A Quick Stop in Allentown

Continuing on with the road trip that I took from Boston to Nashville, and back, this month for a conference! Starting from the beginning…..

A Quick Tour through Virginia
Snippets of Civil War in Knoxville

Nashville’s Civil War History at Fort Negley
Nashville’s Centennial Park
Some of Nashville’s Military Burial Places
Old Salem

The Booker T. Washington National Monument
The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA

After a long day tripping around the Bedford region of Virginia, taking in plenty of history, courtesy of Booker T. Washington and D-Day, I headed northeast for my final evening on the road.

My destination was Allentown, PA. Not exactly a tourist trap, but it allowed me to  get within 5 or so hours of home. So not too much driving left for the following day.

My home for the night was the Red Roof Inn – actually my first time at one of their hotels. I was pleasantly surprised. It was late when I arrived, almost 10pm, so I didn’t have any time or energy to take advantage of the fact that the hotel was located in the same parking lot as a mall, as well as a Baskin Robbins.

There wasn’t much time for anything other than just collapsing in a small heap on the bed to watch a little TV before sleep. I’m not much of a TV watcher in general, but when I’m away I enjoy the luxury of literally having nothing to do. When I’m not in my own home, I have no reason to feel that I should be doing something productive. So it can be nice just staring at a TV for half an hour.

Next day I was up bright and early, ready for the final leg of my drive, but I’d wanted to see something of Allentown. I like to think that every town has a story to tell, and therefore has something worth seeing.

The center of town is quite run-down. It’s clear that its 1980s boomtown days are over, and what obviously used to be a great area for shopping, is now no more. Typical of many peripheral towns, these areas have now been superceded by the big malls, with big stores leaving downtown areas for mall life. My local big town of Worcester, MA is like this – it’s a big city, but has never been able to rejuvenate itself back to what it was probably like in the ’80s. The convenience of the big shopping malls just can’t be beat.

Allentown has a high crime rate too – apparently it’s twice the national average in every category. Most of it seems to be gang or drug-related though, as opposed to random acts against visitors. I was there at about 9am and didn’t feel unsafe in the town, although I wouldn’t have been wandering around in the dark alone at night with my camera. But I don’t tend to do that anywhere, regardless of the crime rate – I like to be as sensible as I can!

The town is relatively small and easy to walk around though, so if you felt like a quick wander, it wouldn’t take long. And it’s arranged in a grid system of parallel, one-way streets, so it’s not too confusing to follow, although can be frustrating to drive in if you don’t know the area and end up in the wrong lane for an upcoming turn!

It’s funny, I spent the first five years of my time in the US in Philadelphia. I know it’s only about 60 miles from Allentown, but driving around the town really had a certain “feel” about it that reminded me of Philly. The grid system in the downtown area, for one, and also the architecture of the old townhomes.

But my main reason for being downtown was a single focus on visiting their Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Center Square.

You know I never pass up on a bit of history wherever I am, and this is a fabulous monument to witness, especially amidst the general decay of the town’s center. This has been a part of Allentown’s heritage since 1899, and was first intended for those Lehigh Valley men who fought in the Civil War (1861-1865). Later though, its intent extended to include all other wars, and all veterans in general.

It’s hard to miss in the center of town, it’s enormous. Yet sadly, I imagine that all too many people do miss it. Or they miss its message. I was lucky enough to be able to capture it on another beautiful, bright day. It was chilly though, and I needed a heavy coat for the first time in days.

On my way out of town, I stopped at a local Wawa. This brought back some memories for me – Wawa is a convenience store chain, popular in the Mid-Atlantic states, so they’re all over PA. And they’re named after the town of Wawa, PA which was the location of the company’s first milk plant and corporate headquarters. The name of the town apparently comes from the Ojibwe word for Canada Goose – hence the picture on their logo.

When I worked at UPenn, there was one on the corner next to my building. I was a regular visitor for my coffee and snacks, so it really conjures up “Philadelphia” in my mind! So I bought some coffee to take home.

After a quick pit stop there, it was back to Massachusetts. And the decreasing temperatures, along with the increasing gas prices, were strong pieces of evidence that I was heading northeast!

I finally arrived home at around 3pm. It was odd being home again after 10 days away. But it’s always nice to get back to your own routine, and of course, your own bed. And Tiddles, my cat, is always “pleased” to see me when I first get home from a trip. Although it’s usually not long before she returns to her normal, evil self.

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2 responses to “A Quick Stop in Allentown

  1. Allentown was never on my list of places to see, and most of what I know about it has to do with the steel industry collapse and the Billy Joel song.
    Thanks for the visit, now I don’t need to go!

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