Josh Play Gay (Thurmont, MD, and Gettysburg, PA)

The following is my con report, or my experiences of the 30th soc.motss.con (held Jul 13–17 in Thurmont, MD, Gettysburg, PA, and their environs). If you don't like such things, feel free to not read it. It won't bother me. Much.

Thursday, July 13

I was up early so I finished my packing, emptied the (clean) dishwasher, set the thermostat to cool to 80F, and headed on my way. Saw some lovely cloud-to-cloud lightning strikes before the rain started. It rained through most of Ohio and well into Pennsylvania before I got out from under it. Only three bouts (one sustained) of very-low-visibility driving though. I stopped twice, once to stretch and perform certain biological necessities, and then later to grab a light breakfast and fill the car's gas tank.

Despite the rain and the oft-under-construction turnpikes I got to the hotel just over 8 hours after leaving the house, so I made good time. My room was ready (hooray!) so I got upstairs, unpacked, rinsed myself down (ew), and headed out to find something vaguely lunchlike (that wasn't at the TGI Friday's across the parking lot).

I wound up walking to the far end of the nearby outlet mall for a barbecued pork sandwich, and walked back via a few shoe stores (since my primary pair is in the process of disintegrating from wear), and found a 70% off deal on a pair of gray sneakers in my size so yay!

Got back to the hotel and did a few laps in the pool, then jumped in the hot tub (to get a jet massage on my leg mostly), then took a quick dip back in the pool as a cold plunge before heading upstairs to get in a power nap before meeting people in the lobby before dinner. Everybody was here by a bit after 7 so since nobody really wanted to drive (Leroy did but he was the only one) we headed across the parking lot to the TGI Friday's. I wound up being the only one at the table with a loyalty program membership so I got my free chips-n-salsa appetizer, got the points for the entire table on my account, and used my accumulated points to pay for my dinner, so my check was the drink (and tip on the whole amount, yes). And since I wasn't driving I could actually get an alcoholic beverage for a change; I had the summer special strawberry daquiri.

We meandered back to the hotel, and Leif Finn escaped from the grown-ups to hide in his room, then Leroy headed off to his B&B, and around 10pm I gave up and went upstairs, wrote a bit of this report, and crashed.

(I was not awake at 10:40pm EDT when it became 1.5 billion seconds since the Unix epoch began. But yay.)

Friday, July 14

Considering it was the first night in a hotel bed, I slept pretty well. I also managed to sleep in until about 6am. I got up and threw on a t-shirt and sweats and went down for the hotel's breakfast shortly thereafter. I wound up having a couple of sausage patties with breakfast potatoes (I wasn't in the mood for the fried eggs) and some fruit (especially a banana because I got foot cramps last night), and was joined by another of the earlier risers, Pat. We had a delightful chat about stuff and things before heading back upstairs to shave, shower, and get dressed before assembling in the hotel lobby at 9:30.

Once we were all assembled we car-pooled to the Gettysburg Battlefield Visitor Center where we cheaped out and just looked at the free exhibits before doing the self-guided auto tour. That ended at the cemetary where Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address, and we adjourned to the nearby General Pickett's Buffet for a very reasonable all-you-can-eat lunch. (I wound up starting with a salad. Mains were small portions of baked ziti in meat sauce; chicken nuggets; spicy-battered catfish nuggets; turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy; macaroni and cheese; and veal parmesan. Dessert was very small portions of banana cream pie, chocolate fudge brownies, and pecan pie.)

After lunch we headed over to the Utz potato chip factory for a self-guided tour. They have a walkway overlooking the loading docks, one of the process lines (from peeler through fryer to packaging), and the warehouse; there're stations with a push-to-play recorded messages discussing what you're seeing. It was fun, and not just because we get to walk away with a free 0.75-oz sample bag.

We got back to the hotel around 3:45pm and had unstructured time — most people either caught up on their internetting or took a nap, though some might've gone to the outlet mall across the parking lot. I elected for nap-then-internet and decided to eschew the pool.

For dinner we all met in the lobby at 6:30 to head out to Hickory Bridge Farm. They had apple cider and crackers and cheese for us while they got a wedding rehersal party to clear out and free up our table. They serve family-style. The meal began with fresh rolls and cinnamon-marinated peaches, then a salad course of mixed greens in a warm bacon dressing, then the main meal, and finally dessert. For the mains they delivered the three entrees — cornbread-stuffed chicken breasts, crab imperial, and ham with apricot chutney — and five sides — brown sugar-glazed carrots, cinnamon apples, corn fritters, green beans with ham, roasted potatoes. It's all-you-can-eat so we wound up getting refills on the crab, ham, green beans, and potatoes. (I tasted everything, even the veggies I don't much care for. The chicken and ham were good, and the crab and potatoes were excellent.) And we saved room for dessert; I had the raspberry ice cream pie (graham cracker crust, topped with whipped cream and hot fudge).

We got back to the hotel, hung out in the lobby chatting, and wound up saying goodbye to Season (bye, Season!) and Leif Finn, who're leaving before breakfast to pick up the other two triplets at skateboarding camp. By 10:30pm most of us were running out of steam and headed off to bed.

[At this point I realized: Mary's in 327, I'm in 329, Season and Leif Finn are in 331, and Isaac Pat and Jeff are across the hall in 332. Yes, I was sandwiched by lesbians. I later found out that Robert and John were in 325.]

Saturday, July 15

I didn't sleep as well last night as I had Thursday night, but I was up around 6:30am. Decided against going to the pool and did some internetting, shaved, showered, dressed, and went down to breakfast around 8am.

In addition to the regular breads, cereals, fruit, pastries, and waffles, today's breakfast offerings included scrambled eggs, link sausage, biscuits and gravy. They were nearly out of the scrambled eggs when I got there so I started with biscuits and gravy, then went with eggs and sausage once they refilled the steam tray. I finished off with some fruit salad (mostly orange and pineapple) and a banana.

Today was our day in and around Emmitsburg MD. We started at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton, where we watched the movie (which included clips of Kate Mulgrew from A Time for Miracles), then wandered through the museum to the basilica, and then went out to the grounds for the Stone House (her first residence here), then the White House (her second) and the mortuary chapel. We even managed to get inside both houses, which usually requires a guided tour but one of the docents was "out for a walk" and was nice enough to open up both for us.

For lunch we went to the nearby Carriage House Inn, which the Seton folks suggested and for which they gave us a 10%-off coupon. I had a crab cake sandwich and seasoned fries; they were delicious. From there we drove out to the Grotto of Lourdes for a mostly-silent tour through their gardens. The gardens themselves were okay, though nothing remarkably impressive. Some of the artwork scattered throughout though was, though overwhelmingly Catholic, stunning.

From the grotto we headed out to the Catoctin Furnace, a community smelting facility from the revolutionary war; it was basically a ruined building with a picnic table inside it. A couple of people went up the hill to see what they could see, but I was not one of them.

After the furnace we headed back to the hotel for a brief siesta; I hopped in the pool (to cool down) and hot tub (to work on the leg) before getting dressed again to go to dinner at Montezuma Mexican Restaurant. I had the enchilada trip (one each beef, chicken, and cheese, each with its own sauce, and all topped with cheese, lettuce, and tomato, with a side of rice). We managed to take the wrong exit out of the roundabout on the way back to the hotel but we did eventually make it there. We did a quick walk through the outlet shops (I bought some potholders and a box grater I needed) before returning to the hotel, where I munched a chocolate chip cookie and headed upstairs to crash.

Sunday, July 16

I managed to sleep in until almost 7am today (hooray!). Today was the same as yesterday except there were no biscuits and gravy just breakfast potatoes. (And, yes, they had no bananas; they had no bananas today. Which is a shame because I could use the potassium.)

Today was our day in and around Thurmont MD. We first went to the Cunningham Falls Park, and it's a good thing we got there when we did, since when we left the line to get in looked like it'd've taken more than an hour. We hiked the "easier difficult" (yes, that's what the sign said) trail up to the lower falls, got some nice photos, and criticized (mostly but not entirely sotto vocce) the people who chose to disregard the "Don't climb the rocks and don't cross the creek" signage. After climbing back down most of us went to the nearby meadow to look out at the beach.

We didn't have a lot of ideas for lunch so we wound up going to the Mountain Gate Family Restaurant which happened to be another buffet... run by very religious christian-type Tr*mp supporters. Most of us went with the lunch buffet (though two didn't); I started with a small salad (and their blue cheese dressing had a lot of blue cheese), then had country ham, fried chicken and cornbread stuffing with turkey gravy, macaroni and cheese, roast beef and mashed potatoes with beef gravy. For dessert I had a little of the chocolate pie (what I thought was whipped cream was actually merringue... and was both rubbery and uninspired) and a small slice of chocolate chip-pecan pie.

After lunch we headed off to the Catoctin Breeze Winery. Four of us (myself included; I wasn't driving) indulged in a tasting. I went with the sweets; all were in the okay-to-good range, but the meads needed a little more time to mellow and none struck me as good enough to want to buy a bottle. Then we headed off to see 2 of the last 3 covered bridges in Maryland, at Roddy Road and Loys Station. We returned to the hotel where I used the pool to cool off, then we headed back out to the Shamrock for dinner. I wound up getting the salad bar, 14-ounce prime rib (medium rare), baked potato, and a generous slice of coconut cake. We headed back to the hotel for schmoozing before bedtime.

Eventually I said my goodbyes, suspecting I'd miss the Stragglers' Breakfast on Monday, and headed upstairs. I did what packing I could and sacked out.

Monday, July 17

My body decided to wake up at 3. And 4. And 5. And 6, at which point I gave up. Did some internetting, finished packing (the CPAP which I needed overnight, the laptop and toiletries I used during the morning, and the swimsuit I left to (mostly) dry overnight), dumped everyting in the car, and had the hotel breakfast (scrambled eggs with ham and cheese, breakfast potatoes, and fruit salad) before hitting the road around 6:40am.

Decided to go exploring a little and took the Lincoln Highway (US 30) for a while before overshooting the place I needed to be. Made it onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike without major issues and proceeded to head west. I stopped once around 9ish for a bio-break and again around 11:30 for lunch and gasoline (according to the computer I had a 20-mile margin of error in that I might be able to get home without refueling, but I figured I may as well buy relatively-cheap gas in Ohio than risk it), and got home shy of 8 hours after I started (just in time to be on a conference call for work from the home phone instead of the cell phone). Elapsed distance 955.4 miles.

After the call ended I unpacked. I managed to throw out the wrong plastic bag (with the kitchen stuff I bought at the outlet store); when I took it out and put the correct plastic bag (with the trash from the car) I had somehow managed to drop my keys — including my only mailbox key — into it.

Last update Feb13/18 by Josh Simon (<>).