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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I've Come to look for America: Part 2- Midwest is the best

Every small town in the Midwest has a barn, a broken fence, an abandoned church, and a graveyard.
 'America' by Yes

 'Look at Miss Ohio' by Gillian Welch

 'Come on Feel the Illinoise!' by Sufjan Stevens

So I meant to write this earlier but I've been sick with a chest cold/sinus infection for the last week.  But, it's better late than never.  It's the second part to my travelogue series.  I last left you off describing Central PA (ie. Pennsyl-tucky) and why it's worth visiting.  However, there are many folks out there who also have never been through the Midwest.  And you don't know what you're missing there either.  I make a lot of jokes about the Midwest, but the truth is that there is a lot of charm and personality.  What many consider 'fly over' territory is actually worth driving through.  And if you disagree, then you're just a coastal snob. 

After leaving Harrisburg, my mom and I drove through Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois before reaching St. Louis (that's in Missouri by the way).  It astounds me the number of Americans who don't know US geography, especially when it comes to 'fly over' territory.  Many people think Missouri is next to Texas or Idaho.  I never correct them; I just give them a look like someone just farted gold glitter.  Actually, what I find sad is that foreigners I've met know US geography better than most Americans.  They also usually speak English better too.  Sorry, but it's the truth.  So I will go to the liberty of putting a US map below so you can identify whichever states you don't know. 

So the first day we spent driving, I listened to some 70's folks/acoustic rock on a Sirius XM station called The Bridge.  The tunes matched with the landscape and the dwindling Indian Summer sun.  Artists like: Carly Simon,  Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, The Allman Brothers, Tod Rundgren, Seals and Croft, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and The Eagles.  All of the slow guitar and gentle crooning matched perfectly with the rolling hills and curving road.  It took us all the way to the Ohio border in fact.  

See, I've always been very careful about which artists I listen to while I'm in the car.  Whether I'm on a short drive or a long road trip, I pick my tunes very carefully.  I used to spend a couple of hours putting CD's into a mini CD booklet for any long car trip.  And since I love going on road trips and driving in the car, music is the only way I can magically go somewhere else and drift away.

In college, I used to go driving for hours to de-stress while listening to Sigur Ros, Polyphonic Spree, or Buffalo Springfield.  And in high school, I'd only pick Smashing Pumpkins or Sonic Youth but only specific CD's that depended on the length of my drive and the season.  For longer drives, Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness, shorter ones, Pieces Iscariot.  For fall, Bad Moon Rising and for Spring, Goo.  The CD had to be just right and usually I'd try to match the songs to my mood or where I was going.  Because we have Itunes/Ipods now and Sirius, it is much easier to do this.  I can match my mood and the tapestry outside my window to my own private soundtrack.  It's fantastic!

So as I drove through Pennsylvania and Ohio, I thought all about  first my journey home from New England/Massachusetts after living there for three years.  I drove from Western MA all the way home to St. Louis.  Then, as we got into Ohio, I thought about all the times I drove to and from St. Louis on the way to Columbus for school.  I passed the exits I would have turned off of to get to Kenyon College.  It's too bad my mom and I couldn't stay there for the night, but it was the first weekend the students were returning and all the hotels/inns were booked.

So my mom and I drove to Huber Heights, right outside of Dayton.  We ended up staying at a hotel right next to where my wife and I stayed the one time we visited our Alma Mater while we both lived in St. Louis.  We got to eat at Denny's, which I insisted on.  It was fantastic.  Some of you might be gagging but Denny's has a special place in my heart.  It's where my friends and I would go after every single rehearsal and show.  We'd sing show tunes and annoy the goths.  We'd scrunch about 20 people into a booth and overfill the table with greasy fries, onion rings, bacon tuna melts, and double cheese burgers.  So though Denny's wasn't a gourmet meal, I thoroughly enjoyed my cheese omelet and hash browns.  I didn't get grits, though.  And yes, they did have something called 'Brooklyn Spaghetti and Meatballs'. Neither me or my mom ordered it, though. 

The next day, as we drove through Indiana and Illinois, I changed the station to Lithium, a 90's alt rock station.  I got to revisit all my old friends, like Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Lemonheads, Live, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Belly, Bush, and Foo Fighters.  These were the bands that got me through my teenage years.  Billy Corgan and Dave Grohl understood my angst and inner turmoil like nobody else.  And as I listened to all of this angry rock, I reflected on my dark, brooding teenage years where I only wore black and had Holden Caulfield, Edgar Allan Poe, and Kurt Cobain as my idols.

So as we passed Richmond and the water tower displaying 'All-American City', I remember my times at Earlham College for two summers, 1998 and 1999.  These summers are where I learned to be myself and let my 'freak flag fly high'.  I stopped being a wallflower and had a major transformation, a metamorphosis.  I made great friends and had unforgettable experiences that shaped and forever changed my life.  I learned how to be a 'gutter punk' and how to style my hair into spikes with Elmer's blue gel glue.  I dyed my hair and had shaving cream fights.  I dressed in drag for the first time ever and met people who had views like mine.  I didn't have to pretend to be buttoned up and conservative.  I met Wiccans and learned what bidis and djarums were.  

I made my first group of 'townie' friends and saw girls fall in love with each other.  I made friends with many kids who had piercings and tattoos, who listened to metal and alt. rock, and many of whom were gay or bi.  It was like the episode of The Simpsons where during a summer, Lisa makes visceral friends who respect her for who she is, where she becomes 'cool'.  That's exactly how these two summers went.  I was 'popular'; people liked being around me.

This was quite the opposite at my high school, where I was a freak, a weirdo.  But after these two summers in Richmond, I was never the same.  I learned to speak out for my views and I became much more confident in who I was and what I represented.  I knew in my heart, that if I found the right niche and group of people, that I'd recreate my experience of being adored and loved.  I started dying my hair different colors and buying my clothes at Salvation Army and Goodwill.  I wore snapping cowboy shirts and Dickie's pants to school.  And when my peers started commenting behind my back that I was 'on drugs' or 'liked boys', I ignored them.  I knew they were wrong but I didn't feel like I had to prove anything anymore.  I just went full speed ahead. 

I ignored my friends when they said that I wasn't really 'like this', when they referred to my alternative looks and sensibility.  I was one of them; I was too nice to be grunge/goth/punk.  I didn't listen to them.  What's more is that I didn't have to tell people what was true and what wasn't.  I knew in my heart what my own truth was.  And though I have lost touch with most of the friends I made at Explore a College at Earlham, except Leah C., every person I met had a huge impact on who I am today.  And so Richmond will always have a special place in my heart.  If anybody from that program (in '98 and '99), happens to come across this and read it, I have not forgotten you.  I will never forget you and what lessons you taught me about loving myself for who I am, not for who others want me to be.  

Another fun thing my mom and I did was stop into Cracker Barrel.  If you have never done this, do it.  No matter what mood I'm in, if I step into a Cracker Barrel, I'm instantaneously at ease.  My friend Diana and I are on the same level about Cracker Barrel.  There's something about it that just makes you feel at peace and comforted.  For me, Cracker Barrel brings back memories of any road trip and every single to and fro trip to college.  Any time my mom and I are in the car together, we stop at Cracker Barrel and pick up some old fashioned candy, Whistle orange soda, or some little knick knack.  So Cracker Barrel also has a soft spot in my heart and always will.

Note: If you don't know what a Moon Pie is, then I don't even know what to say.  It's marshmallow between two  chocolate covered wafer-like cookies.  Expect a bit of a mess when you eat one.  Also, you should go to the Moon Pie Festival in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.  Yes, I've been to it before.  Look it up; it's real!  Both the festival and a town called Bell Buckle. 

The funniest thing that happened, however, is when my mom and I stopped to get a cup of coffee somewhere in Indiana or Illinois.  We went to a McDonalds first, but the line was too long.  So we went to Dunkin Donuts but it was closed for repair/remodeling.  Then we went to Burger King and got our coffee.  Third time is a charm, right?  Well, as we were turning back onto the highway, I spilled hot coffee all over my white linen pants.  OWW!!  And, will this stain come out?  Luckily, I was able to laugh for like 20 minutes.  My mom was snorting because she was laughing so hard.  Our trip to St. Louis was a hoot.  Driving through The Keystone state, Buckeye state, Hoosier state, and Land of Lincoln was a blast.  You'll have to try it for yourself. 

I haven't seen the movie The Guilt Trip with Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogan but I am sure that is something akin to what my road trip was like with my own mom.  And that reminds me, don't be afraid to go on a raoad trip with your mom.  It might be fun.  And if it's full of crazy xanax inducing antics, well then you can write a book about it. 

And that ends my road trip saga.  I cannot wait for the next time I get to jump into a car and drive off into the great beyond 'looking for adventure and whatever comes my way'.  Until next time! 

Happy travels,


Thursday, September 19, 2013

An open letter to Miss N:


Dear Miss N:

Darling, I truly love you but I'm afraid that our relationship may have to end soon.  That is, if you don't keep up your end of the bargain.  I keep trying to make things work but relationships cannot run on one individual's steam.  I have been trying so hard, and you continually give me very little effort.  You see, it wasn't supposed to be like this.  Things were supposed to be very different.  You promised me success and riches.  You told me I had lots of promise and that you'd take care of me.  Yet, all you've done is use and use me time and time again.  You hold fickle promises of better days and keep promising that things will improve for us.

See, you are so beautiful.  You're way out of my league.  You're intelligent, charming, dazzling, and always seem to be the life of the party.  I just can't keep up with you.  You're always up late at the most upscale parties canoodling with the who's who of NYC.  I never ever get invited.  I just sit home and wait for your return to me.  I'm always on the outside looking in.  You promised that I'd be part of your world but so far it's just empty promises.  Talk is cheap, but you charge nearly $3 a minute.  I don't see this relationship ending on a positive note so I'm writing to you to explain why I might need to leave you.

I don't think it will matter to you, though.  You have lots of friends and lovers, nearly 8 million of them to be exact.  If I left, you wouldn't even notice my absence.  I can't keep beating myself up thinking that  I'm the one who is in the wrong.  The fact is that you're just too upscale for my taste.  I never even had a chance with you.  You're smarter, prettier, and more successful than anyone I've ever known.  And that scares the hell out of me.  I always feel like I'm running on a treadmill stuck at the same speed while you speed by in your shiny Lamborghini.  I'm just dead in the water staying with you.

The only way I'll be able to stay together with you is if you change your tune with me.  You have to pay more attention to me and make me feel that our courtship is worthwhile.  Make me feel like all the gambles, that I took to be with you, are worth it.  I want you to directly tell me that I'm special and that every pitfall was worth the risk.  But I barely get anything from you nowadays.  You're too busy flitting around with losers and schemers who don't appreciate you like I do.  I do.  I'm the real deal.  I'm a dreamer and still have lots of hopes that have been left unanswered.  You should know that I love you.  I love you more than you know.  I have dreamed of being with you since I was a teenager.  I had pictures of you on my dorm room wall.  You were the only one I ever wanted to be with.  I love and adore you more than you'll ever know.  Why waste your time with people who don't respect and honor you like I do?  Get rid of all those deadbeats you call friends.  I'm a true friend.  But you don't see that.  That's why I think it's over. 

If things don't change in the next few months, then I'll have no choice but to look for love and attention elsewhere.  I cannot run on empty like this for much longer.  The blank stares and empty promises are too much.  I keep hoping that you'll look at me and say I'm totally right.  That you think I'm important and special.  That things will change permanently.  That you'll spend more time with me and give me the things you promised in the first  place.  That would be the day my dreams come true.  The day that you look into my eyes and let me share a piece of your luminescent universe would be the greatest day of my 31 years of life.

But I don't see that happening.  What I foresee, if we stay together, is catastrophe.  Total and utter chaos.  I barely see you anymore.  You don't make me happy anymore.  The magic that was in our relationship, at the very beginning, has fizzled out.  I'm broke, metaphorically and literally.  Financially, I can't take advantage of all you have to offer.  Even having coffee with you for nearly $5 is too rich for my blood.  A night out is $12-$15 per drink, and you never pay.  Though I always offer to pay for you, you hardly ever reciprocate.

I'm tired of running in circles, doll face.  You're beautiful but  a lot of it is an artifice, a veneer.  I see through all the make-up and glitter.  Truth is you're vapid and shallow.  You promised me so much and have only let me down.  You said I was the only one for you.  Though, I'm sure you say that to every young ingenue and sycophant.  Even though you told me I wouldn't find anyone as amazing as you, I know that I could.  And I will.  I can find someone else who makes up in loyalty for your complete lack of it.  And I know about all the others.  The young souls you lure to you and promise the same things.  Yet, you give them what they want because they sacrifice things that I cannot.  They don't have children, a family, the same kind of morals as I do.  But I've said too much already.

I think my blathering on does not help to change your mind about anything.  Even if I did leave tomorrow, you wouldn't give a damn.  You'd laugh your raucous, empty cackle and light your electronic cigarette while in the bed of yet some other young, handsome, but more naive lover.  You never cared how much I admired or loved you.  Showering you with praise and affection didn't do anything except feed your ego.  What's more is that I was always first to defend you in coversation to friends and relations.  They thought I was wasting my time and told me how dangerous you were.  I ignored them and laughed at their advice.  I knew that all of the time I put into our  relationship would one day pay off.  But I'm slowly realizing that the naysayers were completely right.

I can't live like this anymore.  We are going to have to go our separate ways unless things turn around drastically after you reading this.  And if we do have to part ways, I hope that we're able to remain friends.  I'll still come to visit you and admire your greatness from afar.  I just will not be able to remain in the center of your shadow.  I hoep you understand this 'dear John' letter from me.  It comes from the bottom of my heart.  I also know that you get letters like this on a daily basis.  But hopefully the words, because they're coming from me, mean a little bit more.  You will never know how much I love and fawn over you.  But I fear that what I have come to love is an illusion, a fiction that never was real. The truth is too ugly to face.  Beneath all the make-up, jewels, furs, and silk, you're just like any other.   

So with that, I'm going to do what I have to do in order to come to terms with what has come to pass.  I will make sure that my surrvial and well-being come first, for once.



PS: This song is dedicated to  you Miss N.

cover of Frank Sinatra's 'New York' by Cat Power 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ze Doldrums

So I will make a playlist (in no particular order) of songs for 'ze doldrums'.  When you get down and out, feel free to listen to the same tunes.  Or, build from it.  You know, since 'Everybody hurts, sometimes'.  Some people don't like feeling sad.  But I say, when  you're sad and blue, cry it out until you feel better.  It might take a few days or a week, but you cannot ignore your feelings even if they're uncomfortable or dark.  Embrace the darkness and just let your pain out.  If you don't express your emotions, then they'll eat you alive.  So I say when you're feeling down, just curl up with a blanket and some tea and listen to some sad songs. 

Playlist for 'ze Doldrums':

1) 'Medicine' by Daughter

"Pick it up, pick it all up.
And start again.
You've got a second chance,
you could go home.
Escape it all.
It's just irrelevant.
It's just medicine.
It's just medicine.

You could still be,
what you want to,
What you said you were,
when I met you.

You've got a warm heart,
you've got a beautiful brain.
But it's disintegrating,
from all the medicine."

 *Here is a sweet cover of 'Medicine' by Laura Hahn

2) 'Street Spirit (Fade Out)' by Radiohead

"Rows of houses, all bearing down on me
I can feel their blue hands touching me
All these things into position
All these things we'll one day swallow whole
And fade out again and fade out...
Cracked eggs, dead birds
Scream as they fight for life
I can feel death, can see its beady eyes
All these things into position
All these things we'll one day swallow whole
And fade out again and fade out again."


*Sasha and Shawna cover of 'Street Spirit (Fade Out)'

3) 'Who Wants to Live Forever' by Queen

"There's no time for us,
There's no place for us,
What is this thing that builds our dreams, yet slips away from us.
Who wants to live forever..
But touch my tears with your lips,
Touch my world with your fingertips,
And we can have forever,
And we can love forever,
Forever is our today,
Who wants to live forever.."

4) 'Into Dust' by Mazzy Starr

"Still falling.
Breathless and on again...
Like two strangers turning into dust
Til my hand shook with the weight of fear
I could possibly be fading
Or have something more to gain
I could feel myself growing colder...
I could feel my eyes turning into dust."

5) 'Hurt by Nine Inch Nails

"What have I become?
My sweetest friend.
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end.
You could have it all.
My empire of dirt.
I will let you down.
I will make you hurt.

I wear this crown of shit.
Upon my liar's chair.
Full of broken thoughts.
I cannot repair.
Beneath the stains of time.
The feelings disappear.
You are someone else.
I am still right here.."

6)  'Svefn-g-englar' by Sigur Ros

(I will not put lyrics to this song because Sigur Ros writes their songs in Vonlenska, the 'gibberish' language of Sigur Ros which focuses on the sounds and emotion of language but lacks grammar and literal meaning.)


7) 'It Can't Come Quickly Enough' by the Scissor Sisters

"There's no indication of
What we were meant to be.
Sucking up to strangers
Throwing wishes to the sea.

It can't come quickly enough.
And now you've spent your life
Waiting for this moment.
And when you finally saw it come.
It passed you by and
Left you so defeated."

8) 'Kill the Messenger' by Rio en Medio
"Take these shoes so I can fly away;
they were fine when I was running.
Hear my voice as it fades away,
now listen 'cause it's coming, coming.

Through the reigns and legs and air,
a messenger is coming."

*check out their other stuff; it's awesome!

9) 'Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was' by Radiohead
 "Limb by limb and tooth by tooth
Tearing up inside of me
Every day every hour
I wish that I was bullet proof

Wax me
Mould me
Heat the pins and stab them in
You have turned me into this
Just wish that it was bullet proof."

10) 'Space Oddity' by David Bowie

"Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles, I'm feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows
Ground control to major Tom, your circuits dead, there's something wrong
Can you hear me, major Tom?"

11) 'Man that you Fear' by Marilyn Manson

"I was born into this.
Everything turns to shit.
The boy that you loved is the man that you fear.
Pray until your number,
Asleep from all your pain,
Your apple has been rotting.
Tomorrow's turned up dead.
I have it all and I have no choice but to
I'll make everyone pay and you will see."
12) 'Disarm' by Smashing Pumpkins

"Disarm you with a smile.
And cut you like you want me to
Cut that little child.
Inside of me and such a part of you.
Ooh, the years burn.

I used to be a little boy.
So old in my shoes.
And what I choose is my choice.
What's a boy supposed to do?
The killer in me is the killer in you."

 13) 'Mad World' by Gary Jules
(or anything from the Donny Darko soundtrack)

"Children waiting for the day they feel good.
Happy birthday, happy birthday.
And I feel the way that every child should.
Sit and listen, sit and listen.
Went to school and I was very nervous.
No one knew me, no one knew me.
Hello teacher tell me, what's my lesson?
Look right through me, look right through me.

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad.
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had.
I find it hard to tell you,
I find it hard to take.
When people run in circles its a very, very
Mad world.."
14) 'Sounds of Silence' by Simon and Garfunkel
"Hello darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain.
Still remains.
Within the sound of silence."
*this is a marvelous cover version by Kina Grannis

15) 'Margish' by Amir Fay Gutman 

אני מוכן כבר לא מרגיש חצוי
פח האשפה שלי מרוקן
אני עצמי מלא מקום ופנוי
הכנות אחרונות לוידוי
עטוף צללים בכחול רוצה להיות הכי קרוב
אסור לי להמשיך לחיות לא לחיות
כי מבלי להרגיש בכל יום אמות קצת
ואחיה קצת פחות

אנשים תמיד מתחבאים
עד שזה כואב והם מתפרצים
הם נחשפים ומשתנים
וגם אני בניתי סביבי חומות הגנה
ולא הייתי אני עד שכאב לי
והסתכלתי לעצמי בעיניים
אני מרגיש

16) 'Just Another Day' by Air
 (The Virgin Suicides soundtrack is also fantastic for a blue mood.)

'Cause it's just another day
You will lose it anyway

The time
That goes
'Cause it's just another day
You will lose it anyway"


17) 'Stealing Tomorrow' by Great Lake Swimmers

"And I built this all around me.
 I refuse to let anyone through...

And it's like someone else is driving
Like this body isn't mine.
Changed myself without even telling you.
Or even asking and I need relief..

And you don't even know half of it.
I cannot turn it off.
I don't have a switch for that.
and haven't crash landed yet.."

18)  'Everybody Hurts' by REM
"If you're on your own in this life.
The days and nights are long.
When you think you've had too much of this life to hang on.

Well, everybody hurts sometimes.
Everybody cries...
Hold on."

So that's my playlist for melancholia.  It won't 'cure' you but hopefully it will make you feel better.  Have a good cry.  Then realize that life isn't as bad as you think.  There's always a way out of the dark tunnel.  And help is never too far away.  

I used to have a co-worker who always mentioned when I was in a sad, somber mood because sshe didn't like it.  She didn't like feeling sad and only liked being in my company if I was happy.  That is so self-centered.  People are allowed to feel sad and unhappy.  I'm all for crying in public and hugging the stranger next to you.  Why not?  We aren't programmed to be happy all the freakin' time.  Sometimes, we just feel the weight of the world and have to sulk.  

I hope you find the playlist I made helpful.  Remember, crying is the best therapy to feel better.  I swear by having a good cry every now and again.  It's okay.  Cry.  Okay, now watch some funny, sappy movie (like Cry-Baby or Hairspray) that will make you forget

A sad clown,


'Rainy Days and Mondays'- The Carpenters

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I've come to look for America: PART 1- PA is A-OKAY

"'Toss me a cigarette,
I think there's one in my raincoat.'
We smoked the last one
An hour ago.
So I looked at the scenery,
She read her magazine;
And the moon rose over and open field..."

'All come to look for America.'  I LOVE this song!  It's my favorite Simon and Garfunkel tune.  And the band Yes also does a nice version of this song.  However, I love the original.  I don't know if any cover will do it full justice. I'm in love with the concept and poetry of the original.  It has an innocence and naivety that poignantly describes the longing and pang to travel America.  And I am a road trip junkie.  I have always loved jumping in the car and just driving.  In college, I used to get in my car and purposely get lost.  I'd get out my map and find out where I was and how to get back to campus.  Or, when I lived in Massachusetts, I would get lost and discover new towns and haunts.  And the next three posts will be a series that describe my journey from PA to MO when I helped my mom move back to the Midwest from the East Coast. 

First, however, I must pardon myself for not writing a post for awhile.   As mentioned, I helped my mom moved from PA back to MO.  I was away from NYC for a total of 18 days.  My mom was working in PA for the past two years.  She lived in 'Pennsyl-tucky' because 'anything between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is just Alabama'.  Note that this is common terminology used by residents of PA.  However, I love exploring pieces of the country that I wouldn't otherwise have reason to see.  For 4-5 days, I got to explore Harrisburg and Lancaster PA.  I got to see Amish country and the parts of PA that people easily miss.


I must say that Harrisburg has a nice urban, hip feel.  Parts of the downtown area feel a lot like Philly.  And now being a restaurant snob (having been a NYer for three years) Harrisburg has some nice restaurants. 

My recommendations are:

  •  Mangia Qui (272 North Street, is a superb restaurant which has impeccable risotto and rigatoni.  Here is a description of what my mom and I ate: bruschetta with ahi tuna, tomatoes, capers, pine nuts and raisins; risotto with fresh pea, fava bean, purple asparagus, chive, pecorino and asparagus crisp; rigatoni with asparagus, Maitaki mushrooms, parmigiano cream and white truffle oil.  Gordon Ramsey would have creamed his pants.  The food was that good. The executive chef and owner, Rosemarie 'qui qui' Musarra blends flavors of Europe and uses local, fresh farm-raised produce and meats.   So I support both the sustainability efforts and practice of using multi-culturalism in their culinary experience. 
  • Bricco (31 S. 3rd Street, which had amazing tiramisu (made with Amaretti cookie and Cointreau mascarpone).  Not only is Bricco awesome because it's hooked into the culinary school so both the chefs and waiters are in training to work at the finest restaurants.  Bricco is a collaborative partnership between the Olewine School of Culinary Arts and the Harrisburg Hotel Corporation.  Aside from that, there is also a bakery next door, Ciao!, where you can just buy the amazing deserts.  My fish was very well cooked.  The salmon had a crispy, crunchy skin and was cooked, in my eyes, to perfection.  I eat a lot of salmon, and I get bored of it easily.  I don't like it to be too slimy or flaky.  I also find that the wait staff is super professional and knowledgeable.  I don't know crap about wine, and I didn't feel insulted or spoken down to when I asked about wines.  
Picture of the tiramisu from Bricco (made by Ciao! Bakery)

  • Home 231 (231 North Street, where I had an incredible watermelon and heirloom tomato salad and red snapper with curry and coconut sauce with a Victory Summer Love ale (a brewery in Downington, PA,  For dessert, I had an amazing limecello cheesecake from Tattooed Floozie Bakery in Elizabethtown, PA (run by two ladies,  Home 231 has fresh ingredients that they get from nearby, local farms.  Everything they get is local and this is what I love about the place. They also often have live music and the atmosphere is super chill. Plus it has a cordial staff that makes you feel at 'home'.  If I lived in Harrisburg, I'd eat here once a week.  Yes, it's that good.  I felt like I was in Brooklyn, not central PA. 
So, if you are ever in Harrisburg, PA, you must check out those three restaurants.  You don't feel like you're in 'Pennsyl-tucky'.  Like I said, it's like being in Brooklyn where foodies and food snobs rule the roost.  But note that if your pallet prefers fast food and buffets, then these restaurants aren't for you.  But, if you prefer higher quality food and wine, then you must dine at Home 231, Mangia Qui, and Bricco.  Take my word for it.  And I'm quite certain that if Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, and Graham Elliot ate at these places they'd give them rave reviews (I watch a lot of Hell's Kitchen and Master Chef).  But I know that those three gentlemen have impeccable palates and taste.  If I had the money, I'd eat at their restaurants in a heartbeat.
Another restaurant that I must write about is DJ's Taste of the 50's in Lancaster, PA.  It was voted as having the best burgers in PA.  If Food Network hasn't picked up on this place yet, I wouldn't be surprised if they did on one of their 'travel across America in a muscle car to find little hole in the wall eateries'.  My mom and I just went to Intercourse, PA (yes, it exists) where you can get all kinds of 'Amish' chachkes.  You can get Amish butter and jam, Amish hats and dolls, and even little 5 dollar pot scrubbers.  Of course there are I heart Intercourse bumper stickers and shot glasses (I may have bought a few for my friends).                         

Anyway, as my mom as I were looking for a place to have dinner, we passed by these huge tourist bus trap places with names like Good n' Plenty and Plain and Fancy.  I swear one had a name like Peckin' Hen or Bushel and a Peck.  My mom and I went in one such place and the smell alone made me want to leave.  Thank goodness there was an hour wait because I had a feeling that I wouldn't enjoy my meal. If you like meat and potatoes, then you'd be fine.  But I'm a vegetarian when I eat out in restaurants (since I keep kosher in my own kitchen).  Everyone in this joint was either overweight or old, or both.  Not that I have anything against that segment of the population.  But I think of the guidelines my dad uses to determine if a restaurant is good or not.  He says that if a restaurant has a line out the door, then that means it's good eats.  I, on the other hand, know better than that.

So, I'm glad my mom and I kept driving past all of the 'Amish' places and found this fifties diner.  I LOVE diners and I love kitsch.  And with DJ's, I truly felt like I was stepping back in time.  The food was great diner food.  It wasn't too greasy or salty.   I got a tuna melt and had spiral sweet potato fries.  Then I had an ice cream sundae for desert that was the size of an entire entrée.  What I loved most though, was the fact that the tables were formica and the chairs were red plastic vinyl.  There was an old fashioned candy counter and you could order egg creams and soda fountain drinks.  And it was a local place.  Yes, some tourists found it, but most were busy pigging out at the Peckin' Hen.  So I recommend eating at DJ's Tate of the 50's (  I also liked that the waitresses were super personable and friendly, plus the fact that they were dressed in poodle skirts and letter sweaters.  One waitress in particular, who I think was also the manager or owner, kept talking to each table and welcoming in each guest as if it were her house.  I love places like that.


The only thing I did not like about central PA was the fact that my mom had someone break into her place multiple times.  One of those times was on one of our last nights in PA.  She had already had her watch stolen right from her bedside table.  And we figured out the whole caper after the following incident.  On a Saturday night, I fell asleep with the television on and bolted awake at around 2 or 3am.  I heard what sounded like a door scraping across carpet.  I was on the middle level, above the basement.  I bolted up the stairs to my mom's bedroom and locked the doors behind me.  Being from NYC, I immediately called the cops.  They came and looked around the perimeter of the townhouse and looked in the basement.  They didn't find anything.  The next day, I did my own investigation (I watch a lot of Monk and CSI: Miami, not that this qualifies me as a detective).  But I do tend to notice little imperfections and peculiarities that others often miss. 

So the next day, when investigating the basement, it was noticed that the screen door was open.  There are two doors, a screen and a glass door.  Upon putting the screen door back in place, I had an auditory flashback.  This was the exact sound I had heard the night before.  The robbers opened the screen door and tried to open the glass door, but failed to do so.  What I also noticed were two rusted paint cans near the patio beyond the basement sliding door.  My mom indicated to me that the paint cans had previously been on the side of the house.  So it seemed that someone had tried to use them to climb up onto the deck.  The deck of the townhouse was about ten or eleven feet above the patio.  There was another screen door on the ground level, going out onto the deck, which rose above the basement patio.  Both the basement and the front door of the ground floor were at ground level because the townhouse was on a hill, the basement being at the bottom of the hill. I think you get the picture.

So, it was figured out that when the robbers got in and stole my mom's watch, they entered through the screen doors on the deck.  My mom left them open while she was sleeping.  It didn't seem that anyone could get up onto the deck, what with it being almost eleven feet off the ground.  But I guess someone tried to use the paint cans, and when that failed, they jumped up on the air conditioner to get on the deck.  You see, my mom's AC broke right after her watch was stolen.  The whole thing was a very scary experience.  I'm glad this all happened right when we were about to leave.  One of my mom's friends also mentioned that one time, at coming back to my mom's place, the door was ajar.  So it seemed that these robbers/thieves had gotten in multiple times.  And my mom was often gone on the weekends, visiting my dad in St. Louis.  Whoever stole her watch probably thought she'd be gone and only came during times when they knew she'd be away.  I don't know if they stole anything else.  I'm guessing that they were on foot too since they didn't steal television or anything 'major'.  The whole thing was bizarre. 
Overall, though, I had a nice time in Central, PA.  I'm glad I went down there and helped my mom move because I got to really explore the area.  I got a $300 Brooks Brothers sport coat for a mere $60.  I ate some terrific food.  I got some interesting wares, like a glow in the dark beetle magnet and a book of Amish speak as well as some hand made pottery and a shoefly pie (basically a pecan pie without pecans).  I met some interesting people.  PA is very friendly and people are always willing to make small talk.  I recommend checking out the area for yourself.  Pittsburgh and Philadelphia get all the attention but there are other places in PA worth checking out.

Stay tuned for the road trip portion, where in the next post I'll talk about my drive from PA to MO on my way chance to 'look for America'. 

Keystone-tastically yours,