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Trip 23 -- Diners of New Jersey Walk

Day 8: Bordentown to Southampton (Pandora Diner, Vincentown Diner)
Thursday, October 22, 2020

Today: 37800 steps/30.94 km/19.23 mi/5h 35m
Total: 304374 steps/241.23 km/149.89 mi/48h 58m

I wake up around 8:30. My mind is ready to move but my body is certainly not; I dawdle and enjoy the snacks from Jan last night. The challah roll is her marvelous home-baked version, slightly sweet, semi-soft, and not heavy. The Stayman Winesap apple is almost the size of a soccer ball, and it's crispy, juicy, sweet, and tart, rivaling my favorite cultivar, the suncrisp. I leave just before ten.

Today is a straight shot down U.S. 206. The traffic isn't particularly thick, but it's fast, noisy, and heavy on the trucks. The shoulder is huge, though, and I don't feel any less safe walking along its extreme edge than I would if it were a raised sidewalk the same distance from the traffic. Pavement squares might be a little better for the feet, though.

Somehow today goes quickly; I cover more ground than yesterday, and in less time. I mostly maintain my optimistic target of ten minutes per kilometer.

U.S. 206 is a combination of retail strips, gas stations, farms, and construction. There are a few houses; a pretty, red home dating from 1850 is for sale. That's got to be a tough sell: No doubt what's now this highway was a tranquil path 170 years ago, but the building is just a few feet from the road, and the constant whoosh of vehicles isn't likely to win over many potential buyers. Across the street they've thrown in the towel: The houses have been boarded up. One of them has the street sign at a traffic light directly in front of a second-floor window. The house was surely there first; couldn't they have located the signage more courteously?

U.S. 206 bypasses the small community of Columbus, while New York Avenue runs directly through it and is therefore a brief, direct, and quiet respite from the noisy highway. A few buildings catch my eye: the stone general store; the brick Olde Columbus Inne, no longer in operation but apparently haunted; the white buildings of the Columbus Grange Hall and the old firehouse, the latter signed in a Wild West typeface with "Est. 1860" and "Franklin Co. No. 1, Sta. 331." The entrance to town says "Radar Strictly Enforced"; I'm not sure that's what they mean.

I rejoin 206 and suddenly the Columbus Farmers Market looms up on the right. I cross over and expect a little farmstand.

Well, this market is absolutely enormous. I first see plants, flowers, gourds, and pumpkins for sale, in their own section off to the side, and then there are a few large buildings. One has baskets of beets, tomatoes, corn, apples, and all sorts of other produce, plus Dungeness crab, lobster, shrimp, and other seafood. I cross through the sort of parking lot where people will wait several minutes to get two spots closer to where they want to be, and then I'm at the main building.

The indoor Amish market is so popular there's barely six inches between people, let alone six feet. There are rows of cheeses and fresh baked goods ("Our Own Butter Pound Cake, Hot Out Of The Oven") and a checkout line several dozen people long. A similar queue is at the back, for Stoltzfus BBQ's ribs, chicken, and wings.

"If you want the best pretzel in the universe, come right here," I hear someone saying. He's in line for Rebecca's Soft Pretzels and there are only a couple of people in line. It's the perfect snack, I think. There are various permutations of peppers, pepperoni, and cheese, but what I'm interested in is the cheesesteak. That row seems to be empty.

"Are you out of cheesesteak?" I ask.

"Back here! It just came out!"

They wrap it up and I carry it until I'm out of the market. There are dozens of other stalls inside, selling candy, Christmas tchotchkes, outdoor gear, and live birds. At the Wojciechowski Bologna Kitchen ("Free Taste Before You Buy"), I turn left and find computers, video games, guitars, and ganoderma coffee ("Healthier Choice"). Outside is a flea market with fragrant oils, pillows, carpets, socks, and stun guns. They want me to follow the fence the long way around to the driveway out, but I climb through an opening and I'm back on 206.

As I walk past the Burlington County Fairgrounds and the Recklesstown Farm Distillery, I open my pretzel. It is fantastic food, a soft cylinder stuffed with marinated meat. The cheese seems to have melted into the meat and become one with it, so each bite is a gooey, balanced amalgam of salty beef, slightly sweet red sauce, a hint of onion, and bright cheese.

I resign myself to a full day of eating; there are two diners I want to try on the way to the Holly Motel, and one just beyond for dinner. I reach the Pandora Diner, 1-8-.5 including two pages of lunch specials. They have figured out the everything-on-the-menu-in-a-sandwich design to a T, and it's almost the same with the soups. A page lists "Mini Meals," each of which includes "soup or salad and one vegetable or side of pasta, and Jello, pudding, or cake of the day."

There are 16 kinds of cheesesteak sandwiches, including "Jersey Cheesesteak," which does, in fact, specify American cheese. A friend from the Philadelphia area says that Cheez Whiz is a Philly thing, perhaps southern New Jersey as well. (She also says that disclaimers about menu photos aren't such a bad idea; she once served someone who was angry that his steak didn't come with the glass of wine in the picture.)

A lunch special is "Caramelized Pot Roast Grilled Cheese" -- "Grilled pot roast, fried onions, sliced pickles, cole slaw, BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese, and Swiss cheese, on rye."

I order that; "Why not?" I tell the server.

It comes with soup. "Chicken noodle, split pea, or chicken pot pie?" she says.

"Chicken pot pie is a soup?"

"It is!"

"OK, I'll have that," I say. "Why not?"

Everyone in the diner is having a good time. A couple waiting for their to-go order is dancing lightly to the music, which consists of "Baby Love," "Splish Splash," and the like. At a nearby booth are a Black woman of about 30 and a white man around twice her age, a regular at the diner who chats with each of the staff and says to one of them, "I'll give you a dollar if you can name this song." Another staff member is wearing a birthday hat.

Pandora, it turns out, is owned by the son of the owner of the Town & Country Diner, where I had my light lunch yesterday. I see similarities in their menus, especially the Univers typeface, which I've seen on many other menus as well. Jamesburg Press in Jamesburg, New Jersey, has designed and produced them, and their template persists.

The sandwich is nice and saucy; I finish it and most of the fries, and then I walk an hour to the Vincentown Diner for dessert. The same Joan who provided me the poncho that kept me dry departing Wantage also gave me a book of paintings of diners around the country, and the only one on my route is the Vincentown. I show the host a picture of the painting, and he summons Jimmy, one of the owners.

The diner in the picture dates from 1953, he says. One of the cooks bought it, moved it across the lot for storage, then hauled it down the road about 30 miles and reopened it as the Harley Dawn Diner (which I expect to visit on Saturday). The Vincentown was rebuilt in the 1970s as the building I visit today, and the Harley Dawn was also replaced; the building in my photo, which looks like a railcar on logs, no longer exists. Jimmy doesn't even have a photo of the original. He's also a walking enthusiast; on an "epic weekend" he and his brother-in-law scaled Mount Washington in New Hampshire, then drove down to New York to climb Mount Marcy.

The menu provided is 0-2-1; certainly there is a separate breakfast list. I have chocolate peanut-butter pie: "peanut butter cream cheese blend topped with chocolate mousse, rich chocolate ganache and roasted peanuts." The cake is more sweet than cheesy (which pleases me), the mousse is rich and dark, the ganache has a little crunch, and instead of peanuts there's a peanut-butter cup. Maybe a Recess.

Across the street is the White Dotte Dairy Bar & Grill, which promises enticing food as well -- but I'm stuffed and moaning as I cross back over 206 and continue south. My feet and legs are happy, though, and I continue apace. The shoulder is still ample, but the thunder from the trucks never abates.

Isn't it rude?
Aren't they loud?
Ten are OK on the roads;
Hundreds, a crowd.
Fend off the sounds.

Make lots of noise,
Make me feel spent.
Some carry oversize loads,
Some mix cement.
Why all these sounds?
Fend off the sounds.

Just when I thought they might subside,
More eighteen-wheelers are barreling down; I'm denied.
Causing a noxious pollution that ruins the air.
Might be routine;
Still seems unfair.

I'll take two breaks,
Briefly divert.
One diner feeds me a sandwich,
One, just dessert.
We all hate the sounds.
Get rid of the sounds.
They all disconcert.

Isn't it rude?
Doesn't it hurt?
Just for a moment, let's have trucks be inert.
And fend off the sounds.
Not so many sounds.
At least I'm alert.

I make a six-minute detour to get off 206 a bit and walk through Southampton, a township of just above 10,000. There are a handsome brick library; the local Grange Hall (built in 1813), white with green trim; and a little bridge over the South Branch Rancocas Creek.

Forty-five minutes later, after passing Acme Lingo Flagpoles (someone has to sell them), I'm at the Holly Motel. It's just before a roundabout (that's "circle" in New Jersey) that seems to slow things down on 206. The proprietor catches me taking pictures of the sign (whose word "MOTEL" resembles Scrabble tiles); he asks where I've come from, and I explain my trip.

We go inside to take care of business. There's a picture of Lindsey Giannini, Miss New Jersey 2015, which she signed, "Motel Holly, Thank you so much!" If it's good enough for her, it's good enough for me.

The proprietor is having trouble with the credit-card machine, and he asks if I have cash. I do, but it's effectively cheaper if I use a card, and I resist. I let him keep the card while he calls the bank to restore service, and I go to my room, which has bright yellow and red walls and green curtains. Not since preschool have I seen such vivid primary colors.

He arrives with the card and a receipt for $70, $2.80 more than it should be. "Must be the taxes," he explains.

But I find the booking e-mail and it should be $60 plus 12-percent tax, or $67.20. I make it clear that I'm not agreeing to anything above that, and I accompany him back to the office.

"I'm going to charge you only sixty-seven," he says. He voids the first transaction and runs the second, and now I have 20 cents extra for tomorrow's meals.

The Red Lion Diner, just after the circle, closes at nine, and there's no way I'm ready for a meal before Thursday Scrabble starts at 7:30, so I decide to wait until the morning. I win just one game. One opponent plays ENJOYERS for 113 points; another finds ZONULAS and MISDOERS and makes me a little hungry with KNISH (although I get to play EEJITS for 63); in a third I have a vowel surplus but I probably could have played it better. The one I win is weird; there are three S's and both blanks unseen near the end. I'm sure my opponent has them, but then she exchanges tiles and I find a place for SWELLED.

Which is swell.

Go on to day 9