Mountain Top, Pennsylvania, how many times have I driven through this town? When I met Susan, we frequently visited her parents in Sayre, Pennsylvania. Upon retirement, they opened a bed and breakfast in Milford, Pennsylvania. We took annual trips to visit Susan’s brother in Amherst, Massachusetts. Now we head to Vermont to take Sophie to school—all of these trips drive through Mountain Top.
An hour before we hit Mountain Top, we pass through Ravine, Pennsylvania. To the early settlers of the central state, it was, no doubt, a joke. You call your town Mountain Top; we’ll call ours Ravine. For twenty-five years, dozens of times, I’ve connected these dots on the map. Every time I make this trip, I spend the hour between the towns wondering if there’s a big rivalry between the high school football teams. Mountain Top versus Ravine: who will come out on top? This is how my brain works.
Sixteen years ago, arriving in Gettysburg, relocating from Washington, DC, I wondered the same thing about our neighboring towns. Biglerville v. Littlestown, the pep squads must go mad that week.
Looking at a map, you might wonder what our problem is. A much more direct route to Vermont passes through New Jersey. Nope, can’t do it. The drivers there are insane. Driving up Route 78 is like a high-stakes gamer of Frogger. White-knuckled, we dodge the cars swinging from left lane to right, jumping two lanes in an effort to chop two minutes off of their trip. The last time we traveled that way, a car cut Susan off so severely she locked up the breaks doing seventy to avoid an accident. The final straw, no more Route 78 through New Jersey. Now we take the low-traffic Route 84 through Hazelton… and Mountain Top.
Our route allegiance used to go the other way. One spring, Sophie just a toddler and Susan pregnant with Eli, we popped up to Scranton for a morning funeral. I had a proposal to edit, due the following day. We planned to be back on the road heading home by noon, leaving me plenty of time to finish my assignment. The snow started as we climbed in the car. An hour later, just outside of Hazelton, the roads became so inundated with snow that the traffic stopped dead. I called one of my partners to report being stuck in deep snow, and my inability to edit the proposal. “What the hell? Where are you? It’s pouring here in DC.” We didn’t move for ten hours.
Hazelton, you say, where have I heard of that before? Hazelton made news in the mid-2000s for passing a law making it illegal for landlords to rent an apartment to an undocumented U.S. resident. This of course caused landlords to refuse to rent to anyone who looked like they might be an immigrant, setting off a national racism debate. That, combined with the possibility of a blizzard arising at any moment caused us to avoid the Hazelton/Mountain Top route for years.
We drove it today on our way to Vermont. Clear and cold, really cold. Four degrees up that mountain. It’s the longer route, but if it isn’t snowing, it’s more relaxing. But ultimately the quiet Pennsylvania roads feed into busy New York roads, and New York drivers, just like their cousins in New Jersey, think driving is a contact sport. So some of the trip is still stressful, but a much smaller portion.
Our problem is tomorrow, Sunday. Forecasters have been calling for snow for over a week—the same system that dumped on the Midwest today. Snow will start late tomorrow afternoon, before we can make it home. Our goal is to clear the mountains before it starts coming down. Mountain Top to Ravine, the trip in reverse. After that the roadway is generally flat the rest of the way home.
Assuming we make it home without incident, I’m looking forward to this storm. If things go as forecasted, there is a possibility of no work on Monday.