Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Westward Ho - 2

South of Morgantown, Wednesday, we picked up US 50.  Going west from Clarksburg to Parkersburg, WV, we saw some of the best fall foliage of the trip.  Clear blue sky, sun behind us, the colors were really bright.  Another song sprang to mind:

The hills are alive 
with the hues of dead leaves, ...

This stretch of US 50 is a four-lane divided highway, designated as being part of the Robert A. Byrd Appalachian Highway System, or some such.  Only problem, Senator Byrd, the late King of Pork, didn't fund any scenic overlooks; we didn't want to stop on the shoulder to take a picture.  The one rest area was not very scenic.  So, here is a WV picture from the internet that faithfully captures what we saw that glorious morning.  You had to be there.

We continued on US 50 across southern Ohio.  The road started off four-laned but soon turned into two-lanes, often narrow with no shoulders and zig-zags through towns along the way.  Miss GPS didn't like it, but I managed to catch every twist and turn on my own to stick to 50 and avoid every bypass or shortcut she implored me to take. Actually, I turned  her voice off, but I watched the map and could see the frantic arrows she kept throwing up to take me around a block, or down a country lane, to get back to Her Route, which was aimed at a campground on the west side of Cincinnati..

Now the right way to enjoy America's Main Street, of course, would be to stop in the charming towns along the way, visit museums and libraries, photograph the courthouses, sample the cuisine, stroll the parks, chat with the natives, ... .  We would have done some of that if there had been any campgrounds along the way to spend the night.  But, in Ohio there weren't, at least for rigs like ours (and we're not too keen on Wal-Mart parking lots).  We're not in a big rush to get home (fortunately, because as this is written, we're in our sixth day in Marion, IL, waiting for Tuzi to be fixed), but we did need to get to a campground and our first good opportunity was a campground just west of Cincinnati. In fact, it's right on the IN/OH state line.  We had stayed here a couple of years ago when we accompanied grandson Andrew to a soccer tournament. So, we kept going until we got there.  We did enjoy seeing the towns and countryside along the way, though.  Just what you expect the Midwest to be.  Better than the freeway view.

Next day, we continued west on US50 across Indiana.  During the day I somewhat alertly sensed that Tuzi wasn't shifting gears with its usual sveltness.  Near the Illinois border we stopped and I checked the transmission fluid.  It was low, I added a couple of quarts and that seemed to smooth things out.  Subsequent fluid check was OK.  We continued on to a KOA in Benton, IL, on I-57 about 30 miles south of US50 (because still no campgrounds on US50).   

Next morning, I started the engine and a dashboard indicator lit up: NO WATER! (emphasis added).  I checked the coolant tank.  It was full of orange slime that looked like French dressing.  Hmm.  Looked to me like a mix of transmission fluid, antifreeze, and water.   (I should have noticed this the previous day when I was adding tranny fluid, but didn't.)  The KOA manager recommended a truck repair shop in Marion, about 20 miles south on I-57.  I called them.  They concurred in the diagnosis and said I, er, Tuzi, would need to be towed in.  They could get a tow truck to us about 1:00 pm.  A bit later, though, it occurred to me that I should use my AAA insurance to arrange a tow, so I changed the plan and arranged for that.  The driver arrived in early afternoon.  He very carefully hooked Tuzi up and away we went.  (We followed in the PT.)

 Please also note the fall foliage.

By the the time we got to Vernell's, in Marion, it was late afternoon, too late to get in to a repair bay and start the diagnosis and  repair process.  So, we loaded some clothes and necessities into the PT Cruiser, checked into a nearby Hampton Inn (home of waffle-makers; incidentally, just what Susie had given me for my recent birthday), and settled in for the weekend.  Too late we realized that we could have stayed in the KOA for the weekend and scheduled the tow for Monday.  I think, though, that that would have delayed the diagnosis until Tuesday and used a valuable day.

Saturday, though, we drove back to Benton, in search of a fall festival.  What we found was a FallFest lunch at the First Christian Church - sloppy joes or chicken and dumplings.  Apple pie and million-dollar pie for dessert.  (We were looking for a car show, music, etc., but that fallfest turned out to be in another town.)  Had a nice visit with a church couple - she recently retired from teaching math for teachers at Southern Illinois University, located in Carbondale, about 15 miles west of Marion, and he a retired carpenter/builder.

Sunday we went to the local Methodist Church.  Big building, small, aging congregation, as is often the case.  We visited with a friendly couple; he was born near Roy, NM and still has family there.  He and his immediate family left there when he was pre-school age.

Preacher preached on Evil and Satan, a topic not often preached these days.  No matter how you characterize it, there is evil in the world and in our lives and we have to resist it, was the theme.  Was timely topic for me because I had just finished our book club's October selection, No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy.  You may have read it or have seen the movie.  I haven't seen the movie, but plan to.  Anyhow, McCarthy, in the three or four books of his that I have read, deals very much with Good and Evil, epitomized by some really abhorrent, evil characters.  I think he's trying to tell us that there's more evil out there than we think or may want to think.

Which reminds me: one evening early in the week we were driving to Kroger's.  At a stoplight, the PT died.  I tried to restart.  Nothing.  We were in left turn lane.  I jumped out to tell the driver behind me our car had died.  Got back in, cranked again.  Nothing.  Oh, no, I'm telling myself.  What else can go wrong?  Susie said, pump it and try again.  Don't let up.  Miracle!  It started.  No troubles since then.  It's really been a faithful companion.

Monday they diagnosed Tuzi's problem.  There's a box where a transmission fluid line is routed through a chamber in the engine coolant's system in order to cool the transmission fluid.  Leak was in there, leading to the aforementioned mingling of vital fluids.  The mechanic said something about baffles that baffled me.  The box is no longer made by Freightliner, so Vernell's had to find an after-market product.  Some modifications were required to make it work.  The part was found and shipped and arrived in Marion on Wednesday.  Thursday and part of Friday were consumed in installing the part, draining and flushing all the lines etc., and refilling fluids.  We have the impression that they're juggling our job with others -- commercial semis -- but that's understandable. 

Back to the Marion scene.  We've got all the restaurant chains nearby: Applebee's, Steak 'n Shake, Bob Evans, others, and we're only a mile from Cracker Barrel, so that's handy.  Plus, the Hampton Inn puts out a substantial breakfast, and I've added the substance to prove it. I have added morning walks to the agenda, though. We're near Marion's mall, flanked by Wal-Mart and Target, and a movie house; one evening we saw Argo and thought it was a very good show. Marion is two towns.  Old Marion, on the east side of I-57
has old downtown, the clock tower square, etc. - a pretty quiet place.  New Marion, west of I-57 has the motel and restaurant chains, mall, and big box stores, minor league baseball park, and new residential areas. 

We've made a few drives around the area -- lots of lakes -- checked out a few antique stores.  Drove to Carbondale and around the SIU campus.  When Susie and Manny were in the Job Corps at a training center in nearby Kentucky, SIU was also involved.  Susie had a chance to enter an SIU PhD program,  took three classes and then she and Manny left Kentucky to do further work with the War on Poverty Programs which included 18 moves in 10 years.  She had to settle on taking courses along the way to add 45 hours beyond her MA which helped boost her salary over the years.   

I'm updating my notes for a class that starts at Sandia Nov. 5, so some forced down time has helped in that work.

(As noted above, to really get the Midwest feel you need to immerse yourself in the life of a typical small town.  Well, we did that in Marion.  Not that big a deal.)

Incidentally, one area lake is Lake of Egypt and we drove around some of that and saw a Queen Tut's hair salon near there.  After all, we are just up the Nile River from Cairo.

A representative lake picture:

This coal-fired power plant is on Lake of Egypt.  They've got signs up noting that they're the biggest employer and taxpayer in the county and that they're doing a good job of cleaning the mercury out of the process discharge.

Saw a sign on one of our drives saying, President Obama, Please don't close our coal plant; we need  the jobs. 

I thought this would be a good area for barns, but didn't come across any outstanding ones, or even mildly photogenic.  There aren't many barns and those that I've seen have been deteriorated, like this noble old fellow.

So, to brighten my day, I found a couple of internet shots of Illinois barns.

And, back by popular demand, I'll insert a recent picture of the grandtwins, Julian and Landon.

A day at the park.

Bummer.  Thursday noon.  Shop says we won't be ready to go until tomorrow.  Replacement part is in.  They have to flush and fill transmission and coolant.  Maybe more than once.  May get it done late this afternoon.  Susie said, I've got cabin fever.  Take me to the mall.  You can work on your class notes.  So I'd better get started now instead of blogging.

Update. Tuzi ready Friday around noon.  ONE WEEK AFTER WE GOT HERE!  Should get home Monday.  We're more than ready. 

We'll be in touch.

Rob and Susie.  

Update.  We left Marion about 3:00pm and did indeed get home on Monday - late morning.  Our campgrounds were in Poplar Bluff, MO; Claremore, OK; and Amarillo, TX.  I got up Monday at around 530; Susie was up already, so we decided to hit the road before sunrise. 

Trip Statistics: Five weeks, 4900 miles on Tuzi.  Family, Friends, Foliage - priceless. 

Once again, Thanks to all those who sent me birthday greetings and memories.  There were several more waiting for me when we got home.  I'm going to read them all again. Rob

Monday, October 22, 2012

One Stop, Four States

We left Watkins Glen on Thursday, planning, initially, to drive east to the Cooperstown area for the night.  I've been to the Baseball Hall of Fame a couple of times, so the main objective was to sightsee the woods and lakes in that area.  However, the RV parks we called in the area had already closed for the season, so we proceeded on to the eastern edge of NY, close to Mass.  It seems rather amazing to us - that campgrounds would close right in the middle of fall foliage season.  But I guess there aren't enough customers to make it worthwhile to stay open. 

The route we took included state highway 23 that angles SE through the SE corner of the state, through rolling hills, then the Catskill mountains.  Very scenic country.  Well into that drive we saw signs saying Road Closed, Bridge Out ahead.  But, there were no signs announcing a Detour, so we kept going, hoping we weren't heading into a dead end requiring a disconnect and back up, turn around effort.  Shirley (sic) they would direct us to another route if the road was truly blocked, I "reasoned.". They wouldn't just leave us lined up for days waiting for the road to be fixed.

We reached the blockaded road.  Didn't look good.  A construction guy came out to talk to us.  Said there was about a seven-mile detour - up a steep valley to where we could cross the creek, then down the other side.  Eighteen-wheelers have been doing it, he said.  You'll be all right.  Then he asked about Tuzigoot, its size and age and how long we'd had it, and asked if we were enjoying retirement.   By that time a couple of other cars had arrived, so, after a pleasant visit we trundled up, over, and down the detour, tho the road was narrow and twisting.  Fortunately, we didn't meet any of those semis coming the other way.

Found our way with some difficulty to a  KOA near Copake, NY, close to the MASS state line, not too far from VT and CT.  (Sometimes when you enter a rural address into our GPS, the GPS lady cannot relate to it, so you have to do some map-reading as you drive.  There is a maze of state, county, and local roads in this area and many ways to get from one point to another.)   We picked  this location because it was located where we could take day trips to see sights in this four-state area.  Which we did.

Friday we did a CONN-MASS-NY loop.  Susie lacked only Connecticutt to complete her bucket list of visiting all 50 states, so now she's done it.  Here's the proof.

As you can see, it was a cold, damp morning.

Several years ago when we took a side trip with grandson Andrew to touch a foot down in Montana we established the rule: you get credit only if you buy something in the state - contribute to the local economy.  Here, we stopped at a bakery/coffee shop in the lovely village of Salisbury, CT, for coffee, hot chocolate, and cranberry scones.   

Most of the houses and businesses along main street had Halloween mannequins on display - more than we'd seen elsewhere.  We asked and found out that the town had had its fall festival the previous weekend and this sort of decorating is the tradition.  Here's a spooky young woman, smiling as she prepares to throw a skull across the street.

Driving north into Mass, we went through a lot of elegant horse country - barns and paddocks.  Also, more attractive villages and crossroads.with houses like this.

Love those wrap-around porches.

Worked our way to Hudson, NY, where we found a Walgreen's where Susie could fill a prescription.   Previously, we'd been told that in NY you couldn't fill a facsimile prescription.

We had a county map that showed various businesses, villages, and sites of interest and from that picked Jackson's,  a historic roadhouse in Old Chatham, for lunch.

You can see that the weather cleared up nicely.

Here's an interior shot.

 And an adjacent tree.

Had a very enjoyable lunch.

Next, went looking for Stuyvesant Falls, found the falls, but no viewpoint to see the falls, other than from above, here looking at the precipice over which the falls fall..

This website has some pictures that don't look anything like where we were, so I think we were in the wrong place.  I did ask a friendly, local resident for directions to the Falls, so I must have gotten it wrong.

For our history lesson of the day we visited the home of Martin Van Buren, eighth president of the U.S.  

VB was Andrew Jackson's VP and succeeded him as President.  He lost his race for a second term and retired to this home near his home village of Kinderhook, NY.  One interesting fact: he was the first President born as an American.  The seven predecessors were born as British subjects.  There are many interesting facts about him, but I'll leave that as an assignment for the reader.  We had a very knowledgeable guide who told us a lot about the man and his time.

Throughout the day we mostly just soaked in the ambiance as we drove, didn't break the mood by stopping to take  pictures.  A very nice outing.

Next day, the objective was VT.  We drove about an hour and a half to reach Bennington, in the SW corner, then sort of randomly drove the highways and byways in southern VT.  Found an interesting roadside cafe for a late breakfast.  It had two horseshoe-shaped counters, no tables for two or four.  Each horseshoe sat 14 and was attended by one waitress.  The place was packed and the breakfast was good.  I had homemade corned-beef hash with my eggs.  Susie had pancakes with Vermont maple syrup.

We were too late for much in the way of Vermont fall foliage - weather had shortened the season - but we enjoyed the roads, streams, houses, and villages.  Here's an example of VT fall non-foliage.

I had read one VT foliage website that said now was the peak color time in some areas, but not where we were.  Also, we noticed that the motels and inns along the way did not have many cars around them, and this is on a Saturday.  The word was out.

The one busy place we visited was Woodstock.  Granddaughter Kaci had been there recently and raved about what a perfect village it was.  I had bicycled through there some 30 years ago and remembered it as crowded and pricey.  The residential areas, though, are very elegant.  For some lovely pictures of Woodstock and the surrounding classical Vermont countryside, go here.

We wandered around downtown for a while, had some ice cream, and then headed back to Copake.  Drove the last hour or so in the dark, winding down the west side of Massachusetts.  This was a route Miss GPS didn't want me to take, but I turned her volume off and kept one eye on the map and avoided all the short cuts that she offered.

Long, fun day.  Tomorrow we head West.

Rob and Susie

Westward Ho - 1

We left Copake on Sunday, 10/14.  Worked our way down the east side of NY until we reached I-84 and took that west into Pennsylvania.  (some of the roughest pavement we've encountered), then took I-81 angling southwest.

About 40 miles before I-84 intersected I-81, in a rural area, I noticed "mileage"  markers every tenth of a mile (just stayin' alert).  I can understand the utility of one-tenth-mileage markers in congested areas.  If there's a breakdown or accident, emergency vehicles can be given a more precise location than the nearest mile, if anybody involved happen to remember it.  But, what bureaucratic genius, or Congressperson, decided these signs would be a good expenditure of taxpayer money out in rural Pennsylvania?  How much did it cost?  Estimates invited.  Is the traveling public safer and significantly better informed by never being more than 88 yards from a tenth-mileage marker?  Does it help to be able to let a contract for repair between mile markers 40.3 and 67.7?  Or assign a trash-pickup crew with great precision?  It's an outrage!  "Lighten up, Rob," says Susie!

Then I noticed that at 60 mph the time between tenth-mile markers was just right for one verse of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, ... .  So, that's one way to make the time go by.  Every 10 miles you can sing all 100 verses.  Then, I thought up new words: Starting at milepost 40.

400 mile markers on the road, 400 markers to go.  Pass one by and then you've got, 399 mile markers to go.  Etcetera, etcetera, ... .

I hope I've transferred that ditty from my subconscious to yours. Susie says, "If Rob would engage in a conversation, he wouldn't have to entertain himself with such trivia.   Rob replies: I have nothing to say.

From our KOA guide we chose a KOA in Jonestown for a stopping place.  (If it wasn't for KOAs and Cracker Barrels, we'd be lost out here.)  The guide said take Exit 90 and follow the signs.  The campground address was listed as Old Route 22 but Miss GPS didn't recognize that street, so I couldn't program it in.  But, it shouldn't be that hard, should it?  KOA generally does a great job of signage.

Well, we saw one sign at the exit, but not more.  After a while it became apparent we were going the wrong direction, by several miles. Susie:and THIS time it was not my fault!  Rob: Never entered my mind.  Stopped at a convenience store; the clerk had no idea about a KOA or where Old 22 was.  I called the park, got directions, was fortunately able to turn around in a truck storage lot behind the convenience store, and worked our way back to the Old 22 intersection we had missed (because there was no sign; actually it had another name at that point, like Main Street).  Drove until Old 22 intersected with Current 22, but didn't see the KOA.  Susie said, I saw a Jonestown Campground.  Maybe that was it. (Rob: Now she tells me.)    Executed another u-turn and went slowly back down Old 22.  Found the campground entrance, but no KOA sign.  Decided this must be it and it was - sort of.  The campground had been sold or transferred to new management.  The paperwork wasn't complete, however, and they had been required to cover all KOA signs - and I guess all the signs we were supposed to follow had been covered or removed, too.  We sort of commiserated over all that with the new management and we signed up for a night's stay.  Friendly new folks in charge; we wanted to help them.

We were assigned a space and drove to it.  Unfortunately, it was a tent space (looked bigger on the campground map), not an RV pull-thru site.  The new management was not yet familiar with their park.  One of the workers scouted the campground and came back to tell us there were a couple of back-in spots we could try.  But it had been a long day and didn't think I wanted the challenge of a back-in site in a heavily wooded, somewhat cramped park.  So, we said we'd go on and find another campground. 

It was hard getting out of the park.  Susie had to get out and guide me between the trees and rocks.  En route I saw one vacant slot they probably had in mind for us and was glad we didn't try.

We had just passed another KOA about 10 miles prior to the Jonestown exit, so we worked our way back to it.  This was more than a campground; it was a resort with campground attached.  There was a small Ferris wheel, an enclosed carousel, a frisbee golf course, and other family fun things.  Main thing was they had a space available and it was easy to get into.

Monday dawned rainy and we did laundry and I worked some on my notes for the upcoming class I'm teaching at Sandia starting in November.  We decided to spend a second night. When I called the office, the receptionist said, We may have a problem.  That area is scheduled for repaving tomorrow.  You may need to move to another site.  I said, If we're away by 8am, would that be soon enough?   They said OK.  A few miles down the road the next morning we met paving equipment heading toward the park.

Our Tuesday objective was Cumberland, MD, where we would visit friend, Brian Wall.  Brian used to manage a shopping mall in Albq, now he manages one in Cumberland.  His wife, Josefa, is still in Albq trying to sell their house there and simultaneously find a job in Cumberland.  Cumberland is a historic town in a beautiful area, and fall foliage was in prime condition, so we had thought we might spend two nights there and tour the area.  Unfortunately, there are no RV parks in or near Cumberland.  Not enough flat land, I think.

Here are some fall pictures of Cumberland from the internet

We met Brian at the mall.  He gave us a driving tour of nearby Frostburg, where he is living, and downtown Cumberland, where we went for lunch.

Cumberland is known for its church spires - a nice collection.  Here is a church that has three stained-glass windows personally crafted by Louis Comfort Tiffany himself.

Here's Brian (bad sun angle, my bad, but I wanted Mall entrance in background) and a shot of the hillside across from the mall's parking lot.

This was Tuesday and we really wanted to have TV that night for Dancing With Stars and the Romney-Obama debate.  We drove toward Morgantown, WV.  (Nice foliage along the way, by the way.)  Only one RV park was listed near there.  They didn't have cable service, but said you could get local channels via an antenna.  So, we drove up a few miles up a narrow mountain road to this campground.  In the parking lot w checked TV reception.  Couldn't get a thing (realized a day later that I hadn't worked the digital converter correctly - one more senior moment, you might say).  So, we switched to plan B - a motel.

This picture, copied from a WV internet site, is sort of like the road in to the campground.

Before this side trip, at the WV Welcome Center, already thinking motel, I had picked up some flyers.  We picked an Econolodge that advertized truck and bus parking and found our way there.  That worked just fine.  In addition to TV, Susie particularly appreciated the luxury of a bathtub.

By this time I had formed a strategy for our homeward trip: follow US 50.  Years ago, it might have been 1976, there was a Time magazine special issue focused on "America's Main Street: US 50."  For some reason I remember that.  A few years ago I went so far as to get a AAA Route 50 guide, just in case, but I didn't bring that with us.  (Some of you may remember a Route 60 trek in Tuzigoot I several years ago.  So many highways, so little time.)  A short drive south of Morgantown we picked up US 50 at Clarksburg and headed west.  We'll pick up the tale tomorrow.

Rob and Susie

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Watkins Glen

After an arduous 150 mile drive from Bellefonte, PA, on Monday, just before the Sandusky sentencing on Tuesday, we arrived at Watkins Glen, NY.  Actually, at a KOA about five miles south of WG.  In the past I've griped a bit about the rules some RV parks have, and stress, but this park had a new one on us: they asked us to wear wrist bands, you know, the kinds that can be removed only by scissors, so that if they saw us roaming around the park they would know we were legal!  I was deeply offended.  I don't mind wearing a wristband at a weekend bluegrass festival as proof that I bought a weekend ticket and to let me go in and out, but this seemed an unwarranted invasion of privacy, or some such constitutional abomination.  The park also had incredibly thin, flimsy toilet paper, but that's another topic.  I'm looking forward to getting the email asking us to rate our stay.

Monday afternoon we looked around the village, found an ice cream place, and took a short drive along Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes in this region.  Came across Hector Falls.

This part of NY is full of vineyards and wineries. 

Next morning I went to Watkins Glen State Park to hike the WG Gorge. The trail through the gorge is about 1.5 miles in length and is actually a well-constructed (WPA-era) walkway with lots of stairs and tunnels.  Lots of waterfalls along the way.  .

I returned via a trail along the top of the gorge and happened upon this cemetery.

Later in the morning we took a drive to explore the Finger Lakes west of Watkins Glen.  Somewhere in the tourist material we had picked up I read that Hammondsport, which is on Lake Keuka, had been declared the Coolest Small Town in America winner for 2012.  That's an online contest sponsored by Budget Travel magazine.  Supporters of Hammondsport and Beaufort, NC had crashed the servers with so many votes that they were declared co-winners.  Watkins Glen has a banner up in down town imploring its fans to start voting now for next year's contest.  Here are some scenes of Hammondsport and the area.


Picked up some corn on the cob, tomatoes, and other veggies on the return drive.

Next day we explored east, primarily Ithaca and Cayuga Lake.  Found a covered bridge (the oldest in NY in continuous use) and a large, old barn (the date says 1883) along the way.

Susie spotted this barn and insisted I get a picture.  The many orifices got her attention -- reminiscent of the old Laugh-In wall, but no Goldie Hawn popped out.

Sandia colleague Floyd Spencer is a graduate of Cornell U so I had emailed him asking for a lunch recommendation.  He suggested the Moosewood Restaurant, a vegetarian establishment with, by my tastes, a fairly exotic menu (no barbecue or fish and chips).  I had sesame noodles: "linguine served with a spicy toasted sesame sauce, gingered carrots and broccoli and Ithaca Soy tofu kan."  Very good.  Later in the day, though, I had this craving for meat so when we stopped at a farmer's market I got a well-filled gyro sandwich.

On the way home, driving up the west shore of Cayuga Lake, we stopped to see Taughannock Falls.  It has a 'single-drop' height of 215 ft. making it 33 ft. higher than Niagara Falls.  Not quite the volume, though, particularly this time of year.

I walked in about 3/4 mile to see the falls.  As we were leaving we saw a sign for a road to a falls overlook, so we got this shot from above the falls.

Next day we drove across to the east side of the state to a KOA in Copake, NY.  From there we'll do some exploring in NY, CT, MA, and VT.  See you there.

Rob and Susie

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

We Are Penn State

Friday morning we drove in from our campground to State College, about 15 miles away, and found our way to Jay and Joyce's house in Boalsburg.  They're in a new 55 and over subdivision, with a view of hallowed Mount Nittany, where Nittany lions once roamed.

(This is an internet photo, not the view from their house, but it's close.)  J&J split their time between here, especially in football season, and their fifth wheel RV either on their farm west of Pittsburgh, or on the road with Habitat or for other travel.

The Friday focus was on meals in favorite student haunts, the Corner Room for lunch (Jay joined us there) and the Tavern Restaurant for dinner.  There we were joined by two of Joyce's college roommates and their husbands - a get-together that is a homecoming tradition.  The Tavern is on Campus Ave., which fronts the PSU campus.  While we were eating, the Homecoming parade was going by outside the window by our table, though we couldn't see much because the sidewalk was full of people.  Joyce and Jay's daughter-in-law and year-old granddaughter were in the parade.  Laurel, the d-in-law, was driving Jay's truck representing her graduating class, and granddaughter, Leah, was riding and waving in a stroller.

Mentioning grandchildren, here's a recent picture of the grandtwins, Landon and Julian, in either order.

I should note that one feature of the Tavern is that you can order unlimited side dishes from a list of 10 or so imaginative offerings.  You can also order seconds on sides.   So, I ordered an all side dish meal, knowing I'd probably get to share some of Susie's chicken dish.  And I did.

I asked Jay about PSU history - why was this locale selected for the state's land-grant college?  Out in the middle of nowhere was my none too subtle implication.  Because of location - it is at the geographic center of the state.  It resides in Centre County.  Makes a lot of sense since agriculture was the focus of land-grant colleges and State College is definitely in an agricultural area. Enrollment at this campus is about 44,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
Of course Penn State has been in the news for the last year because of the Jerry Sandusky case and its ramifications, including Joe Paterno's firing and the very tough NCAA sanctions on the university football program.  It's a subject that is difficult and unpleasant to discuss, and will be in the headlines again this week with Sandusky's sentencing, but there does seem to be a coming together and community resolve at work.  The slogan that is widely seen is OneTeam, meaning that there are not basketball and football teams, or men's and women's teams; there is one team.  Also, townspeople, faculty, students -- all OneTeam.  As one important part of the effort, here's been an amazing amount of money raised to combat child sexual abuse.  We saw one student wearing a t-shirt with the large letters, F T K.  For the Kids, we were told.  That was a relief.

So, Homecoming was more than just alumni parties this year.  The somewhat-depleted football team lost its first two games, then won three in a row.  The opponent was Northwestern, usually a doormat, but this year 5 and 0 and ranked.  Saturday morning it was raining, and cold.  We stopped on the way to town (for breakfast at J&J's) and bought ponchos.  Forecast, though, said the rain would stop by noon (game time) and it did, by mid-morning.  The subdivision runs a bus to the games, free of charge, no doubt one reason J&J bought a house in this particular location.  That got us to the campus about 10 am, where we were warmly greeted.  (Note that Susie had bought us Penn State t-shirts, so we would fit in.  I did have, however, a Michigan sweatshirt under mine, for warmth.)

 The band (The Penn State Blue Band) rushed by, bound for the basketball arena where we headed.

This is a tradition.  Fans gather in the basketball arena and are entertained and fired up by the band, the Nittany Lion mascot, and the cheerleaders.  And, the concession stands are open, so you can get lunch.  This happens every game, not just homecoming.  For homecoming, alumni band members and alumni cheerleaders also perform.  The emcee announced some statistics.  The oldest alumni band member in this years alumni band graduated in the 50s.  The alum who had traveled the furthest, for at least the second year in a row, came from Osaka, Japan.

Here's the Blue Band.

Penn Staters are a loyal bunch.  We know, because daughter-in-law Karen and her parents and brother are all Penn Staters.  There was a life-size Joe Paterno cutout at Mike and Karen's wedding reception.  I don't recall that I've ever attended an Oklahoma State Homecoming, but I think I'm pretty loyal to my old alma mater..

Now, the game.  Made me proud to have a Penn State t-shirt on.  PSU took a 10-0 lead the first quarter.  Then NW scored two touchdowns, one following a muffed punt fair catch by PSU, the other on a punt return.  At the end of the third quarter NW led 28-17.  A sense of doom descended on the stadium.

Throughout the game we'd been entertained/irritated by three guys behind us who kept trying to top each other and impress everyone within hearing distance, I guess, with their inside football knowledge. Joyce said they were HS coaches or former coaches.  For example, after the muffed punt, one said, That's a game-changer.  Another immediately countered.  How can you say that?  It might not be.  This profound argument was repeated for far too long.  Also, they were constantly disparaging the PSU coach's strategy or lack of same.  One kept calling for a quarterback draw play, but it never happened.  What's wrong with this coach?

Halftime.  Here's the alumni band, dressed in white.

 And an action scene.

The stadium wasn't full (paper said about 90% so far this year), like in the old days, so not everyone is in the OneTeam mode.

In the fourth quarter PSU started coming back.  They scored a touchdown to make it 28-23.  Coach O'Brien called for a two-point try.  The geniuses behind us said, That's a Huge Mistake (they talked in capital letters).  The guy next to me and I agreed quietly that it was the right thing to do.  If the NW lead was cut to three, they, NW, would probably play more cautiously than if they led by four and that could help us (neither of us were PSU grads, but at this time we were part of the We Are Penn State throng.  We believed.)

Penn State held a cautious NW, then drove for a touchdown to take the lead, 32-28.  The crowd was going crazy.  I hollered Gamechanger, Gamechanger, but I don't think the brain trust behind us heard me.  We held again and scored again at the end of the game to win 39-28.  Pandemonium.

More tradition.  After a game (or only a win? I don't know) players and fans sing the alma mater.  We had sung it in the basketball arena and in the stadium before the game, too.  Here are the words. It's got a great melody.

For the glory of old State,
For her founders strong and great,
For the future that we wait,
Raise the song, raise the song.

Sing our love and loyalty,
Sing our hopes that bright and free
Rest, O mother dear, with thee,
All with thee, all with thee.

When we stood at childhood's gate,
Shapeless in the hands of fate,
Thou didst mold us, dear old State,
Dear old State, dear old State.

May no act of ours bring shame,
To one heart that loves thy name.
May our lives but swell thy fame,
Dear old State, dear old State.


At that fourth verse, you can hear the lump in the throat and see the tear in the eye.  But, through it all they still shout, We Are Penn State!

I realize it was just a game, but it still had a special feel and possible significance. It was exciting to be part of it.  Susie got this picture of three happy fans.

Sunday, Jay left early to return to Henryville and Joyce, Susie, and I attended services at the downtown Methodist Church, primarily because Joyce's 92-year old Aunt Gingie (she's Susie's "aunt-in-law") attends there.  Later that afternoon, Aunt G's daughter, Marggie (?), brought her mother out for dinner.  Lots of catching up on family things.  Here's a picture of the girls.

Aunt G's late husband was the head of the PSU Math Department.  She still lives alone, with major assistance from Marggie.

Monday, we left in late morning for Watkins Glen, NY, only about a three-hour drive north.  We'll stay there three nights, then work our way east.  Stay tuned.

Rob and Susie

Monday, October 08, 2012


We got to Nashville on Thursday and on Friday and Saturday I immersed myself in nearly 24 hours of bluegrass.  The IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Assoc.) Fanfest is held in the Nashville Convention Center with shows going on three stages and jam sessions everywhere.

I should say, "has been held," because I learned that the IBMA big show will be in Raleigh the next three years.  We've already warned Mike and Karen that we may be dropping on them next September.

The Convention Center is right across the street from the historic Ryman auditorium, the 'mother church' of country music and the site where Bill Monroe introduced bluegrass music to the world.

One of my favorite bluegrass groups is Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, who performed in Nashville.  In fact, Doyle Lawson was a headliner - he was inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame this year.  This group does a lot of gospel music, which I like.  I first heard them about 30 years ago at a festival in upstate NY  Of course, the band members have changed over the years.  Here's one of my favorite numbers.  Much more on youtube for your listening enjoyment.

The IBMA works hard at encouraging and showcasing young performers - keeping the traditions alive.  One young phenom who performed  this year is 10-year old banjo-whiz Johnny Mizzone, from New Jersey Appalachia.  This video from two years ago went viral on youtube with over 2.6 million hits so far.  First time I ever saw a bluegrass video recorded in a bedroom.

One former phenom, now an adult with his own band, is the outstanding fiddler, a frequent winner of the IBMA's best fiddler award, Michael Cleveland.  He's blind, which makes his skill even more remarkable.  His group played a set at FanFest.  Check out this youtube video, Sally Goodin

One group that caught my attention was a string band from Dublin, Ireland, called I Draw Slow.  (I don't know what the name means.)  The two folks in hats are brother and sister.

They write and perform music that sounds like it came from Appalachia, which makes sense because a lot of Appalachian music originated in England and Ireland.  Here's a sample.

During one break in the action I took a walk across a pedestrian/bicycle bridge across the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville.  Here are a couple of views.  That's the stadium where the Tennessee Titans play.

We desert rats are always impressed by big rivers, which are no big deal back here east of the Mississippi.

Mandi and Paul, who used to live in Nashville, twice, and who now live in NYC, joined us for the weekend. 

Susie and Mandi got in some serious shopping while I was bluegrassing and Paul got together with a good friend here with whom he has worked in producing his (Paul's) music and videos. Paul and Mandi also checked out their old stomping grounds.  We managed to include several Cracker Barrel meals - not yet available in New York City.  Wednesday for chicken pot pie and Sunday for fried chicken are two favorites.  For RVers Cracker Barrel can usually be relied on for ample RV parking and access.

For variety, we went to Waffle House for one breakfast.

On Monday I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Main draw, since I've seen the permanent exhibits before, was a temporary exhibit on Patsy Cline.  It was interesting and sad, because of her tragically cut-short life, but it mostly consisted of comments by Brenda Lee and a couple of other people who knew her well, plus several recordings of her songs, played while showing a video of Patsy singing other songs.  A little strange.

Here's a link to I Fall to Pieces, her song that got me interested in country music.  Up til then, it had just been something my Dad liked, so how could I?

Here is her Hall of Fame plaque.

And, of course:

The Hall of Fame has some nice exhibits and opportunities to listen to old and classic country music, so I had a couple of fine hours of entertainment. 

We left Tuesday morning, heading for State College for a Penn State U Homecoming weekend with Joyce and Jay Rush (Joyce is Susie's sister-in-law in the Hinkle family).  They're both PSU alums and bought a home in nearby Boalsburg about a year ago.  They still travel with their RV to Habitat for Humanity projects, about which we've written and where we've crossed paths with them on previous travels.  Jay is in the middle of a Habitat project in Henryville, IN, site of a major tornado last spring, but he drove to Penn State for homecoming weekend.  Several years ago, in Tuzigoot I, we journeyed together in our RVs from their farm west of Pittsburgh to State College for a football weekend.

We kept up the country music theme by stopping Tuesday night in Renfro Valley, KY.  They have theatres there that have country music shows year-round, but not on Tuesdays, unfortunately.  We did get a sample of Kentucky country music by touring the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  Here's a portrait of Bill Monroe.

Some others on the Kentucky Honor Roll: Loretta Lynn, Rosemary Clooney, The Everly Brothers, Tom T. Hall, Grandpa Jones.

The next day we let the GPS guide us along backroads through KY and into Ohio and a KOA at Buckeye Lake, just east of Columbus.  These roads were well-paved, but narrow, undulating, twisting, with drop-offs where shoulders should be.  But, lots of beautiful farm country and quite a bit of early fall foliage.

The only moment of concern was in Maysville, KY, on the banks of the Old Ohio.  At a right turn onto the bridge I quickly read the load limits and thought, We're too heavy, so I proceeded across the intersection instead of crossing the bridge, but as I did the numbers mentally, I decided we were OK. (There were several limits posted, depending on type of vehicle, so it wasn't straightforward.)  So, I decided to go around the block, showing on the GPS map, and cross the bridge when I came to it.  At one corner it seemed to me that the right thing to do was to turn left, but Miss GPS said turn right - down an alley.  She doesn't know the difference between a 38 ft. motor home and a PT Cruiser and we're both!  I disobeyed her, but successfully negotiated the narrow streets and tight corners to get back on the bridge approach and cross that bridge when we came to it.  Turned out that a couple miles down the road there was another newer, stronger bridge and that apparently was what Miss GPS was steering us toward.

Here's the bridge.  Leaving KY.

Approaching OH.

The KOA at Buckeye Lake was one of the nicest we've seen.  Very clean and well-maintained, friendly staff, good layout, well-positioned hookups, etc.  If you're ever in the area, stop in.  I went walking Thursday morning looking for the lake.  Where we were, though, as is the case for many of these Midwest lakes, the lake was lined with summer cottages and you couldn't see through them to the lake.  But, I'm sure it's a nice lake.

As we've worked our way north, we're seeing more fall colors and looking forward to more and more.

From Buckeye Lake we drove on Thursday to the Bellefonte (pronounced Bell-Font, not Belafonte) KOA, which is about 15 miles from State College, PA.  More scenic back roads.  The main excitement occurred at the junction of two highways.  We had driven US 22 across SE Ohio, then turned north at the state line on highway 7, running along the west bank of the Ohio River.  There was a hump in the pavement that caused Tuzi to rock severely from side to side.  Nothing came out of the cabinets, but their contents really banged around.  About a mile up the road I glanced in the right mirror.  The right-side slide-out was sticking out about a foot.  I quickly pulled onto the shoulder and stopped.  Fortunately, the slide-out retracted as it should.  Never had that happen before.

Rest of the trip to Bellefonte went fine.  I-80 across NW PA has some spectacular high bridges with low railings spanning narrow valleys.

Next report: Penn State Homecoming.

Rob and Susie