Chapter 3 — Scary Tales of Mountains and Malls

In Travels With Myself on June 26, 2013 at 1:07 am

I believe I said in my first post that getting off the interstate reminds us what roads are really like. Well that can certainly be said about Route 119 from the Pennsylvania border to Grafton, West Virginia; and I assume even further south. I say assume because I have no intention of finding out.
Route 119 is a narrow (by which I mean just barely wide enough for cars to pass each other going in opposite directions), winding (think ribbon candy) road. Along one side (I may be wrong, but I think it was always my side) there are a great many very long drops from which vehicles are separated only by a very short guard rail. For some reason, West Virginia thinks that it is a good idea in that situation to bank the curves toward the precipice and separate the road from the guard rail with a six-inch gutter a tad wider than an automobile tire. The state also considers it prudent to put off repairs to the road except to pack in a lot of macadam patches that bounce the vehicle from side to side.
Now, if you have the nerve for it, imagine that you are most accustomed to driving relatively flat, fairly wide roads in Eastern Connecticut, but have, because of a crazy idea about staying off highways, chosen to drive an extended length, extra-tall Ford Econoline RV along this road. Let me just say that I drove very slowly and looked for every opportunity to pull over onto the rare wide patch between mountainsides to breathe, check my vital signs and let the long lines of locals who had queued up behind me pass as they wished.
I wonder why it is that so much of what is beautiful and awe-inspiring is also so frightening – or is that just me? (I know . . . this is the real meaning of “awful.”)
That said, I am glad of the experience. So much of this first leg of the trip, which will take me to Utah by the 4th of July, is about encountering the country as it is. There are mountains as well as flat places; there are open spaces and places where everything is so close you feel claustrophobic driving through. I never fooled myself into thinking that it would all just be a drive from Putnam to Woodstock, only very much longer.
From here I turn west on U.S. Route 50, which should take me directly across Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado, all the way to Utah. If I can continue to average a state a day, then I will be in Enterprise for the 4th.
I did drive through a considerable portion of Pennsylvania, also, of course. And one stop deserves mention. In Uniontown, I pulled off of 119 to take a break just before pushing ahead into West Virginia. The place I chose was a good sized mall with a large Walgreen-style pharmacy/superstore at one end. I went into the mall entrance and the place looked like a movie set for a post-apocalyptic fantasy. Benches sat empty in neat rows; a lot of random stuff stood shrouded in drop cloths, both in the hallways and behind the glass doors of abandoned stores; a sort of nondescript restaurant called Moe’s was open, but had few customers; and an open counter coffee shop called Joe’s stood in the middle of the mall a short distance away, apparently set up for business, but completely unoccupied. In a corner was an arcade with flashing pinball machines and glowing video game consoles, but not a single gamer in sight.
Curious, I approached an old man sitting by the one open store front, a dental office, and asked him what this place is. He told me that the mall had never done very well there and, except for the pharmacy, stores had abandoned it one by one, until it was essentially closed. Rather than completely close it, however, someone suggested turning it into a large open indoor flea market and antiques mall. The flea market only operates from Friday to Sunday, however, and the place just sits the rest of the week, with barely a pulse, waiting for vibrant, teeming life to return and resurrect it, like a rust belt Brigadoon.

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