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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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   pro-ugliness propaganda
Saturday, August 13 2011

location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York

We didn't begin our roadtrip until about noon. There we were, heading down the Thruway with two dogs and a cat. As in previous travels with Marie (aka "the Baby"), we had a litter box down in the foot well behind the driver's seat, which she used several times for urination. We didn't feed her during the entire trip, and this is probably why we never had to deal with her higher-number bodily functions, which (these days) always take the form of explosively molten diarrhea.
Not far into Pennsylvania on I-78, we decided to get veggie burgers at a Burger King in the Allentown made famous by Billy Joel. But as we pulled into its parking lot, we caught sight of an Italian Restaurant that hadn't been mentioned on the interstate exit: the Florence Italian Grille (40.575695N, 75.623585W). On roadtrips we always harbor a hankering for the Olive Garden, and maybe we could satisfy it with this local offbrand Florentine substitute. The place looked promising; they offered WiFi and had a great semi-wooded place for running our dogs (and even our cat) back behind the parking lot.
Inside, we were delighted to find an enormous salad bar that included pasta and soup. There were several good vegan options, though there didn't seem to be any obvious way to spice up the otherwise-bland food. Amusingly, we noted that a whole wall of the restaurant was occupied by four or five enormous projection televisions, and in our booth we had a selector allowing us to bring up audio on a small speaker from any one of those screens. We'd never seen this particular mix of technology before. But we mostly just used the WiFi. Since I'd brought both the iPad and a netbook, it was like a little computer lab there in our booth.
Our drive was uneventful and, as always for drives to Staunton, very long. Gretchen had forgotten how long the drive is and the podcasts (which normally help pass the time) didn't seem to help. She was struck by the ugliness of the drive, something that is expected in New Jersey but is a bit more surprising in Pennsylvania. After all, that state is full of montains and farms. But the mountains tend to be monotonous ridges just a bit too far away, and the landscape is often besmirched with various absurdities: lots of sprawling developments comprised of ugly insufficiently-fenestrated buildings, enormous warehouse structures supporting networks of big box stores, and what appears to be a spartan amusement park featuring displays of intact military hardware (40.204776N, 77.157068W).
But we had to be in Virginia before the pro-ugliness reality was joined by state-sponsored pro-ugliness propaganda, the existence of which Gretchen found startling. At the state line, Virginia has posted a big blue sign reading "Open for Business," which is a code language for, "Our residents do not form unions and will work for low wages in hopes of either future wealth or eternal salvation, neither of which we have to provide. Oh, and we don't have many building codes, environmental laws, or zoning strictures, and what we do have we do not enforce." Further down the Shenandoah Valley, in one of the most reliably-Republican regions of the United States, the counties themselves tout their credentials as "Certified Business Locations." The "Open for Business" sign is only a few years old, but the purported certification of business locations dates back to the early 1990s.
We were hungry again once we reached Staunton, so I decided to show Gretchen just how ugly Staunton has allowed itself to become. (How exactly has it answered the question: "Where does aggressive pro-growth policy ultimately lead?"). I drove all the way west on US 250 to the old medium security prison (now supposedly condominiums!) and then went south down Greenville Road, about the ugliest entrance to a city as exists on Planet Earth. This time we did go to a Burger King (right there next to a business offering payday loans) and had veggie burgers with fries. At this hour (8pm), we were the only real customers in the restaurant, and the fries seemed to have been made hours before and were not particularly hot. Gretchen asked for extra pickles and the manager gave her a whole "Dutch apple pie" box full of them.
In the dining area with us there was also a woman (with a baby and a friend) who looked like she was preparing to take her shift in the restaurant. She was Hispanic, an ethnicity that had been rare in the Shenandoah Valley during my formative years. The sprawl-based economy seems to have generated a fair number of minimum-wage jobs along with the face-palmingly craptastic vistas.
It was raining fairly strongly when we finally arrived at Creekside, my parents' satellite doublewide trailer residence across the street from my increasingly-dilapidated childhood home. My father was off in the hospital recovering from a CDF infection, but my mother and brother were there and happily welcomed us. There was plenty of monologuing about horses and dogs and Hitler and dinosaurs from each of them respective. Hoagie (my mother) went off to retrieve her dog Maple, and the three canines seemed to get along okay. Maple was fascinated (though gentle) with Marie (aka "the Baby"), who proved (as always) exceptionally tolerant of the new dog's interest.
The trailer at Creekside wasn't any more cluttered than it had been for my last visit, though Gretchen identified at least one magazine (an issue of the AARP periodical) that hadn't moved since her last visit in 2008.

From left: Eleanor, Sally, and Marie (aka "the Baby") on the drive south today. In the backseat of our Honda Civic.

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