This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.
East of Ohio is Pennsylvania, the state that serves as a buffer between the Northeast liberals in their ivory towers and the common peasants of the Midwest. Pennsylvania's location has made it one of the Northeast's few "transition states" where you can see the culture of the Northeast blending with the culture of another region. In the distant shadow of New York City it can be easy for outsiders to forget that Pennsylvania contains two of America's largest urban areas: Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh particularly, have suffered from the loss of industry (especially steel) in the United States over the past twenty years, but the state's proximity to major ports and its diversified economy have helped preserve the state's character.
Pennsylvania was founded on the ideal of religious tolerance and this persists, from one degree to another, to this day. This tolerance has also allowed the state to be overrun by the Pennsylvania Dutch. The place is lousy with them in their goddamn buggies talking their half-German moon language. They're like time-traveling Mexicans.
With Pittsburg and Philadelphia both vying for my attention, I have opted to cover a lesser-known city in Pennsylvania.
Allentown is Pennsylvania's third largest city, coming in way behind Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with a population of only around 110,000. It is on the outer edge of Philadelphia's urban area, which means a number of the problems that come with urban areas afflict Allentown. It is by no means a hell-on-earth slum, but violent crime, drugs, and prostitution have increasingly afflicted Allentown. You fancy Europeans with your liberalized ideas about drugs and prostitutes might think that's not as bad as it sounds, but the next time you sit on a bus next to a hooker blacked out with a needle still in her arm you can write me an angry letter.
The city has a diverse population and a reasonable standard of living, with hundreds of historic buildings, including the immense Albertus Meyers Bridge. One of the main features of the skyline in Allentown - well, okay, the only feature of the skyline - is the PP & L (Pennsylvania Power and Light) building. This 23-story tower was built in the 1920s and is said by many to resemble the Daily Planet building seen in the George Reeves version of Superman. It is the centerpiece of the PPL Plaza in downtown Allentown and most consider it the architectural heart of the city.
Allentown has an extensive system of parks, including multiple amusement parks, and much of its outlying area is heavily wooded and rural. So close to Philadelphia, this is no accident, and Allentown owes this natural beauty to a great deal of philanthropy and pragmatism at the turn of the 20th century.
The Farmer's Market in Allentown is one of the most spectacular stops for gastronomes in the area, sprawling for over 90,000 square feet and open year round. The dozens of vendors at the market offer everything from candy to cookies with M&Ms baked into them, plus meat! It also provides an opportunity for the Pennsylvania Dutch to enter civilization and earn their barn money the hard way: with pies and cheese.
Allentown won't be winning any contests for America's safest, or most beautiful, or most cosmopolitan city, but in the densely populated Northeast it manages to strike a pleasant balance somewhere in the middle.
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