The Long Way Home

When the World Stops
December 12, 2010, 9:22 AM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , , , , ,


I have  rolls of film that I finally got developed, some from the last snow storm in February, this color roll from a trip we took  in March to find Circus Town. Finding these negatives is like revisiting that moment all over again, even though it was just an ordinary day. I don’t remember taking some of these. I thought they captured that feeling of an upcoming storm, when the news casts predict an apocalyptic amount of snow, where you can stay inside reading or watching movies and excuse yourself from what has to be done for the day.

through the window

route 422

early evening


December 8, 2010, 7:04 AM
Filed under: Pennsylvania | Tags: , , , ,


Snijeg is “snow” in  Croatian, and Sunday morning reminded me of Osijek, how frustrating and beautiful and unexpected each day was when I was there. I spent most of the winter  in a perpetual state of freeze. My apartment didn’t have central heat, only a large space heater from the 1960s that looked like two thin sheets of metal slapped together. I’d switch it on first thing in the morning, the red coils glowing as  I got ready for work. Sometimes I’d turn on the oven and open the door to warm my hands. You really do get used to wearing sweaters and mittens to bed, drinking mulled wine to calm your nerves.  This past Sunday, my tripod went missing, so I rigged a make-shift one in our backyard out of a wooden chair, two old books and a scarf to protect the camera. My eyes watered from the wind, so it was hard to focus, and my hands ached from cold. I thought, why the hell am I doing this, just as I had asked myself six years ago in Osijek. And it’s because I can’t imagine doing anything else at that moment.


first snow

'portal to spring.' unfinished painting by jeff schreckengost

All Roads Lead to Buffalo
April 14, 2009, 12:50 PM
Filed under: New York, United States | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

 –which sucked because Jeff and I never made it to Rochester. Our plan was to tour the George Eastman house and spend the night in a seedy motel (the Towpath, which may charge us a whole night’s stay for cancelling without 24 hour notice, the bastards!), then spend Saturday in Jeff’s hometown of Allegany.  But in Dunkirk, about 54 miles outside of Buffalo, the toll booth lady instructed us to take the next exit. I-90 was closed for 105 miles because of a freak snow storm that hit the city area. Long rows of semi’s stretched on the side of the road like the trucks you’d see at border check points going into Hungary or Croatia, or anywhere in Eastern Europe. We exited and pulled into an Aldi’s parking lot, studying the map for an alternate route. Wind rattled the car windows, but the sun made it warm enough for us not to have our jackets. Sunny and clear, and only an hour from Buffalo. There had to be another way. There was nobody in Aldi’s who could help us, so we trekked across the highway to a gas station attendant who couldn’t help us either. What about Route 39? I said to the woman, highlighting the pink line to show her. It might go to Rochester, she said. But I don’t want to take you the wrong way.

Doesn’t anyone know where they’re going in America?

We decided to hit Allegany/Olean on the way back to Pittsburgh. Imagine part of Monroeville about two hours away from the nearest city. And the nearest cities were Buffalo and Rochester. Welcome to Allegany/Olean. It is rural. It is like most forgotten parts of America, bruised and swinging on its hinges from a dying industry. I kept asking myself, what do people do here now? When you don’t see the hustle and bustle of a city, it’s as if you’re trespassing into private property. You get a glimpse of people’s lives, walking along the main streets, or in the mall, which is now mostly a vast space of empty store fronts. We played skee ball to kill some time, which Jeff used to do when he was in junior high. We took pictures of the house where Jeff grew up. The red door is now a natural wood color, and the backyard is filled with a pool. Everything had changed. I could feel it, even though I had never been there before.

On our way out of town, we took pictures in front of the church where Jeff was an altar boy. I scored a great find at the St. Vincent de Paul, a Spanish souvenir doll from the 1960s, which we got for a buck. Driving back, there was lots of wind and pending snow, cheap cigarettes on the Salamanca reseravation, and a horse and buggy hitched to a sign post outside of a convenience store. We had a pink sunset, and later, a full bright moon that we were lucky enough to guide us home.


Lost in Belgrade
March 22, 2009, 8:18 PM
Filed under: Serbia and Montenegro | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

On the bus to Belgrade. Stopped now in Vukovar. What a frustrating morning.

My roommate Ari and I got up early again to go to Pecs. We ended up on the wrong train going to Bizovac instead of Beli Manastir. So we jumped off the train somewhere close to Osijek city limits, took the bus to the station and decided why not go to Belgrade? When I went to get cash, the ATM said I had insufficient funds, so fucking A — I have $49.90 in my account, $262.00 which is unaccounted for. All I can say is, it had better be traced — what the hell happened to that money? The only thing I can think is that Dan mailed all my bills back home. Which sucks because that means I have no money to live here until my tax refund. Ari was cool enough to pay for this Belgrade trip. I’ll have to write home soon. I’m worried about the money, but part of me also feels like well, what can I do? Maybe I’m in deep denial, but years of growing up a poor kid has shown me things just work themselves out. In any case, I’m on my way to Belgrade, a completely unexpected trip.


12:00 pm: Crossed the border into Serbia. Surreal images of travel:

A black dog walking across the flat, snow-covered fields of an unknown village in Serbia.

Two girls getting off the Beli-Manastir-Osijek bus and walking down a road, disappearing into dark-blue nothing.

Six women dressed like hearts for Valentine’s Day walking single-file down Zupinjiska.

Even with all the ups and downs (and sidetracking) of this whole Osijek experience, I would pack up my life and disappear all over again. But with more money. And much more time. 


8:00 pm: In a Belgrade hotel room, the Hotel Astoria. 

Because Ari pissed around looking for postcards (“Oh, we don’t have to hurry, we have time!”), we missed the Osijek bus by 10 minutes. Already freezing and pissed because we had been walking around in the bitter cold for, like,  3 hours looking for said-postcards, I was thinking, I can’t believe this — two missed transports in one day. It’s like Osijek is this black hole that sucks you in and if by some act of God you do get out, it makes it near impossible for you to return. 

Hotel Astoria is nice enough. Nice 1970s decor chic – red velour chairs in the lobby, wood paneling, shag carpet, an unhappy desk clerk pulled right from a modernist film. The room is no frills with starchy white sheets and a pilled brown blanket to keep warm. The wallpaper is nicked and peeling but hell – it’s clean, I have my own bathroom. For Ari’s $34.00 USD I can’t go wrong.

And I’m in Belgrade! The city has so much energy. There were times I felt as if I were in New York – the loud honking of traffic, beautiful smog sky at dusk. With Ari’s knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet and my scant Croatian vocabulary, we could decipher street signs and get around fairly well. People here are much friendlier than in Croatian cities, more helpful and willing to talk. The histories between the two countries are so complicated, relations so tense (it was difficult, for example, to exchange kuna for dinar here) — I couldn’t even begin to understand it as an outsider. 

The architecture here is a majestic mix of communist-Hapsburg in all its grime-covered glory. There’s a park at the edge of the city overlooking the Danube, a bridge in the distance. The tableau reminded me of Pittsburgh. Even the winters are as cold as the ones at home. I would love to be here in summer when it’s full of life.

Hotel Astoria lobby

Hotel Astoria lobby


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