|Bored and agitated one summer day some years ago, I jumped in my car and drove 90 miles through a mostly green Pennsylvania to see some cows. But not just any cows. In the late sixties, I lived at the Milton Hershey School, an all-boys boarding school for orphans and semi-orphans founded by the inventor of modern chocolate manufacturing. My father died when I was 11, and that was my dubious ticket into Milton Hershey. Daily barn chores were part of our high school responsibilities, and it was to the barn I had worked in for four years that I made my impromptu dash. To do what when I arrived there I could not say.
In less than two hours, I left the highway, some of it cut through Devonian-era rock nearly a half billion years old, and wound my way toward the still quaint town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. A sense of deja vu prickled my scalp. Here were the same bucolic landscapes I had known as a boy and the familiar odors of new hay, wild flowers, and cow dung, all overlaid with the aroma of cocoa that issued from the totemic factory smokestacks at the town’s center.
I soon came upon Hershey Park and its immense parking lots, where thousands of cars reflected the sun-like mirrors in a solar energy complex. Droves of eager and bright-faced young people, anticipating the amusements to come, headed toward the park’s entrance, parents among them like afterthoughts. The park had been in town when I lived there, but in a much reduced state. Back then, I shuffled through the park’s dusty penny arcades and ramshackle fun houses — when I think of them they are sepia-tinted — and rode a rickety rollercoaster made of wood that seemed to have been built by armies of slave children driven by salivating Morlocks. I ate bouffants of pastel cotton candy and, sometimes with a girl, fed popcorn to the muscular carp that cruised in the stream running through the park and the neglected zoo nearly. The zoo at that time included little else beyond a forlorn black bear, a yak, and a weepy, moth-eaten bison two sluggish heartbeats from the taxidermist. A few ornery and uncaged peacocks dragged around their collapsed plumage like senile queens.