This weekend was move my son back to Altoona’s Penn State campus weekend. When you spend two hours per day during the week commuting back and forth to work, you don’t really look forward to spending 8 hours driving to the middle of Pennsylvania and back. Sometimes I wish I could shut my brain off and not notice the tell tale signs of decay and decline of America as we crisscrossed the state. It must be comforting to ignore the obvious. But, I’m cursed with a penchant for observing my surroundings and reaching conclusions. I can’t help myself and often wonder whether I’m just weird and shouldn’t think so much. Maybe I should just relax and hope for the best. It was an absolutely beautiful sunny day with 72 degree weather providing a hint of the autumn to come. Beautiful cumulus clouds touched the Blue Mountains in the distance.
We packed Kevin’s clothes, bedding, school supplies and the really important stuff - guitars, amp, TV, laptop, golf clubs – into our two cars and headed west. It isn’t challenging getting to Altoona. You get on the PA Turnpike and head west for about 200 miles. My observations as we headed west varied from wonder to disgust. The Pittsburgh to Philadelphia section of the turnpike began construction at the conclusion of WWII and opened in 1950. The new High was in full bloom and American ingenuity and can do attitude was applied to all projects. This 360 mile interstate that bores through mountains is a testament to the engineering and construction brilliance of America in a different time. It is truly a feat of human tenacity. As you drive through the Blue Mountain Tunnel and the Tuscarora Mountain Tunnel you are in awe of the American workers who blasted their way through these mountains back in the late 1940s. The PA Turnpike handles 172 million vehicles per year and in my opinion is an example of the kinds of things government used to do well – helping the free flow of commerce and goods.
There is significant construction occurring on a large portion of this route. Roads are being widened, bridges are being replaced, roads are being blacktopped. The blathering politicians like Larry Summers call for a countrywide infrastructure program to put people back to work. They are blowing smoke up your ass. Infrastructure projects take two years to plan and two to six years to actually complete. Everywhere I go there is infrastructure being repaired. At least out in the hinterlands these projects make sense. The Obama administration announcing the release of $500 million to states for infrastructure projects in order to create jobs is nothing but a PR ploy designed to win votes. The millions wasted on pork projects designed to win votes in our urban wastelands is a disgrace. I continue to witness construction crews methodically install wheel chair ramps at every corner in West Philly at a cost of millions. Meanwhile water main pipes are blowing under the ground every week, destroying streets, houses and businesses to the tune of multi-millions.
As you travel west you pass King of Prussia, mecca of materialism with one of the largest malls in the U.S., drawing millions of zombies into debt each year. K of P has now added a grand casino to lure more dupes into debt in search of a jackpot that will never come. Next you come to the city of Reading, a one time railroad hub, whose population topped out at 111.000 in 1930 and today stands at 88,000. It is essentially a 30 Blocks of Squalor on the edge of Lancaster PA, where the Amish continue to thrive due to their tremendous work ethic. Over 58% of the population is Hispanic, 13% black, and 29% white. The NYT described Reading as the “poorest city in America”, with at least 33% of households living below the poverty line and only 8% of the population with a college degree, versus 28% nationally. It is a crime ridden dangerous hell hole with no hope of revival. It is a testament to the failure of welfare policies over decades. The contrast of the dregs living and not working in Reading to the work ethic and nobility of Amish people just up the road in Lancaster County is telling.
The next treat on the way to Altoona is our bankrupt capital of Harrisburg. The enormous billboard ad as you approach Harrisburg is representative of the moral decadence of this city.
This is a city of 50,000 sitting on the banks of the mighty Susquehanna River. The population was 89,000 in 1950. The city is swarming with the parasites (aka lawyers and lobbyists) that suck off the teat of government largesse. It is home to the most corrupt politicians in America. It actually makes Reading appear well run. The top 10 employers in the city employ 84,000 and 41,000 of these employees work for the state or federal government. The population is 52% black and 18% Hispanic. It is now a killing field. Here is a description of a recent festive Saturday night in our state capital:
Hours after Harrisburg police barricaded an uptown street for safety, shots rang out throughout the city’s crime-ridden Allison Hill early Saturday, wounding at least two men and leaving residents shaken. Residents, some awakened by volleys of bullets, found the sound of gunfire all too familiar. A series of increasingly violent muggings, robberies, home invasions and shootings have plagued cash-strapped Harrisburg this summer from midtown to uptown to Allison Hill. On Friday, the focus seemed to be uptown Harrisburg’s Curtin Street, which Mayor Linda Thompson ordered barricaded and protected by police due to shootings in that area. On Saturday, the focus shifted to Allison Hill. Kelly Moore, another South 14th Street resident, said too many police protect downtown and too few protect Allison Hill. “I heard about 50 shots,” Moore said. “At least seven cars were hit and a guy was shot in the street. I called police. Later, I saw a bunch of cops pick up 37 bullets. This is a tough neighborhood. Whatever happened to the old days where you fought with your hands?” In the 500 block of South 19th Street, several men were drinking and talking at the Double D Bar & Grill, known for its buffalo wings and wide selection of beer. Hours earlier, a man was shot down the street from the popular neighborhood watering hole.
Maybe if we just provide more welfare payments to the people of Harrisburg, they’ll change. Maybe if we can create a few more government programs with another 10,000 government parasites pushing paper, all will be well in Harrisburg. The government drones that operate in this city have a penchant for voting themselves raises at 2:00 am when no one is watching, passing gold plated pension plans for themselves and all government employees that will bankrupt dozens of municipalities within the next 5 years and generally screwing up everything they touch. Welcome to the state capital of PA.
As you travel further west you realize why some people refer to Pennsylvania as Penntucky. You have the bastions of the American welfare state on each end of PA in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with farmers, blue collar middle class workers and rednecks in between. You also notice that we have miles and miles of land and trees. The sparse rural population along this 200 mile route will likely withstand the coming economic collapse with more success than the free shit armies in West Philly, Reading and Harrisburg. The trees can supply the basic supply of heating and the land can provide the means to grow food and raise cattle, chickens, etc. The rural population is dramatically more self reliant than the city folk.
The “industries” located along the turnpike tell a story. The main industry is warehousing. The excellent interstate road network makes this route perfect for enormous warehouses in the middle of nowhere. Consumer goods are produced in slave labor factories in China, shipped across the ocean, trucked from the ports to these humungous warehouses in central PA, unloaded by $10.00 an hour high school graduates, loaded back onto Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes ….. trucks and shipped to your local retail outlet for your debt fueled consumption. Some of these goods don’t have to be shipped far, as the Morgantown Retail Outlet is another major industry along the turnpike. We passed not one manufacturing facility during our entire trek. It ain’t the 1950s in America anymore. It seems the other major industry along the turnpike is All You Can Eat Buffet Restaurants. This is Cracker Barrel Country. Every exit and service plaza has a Cracker Barrel, Arbys, Roy Rogers, Popeyes, Cinnabon, McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys, Taco Bell or KFC. It seems that rural folk of central PA drown their poverty sorrows in gravy and biscuits. We got to experience the Mercedes leasing, morbidly obese, voters of America at one of these service plazas when we stopped to get gas. I practically sprinted back to our car because my eyes began to burn.
The enormous billboards that dot this highway are a reflection of the tough economy. About a quarter of the billboards have ads from the billboard company trying to get someone to advertise on their billboards. The remaining ads are dominated by restaurants, churches offering redemption, healthcare facilities, and addiction/weight loss centers. The dominate industry along the turnpike is still farming. These aren’t the corporate farmers that use their lobbying arms to bribe politicians and gather subsidies from the government. These are family farms growing corn and raising milking cows. What you notice is the deterioration of their houses, barns, fences, and silos. They haven’t been painted in decades. Roofs are failing and the barns are rotting away. This is a sign these aging farmers are barely making ends meet. Their work ethic just isn’t enough anymore. Their kids probably have no interest in keeping the family farm going. They got an awesome job down at the local Sheetz.
Despite the GPS bitch trying to make me go the wrong way down a one way street in Altoona, we eventually made it to our destination after 4 hours on the road. I have to admit the vistas around Altoona are breathtaking. It is known as the City in the Mountains.
We had our weekend planned out – get Kevin unpacked and settled into his new apartment that he is sharing with two other guys, take him out for his birthday dinner since he won’t be home for it in two weeks, grit our teeth and go to the Altoona Super Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon to get him a desk, router for internet access, and enough food and sundries to last him a month, then check into our room at the Comfort Suites a few miles away. We wanted to show the other two boys the magnificent Penn State Main Campus at State College on Sunday. We’ll try anything to motivate them to study harder. That was the master plan, but we ended up with a slight smelly diversion at the very outset.
We checked in at the office and picked up the key to Kevin’s apartment. We pulled up and everyone grabbed some boxes and bags. When we entered the apartment there was a moldy smell, but I didn’t think much of it. The air conditioning wasn’t on and it was a 20 year old apartment that has housed nothing but college students. It was fairly large and not bad for the price. It had two fairly large bedrooms and two full bathrooms. We dumped Kevin’s stuff in the back bedroom and checked the place out. My helpers plopped themselves onto the couch and the old man who had just driven 4 hours went back out to the cars to get more stuff. By the time I arrived back in the apartment 3 minutes later all hell had broken loose. Pandemonium reigned. My lovely wife was using language that would make a sailor blush. My first reaction was WTF??? This is the disgusting smelly portion of my story.
My wife walked into Kevin’s bathroom to assess its cleanliness. She looks into the toilet and shockingly finds a massive disgusting dump sitting in the bowl. She was dumbfounded, as we were the first tenant since last May. She did what anyone would do and flushed the toilet. But, to her horror, the bowl filled with water and kept on filling with water until it gushed over the side of the bowl creating a waterfall of shit all over the floor. And it kept coming. By the time she was able to shut off the water valve, she was ankle deep in shit.
This all happened in the 3 minutes I was gone. To say she was freaking out would be an understatement. She threw our entire econo package of napkins and a couple of rolls of paper towels into the toxic mixture. I immediately drove back to the office and told the lady about the disaster. She arrived 15 minutes later with a plunger. I picked up the shit soaked towels and dumped them in a trash bag and took them out to the dumpster. The toilet was still clogged. The lady had no luck with the plunger, so I leapt into the breach and started plunging while trying not to gag. Now is when we realized this was really an evil diabolical plan. I accidently bumped the lid of the toilet and we noticed something. The floater had been taped into position so that it would not lift to the level which would shut off the water. Someone had purposely stuffed the toilet solid with toilet paper, took an enormous dump, and taped the floater so the water would not shut off. They wanted to create an absolutely disgusting disaster for the person flushing that toilet. My best guess is that the previous pricks who occupied this apartment didn’t get their security deposit back and held a grudge against the apartment complex. They probably had an extra key and snuck into the place to set this up, thinking someone from the apartment company would be the next to flush that toilet. Little did they know it would be my poor wife. What kind of demented person or persons would do such a thing? These are the type of scumbags that give millenials a bad name. I eventually got the sucker to drain after another 15 minutes of plunging. After another 30 minutes of fumigation and a bottle of Clorox disinfectant, the bathroom was presentable.
Eventually we got him unpacked and settled in. Part two was his birthday dinner and a rendezvous with the people of Wal-Mart. We hadn’t eaten lunch and it was 2:30, so we decided to do an early dinner and “beat” the crowd. Kevin chose the Olive Garden for his birthday dinner. We piled into the CRV with 188,000 miles and Kevin took us on a little tour of lovely Altoona.
The population reached 82,000 in 1930 and has been in terminal decline ever since, to the current level of 46,000. The median household income is $28,000 and more than 35% of the population is over 55 years old. The students refer to the old geezers tooling around town on their hoverounds as Altoids. As you drive through some of the neighborhoods, you are reminded of the 30 Blocks of Squalor. Dilapidated houses with trash strewn lots dot the landscape. But there is one huge difference. Altoona is almost entirely white. 94% of the population is white. Race is not the cause of the decay in our society – debt and delusion are the cause.
Altoona is a dying town propped up by the university campus, big box retailers and all you can eat restaurants. Kevin drove us down the main strip in Altoona – Plank Road.
This stretch of highway is occupied by Olive Garden, Long Horn Steak House, Red Lobster, Cracker Barrel, TGI Fridays, Applebees, Outback, KFC, Dennys, and 50 other restaurants. It also has every big box retailer known to man – Super Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Target, Big K, Home Depot, Lowes, Macys, JC Penney, Kohls, and a hundred other smaller retailers scattered in the dozens of strip malls along this wasteland of materialism. Lastly, there are car dealers, gas stations, senior centers, hospitals, weight loss centers, funeral homes, law offices, and numerous other service industry outlets. What you won’t find is a business that produces something or manufactures anything for export. Altoona is based upon never ending consumption. How can this be, with a median household income of $28,000? There is no doubt in my mind this is all sustained by government transfer payments and credit cards. There is no other explanation that makes sense.
As we pulled into the Olive Garden parking lot we were shocked to see it packed at 2:40 on a Saturday afternoon. So much for beating the crowds. It was as if the gods were writing my article for me. As we walked towards the entrance a horde of over-sized Americans galloped towards the front door. A 300 pound 75 year old lady with a cane made sure to block our way and beat us inside. As we walked in, there was the standard obese 60 year old in a hoveround waiting to feast on the unlimited breadsticks and never ending pasta bowl special. The waiters and waitresses know the deal.
I cracked the boys up by suggesting we play a game called “Find the Skinny Person in the Olive Garden”. Of course I then proceeded to wolf down my plate of Chicken Scampi, washed down with a diet Coke. We turned down dessert because I knew we were headed to Wal-Mart and wasn’t sure I could keep it down once I witnessed the sordid displays of humanity in that establishment. I was not disappointed. The first couple I noticed were tattooed and pierced all over their bodies.
I pushed the cart and tried to get out of there as quickly as humanly possible. It’s almost as if people dress to accentuate their flaws when they go to Wal-Mart. We didn’t see too many of Wal-Mart’s finest in the fresh vegetable aisle, but you couldn’t get through the frozen appetizer aisle it was so crowded. We eventually escaped and headed back to the apartment for the final drop-off. As we passed all of these retail and restaurant establishments, you realize why the Federal Reserve and our government leaders are desperate to keep the credit flowing. Without government borrowing and distribution of these funds to the free shit army and the continued utilization of credit cards by the ignorant masses, this entire farce of an economy comes crashing down in a flaming heap like the Hindenburg. Altoona will implode like the house in Poltergeist if the credit stops flowing. And implode it will. Once the carrying costs of the debt exceed the capacity to be repaid by the borrowers, the ponzi scheme will collapse. We are not far from this point.
This article is a lot longer than I planned. See what happens when you think too much. You can’t stop. We said our goodbyes to Kevin and headed to the Comfort Suites about 10 miles away towards State College. Our plan was to spend three or four hours at the Penn State Main campus on Sunday to possibly inspire our two younger kids to work harder in school so they could live the dream of getting a college degree at this beautiful place. We’ll try anything that will keep them from living with us for the rest of their lives. We settled into our nice clean big hotel room and watched some TV to wind down from a long, hectic, smelly day. As I watched the TV I was astonished by the minute long commercial that came on the screen.
A shyster lawyer came on and described all the ways they could get you on SSDI if you hired them. Across the top of the screen was a crawl with the list of reasons you could get into the SSDI program. They included: muscle pain, arthritis, joint pain, depression, diabetes, neck pain, high blood pressure, gout, ADHD, panic attacks, migraine headaches and drum roll please:
BEING OVER 50!!!
One more year and I can get on the gravy train. I’ll be 50 and I have diabeetus. I think I’ll start a countdown calendar. Why isn’t the Federal Government cracking down on these law firms that are clearly nothing more than fraud enablers for the free shit army? The surge in SSDI members is a disgusting display of the downward spiral we find ourselves in. Nothing will stop it until we crash and burn. I believe the Obama administration is encouraging more people to get on the SSDI gravy train, as they are with food stamps, in order to gain more voters. The plan is more diabolical than sabotaging a shit filled toilet to overflow.
As we departed the hotel the next morning, the pot bellied guy with the camouflage hat had an interesting quote on the back of his shirt:
I don’t need gold
I’ve got lead
I didn’t want to burst the redneck moron’s bubble and break it to him that most people with gold, also have lead. It took us about 40 minutes to get to State College on back roads through a vast wilderness of nothingness. We passed the football stadium that will be the home of many 42 – 0 losses over the next four years and parked on the main drag in downtown State College. We went in a couple stores and noticed the hot selling T-shirt:
I like it that the student body is full of piss and vinegar. The acts of four men should not obscure the fact that this is a top notch university whose main purpose is to educate young people. The new leadership should change a culture built around football to a culture built around academics. It is still a vibrant campus, full of life and educational possibilities. We strolled around campus, ate lunch at The Corner, and tried to get our kids excited about going to college someday. Now they just need to study hard and get good grades. Simple.
The route home from State College was Route 322 to I-81 to I-78 to I-476. Whichever civil engineer that designed the first 10 or 15 miles of Route 322 must have been high on LSD at the time. Any road that requires this sign was not designed properly.
This road winds its way straight down a mountain without any barriers between the lanes and is dominated by 18 wheelers. Driving a tiny Honda Insight on this rain slicked deathtrap is not my idea of a fun way to end my weekend. I was amused by the license plate of a car that passed me and it made me think there are more like minded people out there. The license plate read:
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, with similar observations of rundown farms, all you can buffets, and telltale signs of decay. It seems I observed more than I thought on this road trip across PA. I wish I could turn my mind off and just act like a mushroom in the dark, but I’m cursed with a brain that won’t stop observing and spitting out conclusions. I didn’t come to any grand conclusion other than that the rot permeating the country has been slowly and methodically eating away at the fabric of our society for decades with no chance of being reversed. Will the country continue to rot from the inside for decades or will it fall suddenly, like a hollowed out oak tree, during the next gale? I have no idea.
I hope I didn’t bore you with my tales from Cracker Barrel Country. Now back to your regularly scheduled program – Kim Kardashian’s Fat Ass Chronicles.