Political strategist James Carville once described Pennsylvania as Pittsburgh on one side, Philadelphia on the other, and Alabama in the middle. And boy, was he not kidding.

Sailor and I did something we haven’t done all summer: we took the weekend off and went exploring. Money and time are limited so we kept ourselves limited to the western side of Pennsylvania and, damn y’all, has anyone ever realized how effin crazy that part of the state is?

I would normally save this for last but let’s begin with the coup de grace: The Pennsic War. Yup, for the last two weeks there’s been a war  raging down around Slippery Rock where nearly 6,000 people take over a camp ground and play Extreme Renaissance Fair.

meleeAnd by “Extreme Renaissance Fair”, I mean full-contact Ren-Fair. There’s a land grab, there are battles (and oddly, they are scheduled), there are merchants, and tents and all performed in character and costume, sometimes even with accent, for about two weeks.

Um, who are these people??

Sailor and I were smuggled in by the crafty means of someone securing a magical amulet that allows one to enter the campground. No amulet, no entry. I suppose this weeds out the looky-loos and nay-sayers, but at $145 for an entry fee, we gladly partook of the subterfuge since we only stayed a few hours…which was about one hour too many.

It’s certainly not my cup of tea, but then, neither are Civil War re-enactments, Second Life, or Furries. Life is plenty interesting and whacked-out on its own without me having to pretend to be someone or something else. And 6,000 people?? For real? While I am disturbed to know that there are so many people into this type of stuff, I am simultaneously comforted in knowing exactly where they are so that I may drive around them.

Traveling north-bound, Sailor and I dropped on my father’s relatives up around the Conneaut Lake area. I used spend summers on my grandfather’s farm in Linesville and it has been nearly 20 years since I have been to these parts. I am surprised by the changes, by they are small by comparison. Life truly moves at a different pace and rarely changes in these parts of Pennsylvania. Small farm towns with local bars and truly unique local attractions that I loved as a kid, remain in force.

We stopped at Pymatuning State Park (and could this place be any more beautiful?) where we happened upon a nightmarish attraction I hadn’t seen since I was 10. The Spillway.

lgIf you are not from these parts, The Spillway is where people go to feed freakishly huge carp, or as the vendors also pronounce, “where ducks walk on fish”. The slimy fish with inordinately large mouths look you dead in the eye (or at least you think they do because they have a fake set of eyes and then the real ones, both equally creepy) and open and close their mouths begging for days old bread.

And let’s face it: this kind of stuff is just bad for the environment, I know, but it’s still crazy fun to provoke a fish-fight by blitzkrieging bread in one spot and encouraging the ducks and fish to smack each other around.

The truly bizarre part of this is just how big a draw this place is. Easily, on Saturday night, at 8pm, with clouds threatening rain, there were hundreds of people piled on top of each other trying to get their fill of throwing bread. Where the people end and the fish began, one could only guess.

About a mile or two away, my paternal grandmother lives in Linesville proper. My grandmother isn’t doing too well, so my cousins have been flying in and out from parts all over the last few weeks. Two of my younger cousins that I have recently become reacquainted with were staying at the Hotel Conneaut, the hotel on the grounds at Conneaut Lake Park.

If you haven’t been to Conneaut Lake Park in recent years, it’s still delightfully shabby and full of lots of locals who enjoy a good brew. I personally really dig this place. I don’t need high-tech, super fast, super safe rides. I want nostalgia, I want the fear of riding one of the country’s oldest and slowest roller coaster where said fear is based on antiquity alone. The park is an easy ride from Erie, the prices are reasonable, and most importantly, it’s not overflowing with hordes of annoying people.

I know it’s supposed to be “better” for sheer number of rides and razzle dazzle, but Cedar Point is a serious commitment of time and money and frankly, you won’t find me doing it anymore. It’s a pain in the ass to get there, it’s a bigger pain in the ass to navigate the damn place, and honestly, it’s just more hassle than it’s worth anymore.

Picture031But dammit it, CLP is a good time and no one will convince me otherwise. Part of it memories, for sure. I have rather fond recollections of spewing vomit on my brothers in the Devil’s Den, riding a helicopter over the lake (back when they still did that), and running amok in the ballroom (which you unfortunately, some asshats burned down a few years back). There’s something easy and charming about the park and despite it’s lack of uber-crazy rides, the dozens of kids I witnessed screaming and laughing their heads seemed to be having a fine time of it.

We wrapped the day by lounging about the Beach Club on the park grounds. It’s a wonderfully old building with colorful mismatched wooden chairs and booths and tables from about every era of furniture I can think of. The drinks were cheap and large, the band was too loud (but then, they’re too loud anywhere), and hey, the crowd was having a good time, so what else do you need? You wrap up the evening by eating Mama Bear’s next door and the experience is complete.

So there it was. My crazy-ass Pennsylvania weekend. And as much as I do not enjoy living in Erie or Pennsylvania in general, I have to admit that was one of the most pleasant weekends I have spent in this state for quite some time.