Monday, September 19, 2016


I went out to Pennsylvania this weekend. It's the third time I've been to one of the original 13 colonies. I tend not to count New York because I was only at the airport there for a connecting flight to Ireland. The other was Georgia. A friend lived in Tennessee back then, and the only airport he could get me at was in Atlanta.

But Pennsylvania is waaaaay better than Georgia. Georgia is a shithole. No offense to anyone who lives there, but the Civil War, in particular William T. Sherman, really did a number on that place. It never recovered. There is a sense of dilapidation about the place. Of desolation and decay. Of death. It's falling apart and has no hope of ever recovering. The Reconstruction left that state behind.

Kevin Strange and I rode into PA at night, so we didn't get to see a lot of it. I'll talk more about our trip later and possibly in installments, but I saw a lot of interesting things in PA. It's just as old as Georgia, but there isn't the same feeling of abandonment.

I live in Illinois, in a suburb of Chicago, and around here we don't give a shit about old things. If something turns fifty, it's obsolete. We have to tear that shit down and build something new. There are no old houses or structures in my town. I live in a townhouse made in the 'Fifties, and it's falling apart. I imagine that very soon we're going to get a visit from an Elmhurst official wishing to buy this place so they can tear it down.

PA has no desire to do that kind of thing.

Let me explain. Kevin's GPS took us off course for a McDonald's run, and as we tried to get back on track it told us to take the back streets. All we saw was corn. That's old hat for me. I live on the Suburban Prairie, and corn is fucking everywhere as soon as you travel beyond the 'burbs.

But Kevin's GPS was telling me to go straight down one road, and all I saw was what looked like a house in the middle of the road. It seemed like the GPS was asking me to blaze down the driveway and plow through this house. I had The Fear.

It took me a moment to realize that it wasn't a house. It was a covered fucking bridge. I'd never seen one in real life before. When I was a kid we had a . . .  I don't know what to call it. It's not a painting. It's not a sculpture. It's a work of art. It's . . . I don't know. But it depicts a covered bridge. I remember it from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." I remember it from Joe Hill's NOS4A2. But in real life? I had no idea these things existed. Awed, I drove through it.

I was kind of excited to see any evidence of the Amish. Again, I've only seen the kind of thing in movies or literature. We caught a fleeting glimpse of a dude in a horse-drawn buggy. We don't have that kind of thing where I live.

We were staying with Mike Lombardo. On Saturday night we were walking through his area of town, and I couldn't help but notice how old every house was. In Elmhurst they would all be torn down or labeled historical locations and thus protected. In PA they were just business as usual. I was absolutely fascinated. Kevin and Lombardo were lost in conversation, but I couldn't help but stare at and admire these old buildings that had modern people living in them.

And then we drove home. We started out pre-dawn, but as we went the sun rose and illuminated everything we'd missed on the way in. We saw the mountains we drove under thanks to the tunnels that had us thinking about DAYLIGHT and that one scene from THE STAND. But more importantly I noted the fog. It was everywhere. It clung to the mountains and in some cases shrouded them so heavily we didn't even know they were there until later. It was haunting.

We drove close to Gettysburg. I kind of wanted to see the old battlefield. I own a bullet from the site during the Civil War. I couldn't help but think about the history that lurked in that fog, hidden within the mountains. I don't know if there were any unrecorded skirmishes that happened in those areas we saw, but they certainly had soldiers marching through there on their way to killing. Getting killed. Or maybe getting wounded enough for a good ol' fashioned field amputation, which I learned a lot about from going to the Mutter Museum in Philly.

Years ago there was a movie called GHOSTS OF THE CIVIL DEAD. I would not have learned about it if not for Nick Cave being an actor in it. I love that title. It gives the perfect phrase to what I felt as I drove through the foggy mountains. I could feel the history around me, inarticulate in its ways but a presence nonetheless.

I love living in Elmhurst. When I was younger and thought that writers got good money for what they did (thanks, Stephen King . . .) I fantasized about my living arrangements. I would spend my springs and autumns in Elmhurst (because it's the perfect environment for those seasons), and I would live in Las Vegas during the winter, Canada in the summer. But honestly I've never seen myself seriously living anywhere other than Elmhurst. This place is in my blood. My bones. My soul.

For the first time in my life I considered living elsewhere. I loved the environment of Pennsylvania so much that I wanted to pull up roots and travel across the country. It's a wonderful place. It's got a great vibe. It has the ghosts of the civil dead.

I'll probably stick with Elmhurst, but goddam it felt good to be in Pennsylvania.

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