Friday, June 27, 2008

I Followed . . .

. . . interstate-80 thru Indiana, into Ohio. Some states are endless fields. The tall wheat of Kansas sways in the wind, rippling out like a body of water. Other states, like Pennsylvania, are covered in green. In those states, you and the road you're on are the eyesore. Indiana is a power line. An irritating buzz hums across the state. You feel unhealthy just being there. It's like Biff's Hill Valley of the alternate '85.

The unabridged audio recording of Frank Hebert's Dune was failing to captivate me with each mile. "What the hell is a Benny Jesuit?" I was starved. I hadn't eaten all day for fear of spoiling my appetite before Philly. Given the time table, I expected to arrive at my stopping point around five AM. I wondered how that was going to work. Eat dinner at dawn. Sleep in your car under the hot sun. Wake up around two or three and hit New York at rush hour. I don't think I planned this out very well. Crossing into PA, I pulled into the parking lot of a twentyfourhour service center. There was enough light to provide safety, but not enough to keep me awake. I leaned the seat far back. Tucked in my legs, and fell asleep.

I awoke at fourinthemorning. My ureter felt like it was crawling with termites. A half-filled, warm Gatorade bottle later, I decided to head back on the road. I nearly pulled out onto the exit before deciding that I could probably benefit from a few more hours of sleep. At ninethirty AM, I was on I-76.

Elevenfifteen. Gettysburg. Boring.

I'm accustomed to tolls running a few dollars. The toll into Philadelphia was seventeen. Cramped doesn't even begin to describe the city. No matter where you are, or where you go, you're shoulder-to-shoulder with someone. The roads and buildings are narrow. Cars park on either side of all the streets, yet the traffic is two-way. If a car wasn't stationed in close enough to the curb, it backs up traffic for blocks. People sit on the sidewalk in old dining chairs. Children run naked through the streets. As I pulled into downtown, I found myself stuck behind a sightseeing bus shaped like a duck. I rolled down the window and hung out the cab, following it for twenty minutes. There's nothing greater than stealing something intangible like a service. It's the perfect crime.

Before I left Chicago, I updated my facebook status to note that I planned on grabbing a cheesesteak from Pat's in Philly. Several people had contacted me to say that Gino's across the street is better. I figured that Pat's claims to be the inventor of the cheesesteak, I'd give them a try first, then go to Gino's to determine who offers the greater steak sandwi.

When you order from Pat's, you stand on a plaque reading, "On this spot stood Sylvester Stallone filming the great motion picture Rocky. Nov. 21, 1975". The sandwich is bread, sliced steak, and onions. I didn't know about the last ingredient. They take a paint stirrer from a giant bucket of Cheese Whiz and slap it across the sandwich. What was handed to me was downright offensive. I ate as I stood. Discarding the wrapper, I crossed the street to Gino's.

At Ginos', photos of a man who I presume to be Gino, shaking hands with various celebs, are hung alongside a sign stating, "We Are In America, Speak English." T-shirts bearing this are available for ten dollars. A faded poster is taped to the window. "In Memory of Officer Daniel Faulkner. Murdered by Mumia Abu-Jamal." Fuck. This place is owned and managed by nationalistic assholes. But they have what many claim to be the best cheeseteak in town. This is confliction.

Gino's was the better cheesesteak. But it pained me to give them my business.

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