Photo copyright The Tara Chronicles, 2016
Our road trip last weekend took us to Pittsburgh, PA for the state bowling tournament. Born and raised in southeastern Pennsylvania, I’ve only ever been to western PA once before and that was to Erie for the state tournament two years ago. When my family vacationed, we got the heck out of dodge. Way out.
Driving west is really kind of boring, particularly when you’re pressed for time and practicality wins out, and you’re left counting mile markers on the turnpike while gobbling up Middleswarth BBQ chips. I snapped a few photos before the sun disappeared, but they’re all mostly gradations of green landscape, some blurry trees, the occasional farm and some cows. Napping wasn’t an option. I feel guilty for snoozing while he drives since I accidently do it all the time late at night after a few drinks. (If there was a dislike button for this, Todd would have broken it by now.)
Friends who’d left ahead of us texted about the windy roads that twist around hills and mountains, and the overall landscape of the area we were staying in, sharing a pic of a Walmart perched so high on a hill you could only see the rooftop.
We stopped at a rest stop to refuel and to forestall a urinary emergency, and encountered a double-decker bus filled with teenagers. The ladies room was so loud I felt like my ears were bleeding. The toilet didn’t flush.
I drove the last two hours or so thanks to Todd’s back pain. Some much of the turnpike out west wraps around mountains and has more curves than Kim Kardashian. I gradually grew irritated with a car from West Virginia that seemed determined to catch up and pass me, only to slow down and allow me to pass them. There were several tunnels.
We arrived at 11:25, after an exiting mishap whereby Todd told me to get off and it wasn’t actually where we were supposed to get off…and suddenly I was driving through an area I’m quite certain we were not supposed to be in late at night. Couples who have been driving together for hours and are also sleep deprived can be a little touchy with each other, particularly over directions and driving through neighborhoods with a disproportionate number of boarded dwellings.
A few minutes later, the gentleman at the hotel’s front desk cheerfully checked our weary selves in and said he was there till 7:30 a.m. if we needed anything. Todd asked if he could get us a bottle of scotch. It’s amazing how he can pull humor out of the air with bloodshot eyes. I was all like, cut the shit and get me to the room.
Great hotel – newly renovated and very clean….brand-new white fluffy towels that put ours to shame and a big comfortable king-size bed. I was in it in 10 minutes flat, naked and ready to…. sleep. Sorry to disappoint, folks, but we’re old. Though – there is something to be said about sex away from home and children. But I’m not saying it. Move along…nothing to see here.
Exactly 5 ½ hours later we were up and showered and went down to join our friends. We were the only four in there. That is, until someone who appeared to work there was chatting quite loudly with our front desk man and I swear to God I heard him drop the f-bomb. I glanced up at my compatriots and no one else seemed to notice, so I figured maybe I was hallucinating.
So I had this yellow stuff they said was scrambled eggs but had the texture of tapioca, but I’m not complaining because the turkey sausage was good and there was plenty of Chobani and milk and fresh fruit and a pancake-making station and cinnamon rolls. I’m not a big fan of carbs, or sugar, but that cinnamon roll. I grabbed an extra for the road and the young man who was attending to the buffet brought me a box to put it in.
The first day of the tournament was an hour away from our hotel, on the other side of the city. The location was surprisingly nice, given that the majority of bowling alleys I’ve been to always seem to be tucked away in some dark forgotten corner of town and next to pawn shops and hookers. I mentioned this to Todd, who wondered whether those pawn shops were a graveyard of bowling balls and broken dreams. (Okay – I’ve never really seen any hookers, but there could be.)
We arrived at 8:30 to a bustling alley, smell of coffee in the air, and announcements for the bar’s bloody mary’s. The team table next to ours was already lined up with empty beer bottles and four buckets of new ones, at 8:30 a.m. They were a group of (mostly) bald men uniformed in camo shorts and matching orange t-shirts – with their nicknames: Mic, Keff, Shooter, and…. Urinator. I can’t make this shit up. I put down my Prince edition of People Magazine. Something worthy of blog fodder has gotta happen. I tried unsuccessfully to discretely get a pic of all them together, from the back, during the Star-Spangled Banner when I was supposed to be reverent. Here’s the one I got later (sorry it’s blurry), before we rolled out: (pun intended)
Unfortunately for me, and this blog, this group of aging frat boys were remarkably tame. Several times I found myself trying desperately to stay awake – a task that shouldn’t be that hard in a place louder than a 747 at takeoff. I contemplated joining the crowd and grabbing a basket of French fries and a beer, because, well – bowling. I thought about that beer during most of game 3, but knew that Todd would never speak to me again if I got drunk and stupid that early in the day. After all, we had a whole new city to explore.
Middleswarth potato chips began in a 2-room building off the side of Bob Middleswarth’s Beavertown, PA home in 1942. I discovered the unique flavor of their BBQ potato chips during a two-year college stint in central PA and they’re the best I’ve ever had, and I am not being paid to promote this though I’d welcome weekly shipments as a thanks. Though currently only distributed to 11 locations in Pennsylvania, they can be ordered online and shipped anywhere.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike was designed in the 1930s and opened on October 1, 1940. It was the first long-distance, limited-access highway in the United States. It utilized seven tunnels originally built for the railroad in the 1880s, four of which cut through the Appalachian mountains.
Each day’s tournament is roughly three hours long, but it will feel like six when you’re only a spectator. Outside food and beverage is discouraged by the bowling alleys; but in many cases I highly recommend ignoring this rule, especially when using the bathrooms as a gauge for the quality of the establishment.