Monday, April 03, 2006

my weekend in Podunk

A few weeks ago, one of my old friends from high school, Avirat, invited me to visit him for the weekend at his house near Harrisburg, PA. I decided that a weekend outside of New York might do me some good, so I took him up on the offer. He invited some other friends from high school to come in as well, so the plan was that it would be a little reunion. I hadn’t seen Avirat since his wedding five years ago, so for that reason alone it was a good idea to go visit him.

I took the train to Harrisburg and got in around 6:30 Friday night. Avirat picked me up at the train station and we talked about what we wanted to do that night. He’d already suggested going to see dirt track auto racing at the track near his house, and since I’d told a few people that that was one of the things I’d be doing, I agreed. The track is a giant oval strip of packed dirt and mud on which they primarily race sprint cars. The track is surrounded by massive fields for parking, on which Isaw all manner of SUVs, motor homes, and pickup trucks. The track was also a BYOB site, so we brought in a cooler full of Miller Lite. Avirat said he normally stands and watches the races from the infield, but we met some of his friends there who were sitting in the main grandstand, so we went up there instead. I’ve never seen so many rednecks in all my life. I felt out of place in my leather coat and a plain gray t-shirt – everyone else had on racing shirts and jackets, flannel, even overalls. The racing was fun to watch. Sprint cars are basically just engines with a seat for the driver and a safety cage, and a giant fin sits on top of the car. And these are huge engines, so the cars make an incredible amount of noise every time they go past. We watched the qualifying heats and the consolation race, and we saw the start of the feature race (the final), but two cars got in a wreck just at the start of the race, and there was a long delay while they cleaned and then dried the track (it had also started to rain). It was late and we weren’t sure when they were going to get the racing under way again, so we went back to his house and hung out for a while, catching up. Since the track is only a mile away, we could hear the final race, about 45 minutes after we left.

On Saturday morning we ran some errands and went shopping at guys’ stores: Best Buy, Lowe’s, Circuit City, and Linens & Things. (OK, on the last one, in my defense Avirat had a coupon and I needed some small kitchen items I’ve been putting off buying for a while.) We still had some time to kill before our other friends came in from Johnstown, so we went back to his house to play Guitar Hero. It’s a Playstation 2 game with a special guitar controller where you listen to a song and play along using the colored frets on the guitar neck and “strumming” the notes with a up/down switch where the strings would go. The “notes” scroll by in “Dance Dance Revolution” style, and you have to press the frets and strum in time with the music. It looks and sounds ridiculous, but it’s surprisingly fun to play, and addictive to boot. About half the songs in the game were ones that I knew (“Cochise,” “Iron Man,” “I Love Rock & Roll,” “Crossroads,” “Take Me Out” are just a few) and I really enjoyed playing the game, trying to fumble through some of the tougher songs. In particular, I played “Bark At The Moon” three or four times until I was able to “beat” the song, like getting through a level in a FPS. By this time our Johnstown friends had arrived, and we headed out for the evening.

We went to a BBQ joint near Avirat’s house for dinner. It wasn’t a chain restaurant, but someone had evidently been to Red, Hot, and Blue and Corky’s, or other similar BBQ restaurants, because the d├ęcor was photos of blues artists and posters from blues festivals. But the food was excellent.

Our first stop was a microbrew bar in Yocumville, somewhere outside of Harrisburg. This bar had about 40 small brews on tap, so each of us got something different and we just stayed long enough to have one. Before long we were in downtown Harrisburg, at a place called The Hardware Bar. It’s a three-story bar: the ground floor has a live band and the female bartenders dance on the bar, the second floor is a lounge with beds and couches, and the third floor is a dance club. We spent the whole night on the ground floor listening to the cover band and watching the show from a small balcony that overlooks the stage. The band was better than I expected for a cover band, and the crowd really got into the music. We had planned to go bar-hopping to a few other places on the same street but we were having too much fun to leave. When the show ended at 1 AM, we fortified ourselves for the drive home with a slice of pizza (I haven’t done the late-night post-bar food run in years) and got back to Avirat’s house around 2 AM. Somehow we remembered to change the clocks so I wouldn’t be late for my train on Sunday afternoon.

On Sunday we got up late and didn’t have time to do much besides stop for a quick lunch on the way back to the train station. I spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon relaxing on the train reading Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, which my college friend Jon sent to me just before the Super Bowl. The cats were excited to see me safely home again after I abandoned them for the weekend (I did have a friend check on them yesterday).

And tonight, Robot Chicken returned. The “Superman” reference in the opening was hysterical.

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