I went through some pretty big life-changes this past summer, namely, in that after five years of teaching high school English at Manheim Central High School in Lancaster County, I’ve decided to resign. The decision felt spur of the moment, and probably wasn’t as meticulously planned as I would have liked (as in, maybe I should have hoarded cash all summer instead of deciding on a Martha’s Vineyard vacation), but it has been a little while in the making. I’m not going to go in-depth into the reasons for my departure, as they are complex and rather long, but will say that it was not an easy experience and very, very bittersweet. It had nothing to do with the district I was in, but rather on my feelings towards the state of public education in Pennsylvania.
I disagree with a lot of the philosophies and testing being pushed on school districts and found that because of this I was growing increasingly frustrated with my position. I felt like at times I was teaching things I didn’t agree with and don’t think will be beneficial. I found myself not giving my all to this position because of my frustration, which bothered me too. While I have my issues with the education system, I will always be a supporter of education and respect the position. I respected it enough to realize when maybe I was being the most effective and to step down and let someone who was going to give their all, step into my shoes. Was it the right move? I think so. I can’t say finitely. Talk to me in a year. I know I won’t miss teaching kids how to write for state testing. I won’t miss teaching students outdated cannon I think just puts them to sleep. Shallow as it is, I won’t miss working 12 hour days and without any overtime compensation (and anyone who wants to add “your summer was your compensation”, can kindly go screw themselves).
I will miss the funny stories and anecdotes I’d get at least once a day. I’ll miss working with people who were genuinely interested in books and writing and I’ll actually miss coming up with creative ways to get students interested in writing and literature. I’ll most of all miss the interactions I’ve had with some students, cheesy as that seems. Last year especially I had some really cool kids, and I’ll miss seeing them navigate senior year and decide what they’re going to do post-high school.
You know what else I’ll miss? Lancaster. There’s no conflict or complexity here. I’ll straight up miss living there.
Because I didn’t necessarily plan this out as much as I should have, I’ll be moving back home (Northeast PA) to my parent’s house when my lease is done at the end of September and realize that while I love NEPA I’m not as excited as I thought I’d be. I’ve been in Lancaster for five years. I moved down to Lancaster city (as opposed to Lancaster County) when I first got this job. I had a week to find somewhere to eat and found a one bedroom apartment in the city on North Prince Street, directly across from Neptune Diner (which I did not utilize as much as I probably should have). I was iffy on Lancaster that first year. I was alone. I didn’t know anyone and I was overwhelmed at work. I was also in that stage where I was panicking and thinking I’d lose my college friends forever, so spent most weekends jetting back to Scranton or to Philly or New York or Baltimore to reunite with them as much as possible. I didn’t really give Lancaster that much of a chance.
I’ve had three other addresses in Lancaster, all within the downtown limits of the city. After N Prince St., I tried to find somewhere with roomates, to try and meet some more people my age. I found a place directly across the street from F&M. It was pretty much a disaster. The guys I moved in with were still living a very Animal House like existence, while I was waking up everyday at 6 to work. They constantly had friends over, frequently forgot to pay electricity or heat and I’m pretty positive were drug dealers. Not my smartest move. I spent most of my free time immersing myself in work at Barnes and Noble (which is where I started this blog) and went somewhere new every weekend. After only a few short months I moved in the Shippen Place condominium complex, a bunch of converted tobacco warehouses, across the street from Lancaster Brewing Company and it was during my tenure there that I really started exploring Lancaster city and the accompanying countryside. I developed a routine. I developed favorite spots. I felt like a real resident.
It is amazing to look back and see how much both my love and the city itself has grown since my first move in. So many of the bars, restaurants, and shops downtown that I now frequent were not there in the fall of 2009. For the past two years I’ve lived on Duke Street, and over the past few weeks, I’ve slowly began moving things out and shipping them back up north. I’ve also been making sure to indulge in all my favorites, since my time here is limited. Two weeks ago a buddy and I revisited all the bars in Lancaster I love. I spent a small fortune this week eating out at places that in a month, won’t just be right down the street anymore and I also found myself walking around the city a lot, just because that won’t be my norm anymore.
Enough of my mid-20’s crisising though. I didn’t set out to write a post full of first world problem angst. I set out to write a post celebrating Lancaster, because I really do like it and really will miss it. I also think that sadly, for people in my demographic, it often gets looked over as a travel destination; there’s no shortage of families and busses full of old people touring the countryside, but I’ve said before that it’s actually an awesome place for a weekend getaway no matter what your age, and a cool little city in its own right, with a lot going on. So, without any further rambling, here are ten things about Lancaster I’ll miss most, in no particular order. I know I’ll definitely be back. Hopefully after reading some of this, you will be too.
1) Hiking the Shores of the Susquehanna-
The majority of Lancaster isn’t particularly hikable. It’s pretty flat (and any hills are of the rolling variety) and contrary to popular belief, very built up. There are definitely parts of the county that could be described as “quaint” and “picturesque,” but there’s also parts that are filled with townhouse complexes, shopping centers and any franchise you could think of. However, if you drive west to the banks of the Susquehanna, right before you cross the river and enter York County, there’s an abundance of hiking locales that are rugged and scenic. Most of these spots give you the option of doing a quick hike or the capability to be outdoors for a couple of hours. I’ve highlighted these in a post from last spring. Personally, I’m going to miss waking up early on a Saturday morning when I had a working Friday night (God, I’m getting old, no?) and covering six or seven miles at Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve.
2) Central Market –
I fought Central Market for a while. I don’t know why. I thought I was too young, I didn’t want to be a hipster, I was stupid? Who knows, but regrettably it took me two years before even visiting. Big mistake. Now, especially in the summer, I trot on down there two or three times a week to stock up on cheap produce (seriously, it’s dirt cheap for fruit and vegetables) and other Lancaster County products. Come to think of it, the produce is what I’ll miss least. I mean, cheap is good, but personally, a vegetable is a vegetable and it doesn’t taste much different whether it’s locally grown or not (and an aside: last week I had an organic cucumber and it was awful, I’ll be sticking to my pesticides in the future) but I will greatly miss the meat and dairy offerings. The Maplehofe Dairy was one of my favorite places to hit. The chocolate milk is like melted ice cream and they have awesome locally made yogurt. I favored chocolate and vanilla but this week just picked up a maple flavored pint that I wish I discovered earlier. I also enjoyed getting meat products and breakfast sandwiches from S. Clyde Weaver and the occasional visit to the German Deli. You can’t go wrong with cheap, authentic brats.
3) Local Beer-
Lancaster currently has more craft breweries than any other county in Pennsylvania. It’s worth visiting for the beer tours alone, and while I’ll always remain an equal opportunity beer drinker, I really did enjoy going and sampling beer, especially over the past year when so many new locations were popping up. I was also lucky that my two favorite breweries in Lancaster happened to be within walking distance of my apartment. Lancaster Brewing Company is in a really cool building and location. I’ll miss their strawberry wheat, which is one of the few fruity beers I enjoy immensely. Springhouse Tap Room is one of my favorite spots to grab a drink in downtown Lancaster and seriously has my favorite pumpkin ale. I’m back in NEPA now typing this but have a growler of the pumpkin in my downstairs fridge that I’m pretty sure I’m going to break into after posting this.
I feel like I should’ve hated Senorita Burrita because it does have the capabilities to become my hipster nightmare, but I’m telling you, their steak quesadillas are life-changing, especially when it the throes of an epic hangover. I also dig that they have a whole host of hot sauces to sample. I used to get four or five to sample until I found the Texas Hold Em Spicy BBQ and solely used that from then on out.
I was in Lancaster on Tuesday. I woke up and walked to Central Market for breakfast, some groceries and a smoothie. I walked to lunch at Senorita Burrito. I ran to the gym that afternoon and later that night I walked to The Fridge to get a six pack and stopped at CVS on my way back. I finished up my day at Springhouse and Lanc Brew Co. to fill up some growlers. Lancaster is a very walkable city, which is great. I can’t really walk anywhere in NEPA other than my one friend’s house. I’ll also miss the accessibility. Target, groceries, sporting goods, books, Home Depot, and TJ Maxx (aka the only place I shop) were all within a 10 minute drive. I’m moving to the land of having to take a fifteen minute trip to get decent contact solution.
6) Location –
Lancaster was an awesome homebase for traveling around not only Pennsylvania, but the tri state area in general. I ended up in Philly a lot. It was an easy (not to mention greatly weird) hour and ten minute drive down Route 30, or via Amtrak. Harrisburg, Gettysburg and York were all within an hour’s drive. New York was an easy two hours as was Washington DC and Baltimore was only about an hour and a half. Pittsburgh was four hours, but all I had to do was hop on the turnpike and I was basically there. I guess a plus is that now Boston isn’t a ten hour trip?
7) Bar Scene-
Lancaster has a really cool (and populated) bar scene.
8) Wings at Rumplebrewskins-
Rumplebrewskins was one of those bars that went through a few different reincarnations since I’ve been in Lancaster, the latest of which I like the best. While I love the craft/imported beer scene down here, sometimes you just want a corner bar with $2.00 Coors Light pints, ya know? I also can’t get enough of the wings here, and while I’m normally a hot buffalo wing purist, their hot bbq (buffalo sauce and bbq sauce mixed) are some of my favorites.
9) The Whip-
The Whip is actually out in Chester County and about forty minutes from downtown Lancaster, but it became something of a tradition for my friend Jacki, who lives near West Chester and I to meet here for food and drinks. A perfect day would include paddle boarding at Marsh Creek State park and then celebrating afterwards at the Whip.
10) Scenic Drives-
Since I’m rapidly becoming an 80 year old man, I’ve become a fan of the Sunday drive. Now it doesn’t have to be a Sunday, but either driving around with no particular place to go or taking a new or scenic route to or from your destination. Lancaster always had something neat to look at while on the road, whether it was Amish buggies, horses plowing fields, old fashioned windmills or covered bridges. I used to try and take different ways back to Lancaster on Sunday, especially if I was coming from the Philly area, as the Eastern part of the county is the hardcore Amish heartland (plus, then I could drive through Intercourse).
*Honorary mention goes to the Noodle King, which I lived above in my North Duke St. Apartment. I’m a notoriously picky eater but passing it everyday caused my to branch out and try Vietnamese. Their pho was a go-to at least once a week when I was too lazy to cook.
**Things I won’t miss: constantly being corrected about the pronunciation. I realize it’s a colloquialism, but I speak phonetically and thus it’s Lan-caster, not Linc-aster.