Seventeen archival boxes examined and 2991 photos of historic documents snapped at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland but after two-and-a-half days I was ready to get out of there! I'll make sense of this data later. In the meantime, as Simon & Garfunkel sing, I've gone to look for America, and Pittsburgh's the goal. That's the fun of this journey, knowing that you have your mind set on going somewhere and covering the miles to reach that goal. So at 1:30 pm I set off for the five-and-a-half hour drive to Pittsburgh, glad to get out of this stuffy DC suburb and on to new sights. Well fifty minutes in I made a stop at my beloved Checkers with its renowned double-lane drive-thru and checkered logo against a retro chrome and red backdrop. Raul served me up a nice razor-thin patty and those delicious seasoned fries.
Setting off again I finished my meal in time for the next stop twenty minutes down the road in Harpers Ferry where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac. Crossing the Sandy Hook Bridge I glanced to my right at the wide expanse of the two rivers meeting and I couldn't help but think of Lewis & Clark and Sacagawea canoeing through on their westward trek. I gasped at the raw beauty of the scenery, disappointed slightly that I couldn't park close-by to admire it some more.
Harpers Ferry is a quaint West Virginian town wedged between the aforementioned rivers, and Maryland to the east and Virginia to the south. I drove through all three states in as many minutes. Robert Harper settled the town in 1775. Less than a hundred years later the Union and the Confederacy battled here and eight times during the Civil War it changed hands amongst these parties. Industrial railway competition and the Civil War proved detrimental to Harpers Ferry and in the 20th century its population declined. Today it is considered a national park. I walked through it for about forty minutes as I couldn't spend too long here. Many of its buildings were rebuilt and it's probably bulging with tourists in the warmer months, but I enjoyed soaking in some of its history and scenery on a cool February day.
I backtracked through Maryland and cut north up Rohrersville Road, which winds through Maryland's farm country, with Hank Williams Jr. and Dwight Yoakam on to fit the Dixieland setting. In the foreground red barns and farmhouses rolled over the low hills. Maybe I imagined it but a small town had a gun shop in their restaurant. Off to the west the afternoon sun shone and the Appalachians bordered this entry into the American South. It took me a while to realize I was no longer in Virginia, because this was the frontier to God's country and there's little to distinguish west Maryland from it.
I hit the I-70 in Hagerstown and jutted left to I-68 that cuts through the splintered portion of Maryland that borders Pennsylvania along the Mason-Dixon Line and West Virginia through the Appalachians. My little Nissan struggled through the climbs and the western sun beamed in my face but boy was I happy climbing through the mountains. There was nothing to complain about. At one point I darted north onto what's known as the National Pike and was joyous when a saw Maryland rest area at the top of a rock cut through the mountains. I parked and laughed to myself at how unbelievable this journey was when I didn't have any expectations of this. I admit ignorance as I had no idea Maryland contained this kind of landscape.
The sun slowly set on my entry into Pennsylvania and as dusk hit a trim blood orange sky slivered between the charcoal and blue hues of the mountains and the dull glow of the light pollution of northern cities. Briefly the temperature dropped three degrees and a dusting of snow scurried across the road. The real fun came on the descent between Chalkhill, PA and Hopwood, PA. I had The Doors on and "The End" was playing through this treacherous, winding descent. I didn't fear the worst, but some truckers must've experienced "the end" at some point because signs dotted the shoulder warning about truck speeds and the perilous doom if they failed to abide or took a turn too quick. Pittsburgh was straight north up the road!
People will tell you that driving at night is boring and that you can't see a thing, but they're wrong! In this populated corridor your imagination takes over as you substitute characters into the story. With "Borne On the Wind" and other haunting tunes of Roy Orbison playing my imagination wandered. Night music for the lonesome. Along the shoulders ordinary churches popped up sporadically but it's business that's worshiped here. This is America, after all! Illuminated billboards reminded you to buy the products that they're selling. Huge Ford and Chevy dealerships the size of several football fields stretched lengthwise and perched above the traffic, and the used car lots fit into any nook and cranny. Who's winning and who's losing? The glow of Sunoco, Marathon, and Exxon gas stations attracted the eye. There's people out here tonight driving around aimlessly, I thought. Another town, another Dollar General. The penny-pinchers. The vernacular architecture burrowed under lamps so that one only saw the cinder block facades. Pick-ups lined the roadhouses and I wondered who's getting drunk and brawling on the gravel tonight. Through the whole capitalistic expanse I wondered whose coming out of the woodwork at night to conduct their business and get into trouble. In this uniquely American landscape the night writes the stories for you.
We're getting close! With Johnny Cash inspiration: How far's the city mama? Fifteen miles and lowering. I crossed the Monongahela River and laughed aloud. How far's the city papa? Ten miles and lowering. I passed a Primanti Brothers, a Pittsburgh staple, and knew it's real close. Five miles and it was all fast food joints and used car lots lining this river-like road. Finally, I reached Pittsburgh! My Airbnb is on Mt. Washington and from the brow I looked across at the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers and Pittsburgh glowing in the crisp night air! Alas!