There are ordinary days, and there are memorable days. Saturday was a memorable day. In fact, a navel gaze for the books. I'm going to put on my P. G. Wodehouse voice and tell the Rummy Affair of the Day Trip To Learn about Mr. J's Ancestors!
Saturday was hottish, one of those I-don't-belong-in-this-month-temperature-wise heat freak days. It's usually like that when the South Jersey Pagan Pride Day happens.
I customarily biff in to the SJPPD festivities and slink off again, mainly because the event is held on a field that has zero shade except under the vendor tents. Add temperature and humidity to that locale, and you get the distinct impression that the busy god wants to fry you alive, just as He promises in the Old Testament.
However, I had exactly 45 minutes from the start time of the SJPPD to visit, and I wanted to meet Selena Fox, who was the guest of honor. I had no trouble finding her, and in under two minutes we were long-lost sisters who could have spent the whole day engaged in jolly conversation. But, alas! There was ancestor work to be done! Almost before I had said howdy, I had to bid farewell and rejoin the spouse for a sojourn into Maryland.
Our quest, Hub's and mine, was to reconnoiter with some of his father's cousins to talk about the family tree and what those cousins recalled about East Baltimore back in the day. Only our destination was not East Baltimore, which we both know like the back of our hands, but somewhere in the countryside around about Jarrettsville, in extreme northeastern Maryland.
Mapquest got us right to the door of a massive McMansion way out in the country. I must say it took almost as long to drive there as it would have to get to East Baltimore ... which, thank the gods I didn't know beforehand, or Selena would have hit the cutting room floor. We tooled up the circular drive at about 2:00 and took up residence in a spacious, marble-countertopped kitchen, chock-a-block with Baltimore-inspired ham sandwiches.
Mr. J got his voluble cousins up and running in no time, and they were competing to tell stories about the previous generations of his family and their lives in Baltimore. As with all ancestor work, this was a holy and wonderful thing, if tragic at times.
Mr. J had billed this as a quickish visit, but you know what happens when family members get together and are encouraged to reminisce. Hours passed like minutes, and before I knew it, the clock registered 6:00, and I had told Extra Chair I'd be home to make her dinner. I have to hand it to her. She took the prospect of starvation in stride and assured me she would be fine. A real self-starter, that one.
Then the clock went into overdrive, and 6:00 became 8:00, which brought an end to the ancestor work and the beginning of descriptions of cruises taken by the various cousins, thus ending any interest I had previously taken in the proceedings.
Spouse and I bid farewell to the cousins at about 9:00 and got in the car to make the 80-mile drive home. It was now dark as pitch. But what did that matter? We were in Maryland, right? The old home state for both of us! Bosom of our ancestors (well, all of his and some of mine). How could we possibly get lost? It had been fairly easy to find the McMansion in the daylight, with refreshingly accurate Mapquest directions.
We didn't have the reverse directions, nor did we have a GPS. At the first opportunity to take a wrong turn, we took it. Then we followed it endlessly. You see, Jarrettsville is fairly close to a rather largish river called the Susquehanna. Logic would dictate that if you were driving in the vicinity of Jarrettsville, you would eventually come to this ancient and sizable waterway.
We didn't come to the river. We didn't come to a town. The road kept getting smaller and smaller, more and more curvacious, with lower and lower speed limits. And no other traffic. That's always a bad sign.
After about 30 minutes of country roads with no signage and lots of bumps and curves, we arrived in the teeny weeny borough of Delta, PA. Now, it's not as small as Artemas, PA, the seat of ancestors Johnson ... but it was tiny. And deserted. So I plugged the town's name into Mapquest and got a long string of directions that were absolutely no help at all.
We blundered on.
EXHIBIT A: MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, MASON-DIXON LINE, DELTA, PA
Note, dear reader, how far we had strayed from the mighty Susquehanna! And even farther from Jarrettsville.
Back to our journey. We passed through Delta, made another wrong turn, and suddenly I saw a veritable metropolitan airport's worth of lights off to my right. I pointed them out to Mr. J as a sure sign we'd at least found the river. He dutifully eased the Chrysler in that direction. Soon we were headed straight for the lights.
Which turned out to be the Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant.
We figured that out when we saw signs that said, "PEACH BOTTOM NUCLEAR POWER PLANT. GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE UNLESS YOU BELONG ON SITE. TURN AROUND NOW."
So I didn't get to tour that one. Oh well, you've seen one nuclear power plant up close, you've seen them all. But the presence of this energy-generating facility explained the lack of homesteads and towns in the vicinity.
We doubled back to Delta, PA, and that's when I noticed the old-fashioned GPS system, right at our beck and call. That would be a fire house with an ambulance sporting two on-duty paramedics. Human beings! Say what you will about computers, but give me a human being any time when I'm lost, especially if it's a public servant.
I had a nice chat with a very young (and extremely cute) paramedic. He couldn't direct me to Interstate 95 (another indication that we had officially arrived in the M. of N.). Fortunately, he could give ironclad instructions to Route 1, which is one of those old wagon train pikes that used to link the big cities in the days of George and Ben and Tom Jefferson.
We found Route 1 and began our trek northward towards Philadelphia. And this is when all the motion and the length of the day caught up with me. I started to feel a tad bit queasy. This morphed into slightly sick, which evolved into really nauseous, which quickly gave birth to "find someplace to pull over, Honey, I need air real bad."
After a couple of near-turns, the valiant Mr. J steered the Chrysler into a Toyota dealership. I staggered from the passenger seat, clutching my stomach. And suddenly I was surrounded with those red flashing lights that can only be emitted by the state constabulary. In short, a police car had followed us into the Toyota parking lot, and two suspicious troopers with flashlights were bearing down on us.
By this time it was 12:15 a.m. Sunday morning.
I can't say I blame the conscientious gendarmes for their perusal of our vehicle and their probing questions, the main one being, "Have you been drinking?" I don't imbibe. But if I was a tippler, that trooper would have known it, because he was hovering quite close enough to smell my breath.
I explained our situation to the trooper, who was about 8 feet tall. Then I asked him, "Why did you follow us in here?"
He said, "The vehicle was driving erratically."
After navigating 2,000 miles of twisty country road, Mr. J didn't appreciate hearing that.
In fact, when the law discreetly biffed off in search of real drunk drivers, Mr. J rather took me to task for asking why we'd been interrogated. "Never ask a cop why he's here," Mr. J advised. (I'm still not sure why this shouldn't be. We weren't breaking the law. I just needed a place to breathe and perhaps channel my inner stressed turkey vulture.)
On we slogged toward Philly, eventually arriving at the old home place at 1:15 in the a.m. By that time, Selena Fox and the history of East Baltimore were distant memories. All I wanted to do was crawl under the garage and stay there until spring.
I just realized that this is not my 2,000th post, because there are a few I never published. But I do wish this was #2,000, because rarely have I had a day and night that packed so much drama into so few hours. When the events were happening, they weren't a tad bit fun (except for meeting Selena). But in retrospect, there's nothing quite like surviving a brush with nuclear energy and the Pennsylvania State Police in a futile quest for a city the size of Philadelphia.
Someone once asked me to blog about travel more. I hope that reader is perusing this, because I call this a travel post. I went to Delta, PA. Couldn't find it again without assistance from the CIA.
Peace be with you,