Friday, July 29, 2005

Cafe Del Mar

A quick shout-out ot Cafe Del Mar, my wi-fi and double-espresso source!

Headed back inland

Probably no surprise, but since arriving at the Beach, I just haven't had time from blogging. Plenty of time to sit around lolling in a beach chair, though. Luckily for my leisure, the laptop fears the sand, so she no go to da beach! It's been delightful here in Wrightsville Beach. We're getting ready to head inland, Lucy and I, to take the long way home. I'm becoming a big fan of this, and have nearly comcluded that every bit of driving stress can be attributed to some aspect of Interstate driving—the trucks, traffic stop-ups, road work, dickheads, you name it. Most of these things, not found on the back roads!

A quick shout out to pal Jessie, who loves Wrightsville Beach! It's hot here, Jessie Lou! A hunnerd, nearly!

So we're gonna split for cooler climes. (no, it's not just that. it's a recurring thing called "work," too, calling us back to Lex) Hopefully some more adventures in the Pisgah Mountains, the Blue Ridge, "Mountain Mama," etc.

Oh, funny thing—I was searching for some jernt for us to get some fine fine North Carolina barbecue as we venture along, and got one of those automated banner ads that said the most ridiculous thing: "North Carolina Barbecue: Huge selection of new & used. Check out the deals now!"

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Chester and PICTURES

A town called Chester.

Something has always appealed to me abut this name. And Chester was a great uncle of mine. (and I'd be remiss, if I didn't mention that Hustler magazine had a regular comic called "Chester the Molester," and I know this because my middle school best friend Tim and I used to sneak into his basement to read his dad's rather extensive collection.)

Anyway—Chester, SC. I drove through last night and was surprised by the fanciness of it. Lots of of big old antebellum houses, dense treed lawns, a town square, etc. Even at 9 pm, you can see that these people are pretty darned proud of their town. Chester is also the home of a major branch of the SC DOT clean-up facilities. Which explains why the place smells a great deal like fresh paint.

Today, I'm headed to the beach. Huntington Beach, hopefully, which looked dreamy last year, when they turned me away (they were full) despite intense begging and nicing. This year, I'm trying to call ahead, but I keep getting a busy signal. Hoping for the best.

(editors' note: I didn't get there. I called and they were booked! Next year, I'm really calling ahead. I've changed the plan, and after a fabulous drive through rural SC, I'm heading to Wilmington, to meet up with Sweet Lucy, and the Points clan.)

Anyway, I've put some pictures up.

Traveling the scenic by-ways with Mick

Let's talk about Monday—Monday was about Asheville and the fabulous State Road 74-A with some Blue Ridge Parkway thrown in for good measure.

Woke up at the decent, but forgettable—what's it called?—ha ha—Lake Powhatan and packed it up quickly to search for a coffee shop in Asheville. When I told a record store clerk—never ask a record store clerk anything by the way—to point me to an area with "freaky, hippy, bohemian restaurants," he said, "pretty much that's all of Asheville." I would have to disagree, but the concentration is surprising. After a couple of hours at a communist bookstore (always a treat), I hit the road and made the first of two driving errors. Neither one were major, but I was a little pissed that I somehow got off course each time by about 15 miles. I love following maps and, folks, some placees the roads are marked more clearly than other places.

Wait—I'm writing to you from inside my tent at Chester State Park. It's too fucking hot to write in this tent at 10:30pm. I'll continue in the morning, if I haven't turned into a puddle.


Okay, last night was a hot one. At least to be in a tent. What I want, I've decided is one of those pop-up trailers. Some guy told me to go to Shoulda known that would exist.. (ps: it doesn't. I looked)

anyway, I'm at Waffle House a few miles up the road from Chester. And I'm a fugitive from the law. Yep. Skipped out on my camping bill. Hey, hold your judgment, a minute! It was funny—twice yesterday, the rangers waved me off when I tried to pay. At first I thought they were just being inexplicably samaritanly, but the second time I realized it was more of a laziness ("we'll getcha later, son...") So, this morning, I was packed up and showered and they hadn't "got me." On the way out the gate, I found myself driving past a ranger, and so I rolled down the window and did my best SC y'all drawl: "don't y'want want me to pay ya?!" He smled back and said: "We didn't get ya last night?" Nope, I said. And he mulled this over and said "It's $14.59." Aw, man… I thought—because, for some reason, I thought that it was $7. And I knew I only had $8. I fumbled around for my checkbook, half knowing that I didn't have it. I have to confess: I was secretly hoping that he would say "don't worry about it; we'll see ya next time." But no! Finally, I was mumbling about a cash machine, and allowin' as how I reckoned I could go down the road 5 miles to the BP, which I meant to do, I really did! Which as you read this, I didn't do. My rationalization: I can mail it later. I really hope I do that.

This fugitive stuff is exhausting.

Some South Carolina for y'all

this time it's outside of chester, SC. I landed here as if by design, after a botched attempt at going elsewhere.

Anybody thing the worlds too crowded for creepy desolation? I give you Woody Haven Recreation Area, sitting all by itself at the edge of the Sumter National Forest. This was my desstination, according to my trusty "Camping in the Carolinas" book, which has never failed me.. until now.

An unbelievable number of tunrs after I crossed the Carolina border, I finally arrived at the campground at about 7:15, or right on time, as we like to say.

The thing was—there was one shirtless guy there, with his pickup truck and a tent. Now, granted, I'm merely one shirted guy with his station wagon and a tent, but I had my doubts. I was prepared to stay, but there was something offputting about the place. Some desperation there. Maybe it was the decimation caused by the fir beetle plague that had struck here (many downed fir trees) or the fact that a forest fire was evident in the recent past, or the lack of another living soul… or maybe it was just the one shirtless guy.

Anyway, I split. I couldn't level the tent, so I split. The thing was, I had repeatedly considered going to Chester, because there was a state park there, and—you know— the dot on the map looked promising, and—hey—it's a place called Chester. So I hopped back into the very nicely-behaving Ms. Volvo (btw, she threatened to overheat at the desolation campground—bad sign) and we headed down the road about another half hour and had no problem finding Chester State Park, where the super waved me off when I asked to pay, and told me I could just pop the pin out of the park gate if I got back after they closed it. Did I mention that the place is a paradise of spruce trees, on a lake, with just enough campers to remove the creepy but not too many.. One thing: it is damned hot here. Shit, it's hot. I'm thinking about sleeping in the lake.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Unbearable Strangeness of Being

Be sure to arrange your miniature collection of collectable figurines as strangely as possible. Note: This may be the result of a combination of too much refined sugar and carbon monoxide, both of which are abundantly available on Main Street in Gatlinburg, TN.

Down at "The Christian Store"

Down at "The Christian Store"
Originally uploaded by mrtoastey.
Gatlinburg, people. This is what we're fighting for. Gatlinburg.

What Would Jesus Do? I don't think he would do this.

The Future of Camping and Computers

So I'm sitting at a campsite, next to the volvo, outside of Ashville NC, with my friggin' laptop. don't worry—there's no wireless. It hasn't happened. Yet. but it will, my digi-toads, it will.. Last year, this time, i wound up camped in South Carolina next to some fella who worked for the phone company, and he was sportin wireless, right there fireside... was i lustful? Yes I was. But here and now—the peace, the quiet.. the tap-tap-tap of my aluminum keyboard? no complaints!

Today has been a day of no talking—something generally only accomplished by traveling solo. Took a wing-ding journey across the Smokies, from g-burg down to cherokee, and the car, she only overheat once. And i may sound overly casual—and i like to think I was for the most part—but, a boiling radiator? that's the stuff that makes yr. back tight.. at least mine. Trouble is, I can't remember if it was like this last year, auto-wise. My car, she no like zee big hill. And I hope that's all it is.. All I know is, about a quarter mile from the top of what may or may not be called Beech Flats Prong, I decided to pull over, due to the temperature gauge finally, inexorably, regrettably going climbing undeniably into the red. I said: "red is red. pull 'er over." and did exactly that at the next lovely pulloff—just me and some bikers. As I sailed ini, I was dismayed to see steam sailing out of the hood. And even more dismayed to oop said hood and find a fizzing, angry burbling radiator plume; but—know what?—nothing was busted. I could see that. So I cooled my heels and so did my Volvo girl. I took some of my spare time and followed the martian green radiator dribble trail to the edge of the pulloff and decided that dearest fate had held off this engine violence until the last possible minute. Because I couldn't see a trail leading out onto the actual highway;. That means that if I had driven even 10 more feet, something much more dramatic might have happened. As it turned out, I sat next to a waterfall, took some pictures, glanced over my maps and then we were all rested up and ready to move on. Hooray!

And there's been no real trouble since. A couple of places on the Blue Ridge Parkway where some heat was building up. but this road was made for pulling over and so I did that, and just 5 minutes here and there was glorious for everybody involved.

And so, Sunday was about having that lovely drive that is the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is nothing more glorious. A winding road that ribbons along the ridge, free of advertising, free of commerce, free of angry drivers. Full of blooming mountain laurel, volunteer day lillies, rhododendron, and endless vistas that tell you in a glance why they're called "the blue ridge mountains."

It's easy to be startled with delight, i think, over and over on this magical road. I had a particular moment, somewhere near Mount Pisgah, when I saw sky through the trees on the left and a panorama to the right. I understood for one special moment that I was really and truly driving along an edge of the world, the actual ridge of the Blue Ridge. It was like being sucked straight up in an instant to some stratospheric vantage point, looking down at a moving dot on a map. That dot would be my grey volvo!

I stopped at Mt. Pisgah Inn, delighted with the knowledge (for my car) that it was quite literally all downhill from there) and considered dining. Actually I was looking forward to the lodge dining experience, but it turns out that this lodge has gone a bit hoity and was quite booked up for dinner (with a line) and $20 entrees and whatnot. No problem. Moving on is the name of the game with this trip, so I stopped in at the desk to ask some route advice.

The jolly desk guys were worth the trip alone. If you can be that happy at work, why not, then? If you hate your job, just know this: some people don't. These guys didn't. After singing a bar or two of the Hokey Pokey (don't know why) and cajoling me to take their pictures with a couple of strangers politely minding their own bizness, they gave me some very unusual directions: "Why don't you go to Lake Powhatan? Just go up the parkway about 14 miles. Look for an unmarked turnoff on the right. It's easy to miss. That leads you to a dirt road, turn right, and that dirt road goes down to Lake Powatan. Or if you want to go to Mills River (my old place), just turn left on the dirt road."

Yeah, right.

Would you take that kind of directions? I couldn't be sure if I would or not, but as I drove away, smirking, I kept one eye on the odometer and the other on the right side of the road... And there it was…

I turned off, thinking "this can't be it. He said 14 miles and it's only been 11." But looking at his scrawl, the name was right: Bent Creek Gap. So I turned right onto this dirt road, angled steeply down, actually cut the engine (gravity was doing the trick just fine) and drove into the gaping maw of the Bent Creek Experimental Forest.

What do you think happened? Well, you're reading this, silly—I wound up at Lake Powhatan,. just like he said. The funny thing was I came out of this service road and had to pick a direction to the park. I picked the wrong way, though, and sensing this, stopped and asked some road workers. They said the park was back the other way, and I only realized how weird I might have seemed when—after driving around and getting my bearings—I realized that the road that I approached them on only led to the park. Excluding my "shortcut" 15 mile dirt road, I couldn't have been coming from anywhere but the park. and yet, I was asking them "which way to the park?" They must have thought I was nuts,

More adventures tomorrow (or tonight) kids!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Summer vacation, part 2

Well, I know I've been out of school for a good many years, but I'm just not willing to give up on the idea of summer vacation. I think the dirtiest trick played on any child is keeping them in the dark about the fact that summer vacation doesn't exist for adults. What a load.

And it should, too. Wouldn't we all be happier if we got the summer off? What exactly is the point of all this work work workin? Really, I ask you.

So the point is—I'm not giving up on the dream. Which is why I'm about to give you the account of my second 2005 summer trip. Don't hate me! Just go on a trip yourself, fool. Or get a job as a teacher so you can have summers off, right? That's what I'm thinkin'…

So what follows, then is the infrequent documenting of The Carolina Way 2005.

As always thank you so much for reading my blog. Thank you!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Great Western Way in Pictures

If you're really crazy enough to want to look, my recent trip out west is now fully documented—El Complete-O—in pictures with snappy commentary and you can see them here.

there are 200+ but you know they're great…

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Fading Cocktail Nation

On the way back from The San Diego Trip, TT and groused over the state of America's airports, in terms of drinking and such. A warning: Soon it will be illegal to have any fun at all.

True, this: We were on separate flights, leaving at almost exactly the same time, albeit from different terminals, around 9:30pm, and we were not allowed to consort beyond the x-ray machines. Boolsheet, I say!

Once we went our separate ways, turns out all the bars were already closed anyway. Without a doubt, many airports seem to be shutting down their bars earlier and earlier—when you can find one at all. And if ever there was a place for a cocktail, it's an airport, dammit.

Later—much later—I had a 5am layover in Chicago-O'Hare. Of course, everything's closed. Never mind that there are potential customers galore just shuffling around, bleary-eyed, over-commuted. Am I the only one who sees a problem here? Don't get me started on the Self-Serve Nation, that's a rant for another day. Anyway, I did my part by having a bourbon on the rocks the instant—the second— that the O'Hare Bar opened, which is to say 7:00am. I consider it my civic duty—both to my vacation and to the idea that, once upon a time, leisure was treasured. If you don't like it, you can go to McDonalds, and get a goddamned Diet Coke and an Egg McMuffin. I'll be in the bar.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Answer a Question, Ask a Question... is a great little idea for modern technology. It's like a cross between an oracle, a confessional and Dear Abby, and it just takes about 30 seconds. And you don't have to provide any personal info. Curious yet?

That's Loretta Lynn!

That's Loretta Lynn!
Originally uploaded by mrtoastey.
Lucy's pix came back from our trip to Owensboro to see the First Lady of Country Music, Loretta Lynn! Mom and Bill were kind enough to pick up the tickets. Thanks!

So she played technically at The Big E, Owensboro silently suffering flagship hotel. I expected the show to be in the Showroom Lounge (where I saw BB King when I was a whippersnapper). But, in fact, Loretta played this big concrete slab convention center type space. Not at all ideal for the Queen! Still, she owned the place. And she looked great doing it. You shoulda seen the dress. Jeezus!

We were in the VIP section, which meant, along with our stacking chairs, we got a folding table, some chex mix, a velvet rope to separate us from the ruffians (oh wait—it was all ruffians), and an unobstructed 20-foot view of the show. Can you say 'awesome?'

Favorite moments:
  • Loretta gently curbs a woman who brings a pen and a book up for her to sign mid-song: "Honey, I can't sign that right now. If I did, they'd throw me out, and I wouldn't get paid! And y'all wouldn't get to hear me sing!"
  • Loretta plops down in a standard-issue stacking chair, center stage, prom dress 'n' all, and discusses her health: "My nose is runnin… anybody got a kleenex?" With visibly shaking hand ("ohmigod! I'm giving Loretta Lynn a kleenex!), a woman in the front hands her a travel pack. Loretta thanks her, keeps talking, and after some fumbling, exclaims, almost indignant: "Well, I can't open these! Somebody open these!" and passes them off to her keyboard player.
  • On separate shouts from the audience to play "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "Van Lear Rose," (the latter from me) Loretta shoots back, "I don't like that song." At the end she mock-begrudgingly goes into CMD, sighing, with resignation: "Alright. Here y'go..."
It was a great time! Thank you, Mom and Bill for helping Lucy and I to fulfill a dream!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Final thoughts on traveling Way Out West

Well, kiddos, I'm back in the Bluegrass, getting back into all manner of work and stuff. Wanted to share a few more pictures from the fabulous trip, and some thoughts.

Had a wonderful time in San Diego, staying at The Sportsman. I'll hopefully go back and visit sometime. Hell, maybe I'll buy the place. Seems like a good career to me. On second thought, maybe not. I would hate to have to look up and down every person who walked through the door, trying to decide if they were going to trash the place.

My last night, I let the girls do their gypsy thing, and I went for one of my trespassing walks. This is where I walk around—by myself—and see what sorts of places I can breeze in and out of without getting detected or, failing that, without getting hassled. Or thrown out. Shelter Island was a great place for that as I power walked through one swanky hotel after another. At one point, I heard a band playing, didn't think much of it, until I notced that between songs, the audience was really going wild. What the hell? I thought… A wedding or something? Turned out, it was Lyle Lovett, who I ended up watching for a couple of songs from the pool balcony of the next door hotel. Huh!

The Tamale mission comes to fruition!The next day, thanks to cooperation from the girls, we got some tamales! this had been on my list, for sure, and I even had a place in mind. But being July 4th, I was actually surprised at how many places were closed (note: I endorse this. I sure don't want to work on a holiday), including Liz's Tamale Factory. Luckily, down the street was a tamale cart woman!

Later, we saw San Diego's awesome 4th of July fireworks—a computer-controlled 4-site spectacular, with the exact same show being executed at exactly the same time in 4 different locations. Wow! We saw it from out in front of the airport, and I will confess that it's a little unnerving to hear loud explosions while standing at a major international airport. Yep..

After flying out of San Diego, I landed in Chicago, where I had a 3 hour layover. Didn't really see that coming, but I guess I could have looked at the ticket, right? But on the good side, I got in a visit with Helmut Jahn's United Terminal, a festival of lights and sound and architectural coolness.

That's about it, my chilluns! Thanks for reading and don't forget to look at the pictures!

Monday, July 04, 2005

A Cat named Monster

A Cat named Monster
Originally uploaded by mrtoastey.
Out side the door to Carlos' owner suite at The Sportsman, sits a big fat furry cat. The cat's name, I'm told, is Monster. Monster has the run of the breezeway on a worn, blue 20-foot leash, which is apparently connected to him at all times. Monster seems resigned to it, and accepts this ultimate indignity with remarkable dignity.

Mostly, Monster sits by the door in eternal cat observation mode, with an added Confuscian look that says "I might lash you, fool." Carlos explains, his antique hispanic accent resplendent: "He's mean! You scratch his belly and then…" Carlos pantomimes taloned claws tearing into thin air. I sit with Monster for a bit, he on the concrete, me on a festive mosaic tile concrete bench, festooned with geraniums and other potted plants. (The bench is one of the many details telling me that The Sportsman is a venture long loved by its owners.) Monster's leash is inexplicably wrapped around the swimming pool fence in a way that seems impossible to have achieved. As a good faith gesture—my deepest desire is to pet Monster—I unclip his leash momentarily, quickly untangle it, and then clip it back. With this, Monster regains his purchase on the walkway, and slinks towards the outer reaches, his worn cloth leash winding out behind him like a drugged and starved anaconda. Not particularly interested in me, Monster settles at the end of his leashed kingdom, all attention on a Japanese beetle flailing around on the sidewalk, a couple of feet beyond his survey. I watch him watching, and—in an act designed to curry favor—walk off, kicking the beetle into his fatal grasp as I go.

The next time I come by, I get to pet Monster.

Way Out West, pt. 2 - MORE PICTURES!

Alrighty, friends, I'm posting more pictures from the Way Out West trip. Just click here to see them!

Concerning The Sportsman motel

TT and I made a beeline for Shelter Island and found a run-down mecca of 60's and 70's drive-ups that have gradually become "Patel hotels" (thanks Loris) Grateful for the possible reprieve from a hard floor, we walked around, doing some room-visiting. Lots of vacancy, if you don't mind your hotels old and a little musty. The prices weren'te quite what I was hoping for, but at around $120/night, it was still beating the pants off of "no vacancy" or $185/night. We were really close to biting at a run-down Ramada; They had a two-queen room seemed ideal for our expected accomodation of three (Super Kate on the way from LA, to augment to belly dance contingent) but the manager was driving a typically hard Bombay bargain. "My boss, she has the final word," he pleads, with one ear to the phone, the alleged price-fixing boss on the other end. Negotiations broke down at $129 plus tax, and as TT and I walked away (part of the strategy, right?), these two—blast!—Indian gents—these…interlopers— appeared out of nowhere, wanting to see a room. I watched in minor horror as he showed them our room.

Damn!—surely that option was gone. But never mind—After a couple more lackluster inquiries, TT and hit the motherlode—a place that I first reacted to saying "I don't like it. It doesn't have enough windows." Indeed, one wall seemed windowless. But this turned out to be a magnificent misconception. Upon closer inspection, the place was swimming in scratch and dent So-Cal style: style: Pink trim, aqua doors, kidney swimming pool, partial stone walls like yr. uncle's den…

Let me just get right to the point: this place is a fucking treasure.

We popped into the front door and behind a thick glass, and even thicker glasses, we met Carlos, a retired fisherman, on the far side of 80, maybe. TT asked—with what was at this point understandable reluctance—if by any chance they had any rooms for rent. Carlos, smirking a little, and replied "No, no…we don't have any rooms…" as he reached for some keys. I knew we were in good hands immediately This old wise guy was already bustin' our balls.

The next thing he said, I don't think was a joke. With no small labor, he scanned down a piece of paper that he held in his monumentally arthritic hands, and sighed enormously through his stooped shoulders: "I've got a three-bed room. But it's expensive." He paused and looked at us with great remorse: "It's eighty-five dollars," he confessed gravely.

I stared at TT. TT stared at me. We tried to act natural. "We'll take it!" I screamed. Reaching under the security glass, I tried to grab Carlos and shake him forcibly, to make my point more clearly. Just then the Indian Iinterlopers—remember them?—walked in the door, and struck up a conversation with Dinora, Carlos' wife.

Then, I saw it: The Approaching Checkmate: "Now, it's okay for us to stay here tomorrow night, too?" I asked quickly. Dinora looked at me and her face lit up. She said: "Oh, you want to stay tomorrow night, too?" to us—and then to the Indian Interlopers—a sympathetic shrug: "I'm sorry!" They were polite, good sports, and hit the door, banished to whatever inferior dive would take their sorry asses, the losers.

And we were in like Flynn at The Sportsman.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Oh, we've stayed in some hotels…

Studio 819 - located in subtly trendy-bendy Hillcrest. It's a residential hotel, 7 stories tall, with a distinct oldster smell. But not too bad. At first I was a little chapped over the $79/night price tag (I know—shut up—"that's cheap," you say), but there was a definite Barton Fink charm that won me over in a hurry. Talking to the front desk clerk, all I could think of was: "If you need anything, ask for me. My name is Chet."

This place had a Chet, and a laundry room, and a rinky elevator, and a buzz-you-in front lobby (not so much swanky as mildly musty). Still, we were kicked to the curb after one night, due to the apparently endless tide of 4th of July visitors. Who knew? After Internet searching, door to door, callin' the main Motel 6 line, we were still comin' up empty. Empty! My first phone call was to the San Diego downtown hostel, and they surprised me by teling me they still had one room. Yet, I got put on hold and when the girl came back on the line, the room was gone.

And, guess what? THAT WAS LUCKY.

Lucky, because we put off the search. Lucky because we went to the beach with the crew. Lucky because we stopped at an outdoor bazaar and I chatted up a shopkeeper who promised us that cheap hotel rooms were available aplenty near Shelter Island, in Point Loma. "Because that's where the fishermen stay," he explained. "and I can promise you they ain't workin' this holiday weekend." Roger, that as we became fond of saying on the walkie-talkies.

Next time I'll tell you about the glory of the Sportsmen's Lodge, one of my favorite hotels anywhere.

San Diego stories

Well, a little light on the blogging, due to the myriad of San Diego activities! Yep, we're here! A lot's been going on