My birthday was at the end of August, and my boyfriend gave me a quick trip to the Poconos as a gift. We often give each other experiences; I love this tradition.
We left after work on a rainy Monday evening, and picked up two friends on the way. Everyone was very eager to get out of the city and on the road, so we drove away without any dinner. I didn’t mind, because this was an excuse to get my favorite fast food: Subway. My boyfriend and I subjected our friends to our road trip traditional as well.
It rained so hard on the drive there that I could barely see lane markers on the highway. I think we were all so tired by the time we got to our cabin that it was all we could do to make up our beds, figure out how to turn on the heat, and have a cup of tea.
The next morning, we woke up and made breakfast at home with the groceries our friends had brought. They packed instant coffee, since we weren’t sure what kind of coffee maker was in the cabin. I can’t remember the last time I had instant coffee (I think in some kind of dubious train station cafe, probably at an odd hour), and as we sipped it, my boyfriend told us about how instant coffee was seen as a delicacy in the Soviet Union, where he grew up. We tried to imagine how this could be the case, given that regular coffee can be easy to make and tastes so much better. I think instant coffee must have felt like living in the future, like having a Star Trek food generator, like desires could be met as soon as they were articulated.
After breakfast, we drove to Lehigh Gorge State Park for a nature walk. The rain had stopped—we even saw the sun for a few moments—but none of us had packed the right clothing for slathering up and tumbling down muddy hiking trails. We were lucky, though, because the recent rain brought out all kinds of wildlife: fuzzy caterpillars, rain-dropped flowers, lush beds of ferns, all kinds of gorgeous mushrooms, and thousands of slugs. I almost walked straight into a caterpillar dangling from a far-away tree branch by an invisible thread. We stopped and debated if the caterpillar was stuck, or if she was in charge of her own destiny. Do you know? In the end, we left her dangling, my friends having convinced me that however she got there, we had to let “nature take its course.” I hope she ended up where she wanted to be.
Hungry from our walk and motivated by my confession that I’d never been to an IHOP, we went to that diner for lunch. I ordered vanilla spice pancakes, scrambled eggs, hash browns, and a cup of coffee that was better than instant. We delighted in trying all four flavors of syrup lined up at the end of our table in clearly labeled and color-coded pourers. I insisted on eating my savory foods before my sweet ones, resulting in my tragic inability to finish my first ever order of IHOP pancakes. The restaurant was empty and the service was slow and we returned two coffee mugs stained with lipsticks and we watched the clouds piled up in the sky from our booth by the window. All of us left deeply satisfied and chatting about visiting the IHOP on 14th Street in Manhattan, though we admitted even then that it wouldn’t be the same.
Our cabin was in the middle of the woods and the closest town was White Haven, so after IHOP we parked downtown and walked around. White Haven is tiny and nestled on the Lehigh River. When we walked down Main Street on a grey Tuesday afternoon, almost none of the businesses (like the Journal Herald est. 1879 offices, which were piled high with old, pink papers and one of those iMacs from the early 2000s that came in clear plastic and jewel tones) were open. We passed a windowless bar decorated with neon beer signs that my Turkish friend, always in search of a “Midwestern bar” in which to befriend American strangers, soon discovered was a private club into which non-members were not allowed. But I made friends with a bee in a gravel parking lot, admired layers of house paint, and wondered what kind of things were kept inside the big warehouses at the end of the street.
At our cabin, we rested, became friends with the deer outside, and made a simple dinner of salad, pasta, and pesto. The rain started again just as we were settling in for the evening, and we commented on how lucky we had been with the weather. After dinner, we played Monopoly, which my Communist friend won easily, and for which we all teased him. We brushed our teeth, said goodnight, and went to bed with the windows open so we could fall asleep to the sound of rain.
In the morning, we ate all the leftover foods, cleaned our rooms, and said goodbye to the cabin. We drove to a different part of the Lehigh River and took another walk through nature. The rain stopped just in time for us, though the river was swollen and loud. The lichens and mosses looked so beautiful covered in rain drops; I wanted to collect them and bring them home and make a miniature living encyclopedia out of them, but I knew that I never would, and that they would just die pointlessly in the car.
As a final stop, we visited the town of Jim Thorpe. It was a booming mining town at the end of the 19th century and it is still filled with beautiful Victorian buildings, painted in bright colors. Decades later, after the boom and the bust, the widow of athletic star Jim Thorpe convinced the township to rename the town after her late husband. There are plaques all over town describing his various athletic accomplishments and anecdotes about his life, like the constant repetition of King Gustav V of Sweden’s compliment to Thorpe while awarding him a medal at the 1912 Summer Olympics: "You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” Rather than impressing me, it made me sad, this generations-long reverence for a compliment probably thought of by the King on the spot.
We got back in the car to drive back to our lives in the city. The rain held off until we were halfway home, and we found ourselves again talking about how lucky we were to spend two cloudy, dry days in the Poconos. We took turns driving and when it wasn’t my turn, I fell asleep. When I woke up, we were entering the Holland Tunnel and our mid-week week-end was over.