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Candyland: The Awful Truth

Dear Rudy,

On a recent show you asked, "What's the worst place you'd never want to go back to?" My answer: Hershey, Pennsylvania.

I haven't always felt his way. When I was kid, I was dying to go to Hershey. My friends all wanted to go to Disneyland, but I was bent on Hershey. Why Hershey? The fixation began when I first saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on television one Sunday afternoon. I was hooked. I was convinced Hershey would be the movie come to life. My desire to visit was further nourished by Sammy Davis Jr. singing "Candy Man" on the Jerry Lewis telethon. This was proof enough to my 7-year-old mind that Willy Wonka or some Wonka-esque figure was real. But the clincher was when one of my friends went to Hershey. She said in her postcard that the streets smelled like chocolate, and brought me a genuine artifact of this magical place: a giant Hershey's kiss. That was it. I HAD to go.

But year after year summer came and went and my family never made it to Hershey. Of course, my family never really went anywhere, but that didn't make the dream any less seductive.

As kids are apt to do, I grew up and moved away, and for the most part, the Hershey fixation withered under the pressures of school and jobs and adult responsibilities. But then one crisp fall weekend I found myself roadtripping from Washington, DC to Boston along a route that would take me precariously close to Hershey, Pennsylvania. I decided the time had come to confront the fantasy.

It would have been better if I had never stopped. I didn't expect the streets to be paved with chocolate, but I was not prepared for my dazzling childhood dream to be reduced to an amusement park with a giant gift shop attached. At the very least, I wanted to see a genuine factory cranking out chocolates, not a cartoonish visitors' center replica. It was a crushing blow.

I'm over it now. I've accepted the cruel reality -- but I can no longer eat Hershey's chocolate. From almond Kisses to the classic Hershey bar -- it's all tainted with the acrid bitterness of disillusionment.

But my story has a happy ending. My rejection of Hershey's has led me to an ever more delicious discovery: Belgian chocolate.




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