Johnstown, Pennsylvania Part 1 of 2

40°19′22″N, 78°55′15″W

Flying to Pittsburgh

Flying to Pittsburgh

This week has been a journey of discovery for myself. Don’t worry. I won’t bore you will all the sordid details, but just know over time I’ll let you in on it as necessary. OK, now you’re curious. I should have kept my big mouth shut. Damn. I’m sorry. OK, I promise this. Over due time, I’ll let you into my little world as I explore the world around me. Fair enough?

Flying to Pittsburgh and then heading east was naturally all about unearthing the bizarre, but it was also getting away and clearing my mind. No, I wasn’t trying to escape from myself but more to connect with me. Does that make sense at all? Have you ever just needed new pastures even if or a day? Damn. Enough of the melancholy, dramatic bullshit already. We’re here to poke fun at the world around us, right?

Yet as I rolled through the monochromatic and most uninspired wintertime landscape, I couldn’t have felt further from exploring. Remember that song by Dead or Alive that went something like “You spin me right ’round, baby. Right ’round like a record, baby. Right ’round, ’round, ’round.” Well, my head sure did feel like it was going to spin right around and come flying off like some stupid ass B level straight to DVD horror flick. Don’t you wish you had flush knob to let your thoughts swirl down the crapper and out of your mind sometimes?

Conemaugh Gap - Deepest East of Mississippi

Conemaugh Gap – Deepest East of Mississippi

So what was I racing from? Why the hurry? Normally I want to hop off the freeway and leisurely explore the road less traveled. And here I am on the highway to hell racing. Racing. Racing. Just racing towards Johnstown and not even enjoying the ride. Not that the crappy ass seats in this rental car helped any. But that’s a different story.

And why Johnstown? Though I go by Jake, my given name is John, and ever since Mrs. Neely’s fifth grade class where we learned about the Great Flood of Johnstown way back in 1889 that killed 2,209 people, I’ve wanted to see this town. Yep, this is how my weird mind works. I had such high hopes that any place sharing my name would just exude off the charts coolness and character.

Suddenly, my Suzuki SX4 was howling in distress and clearly saying, “Oh hell no. Bitch be cool. Like hell you’re gonna make my four cylinder ass do 80 miles per hour.“ Fear of the car actually saying “I quit this bitch. To hell with you” right before dumping my ass in the rain near Muskrat Slide Road (yes really it exists) removed my lead food from the gas. Of course my brain was still focused straight ahead with the pedal to the metal. Hell, I wasn’t even bumping to my tunes. The only sounds filling my ears were four cheap ass tires barely clinging to the wet asphalt and the whine of an engine wholly incapable of maintaining the speed limit on hills.

After two hours of manipulating this flimsy rice burner in a manner that would leave its Japanese design team aghast in horror, the outskirts of Johnstown finally filled my salt and mud stained windshield. I hit the wipers and windshield fluid to clear, actually more like smear, the grime, and all I can say was holy crap. Usually I can muster some some kind of reaction but the best I could do was a monosyllabic, “wow.” And that’s not the good kind of wow. What the hell is this collection of ancient buildings in various states of dilapidation? I mean I’ve seen neighborhoods down on their luck but this was like urban despair taken to new heights.

Typical Street

Typical Street

Even if it is ill equipped for American roads, one advantage of driving a car the size of a tic tac is come parallel parking time, it slides right into one of those spaces on Main Street. I stepped out into a puddle and said Jesus Christ, these are my freaking expensive boots. Actually, it more of a true F bomb, and yeah, I took the Lord’s name in vain. But looking at the morose people and abandoned steel mills around me, I don’t really think he is in the business of answering many prayers around these parts anyway.

You want to talk about feeling self-conscious? I was seriously overdressed and so out of place. Observing my fellow mankind got me scared to just walk across small Central Park in the town center for fear of getting jacked up. I can see it now. “Oh, you think you’re gonna wear those boots around here, Mr. Fancy Pants? Well, Screw you and that lame ass Suziku you rolled up in!” It’s not like I could have classed up the joint anyhow had I tried. How do I put this delicately? As we discovered at bingo in Florida, folks in the South just love to whisper “bless your heart” so as to ameliorate the blow of the acid words quick to follow. You know what I mean. “Oh, bless your heart, baby. It’s not the pants. You’re just a big girl.” “Bless his heart. He just doesn’t measure up to my ex-boyfriend.”

Central Park Downtown

Central Park Downtown

I’m going to borrow a play from their bible toting rulebook. Nah, I’ll just spare everyone the faux blessing and come right out and say it. I couldn’t tell who was homeless or not in this town. I drove around with the doors locked and windows rolled up just gawking. I’d see people loitering on a corner and wonder are they employed honestly or somehow sucking on the public tit. Try as I might, I just couldn’t tell.

Everyone looked the same, male or female. The standard uniform up this way is a giant hoodie (preferably Pittsburgh Steelers) partially hiding worn out jeans about 6 sizes too big. Of course, accessories make the outfit, and a ratty baseball hat swaddled inside the oversized hood is the Johnstown piece de résistance. Not that there’s anything wrong with this to borrow the words of the great Jerry Seinfeld.

Yeah, what a schmuck I was showing up in Hilfiger and Odin. Note to self…do not ever, ever, ever again wear clothing purchased at a Neiman Marcus to a rust belt city that has rusted itself into oblivion. I stuck out like nobody’s business walking around downtown Johnstown. I mean, these guys were looking at me like what the hell has this stupid ass looking Suzuki subcompact piece of shit delivered to our ‘hood.

Em's

Em’s

A steady flow of customers at Em’s sub shop told me it should be ok for a takeaway sandwich I’d eat within the Suzuki’s sanctuary. Walking in and hearing “Electric Avenue” from 1982 was just so fitting. Actually it made my day to hear some 80s tunes inside a place last remodeled during the Carter Administration for I truly thought I had been spit out a few decades back. And I must say this wasn’t a smooth landing. It was more like a big splat against the side of a concrete wall.

Looking around Em’s at an utmost geriatric clientele rolling around on scooters and littered with the occasional younger person, I can report that all those acid washed jeans you donated to Goodwill circa 1992 are alive and well here in Johnstown. So is the mullet. Yes, I actually saw a scrawny looking dude sporting a mullet under his hoodie. Bless his heart, right?

To be continued…

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Categories: travel

One Comment on “Johnstown, Pennsylvania Part 1 of 2”

  1. Scott Joubert
    January 31, 2013 at 12:16 am #

    Wow! Thanks Jake! I’ve learned a lot about this town and I love the way you write. Just love your stuff . Thanks! Can’t wait to hear more . Scott J

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