KANE: Pennsylvania ponderings

 

 

Jonas Kane

Blazing down the highway – windows down, music blaring, the din of the wind sucking away your companions’ conversations – it’s easy to become lost in the endless stretch of earth before you. You might not think of a turnpike as an ideal place to capture the beauty of nature, but in small pockets of long drives there exist hidden alcoves displaying the wonders of creation.

On the drive west from Valley Forge to Harrisburg, there’s this stretch just beyond the Reading exit, after winding through an enclosing stretch of trees, where you loop around a wide bend and a vast clearing comes into view. If you get there at the right moment, you can witness the brilliant sunset over an otherwise unremarkable group of buildings, which stands erect in front of the fading mountains.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike extends 359 miles in its main section, from Ohio in the west to the Delaware River in the east. Using the lower section of the turnpike, you can trace a map through the main areas of Pennsylvania – and, in some ways, create a snapshot of the nation at large.

In the southeast rests Philadelphia, birthplace of the Constitution, home to cultural wealth and sports enthusiasm, but also a city that struggles with homelessness – seen most vividly in Rittenhouse Square – as was depicted earlier this year in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

When you get on the turnpike at Valley Forge, you’ll find yourself right near the affluent township of Radnor, where the average family income hovers above $100,000. It might come as a surprise that the tiny township of Marcus Hook, located in the same congressional district, is the home of families whose average income is only $30,000.

Driving farther toward Harrisburg, you’ll pass small cities like Reading and Lancaster, and in equal turn fly by remote areas and ones stung with that pungent smell recognizable to anyone who’s ever stepped foot on a farm (or, if you’re from my hometown, been to the Pennsylvania Farm Show).

Reaching the exit for the state capital, you’ll pass a city that is home to a quietly rising nightlife, distressingly rising crime rate and a Capitol building that wouldn’t look out of place in Rome.

The long road to Pittsburgh trails through areas diverse and far apart; you burrow under mountains and in equal measure swing through areas seemingly so desolate that you’re reminded of this quote you may have read long ago: “Even the middle of nowhere is somewhere for somebody.”

Pittsburgh itself presents a compelling vision: a rainy city with three rivers and numerous hills, once known only for steel mills but now transforming into a city based on health services and education, a city whose trendiness was even remarked upon in a feature in The New York Times this past summer.

Traversing this section of the turnpike from one end of the state to the other, the entire northern portion of Pennsylvania has not even come into consideration; and suddenly it becomes evident how disparate and complicated a single state, just one out of 50, can be.

It’s easy to fall into simplistic clichés when referring to Americans, but to do so is to forget that it is the remarkable blending of our differences that makes us such a powerful nation. With all the loose talk of idealism, patriotism, hope, flags, new pages, past, future – i.e. the endless barrage of words we can try to use to describe ourselves and how we represent our beliefs – the notion that it is not any one of these things, but rather all of them, is too easily overlooked.

To encapsulate what it means to be an American is to recognize the capacity of every voice from every location to have an equal say in the country’s future.

The importance of every voice will be seen in the prospect for change that the days ahead hold. Here on a smaller level, Villanova is undergoing an exciting revolution through its Campus Master Plan. And of course, on a grander scale, the most important election of our lifetime looms on the horizon – a horizon that, with a little innovation, might feature more picturesque train rides instead of beautiful turnpike drives.

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Jonas Kane is a junior English major from Harrisburg, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]