No sales tax and deep-fried chicken

Shortly after I arrived in Toronto I asked my mother-in-law and sister-in-law why we were going to Pennsylvania, exactly. "No sales tax!" they said in unison. Of course! As the four of us are all of pure Dutch stock, genetically programmed with identical consumer strategies, we proved to be perfectly compatible shopping companions. "Steals, not deals," was our motto for the weekend.

The outlet mall reminded me of a casino, designed to keep patrons constantly engaged and fully comfortable, with no reminders of the passage of time. There wasn't a clock in sight. I believe one of our party even spoke longingly of urinary catheterization at one point.

Janice and Lib have three kids apiece as well, and so we naturally gravitated towards the children's apparel. How can selecting an argyle vest for a three-year-old be so fun, but trying on adult jeans so tedious? Drinking margaritas in the early afternoon did help.

We ate lunch at Cracker Barrel, seeing as there was one in every town, to experience chicken breasts dipped in buttermilk, breaded and dropped in the deep fryer, served with turnip greens and fried apples. I couldn't help but do a quick mental tally of my plate, which I'm certain was at least 3000 calories. The restaurant was packed. Everyone was white, pleasant, and looked like they enjoyed the deep-fried chicken regularly.

Speaking of which, when we went to church on Sunday, we were offered a selection from a plate of doughnuts as we entered the sanctuary.

What we saw of Pennsylvania was pretty and mild-mannered, with green rolling hills, plenty of old three-story houses with front porches, and five-pointed stars adorning most buildings. The local accent was charming, and the smoking sections in restaurants made me nostalgic.

The trip held only one disappointment, and that was the weak American coffee.