30 September 2006

For whom we pay tolls

Day #2 in Pittsburgh, Pa. Talmadge almost gets lost, eats a middling lunch, and scores a handful of vinyl reckids.

But first, let's back up to day #1. After dropping off Seraphim at her Wilton Cake Summit, I was on my own to create all sorts of mirth, mayhem and moral breakdown in Allegheny County. What did I do? I went back to the hotel and took a small nap. Yeah, boy.

After waking up, I called a friend of mine who works in radio here. She used to be my boss, and is the lady who rescued me from a cesspool known as Troy, Alabama. For that noble deed, she will forever have a place in my professional heart. I love Deb. SHE is the reason I was able to create a new life for myself, marry Seraphim, and leave an ugly past behind.

Well, anyhoo, she and I made plans for the three of us to have dinner. Which then left me free and clear 'till 530, when I'd have to be back to fetch the missus.

What to do? Good thing I did my homework. I fired up the Sonata, and took a small roadtrip to a nearby town, Greensburg, which had a specimen of a restaurant chain I truly miss. The fried chicken at this Old Country Buffet was good as it ever was. OCB's fried chicken just might be my favorite ever. And best of all, they were having a lunch special: $5.99 ... and that also includes drink!

I can't bitch.

To get to Greensburg from Monroeville involved taking The Pennsylvania Turnpike. Traversing the portion to get me there would set me back all of $1.25 ..... okay, no big thing. I entered the 'pike (I just love those big green signs they have at the entrance!!), thinking this was just another toll road, such as the Florida Turnpike or "Georgia 400" in Atlanta.

Boy, was I wrong. Where do I start? Narrow medians, narrow shoulders, crazy curves, and, after the middle interchange on my route (which I later found was the west terminus of the original route), a couple of beautiful overpasses. These were o-l-d suckers, a single archway over the road, without a center support. Many of the roadsides had curbs, too. Holy crap, this was like a timewarp.

The "service plaza" I passed, a Mickey D's and Sunoco gas station, was housed in the original stone structure ... originally built to house the restaurant contracted to operate all the service plazas along the turnpike: Howard Johnson's. As I passed it, my mind's eye morphed the building into its original orange roof, small palladium, and ESSO gas pumps out front. Those were the times I wish I were driving a '55 Studebaker and listening to Arthur Godfrey on the radio, as I pull in for a pit stop -- some HoJo's for the tummy and a 29-cent-a-gallon tiger for the tank.

After eating said $5.99 lunch, I returned to the room, where I fired up the laptop and immediately began Google'ing for historical info on the Pa. Turnpike. What I found out just blew my mind: I was driving on a portion of the first ever "superhighway" to be built in the United States. The Greensburg to Harrisburg section of the turnpike opened in ... 1940! Can you believe that? Somehow the idea of listening to Jack Benny, Inner Sanctum, or Edward R. Murrow's news reports from London while speeding on a proto-interstate at 70+ MPH just seems a bit too weird to ponder. But folks did.

And the other portion of the turnpike, that which I can look to my left and see right this very moment? That's the newest section to open. It was completed in 1951.

I still cannot get those overpasses out of my mind, though.

Anyhoo, Deb came over to the hotel that night, and we had supper at the adjoining Outback Steakhouse. The company couldn't be beat. The conversation was wonderful. The food, alas, was a bit middling. Oh well...


Today, I started looking for something a little less 'weird' than old highways: the ever-lovin' used record store! I found two ... one of them in a little suburb called Squirrel Hill, where I got more than a little turned around a couple of times. Not lost, just ... turned around. I found my beaten path, and headed back toward Monroeville. Had lunch today at A&W just down the way from the room. A&W, in case you may not be aware, stands for (A)mburgers (&) (W)oot Beer.

The burger? See "middling" comment above. I've had worse, but I've had much better. Sharing space with this A&W was a Long John Silver's. Ecch. Their fish is much like you'd have imagined Captain Hook's Fish-N-Chips (of Fast Times fame) to taste. Heck, it makes Captain D's look like a fine seafood restaurant.

Annnnnnnnnnnnyway, supper tonight saw Seraphim and me heading back to Greensburg and the Old Country Buffet, where I ate fried chicken, and my wife had a great salad (she's a fan of the OCB salad bar -- so eating there isn't a big burden for her to bear, unlike rolling tape on the Turnpike, capturing some of that great '40s roadside motif, heh heh).

As I sit here thinking about all this history, a big thought occurs to me. Today is September 30 ... my grandfather's birthday. Big John would have been 90 today. Suddenly my fun nostalgic mood becomes dark and melancholy. These are the times I so wish my grandfather were here, so I could ask him if he'd ever traveled any part of the Pa. Turnpike (it wouldn't have surprised me; the man loved roadtrips and took many in his day), and if so what it was like.

I'm so glad I could've traveled such an old, historic road on his birthday.

Right now I'd give anything short of my wife or son to go back to 1955 and enjoy all that glory in its prime. Or at least to have traveled that roadway much later with Big John.


All in all, a nice time so far. Tomorrow is our last day up here, and while Seraphim is wrapping up her seminar, I'll be Deb's guest as she takes me on a tour of Pittsburgh. Promises to be fun.
As soon as possible after 530, we'll be bound back for the wilds of coastal Georgia, stopping for the night in West Virginia (the fifth time we'll have entered the state), before getting home late Monday.

Good night, and Happy Birthday, Big John. You look great up there.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Exact Change" Gleck

28 September 2006

A room with a view!

(Or: "Gee, I wonder if there's a Bob Evans restaurant around here somewhere!")

Hola, and greetings from the plush environs of our sixth floor room at the Hampton Inn of Monroeville, Pennsylania. (it's just east of Pittsburgh, right on the turnpike).

Want proof? Check out this marvelous, scenic view from our window! What an old, decrepit sign ... the shield is faded, and the whole thing is of the old-style with reflector dots embedded in the letters and borders. They even have a name: "button copy." They don't make those anymore, so it's like retro eye-candy to "road geek" freaks like myself.

We left Rincon, Georgia yesterday morning, and spent the night in Ashland, Kentucky. One could not have asked for a more perfect day for driving. Lunch was spent in Greenville, S.C., where we broke bread (and plenty of BBQ pork therein) with Nettiemac. Filled with a fantastic lunch (what is about South Carolina and awesome barbecue??), we started north ... topping off our tank at the Wal-Mart Supercenter just north of Greenville in - I love this name - Travelers Rest. How could we not; we were so mesmerized by what the price sign read: $1.87/9! Maaaaaan.

The Hyundai Sonata we rented for this trip has driven very beautifully. Gas mileage wasn't what I'd hoped (average: 25), but it's better than what we get in our '04 Element.

We ate supper at the Bob Evans restaurant adjacent to our motel in Ashland. Bob Evans has a special significance in our lives, because our first meal as a married couple was at a Bob Evans in Lake City, Fla.

This morning, however, wasn't so good. What was giveth yesterday was taketh away -- it rained buckets this morning. Lucky for us, the worst of it was while putting away breakfast at IHOP. Still, it was very wet, dank and yucky for the first half of our day's driving.

Things got gradually better by the afternoon as the cold front passed through, and then the temperature started to drop. By 3:00 it was in the mid 50s outside. Yeah, baby.

Found some more starts-with-a-"1" petrol at a place on I-70 in Ohio, just west of Wheeling, W.Va. Barely, at that ($1.99/9), but who's beeyotchin'.....

We got here at about 9:00, and then started finding a place to eat supper. We ended up dining at a 'retro' themed eatery called the Park Diner. Lots of chrome, '50s-style fonts, and classic '50s & '60s music playing in the background. Our server's name was - I swear on a stack of 45s - Peggy Sue, and she whipped up some awesome homemade milkshakes for Seraphim and me.

We'll be here until Sunday afternoon ... in the meantime, I'll leave you with some random thoughts gleaned thus far from this trip:

  • The states of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania have all perfectly synchronized the placement of Bob Evans restaurants along their interstates. I came up with an average of one every 1.32 exits along I-64, I-77 and I-70 alone.
  • I tried the legendary Kentucky soft drink Ale-8-1. Both Seraphim and I had the same opinion: it tasted like watered down ginger ale. I was especially disappointed, because I was expecting something with some real 'bite' to it, like Buffalo Rock (a dark ginger-ale indigenous to my native Alabama). Oh well.
  • I had two hard-to-find drinks flowing through my patience-of-Job kidneys today: DOUBLE COLA, and my most favoritest drink in the world, SQUIRT.
  • We crossed the Ohio River four (4) times today.
  • I wish West Virginia or Pennsylvania would consider giving us just one of their Bob Evans restaurants. We could use a good breakfast place nearby where we live.
More news as it happens. When news breaks out, Gleck breaks in. News at :55, bulletins at any time.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Keystone Krackpot" Gleck

26 September 2006

Sonata in B-sharp

Or, Talmadge and Seraphim have their hot little rental car all ready for The Great Cake Junket to Pittsburgh, Pa. Your blog host and spouse will be driving a silver* '07 Hyundai Sonata ... with what my wife calls a "Mafia trunk" (read: I don't think we'll have problems fitting all her cake paraphernalia, the laptop, portable DVD player and .... anything else I forg--? Oh yeah, clothes!)
* = It's SILVER, dear. SIL-VER. Not "Lunar Mist" or any of those other weird quasi-colors car makers like to use. It says "SILVER" on the Hertz keytag, so it must be true.

And there appears to be enough room to hold the digital camera and cap a certain weekend visitor left behind. We'll be passing through Nettiemac's neighborhood, and we'll be eating lunch at a BBQ place in Greenville, S.C. -- looking very forward to it. Geez, I haven't seen her in ... how many hours? ;-)

Watch this space for updates. Seraphim has a laptop, so we'll be taking advantage of free wi-fi at the hotels where we'll be staying.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Next stop, northeast Kentucky!" Gleck

9-1/2 for Victorrrrrrr!!!

NOTE: If you have not seen the 1982 film The Last American Virgin, do not read any further because this post is full of spoilers. Of course, if you have no desire to see this movie, then go ahead and read on. Or don't. See if I care. -TG
Over the previous weekend, Seraphim and I were host to two of the coolest people trodding this Earth: Bolivar and Nettiemac. We didn't get to do the music trivia game we had hoped, but that's why God invented a little thing called "future visits."

One thing we DID do is watch movies. Quite a few, in fact. One of 'em was a truly underrated film, The Last American Virgin. Not to be confused with the more recent Steve Carell hit movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin (yes, we watched that one too).

Anyone who graduated high school in the 1980s (myself = 1983; Seraphim = 1987 - ditto for Nettiemac; Bolivar = 1986) can relate to the whole feel of the movie ... this puppy is chock full of memorable early '80s pop hits, like the Quincy Jones song "Just Once" .... not to mention Journey's "Open Arms", U2's first single "I Will Follow", "I Know What Boys Like" by The Waitresses (a song that just oozes 1980s) ... and much, much more.

Synopsis: Gary is the aforementioned "last American virgin." Not shy in a nerdy sense, mind you; he wasn't the target of ridicule or taunting. Lawrence Monoson played the role of Gary in such a way as to evoke a very disturbing sense of familiarity in a lot of us with a Y chromosome. Gary's two best friends -- David (the fat one) and Rick (the stud) -- form a threesome who, for much of the first half of this movie, are in an endless quest for sex ... from picking up three girls at the fast-food hangout, to patronizing a "lady of the night", to getting it on with a Charo-like nympho.

Complicating matters is a new student, Karen (played by Diane Franklin -- who was best-known for her role as Monique in the movie Better Off Dead). Gary falls for her. And I mean falls. But he's too shy and awkward to make a good impression. Unfortunately, Rick swoops in and takes her. They hit it off, which makes Gary apoplectic. A triangle is formed. Things get interesting.

Meanwhile, Gary tries to get laid. His virginity was erased by a prostitute ... a viciously mean one, at that. After an episode like that, it's a wonder he would ever want to make a bed squeak again.

What sets TLAV apart, though, is the big picture. Toward the middle, the film changes gears in a big way -- it goes from your typical "American Pie"-type teens-getting-laid flick, to a starkly dramatic turn of events which allow the characters to really develop. Gary wants sex, but deep inside you know he's seeking out more. He wants love. He wants Karen. Rick is your typical "male jerk" -- the typical wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am kind of guy.

In the middle is plump, fun-loving David (who maintains a detailed track of all his expenses -- a funny side-note involves his keeping a running 'tab' on his friends). David is something of the comic relief in this movie. Some of his lines are the funniest -- "Money -- now we're talking! Everybody put in a dollar ... the one with the biggest tool, he's the one who wins the pool!"

Basically, Rick deflowers Karen (in their school's football pressbox, of all places), knocks her up, and Rick dumps her. Gary to the rescue. Gary pawns his stereo (HORRORS!!), borrows money from his boss, raids the petty-cash pot at his late grandmother's house, and cobbles together enough money to cover Karen's abortion (this came out BEFORE Fast Times, mind you).

Karen expresses her sincerest appreciation to Gary. Gary professes his love for Karen. Karen invites Gary to her birthday party. Gary goes to a jewelry store to buy Karen a present: a locket inscribed with a message of love (how he had enough $ to buy this after liquidating much of his worldly possessions is a big mystery).

Gary shows up at Karen's house, where the party is going full-tilt. Gary finds Karen. She's in the kitchen .....

.....and Karen runs toward Gary, embracing him, where they exchange passionate "I love yous." Gary finally gets the brass ring. Both are happy, and settle in for what will be a long, serious relationship.

No, sorry. You were expecting the typical Hollywood ending? You won't find it here, I'm afraid.

What happens is, Gary shows up at Karen's house, where the party is going full-tilt. Gary finds Karen. She's in the kitchen ..... with RICK, and they're smooching. Both turn and look at Gary, who is very shocked, his smile having instantly evaporated. Rick's look says "Ha ha, sucker ... thanks for cleaning up behind me!" And "sweet" Karen? She's clearly embarrassed, but stays embraced with Rick. A tear falls down her cheek. But she says nothing.

Gary bolts out of the house, while "Just Once" plays ... gets into his station wagon (more on that in a second), and drives off. Gary starts crying. The music gets louder. The credits begin rolling. End of movie.

Back when I first saw this movie, I hated this ending. Hated it. I wanted Gary to get the girl. However, as I became an adult, and logged a lot of 40-mile stretches of bad road, I began seeing this ending for what it is: REALITY.

I like this movie more for the nostalgia factor than anything else. But also for the powerful lessons it conveys. To name several:

1) For starters, the obvious ... NICE GUYS FINISH LAST. Guys like Rick usually end up with the girl. Girls seem to like the jerks much more than the nice guys. I know that's a sweeping generalization, but that's what my own experience showed. I got lucky when I found Seraphim, but it took forever for that to happen.

2) Guys who drive their bosses' vehicles around, especially when they're pink station wagons with a his employer's logo on top (The Pink Pizza), should expect to have trouble getting any action. Which begs the question, why come Gary's parking this pizza delivery vehicle, logo plain as day, in front of the fast-food hangout ... which, arguably, represents competition???

3) This movie should've done for prostitutes what you'd think Fatal Attraction would've done for males dabbling with adultery on the side. "Ruby" was played with such ugliness by Nancy Brock. (I loved her response to David's awkward small-talk: "Are you here to interview me, or to f*ck me???")

4) Getting crabs from Ruby really sucked. There's a big moral somewhere in that one, eh? (Another favorite line: when David, Rick and Gary are trying - awkwardly - to convey their little 'problem' to the local druggist, he figures it out, leans toward 'em and asks, softly, "Your BALLS itch??!!")


We also watched another favorite of mine, the 1999 movie Election. Good stuff, although very disturbing with its realistic portrayal of teachers having sex with students, betraying trust students place in them, and the consequences of same.

What else? Oh yeah, Pass The Ammo - a very hard-to-find 1987 flick filmed in the Arkansas city of Eureka Springs ... the infamous Napoleon Dynamite ... and more.

Movies are great things. Even better when shared among friends.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "A Warner Brothers First National Picture" Gleck