Monthly Archives: April 2010

Comp Time with Ret. Bank Robber Gerald Heckathorn

Arguably there are no greater heart-pounding conditions under which to travel than those that come with being a fugitive from justice. Just ask Gerald Heckathorn, who, in the early-1980s, went on an 18-month cross-country bank-robbing spree in his prized white Cadillac El Dorado. “I went everywhere, man” he recalls. “I was living large.” That is, until the FBI zeroed in on him. Gerald was an unlikely criminal. Born to bohemian parents in the San Francisco Bay area, he rebelled as a teenager by going to war in Vietnam. Less than three weeks after arriving in Saigon, a Viet Cong kid… Continue Reading

24 Hours in Morgantown

Julianna and Corky, two locals I met at Gene's Beer Garden in Morgantown, WV Morgantown, WV – If you’ve ever dreamed of eating a Fat Bitch then ordering a Fat Blunt for the road, Morgantown is the place for you. It’s what I did there, but more on that later. I arrived in Morgantown around 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, which is a fine time to arrive in any place.  The streets are clear enough in these early hours that you can drive slowly and figure out the lay of the city. This strategy was particularly helpful in hilly Morgantown, with… Continue Reading

Dawn on the Susquehanna

The Susquehanna River and the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge As I waited for a cafe to open I took a stroll this morning along the lovely Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, the capitol of Pennsylvania. Philly has two rivers, the Delaware and the Schuylkill, but both are badly polluted. This one reminded me of the Mississippi, by my grandparents’ house. Around seven a.m., I ventured over to the cafe, but apparently it’s closed this week for remodeling. I’ve realized that many small towns in this state, and probably elsewhere, don’t have any cafes, let alone places with free wi-fi access. A… Continue Reading

My Morning as a Faux-Conservative

 Harrisburg, PA – It was a chilly morning in Harrisburg, but tempers were raging hot on the statehouse steps as some 400 pro-gun activists rallied in support of what they claim is the federal government’s infringement of their Second Amendment Rights. The protest was one of dozens of similar rallies held around the nation in recent weeks, organized in part by the insurgent Tea Party movement that is determined to upend President Barack Obama’s presidency. But the protest seemed less about protecting guns than about halting the spread of “tyranny.” “He’s a treasonous communist,” said Lance Pledger, 58, of… Continue Reading

The Town That Was

Centralia, PA – In the 1950s, boroughs throughout Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region began dumping garbage into abandoned mine pits. Once full, a controlled-burn was undertaken to make room for subsequent dumps. What then was seen as a practical solution to increasing waste eventually wasted a town. In Centralia, sometime in 1962, one of these burns wasn’t properly extinguished and a coal vein ignited. Authorities moved to put out the subterranean fire and for roughly 10 years believed that they had. In the 1970s, the air began smelling of sulfur and residents suffered from symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure as smoke… Continue Reading

Meet Purple Thunder

Meet Purple Thunder, the van I purchased in early March. She’s a 1995 Ford Econoline 150 Conversion van with all of the bells and whistles a road warrior needs for a 9,000-mile excursion through the American hinterlands, including a bed, space, cush seating, plush interior, cruise control, new tires, electricity, window blinds and bangin’ stereo. Simply put: it’s pimp.… Continue Reading

Springtime in Amish Country

Gap, PA – I spent an afternoon driving around this small township in Lancaster County, PA – Dutch Country, they call it. I got the sense visitors cared less about county’s Dutch heritage and more about the high density of Amish in the area. I should know. Like everyone else, I was there for one reason only: to see the Amish in action. Being spring, the men were busy plowing the fields while the children delivered flowers for the women to sell. Horse-drawn carts, buggies and kids on push-scooters appeared often from nowhere, necessitating a very careful five-mile per hour… Continue Reading

The Illadelph State of Mind

Philadelphia has been described as a grid surrounded by industrial clutter. Philadelphia, PA – I had never stepped foot in Philadelphia prior to moving here in 2008. Had been to the east coast just once, in the 6th grade for a school trip to Washington D.C. But at 31, I was itching to get out of Madison and my girlfriend billed Philly as a place where opportunity flowed like beer from a tap. A crack survey of Craigslist and some local blogs all but confirmed that Philly was indeed a happening place. A few months later we loaded up the… Continue Reading

Longing for the Road to Nowhere

Last spring, when deciding where to vacation, I lobbied hard for a road trip. My girlfriend, however, wasn’t having it. She wanted to visit Boston, where she’d gone to college and, in many ways, remained mentally stuck. Boston this. Boston that. I had little interest in the city, but to keep things simple I agreed. I hadn’t traveled much in nearly a decade. A day trip here, a weekend there is all. So the prospect of spending a week in Bean Town was palatable on those grounds alone. Boston, it turns out, was just how I imagined, a city that… Continue Reading