20 Years in Pennsylvania
I must admit that I couldn't wait to get out of my home state of Pennsylvania. I left to see the world an escape "the valley". As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side. Four continents, eight countries, and nearly a dozen states later I still miss that dirty old town. There's just nowhere like it. I never realized how backwoods it was until I left.
the locals call it NEPA...
Recently my brother was hiking in the woods right across the road from my house. He almost got shot because a bunch of clowns were driving around a truck firing AR-15s indiscriminately. And nobody will stop them either. The mountain was recently purchased by one of the biggest landowners on the East Coast and they have been involved in organized crime for years. They actually own casinos in the area as well as hundreds of acres of junkyards.
NEPA has a deep storied past with, coal mining, Italian and Irish immigrants, organized crime, and corruption. Its part of the fabric of the region and it feels like I'm stepping into a time capsule every time I return.
A former state senator (Sen. Jane Orie) is now in state prison facing up to 10yrs for corruption charges. Even more astounding is that her sisters have also faced prison time for similar charges.
For some reason can't help but find the state to be one of the most entertaining places I've ever been. Dare I say that I find a certain twisted "charm" to it. The buildings all look abandoned, yet they are still being used, the sidewalks are never even, and the pubs and pizza places are literally on every corner. Most of the time they are attached to a house. Also stepping out of your house, walking into the woods, and firing a whole magazine off without a care in the world is nice. The place is littered with relics of history and generations of families own and occupy these small town businesses. To cap it all off, it was the backdrop for one of the most successful TV comedies in the country; The Office. Yes, Scranton is a real place. With all these things in mind what else could you ask for? A corruption free government, good weather, progressive modern people, buildings newer than 1988, nah. I like NEPA just the way it is.
Pennsylvania has one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country and also has all four seasons that can be clearly seen and experienced. The Appalachian trail runs through it as well as access to lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes on the northwest tip of the state. The center of the state features Gettysburg as well as Penn State College. State College is a small city within itself. Directly on the outskirts is one of the most preserved Amish communities in the country. Though they are very much a homogenous group their life blood is the exemplary carpentry and home made crafts they produce along with produce.
Though most of the state is deep woodlands, there are four largely populated areas. These are Philadelphia in the Southeast, Pittsburgh in the Southwest, Erie in the Northwest, and Scranton/ Wilkes Barre in the Northeast. I have spent 16yrs in NEPA and almost 5yrs in Erie. I have hit Philly and Pittsburgh nearly a dozen times. Conclusively, I would say the highlight of PA is nature more than the cities. I guess I'm just not a city person, they are all similar to me. Get into the mountains or experience the snowstorms of lake Erie. You may not like it but you will have something to remember.
and then there's Erie...
While were on the topic of snow let me just say. If you don't like snow then PA is definitely not the state for you. Personally, I'm in the South now and I can't stand it. The relentless heat and bugs the size of my fist. Its infuriating, I miss that frozen desert were everything stays tiny and or dead. Nearing the top ten with a ranking of 13th, Erie, PA has serious snowfall due to the lake effect it receives. A graduate of Mercyhurst college and working as a ROTC instructor at Edinboro State University I can tell you the snowfall is incredible. Spending nearly 5yrs there I have seen countless cars spin out of control and it can be quite a place to navigate around in during the winter.
While northeastern Pennsylvania has a deep history rooted in the coal mining industry northwestern Pennsylvania's is rooted in part to the steel industry. The same early 20th century industrial structures are there and it brought back a close familiarity to NEPA for me. The area has stayed true to the roots it was founded on with a number of small steel plants although new areas include insurance, tourism, and plastics industries. Over 10% of all manufactured plastics in the United States come from none other than Erie, PA.
As for the town itself. It was surprisingly diverse and I saw fairly substantial Arabic and Russian population there. We used to frequent a hooka (hashish) bar downtown. They had chess and turkish coffees as well. It also seems like there is a certain level of French influence from the past.
In conclusion, if your a history buff (no pun) and you haven't been to this state your missing out. Most notably is Gettysburg and the battlefields. Reenactments are done every season and they are fascinating to watch. The historical district of Gettysburg is also beautiful. It you aren't interested in the past then you probably want to head west towards California. Pennsylvania is like I had previously described, a time capsule of sorts. But hey, traveling back in time isn't easy to do and you can do it here. Now that is a novelty in itself.