Home Sweet Home

I’ve been looking forward to Philly since leaving Charleston.  For me, entering Pennsylvania will be momentous and as we approach I am very excited.  But there is no welcome sign.  Ok, there is a Mason-Dixon sign but that is not the same thing and I do not feel the great welcome that I hoped for.

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I get over it after a few hours as we approach Columbia, Pennsylvania.  Columbia, as most of you probably remember, was once considered the gateway to the West, with Wright’s ferry offering passage across the Susquehanna. It was so financially sucessfull that Pennsylvania and Maryland militias skirmished.  Columbia was also the city that in 1790 was approved by the House to become the capital of the USA. It was George Washington’s first choice.  Unfortunately Columbia lost in the Senate by one vote and the difference that time has played is striking.  Washington, D.C. has much better bike trails and quite a few monuments. So it goes.

The approach to Philly has another very trip specific meaning for me.  In my early planning of the trip I was so focused on dealing with the roads and busyness of Florida that I never thought that there might actually be some fun, beautiful bike riding ahead.  Some time last November I was looking at the maps and realized that the approach to Philadelphia would be a 20-mile rail to trail along the Schuylkill. Wow, this bike adventure might actually have some fun to it.  Excitement! So here we are on the trail and inside I am flying.  Well, maybe not exactly flying, maybe a little tension after a flat relieved us of our last spare tube and kept us wondering if the tire would be OK, since we had destroyed our spare tire a few days before.  But, it’s all fine.

We ride the bike trail all the way to Manayunk where we leave the bikes at Cadence bike shop for some much needed attention. We get picked up by my old college roomate Larry, who brings us home to a reunion with Linda, his wife and an introduction to Geroge E., their new puppy.  Their friend Ricky comes over for our first home cooked meal since Charleston and life is easy. Good times.

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The next day we head into Philadelphia.  Ever since Savannah, Shelagh has been talking about how we’ve never explored Philly together, despite many trips to visit family and friends, so it feels like time. We hop a train into the city and take in all of the sights. First stop is my old med school, Jefferson.  It’s been 40 years since I’ve gone into the building.  Want to say “same old” but I don’t  really remember.  I did take a picture of the old lecture hall and send it to my old med school roomate, Gary.  Apparently, upon looking at the picture, he immediately became sick. (Those weren’t the best of times.) Shelagh and I move on to the colonial sections and check out Independence Hall, a few cemetaries, Betsy Ross’s house, and the Liberty Bell (still cracked).

Then, continuing our fortunate surprises, we have lunch with our friend Michelle, who’s in for a meeting, and Jonathan and Teresa and their baby, Ava.  We feel like we have hit the jackpot.  Friends friends friends.

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We spend two more days in Philly getting some much needed rest, and more home- cooked meals.  Our last night, L & L’s son Sam and wife Jenna join us, just keeps getting better.

On our way out of the city, more treats are in store. The Adventure Cycling maps are somehow able to weave us a path out of the city with the least amount of traffic you can imagine.  Right along the path we are able to meet up and have lunch with my Uncle Izzy and Aunt Reba, their granddaughter Renee, and my cousin Sharon. We are feeling extremely fortunate.

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Posted in Biking, Friends, Home, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Travel | Leave a comment

Why Do We Bike?

Shelagh and I are not bikers.  Not really.  This may sound strange to some but we know that our biker friends are nodding knowingly.  Trust me on this.  We know bikers.  We have friends who are bikers.  We are not bikers.  When we are out riding we are always passed by bikers.  Often they just ignore us but sometimes they say things like “Are you OK?” , or “Do you need any help?”

So why do we do this?  Permit me to share.  A few years ago I was biking with my friend Joe.  Joe is a biker.  He loves bikes, he loves to bike and he is an ex-marathoner.  I had found us an interesting bikeride in the Stowe area.  It was fun but, as you can imagine, it was filled with many very steep and/or long hills. As we came into Stowe (around the turn towards Trapp Family Lodge, about halfway), I mentioned to Joe that there was a great deli, Edelweiss, just up the road where we could get excellent sandwiches. He responded to me that he didn’t think that he needed anything to eat.  I was completely confused.  What did need have to do with it?  And therein lies the answer to my question.

We bike to eat.  Wherever and whenever we bike there is a destination.  At that destination there is food, hopefully good food.  Of course, as the Spanish say, “el hambre es la mejor salsa”. (No complaints please – Google is willing to translate). We have changed over the years.  Now more often than not we are going for savory rather than sweet, but otherwise we are the same old pseudobikers.

We have felt a certain undertone about the winter that we escaped. Do not envy that.  If I could, I would stay all winter in Vermont, enjoying the cold and the snow just like when I was a younger man, recently arrived from Philadelphia.  Unfortunately, this is no longer possible.  I have become old and susceptible to the cold of winter.  Its length and depth overwhelm me. I get sick.  I get weak.

If you want to envy us, envy our recenty earned eating habits.  We have become eating machines.  In the beginning we coined a name for it.  We would sit down for lunch or dinner and we would “Hoover” our meal.  No need for conversation or other niceties.  Maybe a quick glance at our phones and then “Look, all gone.” This has gotten a bit more civilized over the weeks but we are still eating everthing that we want.

Sometimes when we are passing time, and trying to sharpen our memory about where we’ve been, we will remember back each night of our trip, where we stayed, what the place was like. It’s kind of fun, and also a good check   that we haven’t completely lost our minds.  It seems reasonable that with a little bit of work we can remember where we’ve been.  What gets scary is when we start remembering every single restaurant, every dinner and every lunch and have no trouble ranking them by their quality. We still feel dread when remembering those days where lunch can not  be found although we have gotten better at tocking up on nuts, peanut butter crackers and Tastycakes for just such emergencies.

Seriously though, one of the great pleasures of the trip and been to eat like I’m a kid all over again.  When we arrived in Philly this topic was brought up at dinner with Larry, Linda, and their friend Ricky.  We decided to fess up.  The previous night we had a large chicken cheesesteak stromboli and a Italian antipasti delivered to the hotel room.  After a huge pancake breakfast with oodles of warmed maple syrup for breakfast we headed into Philly.  On a detour from the bikepath we went to Lou’s, a classic Philly sandwich shop in Norristown for lunch. I had a cheesesteak with long hot peppers and an icecream soda.  Shelagh has been trying to cut back so she just got a Reuben sandwich and then decided on the chocolate ice cream for dessert.

Now do you understand?  Do you see who we are?  Now you know why we bike.

Posted in Biking, Dining, Eating, Food, Marriage, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Travel | Leave a comment

Map Freak

Jerry shows map to complete stranger who just wanted to buy gas...

Jerry shows map to complete stranger who just wanted to buy gas…

If I ask you to think of that thing your spouse, partner or best friend does that bugs you the most, does something immediately spring to mind? Probably a few things. I know. Well, for me, it’s the map thing. Long before I realized that Jerry was a map freak (and I hope my use of this term won’t offend freaks in general), I understood that his father was … unusually motivated by directions. You could say you were walking to the apartment building next door, and he’d ask how you were going to get there. (No. No he wouldn’t. I’m exaggerating. But not by much.) Lenny was a fantastic father-in-law. I loved him a LOT. But he was a map freak, and his son carries the gene.

I drive, by myself, to all sorts of places, all the time. But if Jerry is in the car, a conversation inevitably ensues about how I’m choosing to get to our shared destination. High on our list of disagreements is that little discussion about the best way to travel south on 89. Will I take the back route to get on the interstate out near the big box stores in Williston? Will I go out of my way, north on Dorset Street, and hop on the interstate there, only to turn south at that point? Will I drive to Shelburne Road? When he asks which route I’m planning to take, I immediately choose the wrong one. It’s a gene I carry: the insecure-but-defensive freak’s snap judgement.

“Why are you going THIS way?” I should have that engraved on my tombstone.

Two things have happened on this trip, both of which have probably been good for our marriage. Jerry has recognized that he obsesses over maps and directions and possible routes. And I have recognized that this obsession, while irritating as hell, has kept us safe.

Now that we have finished with the Adventure Cycling maps which we’d purchased to make our way 3/4 of the way home, we plan some of the routes together. We pour over maps, smart phones, and the little bike Garmin. We discuss options. Mostly it’s kind of fun. If map freaskishness is a virus, then I may be in a little bit of trouble.

That said, when we get home, I’ll take whatever damned route I want to the interstate: just watch me.

Posted in Biking, Maps, Marriage, Travel | 2 Comments

Philadelphia (Or How I Broke a Perfectly Nice Puppy)

Our arrival in Philly is exciting on a couple of important levels. First, we’re looking forward to seeing our friends, Larry and Linda.


Larry was Jerry’s college roommate and has stayed a very good friend since then. We get together with Larry and his wife, Linda, at least every year, generally in August, when they offer us a standing invitation to their summer home on Long Beach Island on the Jersey shore. Apart from that, we get into Philly to see them from time to time, and they’ve visted us in Vermont. Riding in to see them feels, again, like a milestone. The fact that Philly is also Jerry’s home town makes it a huge milestone.

We decide to ride to the town of Manayunk, where there’s a bike shop called Cadence. They’re going to look over the bikes and hold onto them for the few days that we’re in town. One convenient aspect of this plan is that Manayunk is accessible from the Schuylkill River Trail: a biking and walking path that runs for miles and miles. It’s a pretty trail and such a pleasure to ride along, sans traffic. We’re on that trail for something like twenty miles that day.

Before dropping off the bikes in Manayunk, we stop in Conshohocken for lunch. We find a place called Lou’s – a classic Philadelphia sandwich shop and diner. Jerry has a cheesesteak, I have a Reuben. We both have ice cream. (The hoovering continues…)

After lunch, we bring our bikes to Cadence and Larry picks us up after leaving work. We’re so happy  to see him, but also excited to meet their new puppy, George. (Or George E., in case anyone wants to call him by the “diminutive” Georgie.) When we arrive at the house, Linda greets us all with the hugs and kisses we’ve been happily awaiting, and then takes us into the kitchen to see the puppy. George is adorable. He is little and energetic and so so happy to see us. His tail has a mind of its own:

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I sit on the floor. I play with him. I hug and snuggle and rev him up through the ceiling, practically. When he jumps up and nips my pant leg, I say, “NO!” Just as we’ve been saying “NO!” to all the dogs that have rushed us from their yards and driveways along the ride. Linda gently lets me know that their command to keep him from jumping up is “Off.” Oh. Okay. But I keep accidentally saying “NO!” (which has always been the standard command with our dogs). Everyone seems to have their own command. Our friends Bill and Eva say “Not!” to their dog, Griffin. (Griffin is our dog’s father, incidentally.) They reserve the more stringent “NO,” for the big emergencies. I’ve seen people use the dog’s name as the only negative: Hey!! Milo!! In just the right tone, this alone can deter an animal. It seems you could teach your dog anything at all, and render all intruders helpless. Because, really, who would know if you taught your dog that the command to leave someone alone was really: Lemon Pie! Lemon Pie!

By the time we go to bed that night, George is a new dog. He can not calm down. He jumps at people, he throws himself, he is wild with joy at the prospect of new games. He is naughty. It is generally agreed upon: I have broken him.

Larry and Linda actually have two pets. In addition to wild little George E., they have a newt. It resides in a small tank on their kitchen counter, where it has happily floated and watched the Korff family eat three meals a day for something like twenty two years. The newt (whose name, I must admit, I don’t know) was brought home by son Sam in second grade or so – I’m doing this off the cuff. The teacher was desperate for a family to take the class newt for the summer, and the Korffs kindly stepped up to the plate. For some reason, and I don’t recall why, when the summer ended, they still had the newt. Now Sam is a grown man: married and working in Manhattan. Here he is, with his wife, Jenna; they visited while we visited:

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So you can see: Sam is all grown up, and still the newt sits on his parents’ kitchen counter. I took a few pictures. This is the best one:

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Having tried to photograph this creature, captive and completely visible in clear water on the kitchen counter, I now believe in the Loch Ness Monster. Because seriously: these things are hard to photograph.

We have a wonderful time at Larry and Linda’s house. We do our laundry, relax, enjoy some nice R&R with L&L, good meals, all that. Eventually, it’s time to get back on the road. We hug goodbyes. Larry drives us back to Cadence Bike Shop and we make our way back to the Schuylkill Bike Trail. As we ride north, I think about George – so adorable and excited about his new life. Nice to be around a puppy again. He was napping a lot by the time we left – I think the breakage was containable.

Posted in Biking, Dogs, Friends, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Travel | Leave a comment

Clearly, Dearly, Nearly

This trip has had the unexpected and mostly welcome effect of helping me remember events and experiences that were otherwise long forgotten. I think that’s a result of all the time that my bored mind floats around in my brain, above my peddling body.

Jerry’s mind is busily cataloging all he sees: bamboo along the side of the road – pretty but invasive…new daffodils…odd cloud patterns, is the weather changing?…more bamboo…magnolia…pothole, crack… horse lying in the dirt to cool off or rest – or is it dead?” But lately my mind tends to be all: asphalt, asphalt, asphalt, asphalt, asphalt…

I’ve already said here that the time on the bike is unproductive. It’s generative – just not in a particularly valuable way. Like the other day, I’m pedaling along under a cool, cloudy sky, and I’m suddenly immersed in the  memory of a similar day in 1983, buying speakers for my Walkman when I was a student living in Madrid. They were these six-inch square silver plastic things on which I listened to bootleg cassettes of Lionel Richie and Miguel Rios and Michael Jackson’s Thriller, bought on the street in Malasaña. I was very proud of them. And all right, yes, that was my music at the time.

Here’s another example. We head out one morning, having had a conversation over breakfast about how much this trip happens “day by day.” And so, of course, I’m launched back in time. I’m ten years old, and the new Christian Rock operas are all over the airwaves, Jesus Christ Superstar being my personal favorite, but Godspell as well. Day By Day is on the radio, and on everyone’s lips, and also in church.

Some guy in his twenties is doing the folk mass, much to my father’s irritation. The guy has these big chunky sideburns, and a multi-colored striped shirt, open at the collar, and the requisite red bell bottoms, and he’s playing guitar. The congregation of St. Edward’s Church in Granville, Ohio, is of three minds. There are people like my father, who are gritting their teeth and wishing the whole mass could still be in Latin, which they understood so much better. And there are younger adults and hipper adults who are pouring themselves into the thing, even that part at the end that dies out (day by day by day by day by day…) but they sound phenomenally stupid, and so a third group of adults with a sense of humor joins kids like me in just cracking up. The best the folk mass got was when that same guy sang Feelin’ Groovy one week, but we mostly missed it because my Dad made us leave, literally pulling me by the hand, leaving Maura and Mom no choice but to follow, embarrassed, looking at the floor as they exited. Floor, floor, floor, floor, floor, floor… (This was classic Dad. He once packed us into the car and drove us all home – hundreds of miles – from my Aunt Evelyn’s and Uncle Bud’s house because Aunt Evelyn pronounced my sister’s name wrong one too many times. (“Maara,” in her Boston accent, rather than “MOra.”) Dad wouldn’t have been big on Jerry’s musings on philology. He could be very difficult, but I miss him every day.

Sorry. I digress (as that annoying guy in the Cadillac commerical says). Day By Day… On my bike in 2014, I can still hear these songs.  But now I’m sort of in my Dad’s camp. I mean, honestly… how do you mix contrition and the Virgin Mary and incense and communion wafers with Feelin’ Groovy? Even now, it just feels wrong.

If this blog seems incredibly random lately, you’re getting a nice feel for what it’s like on the bike.

Posted in Biking, Godspell, Memories, Travel | 3 Comments

Philology … from a Philadelphian … trying to get to Philadelphia

Linguists make it clear that the meaning of words changes with time. Check out the meaning of “silly” as it changes from Shakespeare’s to our present usage. Very interesting. They tell us that to try to keep our language usage constant destroys the meaning of a living language.

So one of the words that has undergone a lot of change in recent years is “Friend.” To the detriment IMHO. When I was a young man my dad would often say to me that friendship should be treasured, that if you can make a few good friends in your life then you are very lucky.

Clearly this has changed in recent years. Probably it started with Facebook. What did it mean when I overheard someone talking about their 2083 friends? Another change that confused me was when people started talking about “friends with benefits.” This was always said with a wink and a smirk and I would smile along, although I had no real idea what they were talking about. Not until this trip. When we arrived at Elden’s it began to hit me, and then when we got to Jim and Mary’s it started to sink in. Now, as we are approaching the City of Brotherly Love, I get it. When Shelagh and I get there and Larry and Linda open the door, and they ask us “would you like to use the laundry? You can use the washing machine and dryer as much as you want…” we are “friends with benefits.”

Now I finally get it.

Posted in Biking, Friends, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Philology, Travel | 2 Comments

A Post With Footnotes (1)

Some of my favorite riding has been through Amish country in Pennsylvania. When I was little, my parents took our family on a cross-country trip in a car and a camper, and I do recall seeing the Amish on that trip. Jerry’s early impressions are stronger than mine, because he grew up in Pennsylvania, and went to school at Penn State. He did a lot of driving through Pennsylvania Dutch country. (2)

He’s very surprised on our trip to see that the Amish people will wave at us, sometimes even before we wave at them. His memories are that the Amish used to turn away from him and the other “English,” (3) and they would turn their children away as well. He decides it has to do with our being on bicycles, rather than in cars. I privately decide it has to do with how he looked in college. I’ve seen his I.D. from his internship year in Burlington: Charles Manson with a stethoscope. I’d have turned my children away, too.

The first that we see of the Pennsylvania Dutch is actually in Maryland. Jerry already wrote about this in his blog titled “What? No Starbucks?” So you know that we have a bit of trouble finding a Starbucks. We are frankly disgusted with the chain by a certain point. Where is their sense of completion in coffee hegemony over the United States? For heaven’s sake… After a few false starts, Jerry sees the cafe that leads us to the Pennsylvania Dutch Marketplace, and so on. I won’t repeat the story, but I’ll share some pictures.

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I did ask permission before taking these pictures. The woman I asked said yes with an actual waving-off hand motion indicative of, “Sure, no problem.”

It is days later that I discover a real love for Amish country, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The rain has stopped, the sun is out, and we are riding through beautiful towns and farms, one after another. We see Amish in horse-drawn carriages, (4) and on farms, and driving cars. This last comes as a bit of surprise to me, but Jerry informs me (because he knows everything – kind of irritating, sometimes) that different Amish sects practice differently, just as Reform Jews used to be less stringent than conservative, but now that’s all gotten very confusing, too…

Anyway, about the Amish, one woman is actually out cleaning up her driveway with a leaf-blower (!) while her children play in the yard. They all wave. They all seem happy to see us on our bikes, working our way north.

At one point, I pass two women (of the “English” variety), out for a walk. Just beyond them, I see the most lovely scene: a wagon, pulled by very large horses, being loaded with hay by two Amish farmers. The sun is low in the sky, and everything has this honeyed glow. I stop, park my bike by the side of the road, and take a picture of the scene.


Just then, the walkers reach me.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” asks one woman.

I avoid looking pointedly at my loaded touring bike, because that might seem a little rude. “No,” I say.

“Thought so,” she says. “People who aren’t from here always take pictures of the Mennonites.”

I am tempted to tell her that a Mennonite with a leaf blower just took a picture of me on my bike! It would have been a lie, but it would have been kind of fun. Unfortunately, I was raised by a sect that said liars pay in purgatory, and so I just look at her stupidly. (5)

“Is it bad,” I finally ask the walker, “to take their picture? Do they not like it?”

“Oh,” she says uncertainly. “No. Well, I don’t know. I don’t think they’d like to be recognizable in the photograph.”

I thank her for letting me know (what she thinks but clearly doesn’t really know for sure, despite being bossy and “from around here”).

Later, when I look at the photo, I decide the farmers’ identities are entirely safe with me. (6)  

(1) To keep the story from being broken up by all these interruptions that kept popping up for some reason in this post.

(2) Because I’m using some terms interchangably, and no doubt incorrectly, here’s an explanatory excerpt from the Wikipedia entry: The Amish (/ˈɑːmɪʃ/ ah-mish; Pennsylvania Dutch: Amisch, German: Amische) are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships, closely related to but distinct from Mennonite churches, with whom they share Swiss Anabaptist origins. The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, and reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology. The history of the Amish church began with a schism in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann. Those who followed Ammann became known as Amish.

(3) The Amish refer to non-Amish as English. Think Harry Potter and Muggles. Jerry finds the idea of his being referred to as English very funny, since most actual English wouldn’t have counted many Shapiros among their country-club sets in the ’70s. (7)

(4) These carriages, Jerry points out to me, are pulled on iron wheels with no rubber tires. Must make for a bumpy ride! I say. Beyond this, Jerry points out, the no-rubber wheels must make work that much harder for the animals. He wonders aloud if these people, in their quest to please their God through clean living and hard work, make a place in their heaven for the animals that work for them. Are they among the people who believe dogs, cats and horses have souls? Do they feel that pulling wheels without rubber improves the soul of the horse, assuring his or her own place in heaven? I don’t know, I snap, and stop interrupting my blog post. Write your own!

(5) Stupidly: the same way Jerry and I will look at our hotel check-in clerk a week later, as we arrive at a Courtyard Marriott, when she asks where we started out that morning. Between the two of us, we’ll have not even half a clue of where that day’s ride began.

(6) Since the picture came out really poorly and you can’t even make out that they’re there… (8)

(7) Here, I will insert a footnote within a footnote, to blow your mind entirely. This footnote is a lesson in apostrophes. Jerry wanted me to add an apostrophe to the plural name “Shapiros,” above. No, no, no! One should never use an apostrophe to make a last name plural. If your name is Shapiro, the plural is Shapiros. If your name is Connor, the name is Connors. “The Shapiros weren’t invited to join the country club.” “The Connors forgot to RSVP.” Also, just because I’m thinking of it, when abbreviating a decade, use the apostrophe as a stand-in for the first two digits of the decade, and not between the last number and the “s”: the ’70s, not the 70’s. See? I, too, can be an irritating know-it-all.

(8) But later in the day, I got this guy, and I really love how he came out:


Posted in Amish, Biking, Pennsylvania, Travel | 2 Comments