Monday, July 30, 2018

Pennsyltucky: World's Worst Vacation Spot

((AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is not an especially fun or interesting post but, for posterity, I wanted to write about my trip to Pennsylvania this last weekend.  It's also a chance for a photo dump.  If you prefer good content, feel free to skip; written while still jetlagged, I make no apologies for this sub-par post.  Hey, they can't all be winners.))

Last weekend I went to Erie, PA, named for the Great Lake on which it borders.  Known for its wineries, Erie is something of a vacation spot, for those who want to know what it feels like to go back in time.

I say this because Erie apparently has no internet, phone service, or even grounded outlets in which to plug computers or phones into.

But I should backtrack and explain why I was in Erie in the first place.  Andrew's friend Marge was getting married and we were there for a few days for a wedding, following which there was a camping trip.  I immediately knew we were in for a treat when we came to the hotel, which had claimed to have WiFi and had nothing of the sort.  Just down the street was a dilapidated farm house flying a Confederate flag.  (Note: Pennsylvania is a northern state.)

To be honest with you, I'm a bit of a homebody, and besides that, I do not have a fantastic relationship with the state of Pennsylvania.

Also I hate flying.

But part of being married is, you know.  Being there for your partner.  I wanted to come along because there's something unsettling to me about the idea of Andrew's Pennsylvanian friends and family being isolated from me.  (I am already not especially welcome in his family and I don't want that to be the case with his friends.)  Coming to the wedding of one of his high school friends felt like a way of legitimizing us, sort of.

The trip began auspiciously enough in the sense that I got so ragingly drunk it's hard to understand how I even got on a plane in the first place.  I think I had a layover but don't even remember, to be honest.  We landed in Erie, PA, and I went to the motel I was sharing with Jack and Andy to drop off my things before going to the pre-wedding reception and bonfire.  It was at Marge's parents' lake house.

I felt that the fact that Marge's family was the kind that owned a lake house should have been something of a red flag for me.  I don't get along with most "old money."  But Marge and Zeke themselves were very hospitable and everyone was in good spirits and very welcoming so at this time, I was fairly confident we were about to have a good trip.

The following day was the wedding.

The wedding was, like the bonfire on the lake, full of good cheer.  Everyone was united by their friendship with Marge and Zeke so everyone was getting along great.

This looks like I'm very isolated but trust me it filled out.

The wedding, like the lake house bonfire, had a lot of red flags for me.  It was at a winery and had an open bar.  There were rustic elements like string lights everywhere and I got the sense a lot of money had been spent, which was even more baffling considering there was no day-of coordinator or DJ.  (Andrew was asked to step in for this duty.)

Nonetheless, my anxieties were assuaged because I found myself at a table with a group of awesome people and we formed fast friendships.  Hotel room situation aside, I was having fun.

We formed a gang, with gang signs and everything.

Half of us got them backwards.  We were not a good gang, although our turf war with Table 11 went pretty well.

Open bar aside, I behaved myself.  (Take that, Andrew's Mom, who was worried I might "embarrass myself.")

Recovering the day after, Andy and I went wine tasting.  The open bar at the winery hadn't, apparently, been enough.  You have to understand, though, there's nothing else to do in Erie, PA. 

lEgAl BeVEraGeS

Pennsylvania being Pennsylvania, it rained for four of the five days I was there.  This was unfortunate because aside from being there for the wedding, we had come to go on a camping trip with Marge and her friends.  The rain was unrelentingly heavy and flooded the streets and saturated the ground.  We took refuge downtown in a tavern called "The Skunk and Goat."  We poked our nose into an antique shop and we shooed away for loitering.  Yes, really.

This was when the trip started to take a turn for the worse.

Like the wedding, which lacked a coordinator, the camping trip was ill thought-out.  There were cabins that had been rented but other details, like food, were not, and the group arrived late after taking the World's Longest Shopping Trip in a grocery shop that unironically sold Shania Twain CDs.  Yes, CDs.

The cabins were cute and vaguely reminiscent of our hotel rooms, the main difference being that our cabins didn't claim to have WiFi.

I knew only Jack, Andrew, Marge, and Zeke.  (And then, I only knew Marge and Zeke passingly.)  The other six people on the trip were strangers to me.  Of course, if you go into the woods to drink and gamble, then you typically click with strangers.  Except that these strangers, as I mentioned, were of the upper-middle-class variety, and I quickly discovered I had nothing in common with them.

They were all within my age group but they were not my peers.  Every last one was a doctorate or post-doctorate who was studying something obscure and inscrutable; they were snobby intellectuals of the worst kind.  None had ever seen a Marvel movie (a grave sin, in my humble opinion), none had a sense of humor, and no one asked me at any point where I was from, what I do, or anything else about me.  I felt very alone.


Having given up on making friends with people who mostly wanted to talk about the economics of post-Rennaissance Sweden or whatever Very Smart™ and Better Than You™ topic they could think of, I busied myself with making friends of the forest.

 Hi nature.  *boop*

One of the "intellectuals" told me I was going to get sick from touching a toad, which was poisonous.  I laughed my head off.  The Eastern American Toad is only "poisonous" to yellow perch and it's basically completely harmless to humans.  The guy in question explained to me that they have poison sacs and I explained, wryly, that I was not putting the toad in my mouth and therefore would be juuust fine.  He replied with something like, "You'll see..."

Andrew led me away before I could deck him.  I may not know a thing about Nigerian etymology or the metaphysics of horse polo, but I know my toads.  If they'd asked they'd know I kept these species of toads as a kid, worked with them in a lab during my professional career as a biologist, and am, to this day, a hobbyist herpetologist.  I know my toads.  Small "creepy-crawlies" have always been of interest to me and having someone pretend to know more rubbed me the wrong way, like so much really-not-poisonous toadskin.

I retired early, wanting the trip just to end already, because I'd failed to make a real human connection with anyone.  I had hoped that the camping trip would be like Table Number 10.  I had thought we'd all be swapping stories and laughing, not trying to outwit each other with obscure, useless knowledge.  These were the kind of people you see on /r/iamverysmart, the kind of people who peaked in college and then refused to move on with their lives.  None of them had a sense of humor and all of them were self-absorbed.

(Side note: I want to cut some slack for 3 of the people on the trip who were Swedish.  They seemed very cool and I think there was a language or cultural barrier preventing us from developing a closer repertoire.  This post is really about the Americans on the trip, who, perhaps intimidated by the European presence, spent a lot of time talking about all the amazing international conferences they went to, to present their highbrow but ultimately inconsequential research.)

The next day we visited a skywalk at Kinzua Bridge State Park, which was cool; an old railroad bridge had been destroyed by a tornado in 2003 and made into something of a land mark.  I wandered into the woods to eat berries while the rest of the group chatted animatedly (well, not really, they weren't an animated bunch) about various Intellectual topics.  I got some great shots of the forest (see above) but generally found that the money I'd paid to take off work, get a plane ticket, board the dogs, and so forth had not been worth the trip.

I arrived home with my left leg aching and my mood sour.  Basically, I paid $1,000 to hold a (totally not poisonous) toad.  I'd rate the trip a 2.5/10, giving points for getting to see a toad, rain, and a Confederate flag, things we don't have here in Los Angeles.

I'm glad I went if only because it was a good exercise in holding my tongue, but I wouldn't do it again, because, hey, who knows, my tongue might be poisonous.

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