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Pike Days are a comin'

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

More than 200 years ago, President Thomas Jefferson handed out some picks and shovels, expanded the federal budget by a hundred bucks or so and sent a survey team to build a road to Wheeling.

Apparently, he felt the need to play the slots.

The road, formerly a series of dirt paths, soon became known as the National Road. It was the first superhighway, connecting East to West, capable of supporting two wagons, side by side. The National Road brought travelers to the wild country, back in the day when Wheeling was the last outpost, the edge of the English-speaking Earth.

The pike, now known as Route 40, rolls past our farm. It's fascinating to think that, two centuries back, pioneers, driving teams of mules, took the same road that I now take to the mall.

Roadhouses and inns sprang up along the route in those first few years to wine and dine weary wagon riders. One of the more famous, the Century Inn, still serves a spectacular lunch and dinner in Scenery Hill -- duck l'orange, rack of lamb, peanut soup, salads served in edible cheese bowls. It's one of our favorites meal stops on a drive to the Laurel Highlands.

Jefferson's vision is honored each May with a weekend celebration called Pike Days. Up and down Route 40, in towns like Washington, Brownsville and Uniontown, Americans remember the spirit of the settlers by emptying our garages and basements, hauling some trash to the curb, sitting our belongings on card tables, attracting travelers to that last outpost to shell out hard-earned money for our junk.

I mean, our, er, collectibles.

Yeah, that's it. "Collectibles."

Pike Days, once started as a tribute to pioneers, has morphed in the last decade or so into the World's Largest Flea Market and Food Stand Gathering. Heed this warning: In just a few short weekends from now, all travel on Route 40 comes to a standstill. There will be bargains to be bought and deep-fried delicacies to be eaten -- bring your cash, your patience and your appetite.

I've heard that Jefferson himself picked up a used porch glider and a pulled-pork sandwich for $15.

Sally liked to glide.

If you, like I, like to snack-slum it on occasion, eating Band Booster Brownies, Little League Hoagies and Battered and Deep Fried Surprise-on-a-Stick while thumbing through a tabletop of 8-track tapes, Pike Days is right up your alley -- or route, in this case.

"This land," the first settlers no doubt thought, "with its bountiful blessings and pristine mountain streams, would be a wonderful site for a Kettle Corn stand!"

Thank goodness Jefferson had a little left over in his budget after purchasing Louisiana.

Who knows?

Maybe he picked that bargain up at Pike Days.

Hope he had a truck.

Pike Days, also known as the National Road Festival, takes place May 15 through 17.

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