My novel features a frontier city called “Joyland” that is inspired by, in unequal parts, nascent Las Vegas, Bogart’s Casablanca, Deadwood South Dakota, and just about every “Little America” truckstop along the highways of America–but the name came from a ramshackle little roadhouse in the blink-and-you-miss-it town of Cramer, PA just north of Johnstown near the Conemaugh River.
It was almost a good day Sunday–we looked up friends from Pittsburgh and met them at the Beaver County Maple Festival (story and pictures to follow–maybe) and had a great time. On the way home, fat on stacks of buckwheat pancakes and fresh, warm maple syrup, we decided to check out some terra incognita by driving down along the Beaver River and heading home–eastward–via the town of New Brighton and on the Zelienople, PA. Now, I can’t tell you how much it pleases me to have a town called Zelienople that is closer to my house than it is to the Parthenon. Of course, I live right up the road from Homer City, PA–which is named after the Greek poet, not the Simpsons patriarch, so I should be more jaded.
New Brighton seems to be connected to another town, Rochester, perhaps with the river creating the the difference, but it wasn’t easy to figure out–we saw a bunch of signs that said we were in one or the other, and signs in what we took to be Rochester for places like “Brighton Terrace” and “Brighton Garden” or whatever, but wherever the hell we were it looked much more promising than a lot of the old industrial towns that line Westsylvania’s bountiful, clean, recovered rivers–they’re clearly put some effort into the downtown, with newer sidewalks, nice facades on the stores, and decorative fences–think wrought iron–where old buildings had obviously died that hid the empty space but allowed one to look through towards the river.
The trouble came when we tried to get out of the damned place. We needed to get from Point A to Point B, but our paper road map lacked the detail we needed, and as far as a navigation system, well, I’ll be damned if I’ll let a machine tell me where to go. My friend Ken has one–his wife calls it “the other woman”–but not me. I’ve seen The Matrix. It’s a slippery slope, you know? One minute you’re trying to get Siri to say something stupid, the next she’s got you sucking gruel and living in a tank of goo, charging her batteries.
So, we had to follow the signs, which led us on the insane path outlined above (blue) that led us to turn left, then right, the left, cross the river, turn left again, do a 180 turn on a ramp, cross the river again on a second bridge one block downsteam from the first bridge, and so on. With apologies for language, it was simply the most fucked-up traffic routing I’ve ever seen in my life. The path shown in black would have been the most direct–but no chance on that.
At one point, where the red and blue lines split, we were actually one block from where we wanted to be, but no–we had to cross the river, go under an underpass, do a 180, merge onto a second bridge. The purple line indicates where they could have sent us–from either side of that line one can easily look across down the block and see where one had been 6 minutes ago (yes, these routes were liberally scattered with traffic lights). Agh!
One of my favorite books of all time is Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent–it’s about this geeky, intellectual, hilarious guy who spends a year driving around the country making fun of people–especially himself–and just about everything else. You’ll want to buy this book right away–in fact, just take a moment right now…..
Bryson would have loved this non-sensical SNAFU-ery–there’s either an underlying political reason for the route (cities wanting traffic to go through both of their communities? but for what? subsidies? bragging rights? speed traps?) or maybe it was the only way they could pay for the second, newer, uglier, more modern bridge–of the local officials just said screw it and let the PennDOT engineers (may they burn in hell) design the traffic flow from their cushy offices in some Harrisburg industrial park. Or maybe it was just a really, really incredible practical joke?
Either way, if I’m an investor or businesswoman (look at me and my gender equity, kiddos) and I come to this town I’m immediately thinking about what’s going to happen to all the trucks coming and going from my factory all day–or all the large German luxury cars coming and going from my white collar-whatever office. Trucks could vanish forever. Smarmy executives could leave for 4-hour golf course lunches and never show up at the club. Either way, I’m out of there.
And I’m not going back myself until Siri puts one of those big kung fu plugs in the back of my head.
One, no, two big silvery, slippery
shadowy trout lurk silent, tails sweep
slowly steadying against the current,
beneath a tangled lodgepole strainer
Left over from spring’s high water.
These fish must be grateful
For a log like this, just right
And rotting back to the mud it sprung from:
A once-proud, once tree skeleton
Now just an eddy sanctuary
For two old cutthroats–like Butch and Sundance,
Pancho and Lefty, like Edgar and me–
No, not that. He’s downstream with his fly rod
And I’m not shouting. These two are mine.
I don’t let my shadow cross the water,
But here–big luck, Vegas-odds luck:
A greenish grasshoppery weed-to-weed leaper
Vaults, a mini-martyr, into my denim lap.
I snag him by one frail spring-loaded leg
Plop. He’s in. Can’t swim. Fish keep station.
as the sun
(bug flits around considerably, like a…bug)
Anybody miss me while I was out of town and away from the Interwebs? Well, I missed you–or “yinz guys” as we like to way in western PA.
I had several ideas I thought I could write about today, but a second look at this morning’s “random” photo inspired me to do a little digging to see who this woman is and what she’s about. Fortunately, this was an easy one to run down.
As I’ve said before, most of the photos represented in this series have come by way of Tumblr and Pinterest, and are either unattributed, or have been reposted so many times that it’s difficult to figure out the original source.
This Sunday’s photo has a lot of clues, and while it shows up all over the net, I had no problem figuring out that the woman in the photo is Georgie White Clark, a fairly famous and historically significant river guide who made her mark floating the Colorado River through Arizona’s Grand Canyon (among other places) –which she first descended in the mid 1940’s. It deserves notices that while most people run the Colorado is rubber rafts, Ms White and a friend did a 60-mile stretch by…swimming it, wearing lifejackets.
Just so we’re clear on what we’re talking about, here’s a glimpse of one of the rapids:
Not only was she the first woman to swim the canyon, she was the first to row a boat through the canyon, and the first woman to run an outfitter service to guide others through the canyon as well. Her story is easily found spread across the web, and deserves a look.
And what a good story it is–“controversial” in life–though, for the record, after an admittedly cursory bit of research I’ve found little explanation for her “controversial” resputation beyond the observation that she wasn’t a modern-style feminist and that she liked to pack tin cans for her float expeditions and I suspect, had she been a man that word would not been been applied to her, her legend grew in death. Numerous, but nebulous, clues suggested that her auto-biography was filled with manufactured information, and that she may have been someone entirely different, possibly even a murderer, in the part of her life before she began running the river: Bessie Hyde, who infamously disappeared, along with her husband, on a honeymoon float down the river in 1928 that would have made Bessie the first woman to run the canyon. Was Georgie actually Bessie, returned 20 years later to finish what she’d started? It’s an exciting story that reads like a movie, and can be read in detail here:
Remember the company that poisoned the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of West Virginians? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t–at the time, the media was a lot more focused on Justin Beiber’s throwing eggs at his neighbors’ house than at a clusterfuck some have called the worst man-made natural disaster in the past hundred years. But it did happen:
And now that company has begun bankruptcy proceedings that may ultimately allow them to emerge on the other side unscathed–and their victims uncompensated. Remember that?
Their chemicals are at my house now. Really. I wish I was joking; I really do.
But I’m not.
The news came out today that Freedom Industries has moved the remaining material to a facility about ten minutes from my house–not in the watershed that provides my drinking water, thank the gods, but I wouldn’t be happy if my community pulled it’s water from the Crooked Creek-Kiskiminetas-Allegheny River watershed. Better be safe and put a few gallons up on the shelf, folks.
Freedom–that operates locally as Rosebud Mining (a proudly non-Union mine)–brought that crap here after regulators nixed some of their other facilities for being just as dangerous as the run-down, outdated set-up that spilled into the river upstream from Charleston, WV. Now that stuff is upriver from a million Westsylvanians.
And of course we can trust them to take care of things, right? To not be sneaky slimeballs who, if an accident should happen, will stand up and do their duty to take responsibility. Ah, yeh–sure. Whatever.
Just below the put-in for the lower Yough