Mine Fire breeds zombies

I had agreed to join some friends of mine (former Bards champs the Goats) on a trip to the Yuengling brewery on Saturday, but had announced that I would probably not join them on the ensuing drive to Centralia. Though I thought that a town that was evacuated due to an underground fire was pretty kool, I had seen some photos online, and they seemed pretty uninspiring. So I drove seperately, and met up with the other six (some of whom you might remember from my Live 8 experience) at the brewery.

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We headed inside, and soon learned our first lesson about the Yuengling brewery: never try to take the tour on a Saturday in the summer. There were probably 200 people on the freaking tour, so we bailed and grabbed the free samples found at the end of the tour and toured the gift shop, where they had a bunch of old artifacts and pictures. Across the street from the brewery was the Yuengling Ice Cream Factory, which opened during Prohibition and closed in the early 1980s (above). All in all, it was definitely not worth a two hour drive. I would recommend waiting until winter to take the tour. Or just getting drunk and checking out this excellent article about the history of Yuengling.
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Disappointed, we decided to grab some lunch. Vicky, who works at the brewery, recommended a place called the Phase II. It was at Phase II that we decided to order a large cheese fries. A few minutes later, out came an order of cheese fries that was larger than all of the other orders of cheese fries I have had in my life combined. There must have been ten pounds of cheese fries on the plate. It could certainly be classified as a novelty sized order of cheese fries.
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I figured I didn’t want the highlight of the trip to be cheese fries (another record: the term ‘cheese fries’ has now been used in 5 consecutive sentences), so I decided to roll on to Centralia. Just a couple of miles before we hit the smoking wasteland, we took a tour of an old coal mine. The guide was really nice, but he spoke really fast, and I really didn’t understand much of what he said. I can honestly say I am every bit as ignorant about coal mining as I was when I went into the coal mine. Except that now I know that they’re cold. A constant temperature of 52 degrees year round. Okay, so not freezing, but pretty chilly when wearing shorts. Oh, and the guide seemed to really try to make it a point of telling us how well the mules got treated in the mines, despite the fact that they lived their entire lives underground. The access to the innards of the mine was via rail car, and that was pretty kool. Like riding on a roller coaster that never goes fast or in loops or anything.
After the coal mining, disaster struck. One of the cars in the envoy got sideswiped because somebody was parked illegally and made seeing what was coming almost impossible. Fortunately, no-one was hurt, and though a little shaken up, we realized that this was just fate trying to keep us away from that little jewel we had come in search of: CENTRALIA!!!
My thoughts upon arriving at the mecca for lovers of coal fires was, “Is this it?” It was uninspiring, even though I had low expectations going in. We wandered around, looking for smoke. In some of the people’s minds, I think there were visions of enormous geysers of smoke pouring out of the ground. In reality, there were a few spots where little puffs of smoke would occasionally rise.
Somebody touched the road. “Hey the road’s hot!” they said. It sure was. Just like touching pavement on a hot day. Let me rephrase that. Just like driving three hours to touch pavement on a hot day. We thought that maybe smoke would be eerily rising from the gravestones of the nearby cemetery. No such luck. Nope, the dead people in Centralia seemed to be doing just fine. Probably better than the living people, who refused to be bought out for vast sums of money in the early 80s, and now have their worthless homes owned by the state but still have to pay property taxes. The town, which had a population of about 1,000 in the early 80s, now has a population of 18. We touched the ground a few more times, shot some of the most uninspiring photos ever taken (see above, also below), then hopped back in our cars, headed for a city that has problems with crime, pollution, and bad baseball. But hey, at least there’s no mine fires.