Confessions of a suburban survivalist
For those who don’t know me personally, first, congratulations! Dodged a bullet there, a statement the verasity to which many of my friends and/or acquaintances will attest. For you fortunate few, my life leading up to the present day can only be described as Gump-like, or perhaps Garp-like, depending upon whether your penchant is for movies or literature. If I ever finish my last-ever novel, Hatteras, you’ll be able to read all about the incredible details of my early years, right up until I turned 29 and, in the novel, fail to get married.
Pretty sure the ensuing years would have been an entertaining train-wreck, as long as you weren’t on the train. So, I believe, marriage has saved many a man, although most married men probably wonder why they were saved, so to speak.
I was born in East Stroudsburg General Hospital when it was brand, spanking new, a hospital slated to replace Rosencranz Hospital, just up from Starbird Street. The building which is still standing on Washington Street in East Stroudsburg has for many decades now served as an apartment building. The year was 1954. Ike was president, and his grand idea of building a shining ribbon of concrete from New York to San Francisco was still in its infancy, just a couple bags of Portland cement with diapers, as it were.
Of course, today the Interstate Highway system is taken for granted, but back then, the 50 states were so leery of the Feds, Ike had to make the idea a “national defense” issue to get it to fly. The little bit of 80 which swoops and curves through the two ‘Burgs was the very first part of the “system” to get built, and local businessmen were all for it. Of course, driving it today, one can easily see that the idea of a divided, limited access road was new then, and they had some learning to do.
Good judgment is based upon experience, which is based upon bad judgment. Turns out having a ton of local points of access to a road like that, with short entrance ramps and blind spots, was the engineering equivalent of an “oopsie”. This accounts for the maddeningly common pile-ups on 80 that cause thousands of cars to spill out onto local roads, trying to get through the choke points of the Blue Ridge, the Brodheads, McMIcheals and Pocono Creeks and the Delaware River. Nobody in their wildest dreams would have ever thought that the sleepy little towns here in East PA would wind up as they have. But more of that later.
One could say that my birth and the birth of Route 80 roughly coincided. I’m not saying that the two events were comparable in the impact they had on what newbies call “The Poconos,” once a term reserved for places “up the mountain” like, oh, say, Pocono Pines, Mount Pocono, and other places that actually have the Pocono name right in there. But my birth and the metamorphosis of East PA into a bedroom community for New York do coincide, so allow me to begin at the beginning, with a picture of the town in which I was born.
Monroe County had a grand total of around 35,000 people at the time of my birth, most of whom lived in and around the two towns of East Stroudsburg—“Eastburg” to locals—and Stroudsburg. There were smaller concentrations of people around Brodheadsville and Mt. Pocono, and small villages like Shawnee, Bushkill, Effort, Kunkletown, Blakeslee, Delaware Water Gap, Minisink Hills and Saylorsburg scattered about the countryside, which was largely forested in the north and farmland in the south. There were almost certainly more cows than people in those days, and the cows were definitely better behaved than some of the local denizens, who would have fit in nicely on any of the “man soaps” I learned to love while convalescing after being transformed into a bionic man in 2010. You know the shows I am talking about, “Deadliest Catch,” “Swamp People,” and “Duck Dynasty,” to name a few.
Oh, there were plenty of up-scale people wandering about, even flat-out famous ones like Jackie Gleason, Don Amice, and Jane Mansfield. But true locals were a tough bunch, the men all manly lumberjack sorts, the woman all either fast runners or fast thinkers, mainly both. I’ll tell a true story here:
In Bushkill, (an actual part of the Poconos btw) there lived a family I’ll call the VanWhos, leftovers, perhaps, from the days when the Dutch ruled New Amsterdam and all that. One day, the elder VanWho, perhaps 70 years old at the time, was cutting timber back in the woods, and a tree twisted coming down and landed square on VanWHo’s legs, breaking them both and pinning him beneath the log. Fortunately, he still had the chainsaw in his hand, and he proceeded to cut the log off his legs and crawl over to the skidder, which is basically a big tractor for dragging logs out of the woods. VanWho drove the skidder to his truck, half a mile over bad woods roads, then crawled into the truck and drove himself to the hospital.
When anybody asked him about it, he would always look at them like they were daft.
“Whut the hells I posed to do, lay there and bleed to death?” he would snort, then knock off his beer with one swallow.
That was the image of manliness all us kids grew up with, and of course it was only reinforced by shows on TV like Gunsmoke, Rawhide, The Man from UNCLE, and the myriad of war pictures they were still making and showing, it being only 10 short years since the end of WWII.