This past weekend was a long-awaited treat. Alex is back in Maryland for three weeks on a special training exercise and last weekend was our opportunity to drive down to Hagerstown and spend two days with him. The only downside was that one of our five would not be with us. Ellie needed to stay at Smith and prepare for exams. Since Peter was closer, it was less difficult for him to join us.
It was good to have Peter along–not just for his native charm–but as a second driver on the five-hour trip to Hagerstown. We followed the same route Ellie and I drove when she visited Dickinson. Once you get past Allentown, the country is very pretty. Lots of farms, stone houses, green fields and cows. I was happy to knit for five hours straight.
We had planned to get to Hagerstown just as Alex was getting off work. We ran a little late and so did he so we met up around 5. He looks fantastic. He is so forceful and mature looking. Peter may be an inch taller, but Alex is all muscle and with his short haircut, it is pretty easy to see he is a Marine–with or without the uniform. Alex just celebrated his 24th birthday so we combined a little celebration with the visit. I baked a rhubarb cake, his father brought some craft beer and we brought presents.
Hagerstown seems to be quintessential America as it stands these days. The town is a succession of malls filled with every big box retailer you can think of. Interspersed with these malls is a complete selection of every fast food place you can think of. There is actually a small historic district in Hagerstown which they are working to ramp up, but it is dwarfed on all sides by interstate highways and the aforementioned malls. It is a major transportation hub and there are distribution centers everywhere. There are also truckers everywhere and the mall parking lots make great overnight stopping places for the truckers. There aren’t many fine dining establishments. This gave us an opportunity to become one with America when we ate. As an example, I include a link here for one reviewer’s top ten restaurant choices in Hagerstown. #1 is Outback Steakhouse.
We stayed in the same Courtyard by Marriott in which Alex was staying. I love these hotels. They are all alike so you always know where things are. They have a little restaurant and serve wine at night. The decor is attractive (and always the same) and the rooms are clean. They even have the same pictures in the bathroom so if you spent too long in the bathroom, you might forget what city you are actually in. I am always insanely happy to stay in these places. It means I am traveling and seeing new things.
Hagerstown has a strong German influence so it was completely appropriate that we dined Friday night at Schmankerl Stube Bavarian Restaurant. Most notable were the choices for beer. One could order two, three or five litres of beer. They won’t serve five litres to just one person. The birthday table near us had ordered all the three litre glasses, so Alex ordered a two litre which was actually a boot. He didn’t actually finish which was just as well. Over at the birthday table, things got louder and louder as the litres got lower and lower. One of the attendees was about to head to boot camp and Alex went over to wish him well.
Saturday morning we were up and out pretty early. Since we were deep into Cracker Barrel country, we headed there for breakfast. We love Cracker Barrel. I am proud to say I have introduced several former colleagues and friends to the joys of smoked meats. I thank Jim Brannigan for first introducing me to the dining and shopping wonders at Cracker Barrel on a long ago trip to Ingram Book Company. I was able to mortify my fellow diners, but taking photos and one nice lady stopped to offer to take our picture. I just love torturing my sons.
After breakfast, we settled in at a table in the lobby to get some work done. Peter had a paper to finish for Biophysics, Alex had Marine paperwork to do, I had my final project for my NYU class and Jim is always happy to surf. We worked quietly for several hours. It was a bit grey and cold out and this was a perfect opportunity to hang out together and get something done. Late in the afternoon we went to see Jason Statham’s new flick, Safe. We all love his movies and this one was fun.
The wait at Ruby Tuesday’s was 45 minutes. It was Prom Night and this seemed to be the destination of choice for large tables of couples all dressed up for prom. They were having a good time and it was fun to see them. When Ellie heard this was the pre-Prom destination of choice, she was a bit shocked, but the Hagerstown kids were completely happy. It was actually refreshing as opposed to the over-done, over-expensive Prom events we have witnessed. I think these kids may have been having a better time.
Sunday the weather was gorgeous. The sky was a brilliant blue and the forecast was for a high of 70. Just the perfect weather for a visit to Gettysburg. But first, what would a Sunday morning in Hagerstown be without IHOP? Are you getting the all-American there here? I had a lovely omelette with fresh fruit, but I can tell you most people dining were going for a high-calorie intake. And it wasn’t the first time…It was tough getting the boys to pose outside IHOP, but, I had compromised my long held refusal to dine there, so, really, what could they say?
Gettysburg was about an hour’s drive. It was one of the most impressive–in many senses of the word–things I have ever seen. The battlefield is huge. Seeing it and walking much of it gave new meaning to this pivotal point in the Civil War. They have done an excellent job of creating the experience of understanding the action, the scale of bravery, desperation, death and destruction. We followed the Confederate line and then the Union. Just thinking of the heat, smoke, confusion and horror of the attacks, the difficulty of the terrain, the horror of those days was awe-inspiring. Alex was a tremendous asset as he has done a lot of reading on the battle and we enjoyed his perspective in addition to the information provided on plaques, recordings and memorials. Even Peter was drawn in to the drama walking uncomplainingly for hours until we were too tired to continue. It is not a one day undertaking and I look forward to going back to cover the Union positions more thoroughly.
Happily, we had planned to head home Monday morning so we had one last evening with Alex before we would have to part. Since we don’t know how long it will be until we see him again, every moment counted. Steak was on the menu for our Marine. A tall order in Hagerstown, but we found the Longhorn Steakhouse. Part of a national chain, it was actually pretty good. Lest you think we were drifting from our all-American mall theme, the address was the bucolic setting of 1000 Prime Outlets Blvd. It served us well and was clearly the most upscale restaurant in Hagerstown–out of reach of Prom Night for sure.
Monday morning we had a brief glimpse of Alex before he headed to work and we hit the road home. It was a great weekend with lots of fun, some adventure and the only thing which would have made it perfect would have been having our fifth with us. But you can bet that there were many phone calls, texts and photos shared throughout the weekend to make her as much a part of things as possible.