May 17, 2021

Hershey M&M's

Hershey (2021)
For years, my father has been telling me about the time when he was a kid when Hershey made their own version of M&M's.  I don't know how it keeps coming up in conversation.  I'd like to say that it's because I worked for a major candy company for the better part of a decade, but if I'm being honest, he has talked about these for many years prior to that, and he continues to talk about them to this day after my former employer sold off their American candy business.  So, imagine my surprise to find a big bag of Hershey-Ets at Ollies, in retro styled packaging, no less!  I had to pick them up for him.

Now, my pop has had type 2 diabetes since he was 30, and he has been eating and drinking with reckless abandon for his entire life.  The drinking hasn't slowed down much, but he is starting to watch what he eats a little bit.  He said that these would be good to have around the house for when his blood sugar crashes.  Then, he proceeded to remove every last Hershey-ets with a crack in its candy shell and eat them.  I think pop might have a touch of OCD.

As for the candy, they taste exactly like you probably expect they would, which is to say they're M&M's.  Maybe somewhere out there is someone with such a refined pallet for chocolate in a candy shell that they can tell the difference between the two, but that somebody isn't me.  However, it was still worth the purchase for the glee in my father's eyes as he shouted "I told you so", as if I was on the other side of this debate.

May 16, 2021

Thoughts On Fried Chicken, Inspired By One Tough Cookie

May's Drive-In
Ashland, PA
Back in 2012, an 85 year old woman named Marilyn Hagerty wrote a sincere review in her weekly newspaper column in which she praised the new Olive Garden restaurant that opened in Grand Forks, North Dakota.  Her review went viral, and most of the commentary about Ms. Hagerty ranged from sarcastic to condescending to outright ridicule.  It was if they were asking how dare someone take the time to appreciate something that she enjoyed and to share that appreciation with others.  Thankfully, there were strong voices in the food community who came to Ms. Hagerty's defense, including Anthony Bourdain - a man who I admired to a degree that is borderline unhealthy.  He published a book of her reviews, and he wrote a forward that slammed the door in the face of the kind of people who would make fun of this woman.  Ms. Hagerty is about to turn 95 years old, and she's still going strong and writing columns for her local paper.

I thought of Ms. Hagerty when I began to sort through the photos on my phone to post this entry about the May's Drive-In that I visited yesterday.  I admire this woman a great deal for her ability to rise above the attitudes of the people who go through this life trying to prove how damn cool they are at the expense of others.  I also admire her talent.  She's a published writer, and a damn good one.  I'm just some dumb schmuck from Northeast Pennsylvania with a blog that nobody cares about but me.  On the off chance that someone ever does find this post, there's a pretty good chance that they'd think I'm stupid for writing about a simple fried chicken dinner that was served on a styrofoam plate with some french fries and a little tub of cole slaw.  When I looked at the photos I took of my dinner, I almost deleted them and decided to not write about this place, but it's people like Ms. Hagerty who remind me to do what makes me happy, and to appreciate the good things in this world with an open heart and an open mind.

May's Drive-In has two counters where you can place your order - one that is accessible from the parking lot and one on the inside.  They had a lot of ice cream options, and they're right across the street from a football field, so I imagine that this place is hoppin' after a game when everybody comes streaming across the street for some ice cream or a burger and fries.

As much as I wanted to try the ice cream, I just couldn't.  I've been doing pretty well on my diet so far - lost ten pounds and already feel quite a bit better than I did at the start of the year.  It's not a super strict diet when it comes to meals, which is why I ordered the three piece country style chicken meal without a moment's hesitation, but I am limiting myself to meals only: breakfast, lunch and dinner.  No snacking and no desserts - at least until I get down to my target weight.

I was tempted to get the cheesesteak, but I have cheesesteaks and reuben sandwiches so often that I wanted to try something else.  It had been a long time since I had fried chicken that didn't come from KFC or Popeye's, so I decided to give it a shot, and I wasn't disappointed.  It was juicy and delicious with crispy skin and a touch of seasoning.  It was served with french fries, a buttered bun and some cole slaw, all of which were tasty.

Like I said, I'm not the writer that Ms. Hagerty is, but I would definitely come to May's Drive-In again.

Left Behind As The Seasons Roll On By...

This was on the ground in the parking lot of the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine.  Like the team that it represents, this cap has seen better days.  The Phils lost 4-0 to the Blue Jays in Dunedin yesterday, and we may have lost both Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto to injuries.  Uggh!

Down In The Mines

Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine
Ashland, PA
Yesterday afternoon, we went on a tour of a coal mine that hasn't been in operation since the Great Depression.  It's called the Pioneer Tunnel, and it's located in Ashland, Pennsylvania.  It's a horizontal drift mine with a tunnel that runs about 300 feet deep and 1800 feet into the side of the Mahanoy Mountain.

I didn't know what to expect when we got here - just wanted to go on a little adventure, but I'm very glad that we did.  Our tour guide was an awesome dude whose father and uncle worked in the coal mines, and he really made the experience come to life.

They say that every sign has a story.  If that's true, I would love to hear what prompted the need to have this posted at the entrance of the mine.

You might think that this is a claustrophobic kind of experience, but I didn't find it to be.  I'm sure it was for the folks who used to work the mine, but there's plenty of room to move around comfortably, and the folks who run the tours couldn't possibly be nicer or more accommodating.  

The temperature inside of the coal mine is approximately 49 degrees, so you definitely need a coat, but it's something I would strongly recommend to anyone who is interested in history, or if you're just looking for something different to do.

There's even a little park outside of the coal mine where you can relax and have a picnic lunch if you want.  There were a bunch of squirrels and blue jays out yesterday.  Unfortunately, this blurry photo of a lone bird is the only evidence I have, but there were at least a dozen of them bopping around.

May 15, 2021

A Town On Fire

Route 61
Centralia, PA
For nearly sixty years, this small town in Pennsylvania has been the subject of documentaries and the inspiration for many horror movies and ghost stories, including Strange Highways and the movie adaptation of the Silent Hill video game series.  As of 2017, it has a total population of five.  Everyone else has either died or left town due to the coal mine fire that has been burning and releasing toxic chemicals into the air continuously since May 27, 1962.  Experts believe that the fire will continue to burn for the next 250 years.

I live about a half hour away from this abandoned town.  It's a very pretty drive through the woods from Route 924 in Hazleton to Route 61 which runs directly through the center of the town.  Most of the buildings have been town down, and a portion of Route 61 that had collapsed due to the mine fire has been isolated, but what remains of the town is open to explore.

The original Graffiti Highway (an abandoned section of Route 61) was covered by dirt, and I didn't get to the parts of town where you can see smoke from the mine fire coming out of the ground, but I was able to take a nice walk through the woods and take some photos before it started to rain.  There's a section of South Street near the St. Ignatius Cemetery that's still accessible by car where tourists are attempting to make a new Graffiti Highway, but it's got a long way to go to match the original.

Later this summer, I'm going to try to get back down here to do a little more exploring.

May 14, 2021

The First Win

Philadelphia Quakers
On this day in 1883, the Philadelphia Quakers won their first game in franchise history when the defeated the Chicago White Stockings at Lake Front Park in Chicago by a score of 12-1.  The Quakers would go on to become the Philadelphia Phillies in 1884 while the White Stockings would become the Chicago Cubs in 1903.

The Quakers first season was abysmal.  They lost their first eight games of the season before winning this game, and they would only win another 16 games through the rest of the year.  They lost a total of 81 games, giving the team a .173 winning percentage - dead last in the National League.

May 13, 2021

Battle A Robotic Blacksmith From An Alternate Dimension

Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars
Super Nintendo (1996)
I can't believe it's been a quarter century since this game came out in the States.  If you enjoy console role playing games and you haven't played it yet, I highly recommend it.  It's got the perfect balance of fun and difficulty for casual gamers without being too simplistic for the folks who have been playing RPGs for many years.

May 12, 2021

You Can See The Universe In Their Eyes If You're Really Looking

Today is George Carlin's birthday.  He was my favorite stand-up comedian.  I'm tempted to say that he was a hero of mine, but that's exactly the type of thing that I expect would have annoyed him.  I can see why.  How can you ever put that kind of label on someone that you don't know and who you've only experienced through their work?  Setting aside the hero label, it's fair to say that George Carlin is a man whose work made me feel less alone.

Here are a few things from his books and performances that resonated with me over the years:

“I love words. I thank you for hearing my words. I want to tell you something about words that I think is important. Words are my work, they’re my play. They’re my passion. Words are all we have really. We have thoughts, but thoughts are fluid. And, then we assign a word to a thought and we’re stuck with that word for that thought. So be careful with words. The same words that hurt can heal.”

“They give you a coloring book and some crayons, and tell you, be creative... but don't go outside the lines.”

“I dislike groups of people but I love individuals. Every person you look at; you can see the universe in their eyes, if you're really looking."

“You will do things in the name of a group that you would never do on your own. Injuring, hurting, killing are all part of it, because you've lost your identity, because you now owe your allegiance to this thing that's bigger than you are and that controls you.”

"I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so fucking heroic."

“People say, 'I'm going to sleep now' as if it were nothing. But it's really a bizarre activity. 'For the next several hours, while the sun is gone, I'm going to become unconscious, temporarily losing command over everything I know and understand. When the sun returns, I will resume my life."

And with that, I'm going to sleep now.  When the sun returns, I will resume my life.

May 11, 2021

Pennsylvania Poultry

Steve's Chicken Stand
Hometown Farmer's Market - Tamaqua, PA
There aren't many places that I've found that sell tastier chicken than this stand at the Hometown Farmer's Market.  You can smell the food here a mile away, and if you can resist it, you've got more willpower than I have.

They were doing a "buy one, get one free" deal the last time I was there, so we got two good sized chickens for around eight bucks.

They're a lot bigger on your dinner plate than they look in the display case, and they're absolutely delicious.  You absolutely can't go wrong with a roasted barbecue chicken and baked potatoes for dinner.

However, I did have to take a pass on the grilled veggies.  I'm no culinary expert, but I do believe that old Steve has gone ahead and included a few chicken wings in here.  Perhaps I'm wrong and the vegetables have cleverly disguised themselves as chicken wings as a way to sneak onto my dinner plate.

May 10, 2021

The Drive-In Will Never Die

Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Mahoning Drive-In - Lehighton, PA
This place is an absolute treasure.  It was built in 1948, opened for business the next year, and has been in operation for over sixty years.  When the major Hollywood studios announced that they would stop producing 35mm films and switch entirely to digital, the Mahoning Drive-In decided that they would focus their efforts entirely on showing vintage movies, using the original 35mm film prints, on the projector that they've used since the day they opened in 1949.  Since that time, it's become an icon for movie lovers across the country, and was even the subject of a 2019 documentary that is available on Amazon Prime.

Last night was my first opportunity to see a movie here, and I am absolutely in love with the place.  Everyone who I spoke to who works here was extremely welcoming and friendly.  They are dedicated to creating a fun atmosphere where people can come together, meet new people, and have a great time with their fandom.

Before the movie began, they played a selection of Disney songs over the radio before switching it up to Koo Koo Kanga Roo for the young son of the man who was making the musical selections.  All I Eat Is Pizza is a surprisingly catchy tune for a kids song!  They also showed vintage trailers for movies such as Bambi, Muppet Treasure Island, The Rocketeer, and Dick Tracy, and an introduction to the film by the creator of Roger Rabbit that was recorded especially for the Mahoning Drive-In.

Artwork by Tom Bifulco
The whole experience felt as if I was melting into my childhood right there on the spot.  The opportunity to see the original 35mm print of Who Framed Roger Rabbit is truly something special.  I know that might be hard for some folks to understand, but this is a piece of history.  The Mahoning Drive-In have been working for over four years to have access to the 35mm Disney Vaults.  As of right now, they are the only drive-in theater in the country that are still screening the original 35mm prints of Disney films.  I can't tell you how fortunate I feel that such a rare treasure is practically in my backyard.

Of course, I can't close this out without talking about the food.  They're operating with a limited menu as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but there were plenty of good things to eat and everything was reasonably priced.  I had chicken fingers, french fries and a corn dog - the perfect childhood comfort foods to enjoy while watching one of the most iconic films of the 1980's.

May 9, 2021

Back To The Ballpark

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Pitching: Ricardo Pinto vs. Mark Appel
Results: Fightin Phils defeated Seawolves, 6-4

It has been over 600 days since I was last at a ballpark to watch a baseball game.  Man, so much has happened in the world since then.  After the last fifteen months living under the cloud of Covid-19, it almost feels like we're living on a different planet from the one that we all shared in 2019.

My wife surprised me with tickets to last night's game, and I couldn't have been happier.  Being at the ballpark is one of the few places in this world where I truly feel like I belong.  I was even more excited when we settled into our seats and they announced the opening lineups.  The starting pitcher for the Erie Seawolves was former Phillies reliever Ricardo Pinto.  That was pretty cool, but what was even better was that Mark Appel was starting for the Fightin' Phils.

Appel was the #1 pick overall (taken by the Houston Astros) in the 2013 draft.  Scouts thought that he had the potential to become an ace in the Major Leagues, but injuries and ineffectiveness took their toll, and his minor league career hasn't worked out that everyone expected.  The Phillies acquired him in the winter before the 2016 season in the Ken Giles trade - the same deal that brought Vince Velasquez to Philadelphia.  The Phillies hoped that they could turn Appel around, but it didn't happen.  Two years later, in February 2018, Appel announced that he was stepping away from baseball altogether at the age of 26.  He never made it to the majors.

At this point, the baseball world figured that the Mark Appel story had ended, but he made a surprise announcement in March 2021 that he would be returning to the game at age 29.  I've read a few interviews that he's given about his comeback, and it really seems like the guy wants to play for the pure love of the game.  He's made his peace with the fact that he's not the young phenom that scouts projected him to be, and whether he makes the Major Leagues or not, he wants the rest of his playing career to be fun.  Last night's game is the first live game that he has pitched in since 2017, and I'm glad that I was there to see it.  I'm really rooting for this guy to succeed.  He seems like a really good dude with a positive attitude, and I would be thrilled to see him bounce back and have the kind of career that he wants to have.

Minor League Baseball wasn't played at all in 2020, so the start of the Reading Fightin' Phils season this past Tuesday was a pretty big deal.  Throughout the month of May, they're selling a limited number of tickets per game and socially distancing fans throughout the ballpark.  However, the team announced before the start of the last night's game that they will be returning to 100% capacity in June.  By then, I'll have my second Covid vaccination shot, so it really is starting to feel like life is getting back to normal.

Not all of the food vendors were open for Saturday night's game, but the main ones were up and running.  I had this triple cheeseburger, which was pretty awesome.  I was expecting three thin burger patties like you'd get at McDonalds, but these were all pretty damn thick and very tasty.  They didn't skimp out on the cheese either.

It was a cold night, but a hell of a good game, and a very closely fought battle despite the fact that the five pitchers Reading sent to the mound combined to record a total of 18 strikeouts.

Mark Appel struggled a bit with his control, which is understandable when you consider that he hasn't pitched in a game since September 2017.  He threw 56 pitches over 2 ⅔ innings and allowed one run on three hits, two walks and two hit batters.  However, he struck out four, had a good changeup, and he was hitting 95 - 97 with his fastball.  It may not look pretty on paper, but it was an encouraging first outing.

Lefty Taylor Lehman came on to relieve Appel with two outs and two on in the third inning.  It was his first appearance in Double A and he was very impressive.  He recorded a strikeout to end the third inning and pitched three innings, striking out seven.  He gave up one run on five hits and a walk before he was relieved by Zach Warren, who came into the game with the bases loaded in the sixth.  Warren ended the inning by striking out Seawolves DH Drew Ward, who's has the unusual distinction of having a first name which is the past-tense of the backward spelling of his last name.

Warren started the 7th inning, but he got into trouble.  He gave up a single to Josh Lester, threw a wild pitch and walked Yariel Gonzalez and Juan Centeno to load the bases with no outs.  Tyler Carr came into the game to relieve Warren and struck out the first two batters he faced before getting Riley Greene to pop out and end the inning with no damage.  He returned to pitch in the 8th and gave up a walk to Jacob Robson and a two run homer to Drew Ward, but he recorded three strikeouts to end the inning.  Joel Cesar came in to pitch the 9th and had a 1-2-3 inning with one strikeout.  Josh Stephen made an excellent diving catch in right field for the final out of the game.

There were two incredible plays at the plate that kept the Seawolves from scoring.  On both occasions, the victim was third baseman Yariel Gonzalez.  Center fielder Matt Vierling gunned down him down at the plate to end the second inning when he attempted to score on an RBI single off the bat of John Valente.  A very similar play took place in the top of the 5th when Juan Centeno hit an RBI double to left field.  Madison Stokes threw to shortstop Arquimedes Gamboa who then fired it to catcher Rodolfo Duran to once again record an out on Yariel Gonzalez at the plate.

Although the Seawolves outhit the Fightin' Phils, Reading capitalized on mistakes and played small ball to outscore their opponents.  Madison Stokes scored on a Ricardo Pinto wild pitch in the bottom of the 3rd to tie the score at 1-1.  Reading pulled ahead in the bottom of the 4th with an RBI double from Josh Stephen and an RBI single from Rodolfo Duran.  In the bottom of the 5th, Stephen grounded into a fielders choice that scored Arquimedes Gamboa, and McCarthy Tatum hit a sac fly to extend the Fightin' Phils lead to 5-2.  In the bottom of the 7th, Matt Vierling hit a solo home run to right center to score the sixth and final run for Reading, who won the game 6-4.

After the game, we stopped at Wawa for a late night cheesesteak, and then promptly got stuck behind a very large farm tractor that was driving at around 20 miles per hour on the highway for about twenty miles.  That's life in Pennsylvania.

May 8, 2021

From My Laboratory In The Castle East

Monster Bash
Williams (1998)
Last weekend, we stopped by Knoebels for WVIA Day.  The park's lack of effort to promote masks and social distancing was pretty disappointing, so we didn't stay for very long.  There was one pleasant surprise to be found in the arcade - a 20th anniversary edition Monster Bash pinball machine.

Whether you're a big fan of horror movies or not, this pinball machine is a hell of a lot of fun.  There are lots of opportunities for multi-ball and challenges to complete, and it's not one of those tables that feels unfair with ramps that direct the ball to the dead center between the flippers.  You get a free game if you get a score higher than 27 million, which I managed to do with a score of just over 36 million.  However, I wasn't even close to the top score, which according to the scoreboard under the backglass was a whopping 150 million.  Damn!

Speaking of the backglass, the artwork is pretty crazy.  It shows the Universal Studios monsters as a band playing to a rampaging mob of villagers.  The Bride of Frankenstein is on lead vocals with her husband on the keyboard.  They're flanked by Dracula and The Mummy on guitar and bass, and backed by The Wolfman on drums.  Then, there's The Creature From The Black Lagoon standing to the left of Dracula.  He appears to be playing... well... I'm just going to go ahead and let you draw your own conclusion on his instrument.  Last, but least visible, there is a floating saxophone on the far left of the stage.  I suppose that means The Invisible Man is a jazz musician.

May 7, 2021

Life, Antiques and Everything

Weil Antique Center
Allentown, PA
This past Saturday, we took a road trip to an antiques mall in Allentown.  It's not far off of Route 78 in Allentown, and it is absolutely massive, with over 150 separate vendors in the building and dozens more at tables outside.  It reminded me a lot of Black Diamond from the Schuylkill Mall with a single register at the front of the store where you pay for any of the items you want, regardless of which vendor it's from.

There were a lot of strange and interesting individual items that I'll post about in the future, but for now, I want to focus on the antique mall itself.  These photos don't even come close to being a virtual walkthrough of this place.  In fact, they barely scratch the surface.

Whether you're interested in movies, music, books, art, history, fashion, furniture, housewares, traditional antiques or just about anything else you can think of, you could easily spend two or three hours browsing through all of the stands and never get bored.  I could have spent a few hours just looking through the boxes of vinyl, but it was our first time here, so I didn't want to spend too much time at one stand and miss out on seeing the others.

One last thing before I close about our trip to the Antique Store.  This is my wife, Angie.  Coming here was her idea, and I can't begin to explain how proud I am of her for taking this step.  She's been battling agoraphobia for most of her life, and the threat of a pandemic that is especially dangerous for diabetics hasn't made that battle any easier on her, but she is strong in a way that I love and admire with all of my heart.

We first met when she was 21 and I was 22.  In the eighteen years that followed, we have been through it all.  We went from being casual acquaintances, to friends, to best friends in the first four years that we knew each other.  We started dating on July 24th, 2006 and got married in Las Vegas exactly five years later.  What she sees in a mess like me, I'll never know.

If there has been one positive thing to come out of the pandemic, it's that it gave us the opportunity to reconnect.  It also gave me the opportunity to confront a lot of hard truths about myself.  This has resulted in quite a few long late-night conversations over the past year, some of which were more difficult than others, but the end result is a commitment to be the kind of man that my grandfather would be proud of, and the kind of man that this incredible woman deserves.  I'm so proud of her for everything that she is, and for everything she has overcome throughout her life, even during the times when I was too self-absorbed to notice.

There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about the times I've disappointed not only her, but all of the other amazing people who I have known in my life who were far better to me than I was to them.  I know I can never take any of it back and it hurts like hell, but I can focus on the future and do everything in my power to be a good man going forward - to help others when I can, to know when to shut my mouth and listen, to be there for people who need someone to be there, and above all else, to take care of her and make sure that she is safe and happy.  If I'm very lucky, I'll have another forty years to try to make up for all of the mistakes of the first forty, and maybe I'll have a life to look back on that I can be proud of by the time I watch my final sunset.