Let’s move inland from Washington, DC, to Pennsylvania –which is a fitting direction as most of my visits to Pennsylvania were actually through and not to the Keystone State. I-76 and I-81 knew me well. Even without roadsigns, you know you’ve left Ohio behind when the land rose a little and the road flowed between stacks of purple rocks, bearded with ice in the winter.

Surreal Breezewood is the antithesis of where no cars go: it’s where only cars go. You leave I-76 and turn south on I-70, and hopefully it isn’t a weekday morning or you will meet the DC commute sooner than you think. Or anything to do with a holiday.

Breezewood is a good place to get that restoring coffee, or if you have passed the point of caffeine resuscitation, to take a snooze. The New York Times calls Breezewood a “dense bazaar of gas stations, fast food restaurants and motels,” and the current City of Motels is wholly an offshoot of the interstate system, but Breezewood has always been a crossroads.  You can elude the asphalt and sodium lights by staying at the nearby 1788 Inn, built in that same year and accommodating travelers ever since.  Plus, I put a lot of value on names (I still have Cupertino in my Iphone weather app because it is such a lovely sound), and can you think of a nicer name than “Breezewood?”

PA Liberty Bell

I promise you I did not actually touch it; this is just my tromp d’oeil prestidigitation.

My one intentional visit to Pennsylvania was a trip to Philadelphia with an Army buddy. Like the other eastern cities that matured before the interstate, it is great to walk. Don’t tell San Francisco, but Philadelphia makes a mean cioppino in addition to the eponymous cheesesteak. After indulging your tastebuds, you can indulge your morbidity with a visit to the Mutter Museum, an exhaustive display of medical oddities. And of course the Liberty Bell, like the upside-down airplane stamp and the tower of Pisa, famous for its imperfection.

Pennsylvania’s north-south strips of ancient mountains make for interesting cities, layered up and down the rock faces. Harrisburg straddles the Susquehanna. Pennsylvania is of course coal country, where the prized hard anthracite was mined for years. Centralia, which doesn’t actually exist anymore, has a vein of coal beneath it that has been burning since 1962. In 2003 or so I ventured west of I-81 looking for the smoking roads and outlines of houses, but I just found low hills and fading towns.

*To be pedantic, Pennsylvania is not a state: like Virginia, Kentucky, and Massachusetts, Pennsylvania is a commonwealth. How do they differ? The plot thickens…