The pandemic has kept us very close to home for the past 18 months, but two weeks ago we headed to Virginia for my father-in-law’s long awaited memorial service. Ordinarily we fly to family gatherings, but neither of us was ready to face airports or sit cheek by jowl on a plane in the face of the Delta variant. So Robert had his beloved BMW serviced, got a triptik from AAA, and we headed south.
Our route took us across the bottom of Vermont and onto I87 in New York. From then on we shared the heavily traveled roads with a minimum of cars and a maximum of trucks. There was construction, this being summer in the North Country, and there were slowdowns and stops in which we sat surrounded by trucks. They blocked our view of what was ahead, they rumbled and belched beside us, they changed lanes without so much as a by-your-leave. In short, they own the road and they know it. They are moving America and we in cars are simply an impediment to the transportation of goods and equipment that keeps the country moving.
At rest stops, many of which were closed, trucks lined the lanes and parking lots their engines grumbling while the drivers napped or texted or ate lunch. Sitting beside them in our low-slung automobile was like Jack sitting on the Giant’s table waiting to be gobbled up. In New York, there are “Text Stops” where one pulls off the highway to communicate a presumably urgent message. Here again, the trucks rested, lined up along one side of the pull-off, while others maneuvered the narrow ramp on or off the highway.
Most trucks were hauling trailers, others carried a half dozen cars or a couple of tractors, while still others carted construction materials. One had a stack of trusses piled high and hanging precariously off its sides. This one was escorted by two smaller trucks warning drivers of the Wide Load. That seemed an understatement as the truck’s load stuck out onto the shoulder and half way into the passing lane. For several miles, one of the smaller trucks drove in what was left of the passing lane lights blazing while traffic built up behind.
Many of the trucks sported fancy lettering on their cabs. My personal favorite was the one with Gothic gold letters emblazoned on a deep purple background. This being the pandemic, a great many trucks had wanted ads on the back of the trailer. Some showed pictures of handsome drivers in chambray shirts with their names embroidered on the pocket claiming to be the beneficiary of “more hours, more pay, more time at home.” Hmmm. “Join our Team” was an especially popular come-on while others promised 60 or 70 cents a mile. Not surprisingly, the familiar curved arrow of the Amazon logo was omnipresent in the lineup. “There’s more to Prime than you think. A truckload more.”
The four days of travel were about more than sharing the road with tractor trailer trucks and following exit ramps to the same dismal fast food offerings. More than eating our bagged lunch in a sliver of shade in a mall parking lot or bathroom breaks at MacDonalds. On our first day, after nine hours on the road, we checked into a motel near Harrisburg, PA. The woman behind the front desk directed us to a stylish restaurant in an upscale shopping mall where the food and service were excellent.
The highlight of the travel days, though, was our overnight stay in Scranton, a quintessentially American industrial city, survivor of mine and steel mill closures. The hotel was adequate, but understaffed, surrounded by non-descript commercial buildings and empty parking lots. At check in, we received a list of local restaurants and settled on Cooper’s Seafood House. Our GPS took us into the main part of town, past imposing Courthouse Square and then to what looked to be some kind of amusement park surrounded by a large, full parking lot.
Owned by the same family for 73 years, Cooper’s Seafood House is a Scranton landmark and a traveler’s delight. The place is huge— dining room, deck, lighthouse, and pirate ship complete with menacing sound track. Every inch inside and out is decorated with memorabilia both elegant and banal. We sat in a cozy booth near a wall displaying board games most of which dated from the 40’s and 50’s. Nearby was a poster from the early seventies with photos of “The Women of Scranton.” Think big hair and sass.
We were amused by the décor, but we were wowed by the food. Three young women at the next table tucked into large platters of fish and chips, but Robert opted for Baked Cheese and Dill Haddock. When my seafood crepes with lobster sauce arrived, he said with a hungry eye, “You’ll never be able to eat all that.”
He was wrong.