Taking some time off work, I decided the best thing to do with my newfound free hours was to get in the car, put the top down, and burn some gasoline. Those of you who know me know that I'm a bit of a foodie, so I thought a great use of this gasoline I'm burning would be to find a nice, out of the way place to eat a nice, quiet meal. Some people asked me why I wouldn’t wait and go with people, but that’s a different experience than I was looking for; other people have wants, they get cold when you’re not cold, they’re in the mood for seafood when you want a steak, they want the top up when you want the top down. It’s not that I’m a misanthrope, I just value my alone time. There is quite a bit of fun and reflection to be had in isolation. So, I headed to the Internet and found the Mecca of out of the way spots, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. For those of you who don’t know, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, or Triple D, is a show where restaurateur, non-chef food expert, and TGI Friday’s spiky haired spokesmodel, Guy Fieri, goes to small restaurants and points out to people how great they are by eating their food while you shove chopsticks into mediocre delivery Chinese food.
Now, I'm lucky enough to live in a city with a great food culture, where I live practically on top of three great restaurants helmed by two of the city's top restaurateurs. There are a dozen steakhouses where you can get amazing meals. Sushi is in abundance. If I’m ever in the mood for Moroccan, I have that option as well. I’ve had so many different kinds of tartare since moving here that I’m beginning to lose count; the pedestrian tuna of course, but also squid, steak, veal, and the most interesting of all, venison. Great restaurants of all types are all over this fine city, from the most exotic to the most pedestrian, and the city’s own cheesesteak (and if you haven’t had one in Philadelphia, then you just haven’t had one). It makes it quite easy to walk out my front door and have an excellent meal, either with friends or family, that’s close by and accessible by foot or taxi. But, since that wasn't the goal here, I had to find something outside of the city, but still within a reasonable, but not too close, driving distance.
I settled on a place called the Pineville Tavern in a town not far from where I grew up, New Hope, PA. A good meal is always nice to have, but what came about was far from expected. A top down blast through unspoiled back roads of my youth brought back memories that I wasn't prepared to experience. While much of where I grew up has turned from farmland into houses and schools (for example, my high school was a cornfield less than 15 years ago), this area is largely the same as it was a decade ago, when I had first gotten my driver's license—that sweet ticket to freedom—and escaped into abandoned roads to practice my driving skills and just enjoy the solitude of a car.
I can remember much of that time vividly, coming home from school, jumping in the car, and driving as far from civilization as I could get and still find my way back home. In warmth and cold, I would put the windows down, turn the music up, and find empty roads where I could drive in ways that the law and my mother would both frown upon—and since I got my license in an October, I had more cold than warmth. I learned my car and the roads, I found new ways to go places in ways that you would never freely choose to go—I became a human GPS system, since I didn’t have one at the time. I suppose that I could have gotten a map and traced hypothetical alternate routes to places that I may or may not have gone, but spending the time in the car driving at full throttle seemed like a better use of my time.
This drive was a little different. I turned off the music, turned on the GPS (which is a plug-in unit that I don't have a windshield mount for, so I had to improvise by laying it in the ashtray, which came with the complication of facing into the sun, meaning that I could only see the map when the sun was positioned exactly where the shadow of my head fell on the screen), and enjoyed the smells and sounds of nature as I drove through the quiet, tree-lined roads. I slowed down, drove through a sea of memories, and found the Pineville Tavern despite the GPS system. When I parked, I stood by the car, taking in the surroundings, and breathing in the fresh Pennsylvania air, far from the city and outside of town. It then dawned on me that what used to be an everyday occurrence has now become a nigh foreign luxury, only coming about when I plan days in advance, take some of my precious few vacation days and escape the city during a small window of time just after the morning rush hour and before the midday construction, before the kids get let out of school, and before the evening rush hour.
What was supposed to be a meal ended up a journey down memory lane, albeit punctuated by an excellent cup of snapper soup, a plate of not-as-special-as-the-spiky-haired-man-led-me-to-believe ravioli, and a fantastic crème brûlée. It wasn’t quite the mini-road trip I expected, but I did get a nice meal and I did have a fun, isolated drive. It really is amazing where cars can take you.