Growing up in Mechanicsburg, Penn.: the city that always sleeps

    The Reading Railroad Bridge over the Susquehanna River. Photo by Allie’s.Dad, on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

    When I close my eyes and think about my childhood, images of Wrigley Field and the Sears Tower come up. I think about my favorite address and building in the world, One Liberty Place, and the smell of delicious Philly cheesesteaks in the air. I picture The Mall and the reflecting pool and think about how much living history D.C. has seen. I picture a plethora of images from various cities and travels that made up my childhood.

    I never, ever picture Mechanicsburg, Penn. What’s there to reminisce about? Late-night runs to Sheetz, a gas station with surprisingly good coffee and made-to-order sandwiches? Buying food at Wegmans, a grocery store that also happened to be the only business open past 11 p.m.? Monotonous movie nights in my buddy’s basement because at 2 a.m. we didn’t want to sleep but had nowhere else to go?

    Mechanicsburg, Penn. is a suburb of Harrisburg, the state’s capital city. The problem is that Harrisburg almost feels small enough to be considered suburbia as well. However, the capitol building is one of the prettiest in America, there’s a cool park that has a nice view of the “city” and there are a few artsy street festivals along the Susquehanna River front that help make it feel alive, like it actually has a cultural city beat. But, at the end of the day, Harrisburg is still a city with only 50,000 people. Most of the area’s suburbs, like Mechanicsburg, exist only so working people can “commute downtown” while still having a “stable family life in suburbia.”

    I’ve never felt connected with my hometown, which is sad, because I’ve tried. I really, truly have tried. The problem is that there are just so many cooler places to be from. I personally feel like I’m from Washington D.C. (where I was born), with special emphasis on Chicago and Philadelphia — my grandfather’s hometown and the birthplace of liberty (you’re welcome), respectively.

    I remember one day over the summer when my best friend Seth and I were lounging around my house, probably around 10 a.m. We decided, spur-of-the-moment, to drive to Philly and get some cheese steaks for lunch. We rolled into the city around 12:15, headed over to Tony Luke’s, ordered up two cheese steaks wit’ (that means with onions, if you’re unfamiliar with the lingo), finished them down with Cokes and drove back home. The whole ordeal probably took around five hours. Was it worth it just for a few sandwiches?

    Hell, it beat five hours in Mechanicsburg.

    I have a keychain that says “The 215,” Philly’s area code, yet I have trouble remembering my own area code. I know the address of the Washington Monument (you probably didn’t even know it had one), yet I don’t know the address of my high school. I can navigate my way around all of lower Manhattan and SoHo, yet I don’t even know the street names in my own neighborhood. The best gift I’ve ever received in my life is a Baltimore street sign my brother stole for me at Johns Hopkins that says “No parking from July 18 [my birthday] to July 25.” Mechanicsburg’s got nothing on these major metropolitan memories.

    Which is why I get so excited to come “home” for break. My breaks from school almost always consist of traveling with my family and road trips with my friends, trying to spend the least amount of time in Mechanicsburg as humanly possible. Over winter break we took trips to Pittsburgh (five hours away), Washington D.C. (hour-and-a-half), Baltimore (hour-and-forty-minutes), Philadelphia (two hours if you speed like a teenager), and New York (three-and-a-half hours). It just sucks living in a po-dunk town that’s roughly three hours from some of the most important cities in the entire world. We end up spending all of our time away from home.

    Still, my town’s not without its charm. The Wegmans grocery store I dissed earlier actually is pretty fun to cruise around in at 2 a.m. Going to the Sports Emporium (a gigantic warehouse-turned-funland with an arcade, go-karts, a roller rink and laser tag) and, depending on who’s working, getting in for free, is always a good way to spend the night. And waking up at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. to play soccer with the school team at the park half a mile from my house, coupled with undoing all of our exercise by eating a gigantic pancake breakfast at the Middlesex Diner afterwards, remain some of my fondest memories of home.

    But do they beat walking around one of the Smithsonian Institutes? Or going to a Flyers game? Or window-shopping in Brooklyn? Probably not. Mechanicsburg’s a quaint, cute little town that’s a safe, suburban environment to grow up in, but at the end of the day, it’s just too small for the ambitions of today’s youth. We want our trendy vegan and fruitarian cafes, our artsy indie movie theaters, our modern art museums and Houses of Blues. It figures that only now, when their children are in college and graduate school, my parents are looking to buy a house in a cool city like Phoenix, Ariz. Maybe now I’ll finally be excited about truly coming home for the summer.


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