LD Ride Day 1: “Whiz with” September 3, 2009Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
Tags: ABCs of Touring, biker, cheesesteak, Connecticut, Harley, motorcycle, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Rides
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The coast to coast trip (with the Florida loop for the LRO/LCROSS launch) had garnered 35 states: pretty much everything west and south of me but ND, NE, LA, and MS. (Why I missed ND and NE, I will never know.) It is funny that in my three years of riding, I have never turned to the northeast. Feeling “on a roll” for 2009, I took a couple of extra days off to make a 5-day Labor Day weekend to take on New England (and hopefully Quebec). Today is Day 1.
As is often the case, I got a late start, but made it out of my driveway a bit before 10am. My loosely formed plan was to head up I-95 toward Rhode Island. I really don’t enjoy interstate travel and relish urban interstate even less, but just getting to RI in a reasonably direct route kind of forces such a route. I figured to ride through the populated corridor of Baltimore, Philly, New York, etc ahead of the Labor Day weekend traffic, and then leisurely head inland for ME, NH, VT, QC and head home via central PA when weekend traffic would be higher along the populous concrete ribbon I take today.
I-95 on this post-rush-hour morning was moving pretty quickly. The traffic was right in that awkward danger zone: clear enough to get some decent speed, but with just enough traffic to force the speed demons to zig-zag erratically. The morning was also a bit windy which added a couple of difficulty points to the high-speed idiot avoidance. Clearing Baltimore, I hit rough diverted roads that are characteristic of interminable construction.
But it was good to be on the road. Interstate or not, the month of August was spent missing the road I had ridden for the month of July. As the miles clicked by, I was surprised (despite living in Maryland the last 20-odd years) just how close Philadelphia and New York really are. My late start worked out well, not only missing Baltimore’s hour, but putting me in proximity of Philly around lunch time. I decided that having a realPhilly Cheesesteak was in order.
Taking the I-495 by-pass past Wilmington, I pulled off for gas on US-13. I stood in the parking lot of the Sunoco station memorizing the Philadelphia inset of my atlas as two girls in a beat up sedan met up with a particularly seedy looking character for some seemingly illicit purpose. As the three of them pulled away, I went into the store and queried the turbin-clad clerk where the “famous cheesesteak place” in Philly would be. After establishing the fact that I was indeed aware I was not in Philadelphia, I learned that needed to go to South Street — somewhere near 4th and 5th. I left the store and finished my Red Bull in time to see the girls return, dropping off their seedy passenger who ambled back across the street. I saddled up, and headed toward Philly.
I had only been to Philly once before, and then at night when someone else was driving, so I didn’t really have a feel for the navigability of the town. It turns out to be surprisingly accessible. From I-95 northbound: Exit 17, up Broad Street, and you are right in the middle of the action. I hadn’t appreciated just how cool Philadelphia is. The whole route of Broad street is “city neighborhood”… curious shops, restaurants, and local flavor for block after block. It was a continuous route of the kind of quirky old-city ambiance that other cities only offer in small niches. Finding South Street was a snap, and the ambiance became even more ecclectic and more concentrated. The street was narrow and crowded, but traffic moved reasonably well this mid-Friday and finding a parking spot for the motorcycle was easy.
I was parked right across from Jim’s Steaks but I was thinking the name of the place I was looking for was Geno’s — and I didn’t see it as I rode in, so I continued on foot a few blocks further and doubled-back as far. Finally I asked a guy on the street where the “famous Philly Cheesesteak place” was. “That depends.” he said, “It’s a matter of preference.” I queried him about Geno’s. It turns out Geno’s is the place that is popular with the ladies. It has “all the lights”, and a gold star where Sylvester Stallone stood in the filming of Rocky. He figured that the girls were the only reason a guy would go there. But his favorite was Jim’s – which was right across from my bike. I headed back and Twitpic’d the place before going in. After spending a few minutes fiddling with my cell phone, I walked in to find myself in line right behind my man-on-the-street cheesesteak advisor, Mark. It turns out my query made him hungry for a Jim’s Steak.
We sat down at a table upstairs to enjoy our steaks, and I got the low down on the cheesesteak scene of Philly. Geno’s, as you may gather, has the reputation, but the best places appear to be Jim’s and Pat’s (which is right across from Geno’s), and there seems to be quite the heated rivalry. The citizen’s of Philadelphia are quite passionate about their steaks. Mark indicated that had he been there with his buddies, they’d be actively arguing the Jim versus Pat merits as they ate. I also learned the proper city-wide protocol for ordering a Philly steak.
There are two basic options… the cheese (which is classically Cheez Whiz)and the fried onions. So the “proper” order is a simple two word phrase denoting your cheese selection (Whiz, American, or whatever) and whether you want onions (with or without). So mine was “Whiz with” – no other words needed. Apparently, there is a place that publishes the rules on the ceiling (I think Pat’s) and they request that you go to the back of the line until you can figure that out, in true Seinfeld “Soup Nazi” style.
I had seen surprisingly few bikes on the road on my way up, but as fate would have it, Mark was a biker as well. Though riding a sportbike today, he had (has?) a Harley police bike that his father received in his retirement from the force. We talked for a while about bikes, cheesesteaks, and the glitterati that frequent Jim’s (most of which have signed photos decking the walls)
Bidding my new friend good-bye, I headed out. Heading north on 5th street, finding I-95 north was not too problematic, and I was on my way. The area northeast of Philly was rather industrial and did not make for a very scenic ride. While the wind had let up, the road construction got worse and the cagers were fast and erratic, but that improved a bit as I crossed into New Jersey. Of course, that transition was a bridge with a completely inaccessible ABC sign as I entered the state.
The plan had been to plow through I-95 until Rhode Island , but I encountered a rather disconcerting sign saying: “End I-95” (What the ___? ) I pulled off at US-206 to check the map. From that point on, through New York City, the map showed a complete cluster of concrete. I opted instead to head north on US-206, hoping for a saner, more enjoyable ride and hopefully an easy access to a post office to secure my NJ ABC point.
Heading up US-206 was surprisingly pleasant. My perception of New Jersey had been heavily based upon the Joe Piscapo Saturday Night Light character and countless movies portraying NJ as a big chemical plant. So the sylvan sub-suburbia of US-206 between Trenton and Princeton was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, traffic slowed to a crawl behind a semi travelling 10 to 20 mph under speed right after Princeton, and the suburbia kind of lost its quaint ambiance. I did manage to find a post office for my NJ point. Eventually I hit I-278 and was actually glad to be back on the interstate to make some time. The traffic was again fast and erratic, but eventually gave way to a well-behaved flow.
I loosely figured to stay on I-278 until it crested to the north, then pick up the New State Thruway, but at last minute I opted for the exit prior and I took a break at a Starbucks on US-202. While enjoying an iced cafe mocha, I noticed that US-202 would take me all the way to Danbury, CT avoiding both interstate and New York City.
Heading up US-202 proved to be a great choice. Lots of great sweeps, a fair amount of twisties, smaller towns with a lot of character, and some beautiful scenery both over and through the Hudson River Valley.
Peekskill was an interesting town to ride through — part “Old Town” and part “distributed community” with the occasional business sited wihout neighbors along the forested route . I kept thinking something really cool would materialize that would compel me to stop… but oddly it never did.
As I rode past homes tucked away in the trees, I occasionally caught the smell of charcoal lighter fluid, which became the intermittent scent of hot grills, followed by the sporadic whiffs of burgers, steaks, and BBQ chicken. I stopped at the Connecticut border for my ABC point and decided Danbury would be my next stop for dinner.
I found Molly Darcy’s a short while later. Not a lot of ambiance from the outside, but a comfortable Irish bar on the inside. I found an open seat at the back bar and reviewed my atlas to plan the rest of the evening’s ride hoping to at lease make some progress across Connecticut before stopping for the night.
The bartender, Alan, was an Ireland native and a rider. But his work schedule and kids’ visitation schedule prohibits him from many long rides. I ordered a shepherd’s pie and Guinness, and we talked about rides and rallies while I waited for dinner.
The meal was good, but it made me tired. I originally planned to be in Rhode Island by now. But I was logy and the bar had wifi, so I called in a reservation at the Comfort Suites I had passed on the way in, ordered another Guinness, and retired to the front patio with my laptop to blog and people-watch.
Struck with writer’s block, I wrote, erased, drank, wrote, erased… most of the evening until my battery finally died, at which point I went back into the bar to commune with the locals. I talked with Allen for a while longer, and met up with an interesting couple out on a business/social evening who enjoyed people-watching (with social commentary). I sat and talked with them observing the bar dynamics until it grew much later than I planned. Saying my good-byes, I rode back up the street to check into the hotel and get some sleep.