Friday, May 2, 2008

A Day at “The Office” in The Electric City

Where your favorite TV characters hang out in Scranton, PA

The fact is we don’t watch a lot of TV. Heck, we’re on the road so much it’s all we can do to catch a motel movie now and again. But whenever possible, we’re slaves to “The Office.” Maybe because it’s plain hilarious, and maybe because it takes place in Scranton, PA.

We cruise into “The Electric City” on old Route 11 just to check out the joints they talk about on “The Office.” We even have the radio in the ragtop glued to Rock 107 FM. (Remember the episode when Dwight calls the station: “Hello, Rock 107? Am I the 107th caller?”) An appropriate anthem, “Little Pink Houses,” rolls us past little brick ones built for the miners and millers and railroaders who gave this town its heyday.

Today, factories have become art studios. Old storefronts are unique boutiques. Antique pressed-tin ceilings look down upon lively pubs and steak houses. And next to the railroad yards – now the mighty Steamtown National Historic Site – is The Mall at Steamtown.

We park below and ride an elevator into the bells and whistles of a shopping paradise that often co-stars on our favorite show. Sneak a peek inside Victoria’s Secret, where Michael Scott, the office boss, inexplicably takes his female co-workers on “field trips.” Check out Nail Trix, a salon where Kelly Kapoor would totally spend every Saturday morning.

We’re tacky tourist shutterbugs until a security guard tells us no pictures inside the mall. “Except at the food court,” he points. “There’s a whole display of those ‘Office’ stars perfect for snapshots.”

Sure enough, there’s the whole cast, bigger than life. We click cardboard cutouts of Michael Scott, Kelly Kapoor, Creed (played by Creed Bratton – did you know he used to play guitar in The Grassroots?), the grumpy nerd Dwight (played by Rainn Wilson, who was made an honorary mall security guard when he came to Scranton for an “Office” convention) – even the original “Scranton Welcomes You” sign from the show’s opening credits. Among the food-court stalwarts of Arthur Treacher’s and The Lotus Express, it’s pretty cool.

Outside the food court we walk a skyway above the massive Steamtown train yards, and down into acres of boxcars, locomotives, cabooses, and lots of electric trolleys. For many years Scrantonians rode the first citywide electric trolley system in the world, hence its nickname “Electric City.”

Follow the tracks to The Trolley Museum at the other end of the yards. Inside, hop aboard an original wooden streetcar, with velvet curtains and leather benches. Imagine the clang-clang-clang. Sure beats walking.

Folks still ride these restored wonders along the edge of town, through the woods and over to the friendly confines where the Triple-A Yankees play. It’s a romantic ride through time to one gem of a ballpark.

Around the corner and high above, a blazing round sign illuminates the city’s happy heritage every night: “Scranton, The Electric City.” It’s a beauty.

Back in the ragtop, we pass the big green sign on the home of the Crystal Club Soda Water Company. (Seems there’s a can of Crystal Club Root Beer on every desk in “The Office.”) We spy the building on the corner of Adams and Mulberry that stands in for the fabled Dunder Mifflin paper company. It has a sixties kind of architectural cool, and we can’t help but snap a drive-by pic.

Swing down Washington and there’s Abe’s Delicatessen, just in time for lunch. (Have you seen the Abe’s menu stuck on “The Office” fridge?) We stand before a gleaming case of pickles, smoked fish and kosher salamis. On top, a cooling tray of noodle kugel and knishes fresh from the oven. A counterman (Abe himself?) catches our gawk and shrugs, “What’s not to like?” We go with matzo ball soup and the best whitefish salad this side of Second Avenue. Kosher deli in Scranton; who knew?

We walk a couple blocks to the Artists For Art gallery. It’s home to contemporary work from local artists, including – at least on TV - Pam Beesly, played by Jenna Fischer. AFA’s set in a row of restored brick storefronts, another intersection of hardscrabble and new-wave Scranton.

Not far from AFA we discover the favorite watering hole of “The Office” denizens. Poor Richard’s Pub, with its spicy wings, local tap beer and a waitress who calls us “honey,” is tucked inside the South Side Bowl. The alleys are booming with bowling teams of all ages, and the bright lights and neon colors are a groovy shock after the brick streets of downtown. A mural of enormous bowling balls the color of grape soda and limeade loom over the ten-pins in a pattern that suggests 1950’s linoleum on 1960’s acid. It looks as loud as it sounds, and we lace up two-tones and throw a spare or two between gutter balls and sure enough work up a lager thirst.

Inside Poor Richard’s the lights are low again, and a popular local duo called The Girlz sway gently with electric guitars. We nurse our bowling-ball elbows by bending a few with some refugees from genuine Scranton offices.

One fellow is actually sporting a t-shirt, for sale here at Poor Richards, emblazoned with a slogan from “The Office” that seems oh-so true: “Ain’t no party like a Scranton party ‘cause a Scranton party don’t stop.”

We buy a double XL and strike out from the lanes into a beautiful mountain town evening. Time to check into the majestic Lackawanna train station. The grand waiting room, adorned with marble and amazing tile mosaics from a gilded time, is now a grand hotel lobby, and we’re made welcome with uncommon opulence.

Tonight, it’s dinner at Cooper’s Seafood, an “Office” favorite. (Remember when Michael wants sushi? Dwight tells him Cooper’s has calamari.) We giggle over the corny lobster beanie with its googly eyeballs and wiggly antennae and slurp just-shucked Virginia Salts. Fresh oysters in Scranton; who knew?

Tomorrow it’s a spooky séance at The Houdini Museum and a dark trek deep inside a real coalmine. Then more live local music at The Bog, a hipster bar across from Embassy Vinyl, one of America’s last great record stores. Like the t-shirt says, a Scranton party just don’t stop. Until it does, we’ll see you around the bends and back roads.

For an illustrated map of your tour of Scranton sites made famous on "The Office," hop on over to www.visitpa.com/shunpiker.

Steamtown National Historic Site/Trolley Museum
What’s more powerful than a locomotive? Lots and lots of locomotives! Ride a steam train, explore the huge old train yards, and take a jaunt on an old electric trolley. Then fix your shopping jones at The Mall at Steamtown right next door. It’s where “The Office” shops for everything. Learn all about it at www.nps.gov/stea/ and/or www.ectma.org.

Farley’s Steakhouse
Oak, brass and Certified Angus Steaks. On the episode called “Basketball,” the warehouse team played the office team and the losers had to buy dinner at this popular steak house. (Check out the homemade old bay potato chips.) 300 Adams Ave. 570) 346-3000. Farleysrestaurant.com

Abe’s Kosher Delicatessen
Hot pastrami, corned beef on rye, lox and bagels. What’s not to like? 326 N Washington Ave. 570-346-2946.

AFA Gallery
Exhibits from local artists rotate monthly. See for yourself at 514 Lackawanna Ave or take a virtual tour at www.artistsforart.com.

South Side Bowl/Poor Richard’s Pub
The favorite place to hang out after working at “The Office.” Bowl a strike, have a pint and try the spicy wings sampler. Life doesn’t get better than this. 125 Beech Street. www.southsidebowl.com. (570) 961-5213

Cooper’s Seafood
Look for the lighthouse and welcome aboard. The corny gift shot is almost as much fun as tearing into those fresh oysters and twin lobster tails. 701 N Washington Ave. (570)346-6883. www.coopers-seafood.com

Lackawanna Station Hotel
The lobby/restaurant is one of the most beautifully restored gilded railroad stations in America. The mini-suites have microwaves and refrigerators. 700 Lackawanna Avenue.
(570) 342-8300. www.radisson.com/scrantonpa

Nay Aug Park/Everhart Museum
At the top of Mulberry Street is a huge public park. There’s a pool, an animal rescue (with monkeys and an alligator) and a fabulous treehouse with a gorgeous view. The Everhart Museum has an art collection that blows us away. scrantonpa.gov/nayaug_park.html

Glider Diner
When you need a late-night fix of homemade corned-beef hash and eggs, remember The Glider is open 24 hours. 890 Providence Rd. 570.343.8036. www.gliderdiner.com.

The Houdini Museum
Houdini in Scranton; who knew? Here’s the largest building devoted to Harry Houdini, with great magic shows, scary storytelling and spooky séances in “The Psychic Theater.” The website says, “not for the feint of heart.” 1443 N. Main Street. Call for reservations: 570.383.9297. www.houdini.org or www.psychictheater.com.

Ok, now it's your turn. Let us know what you find out there with an email to shunpiker@visitpa.com.

1 comment:

wetpaint12 said...

its so funny to see all of this stuff up and people raving about them, i am from scranton, i work in wilkes barre now but i still go back to scranton all the time, its only the next town over. I do really like the show it is hilarious, it so funny to see little things like the abes menu because i ate at abes growing up all the time. it's funny how excited people get seeing that stuff on tv when you have grown up with it your whole life thinking it was just a boring old town. Those cardboard cutouts are awsome. it's funny i actually make cardboard cutouts for a living now, and i love to see different ways they are used. i think the show is great and i think it should be on forever. if you want cardboard cutouts check us out at Http://www.lifesizecustomcutouts.com