When I do get around, I write about it. If you want to read exclusively about my visits to United States presidential sites, you can do that over here.

Travel: Delaware

You might think there's nothing to do in Delaware, and 362 days out of the year you'd mostly be right! But those other three ...


Punkin' Chunkin'

November 4, 2012

At some point in the Reagan administration, a bunch of people got together in a field in Delaware to mechanically throw pumpkins as far as they could. The winner tossed a pumpkin 178 feet. Because this is the greatest nation in the world, a mere 27 years later, pumpkins are routinely flying 3/5 of a mile, and several thousand drunk people, many of them in camouflage hunting gear, assemble to watch them do it. It's not only a testament to the American spirit, it's the only real reason to let Delaware keep on as a state.

As grand and as close as this tradition happens to be, I never visited it until 2012, because I was too busy not living life to the fullest. I decided in the summer of 2012 that it was time to take it up a notch and promptly e-mailed many friends about joining me. There was a lot of enthusiasm. A few weeks before the event, I followed up to see who was still on board, while reminding people that we'd have to start driving at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday to get there on time. There was suddenly less enthusiasm. Some of this was understandable; some of it was unspeakably lame. I can understand someone having a prior engagement or (due to severe head trauma) not wanting to hang out with a bunch of engineers and rednecks in a field in Delaware. The unacceptable excuse is, "it's too early." If worrying about being a little sleepy on a Sunday is what keeps you from watching produce fly 3,800 feet, then I feel very, very sorry for you. Rethink your whole life.

Anyhow: me, my lovely wife Allyson and my good friend Melanie got up at 5 a.m. and drove two hours to Bridgeville, where we would be meeting my cousins Anne and Steve, and also several thousand people with less than 46 chromosomes. It might shock you to learn that an event run on Delaware farmland isn't the smoothest operation in the world, but there were some hiccups getting in; we had about a half-hour adventure getting to our parking spot, but but by 8:15 we were ready to grow as human beings.

Punkin Chunkin tip No. 1: Pay for the VIP parking. If you go for regular parking, you're stuck in some muddy field like a chump. If you get the tailgate parking, for just $100 a car you get to put your vehicle in a muddy field much, much closer to the firing line, which lets you use it as an operating base. Now, I am an inexperienced tailgater, but it was an honor to be among its masters on Saturday. Many people brought BBQ rigs on trailers, their own port-a-johns, and more alcohol than most all-inclusive Caribbean resorts run through in a day. We were next to a group with two large wood-burning fires that eventually made us smell entirely like a BBQ. The people next to us were almost legally dead from alcohol poisoning by 10 a.m. -- during the National Anthem, a guy in a full camo jumpsuit thought it would be funny to slap a drink out of a girl's hand. Then he yelled something to his friend during a moment of silence. The people-watching was tremendous.

Punkin Chunkin tip No. 2: Embrace your inner redneck. Some of those drawn to Punkin Chunkin are engineering types -- mechanically inclined people who can appreciate the work that goes into the catapults, trebuchets, air cannons and other devices that shoot pumpkins a hellacious distance. But most of the people drawn to Punkin Chunkin are folks who enjoy drinking in a field. There are ATVs everywhere (the "spotters" that measure the distance of each toss ride them), there are hunters everywhere, and there is booze everywhere, even though it's mostly BYOB. If you have a redneck phobia, you're not going to enjoy this. Don't think of it as an intellectual exercise, just appreciate that pumpkins are going to fly really far and the music of the Doobie Brothers will at some point factor into your day.

Punkin Chunkin tip No. 3: Embrace your inner engineer, too. There are about five categories of chunkers: trebuchets, human-powered devices, catapults, air cannons and centrifugal devices (giant spinning arms). Each one is cool in its own way. The old-school seige engines are a bit more kinetic, because you can see the moving parts; they also have a higher chance of catastrophic failure (we saw a trebuchet throw a pumpkin up instead of out, and it landed in the crowd). The centrifugal spinners make an awesome noise. The air cannons are a little less dramatic, but overwhelmingly have the edge in power -- if you don't stand behind them, you actually can't pick up the flight of the pumpkin, because its lateral movement is too fast for your eye to track. They come out of the barrel so fast that they knuckle; some of the most powerful guns had pumpkins wiggling in mid-air. We had a certified mechanical guy (my cousin Steve) on-site to explain the general principles of each device, and entertain us with words like "windage." A teenage girl overheard one discussion and insisted that "windage" wasn't a word, which takes us back to tip No. 2. Roll with it.

Punkin Chunkin tip No. 4: Be ready to eat. I had two donuts, two granola bars, five cookies, cashews, and four beers, all of which we brought with us. I also ate four breakfast sausages wrapped in pretzels and dipped in maple syrup, two slices of pizza and part of a funnel cake. I was on the conservative end of the consumption scale. The "midway" food attractions are things you'd usually find at a Rennaisance festival or state fair; the healthiest vegetable option is to eat the shards of a shattered pumpkin.

It's a fun day. If we have to complain about anything, it would be the announcer. We didn't have the TV personalities there on Saturday, so the guy on the mic was some anonymous dude who was either from South Boston or South Philly, depending on the sentence. He was not very good. His go-to calls were "my my!" and, for air cannons, "keep your eye on the tip, don't blink or you might miss it!" I imagine it makes for a great time with the ladies once the light goes out.

I don't know that I'll ever go back to Punkin Chunkin, but I do know that I have the commemorative T-shirt to prove I went. God bless America. Even Delaware.



One man's quest to be the humblest person alive
Copyright 2014, Chris White