On Thursday evening, April 24, 1991, I experienced quite a coincidence.
A friend of my wife Sue gave us primo New York Mets tickets, for a game at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. A few days earlier, a former employee of mine, DENG, got tickets to the same game from a client. To complete this oddity, another friend, KURUDAVE had tickets left to him at the will-call window, by one of players.
In addition to the later coincidence, I thought this was funny because KURU wasn't a sports fan. Even though he had his benefactor's name written down at home, he couldn't remember the ticket-bearer's name. Even funnier, he had no idea which team the player was on. To be on the safe side, I reminded him that he was taking a big chance of being embarrassed in front of his new girlfriend, if after the long ride, the guy was a bullshitting impostor.
The true coincidence may have never happened because the sky that afternoon was shrouded by thick gray clouds. During our hour-long drive to Philadelphia, the floodgates opened. At five o'clock, while crossing the Walt Whitman Bridge, the storm forced me to use my hyper-speed windshield-wipers. Although the ballgame was jeopardized by a rain out, Sue and I clung to our original dinner plans and headed to Philly Cheese Steak-Heaven.AN AUTHENTIC CHEESE STEAK CONTAINS; FRIZZLED BEEF, GRILLED ONIONS AND MELTED CHEESE, ON A LONG ROLL. BUILT TO SUIT, VARIED INGREDIENTS GIVE THIS DELECTABLE COUNTLESS VARIATIONS. I LIKE MINE WITH PROVOLONE, SAUTEED MUSHROOMS AND TOO MUCH KETCHUP.
In South Philadelphia, not far from the Italian Market, on the corner of 9th and Passyunk, two giants of the cheese steak world are situated across the street from each other. The person who gave me the directions picked one over the other solely on the basis that they invented the sandwich, in the early 1930's. However, he was quick to point out that they had pretty much evolved into the same thing...he wouldn't know just how right he was.
At our destination, it was still drizzling. Sue and I stood in the street, under a portico surrounded by empty, litter-filled picnic tables. We were intoxicated by the aroma of grilled onions as we advanced to the transom to place our order. I was holding a twenty-dollar bill as I glanced up at the menu and asked the clerk, "Where's the bathroom?" He pointed behind me at a fenced in, open field and said, "Go in the park!" I wasn't peeing outside and was insulted by the idea. Sue and I took our business across the street. You'd think it would be impossible for the same attitude to be duplicated but we got the exact same, "Go in the park," treatment.
THERE'S ONLY ONE WORTHWHILE CRACK IN THE "CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE." SO I DIDN'T NEED TO HEAR ANY MORE FROM THESE TWO GENIUSES.
A little further up the street, we found an unheralded and less independent purveyor of cheese steaks, (I wish I remembered their name because they deserve the free advertisement). Despite cleaning his ear hole with his pinkie while we spoke, the representative behind the counter had people skills that were light years beyond the other two dimwits. This place also had a welcome mat in front of their restroom and clean, indoor seating. Our outlook brightened. We enjoyed our meal and were further pleased to learn that the rain had stopped.
At the stadium, the chilly, damp weather combined with the game's early season unimportance and the Phils inferior squad, to minimize the crowd. I joked that with so few fans, they could save time if the players came into the stands and individually introduced themselves to everyone. Later, they posted a paid attendance of 15,214, but I'm sure most were no-shows.
Luckily, we never needed our umbrella. But Sue and I snuggled in our sweatshirts, on field level, directly behind home plate, in seat one and two of row "J." The big coincidence occurred when we spotted DENG amid the sea of vacant seats. He was a few sections away, up the right field line.
While the Phillies were batting in the second inning, KURUDAVE and his date were ushered to their seats behind third base. I was able to yell out his name and got his attention. Through a series of gestures, he was able to pantomime that Mets pitcher Wally Whitehurst had given him his tickets.
In the fourth inning, there was a public address announcement of a contest. To this day, it is unclear what the prize was. But we perked up when we heard that the winning seats were on our level. We actually got interested when the search was narrowed down to our section. When they said row "J," Sue and I reflexively looked to our left. The entire row was empty except for the last two seats. Then the announcement for seat 22 and 23 was made.
The final crescendo from, "STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER," blared on the sound system as ushers, a couple of men in suits and cute girls in Phillie windbreakers, carrying maroon and white balloons, hustled down the concrete steps. After some fanfare, the smiling lucky stiffs waved bye-bye and the entourage whisked them away. They never returned to their seats.
Even though we watched the second half of the game from the first row behind home plate, the Mets won and I saw my friends at the game, I still had the taste of sour grapes in my mouth as we started the second half of our journey.
Instead of going home, we continued west for an over night in Lancaster County...a.k.a., Pennsylvania Dutch Country.
PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH, REFERS TO DESCENDANTS OF IMMIGRANTS FROM SWITZERLAND AND GERMANY WHO SETTLED IN FARMLANDS AROUND PRESENT DAY LANCASTER COUNTY. TOURISTS ARE DRAWN BY THE OLD WORLD CHARM OF THE AMISH AND MENNONITE PEOPLE WHOSE CUSTOMS HAVE CHANGED LITTLE DOWN THROUGH THE YEARS. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE WORD "DUTCH" IS DERIVED FROM DEUTSCH, THE GERMAN WORD FOR GERMAN...FOLKS FROM THE NETHERLANDS, AREN'T PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH.
At midnight we got a room in Souderburg, on the Lincoln Highway (Route-30). The next morning was beautiful. While getting back in the car, it was so nice that even though our motel was surrounded by pastures...and the noxious methane odor associated with cows, we loved it.
On the road, we saw the famous horse drawn buggies. I had visited this area a few times in my youth but it was Sue's first time. I took her to a restored village where they show how the Amish live while teaching visitors of their beliefs.
Our next stop was the Strasburg Railroad. Along the way, we thought it was funny that in an area known for being conservative, many of the tiny municipalities had sexually suggestive names, like; Intercourse, Blue Ball, Mount Joy, Lititz, Bareville, Bird-in-Hand and Paradise, (I'm guessing these erotic names are a coincidence too, because even Google didn't have a definitive answer).
Since 1832, the town of Strasburg has boasted the longest continually run railroad in the USA.THAT'S EIGHT-YEAR OLD ME IN THE MIDDLE. SOMETHING TELLS ME THAT SINCE 1963, THEY'VE HAD ENOUGH LAWSUITS THAT THEY NO LONGER ALLOW THEIR LOCOMOTIVES TO BE USED AS JUNGLE GYMS.
Sue enjoyed the train excursion through the countryside.YEARS LATER, ON MAY 23, 1997 , WE TOOK MY SON ANDREW AND GRANDMA ON THE SAME TRAIN RIDE. BY THAT TIME, THE CARTOON "THOMAS THE TRAIN," WAS MEGA. SO IN THE SHADOWS OF THE STRASBURG DEPOT, AN INGENIOUS ENTREPRENEUR OPENED A HUMONGOUS "THOMAS" STORE.
We still had two stops left before going home. The first was Intercourse...just to say we were there, take pictures and buy souvenirs. Then for more of my own personal nostalgia, we returned to 2811 East Lincoln Highway, to the town of Ronks, for dinner.
Miller's Smorgasbord (buffet), opened in 1929. My parents made it a point to take us there every time we visited. I still have a few seconds of poor quality, 8mm home movies (they have been transferred to the equally obsolete VHS format), taken inside Miller's dining room in 1960. Unfortunately, there are no photos.
Miller's prided them self on everything being home made and delicious. And that night twenty years ago would be no exception. I bellied-up to the steam tables and gorged myself.
While trolling for more entrees, I breezed past the deserts. A little sign that read, Chocolate Pecan Pie caught my eye. I was still concentrating on my dinner so I set aside this enticement, took stock of the five portions there and ate more braised beef and fried chicken.
When I returned to the scene of the crime, the cupboard was bare. I must have had a dumbfounded look on my face because a young hostess dressed in a pinafore dress and an Amish-like bonnet asked, "Are you okay?" I was embarrassed because I had opened my belt and must have looked like a glutton as I said, "Are they bringing out any more chocolate pecan pie?" She smiled, "I'll get you some." A few seconds later she returned empty-handed. She said, "They don't have any more in the kitchen but if you give me a minute, I'll go across the street to our bakery and bring back a bunch."
I watched her through the window. In the dark, I could see the epitome of another coincidence. The bakery was in a building surrounded by a fenced in open field. When she came back with the best pecan pie I ever ate, I couldn't help but be reminded that this Pennsylvania Dutch treat would NEVER happen in South Philly, unless I got it myself.