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Sunday, August 31, 2008

For a Good Time, Dial A-L-T-O-O-N-A

Welcome to Altoona. Our Motto: "You can Altoona piano but you can't Altoona fish." Hahahahaha just kidding about the motto. My lengthy research (I asked a resident and briefly consulted Wikipedia) reveals no evidence to suggest that Altoona, PA has a motto. They're welcome to use the one above, free of charge!

Last weekend, Bruck and son of Bruck took a few days off from normal life and visited Altoona, PA, a city which, prior to planning the trip, I had only tangentially heard of, and would not have bet good money that even existed. BTW, Kalamazoo, MI does exist; I've been there. I'm not so sure about Walla Walla, WA or French Lick, IN.

We had a smashing time! Everyone we met was friendly, helpful, generous, hospitable, and drove like a maniac (more on this later). Seriously, when you meet someone from Altoona, their reflexive position is, we're getting along. So far, Altoona is the friendliest place I've encountered that doesn't use the pronoun, "y'all."

So Bruck, most people, when they're thinking about where to go to have a good time for a few days, don't enter Altoona, PA as the primary destination in their Garmin. True enough, but they're missing out on a good time. Well okay, ordinarily we wouldn't have gone there either, except to participate in a church-sponsored urban mission trip. Our church sent a team to partner with an Altoona church to help them with an inner-city neighborhood reclamation project.

Altoona is a medium-sized (pop. 125K according to the almighty internet), post-industrial city in central PA. It was a railroad boom town during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and reminders of its colorful history dot the landscape with genteel and gracious houses and blah blah blah etc. etc.

Despite their hospitable impulses, Altoonans don't appear to get a lot of outside visitors, and for that matter, immigration and emigration don't seem to be important factors in the city's population dynamics. As an apparent result, certain distinct cultural idiosyncracies have developed: driving like maniacs and french fries in the salad. I'm sure there are others; these just happened to be two I noticed during the short time we were there.

First the driving: Altoona is situated in the Allegheny mountains, a few clicks east of Pittsburgh. It is quite hilly; in fact, you're pretty much always on a sharp incline or decline - I'm guessing even mediocre brake technicians in Altoona can afford Starbucks. But if you thought this would inform cautious, conservative driving, you'd be wrong. It would appear that the goal is to get at least two wheels off the ground at every intersection. When crossing the street, we discovered that it was a good idea to look both ways, then look both ways again in case someone roared up while you were looking the other way, listen for oncoming traffic, then bolt across.

French fries in the salad: yep, that's what they do, they put french fries in their salads. While perusing the takeout menu for dinner Friday evening, I noted that french fries were listed as ingredients in most of the dinner salads. I assumed they meant fries on the side, but no, when I got my steak salad, there they were, mixed in with all the other stuff, cooled off, and soaked with dressing. Ever the intrepid eater (click here on an empty stomach - Bruck's Japanese eating adventures), I gave it a try. Not so good. I'm not sure what the appeal is. When I observed to the pastor's mother that I found that a curious practice, she replied, "What, you don't put fries in your salad? Where do you put them?" Fortunately, her inflection implied that it was a rhetorical question, as I couldn't begin to conjure up an intelligent response. Ummm, not in salad? BTW, they like melted cheese on their salads, too.

So, Bruck, what did you do there? Glad you asked. I did mostly painting, priming, and wall prep. Son of Bruck did some of that plus helped install a suspended ceiling and did some demolition work. We were mainly working on the "11th Streen Project" in which the Pleasant Valley Assembly of God church is restoring an abandoned, dilapitated inner-city church building into a functional church and neighborhood family and community service center. We also worked on the "Nehemiah Project," in which abandoned houses are being restored with the hope of providing low-cost housing to people in need of same. Check out these websites for details; hopefully they will inspire you to participate somehow in these projects, or at least raise your awareness of them.

The 11th Street Project link

Link on the 11th Street Project page discussing the Nehemiah Project

We were also treated to a minor league baseball game. The Altoona Curve manhandled the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Pop quiz: name your closest AA baseball team - bet you can't! Altoonans can. They love their Curve!

Seasoned Bruckies may be wondering, is Pennsylvania now part of the Bruck Empire? No. Picture me saying, "Pastor, could you please pull over here before we cross the state line? I need to claim Pennsylvania for the sovereign territory of Bruck." Not this trip anyway.

Young David, son of Bruck also had a good time. He's not real effusive, but on the way home from the outing, he asked, "So dad, when can we move to Altoona?" High praise, indeed! Go Curve, and pass the soggy fries!


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