This morning Mary said to Rick, "You distract the security guards, I'll smuggle the Sofitel's bed out, and we can strap it to the roof of Plucky Mobile." Because that's a plan without a flaw.
Seriously, we would've been reluctant to leave Philadelphia without the beds o'wonder; it is a very nice city and we fully intend to come back. And when we do we're gonna know when things close.
Today in morbid tourism, we went to visit Jayne Mansfield's grave in tiny Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania. Mary has seen Ms. Mansfield's cenotaph at the Hollywood Forever cemetery, pretty much forever since her parents took her there as a child - yes, cemetery visiting was and is considered a legitimately fun family outing. So seeing where she's actually buried felt like coming full circle. We were pleased to note that it's a suitably flamboyant heart-shaped edifice.
Then we recommenced our drive through the flatly beautiful, if comically named Poconos - seriously, say it out loud, it's funny - to the Shawnee Mountain Ski Area, which was holding its annual garlic festival. We firmly believe that a life without garlic is no life at all, so hooray! We sampled garlic dips! And garlicky oil! We sampled garlic honey and roast garlic on foil. We munched on bulbs so sharp and so pungent, we ate rolls garlicky from the bun tent.
Okay, we'll stop now. But don't think we couldn't have gone on like this for the rest of the journal.
One place had garlic sausage and shrimp scampi and the cheesy pierogis swimming in sauteed butter and garlic you see pictured, but we were disappointed that was that most of the food vendors were of the generic festival sort rather than being garlic specific.
Of course the absence of garlic didn't bother us at all when we saw the giant roast pig at the BBQ pork place. "Are you serving," we asked the stand employees. "Yes," they said. "From that pig?" we asked. "No," they responded, "That's tomorrow's pig. It's been roasting since Thursday." We were perfectly satisfied, if not ecstatic with the slices of roast pork from today's pig. And if it makes you feel any better, we stopped by a garlic dip sample stand and put some on it.
Okay, garlic for breakfast. What's for lunch? Hamburgers of course at the 6th Annual Taste of Hamburg-er Festival in Hamburg, Pennsylvania.
We called David, our contact person at the festival, to tell him we were just outside of town and he exclaimed with glee, "Oh you're just in time to judge the chili cookoff!" And then we heard him say, "Wendell, you're out!" Sorry, Wendell.
And indeed, as soon as we were parked, Rick was given an official judges ribbon and escorted to a table to be seated alongside a Pennsylvania State Representative and a woman bearing the title of Beef Ambassador. It's worth pointing out that no, we don't know how we stumble into great opportunities like this, but we do and we're really, really grateful.
There were seven entrants with eight chilis, which caused no small amount of havoc - two chilis from one person, what do we do?! Each was judged on appearance, taste, originality, and whether or not you'd go back for more and it was interesting to note that all three judges wound up agreeing on the winner. And needing lots of water.
Our new best friend David is maybe the funniest person we've ever met although we can't tell you anything he said to us because he has as highly an inapropriate sense of humor as we do only he's even funnier. He kept us in stitches as he escorted us through the festival, which essentially meant through the tiny hamlet of Hamburg. The Festival starts at the town's most prominent intersection and spreads out from there, with the result that the place pretty much shuts down for it.
This year they had almost doubled the number of attendees from last year and had 21 booths selling hamburgers from restaurants, church groups, and local civic organization. How to choose, how to choose? Why, let David help you. He steered us in the direction of Deitsch Eck (Dutch Corner) winner of the Best Hamburger prize three years in a row. We're not in a position to judge that, but we are here to say they make a heck of a burger. Mary had a slight twist to the classic cheeseburger since it had white instead of yellow cheese and Rick added bacon to his and both were polished off in short order. There were lines at every stand but the one here was dozens deep and it would totally be worth the wait.
The town is flatly adorable and while it may have only 4,000 residents and only one of everything (movie theater, hardware store, men's clothing shop) it also has an art gallery featuring pretty talented local artists. When we heard that they only employ one and a half policemen (one is part time), because crime is virtually non-existent, we were tempted by thoughts of relocation. Certainly we'd like to be around for next year's hamburger festival.
Ah but here's the thing... next year brings the opening of the new, you guessed it, Wal-Mart. Located a mere two miles out of town, there is considerable, justified concern that it will spell the end of that hardware store, that men's clothing shop, and all the rest because after all there's a sub shop in Hamburger so the Wal-Mart complex is going to contain a Subway. Regardless of one's feelings about a certain megastores (heck, we'll drop $400 at Target without thinking about it), there is no denying what we saw on the first Plucky Survivors as we drove through a lot of formerly vibrant small southern towns, now reduced to empty shells standing in the shadow of the nearby Wal-Mart. We think about what may happen to Hamburg and we are nauseated.
So go Hamburg or a place like Hamburg and maybe buy a shirt at that men's clothing shop, okay? A reminder that the winner of the hamburger contest serves said burgers at his nearby restaurant year round.
Now that we've had breakfast and lunch, we have consider dinner. And what better place to do that than in Hershey, Pennsylvania?
Now, we concede that Hershey does not make the best chocolate but we grow up with it and we still like it. Consequently, any trip to something entitled Hershey's Chocolate World fills us with happy if not nearly psychotic anticipation.
For some reason, we assumed we might be alone in this obsession and so managed to be surprised and then dismayed to find an awful lot of people were there before us. We don't really like crowds so we were off to an uneasy start, but we knew how to soothe our jangled nerves and headed straight to the gift shop. Where we found just so much... stuff. It was stuffed with stuff. And we wanted chocolate swag, we really did, but it was just too much.
Mary bought a small bag of Hershey's Kisses as a balm and took them on the first of four offered attractions, three of which come at a not inconsequential ticket price. This one was a Trolley Tour of the town and factory area, narrated by a male and female team who delivered winkingly hokey jokes and some truly interesting history in between attempting to lead the group in sing-a-longs. Here's a tip, folks... if you go to something that calls for audience participation, please participate! If only for the sake of the performers who are trying very hard, but also because it makes the whole experience considerably more fun.
The story that emerged from the well-crafted narrative was a near hagiography of Milton Hershey - seriously, the guy seemed to be the perfect philanthropist, from providing all kinds of jobs during the depression to donating his entire personal fortune for the support of the school that he built for underprivileged kids. We kept thinking, he's too good to be true - there must be a skeleton in the closet. Yes, we're that cynical, so we Googled him as we stood in line for the next attraction and we found nothing. If anyone knows of any scandals, e-mail us!
Next up was chocolate tasting; a brief look at the history and construction of chocolate. At the end we were led through a compare and contrast tasting of several different kinds of Hershey chocolate. And yeah, sure, it's not Valrhona, but when you let it melt and spread on your tongue as instructed you start to pick up flavors you would otherwise miss if you are just throwing them down your gullet. Not that we've done that or anything.
Our final stop was a 3-D attraction, supposedly again conveying the history of chocolate and Hershey. And while it certainly had bells and whistles, not to mention vibrating seats, bubbles floating in the air, and air popping out to hit you in the legs when you least expect it, it's really just one big elaborate commercial for Hershey products. Yeah, so is the rest of the place, but this one was shamelessly blatant. Adults can skip it but children certainly get a kick out of the experience. And while you may not wish to expose your child to such commercialism, you pretty much crossed that line just by coming here in the first place so why not give them some bubbles?
We skipped the fourth attraction, a walk-through history of Hershey because the line was simply too long and instead took ourselves to the bakery and got a fat chocolate cupcake liberally covered in frosting and we immediately felt better and at peace with the world and all its commercialism, because we're easy like that.
Tonight we are ensconced in a Days Inn smack dab on Chocolate Avenue in the center town, in fact the closest of any hotel to the parks. Sure it's a chain but rooms are generously sized, they come with a microwave and a mini-fridge, and service at the front desk is top notch. Upon checking in a receptionist hands you several sheets of paper loaded with suggestions for nearby restaurants (for which they have menus) and other helpful hints. They also provide a free and prompt shuttle to all Hershey attractions, an indoor pool, a fitness center, laundry facilities, and free parking, which considering the $36 per night valet only parking charges we've been racking up, we're very happy about.
A two block stroll took us to the Chocolate Avenue Grill where Mary pretended to by healthy and had some grilled tuna and Rick didn't even bother by having a chocolate martini, cheesy garlic bread, and breaded chicken tenders. Let the record show, Mary virtually ignored her fish in favor of Rick's buttery bread. If nothing else the garlic intensive dough finished off Best. Day. Ever! on a nice note of symmetry.
Now excuse, we need to go brush our teeth. See you tomorrow!
Oh, one more quick thing... we REALLY want to thank David, the people of Hamburg, and the Hershey-Harrisburg Regional Visitors Bureau for all their help on making this such a great day. We can't tell you how much we appreciate it.