i first heard about the Amish as a little kid, when mom would bring back Amish souvenirs from her business trips out to Reading, PA (iirc). it wasn’t until i watched Devil’s Playground (p.s. WATCH THAT NOW if you haven’t) earlier this week that it struck me that i could actually visit Amish country since i was out here near Philly anyways for work. i always assumed they were out in the boonies at least three or four hours west, but it turns out Lancaster County is less than an hour away!
i was a little trepidatious because of the weather — partially because this was going to be the first time i’ve driven after/during a decent-sized snowstorm (last fall’s Snowtober didn’t count since i left before it got bad, and every place that i’ve lived where it’s snowed, i’ve never had to drive) and i was worried the Amish likewise wouldn’t be out and about — but those fears turned out to be groundless.
i woke up early (unintentionally) and headed out — my first time brushing snow off a car! note to self: in the future, brush snow off hood as well, making sure the wiper fluid nozzles are not blocked.
being a native of Los Angeles, it didn’t take long for me to be overwhelmed by the beauty of backroads America (it happens every time). slowly making my way through winding country roads, seeing those farmhouses and silos, red barns, wide expanses of virgin snow…it was so Norman Rockwell i was verklempt for the first hour or so.
once i got to Lancaster County, it didn’t take me long to see my first Amish buggy! i was hesitant to pass it since i read you shouldn’t go too fast lest you scare the horse, and i didn’t know what too-fast was. yet again, another unnecessary fear! i must have seen and passed a dozen, each time going around 30 mph or so.
i’ve always romanticized small-town America (that’s a subject for a whole ‘nother blog post…), and these small towns didn’t disappoint.
from the research i did, it seems like the standard Amish tourist meal is at a buffet. i originally wanted to go to Dienner’s Country Restaurant (it got good reviews) but it was closed for winter vacation (i clearly didn’t do enough research). yelp reviews said the next best place was Family Cupboard, so that’s where i went. it turns out Amish food, like their lifestyle, is simple and down-home — totally American comfort food (except substitute buttered noodles for mac and cheese). also, they’re a pretty good deal: $12.95 (=$2 more on Saturdays, but you get more dessert choices?) for an AYCE lunch buffet.
a brief sidebar about religion: the locals are serious about their beliefs. luckily for me, no overt proselytizing (cannot stand that), but this restaurant sold “inspirational books”, played the Christian Pop & Rock SiriusXM station (not too loudly, but songs were easily shazamable) and the placemat had suggested prayers on it. also, there were religious signs and billboards all over. this is one of the most churchy places i’ve ever been to, but as much of an atheist as i am, i never felt bothered by it.
i ended the day by driving through what i’d like to call (big hat tip to @erickamericka) the Rumspringa Humdinga. there is a series of unfortunately-named towns that you can piece together into a story with even just a fraction of your mind in the gutter. i’m listing them in the order i visited, but the route i took was not optimal (lots of backtracking, plus doesn’t make sense if you want to turn it into a story). i will leave the reordering and storytelling as an exercise for the reader.
i will definitely have to come back to Lancaster County when it’s lush and verdant out — i’ve been told i need to try some homemade root beer, too! for now, though, i’m just glad i was able to get a glimpse into Amish culture. as a twenty-first-century-digital-boy, i really respect them for holding fast to their way of life, even when surrounded by and interacting with “the English”. seeing the men in their traditional hats sporting traditional beards, women driving buggies through supermarket parking lots, a guy filling up gas cans at the corner station* — i’m continually asking myself how their culture isn’t being eroded. from what i’ve read, the number of people who turn their backs on Amish culture after Rumspringa is a lot smaller than i would expect, which is a cool thing. i wish them continued happiness and best of luck sticking to their roots despite the constant encroaching of the modern world.
* no photos since out of respect for their beliefs, you’re not supposed to take pictures of Amish people.
i will leave you with two random side-of-the-road pictures.
feel free to visit the entire album (with a couple more pictures).