Two days before the shindig my plane landed in Akron Ohio which is nearly ten hours from the S.S. Adams headquarters in Neptune, New Jersey. Nope, not an an emergency landing. I was there because I figured that the trip would be extra-super-special if I traveled with my longtime friend and Ohio resident Jason. I figured correctly. That night we prepared for the journey ahead by participating in the eating of pizza, as well as other hearty social rituals. The next morning I knew I had achieved ample sleep when I overheard Jason's daughters asking "Why did uncle Kirk go night-night for so long?"
Some friends in Hershey were willing to lodge us that evening, and therefore too many roadside diversions might cause us to arrive impolitely late. So before departing we carefully considered all options with the aid of the Roadside America website (which has proven to be an indispensable tool for me throughout the last decade). We hit the road and prattled away a couple hundred miles until we noticed a huge, newish-looking billboard advertising our tourist trap of choice... Gravity Hill in New Paris, PA! Oddly enough, the sign (which even featured some cool old clip art) was posted like 50 miles before the exit. At that point I fully expected a Stuckey's style barrage of ads to continually entice and finally wrangle us onto the turn off. I was so wrong.
An hour later and fifteen miles beyond the road we had forgotten to look for, we realized we had overshot the place thanks in part to a lack of any additional billboards. Now, it's possible that our ongoing conversation prevented us from seeing them, but I suspect the sight of one would have snapped us out of even the most sordid tale.
As it often happens on road trips the detour we made to correct our error held some of the most enjoyable scenery of the entire drive. There's nothing quite like Pennsylvania backroads at the dawn of Autumn. We got back on track thanks to a local old-timer with an accent we couldn't place. (Could it be that he was a stray Gravity Hill ghost?) Because even if it's not implied as it is with similar attractions (such as Spook Hill), it's well understood that ghosts are responsible for the Gravity Hill phenomenon. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Gravity Hill is one of a slew of so-called "gravitational anomalies" in the world that are usually stretches of road where cars appear to roll uphill unaided. I vividly remember being amazed (and pretty scared) by footage of a gravity hill that was featured on the 1980s television show Real People. So finding this place was yet another in a series of adulthood actions that are entirely motivated by a few minutes of childhood. Suddenly, there it was...
The photo above is extra cool because in reality the sign has white letters. How great that my camera's flash turned them the color of a neon monster's blood. Upon seeing the sign my first impulse was to look for a souvenir shop where I could dump some money. I imagined dusty shelves of vintage overstock, maybe even a couple items with some spooky graphics. No such luck. Distant farm houses were the only visible structures. We did spot some less-than-official-looking markings...
So they boldly proclaim the spectacle to all who travel the interstate, but once you're there they decide to communicate in code? No matter, maybe they were following tradition or something.
There were other informative messages...
But with or without the instructions we knew what to do, and moments later our car was inching forward, fueled by the power of invisible dead people. And now you may watch the actual "exclusive" footage of our turn at the hill. (I removed the audio so that you can't hear the stupid stuff we were saying)..
(If the video isn't showing up for you then go here.)
I was kind of surprised at how fast the car moved. We shut the ignition off for extra effect. We also discovered that you can brake to a full stop and as soon as you release the pedal you quickly start up again. There's a more professional video here. The fuddy duddys in that one chalk it up to optical illusion. Well, we figured the same thing, but we agreed that it was pretty impressive. Here's a shot looking "down" the hill...
and the next one is looking "up."
The real mystery surrounding Gravity Hill is who funded the fancy billboard (while the actual site is totally downplayed, not to mention tricky to find) and why did they place it so far away with no further directions? Well, even if it is just an out-of-the-way trick of the eyes I'd recommend it to anyone who's passing through the area. And so with plenty more illusions in store, we got back on the road.
About an hour away from our friend's house, Jason heard a little voice in his brain that clearly wasn't one of the Gravity Hill specters. It was suggesting that something wasn't right with one particular sentence in an email he'd received that morning.. an email from the very friends we were fast approaching. The salutation read "See you next month." A phone call confirmed that not only were they expecting us in thirty-one more days, but our would-be beds had been claimed that night by a different set of travelers. Well, Jason and I fancy ourselves to be flexible journeymen, so we chuckled it off and sped towards Jersey. Bada Bing! A few hours later we arrived at the home of the legendary S.S. Adams factory of fun.
We were pretty proud to be in town a half a day ahead of schedule even if it was the middle of the night. Now to find a room. Searching for a motel after midnight is a situation I'm all too familiar with thanks to my "where the wind takes you" approach to road trips. Yet unless I'm living it, I completely forget that it's always a speedy decent into pure misery. Our road weary bodies were already shutting down as we took turns waking various motel office attendants (we learned that under normal circumstances both of us rely on our wives to "do the asking" in these situations, and we're both big babies about it). Despite our hurting, our consumerist savvy was flowing strong and our standards remained high. Deliberation was laborious and emotions were raw, but we both persevered for the sake of the perfect room. (I kept insisting it was always just a little further down the road.)
We felt a sense of affirmation as we finally pulled into a little Route 35 oasis called the Tower Motel. The parking lot was freshly paved, the trim was a newly painted blue, and the sign was 1950s "retro" to boot. In my experience a lot of these mom and pop "motor courts" are owned by folks who really celebrate their heritage. Establishments like the Indian Trail Motel in the Wisconsin Dells and the Blue Swallow in Tucumcari, New Mexico have provided me with some of my most enjoyable overnight stays ever.
Just take a look at these photos I snapped the next morning...
Jason secured our room at the Tower (it was his turn to do the talking), and we decided that we needed pancakes. We returned from the IHOP an hour later ready for some hard sleep. As I entered our room my first thought was "Ah, I suppose we should have remembered to specify a non-smoking room. Oh, well."
I walked towards the bathroom and realized that we should have also requested a non stinking-of-urine-and-body-odor quarters. Before we had time to discuss the stench we both fixated on a small detail. An ordinary lady's hair barrette resting on the bed spread...
I wasn't sure why, but I was deeply unnerved by the sight.
The room was a thrift store menagerie of furniture, and the wood paneled walls made perfect sense. The bed seemed less "made" and more "straightened."
We wondered aloud if we should walk. It was nearing three, and we both knew what starting over would entail (talking to more office attendants most definitely.) So we shut ourselves into our sixty-nine dollar room for the night.
I threw the barrette on the floor and sat on the bed. Certainly a little TV would provide some much needed numbness. Jason pushed the power button and the show that faded into view was about a homely looking couple in the 1980s who must have been on their honeymoon judging by the explicit hardcore action. I actually glanced around our room again thinking for a moment that it might have been filmed on the premises. We noticed an unusual system of wiring behind the television that led us to deduce that the programming was fed directly from a VCR in the front office. Talk about convenience.. no complicated menus or embarrassing movie charges on the bill. That's Tower service!
Now that we were caught up on world events it was time for some shut-eye. So I wrapped some of my dirty clothes around the motel pillow, put on an extra sweater (the knob on the heater was gone) and laid stiffly atop the bedding. I awoke the next morning in this same position, only I was much stinkier.
The dawn was joyous for we knew our Tower visit was almost at an end. The sunlight revealed previously unseen filth all around us. By now I wanted to know exactly how nasty this place was. I started lifting cushions and moving furniture with my camera in hand. I figured any findings would only enhance my story. Bingo! Lodged in the window was a mostly-full packet of rolling paper...
Then I moved the defiled recliner and found something better than I had ever dared to hope for...
If you don't recognize it then that just means that you don't smoke crack.
My final discovery didn't actually come until the tail end of my trip as I waited in the airport. I was reviewing the two-hundred-plus digital photos I had taken over the four day period and smiled when I reached the the Tower series. There was a nook over the room's mini fridge where I couldn't fit my head, so I held out my camera and took a shot of the floor behind the appliance. Sitting there in the airport I burst into laughter when I examined the following photo...
We laughed a lot as we packed the car. "Give me that crack pipe." Jason said (possibly for the fist time ever). He marched into the front office and all I could hear was the statement "Not clean!" repeated loudly several times. He quickly emerged and I asked him what happened. The clerk had pulled the old "no speak English" routine. I suppose his deceit was befitting our grand tour of deception.
In my mind the Tower Motel at 1108, State Route 35 in Ocean, NJ 07712 (Phone: 732-531-1007) will forever embody man's fleshly pursuits.. his willingness to sacrifice mind, body, and spirit for temporal pleasures. My friend Jason, a missionary's son, summed it up perfectly when he said to me... "I've been to 38 different countries, many in the third world.. and that's the worst room I've ever stayed in."
We drove fifteen minutes up the road where we checked into another world. It was the historic oceanside Berkeley Carteret hotel in Asbury Park. (Although we could have saved 30 bucks if we had opted for another night at the Tower)
The Berkeley was the site of the big bash which was slated to start at seven that evening. This gave us nine sweet hours to recuperate. We napped on clean sheets to the sound of the ocean and then it was time for some sightseeing...
The Great Auditorium in beautiful Ocean Grove.
The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park
(that face is named Tilly. It's a reproduction of another Tilly)
(that face is named Tilly. It's a reproduction of another Tilly)
Hallowed Springstein stomping ground, The Stone Pony
The day turned to evening and the magicians were gathering. It was time to celebrate a century of merrymaking.