Six days, four cities, almost 1,000 miles, several historic sites, two baseball games, two bomb scares — shared by three old friends from Brooklyn.
That, in a nutshell, was my summer vacation — a road trip through a segment of America’s heartland filled with sports-related stopovers, historic intervals, good food, political discussions, a daylong tour of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, what has sadly become an unwelcome American ritual, bomb scares.
When I left for Baltimore last week to meet my two oldest friends and former Brooklynites, Larry and Steve, whom I’ve known for 45 years, I never expected our journey — even in these vigilant times — would include being evacuated from a couple of common tourist spots.
In spite of everything going on around the world today, who would ever imagine the Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio, and the town square in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, just a stone’s throw from the Civil War battlefield where over 50,000 Americans died in a key 3-day battle in 1863, are on any terrorist organization’s list of targets.
Thankfully, both incidents turned out to be false alarms, but in the aftermath it struck me how the post-9/11 world we live in filters through our daily lives — even on vacation, miles from what you would expect to be potential targets.
We departed Baltimore late in the morning on August 2, heading to Canton, Ohio, home of the National Football Hall of Fame. Rather than take a direct route we decided to avoid major interstates, not because of potential traffic congestion, but because we were in no rush and wanted to see some of America’s less traveled roads and scenery.
Shortly after arriving at a hotel outside of Canton, we had dinner and decided to take in Karaoke Night at the local Holiday Inn, hoping for a night of fun and music. Much to our disappointment, the moment we stepped into the karaoke bar, we detected an odor from beer and stale cigarettes. To make matters worse, the crowd was old enough to be — well, OLD! When we entered one elderly gent was butchering a Frank Sinatra song. After that an older man proceeded to wreck another Sinatra classic. We looked at each other and tacitly agreed this was not classic rock night and left.
Wednesday morning we drove to the Football Hall of Fame, a few miles out of town. After walking through the Hall, we were watching a film that was stopped less than 10 minutes later. An announcement soon alerted us to evacuate the premises. Subsequently, local fire department and other emergency personnel were on the scene. It was nearly 70 minutes before it was safe to resume our tour.
We later learned this was the third consecutive year this prank had occurred, presumably by a disgruntled football fan whose favorite player didn’t get selected for induction.
After the hectic morning we unknowingly became minor celebrities when we stopped for lunch in Canton. We randomly selected a restaurant with walls lined with photographs of famous sports figures. The three of us were each wearing New York Giants Training Camp T-shirts, so the waitresses and owner assumed we must have been retired football players in town for the induction week activities. We denied any professional sports link, but still managed to charm the women. Before we left they asked us to pose for a photo for their collection. So, if you’re ever in downtown Canton, go to the Arcadia Grill and you’ll see our photo on the wall along with late Yankee greats Joe DiMaggio and Thurman Munson, among others. Not bad company!
From Canton we drove to Cleveland and spent seven hours at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the highlight of the trip. For me, this museum is akin to a temple since I’ve been a fan of the genre since I was 10. My first 45 (that’s a 7-inch, black vinyl disc with a big hole in the middle for you younger readers) was Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.” I gradually moved from 45’s to albums to CDs, although I’ve had little interest in new and emerging artists for more than 15 years. I prefer music that was a signpost for my youth from the ‘60s, ‘70s and early ‘80s.
I could write a column solely on the Rock Hall, but all I’ll add here is that it is a great place that does justice to the history of the music that shaped no less than three generations and has made a considerable impact on American and international culture in its first 50 years.
The next evening’s agenda was the second best part of the trip — a baseball game at Jacobs Field, the home of the Cleveland Indians. Actually, when we planned this trip early last spring, we did it to coincide with the Yankees playing at Cleveland. We went to the third of the three-game series and, as it turned out, the only win for New York. The Yankees led through the sixth inning, 2-1, but the Indians went ahead in the seventh, 3-2. Much to our surprise, loyal Indian fans began leaving in a close game. Though our spirits were dimmed, they were lifted in the top of the ninth as the Yankees hit a pair of solo home runs to take the lead. Then closer Mo (Mariano Riviera) sealed the victory in the bottom of the ninth.
The next night in Pittsburgh we saw the Los Angeles Dodgers trounce the Pittsburgh Pirates, 12-6, at one of baseball’s newest ballparks, PNC Park. Following the game we witnessed a spectacular 30-minute fireworks display that was second only to the one I witnessed at New York City’s bicentennial celebration 29 years ago.
Earlier in the day, while walking around downtown Pittsburgh, we got another sample of post 9/11 caution when a vigilant security guard at the awesome PPG (Pittsburgh Plate Glass) Tower told us we couldn’t take photographs in the area because we were “standing above three underground garages,” not to mention the 635-foot building contains 19,750 pieces of glass.
Before heading back to Baltimore on Saturday, we made a brief stop at the Gettysburg National Battlefield to revisit a critical period in American history. On the way through the town of Gettysburg we arrived in the midst of a bomb scare as an abandoned piece of luggage in the town square set off an alert resulting in the immediate area to be cordoned off and evacuated.
There was never any breaking news about the incident, so we assumed it was a false alarm.
All in all, it was a lively, fun-filled week, with planned and unplanned events. While the anticipated activity turned out as good as or better than expected, the unexpected events made this vacation a road trip to remember.
And, as we’ve done all our lives about other escapade we’ve shared, Steve, Larry and I will surely be talking about this trip for years to come. After all, that’s what old friends do.