We had several hours of driving to do on Day Seven, but it’s no fun to spend an entire day only driving. After we’d finished having our kind of fun in Utica, our next stop down the road was a four-mile digression off the New York State Thruway with a very special museum that we hoped would entertain us for at least a few minutes. In that sense our timing estimate was pretty accurate. But hey, they say there’s always room…
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Since 1999 Anne and I have taken one road trip each year to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. After years of contenting ourselves with everyday life in Indianapolis and any surrounding areas that also had comics and toy shops, we chucked some of our self-imposed limitations and resolved as a team to leave the comforts of home for annual chances to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between. We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.
For 2022 we wanted the opposite of Yellowstone. Last year’s vacation was an unforgettable experience, but those nine days and 3500 miles were daunting and grueling. Vermont was closer, smaller, greener, cozier, and slightly cooler. Thus we set aside eight days to venture through the four states that separate us from the Green Mountain State, dawdle there for a bit, and backtrack home…
2½ hours west of Utica was the town of LeRoy. Once upon a time in 1897 a carpenter named Pearle Wait was trying to use gelatin to make a cough remedy and/or laxative tea. Instead he accidentally made dessert: Jell-O was born. He later sold the trademark to a medicine maker, who outsourced its production and subsequently sold it all to the manufacturer, who patiently kept on truckin’ and hit the big time after the turn of the century. After a few more ownership changes over the decades, today Jell-O is part of the Kraft Heinz intergalactic food empire along with dozens of other grocery classics like A-1 Sauce, Shake ‘n Bake, Maxwell House Coffee, and Kool-Aid.
But LeRoy still remembers, in particular the LeRoy Historical Society. In 1997 they set up a temporary Jell-O exhibit behind their main building inside an 1860 stone schoolhouse that they’d also acquired. A year later they made the exhibit permanent, and the Jell-O Museum was born.
Actually finding it proved tricky. The online directions took us to the front curb of the Historical Society and didn’t clarify where to go for Jell-O. We parked out front along the highway, wandered down a brick path past the Society, felt like we might be walking through private backyards, but found our destination. Then we found its dedicated parking area, but I refused to move the car.
I was torn. The staircase chain implied that way was forbidden, but the existence of a “Winter Entrance” implied that it might be impassable in June. While I fussed over the legalities, Anne tried the Winter Entrance’s doorknob and tiptoed inside. We found no people yet, just a pair of bathrooms that hit the spot, plus an entire museum exhibit about the subject of olde-tyme transportation, nothing to do with Jell-O.
Creaky stairs guided us upward to the gift shop and admission register. We paid our dues to a pair of employees, one of whom gave us a brief oral history of the product, one of many to take advantage of the trendy “-O” suffix that was all the rage in that era. We were then free to roam around the one (1) large room that held the entirety of their colorful collection of Jell-O merchandise and paraphernalia.
…and there was more, more, more. Curiously, they had no Jell-O cafe serving fresh Jell-O for eating in temptation struck. Alternatively, a display of flip-boards let kids learn the recipes to Jell-O dishes with names like Blue Goo Volcano, Neapolitan Jell-O, and Savory Vegetable Salad Mold to make at home using up all of Mom’s clean cookware. One other omission of note: we didn’t find a single reference anywhere to my favorite product of theirs from my childhood, Jell-O Pudding Pops, which I always preferred to ordinary Jell-O. Nor did we spot any souvenirs of Jell-O Pudding Pops spokespeople who later became felons.
Our whirlwind didn’t take long — ten minutes, per my handwritten notes. We took our leave and went to find lunch nearby. Anne may have had her heart set on a pizza place called Capish, but we walked up to their door only to find that as of June 2022, that very month, they’d changed their hours of operations and were no longer open for lunch. Dejected at the locked doors and cheap paper sign taped to them, we tried searching online for another option. I cut our deliberations short perhaps a bit more abruptly than I should’ve and redirected us toward another place down the block called Smokin’ Eagle BBQ & Brew.
Our New York State tourism experience for the year ended there. We rejoined the I-90 Thruway and continued westward toward the border. The rest of our day was indeed driving and driving and more driving…unfortunately even more than we’d anticipated. In the short cross-section through Pennsylvania’s northwest corner that separates New York and Ohio, we got caught in a 4-mile backup caused by a semi accident outside Erie. After a couple of miles we jumped off the interstate for a few minutes…
TOTAL ROAD TRIP MILEAGE AS OF GAS STOP #7: 1,786.
…so I could check Google Maps for a faster alternative map. The sometimes all-knowing app (which had failed to get us the latest Capish updates) took the accident into consideration and still couldn’t find us a faster route into Ohio. After a few minutes of fussing, denial, and purchase of fresh beverages, we nevertheless returned to the interstate and tried to be patient with the situation at hand. Eventually this too passed and it was smoother sailing to our next stop in our next state, for better or worse.
To be continued!
* * * * *
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]