spilling all its contents into the bottom of the trash can. All this for popcorn! For the record, the second batch turned out much better. And I got beat in Scrabble.
Tuesday, April 22, 2003 | #
Killing time on a slow day at the office
Everybody loves the Internet Movie Database, right? How else would we learn about fun people such as:
On another media-related note, here's an article from yesterday's New York Times which briefly mentions what could be the worst business idea of 2003: Playboy Radio.
Monday, April 21, 2003 | #
Blinkin' beacons beckon
Long Island is teeming with lighthouses. We saw two of them on Saturday. Buoyed by our success in locating The Big Duck, we decided to keep driving east until we ran out of land. That took us to Montauk, home of the Montauk Point Lighthouse. The automated light is still used for navigation and is operated by the Coast Guard. The lighthouse itself is privately owned but open to the public for a $6 charge. We climbed to the top, from which we could see Long Island on in one direction and blue seas the rest of the way around.
(Interesting thing about Montauk is that you have no business there unless it is your ultimate destination. That's to say, you'll never travel through it on your way to somewhere else.)
On the drive back to Brooklyn, we had time to visit the Fire Island Lighthouse, at Fire Island National Seashore. This lighthouse is about a 20-minute walk from the closest parking lot. Wildlife abounds here, and we saw several deer near the boardwalk path across the sand dunes. The lighthouse visitor center was closed when we got there, but I think a sign said you can only climb to the top of the lighthouse during special tours.
Today, I've posted a picture of the Montauk Point Lighthouse. Later in the week, I'll post a picture of the Fire Island Lighthouse.
Sunday, April 20, 2003 | #
We associate small ducklings with spring, rebirth, and Easter. What to make of a duck that's nearly two stories high? We weren't sure either, but we were moved by the experience nevertheless. Jess and I took a drive yesterday to the wild frontier of scary, mysterious Long Island. Along the trip, we found The Big Duck. (Pictured at left.) The Duck roosts next to Route 24 in Flanders, about two hours from Manhattan and about an hour from Monhauk, the eastern tip of the island. My National Geographic Road Atlas of North America actually includes a little red dot on Long Island labeled "Big Duck." According to one web site, the Big Duck was built in 1931, as a shop where a farmer actually sold ducks. Now it is apparently a gift shop/tourism office, though it was closed when we stopped there yesterday.
Happy Easter. Tomorrow: Lighthouses.
Saturday, April 19, 2003 | #
A good Friday
Friday was a busy day. Work let us go early, so I walked to Union Square and made my first visit to The Strand, the city's most storied discount book store. I had been wanting to check this place out for some time, at the advice of multiple friends. This is simply an amazing store. I bought book called "The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk" for $5. Now I must read it. Last night, the church put on their annual "Passion Play," which is written, directed, and performed by members of the congregation. There seem to be a lot of people with theater experience at our church, and it was an impressive show. Following that, we went to dinner at a restaurant called the Chip Shop, which serves fried British food. They actually have fried candy bars on the menu, which are really something.
Lastly, keep your thoughts and prayers with David Hoe, who leaves this morning for Kuwait. Do good and be safe, Dave.
Friday, April 18, 2003 | #
We all scream
Sooner or later, it's going to get hot. When it does, access to ice cream will be a survival need. You can often tell the quality of an ice cream stand by the length of its line. Last summer, my favorite stop was a place called Massey's, a frozen custard stand on High Street in Carlisle. Before that, I made Penn State Creamery ice cream a staple of my diet. Here in Brooklyn, the favorite summer dessert is a mysterious beverage called the egg cream. I do not know enough about egg cream to speak of it with authority, but I'm sure I'll be able write something about it later this summer. However, I do know there are plenty of delicious ice cream and Italian ice places around. I went for a walk Wednesday and saw a stand on 7th Avenue in Park Slope that had a pretty good line, so I waited in it. The shop is Uncle Louie G's, part of a chain of popular ice cream and Italian ice places. I ordered a flavor of ice called Strawberry Fields, which set me back $1.50. Okay, summer, I'm ready for you.
With Easter on its way, now's a good time to give a shout out to all my Peeps.
Thursday, April 17, 2003 | #
And so begins my annual battle with the watch tan. It's warm, sunny, and I'm outside often wearing short sleeves. The tricky thing is the watch. If I keep it on, I end up with that pale spot on my wrist that says: This guy wears a watch all the time. If I take the watch off, I won't know the time. This seems like a classic right-brain/left-brain struggle. Live by the clock, or live by the sun?
I am trying to procure a bottle of Sprite Remix so I can bring you a complete review of this new soft drink. Stick around, I should have that for you in the next couple of days.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003 | #
Can't beat the wheel thing
Everyone who commutes by bike is secretly trying to prove a point: Biking to work is not only healthy and eco-friendly, it is faster and more convenient than any other form of transportation. Yes, even if it means schlepping a 50-pound machine into the freight elevator and up to your 9th-floor office, then changing your clothes in the men's room before the workday. Is it faster? Well, if I walk fast and time the busses and trains right, I can make my 8-mile commute in about 55 minutes. Yesterday, I tried for the fastest time yet on my bike. Obstacles: The bike trail along the Hudson River is jam-packed with people during my ride home. Slow people! On skates! The path on the Brooklyn Bridge is better, with a bold yellow line to separate the bikers from the lowly pedestrians. Then there's my zig-zag along the Brooklyn street grid, over the Gowanus Canal, up the slope, and along 6th Avenue to my apartment. How quickly can I do it? I left the office at 6:10 yesterday and made it home at the stroke of... 7:05. Feelin' great.
Tuesday, April 15, 2003 | #
Odds and ends, mixed
For those of you in the northeast... Isn't this weather fantastic?
Follow-up from Saturday, when I wrote about those Iraqi leader playing cards... Thanks to Allan for alerting me that you can download the cards in PDF from the Central Command web site. Also note that Muhammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, despite his sudden fame, isn't among the deck!
Here's a tip for all you fellow web site people... I've noticed many of you tend to use the notation (*heart*) in place of a valentine symbol. Well, check this out: ♥. Neat, eh? I ♥ this trick. Here's the code that lets you do it: ♥
Lastly... Send in those taxes, people. Somebody has to pay for the war.
Monday, April 14, 2003 | #
Infinity's new radio station, 102.7 Blink, went on the air last week in New York to replace rock/talk station WNEW. I was hoping the city would finally get a country music station (there isn't one!) but no such luck. This station has a new music format. I'm listening to it now, and the recent songs include: "Rock Your Body" by Justin Timberlake, "Everyday People" by Sly and the Family Stone, and "Lucky Star" by Madonna. Before you try to figure out what those songs have in common, let me tell you a little more first. One of Blink's gimmicks is that you can request songs via AOL Instant Messenger. They play little clips of music gossip called "song tags." Their station IDs are voiced by actor Kiefer Sutherland, who has the kind of sexy voice I wish I had. Their logo is pink. J-Lo's sister does the morning show. There you have it: This station is supposed to appeal exclusively to women ages 18 to 30. A listener on the New York Radio Message Board nicknamed it "Radio Barbie." It's not about making good radio; it's about getting a specific demographic for advertisers.
Bonus gossip for those of you who interested in the broadcasting industry: Someone on the radio message board says the FCC has received two complaints about Blink so far. First, Blink apparently failed to ID themselves one hour. Second, the station played Prince's "Erotic City," which some people think contains the word "fuck" in the chorus. (I've heard this song and I think it's probably "funk.") Recall that WNEW was the station that canned "Opie and Anthony" talk show after it aired a stunt of people having sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Sunday, April 13, 2003 | #
When the weather got warm yesterday, I rode my bike to Prospect Park. I know I've written before about how much I like this park, and I'll probably write about it again. In some ways, it reminds me of the Hundred Acre Wood from the Winnie the Pooh stories. The park wraps around Long Meadow, a rolling field that seems to go on forever. In the 1860s, when landscapers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux had finished with Manhattan's Central Park, they designed Prospect Park in Brooklyn as an encore. Some say they did a better job the second time through. If you wander the park, you'll find one big lake, several small ponds, more ballfields than you can count, a small zoo, an ice skating rink, playgrounds, a couple of ampitheaters, at least one waterfall and miles of trails. To the north, the park abuts the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Public Library. The Brooklyn Museum of Art isn't far. My usual bike ride is a three-mile loop around the perimeter of the park. Yesterday, it seemed as if everyone in Brooklyn was out to soak up the sun.
Saturday, April 12, 2003 | #
Know when to hold 'em
The U.S. military issued a set of playing cards with pictures of the 55 most wanted Iraqi leaders. The ace of spades is Saddam. My first thought was: Gee that's clever. My second thought was: I want a deck. On eBay, the first deck someone posted now has a bid of $300. There may be other ways to get these cards, since quite a few more posts have cropped up offering to sell the decks for $10.
We saw the movie "Chicago" last night, the one that won the best picture Oscar. It was, as advertised, a very high-quality adaptation of the Broadway musical. Dark and sexy, the movie's heroes are women charged with mudering their husbands/boyfriends/partners. While I enjoyed the movie, I kept wondering how this story would fly with the roles reversed. Would we really be so keen to watch a movie about a bunch of men who had murdered their wives and girlfriends? Of course not.
Friday, April 11, 2003 | #
A mighty fortress is our block
I have no idea what's behind my apartment building. Well, okay, I can see out my fire escape that there's a small back house where a family lives, and they have a little concrete patio. But there's a whole lot of land behind my building that is invisible to me. That's the thing about the street grid in Brooklyn. The buildings butt against each other all the way around the block, forming a high wall around the back yards. There is no way to get inside this fortress without passing through the buildings first. I can look out back and get a few glimpses of my back-yard neighbors, but to the left and right, back lots stretch up and down the block. Despite living only a few feet away, I can neither see nor set foot in any of those spaces. I only enter and exit by the street. In some respects, the city trips up your sense of two-dimensional space, because you can only move at 90-degree angles based on the street grid.
Thursday, April 10, 2003 | #
The shoe falls
Without access to a TV in our office, we watched the big Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad topple via a streaming video on the Internet. Great image, great story, and some promise that this war will be over sooner rather than later.
The big picture aside, I never knew the shoe carried so much symbolism in the Arab world. It is a grave insult to hit something with the sole of a shoe. In the newspaper a few days ago, I saw picture a picture of an Iraqi citizen, with a shoe in his hand, beating a picture of Saddam Hussein with it. At that time, I thought it was just one quirky guy showing off for the camera. But the shoes kept showing up. Yesterday, we saw pictures of jubilant Iraqis clubbing their shoes and sandals against Saddam's statue. They used their footwear to show their disgust with the dictator who ruined their country. Of course, the shoe can be on the other foot. The Iraqi government's sketchy spokesman, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, once said President Bush and company "only deserve to be hit with shoes." Of course, with the Iraqi government dismantled, Al-Sahhaf has vanished. That little sneaker.
Wednesday, April 9, 2003 | #
The hottest rapper in the country right now is 50 Cent, a fellow New Yorker. I dig his songs, and I admire his showmanship. The guy who works in the newstand in my office building is also a fan. He keeps me up-to-date on the latest 50 news, such as his current spot on the album charts. "Fifty's still number one," he informs me when I go to buy a Vanilla Coke. If there's no 50 gossip that particular day, the newstand guy will comment on how I'm the only person in the building who ever buys Vanilla Coke. But there's plenty of 50 to talk about. Frankly, we're worried about that guy. Every rapper needs a gimmick, and 50 Cent's is that he was gunned down a few years ago, back when he was a drug dealer. "I've been hit with a few shells and now I walk with a limp," he raps. His new CD is called "Get Rich or Die Trying." In public, 50 always wears a bullet-proof vest, and so does his six-year-old son. As if he's got a deathwish, 50 has a habit of calling out other rappers for ridicule, notably Ja Rule. (Ja Rule fired back and called 50 "loose change.") Though Eminem gets credit for getting 50 a record deal, 50's mentor was actually Jam Master Jay, part of group Run-DMC. (And yes, the D stands for Darryl.) Run-DMC was an old-school rap group so mainstream that I once saw them play a free concert at a soccer field in State College, Pa. Sadly, Jam Master Jay was shot to death last year at a record studio in Queens. This is why we're so worried about 50. At least my newsstand friend and I can share our grief together if 50 befalls any harm. Maybe he'll cut me a special: Vanilla Coke 50 cent.
Tuesday, April 8, 2003 | #
Once again this year, I was denied a Pulitzer Prize. Both my hometown paper (The Baltimore Sun for beat reporting) and my favorite film critic (Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post, who used to write for The Sun) picked up awards. The Boston Globe won the coveted public service award for its reporting on sexual abuse by priests. Bravo. As usual, nearly all of the most important prizes went to east-coast papers.
During wartime, we depend even more on good journalism. Many of my friends say they've stopped paying attention to the war news, because it's confusing and they'd just rather wait until it's all over and we know all the facts. I think a lot of people feel that way; many are willing to simply assume our military will get the job done and don't want to think about the messy details. But I think the reporting on this war has been informative, and can be useful when you watch it with a skeptical eye. I always consider: Who is telling me this information, and why? I tend to be especially skeptical of any journalist who appears to enjoy reporting on this war. And I'm really impressed by reports from the battlefield, telling the soldiers' stories. I'm sure next year's Pulitzers will be difficult to award.
Monday, April 7, 2003 | #
When we took camping trips with the Penn State Outing Club, we would always debrief on the van ride back with a game called "roses and thorns." Applied to my weekend, it would sound something like this:
Thorn: Gloria, my downstairs neighbor, suffering a stroke Saturday morning. (If you pray, please consider her in your prayers.)
Thorn: Winter storm warning. A big snowstorm in April? What th'?
Rose: Did I mention Jess?
Sunday, April 6, 2003 | #
Here in America, we change our entire system of timekeeping twice a year. This is one of the worst ideas ever! If you think it gets dark too early, just start your day an hour earlier! Wake up, people! In keeping with this nonsense, I hope you remembered to set your clock ahead one hour this morning. Because, frankly, you don't have a choice. The Man is keeping us down!
As I'm writing this, I'm stuffed. I went out for sushi with Betsy and Jeremy, two classy people. On my walk home, I passed a place called the New York Milkshake Company. I simply couldn't resist. For $5, I got a chocolate shake for the train ride. Oh, what a mistake. I enjoy sushi. And I love chocolate milkshakes. But let me tell you: this is not a winning combination.
Saturday, April 5, 2003 | #
Gospel in Times Square
I can write about religion, can't I?
We were out last night at a one-man play called "The Gospel of John." And that's exactly what it is one actor, reading the entire 20,000-word biblical book from memory. It took about two-and-a-half hours. (Secretly, I was hoping the actor would have a voice like James Earl Jones or Vin Diesel, so I was a bit disappointed when he didn't.) Still, it was an excellent performance, with creative props, music and lighting. The show was at The Lamb's on 44th Street, not a bad spot, and our actor-turned-pastor at the Lutheran church got us discount tickets ($18 vs. $45). I felt like the show was staged for two reasons: first as a dramatic performance the sake of art, and second as an usual way to tell the gospel story of peace and love. John skips the Christmas story, but includes plenty of other favorites we learn in Sunday school, such as the loaves and fishes; the resurrection of Lazarus; and Jesus filling the disciples' net with fish. And there's some more complex layers, such as the character of Pilate: What to think of that guy? If we only read short passages of this book, it's easy to overlook the beauty of the entire story, all the way down to John's remarkable last verse (chapter 21 verse 25, if you want to look it up).
Friday, April 4, 2003 | #
I want to use the home page today to say something nice about Jessica, who is simply a first-rate individual. (Hi Jess!)
On with the program. I was saddened to see my man Dave Johnson voted out of "Survivor" last night. That's Dave "I've never used a luffa before in my life" Johnson, the Eagle-Scout-turned-rocket-scientist who graduated from high school with me. Dave, I hope you had fun on the show. It was great to see you play the game, and you entertained us for a couple of excellent episodes. The rest of the contestants... not so good. Now I'm just waiting for everyone to turn against Heidi. Boo-ya!
Thursday, April 3, 2003 | #
Please indulge me for a moment, I'm going to talk about the subway again. Wednesday's Daily News had a leaked map of next year's subway service changes. Great news! When they reopen all four tracks on the Manhattan Bridge, there will be an express train from the neighborhood where I live to the neighborhood where I work. Joy! Rapture! And you know what they're going to call this crazy train? The D train! Poetry!
War note: There's another war-themed song out. It's called "A Soldier's Heart" by R. Kelly. Unlike some of the country songs that invoke revenge and anger, this song has a good message of support for the troops. Before you embrace R. Kelly's wholesome family image, remember that his career was on life support just a few months ago when he was hit with charges related to kiddie porn and sex abuse; he's still in court. Meanwhile, Madonna has yanked her anti-war "American Life" video because she's afraid it might upset people. One conclusion from this is that Americans are willing to hear to an alleged child pornographer tell us war is okay, but we're not willing to listen to a real artist tell us it's wrong. As if on cue, Edwin Starr died.
Wednesday, April 2, 2003 | #
I went to see the Broadway musical "Rent" on Sunday. It's a story about a group of lower east side starving artists living with AIDS, all told through catchy song-and-dance numbers. Somehow, the show pulls this off, and is truly good. This show has been on for about seven years, so I'm a little late to the party. Before I moved to New York, I never through I would say a kind word about musicals. My primary exposure to musical theater was through the movie "Grease" and friends in drama club. As with so many things, my perspective on theater has broadened since I moved to the city.
I recently posted a few journals about country music star Darryl Worley. Since then, I've been getting a small number of confused e-mails from readers who think I have some connection to him. This week, I got the following short, anonymous message (spelling intact): "GOD BLESS AMERICA. GOD BLESS OUR MILITARY. COD BLESS DARYL WORLEY."
Tuesday, April 1, 2003 | #
It's April Fools' Day, so I tried to invent something bizarre to post today. Nothing I could dream up tops the story of a place Crystal and I visited Saturday. On I-78 in Pennsylvania, in a town called Shartlesville, you'll find the famous and mysterious Roadside America. Admission costs $4.50 and is worth every penny.
It is, basically, the biggest and most elaborate model train display you'll ever see. (Photo.) It's a giant scale world, with churches, cars, roads, waterways, a country club, a car dealership, an airfield, a coal mine, and so on. On the railing around the display, you can push a number of buttons to operate a trolley, a playground, a circus parade, or an oil rig. With an emphasis on rural Pennsylvania, the model shows the power of hard-working people going about their business and keeping America's wheels turning. Trains rumble by all of it. About every half hour, the trains come to a stop, the overhead lights dim, and night falls over Roadside America. A thousand little lights glimmer from inside the buildings. "God Bless America" plays over the loudspeaker and a spotlight shines on an American flag on the wall. Much to our shock and awe, a slide projector in the ceiling flips on and projects an iconic image of Jesus Christ, His arm extended toward the flag, bestowing His grace on America. You can bet they had this gush of patriotism way, way before Sept. 11, 2001. We thought the picture of Jesus was a little over the top, but it was innocent enough that we smiled anyway.
There's a whole story behind Roadside America, but it was largely the obsession of one man: Larry Gieringer, who started making miniature models as a hobby and eventually moved the display to a building by the interstate and made it his livelihood. He died in 1963, and his family still runs the place. As we left, I asked a woman at the register if she was related to Mr. Gieringer. No, she said, but she told me the display is still exactly the same as it was when he built it. It hasn't changed in nearly 50 years. A sign on the building offers these words of advice: "Be prepared to see more than you expect."
The Fire Island Lighthouse, Long Island. - Photographed 04.19.03
The Montauk Point Lighthouse, Long Island. - Photographed 04.19.03, posted 04.21.03
The Big Duck, Flanders, N.Y. - Photographed 04.19.03, posted 04.20.03
Verrazano Narrows Bridge in the fog. - Photographed 04.05.03, posted 04.13.03
How sweet it is! - Photographed 04.05.03, posted 04.06.03
Shartlesville, PA, a friendly roadside stop. - Photographed 03.30.03, posted 04.01.03