Day 1 -- Friday, May 1

Five in the afternoon and I was finally hitting the road. This first day of the American Odyssey was, to say the least, a mixed bag. New York City was in the grip of a creeping paranoia, as demonstrations were planned for that very afternoon to protest the astonishingly misguided Rodney King verdict. People were leaving work early and heading for home in droves, and after reports we'd seen out of L.A., Atlanta, and a handful of other cities, who could blame them? My next door neighbor, a lawyer, said, as she saw me preparing to load my car, "You're leaving town just in time. Some big stuff is going to hit the fan." From all reports, though, the demonstration in Manhattan was peaceful and, if there's any justice to found in the ol' U.S. of A, King will win his civil suit and those cops will be called to pay the piper for their night of fun.

Anyway, the Gotham rats deserting their potentially sinking ship made for major traffic delays all over town and it wasn't until the aforementioned hour of five p.m. that I was finally merging onto Highway 9A, aka The Westside Highway, bound for the George Washington bridge and, waiting at the end of the span, New Jersey. Unfortunately, I was unable to stop and experience the pleasures of the Garden State, as Friday's were just more in a series of delays I'd experienced that week and I was due in Orefield, Pennsylvania by eight p.m. that evening.

On Tuesday, April 28, I took the train to Albany, NY to pick up my vehicle (1992 Escort GT; they claim it's silver, I say it's grey. Cruise control, AM/FM/Cassette stereo - a peppy little number) and as I was driving back to NYC, it hit me that I'd be crazy to take this once-in-a-lifetime trip and not have a camcorder with me to record it. So, I had to pack a few hours of shopping into an already over-booked week.

Finally, though, I'd gotten my hair cut (it's a new cut for me; it's called The Disturbed Drifter. Very low maintenance.), picked up the car, made my abode habitable for the gentleman who is living there while I'm away, gathered everything I was to bring along into a pile (and a sizable one at that), lugged it all downstairs, managing somehow to cram it all into the Escort, and inched my way through the congestion up to and across the GWB. Now, though, I was faced with what will, no doubt, be the first of many compromises on promises I had made to myself. I had vowed to: 1.) Avoid interstate highways, whenever possible. They're great if you're in a hurry but lousy for seeing the country. 2.) Never be on a time schedule, i.e. "Gee, I'd love to stop and see The World's Largest Two-Headed Cow but I've got to be in Toledo by nightfall." 3.) Avoid chain fast-food restaurants for the duration, and 4.) Flirt with a woman in each of the 48 states. I'm sorry to report that two of the above resolutions fell by the wayside on the very first day. It's not easy to leave Manhattan by any road other than an interstate and, in any case, I had to make time so I could get to Orefield by 8:10, when Steven Speilberg's Hook would begin unspooling at Shankweiler's Drive-in, the nation's oldest. I was flying through Jersey, not stopping to see the Edison Museum in West Orange, the Miniature Village in Washington, NJ or any of a number of worthy attractions, in order to be in a certain place at a particular time. There went another resolution. So, though rules #1 and 2 are already by the boards, I'll still try to follow them the rest of the way. I did fulfill the other two promises, though the young woman at the concession stand at Shankweiler's was, I fear, less than enchanted with my attentions.

Shankweiler's was the second drive-in theatre ever built. It dates from 1934, when Mr. Wilson Shankweiler came across the first drive-in in Camden, New Jersey while en route to Atlantic City. It seemed to him a good idea so, upon his return to Orefield, he began putting together one of his own. Paul Geissinger, who currently owns the theatre along with his wife, Susan, worked as a projectionist for the theatre for many years before finally purchasing it in 1983, so this is real labor of love for them. During our chat, he pointed out a few things of interest pertaining to the history of the theatre

The early drive-ins relied on public address systems to provide sound for the picture. The individual, fit-in-your-car-window speakers that we all know and love were still several years away. At Shankweiler's, you can still see, just below the screen, the original speaker system. The original concession stand, just a small shack, still stands, as well, although it serves, rather ignominiously, as a storage shed. Paul still utilizes individual car window speakers, in addition to radio sound, and when he learned what a drive-in fan I am, he presented me with my very own working speaker to take home. Clearly, this man deserves your patronage; if you ever find yourself anywhere near Allentown and its little suburb, Orefield, home of Shankweiler's, the Nation's Oldest Drive-in Theatre, stop in and say hello. And tell 'em you read about it in BRETTnews!

It began to rain during the movie, the night was a chilly one and I was fighting a cold, so after wandering around the Pennsylvania countryside, looking for a motel room under $25 (I needed a time machine, not an Escort, to find one), I grit my teeth and paid $29 at a decidedly un-swank motel called The Campus Inn in Kutztown (I'm not really certain how I ended up in this burg; as I said, it was dark and rainy but once there, a cute co-ed with a scrape under her chin pointed me toward my port in the storm.) The Campus Inn was relatively clean, but I kid you not when I tell you that something was running in the walls. No, not in the next room but inside the wall. Every few moments, I would hear the scampering of little feet from behind the paneling next to my bed.

As I lay there and pondered the situation, I could think of a very few creatures that could thrive inside a wall and, believe me, none of them conjured up warm and cozy feelings of being home in front of a fire with my slippers and my favorite pipe as, say, a collie might or an Irish Setter. But it was 1:30 in the morning and I was cold, damp, and exhausted so I turned on the very noisy vent fan in the bathroom to drown out the pitter-pattering feet and went to sleep.

Continue on the American Odyssey.
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