There’s a reason people on the East Coast don’t call their highways “freeways” like our pals on the West Coast do. ‘Cause they’re not free. You have to pay these annoying things called “tolls”.
I live in Maryland. My family lives in Pennsylvania. The northbound trip up 95 (it is not “the 95”) is about 130 miles. I can usually make the drive in about two hours. Two hours and fifteen minutes if I get stuck behind a slow-poke. Two hours and thirty minutes if I get stuck behind a slow-poke while we’re sitting in gridlock at the Delaware Toll Plaza. The total cost of tolls (round-trip) is 19 bucks! That’s the price of a dinner followed by a Baskin Robbins milkshake!
When I first moved to Maryland, almost six years ago, I made the trip up to Pennsylvania twice a month. You figure it out - that’s every other weekend. I would pack everything up on Friday night and be on the road no later than 4:30 in the morning on Saturday. Before I knew it I was home.
Pennsylvania is home. It’s where I grew up; it’s where my family is; it’s where my history is. I love being a Pennsylvanian. We used to have license plates that proudly declared “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania.” Isn’t that nice? You could be cruisin’ around town and you always knew that there was a friend in the car in front of you. I know stuff about Pennsylvania. I know there are 67 counties (Heinz 57 plus 10! I learned that in 4th grade and never forgot it. That’s awesome Pennsylvania teaching for you!) I know that Pennsylvania means Penn’s Woods, named after William Penn’s dad. I know Pennsylvania is one of four Commonwealth states and okay, I don’t really know what a Commonwealth is but it’s my most favorite trivia question. Do you know what the other three Commonwealths are? (Don’t cheat.)
I’m slightly partial to the Southeastern corner of the state which is so much better than the rest of it, except maybe the Poconoes where the Christmas trees grow. I do have a confession to make - I’m not really from Philadelphia. I just tell people that because it’s so much easier to say that rather than to say that I’m from Glenside, Cheltenham Township. Because then people ask - where’s that? What direction is that from the city? How the heck do I know? Does it look like I carry around a compass? I think it’s East. Or it might be Northeast. I don’t know. Google Map it.
I have to specifically say Glenside, Cheltenham Township to differentiate it from Glenside, Abington Township. Cheltenham and Abington are huge rivals. I guess Abington’s greatest claims to fame are Abington Township School District v. Schempp and Bob Saget. That’s Bob Saget of Full House fame - you know, Michelle Tanner’s dad? What’s Cheltenham known for? Frank Lloyd Wright architecture - okay, it’s only one building but it is a National Historic Landmark! And Cheltenham gave the world Mr. October. So what if he played for the Yankees? If you don’t like the Yankees, how’s this - the back-up mascot for the San Diego Padres grew up in Cheltenham! Awesome, right? And why does Benjamin Netanyahu speak with a bit of Philadelphia accent? He graduated from Cheltenham High School just like me. Yep. CHS can claim a baseball great, a back-up mascot, an Israeli prime minister and a future Archivist of the United States among their notable alumni. Yep, I’m going for the big time. That mascot is so not getting on the CHS Wall of Fame before me.
These days, I’m a Pennsylvania transplant in Maryland. Maryland’s okay. I don't know much about it. It’s the Free State. While I don’t really get the whole Baltimore Hon thing, Charm City is home to Michael Phelps and Ace of Cakes. A guy with a bunch of Olympic medals and a guy who can bake a cake to celebrate. That’s cool. Plus, they filmed Homicide: Life on the Street here and well, you can’t diss anything that a Baldwin brother was in. There are other nice parts of the state too that I don’t go to often because it’s around the Beltway. By the way, Inner and Outer Loops…not two circles inside of each other. I know - I found it misleading too.
So, I’m not a Marylander and I’ll never consider myself anything other than a Pennsylvanian. The Great Commonwealth is and always will be my family home. I always know that I can come home to Pennsylvania, but somewhere along the way, maybe when I started paying a mortgage or started building my life here, Maryland became the place that I go home to.
It actually doesn’t really matter if I’m going or coming home, because either way, I’ll still have to pay all those damn tolls.