Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Three Days With Milton and Henry

On long car rides, my sons will typically ask to play their music on the stereo. I like that, because it kind of leans against the old cliche of the kid slipping away from his outer world into the insulation of ear buds or headphones. And for me, as a dad, sharing music is every bit as important as sharing meals as as family. (My older son's epiphany on one car ride: "Dude! Music sounds so much better on speakers...)

Framed in a picture, it is still pretty Renaissancy.
King Henry VIII getting the party started
with Queen Catherine of Aragon
On the way home, yesterday, from a three-day family jaunt into Pennsylvania, I stopped for gas on a rustic state road in Manheim. As we headed off toward the PA Turnpike, my younger son -- he's eleven -- asked to put his music on. He'd selected a film score play list of the masterful John Williams and of the less-masterful-but-still-pretty-good Harold Shore. I was pleased. both with my son's taste and with the "score" to our scenic car ride.

[Speaking of my son's taste in music, which is not typical for an eleven-year-old, he once got angry when Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" came on in the car. What angered him was Gilmour's solo: "Why do they have to ruin everything with the sound of some fake instrument that's all loud and obnoxious." I believe he may have been channeling my dear-departed father, and I was both pleased and displeased (I love Gilmour's playing) -- but more the former than the latter. The boy loves orchestral music!]
My younger son cheering on a battle
in his newly-acquired medieval hood. 

As the sun started to set, we traveled, heading home through the rolling green hills of what is a truly beautiful state. When the Shire theme in the Lord of the Rings soundtrack played, my older son pointed out that "they could have filmed The Lord of the Rings here -- the Shire parts." He was right. It was a beautiful setting and I was more than happy to drive along the the orchestral strains of Harry Potter and LotR and to think back over the previous three days...

Day one was the "PA Renaissance Faire," which I now go to just for the boys, who enjoy it, especially my older son who is now amassing quite a collection of historic weaponry. (A few years go, we bought him a handmade Welsh longbow -- he and I like to do target archery together -- and this year, he became the proud owner of a working, handmade crossbow.)

The Renaissance Faire has fallen far. Very far. In fact, if not for the boys, I would never go again. When I went twenty years ago, it was very much an escape -- it felt like a journey back to Renaissance England. I was never a dresser-upper or very much of the Dungeons and Dragons set -- though, to be honest, I have played -- but I remember the quiet historicity of the place. I remember the gravel "streets" of the town (now asphalt) and the actors who'd wander and engage the visitors (the actors have since become performers) and I remember the efforts to keep the place an experiment in Renaissance re-creation. Dollars were called "pounds" (though I don't think they were using pounds sterling in the Renaissance...) and turkey legs were called "mutton legs" and they were one of the few things available to eat. Every vendor did a decent British accent (in fairness, most of them sounded like poor Scottish brogues, but that was okay -- they were really trying) and the expectations on the employees were high. In fact, one day, I saw a girl I had been in a band with in one of the stage shows. She saw me and directed me to meet her behind the stage area. This was because she wanted to talk to me without an accent and she would have gotten in trouble if she'd been seen. Even the guys who directed the car-parking wore costume and did accents back then. There was no amplification and no recorded music played anywhere. If you had to use a credit card to buy something big, the characters referred to it as "Master Card or Lady Visa."
My favorite: "Wildcat,"against the green of Pennsylvania. 
This is all out ye olde window, now. Only the performers are in costume and hamburgers and fries, as well as cheap plastic weapons abound. None of the vendors even try anymore. Sure, the shows are fun to watch and the jousts are just as cool (despite the recorded strains of the Skyrim music having replaced three trumpets and a tympani player) but it is no longer an escape. It's a theme park. I'm glad the boys like it, but I wish they could have seen it in ye olden days. (Though, if you go, do go see the bowyer and her partner. They are one of the last bastions of historicity in the joint.)

After a long day, it was a sunset ride into the delightful town of Hershey for a stay in the sprawling Hershey Lodge and for a few days in the amusement park. We all like roller coasters; what can I say? (Here's my roller coaster/life theory from before, if you're interested. I still feel the same.)

The smoke stacks of the old Hershey
factory with the excellent wooden coaster
"Thunder and Lightning" in the foreground.
The town of Hershey was the classic factory town, built for and around the workers; even the amusement park, itself, was originally created by Milton S. Hershey as a recreation place for the workers. Now, it is simply an amusement park near the Hershey factory and it's not the factory town it used to be, but it is still a nice place to visit. The park is beautiful, unlike ones nearer to us, in New Jersey, like Six Flags "Great Adventure" park. Hershey park has plenty of trees and shade and it has a feel of being "settled in" and welcoming, unlike Great Adventure, that seems to have slapped up some rides for the sake of rides. Maybe it's the history aspect, but Hershey feels like a place to be, not a place to visit. The visitors at Hershey are also generally more civilized than at other places, too, but some make you wonder...

Farenheit, which I rode twenty
minutes after eating eggs Benedict
-- with nary a retch. Now who's a man? the kids -- aged around, maybe 10-15 -- who were yelling "Oh my f#($*%& God" at the top of their lungs while waiting for a ride to start and who, as we left the ride, were "skating" with their sneakers on the wet pavement, bumping past people and walking over to the duck food dispensers and violently yanking on the mechanisms like...well, like animals. Like untamed animals.

I have tried, over the past years, not to be too critical of kids who are rambunctious. I believe bad kids can grow up to be good people and I even believe my kids may be too well behaved; that we have been a bit too strict with regulating their public behavior. I openly admit that. But to raise children who behave with absolutely no comportment or sense of propriety or regard for those around them is just wrong; in fact, it is socially irresponsible. Well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping one of the sneaker-skating brats would have hit a dry patch on the pavement and taken a header onto his teeth, so I won't say that...

Then, we went up into the "Kissing Tower" -- a revolving circular cabin that rises up to some three-hundred feet to give passengers a good view of the surrounding area and, along with the ride, you get a recorded lesson about the history of the town. It would have been interesting, if I could have heard it over the incessant, self-centered babbling of the people around me. (I am sorry for being perhaps a bit curmudgeonly, but...people used to listen to stuff like that when I was a kid and it kills me when people talk over it. )

Other than that, though, the people at the park were so much better than the Jersey crowd.

Driving home, though, through the twilight and to the backdrop of the lazy summer strings of Shore's beautiful Shire theme, I felt the peace that comes with having gone and seen and having spent each day's energy in pursuit of nothing but entertainment. Three days of that is plenty, though, but it was all worth it if only for the rare fun and comfort of nights in a hotel room with the entire family, the grownups reading  by the overhead bed lights and the youngins lying in their beds either reading or softly giggling and whispering over the beeps and blips of their handheld games.

[By the way -- I learned, on a placard in the park, that, in one work week, today, the Pennsylvania Turnpike sees more traffic than is did during the entire year of 1941. Crazy.]

PA sunset on Route 322. 

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