I did go out, and I certainly covered some distance!

July 30, 2005, 10:59 PM

Yes, I did go out on Thursday, and it was quite a road trip, for that matter. I drove up to Pennsylvania and back via I-81.

I left the house at around 10:30 AM. The outfit was black shirt, blue shorts, and flip flops. Also unshaven for that matter, but the last time the razor and I had spent some quality time together was Tuesday morning. So I could almost pass it off as one of those thin beards that some men wear. Moving along, though, one look from Mom at how I looked leaving the house got this reaction: “You’re wearing flip-flops?” I’m like, “Yes…”

I still don’t understand what Mom’s obsession is with my shoes. After all, I’m an adult, and I can wear what I want, and look as sharp or as dumpy as I want. I decided to go for “casual”, thus no shave and the flip-flops. Still, the objection to it was weird, but expected. But it’s rare that I’ll wear flip-flops. Normally, I’ll wear my chucks or my real sandals (with socks, of course). Never flip-flops with otherwise bare feet. So that was a surprise for Mom, but lately on my off-days when I’m not doing anything too important, I’ll wear that. It’s quick and easy.

Moving along, though, I ran this like DC to an extent. But obviously, the destination was not DC this time around. The 10:30 departure, for one thing. Still, I went to Mt. Jackson on the way up and enjoyed some grub at the Sheetz there, which I do on the way up to DC. It was busier there, though, since it was around 11:30 when I got there, vs. 7 AM or so when I go on my DC trips.

After that, instead of returning to I-81 like I usually do, I took US 11 as far as Woodstock. What a great way to see some of Woodstock, which previously to me was best known for the Ramada Inn whose sign was visible after we struck a deer on I-81 in 1994 on our way to Connecticut to visit relatives, and for the Wal-Mart, which I visit on the way home every time I go to DC. Even in the worst of weather, including when it snows, and another time when I had extreme winds blowing my car all over, I visit that Wally World on the way home from DC. So I got to see the part of town south of VA 42. By the way, VA 42’s northern terminus is in Woodstock, where it intersects with US 11. Interestingly, 11 and 42 have a number of near-misses in Harrisonburg, where, at their closest, 11 and 42 are a block apart. Then Route 11 crosses over to the east side of the highway at some point while 42 stays on the west side until Woodstock. Then 11 and 42 meet, and the VA 42 designation ends.

From there, I returned to I-81, and non-stopped it for a bit. I non-stopped it as far as a few miles into West Virginia, in fact. They have a welcome center on I-81 northbound a few miles after you cross into West Virginia, and I stopped there. Since the last time I was through there, in 2001, they constructed a new restroom building, and it was very nice. Very clean. You almost don’t want to use it, it’s so clean. Then from there, I again non-stopped it, this time all the way up to another welcome center at about Mile 2 in Pennsylvania, again to use the restroom (I had a lot of water the day before, and needed to use a facility at practically every turn). Again, a beautiful, clean restroom, though older than the one in West Virginia. In fact, all the rest area complexes that I visited on this trip outside of Virginia were quite clean. Virginia’s are a major contrast – old, outdated, dumpy, and not very clean. The only thing that Virginia’s have going for them are the architecture, as their buildings are designed to look like colonial buildings.

Now my plan was to go all the way out to the extreme end of my planned route first, and then see everything going back home. My official mission was to scout out possible locations for future photo sets. So now it was time to get busy. My plan was to “touch Pennsylvania” and then go south again. So after reaching Pennsylvania, I got off northbound 81 at Exit 3 (Molly Pitcher Highway, aka US 11), and turned it around. And I picked a bad exit to turn around on, since I had to go southbound on 11 to find a spot to turn around to catch the ramp for I-81 southbound. The southbound ramp only had an interchange-style approach from northbound I-81. I ended up turning around in the parking lot for some warehouse.

So from here, we crossed into Maryland, and explored around Hagerstown a bit. I don’t think I’m going to do any photo sets in Hagerstown any time soon, but I did get to visit the Valley Mall, which I’d discovered back in 1998 but never got to visit. What a surprise that was! Nice mall, and quiet. Since 1998 a rear wing was built at a diagonal to the original part of the mall (weird), but it was a nice experience. The food court was at the end of the new wing, and I ran into two interesting things there. First of all, Ronald McDonald himself is hogging one of the benches:

Ronald McDonald hogs one of the benches at Valley Mall

I wonder how much use that bench gets since that Ronald McDonald is kind of taking it easy, and with his arms spread out to the edges of the bench, is sending that subtle signal saying don’t sit next to me. Ladies, let me explain. That move is one of those things boys do when they want more territory than the spot that their body is actually occupying. And it’s fairly effective, too. No one will sit next to you in that position. Of course, who’d want to be seen cozying up next to Ronald McDonald anyway?

And then a few steps away from Ronald, I found one of my favorite places to get a drink in the whole world:

Orange Julius

Yes, this is an ORANGE JULIUS location, paired with a Dairy Queen. I had a Strawberry Julius. We need one of these down where I live! For that matter, we need more Orange Julius stores everywhere! Of course, if you do a Google search for Orange Julius, you’ll find a million and one knock-off recipes. But those don’t count. Must be served by uniformed Orange Julius employee. I first got hooked on Orange Julius when I was four or five years old, at the Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Then right after I was hooked, it closed. No more Orange Julius for me for years. It wasn’t until 1999 at Potomac Mills Mall near DC that I finally got another Orange Julius smoothie.

After that, I explored around the mall a bit, checking out Kay-Bee Toys, among other things. Fun time.

After that, it was back to the Interstate 81 again, where I stopped in Williamsport, Maryland, completely randomly. And it’s the perfect town! Small little downtown that would be cute to use in a super-photo set that I’m considering doing, which is a small-town version of An Urban Comparison that I did in 2003. If I do that, I’d re-shoot Covington under fair skies (I have some stock photos of downtown Covington that I did with the 2003 Photo Essay Blitz, but the photos ended up not being used), shoot more Bedford photos (a set of those was done with the Lynchburg photo set trip, but the sun was low enough for long, dark shadows to be cast on things, plus I was in a hurry), and possibly pick up Waynesboro and Staunton, and maybe also Lexington.

Williamsport also has a park right along the Potomac that’s worth a closer look in a photo set. As you know, the Potomac forms Maryland’s southern border, and it’s really neat. I ended up driving on the Route 11 bridge into West Virginia and back to get a look at it. Nice park. You can also tell both states maintain their halves of the bridge separately. The West Virginia side has just a rail above the concrete sides of the bridge. But then halfway across the bridge, the rail ends, and a large, black pedestrian-bridge-style fence starts. Welcome to Maryland again, boys and girls.

Williamsport also has a Sheetz that doesn’t look at all like a Sheetz on the outside, but like some dumpy run-of-the-mill convenience store. It’s got a Sheetz canopy, and a Sheetz sign on the building, and then when you go inside, you can tell that they’ve done their best to squeeze a full Sheetz into that building (which was not a Sheetz originally). It’s got a food service, and most things you would expect at a Sheetz, in that little tiny building. Funky.

And then we traveled back into West Virginia via I-81, and down into Martinsburg. That town is also not one I’ll be photo-setting any time soon, but I did visit the Martinsburg Mall, for one. Quick check-it-out trip, that was. Nice mall, but it’s got a really weird layout. And they use too much wax when they do their floors. On a number of spots on the floor, I stepped and was like, “Whoooo!” when my foot went sliding because of slick tile. Now I realize that flip-flops don’t have that much traction (and I was wearing flip-flops), but Valley Mall wasn’t that slick, and neither was anywhere else I went. Slick floors = not good.

I also don’t understand why malls decide they have to hide the public restrooms down long, intimidating-looking corridors. You go past a million stores’ back doors, and boring concrete walls. Martinsburg Mall did that, Valley Mall in Hagerstown did that, Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester (that I would visit later) did that, and so does River Ridge in Lynchburg and Valley View in Roanoke (that last one especially).

And then from there, you know what I found? A Martin’s grocery store, located within sight of a Wal-Mart Supercenter, like what’s going up next to our Wal-Mart in Waynesboro. So this is what it’s going to look like when it’s finished:

Exterior of Martin's in Martinsburg

I went in and checked it out. This is what the inside looks like:

Interior of Martin's in Martinsburg

Martin’s, to put it simply, was not what I expected. I was told it was a European-style grocery store. I expected a store similar to Whole Foods Market, which sells nothing you would find at a conventional grocery store like Wally World or Food Lion. I expected all sorts of brand names from Europe, etc. to be stocked on the shelves. Instead, it’s basically a Giant Food store up and down the aisles. And this makes sense – Martin’s is owned by Giant. Still, it’s the same stuff we sell at Wal-Mart, but instead of Wal-Mart’s “Great Value” store brand, it’s Giant’s own house brand as the generic. It’s not even a special “Martin’s” house brand. It’s the Giant store brand.

However, Martin’s wasn’t a disappointment. While the middle of the store was somewhat disappointing (it’s a conventional grocery store), the perimeter of the store is quite exciting. I was favorably impressed. They have a fresh flower area where the florist does your arrangements right there in front of you, they have a huge produce area with all sorts of regular fruit and also “organic” fruit (for the cheapskate, “organic” = “more expensive”). Still, I’m told by an employee, that organic stuff is one of Martin’s specialties.

I looked at the PLUs on the organic stuff, and found out that the PLUs are the same as the standard PLUs, but with a “9” up front. Thus the regular bananas have a PLU of 4011. The organic bananas are 94011. Not hard. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, apply to work as a cashier at any store that sells groceries. You will learn all your PLU (Produce Look-Up, by the way) numbers in no time, and this will make sense.

Moving along, though, Martin’s has a butcher shop. They cut and wrap the meat right there on the spot for you, with the ground beef ground fresh daily on the premises. And they have all of it on display in a case for you to see. I never thought you could make such a statement out of raw meat, but there it was. Then they also have a deli, and also a fresh-seafood department. Wow. Very impressive. And then what impressed me most of all was their “Carry Out Cafe”, which is a food-service operation in the back of the store with all kinds of hot, ready-to-eat foods ready to get and take home to eat. Wow, wow, wow. They even have a whole display of Chinese food, including four different kinds of egg rolls.

Going up front, they have U-Scan for their self-checkouts, which is a self-checkout system that I think ROYALLY sucks. But the human attendant was nice, even if the machine was surly. I like the way the self-checkouts are arranged, though. Six lanes, with three on each side, all facing in, so the attendant can see them all easily from their station. Not like other stores I’ve seen (*cough cough wal-mart cough cough*) that have some lanes facing away from the attendant’s station where you can’t see them.

So all in all, I was impressed with Martin’s. I enjoyed the store, and the service was good. Lots of people ready and willing to help.

So from the Martin’s in Martinsburg (say that a few times fast), I was off to my next target – Winchester, back in Virginia.

Now by the time I got to Winchester, it was starting to get dark. And I tried to find their downtown and failed miserably (but found out later that I was quite close on one attempt). First attempt took me down Jubal Early Drive west of the Interstate. I took that for a while. Shops, shops, and more shops. Then it turned into neighborhoods. I realize, oops, I’m in a fairly new-looking neighborhood. So we abort and turn around. I then went the other way, east of I-81. The road turns into a rural four-lane divided highway, with signs to Front Royal. Nope. Turn around and try again. I tried Jubal Early again on the west side, looking more carefully for downtown signage. I ended up at the neighborhood again, this time taking a right turn at the entrance to see if that wasn’t part of the neighborhood. It was. So back to the highway again for “take four”. By this time, it’s totally dark, by the way. This time, I turned off of Jubal Early onto a side street that went past Shenandoah University. And into an older-looking neighborhood. Doing better. Then I’m stopped due to a slow-moving train at a railroad crossing. Wait, wait, wait. I ultimately ended up in the parking lot of Handley High School, which was a dead end. I found out later that dead-ending at Handley was the closest I got, and that I was only a few blocks off. But since it was dark, I just returned.

I ended up stopping at Wally World in Winchester, mainly to make a pit stop and get a drink. I shall say this up front: that is one HUGE store. It’s bigger than anything you’ve ever seen. And the layout’s weird, too. Most stores put clothes in the middle, a row of shelves and then the groceries on one side of that, and then two rows of shelves on the other side of the clothes. In this store, clothing was shifted all the way to the left, and was about half the store in itself. Toys was next to Infants on the far left wall, next to the Garden Center. Then Sporting Goods, Electronics, and Hardware were all along the back wall. Shoes was not against a wall, which was unusual. Then there were two rows of shelves in the middle before you got to a (surprisingly) standard-issue grocery area, which looked small by comparison. Massive store, though. You could get lost in there. They also had 35 registers (seriously!), with a book department separating the front end into two halves.

From there, except for a stop in Woodstock to say hello to the night associates at the Woodstock Wal-Mart (they know me well from my late-night visits on the way back from DC), and also Sheetz in Woodstock to get some grub (where I got in a conversation with a girl who had mismatched flip-flops), it was a straight shot back home. I got home just before 2 AM, and fell right asleep. I got home much later than expected, but it was a good trip nonetheless. And I definitely have some new stuff on my list of potential photo sets. And the flip-flops worked out. I wasn’t sure how they would do on a long trip out like that. I’d only worn them for short trips before. Still not wearing them to DC, though. I need shoes that are more strapped-on than flip-flops, like my regular sandals or my chucks. So good stuff.

Web site: Wikipedia article on flip-flops. And for the record, I wish they made those light-up flip flops in my size. They only make them in ladies' sizes. If they made them in my size, I would wear them.

Song: So many songs passed through my head... you want just one?

Quote: "This is wrong..." - Me several times on getting lost in Winchester.