A Road Trip in the time of COVID-19

We decided to take a summer road trip since we have missed all of the trips we’d planned for 2020. COVID-19 has everyone’s ability to travel and visit others completely unpredictable, so I thought I would take the opportunity when I could. We put the bikes on our car, said goodbye to our cat, and hit the road.

Harpers Ferry

We stopped in the town of Harpers Ferry for lunch and a little bit of exploring. We found a parking space on the street near Hamilton’s Tavern, so we decided to get lunch there. I thought it was expensive and not terribly impressive. $10 for 3 deviled eggs halves felt like actual robbery. I would skip it.

I did find a plaque dedicated to John Brown and the other warriors who set out to start a revolution to free slaves in America. It was above a trash can and covered by a bush. A real-world metaphor about how we understand slavery and those who rose against it: out of sight and mind unless you are looking for it.

We left Harpers Ferry to make our way to Wheeling to spend the night. The drive was beautiful. I have no idea where it was, but we stopped at a rest stop on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border and enjoyed a glorious view of the Cumberland Gap.

Roadside Barbecue 

When we were driving through Harpers Ferry, we spotted a barbecue joint and drove past it. We regretted missing it after the mediocre lunch in town. On our way to Wheeling, WV, we spotted The Stone House Restaurant in Farmington, PA. This place had a big barbecue set up with lots of outdoor seating, so we thought we’d try it out.

We parked, got out of the car, and quickly realized only one other person was wearing a mask in an outdoor restaurant of 35 people. We should have got back in the car but thought that we would be safe at a picnic table away from everyone.

Neither of us was very hungry, so we thought that we’d split their famous hog fries. A mess of french fries with barbecue pork and cheese. We approached the counter and this exchange happened:

Me: Order of the hog fries.

Stone House barbecue guy: You’re going to have to speak up. I can’t hear you with that GODDAMN mask! (Loud, assertive, and clearly trying to make a point, but cowardly enough to not make eye contact)

Me: (Very loud & trying for eye contact) 1 hog fry, 1 Coors light, and 1 grapefruit white claw.

Stone House barbecue guy: (eyes on register) That it?

Me: Absolutely nothing else.

This was our first confrontation with someone who was hostile about mask-wearing. My sister told me to expect that when I got to Ohio, but I was shocked by the “goddamn mask.” I don’t love wearing it, but it is not that big of an inconvenience.

Review: The barbecue was good, if not a touch too sweet for me. The cheese was melted wiz and was gross. A handful of shredded cheddar that the meat could melt would be better. I have no memory of the fries. No need to get this dish, it’s merely a gimmick. I’d pass this place.

The Palace of Gold

One of these things I wanted to see on our trip to Ohio was the Palace of Gold in New Vrindaban, West Virginia, near Moundsville. New Vrindaban is a Hare Krishna community in West Virginia, founded in 1968. Kirtanananda Swami started it and turned it into a cult. He seems like a pretty bad guy from my limited research. The podcast American Scandal has an 8 episode series that covers a lot of this story. Either way, the community is on the mend and trying to return to its glory days.

Visiting the Palace of Gold is weird in the best possible way. You drive through a West Virginia holler to find a Hindu temple on top of a hill. I was personally thinking, “How in the fuck did this happen?” Aesthetically, it does not seem out place. The entire complex lends itself to lush greenery and rural stillness. I was confused, curious, and a bit in awe of the whole scene. There is a vegetarian restaurant on the premise. We each had samosa, and Sam ordered a mango lassi that cloyingly sweet.

On our walk to the palace, we met a woman from NYC. She had come to New Vrindaban for the summer. She suggested we check out the rose garden. Once we got to the temple, we could not take a tour of it that day. We explored the grounds and took the advice to explore the rose garden. It’s lovely.

When we entered the palace, we met to 2 white working-class men repairing part of the palace listening to the scripture from the Bhagavad Gita while they painted. They were not in robes or anything like that, just standard work gear. Here lies a second scene that my brain struggled to compute. New Vrindaban pushed me a lot to consider my assumptions and expectations versus reality. I appreciated it.

Ohio

After the temple, we made our way to northwest Ohio to visit my family. My parents’ quarantine project was to clean out their big two-story farmhouse. It’s incredible how much they cleared out. My things are reduced to cargo trunk at the foot of a bed.

One day, Sam and I did a 25-mile bike ride from my parents’ house to my sister’s house. It was a smooth ride, but it got boring after 15 miles. It was one long country road that I’ve driven countless times in the past. I was surprised to notice patches of trees, river access points, or the genuine tranquility of the waving fields that I hadn’t before. There was a meditative quality to the entire ride, but the monotony of seeing a cornfield, a soybean field, and another cornfield started to wear on me after a while, so I was happy to be finished with it.

We ordered dinner from a fantastic taco place in Bryan called Taco’s Nacho’s (Yes, I know they missed great names like Nacho Taco or Not Yo Taco.) They are delicious authentic Mexican tacos. The lengua tacos with onion, cilantro, and their hot sauce are great. If you are in Bryan, Ohio, I highly recommend grabbing some food from this restaurant.

One day we stopped by a few farmers’ markets. I wanted to hit up a stand called Garden Thyme that makes homemade mustard and jams. I think they are outstanding, and I grabbed a couple of different mustards to take home. I also spotted a book stand. A local historian named Jim Mollenkopf was selling books he’d written about the Great Black Swamp. When I flipped through one of the books, I spotted the story of Laura Smith Haviland, an abolitionist who has a statue honoring her in Adrian, MI. These are the civil war era people that should be getting statues.

We also stopped by the Bryan Farmers’ market, but the lack of masks was a real turn off. We had planned to stop into Kora Brew House to fill a few growlers, but no one was wearing a mask. We decided it wasn’t worth the risk and headed home. On the way, we saw a group of 3 or 4 locals with signs on the corner taking action in support of the Movement for Black Lives. It was excellent seeing activists in a town that is 94% white, in which 58% of locals voted for Trump in 2016, standing in public, making it known that black lives matter.

One bit of fun I had while I was visiting was magnet fishing. Well, I thought it was going to be a lot more fun than it was. I’ve watched a ton of videos on youtube showing off people who wish creeks and ponds for metal objects using a magnet. I bought a magnet and rope and sent it to Ohio. I fished all over Holly & Spencer’s lake and only picked up a fishhook. Magnet fishing fail. Spencer soother my disappointment with a great whiskey called Eagle Rare, and we got to see others we know in the area.

We had a fun time while we were in Ohio. We spent a lot of time swimming and relaxing. Samer had us sleeping in the 40+ foot camper my parents own instead of my room, which was actually very comfortable.

Dearborn, MI

Whenever we visit northwest, we try to stop in Dearborn, MI. This is the center for Arab immigrants in the United States. We ate at Malek Al-Kabob for lunch. They had a great outdoor space where we could eat while feeling safe. We were distanced from others, and the waitress wore a face shield. This was the best meal I had on the trip. We ordered a kabob sampler with a bunch of different grilled food on abed of rice. It was spiced well, charred, and really delicious. This place gets a huge recommendation from me. I loved it. Of course, we ended with a trip to Shatila Bakery for kanafeh, seven boxes of baklava, and a 24 spinach and cheese pies for later.

Final Thoughts

I am glad we took this trip to see my family. It was an excellent way to see people, be safe, and have a change of scenery. We did not meander on our way home and just did the 9-hour drive straight through. This trip showed us why the USA is failing in response to COVID-19. People are not just anti-mask; they are still asking if the disease is real. It’s sad and frustrating. With no national leadership, coordinated approach, or collective agreement on what needs to be don, the virus will continue to rage on, and we’ll all see each other much less.

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