Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Red and the Black

July 20-21

Having accomplished my purpose, I set out on Thursday from Calcutta toward Youngstown on Highway 170.

Calcutta and East Liverpool are in the hilly part of the Ohio. The road goes up and down and around. 

The ground flattens out by the time you get to Youngstown. It’s that flat part, where I-80 runs, that most people associate with Ohio. But there’s hillbilly country in the state.

It has been hellaciously hot for the past few days. That walk in the state park on Tuesday was in the shade and nearly dried me out. I sweat so much that I wanted to drink water.

So I spent most of Thursday in the air-conditioned Ford to get back to Clearfield. Taking very little exercise, I didn’t stop for lunch.

By five, though, I was ready for dinner. At my current weight, if all I do for exercise is drive a car all day, theory says I should be able to live off the fat of the land without eating for a week. 

But it never works that way. I was getting the wobbly symptoms of low blood sugar.

I got directions to a place I had visited once before, the Race Street Brew Works, an active brewery with a taproom in the middle.

The bar has a light food menu so I planned to start dinner there with a salad or an appetizer. For some reason there was no food today, so I had to stop after two short beers.

Red Walloon, a Belgian style red ale, is better than OK. It has a lot of interesting flavor.

Then I got Vexed, a black sour ale. Never heard of that before. Its alcohol content is listed at 6.66%. It is an excellent drink. I hope to have it again next time I’m in Clearfield. 

It is very close to Belgian red sours, like Duchesse du Bourgogne or Rodenbach Grand Cru. Good hops and dark malt flavors, with the tartness of the wild yeast.

Save for a half-pint of the red and 10 ounces of the black, my stomach was empty.

It was high time to get to Denny’s for something to eat

The only vegetables at Denny’s are deep fried, so I opted for a salad to start. Except for peas and carrots in the chicken gravy at the Y-Inn, I hadn’t had any vegetables for days.

I had a burger made with bison this time. The meat is very tasty, a little drier than elk and not as sweet. 

I had a couple of good local IPAs, whose names I have forgotten, 

I was surprised to find that Denny’s Bottle Shop is nowhere near as interesting as the bar. Maybe it's leased. I don't know.

I couldn’t find anything brewed in the area, not even from Pittsburgh, which is a brewing city.

The guy at the register knew nothing about what the store was selling. 

It seems his job was just to collect money. The way he stood there and scowled reminded me of the low-level mobsters you see in good B movies.

I settled on a four-pack of Head Hunter IPA from Fat Head’s Brewery in Ohio. It was an OK drink. Not enough aroma to make me really happy, but good bitterness and enough malt.

I stayed in the Comfort Inn on the way back, and as usual, it was a lot brighter and more comfortable than the Super 8, where I stayed on Tuesday and is right on the highway into town.

Comfort Inn is on a hilltop and the parking lot has views of the valley.

I left Clearfield around 11 almost without incident or delay on Friday morning. There was one spot on the way home where traffic was alternately stopped or crawling at a few miles an hour for about 15 minutes. 

There are several sections of I-80 that are down to one lane for road work. But this is the only one that backed up traffic this badly. I think somebody got pushy around the merge and caused a crash.

My Ford is little more than a year old. The odometer turned to 20,000.0 miles exactly at mile marker 308.5 in Pennsylvania. That’s about a mile and a half from the Delaware River bridge at the Water Gap.

Good thing I’m no hunch gambler. I could go broke playing combinations of those numbers.

I made it to La Quinta in Fairfield around 2:30 and settled in for a short rest before I went to see Joanna.

We went to Egan’s for supper. Joanna had a terrific crab cake made with something really savory in the mix. 

I had raw oysters with a Flying Fish extra pale ale, which was too sweet for the job. I should have stuck with IPA to go with raw shellfish.

I’ve been eating a lot of red meat lately. Like spending time in the Wild West, you know your diet is beef-heavy when bison is health food.

Anyhow, I followed the oysters with a shrimp cocktail and one of my standard brews at Egan’s, a house brand Irish red. Not hopped like a red IPA, but with enough flowers to make it interesting.

I picked up some bottles on the way home. One I hadn’t seen before, an IPA from Anchor Brewing called Go West. I don’t usually associate the Anchor name with ale. 

I can’t tell you if this is new, or just new to the store, or if it has been there all the time and I finally got around to noticing it.

It isn’t Dogfish Head, but it’s good. Victory Hop Devil, the other six pack, is always good.

Hoppy trails, all. This run is over.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Cornfield of Dreams

July 18-19, 2017

I was starting to feel a little sedentary, so it was time to hit the road for a few days.

For a long time, it has been on my list to visit the road in eastern Ohio where the FBI killed Pretty Boy Floyd.

A trip a year and a half ago to West Virginia with a short stretch in Ohio had brought me within ten miles of the exact spot, but I didn’t know it at the time. 

Maybe I’ve talked too often about coming back. It has become a kind of running joke with Joanna.

Anyhow, that’s how I have wound up at a Quality Inn franchise in a small town with the improbable name of Calcutta, Ohio, where I’m writing this.

Who names a town Calcutta? And why? 

I’ve never been to the original, so I can’t be sure all the stories are true, but it has a world-class reputation for crime, squalor, and disease. 

Maybe it was an effort to ward off the Evil Eye.

But let me begin at the start. Joanna took a pass on this run, so I left La Quinta in Fairfield by myself a little before 11 and took one of my favorite roads west, Interstate 80. 

I always get a kick out of the Delaware Water Gap. You see it first from a rise on the highway, two mountain shoulders against the sky. Then you pass through it some minutes later, the layers of stone, the cliffs, the river, the forest. 

Traffic was flowing well and got me past Stroudsburg by noon.

Around two, I was starting to feel hungry so I left the highway at Bloomsburg. This is a charming old town where Joanna and I stayed on our way back from the Wild West tour last summer.

My stop here was part one of the Day of Two Denny’s.

The first place to eat that I saw in Bloomsburg is the Turkey Hill Brewing Co. But the pub doesn’t open till four.

The next was a Denny’s franchise, next to the Bloomsburg visitor center.

Stand-up comics sometimes make fun of Denny’s, but I had no complaints about this one. They had seven-grain toast to go with my poached eggs and the coffee was good. 

An hour or so after that, I left the highway again to explore. Maybe a small town where I could take a stroll.

There were a couple of very small towns, a dozen or so houses with no sidewalks. I could imagine the unease of the residents if they saw me walking there. 

What is this guy doing? Casing the place?

So that was a bust. 

There were signs showing horses and buggies, and I passed a few places that were clearly Amish—people in 19th century clothes and no power lines to the property.

There was a lot of horse shit on the road, but no horses pulling buggies.

On the way back to the interstate, a sign pointed to Ravensburg State Park.

So I turned left onto 880 north. 

The park was shady and had a rapid rocky stream, a mill dam, and some mosquitoes that got fed.

The rocks were covered with moss so thick that grass and small bushes had taken root in it.


On the way back to the car, I passed a man talking into a cell phone. Then I realized he was talking to me.

Do you have a vehicle here?


Can you help me? My car is stuck.

I don’t think I can do that, but my cell phone is in the car. If there’s a signal we can call for help.

Like a dummy, I had forgotten that he was already talking on a phone.

I already have somebody coming, he said.


By the time I passed his car, about 50 or 100 yards into the park, I saw what had happened.

The tire marks in the gravel road made a tight U-turn to put one front wheel of his Mustang over a ditch while the axle resting on the top of a concrete abutment.

How can you do that without practice? 

The rescue truck pulled up as I walked past.

By the time I was driving back in my car, the Mustang was out of the ditch and apparently undamaged, because he drove off. 

To my relief, he turned right and my route went left. I did not want to share the same road with this guy.

It was about four or so that I made it to one of my favorite stops in Pennsylvania, Clearfield, which is where the other Denny’s is.

This bar is like an oasis in central Pennsylvania. They have, I dunno, two or three dozen, maybe a thousand taps.

They also have elk burgers. Which are delicious. The meat can have an almost sweet edge, so a little pepper and mustard are good additions, along with the standard tomato catsup. A bitter ale goes well with it.

I had several IPAs, including one from Neshaminy Creek Brewing that was very good.

The next morning, I didn’t stop for long anywhere on the way from Clearfield to East Liverpool, Ohio. The route was I-80 west to I-79 south to Pennsylvania Route 68 West.

It gets tricky when you get off the interstate system out here. Highway markers are few and far between.

I lost the road at one point, and then found it again, but didn’t know it. I got turned around and started to follow signs for 68 east but didn't see any in the opposite direction for 68 west. Lucky for me, a local policeman was coming into a convenience store as I was leaving. 

Later, there was a section of the route that was shared by two highways. One, Pennsylvania 168, was well marked. No signs, though for 68. 

I turned the car around and started to see signs for 68 east. So I turned around again.

The last part of this route follows the west bank of the Ohio River. There is a huge power plant (not sure if it’s in Pa. or Ohio) with five massive cooling towers sending up steam.

If they named Calcutta as a diversion to ward hexes away, it may have worked. The tiny town (a few more than 3,000 souls) is fairly prosperous looking. There are some apparently solvent strip malls, and the houses are in good shape.

That’s in sharp contrast to its neighbor, East Liverpool, which has seen better days and is struggling to hang on. There are abandoned properties and others that look abandoned but are still occupied.

Although it’s in Calcutta, the hotel’s mailing address is East Liverpool 

I needed to find St. Clair Avenue, where the hotel is. It seems that there isn’t a legible street sign in East Liverpool. Most have been stolen, and most of those left have lost their lettering.

AAA came to my rescue yet again. I stumbled on a Triple-A office, where I got not only instructions to find St. Clair, but also road maps to add to my collection.

I passed the Quality Inn in Calcutta and went in search of Sprucevale Road, which is the destination of this trip.

I couldn't find it, so I came back, checked in, and booted up.

You take take Ohio 170, which is the main road in town, to Calcutta Smith Ferry Road, where you take a left and then the first right onto Sprucevale. Thank you, Google Maps.

I didn’t expect to find anything specific. But at least if I drove the full length of the road I could say I passed the place.

I passed a curious looking sign on the way up the road, but couldn’t get a good look at it because there was a car right behind me.

I got to the Y-Inn, a bar at the fork created by the far end of Sprucevale, where it meets Highway 7.

I turned around another time this day and went back down Sprucevale. I took a small diversion at a little crossroads village called Clarkson on a road going to Pancake. 

Not a good idea, so I decided to return to Plan A. I’m glad I did, because this time I could see that curious sign, which was headlined “Death of Pretty Boy Floyd.”

Damn it. I found it.

The place is still a field. It is used by the Beaver Creek Modelers, and has the look of an area for flying model airplanes.


Floyd was on his way back to Oklahoma after he was declared Public Enemy Number 1. His car hit a pole near East Liverpool. He and an associate named Richetti were traveling with two women, who were sent to town to get a tow truck while the men waited with the car.

They were spotted by a driver who informed the police. 

There was a gun fight in which an officer was wounded. Richetti was captured. Floyd ran into the woods and got away.

Melvin Purvis, who had led the effort that killed Dillinger, showed up. After three days of wandering on foot, Floyd went to a farmhouse and asked a lady to use the phone. He said that he had been out hunting and had become lost. He was wearing a suit and city dress shoes.

The lady called the cops.

It’s unclear what happened next and who did it. Floyd was indeed wounded in a cornfield, perhaps by a sharpshooter, and Purvis may have ordered an FBI agent to murder Floyd.

One account describes Purvis asking Floyd a question and getting “fuck you” as an answer.

Hoping, but not really expecting to find a marker, I had to celebrate. I drove back to the Y-Inn. 

This too was a stroke of luck. Wednesday is chicken and biscuits day. They had Stella Artois on tap. It’s a lager, not an ale, but it’s Belgian and has more going for it than Bud.

It was a great place. Everybody at the bar was talking to everybody else. They were all regulars, it seems.

The guy doing most of the talking was Travis, who was sitting around the corner of the bar from me.

Eventually he asked where I was from and I told him. Then explained that I was there because of Pretty Boy Floyd.

Oh, a historian.

Sort of. Especially gangsters.

I thought you’d be here for the Great Trail.

The what?

It’s an old Indian Trail. He told me where to find a marker for that: left onto the Clarkson-Pancake Road to Route 170. The Clarkson-Pancake Road follows part of the old trail.

I got there. An auto body shop sits on the site of an old tavern on the trail.

It was a short drive back to Calcutta. The Sheetz convenience store next to the hotel has pints of Stone IPA, so I am well taken care of.

Good night, everybody, and may you all find the cornfield of your dreams.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Swanning About

May 23-25

This trip is just about over. It’s Thursday and I’m at a Comfort Inn in North East, Md. I’m about 10 miles from Delaware and 25 from New Jersey. 

That puts me on the edge of the old neighborhood. Everything from here on in is familiar, so I guess this last stretch doesn’t count as travel any more.

Dinner will be at Woody’s Crab Shack or Steak & Main, down the highway from here in the old town of North East.

I have driven more than 1,500 miles so far, but didn’t get to the far end of Highway 15. The road through South Carolina has a lot less to see than Virginia and North Carolina do.

There are a lot of abandoned buildings and empty store fronts. 

When I stayed in Sumter, S.C., Tuesday night, there didn’t seem to be much to do in the area. I picked the town because a selection of motels shows up in a Google search, and it was a short jump from there to I-95 to begin the return trip.

My fortunes changed at the Quality Inn. The hand towel and washcloth had been folded together to resemble a swan.

Above it was a card that told the story:

“This swan, made with your towel and face cloth, represents Sumter’s Swan Lake Iris Gardens, the only public park in America that is home to all eight known swan species.”

According to the story, the iris gardens got their start when a frustrated gardener threw his iris bulbs into the swamp. They wouldn’t grow in his yard, but they bloomed in the swamp.

I got directions during dinner at the Cajun bar. A man stood thinking about ways to get there. Then it struck him. We were already in the neighborhood. 

Turn right out of the parking lot, go to the first light, make another right, and take Alice Drive to the end. I tried it Wednesday morning. It worked.

You drive through the gate that says “buses only” to park next to the other cars in the lot. 

I walked past one curious tree, covered with evergreen needles and Brussels sprouts. I had no idea what it was.

More of them were growing in the middle of the lake, rooted under the water. A sign told me they are cypress. 

The park also has little pillars with a button to push. When you do, you hear what’s supposed to be the tree’s voice. “I’m a sweet gum,” one says in a very folksy accent, and then goes on to explain how the seed balls are a nuisance in your lawn but cardinals love to eat the seeds.

As advertised, there were indeed eight species of swans, including a black strain native to Australia.

It was a morning of stop-and-start light rain. Dampness brings out aroma, especially from the pines, and even one lady’s perfume.

And also the roses blooming in a garden patch designed for the blind. Plants chosen for aroma or texture range from lilac to pussy willow.

There is also a chocolate garden, which has not only a little bush labeled chocolate, but also a wide variety of plants that smell like it or resemble it.

I was using the Rand-McNally U.S. Road Atlas for South Carolina. It covers the broad strokes, but lacks detail.

It did show one site worth a detour, several miles south of a town called Manning: “F. Marion Burial S.H.S.” 

Wow, that’s the Swamp Fox. I read a biography about him when I was a kid. I think Disney treated him in Davy Crockett style—televised adventures and a theme song—but of course he wasn’t played by Fess Parker so it didn’t catch on.

Many roads on the map were unidentified, just faint lines connecting heavier lines. 

This looks hopeless, so I have to try it.

Wandering led me to state highway, 260. According to the map, it goes vaguely in my direction. 

Actually it goes nowhere. It splits at the end. 

The right goes into the parking lot of a run-down motel. A sign says they will prosecute you for trespassing. 

I risked prosecution only long enough to turn the car around.

The left fork takes you to a boat landing.

I stopped at a gas station for directions. The man behind the counter was from the other side of the world. Literally. East Asian with a heavy accent, he had no idea what I was talking about.

One of everything down here is named Marion: Lake Marion, Marion University, Marion County.

First he thought I was asking about a motorcycle dealer. 

No, the Revolutionary War hero. Francis Marion. He’s buried near here.

Then he suggested that I look in Florence, where the university is.

It was raining at a good clip. I wandered a bit more before I gave up.

On the way north I made a brief stop at a place everybody on the East Coast has heard about, South of the Border.

I had been on this section of I-95 twice before, the trip down and back when Matt graduated from boot camp at Parris Island. We didn’t stop at South of the Border.

It has the same comic feel that Wall Drug has. It even has dinosaurs. Only this theme park is a lot bigger. It includes two gift shops, east and west, each of them about the size of Wall Drug’s main building.

Billboards tout the place all the way up the highway. One shows a matador with a long curling mustache: “Pedro no shoot ze bull.”

God, how can they get away with that? I remember the colossal outcry over the Frito Bandito.

Everything at South of the Border seems to be red and yellow, even the car repair shop. There is an amusement park. Something that looks like an old parachute drop is topped by a bright sombrero. 

Next came a serious decision: Wilber’s or Ralph’s for barbecue?

I’ve been to Ralph’s several times in the past few years, but it may be 15 since I’ve been to Wilber’s in Goldsboro. Not since Matt left Camp Lejeune.

I had plenty of time to make the detour from I-95 to Goldsboro, so I chose Wilber’s. 

A lot can change in 15 years. I remembered a small brick building on U.S. 70, on the right if you’re heading east.

What I hadn’t counted on is how much the town has grown, and how confusing they have made it. 

You know how often the old U.S. route through a town remains as the business route in addition to a newer, high-speed bypass. 

Goldsboro does that one better. It has a Business 70, a Bypass 70, and a Highway 70. That makes three highways with the same number.

And the Goldsboro inset on the official North Carolina road map doesn’t show them all.

I started looking for a Holiday Inn that had been advertised on a billboard outside town. It took me an hour of trying this 70 and that 70 to find it.

Once I was there, though, they told me that Wilber’s was not only still in business, but was just up the road.

Two things to eat in North Carolina that I really like are Brunswick stew, usually made with chicken, corn, lima beans, and a few other interesting ingredients. I also enjoy pulled pork barbecue. 

Wilber’s has a platter with both of them. Along with hush puppies. As usual in Q joints, the strongest drink was iced tea.

No collards or black-eyed peas on the menu. Dinner came with green cole slaw and yellow potato salad. 

The potatoes were very soft and had mustard in the mix, so it tasted like the filling for deviled eggs. Very nice.

I hadn’t eaten since morning.

After I polished everything off, I stopped at a convenience store for some local beer, an IPA from Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem. It was a good American IPA. Six were enough.

I drove from Goldsboro to Fredericksburg on Wednesday. It took me about four hours, a little longer than Google Maps predicted. I stopped for a while at the Virginia Welcome Center.

I checked into a Quality Inn right next to I-95, then drove downtown to take a walk.

Historic Fredericksburg is a charming town of 18th and 19th century buildings—eateries, clothing stores, antiques shops, a few art galleries—and red brick sidewalks. Hugh Mercer’s apothecary shop is there. 

I stopped at the Welcome Center and got a town map. The lady showed me where the Capital Ale House is, a couple of blocks away.

Capital had run out of its red IPA, but had another IPA called Expedition, made by Adventure Brewing Co., right in Fredericksburg.

One of the better IPAs, with a very good floral fragrance, something I’ve been missing in IPAs lately. It had the IPA piney flavor, too.

I had only one, because it was going into an empty stomach. 

On the way back, I turned where a sign pointed the direction to I-95. Then there were no more signs. So of course I turned the wrong way and wound up in another town.

It wasn’t a waste of time, really, because I got to see Hugh Mercer’s statue and the Kenmore Plantation house. A few log cabins, too, including an old schoolhouse.

Eventually I found Route 1 south, and got into the old town again, and made my way back to Hugh Mercer’s statue. I turned around and went the other way to the end of the road, and there was another sign pointing to I-95.

Dinner was at a place new to me, Cowboy Jack’s Saloon. It’s next to the motel. It was also a mistake.

The bar has 14 or 16 taps and no local brews on draft. They have bottles, but no beer list.

I had the house ale, a Goose Island IPA, and a bottle of an OK IPA whose name I forgot.

It was $2 burger night, and the ground beef was good. They serve it “pink” or “well.” 

Lucky for me I had a six-pack, a West Coast style IPA called Graffiti House from Old Bust Head Brewing in Vint Hill, Va.

This was a pretty good one, too. Not as good as Expedition, but to my taste better than, say, Lagunitas, which has a slightly sweet edge.

Thursday brought me north to Maryland. I-95 is busy everywhere all the time, but the stretch from Fredericksburg to Baltimore becomes intense. It also periodically becomes a parking lot.

So getting this far was work enough for one day.

I’m starting to get hungry. Thirsty too.

The beer drinking will commence shortly.

Love to all and best wishes. And I can’t think of anything wise-ass to add.


Post Script

May 25-26

I opted for Steak & Main. How can you not love anywhere that bills itself as a sushi bar and steakhouse?

I once had a meal here with four courses of oysters. This time I went for a little more variety.

I started with oysters on the half shell and followed them with conch fritters. I’ve had conch fritter only once before, aboard a cruise ship to Nassau in the Bahamas back in 1976. A man at the end of the bar recommended them to me, and they were good. Not great, but good.

Baked oysters imperial was a little more interesting. It comes with a crab concoction served on top of oysters baked and served in shell.

Heavy Seas IPA, brewed by Loose Cannon in Baltimore, is a good but not a strong ale.

Victory Brewing, Downingtown, Pa., summer ale is very blond and bitter enough to be enjoyable.

I tried a house ale, made by Heavy Seas, that was also good.

Later in the room, I emptied a few cans of an IPA by Manor Hill Brewing in Ellicott City, Md. It had a grapefruit fragrance, sharp hops.

The drive back to North Jersey was smooth enough. Crowded as I’ve come to expect, but not too bad. 

After all, I was in no hurry. I had all day to travel less than 200 miles.

Be well, all, and may all your trips be smooth ones.