Yesterday, as I traveled along Route 30, just east of Lancaster, I stumbled across a commercialized Mecca of endless stores and shops. It looked as if there were thousands of stores and tens of thousands of people bustling about. Busloads of shoppers passed me by on the road. It was incredible how many people were coming in to shop. They behaved as if the world was soon ending or as if it were Christmas Eve instead of a cold March day.
As the cars crawled along the two lane road into the shopping complex parking lot, I spotted an out of state vehicle with a bumper sticker reading, “Red, White and Broke.” It was disturbing for me to witness this commercialized element of culture which society holds to such great importance.
I felt relieved after I had passed through the busy area. I was greeted by a beautiful and peaceful view as I crossed the Susquehanna River. As the sun began to set, the landscape began to change into a quiet and somewhat residential area. My body started to feel tired from the day’s travel so I searched for a place to rest for the night.
In a short time, I found a small establishment surrounded by several shacks. I knocked on the door and was greeted by a woman. I asked her if she had a vacancy for the evening so I could rest and continue on my way the next morning. She explained to me that the small buildings were typically rented out on a weekly or monthly basis. After I briefly explained the Trail and why I needed shelter for one night, she agreed to rent me a small building for the night if I found the accommodations satisfactory.
There were 10 shacks on the property and only one was vacant. It looked like a tiny hut with a roof. It was incredibly small inside, with a cot-like thing to sleep on. There was ancient paneling on the walls and no heat or hot water. I was tired and really needed a place to stay, so I followed the woman back to her establishment to discuss my rental payment for the night.
As she invited me inside her small dwelling, I noticed a woman sitting by a table counting a pile of change. I greeted her but she was busy counting the pennies on the table. The head woman explained to me that her sister’s son had passed away the day before and the two women were struggling to produce enough money for a proper funeral and burial. I offered her my condolences and sensing she didn’t wish to talk anymore, quietly returned to my shelter for the night.
I never met any of the tenants from the other buildings but I guessed they were not financially well off based on the beat up cars surrounding the shanties. I found it terribly sad that people were living month to month in these conditions. As I got ready for bed, I layered my clothes for warmth and nestled under the small blanket which was provided.
My mind was swirling with the two vastly different experiences I had that day. On one hand, I witnessed people vicariously spending their money without a care in the world. They shopped and shopped until their cars couldn’t fit all the merchandise. Then, only a few miles down Route 30, I bedded down in a shack, at an establishment cared for by a kind yet grieving woman suffering an incredible financial burden.
As I closed my eyes, I tried to silence my unsettling thoughts and drift off to sleep. It was literally and emotionally a long and cold night.