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Trip 23 -- Diners of New Jersey Walk

Day 10: Hammonton to Mays Landing (Harley Dawn Diner, Mays Landing Diner)
Saturday, October 24, 2020

Today: 36319 steps/29.78 km/18.50 mi/5h 19m
Total: 382597 steps/304.81 km/189.40 mi/60h 32m

This morning takes me down the southern few miles of Route 73. It's misty and slightly cool, but it warms up as I walk. I catch the end of "Weekend Edition Saturday" and someone has composed music to accompany a walk through Central Park; it's an app that responds to the routes one takes. One hears a musical representation of the bird calls from the Ramble, for instance, when walking through that section. It's a brilliant idea. Then, on "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me," I hear that a Budapest restaurant has mastered distancing by serving patrons on a Ferris wheel; the iPhone 12 Pro is so pricy in India that it's cheaper to fly to Dubai and get one there; and a virtual paleontology conference was stalled because the software handling the text comments kept censoring the word "bone."

I enter the borough of Folsom, formerly known as New Germany; its welcome sign has the wooden beams and yellow indented lettering more associated with a national park. Just before a rail crossing is the model-train store Atlantic Rails; alas, it's closed.

Then come twin churches, one signed as St. James Lutheran and one signed as St. Jacobus Evangelical Lutheran. Around 1848, the single congregation built the latter; disagreements regarding the language of the services and the text of the Lord's Prayer led the congregation to divide in two. The land was divided up explicitly, another church was built next door, and the two didn't reunite for 150 years.

Route 73 ends at the Harley Dawn Diner and the intersection with U.S. 322; I like to think that the mile markers were counting down to the restaurant. This is the diner whose former building was also the same former building as the Vincentown Diner, moved downstate. They're very busy -- there's even a small wait -- and I don't delay them with questions about the place's history.

I sit outside and am brought the breakfast menu, a single torn page. I ask to see the full one; it's 1-3-0 (the same breakfasts as the single torn page) but there are displays of cakes, pies, and rich-looking ice cream. The drawback of the breakfasts is that the owners have decided that everyone wants eggs or batter-heavy items such as pancakes, waffles, and French toast. The egg items themselves are varied but they need more non-egg options.

Two breakfasts don't fall into the egg-or-batter category, and I choose the "South" Jersey cream chipped beef (the other is classic cream chipped beef). It's the first diner meal that I don't love. The beef should be cured, but it's cut into such tiny slivers -- my fingernail clippings are larger -- and it's so underseasoned that I don't taste it under all the cream, which itself seems too heavy and sour. Underneath are pieces of cornbread, which are fluffy and sweet but seem discordant with what's on top. I throw some Frank's hot sauce on the lot and it helps a little (and enhances the already-tasty home fries), but overall I feel as though I'm ingesting cream and bread, without a proper focal ingredient.

I should have stuck with eggs.

From here it's an hour along U.S. 322. There are the remains of an early-20th-century teak dam, which itself was made out of the remains of an old ship. A faded trapezoidal wooden sign says "Seafood Clams" in stenciled lettering, and farther along is "Bar -- Coca-Cola" on a lopsided pole. Then come the faded letters of Finnerty's Hut, a bar shaped like half a metal tube that looks as though it would suck you in and never let you leave. These are vestiges of life along the highway from about 40 years ago. Gene's Farm and Garden Center, however, is still alive and well, and if I needed some baskets of apples or statuary I'd be in the right place. Nevertheless, I'm enjoying this romp through Atlantic County's history.

Beside the Harley Dawn.
Beside the Harley Dawn
And I'll keep on keepin' on.
Keep on keepin' on
Till I get to Weymouth Road.
Get to Weymouth Road
And I'll reach tonight's abode
Right on cue!
(Right on cue?)
Right on cue.
(What could be finah?
Breakfast in a dinah!)
Oh, Three-oh-two,
Beside the Harley Dawn.
I'll keep on keepin' on
On you!

I turn right on Weymouth Road and pass the red-and-white home of the Never Rest Gun Club (the building's sale price was $1 in 1956, the property records tell me) and then the Antler Gun Club, plus the stone remains of a house built by a Civil War veteran.

Now I'm getting tired; today isn't particularly long, but my feet are reminding me how much I've been on the go. I don't have blisters, but for the past couple of days my right sole has been bruised from the repeated steps and hard pavement. It doesn't hurt, and I try to walk more gently. Still, Weymouth Road is longer than I want it to be; it's another several miles of rural highway and forest. I'm supposed to reach a lake. Where is it?

I left you long ago.
I left you long ago
And I'll tell you how I know.
Tell you how I know:
Well, I feel it in my feet.
Feel it in my feet
'Cause my journey's not complete.
Oh, boo hoo!
(So what's new?)
Oh, boo hoo.
(I guess I awta
Be drinkin' much more wawta!)
Oh, Three-two-two,
Beside the Harley Dawn.
I'm still a-keepin' on
For you!

Doodle-oodle-oodle, doodle-oodle-oodle,
Doodle-oodle-oodle, oo. (Goo'bye now!)

There's an inviting-looking roadside bar called the Watering Hole and I contemplate a break, but I think of the bed-and-breakfast I'm eager to settle into. Then I see DeFeo's Farm & Garden. They advertise...

Apple Cider Donuts

...and I'm hoping they're referring to at least two items; I could go for some cider but not a dessert. They have neither apple cider nor apple-cider donuts, but I refresh myself with some Snapple iced tea.

I'm almost to my destination; all I have to do is turn left and cross the bridge at Lake Lenape...and much of the bridge is missing. It's a short detour, and soon I find my lodging, a large yellow building overlooking the Great Egg Harbor River. The Inn at Sugar Hill -- the area got its name from the imports of sugar, molasses, and rum that were protected here before being transferred to Philadelphia -- dates from around 1846 and in those early days was owned by Senator William Moore.

My room is dressed in flowery wallpaper, and on the wall hangs a framed letter from 1893 sent to Minnie Moore from her brother at Swarthmore College: "There is something which compels me to write to you this morning....You know that Algebra that Joe Hume brought home, of mine is in my book case I think. And it is necessary that I have it as soon as possible. Wherefore and whence will you have the goodness to send it to me....Tomorrow night is a College reception. I would have invited you out but didn't suppose it would be any use as you wouldn't come. I expect you could come out sometime this spring. Let me know if you would like to, and I will arrange. If I had only thought of it sooner I would like very much for you to have been out to the reception. But that's the way it goes....P.S. I have started the custom of signing my name C. Sumner Moore. I read in the paper about so many Chas. Moores -- farmers etc. -- who fall overboard and get in jail that I thought it might be advisable to modify mine."

I think of the letter making its way from Swarthmore via the Delaware & Raritan Canal and the trains that once crossed southern New Jersey.

The inn has a restaurant that thrives with outdoor dining and music, but it's not currently operating. There's also a dock, allowing guests to arrive by boat. I sit outside and enjoy the sunset -- such as it is under an overcast sky -- and then walk about 25 minutes to the Mays Landing Diner.

The menu is 3-10-1 and also from the Jamesburg printworks, and it promises Mexican, Italian, and Greek cuisine, 17 salads in a shell, and countless sandwiches and sautés. Sautés are common on diner menus and I've yet to have one; they're good one-pan options that allow for myriad permutations. The Mays Landing Diner offers 19 chicken sautés and 10 veal; I opt for "land and sea" -- veal and shrimp with asparagus and artichokes in a light garlic sauce, topped with mozzarella -- and it's in a separate section altogether.

The authors of the menu have gone to great lengths to explain all the things that come with each meal, using commas and parentheses with such abundance that one must be a logician to figure them out. "All are served with soup, (salad or coleslaw or applesauce), (potato and vegetable) or pasta, dessert and soda, coffee or tea." Then one can substitute coleslaw, cottage cheese or applesauce instead of potato or vegetable for 95 cents or upgrade to French onion soup for $2.25 more.

The soup is stuffed-pepper, deconstructed. It's well-spiced, with a good balance of rice, beef, tomato, and pepper, plus a bay leaf. The salad is the typical diner salad of lettuce, onion, tomatoes, and tiny carrot strips, served on the usual glass plate with the ridges.

I ask for the pasta -- spaghetti, penne, and fettuccine are offered -- and the fettuccine comes in such a large portion it could easily be its own meal. The main meal is similarly huge, the sauce a little goopy but somehow not too heavy or salty.

"The meal also comes with dessert," the server reminds me. He rattles off enough pies, cakes, and puddings to fill a patter song. My cherry pie isn't great -- it's been hanging around a bit -- but it's not awful, either, and it's a good amount of sweetness. For $18.95 before tax and tip, I certainly got my money's worth.

It's a warm evening as I make my way once more along the riverfront and up to the room whose fireplace mantle hid Minnie Moore's letter for so many years.

Go on to day 11