June 16, 2019
Our next stop on our journey to Maine was Pilesgrove, NJ, a small town located thirty miles from Philadelphia. We arrived there on June 4. The following day, we drove to Philly for phase one of our quest to find the best cheesesteak in the City of Brotherly Love. From my numerous internet searches, two names kept popping up: Geno’s Cheesesteaks and Pat’s King of Steaks. Ironically, the restaurants are located across the street from one another. According to Philadelphia’s official tourism site, Pat Olivieri, founder of Pat’s King of Steaks, invented the cheesesteak in the 1930s. Geno’s Cheesesteaks was started by Joey Vento in 1966. He claimed to have perfected the original sandwich.
Whether I’m writing a blog post or planning a trip or outing, I tend to be like an engineer: I just don’t know when to stop making improvements and tweaking the “product.” Naturally, I did more digging into the best cheesesteak in Philly. While reading numerous articles, I stumbled across a forum discussing whether Geno’s or Pat’s made the best cheesesteak. To my surprise, many of the locals claimed it was actually Jim’s Steaks who made the best cheesesteak in town.
It has been my experience that the locals are a great source of information on the best places to eat, so we decided to give Jim’s a try. The line was out the door when we arrived, a sure sign we were in for a treat. My mouth watered as we waited in line.
Ordering a cheesesteak can be intimidating for a rookie. There are specific procedures and a no-nonsense lingo you must follow. For starters, you need to know exactly what you want before you reach the front of the line. You start by telling the cashier how many cheesesteaks you’d like, your choice of cheese, and if you want fried onions on your sandwich. This translates into three words—One wiz with—if you want to order a single cheesesteak with Cheese Whiz and onions. If you’re ordering two different types of sandwiches, you would say something like “One whiz with, one provolone without.” And if you want to sound like a local, you’d drop the “h” in with and without, making your three magic words come out, “One whiz wit.”
The employees at Jim’s Steaks were not quite so anal about how you ordered your cheesesteak, but you had to speak fast. Otherwise, the guy making your sandwich would automatically start slathering warm, gooey Cheese Whiz—the default cheese—on your roll before you could say “provolone.” The last, and most important thing to remember, is to always have cash in your pocket. Jim’s does not accept plastic. Neither does Pat’s, according to their website.
We finally made it to the counter and placed our order. Then we hoofed it upstairs to the dining room, prepared to be wowed by our cheesesteaks. It didn’t happen. I guess our southern palates are too different than the folks up north, because neither or us liked our sandwiches. At all. The steak tasted bland, and the peppers were watery, resulting in soggy bread. Conclusion: We would definitely never eat at Jim’s Steaks again.
Even though our first attempt at finding the best cheesesteak in Philly was a bust, I did make an interesting discovery on the walk back to the car. The site where Mason’s and Dixon’s survey line began was less than a block from where we’d parked.
Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were two British surveyors hired to survey the boundaries between the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland in 1763. They also surveyed the land that would eventually become the states of Delaware and West Virginia. This was done in an effort to resolve a border dispute between the two colonies. It took four years for Mason and Dixon to complete their task. Today, the Mason-Dixon Line is a figurative division of the political and social differences between the north and the south.
We intended to return to Philadelphia the following day to visit Independence Hall, the birthplace of America. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both debated and signed inside those hallowed halls. We also wanted to see the Liberty Bell, which was cast by John Pass and John Stow. I am remotely related to John Pass on my late mother’s side of the family, so I looked forward to seeing my ancestor’s work. Afterwards, we planned to hoof it a mile to Pat’s King of steaks.
But you know what they say about the best laid plans.
We had a problem with our big slide when we left Elizabethtown, which we thought was a fluke. It kept eating at Harry, so first thing Thursday morning, he examined the system’s guts and discovered that one of the four cables that extend and retract the slide had broken. He “Harry-rigged” the cable so he could bring the slide in, but we knew we needed to get the issue repaired immediately.
I started calling Thor dealerships in our area. Every place I contacted was booked solid until late June or early July. One place said the earliest they could take us was in September. We knew it wasn’t practical to go all the way to Maine without the use of our big slide, so Harry suggested I call the dealership in Orange Park, Florida, where we’d had our rig serviced this past spring. They told us we could bring it in the following Wednesday evening, but that it would probably be Friday before a tech could diagnose the problem.
We had two options: (1) Sit still in New Jersey until the end of June and have the motorhome repaired up north, which would throw us weeks behind schedule, or (2) cancel our trip and head back south. After carefully weighing our options, we decided to cut our trip short and have the motorhome repaired in Florida.
So, long story short, Friday, June 7, we left New Jersey in our wake and made the four-day drive to Folkston, Georgia, where we stayed this past April. Folkston is located about fifty miles north of Orange Park. We chose Folkston because we have a portable freezer in one of our bays that needed to be removed while the motorhome was in the shop. The manager at the campground in Folkston graciously allowed us to store the freezer in his maintenance building, so we can keep it plugged into an electric outlet while the motorhome was being repaired. He also let us store Harry’s Honda scooter in the storage building so we didn’t have to haul it with us to Florida.
Our decision to have the motorhome repaired in Florida turned out to be a smart one. On our way to Georgia, we developed a leak in the seal on the passenger-side window. When we were moving, it wasn’t a problem when it rained, but if it rained when we were sitting still, water poured into the motorhome at an alarming rate. We went through eight bath towels in less than an hour one night when a storm blew through Folkston.
Since becoming full-timers last fall, we’ve learned you have to be flexible with your travel plans. It is impossible to anticipate ever eventuality. You also have to keep in mind that you’re not just dropping your RV off at a dealership to be repaired, you’re dropping off your “home.” That requires having an emergency fund, removing any valuables from the RV, and emptying the refrigerator and freezer, as the unit will not be plugged into shore power while it is being repaired. Since we missed our trip to Maine, we decided to treat ourselves to a week at the beach in Florida. We rented a condo in St. Augustine, on the Atlantic coast on the northeastern part of the state.
We’ve been camped out in the condo since last Wednesday night. It seems odd being in such “spacious accommodations” after spending the past eight months in a motorhome. Our one-bedroom condo is probably no more than 700 sq. feet, but it seems huge in comparison with our home on wheels. I must confess, I could get used to the extra room very quickly.
Note: During our brief stay in Pilesgrove, NJ, we stayed at the Four Seasons Family Campground. It never ceases to amaze me how the gallery of pictures on a campground’s website can make the place look so good, and yet when you arrive, you discover you’ve rented a site at an old RV park that has seen better days. Not only is Four Seasons run-down, they charge for electricity if you stay a week or more, you have to pay extra for WIFI, and according to Harry, the bathhouse and restrooms were filthy. The only thing the campground has going for it is that they issued us a full-refund for our electric deposit even though we were there for three days, plus they also issued us a credit for $100 of the $250 we prepaid for a week’s stay. One a scale of 1-5, I’d give Four Seasons a 1. However, I feel obligated to bump them up to a 2 since they issued us a partial refund. That’s more than I can say for Smuggler’s Den in Bar Harbor, Maine. They refused to refund us a dime of the $283 deposit we paid them, even though we gave them a fifty-six-day cancellation notice.